I go walking in the Lake District. What I didn’t realise, and I’ve been walking up there for years, is that my brain is a mere passenger and my body is probably in charge of the itinerary.
What am I talking about? Bear with me as I try to explain.
Thanks to owning a car that had a pretty dim view of drinking petrol, trips to the Lake District used to cost me an arm and a leg; but now I drive a small diesel hatchback that could, if it flew, go to the moon and back on half a tank. This means I can be frivolous. I can go to the Lake District without worrying about ‘making it count.’
When I set off to conquer Grasmoor (2700 feet of hard graft) I told myself it doesn’t matter if I don’t reach the summit today. I can come back next week, or the week after. . . . And after parking near Crummock Water I set off.
And that’s when the body and the brain started arguing. The rucksack felt heavier than usual, an awkward lump as if a dead sheep had somehow found its way in there. Within a couple of hundred metres my brain was saying ‘this is idiotic, pointless, you’re not enjoying this, turn back. Sit next to the cool waters of Crummock and write.’
But the body kept on walking.
And when I stopped at the bad step – an awkward bit of rock – the brain wanted to go back, but the body kept on moving. When I reached the end of the valley, Gasgale Gill, the same pattern persisted: brain go back, body keep moving. To the head of the valley, along Coledale Hause, even to the foot of Grasmoor itself, I was planning to turn back.
Many many years ago, before the internet was invented and everyone became an author, I wrote a novel called The Reptile Hunt. In it, scientists discovered the reptilian part of the brain was a parasitic life form attached to the base of a primitive human brain. I’ve always wondered whether that might be true.
I wondered if my brain was still onboard when I started that final trudge up the east flank of Grasmoor. The body had the last laugh though when I arrived at the summit and looked out over the Irish Sea towards the Isle of Man; across the Solway Firth to Galloway and maybe (if I check the map) the Mull of Kintyre was out there too, stretching a long finger of land towards the Ulster coast.
Behind me, nearly every peak of the Lake District was visible: from Mellbreak, Pillar, the Scafells, the distant Dodds swinging right to left towards Blencathra and Skiddaw, with Whiteside in the immediate foreground.
The body, for once, knew better than the brain, and both were rewarded. . . .
Except, the brain had one final trick up its sleeve. Spying the exciting prospect of Wandope and the path crossing Whiteless Edge, I took the route back towards Buttermere and found myself on a descent invisible from Grasmoor because it was hidden by Whiteless Pike’s summit.
This descent was a rocky torture, negotiated on my backside for part of the way. It levelled out, but then plunged again down a precipitous grassy slope that had the thighs burning and my feet at an angle feet are not supposed to be.
That was Tuesday. I’m writing this on Thursday and my legs are still killing me from that descent. Brain and body, like troublesome siblings, in disarray playing tricks on each other. And me, the sum total of those two entities, is now paying the price!