The idea was to create a podcast series about sound and place, recording each episode in a different location. I assembled one episode but thought better of sharing it — until now.
Back in February 2018, I spent a few cold days in the Lake District, testing outdoors apps and making recordings on my new Tascam DR-40. I’d intended my first podcast episode to detail one ambitious hike, and although I wrote about that hike, I didn't feel comfortable releasing any audio. I later recorded more material in Japan for another episode but have yet to do anything with it.
Recently, I listened again to my Lake District edit, and while it’s not exactly an episode — no plinky-plonky music or extraneous waffle — I think I like it as a simple audio sketch. So, here it is with a transcript. Maybe you’ll like it too.
So, good morning. It’s, I think, 7:30am. I’ve been up since about 6am. Takes a long time to get coffee on and make my eggs and heat up my soup and fight for space at the dishwashing sinks. The birds are singing, there’s blue sky, there’s a little cloud on the mountain tops, but it’s okay, and I am walking through the valley, ready to begin my walk.
First ice of the day.
Oh, what a morning. I feel like I’ve got the whole place to myself. I’m walking up Langdale, towards the path that will take me up to Rossett Pike and then onto Bowfell — to the summit — and the sun is just gorgeous. It’s about 8:15 in the morning, and it’s just golden light and shadows. And it’s just incredible. I’ve got far too many layers on; I’m pretty sure I won’t regret them later though, it’s supposed to be about minus 13 up there — feels like at least anyway, but this is just amazing. What a tonic; whole place to myself. It’s really peaceful. It’s really quiet. It’s magical, and I love it.
One thing’s for sure: this is gonna be a long walk because I keep stopping every, like, 10 seconds to take photographs, and then there’s a really interesting sound to record, whether it’s cracking ice with my feet or a stream that’s managing to break through the cold, or just the sound of footsteps, or birds, gravel, stones cracking against each other, whatever it is. It’s fantastic.
I’m very conscious that there is literally nobody else around. There’s nobody. I know it’s early, but there’s a lot of hikers here; there was a lot of people in the pub last night, there’s plenty of people at camp, but I guess this is the payoff for getting up early. There’s nobody.
The Herdwicks don’t talk very much, bless 'em.
I’m still walking through the valley floor and the waters… thawing snow from all around is washing down through the middle of the valley. It’s a real torrent here, it’s coming down on three sides.
Well, I’ve reached the little footbridge and I’m about to finish the lovely lower level walk, albeit rocky and ankle-turny, and cross this little bridge and begin ascending to Rossett Pike, which is a little worrying because even this low-level path is pretty icy, and then —ah, the bridge is icy too — and then, I see fell runners running up there, and so, if fell runners can do it then I guess I can do it. I never really understand how they do it. I’ve got crampons and an ice axe with me, so if anything should go wrong, let nobody say I wasn’t prepared. And also tuna sandwiches, tomato soup, Hobnob bars, apple, orange, easy-peel satsuma, some water — obviously, I’m not stupid. What else do I have? I don’t know. I got a bag full of stuff. Ohh, I forgot to bring my crisps. Oh, well. Oh, I’ve got Kendal Mint Cake. If you don’t know what Kendal Mint Cake is: it is a very high sugar, insane quick-hit energy boost, beloved of hikers, and Kendal is a town probably about twenty miles away, fifteen miles away, and I think the whole town has made millions off Kendal Mint Cake. So I’ve got some of that obviously, because it’s great. So anyway, that’s a food inventory.
Not quite sure how high I’ve climbed but Bowfell and the crags are looming high above me, and this sound is me kicking icy snow. I’m at snow level, and there’s quite a bit of ice. And I’ll probably have to put my crampons on soon, but it is exciting. My nose is running.
I’m now up at Angle Tarn. It’s a little windy, but it’s a beautiful day still, and Angle Tarn is completely frozen, surrounded by the mountains and the ice is cracking. I can hear it cracking all the time: thuds, cracks, strange whistles. I’m right on the shore, and it’s just fragmenting and splintering, and it’s incredible. I’m actually going to put the tripod down on the ice and try and record some of it. Who knows? Let’s see.
Sometimes, it’s as if the whole sheet of ice moves in one go and there’s a rumble almost like thunder, which is very eerie. It’s quite intimidating really, all this ice. It’s horrible how you want to walk on it. It looks thick; I wouldn’t do it in a million years, but wow, what a place to be. A natural bowl just full of ice, smashing and cracking. It’s incredible.
Oh, sorry about the wind, but I’m very high up. I’m just about to climb the final part of Bowfell. I have just scaled one hell of a snow and ice slope up to Ore Gap. It was pretty incredible, my nose is running like crazy. It was exhilarating, it was amazing, it was probably a bit dangerous. Thank God for crampons and ice axe. It was never, like, dangerous dangerous, in case you’re listening, Mum, Geri, but wow. It was absolutely amazing. I considered turning back, you know, like ooh, fight or flight, but actually it was fine, and it was wonderful. Okay. I am now gonna have some Kendal Mint Cake, of course, and then scale the pyramid to the top of Bowfell.
I love in the Lake District how the landscape just opens up as soon as you move over the crest of a hill. Suddenly, everywhere towards Wasdale has opened up and I can now see Scafell, and Scafell Pike, the highest point in England; climbed that a couple of times in the past. It’s a tough climb. It’s like somebody’s collected a lot of rocks and put them on top of there, and that’s what it is. But it’s high. It’s pretty cool. Anyway, I can see it now, which is great and I can kind of —it’s such a clear day that I can see all around — I can see a bit of Scotland over there and, I don’t know, stuff everywhere. It’s wild and wonderful and snowy and icy, and not quite as cold as it was when I was climbing up earlier; I had to put literally everything on, but now it’s just, I don’t know, it’s perfect. It’s just perfect.
Snow footsteps up to Bowfell.
Well, I haven't been able to do much recording for the last hour or two because I was getting to the top of Bowfell which was basically Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, kind of. It was incredibly icy, snowy, difficult. I had to be really careful; crampons and ice axe pretty much all the way. It was so beautiful. There was a hoar frost on the top, so everything was coated in, like, a fine beautiful frosting, so that was really good and it was amazing up there but super cold. My phone died, obviously, of course. Your phone will come back on if you plug it into an external charger, which I did, but my hands were so cold that I couldn’t really do anything up there and it was brutal, but it was amazing and wonderful, and lots of other superlatives which I keep throwing into this microphone, but just gorgeous, wonderful.
So, there was 3G up there, so it was kind of like, shall I catch up with everything because there’s no 3G in the valley and the wifi is terrible in the pub, and you know, get frostbite, but, you know, it’s important to catch up with people isn’t it — and you’re Mum and your wife and everything, and post tweets and maybe an Instagram and update your stories? So yeah, I was on the phone a lot. Hmm, and yet I couldn’t make any recordings. Mmmm, well, okay, maybe I’m addicted to my phone. But you know, it was fun. I enjoyed it. Anyway, I’m descending now, and the snow is just about running out. I think it’s time to de-crampon. But what an amazing hike, probably one of the greatest hikes I’ve ever done. Absolutely brilliant, technically difficult at times; a real challenge for me because I’ve never really climbed on ice before so, just, what a day.
This is the first style or gate or fence or wall of any kind that I have encountered for hours. Like, I don’t know how many hours. What time is it now? Three, so maybe six hours. Anyway, I’m coming back to civilisation.
Since I summited Bowfell, I’ve been hearing a noise from the valley, almost constantly, and it’s clearly human — and a human shouting, but more kind of like “Ohyyyy”. Kind of once a minute, sometimes twice a minute and it’s increasing now. I thought it was just some kids or, like, a gang who were upon the fells or something, but now, now I’m in the… arriving near the valley bottom, I see a huge flock of sheep and herding that huge flock of Herdwick sheep are, what looks like four young farmers herding them back off the Fells. So, I can’t remember the word but there’s a particular word for the way they farm the sheep in Langdale, and they basically let them roam free for all the winter months, and then all the farmers work together to bring them down ready for lambing and stuff. It’s a bit early yet. I don’t know, but it’s a pretty sizeable flock of sheep coming down and a good four or five guys doing it. I think they’re all guys. So yeah, anyway that explains the noise: it’s sheep coming down from their winter on the Fells.
I’m also going to say that I went up a different route. I went up the Rossett path, and then Ore Gap which was incredibly exciting, and ice and snow; technically very difficult and a real challenge, and I’ve come down the way that I think most people came up, and they all seem to come back down this way, and it’s called The Band. Not Robbie Robertson, not the Scorsese film. That’s the same thing.
Well, my hike is done. 15 kilometres, err… 2,800 height, or something. I don’t really know. Long day, a lot of ice, a lot of snow. Technical climbing, which is kind of new to me, but I loved it. I really loved it. I’m glad I had the right things. I also loved the pint of Theakston’s Old Peculiar that I’ve just had at the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub, in the hikers' bar: the kind of place that’s really full at about 4pm on a day like this. So, sharing a table with lots of hikers who are all talking about the day they've had. Everybody’s exhausted; everybody started at 7 or 8am, it seems.
Now, the pint I’ve just had (Old Peculiar) is, you know, very well established in this country and, I think it’s a bit of a tradition to go in there and have a pint of Old Peculiar. I couldn’t see any IPAs. I wanted an IPA, I couldn’t see one, that’s no problem. I wanted one. I panicked; I bought Old Peculiar. Now, it was good, but it’s still only like, 5pm, or something and I just really can’t wait to get back to my little pod and put some coffee on. I just really want to make some coffee now.
Oh, yeah. Also, this is obvious to people who come to places like this, but if you come to a good old-fashioned U-shaped valley like Great Langdale, with all its farming and its Herdwick sheep and all the various things it needs to do, you will discover — as I do each time I come here — that everywhere smells like shit. Like a really false shit smell. That’s what my Mum used to say when I was growing up because we live near the edge of town. She'd go, "Ooh David," — that’s my dad — "Ooh, David, it’s that false shit smell again; get the washing in!" So, it kind of smells like that.
It might be obvious from my ramblings but having walked for eight hours that one pint of Theakston’s Old Peculiar has knocked me for six! One pint, knocked for six. The people who I was sat with in the Old Dungeon Ghyll were trying to talk to me, but I think I was away with the fairies. I don’t know what I was thinking about, but it wasn’t what they were asking me about. So yeah, anyway good. If you really want to get drunk: walk for eight hours, climb to 3,000 feet — preferably on snow and ice, scare yourself a little bit — be exhausted, go to the pub, order a dark beer, and then just be wankered. That’s what I did.