A Day in Arctic Cold Warmed by Liberal Values













I’ve written a lot about my love of the changing seasons here in the UK. Mind you I could just as much talk about changing days rather than seasons. Yesterday I was back on the same hill as I was about a week ago. Then the weather was mild and benign. Yesterday’s walk was a day slog through freezing fog all set against a cutting, icy, wind























These two photos could have been taken from the same spot but the locations were miles apart. This was a day of walking with little variety.

I had a basic idea of where I would walk but once on the top any great ambitions were dampened by the cold and the view. Fog is not something we are used to anymore in cities and it is a pretty rare experience out on the hills of the Midlands. This was not low hanging cloud that burns away during the day but a blanket of freezing vapour. The wind chill factor made for sub zero walking.

I ambled around for a few hours. Strangely the hills were busier than they are usually on a weekday. Most encounters with other walkers involved lines like “Well at least we are not the only mad people out today”. On the top off the Long Mynd I met a man out walking his small dog; we met at exactly the same spot last week. He’d climbed up using my usual route when going in this direction. I’d avoided it this time as the rocks around a waterfall climb can be like sheet glass in the ice. The waterfall he told me was fabulous. How did he climb? He couldn’t take the climb but had scrambled up a sharp, grassy, incline. I couldn’t picture this trip and decided to check it out. My approach to the waterfall was topped by a thick layer of thick ice; there was no way I was going to risk this. And so I continued my ramble in the mist.

I told myself the walk was doing me good. In some ways I suppose it was as — thank goodness — there was no trace of the Christmas chest bug left. I sang a few songs to myself and kept up a brisk pace to stave off the cold. But after a few hours I just had to concede to myself that not only was this not a very pleasant walk but it was, well, pretty boring.

I began my descent back down the hill. I found a little spot out of the wind and sat down to eat my lunch.

I was joined by a teacher and a couple of young teenage women. The young women  seemed to have some kind of special educational needs or learning difficulties. Are you not going for a walk one of them asked. I’ve finished my walk and now I’m sitting out of the wind to have my lunch. The notion of having lunch on the side of the hill seemed to mystify them. They’d clearly been enjoying their walk. Only a minute or so after they had left another teacher and group of two appeared. Again we had another cheerful chat. Pretty miserable up there I said. A young man smiled warmly but with a look that told me he had no idea what I was talking about. We waved each other off as they descended back into the mist.

It struck me that this was not an encounter I would have had on these hills when I was their age. Back then people of disability or difference simply didn’t get the opportunities to adventure like this (I guessed that they were taking part in a Duke of Edinburgh Award type session). In those days young people like my new friends were often traumatised by the experience of chance meeting such as this, I think mainly because of the reaction of people like us rather than that of themselves. These days we don’t hide people away and the rest of us experience difference quite often. We don’t have to have any great understanding of special needs to appreciate that our conversations might be a bit unusual. Exposure means that we ourselves can be more comfortable these differences. We can all relax and take pleasure out of these chance encounters rather than be unsettled by them.

Sometimes our society get things right. It is pleasing to see that, over time, a more liberal approach to the world really does work.

A pleasing notion indeed.


  1. David Keltie says:

    Lovely post. Thanks.

  2. Robin says:

    Very pleased to hear that people are helping those with special needs and getting out in the hills. I think you underrate most people’s compassion. The UK has a long tradition of charity and social action in one form or another. I’m hoping that the penultimate sentence is not trying to make a political point in suggesting that people of a different political view are somehow less caring. Good to hear you ailments have relented and you can get out and about.

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