I grew up walking and hiking in some of the UK’s most impressive landscapes. For a brief time I hated it – probably when I was between 7 and 10.
It was hard to keep up with everyone and hiking boots for kids weren’t what they are now (I got my first pair aged 9).
But when I reached my teens something changed.
I started to feel an incredible spiritual connection with the rugged landscapes, cliffs and valleys.
It was around this time I was learning geography and how the process of glaciation had forced it’s will against the rock over millennia. I felt like I could see the landscape being formed in my mind’s eye.
When I walked, it was as if the landscape swallowed me up only to spit me out when I reached civilisation (or my parents’ car) on the other side.
When I was 14, I was allowed to walk some of the Pennine way (in England) with my sister. We got lost and wandered into a deep bog. I was terrified. Eventually a helpful passer by pointed us in the direction of the village we were staying.
Lying awake that night I felt panicky but excited. What if we’d fallen into the bog and drowned? What if the nice man hadn’t pointed out that our map was upside down. And so on…
Later on into my teens I started to do more adventurous walks with my family and when I was 20 I started to do solo climbs in the Scottish Cairngorms until now when I get to the hills any time I can.
OK, so those are great stories. But where is this going?
My Father the Mountaineer
I’m not going to lie: it’s hard for me to write about this. Some of these concepts I hadn’t quite figured out until recently.
My Dad, an only child, married late. While my mum always had plenty of stories of her childhood and youth, my Father had few. His life before he was married was an enigma to me growing up. I knew he’d been in the military and had done a lot of walking before he was married (he actually proposed to my mum on a hike).
But there were 47 years before I came along. What had he been doing in all that time? My own Father, while a loving and wise man was a mystery to me.
This all changed on the morning I was due to set off on my first solo climb. I planned a walk of 15 miles hitting three summits on the way. He would pick me up at the other end.
After a quick map reading session, he handed me a book ‘Munro’s Tables’. This book is now one of my most treasured possessions.
In it contains details of every climb he made in the years he lived in Scotland. Every high point is recorded with the date and who he did it with. Some are in winter.
Some are alone.
Eight years later, I got it.
This red leather bound book is his story. His memories.
As a boy growing up, I was disappointed that I wasn’t part of this story. But as I started to record the dates that I’d reached the same peaks, I felt the connection.
Our stories are interlinked. There might be almost 50 years separating them but with his book and his enthusiasm for the mountains we have a deeper connection than I could have ever hoped or wished for.
Now when I head to the hills that sense of spiritual connection remains but there is something else: I’m walking in the footsteps of my Dad. Its the closest we’ll get to walking these paths together.
Mountains, Me and My Son
My Dad is nearly 80 now and although he won’t be doing any mountaineering any time soon, he’s incredibly fit and will easily walk several miles a day.
It’s my turn to explore these sacred places with my son. I don’t plan in pushing him into doing anything he doesn’t want to but I do hope that he will grow up understanding the value that these places have for me and for his own heritage.
We’ve already started and have a great time together. Now that it’s coming round to summer again, we’re going to try some more adventurous climbs together.
It’s important for me to remember that while this is my passion, it might not be his. If not, then fine. Hopefully he’ll grow up being passionate about something else instead.
Find your Mountain
Mountains are great metaphors in life for lots of things. I’ve been in the mountains at some of my lowest and highest points in life. I used to retreat regularly to the mountains for prayer and meditation.
Mediocrity and passiveness says ‘Don’t climb the mountain, it will be too hard. Do it when you have more time.’
Passion, perseverance and a sense of challenge says:
‘I’ll climb the mountain and I’ll climb it today because it exists.’
I’m privileged. I drive for less than an hour and have access to the scenery you see in these photos. You may not.
But what is your mountain? The one activity that challenges you. The one thing that you love for its intrinsic value. It could be:
Use that experience to teach yourself and your son life’s values and lessons. It taught and shaped me, now I want to do the same for my son.
It’s no wonder we feel deep connections with our landscape and the hills. Our ancestors would have known these landscapes well: where’s the best place to fish, hunt and swim.
To a certain extent we’ve lost that connection with our environment. That’s why it’s important for those of us who still feel connected to pass that on to the next generation – so that they might know and understand their heritage and grow to respect this planet that we call home.
When I reach the top of a mountain, I like to stand with my arms outstretched. I feel a part of the landscape, not a conqueror but a participant in something massive.
Find your mountain, take your son and stand on the top.