Wednesday, June 20, 2018

the pen is heightier than the sward

Mountain hiking, Paul, is very much like making love to a beautiful woman. As exciting as it is to conquer a new one every week, there is also something to be said for approaching a familiar one from an unfamiliar angle - you may find some interesting nooks and crannies you were previously unaware of, and although much of the terrain will inevitably be well-trodden - including, indeed, by other people - the new approach will hopefully make it fresh and interesting nonetheless.

And so it was that when a weekend away with some friends involving a couple of overnight stays in Cardiff was mooted, and it was furthermore mooted that we might have a crack at Pen y Fan on the Saturday, I took it upon myself to scope out a route. Just as with many other well-frequented mountains (Snowdon is the classic example) there are a number of "standard" routes up Pen y Fan.

I ruled out the quick route up from Storey Arms on a few grounds: firstly it'd have been almost impossible to park (or at least not legally) on a Saturday in June, and secondly it's just not that interesting a route. It's the shortest route up, involves the smallest height gain (since the car park is at the crest of a hill on the A470 so you get a head start) and there's no scrambling, but that is as a result of being on the more featureless side of the mountain. Also, crucially for a misanthrope like me, there are hordes of people trekking up and down this route who I have no desire to interact with or even see for longer than necessary.

Other routes can be had from the south, including from the car park in the Taf Fechan forest where we parked for the walk documented here and also from the car park a bit further up the road near the Blaen y Glyn waterfalls where we parked for the snowy walk documented here. Both are good, the second route somewhat longer than the first. Both still don't really approach Pen y Fan itself from its best side, though; to do that you need to come at it from the north. I have been up from the car park at Cwmgwdi on the Brecon side a couple of times before, as documented in the two photo galleries linked to here (plus bonus paella recipe). On both of those two walks we went straight up the ridge at the back of the car park, took in the summits of Pen y Fan and Cribyn and then came back down via the old Roman road that runs along the east side of Cribyn's north ridge.

Now according to my current set of rules for optimum walk enjoyment (as explained at length here and here) we should really have done those last two walks in reverse, i.e. with the boring on-road flat bit between the bottom end of the Bryn Teg ridge and the Cwmgwdi car park first, and then dropping off the ridge straight back into the car park at the end. So I decided we'd adhere to the rules this time, which means doing the walk marked on the map below anti-clockwise, thereby getting the walk along the road from the car park to the car park at Nant Cwm Llwch out of the way early doors while we were still all banterous and enthusiastic rather than have to do it at the end when we were all dead-eyed and monosyllabic. One could of course park here instead and then do the walk in reverse, but this way round enables you to traverse Corn Du and Pen y Fan in that order, thus adhering more closely to another of my arbitrary rules, i.e. that ideally the main objective of the day should be around two-thirds of the way into the route.

This is probably a more satisfactory walk overall then the other one starting from the same place, as it includes a close encounter with the pretty lake of Llyn Cwm Llwch just before the steep ascent up onto the main ridge, and provides the best angle for appreciating the steep northern face of the two main peaks. As with any walk, it was enhanced by having nice sunny weather (occasional wispy cloud on the tops aside) all day, and by excellent company including a couple of victims of my stag weekend walk who volunteered for further punishment. I'm very keen on solo walking, but it's nice to have a big group sometimes to keep each other entertained and motivated. It was pretty quiet on the ridges, but the two peaks were very busy with people who'd come up the other way, and there was something of a scrum to get the obligatory summit selfies.

There are still routes up that I haven't tried - I've never gone straight up either of the ridges which lead directly to the summits of Cribyn or Fan y Big, and there is a fantastic high-level traverse you could do starting in the vicinity of the Talybont reservoir dam, ascending via the Twyn Du ridge, and then ticking off all the peaks before dropping off via Pen Milan into Libanus. You'd probably need two cars for that one, though.

A small selection of photos can be found here. The gurning shot at the end of us in a restaurant is taken in Wahaca in Cardiff city centre, which is a sort of Mexican tapas/street food place which I recommend highly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I love it when you call but you never call at all

I was just catching up with some recent posts on the fascinating Language Log and I came across this one which includes a link to this webcomic. The discussion on the post and in the comments is around the last frame (captured over there on the right) wherein the featured character (who is apparently called Amber) bemoans her social anxiety about making phone calls.

I'm reassured to find that this is, as the kids say, A Thing, because I've always hated making phone calls. There is some suggestion in the comments that this is a generational thing and that it's particularly prevalent among younger people who've never known a world whenever there wasn't, at a minimum, text messaging or e-mail as an alternative, not to mention Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. etc. There may be something in that, but it certainly doesn't mean that older people don't experience the same thing - my birthdate of 1970 puts me squarely in the middle of Generation X, for instance. Maybe the even older generations didn't suffer from it so much because the phone seemed like such an amazingly cool and convenient gadget compared with the previous methods like writing letters or physically going round to someone's house to talk to them.

A couple of observations specific to my own experience:

There is a sense in which the current generation don't know they're born, and that is that the overwhelming majority of voice calls these days are made via mobile phones. There are several major advantages to this, firstly that mobiles have caller display built-in so you can almost always see who's calling you, especially if it's someone you know. Secondly, a mobile is personal to you, so normal patterns of usage dictate that if you phone someone's mobile either the person you want to talk to will answer, or no-one will. In the old days of landlines that wasn't necessarily the case and there was always the possibility of having to have an unwanted conversation with your girlfriend's Dad, or a mocking older sibling, or - in the imaginary scenario of, say, phoning a male friend who had a father and at least one male sibling, all of whom sounded fairly similar on the phone - having to choose between a couple of nightmare conversational scenarios:
ME: *dials number*
ME: Oh, hi. Um, is Pete there?
MYSTERY PERSON: This is Pete, you idiot.
ME: *dials number*
ME: Oh, hi, Pete, it's Dave.
MYSTERY PERSON: This is Graham, you idiot. 
Obviously these very specific issues are focal points for anxiety for people who probably suffer from general social anxiety in other areas as well. That's certainly been the case for me in the past, though I've found I care less about this stuff as I've got older. Of course that may be partly explained by now having all these other channels to keep in touch by as well. Expansive, easygoing, "normal" people who don't suffer from these anxieties will find the whole thing mystifying, just as they tend not to understand the value of things like Facebook to people who find keeping in touch by other means stressful.

I also recall having a conversation with a friend, roughly my contemporary in terms of age, who expressed the opinion that they didn't use things like text messaging much as they struck them as impersonal and rude, preferring instead to talk directly. I remember expressing some surprise at this and saying that I thought it was the other way round. A text, after all, will just sit in your inbox until you're ready to read it, whereas a phone call demands your attention right now, regardless of what you're doing (which is why many people will nowadays precede a call with a text or something just to ensure it's a good moment).

Again, the extent to which you're bothered by all this probably reflects the degree of general social anxiety you suffer from. When I reflect on the fact that, back in my day, if you wanted to ask someone out on a date, you had to phone their house on a landline and very probably speak to one or other of their parents and know that the conversation was probably being scrutinised even after the phone got handed over, it seems mildly amazing to me that 30-odd years later the world isn't a jungle-infested wasteland devoid of any remnants of the human race whatsoever.

Friday, June 08, 2018

the last book I read

A Kind Of Loving by Stan Barstow.

Eeeeh, it's grim oop North, ah tell thee. Happen tha'll get home from't pit and be all ready for a reet nice sit down with a cuppa and the wife'll have you out in't back yard mucking out t'whippets.

I'm not sure I can keep that up for a full blog post, if I'm honest, so let's start again. Vic Brown is a Yorkshire lad (it's never explicitly stated, but probably early twenties at most) from a working-class family. He's a reasonably bright lad, and he's doing his best to better himself a bit by getting a job as a trainee draughtsman at a local manufacturing firm. While working here his eye is drawn to one of the girls in the typing pool, Ingrid Rothwell.

Now it's the late 1950s, so you can't just do what you'd do nowadays, which would probably be a bit of Facebook stalking, some light flirting on WhatsApp, then off for a cheeky Nando's and maybe a bit of clubbing before heading back to the flat to ravenously gobble each other off and then beat each other's lubricated parts with a series of increasingly outlandish knobbly sex toys until they go off. No, things move a bit slower than that, and the proprieties must be observed. No-one wants to be getting a "reputation" and besides, everyone lives with their parents and old Ma Rothwell isn't going to stand for any monkey business, and that includes the sound of her daughter being noisily penetrated in the next room. We're also pre-pill, so anyone contemplating going "all the way" runs a terrible risk.

So there's a bit of fairly chaste courting, during the course of which Vic comes to the realisation that, while he's very interested in getting into Ingrid's knickers, she's not really that interesting in other ways. Vic dabbles with high-falutin' ideas like listening to Tchaikovsky (via his work colleague Conroy) and reading Dostoyevsky and Joyce (via his brother-in-law David) and Ingrid is more interested in a night in in front of the TV and an occasional outing to the bingo. But you can't argue with the primeval urges, and after a bit of off-and-on dating Vic finds himself on her in a big way in a discreet outdoor location.

So, obviously, you can see where this is going: Ingrid finds herself pregnant, Vic feels obliged to do the decent thing and marry her, awkward meetings with parents ensue, especially old Ma Rothwell who is something of a battleaxe, a wedding is hurriedly arranged, the newlyweds move in with the bride's parents (having nowhere else to go) and an awkward routine is established. Vic isn't exactly a hellraiser but finds not being able to come and go as he pleases a bit stifling, and can't even rely on some now-wholly-above-board conjugal action of an evening as Mum and Dad being in the next room makes it a bit awkward.

Eventually Vic comes home from work to find that Ingrid has taken a tumble downstairs at home, been rushed to hospital and subsequently had a miscarriage. Ma Rothwell didn't see fit to phone him at work to tell him, so he arrives at the hospital after Ingrid has been put to bed for the night and has to go home again. Needless to say this only stokes further resentment and after Ingrid has come home the atmosphere becomes even more fraught. One night Vic escapes from the house and goes on a bender with an old mate; on returning he finds Ma Rothwell still up and an altercation ensues during which he tells her what he thinks of her and signs off with a flourish by spewing on the carpet.

Assuming that he has burnt his boats with the Rothwells, Ingrid included, Vic does a runner early the next morning and throws himself upon the mercy of his sister, Chris. She isn't quite as uncritically supportive as he was hoping, but does raise the possibility of Vic being able to rent the flat below hers. Upon arranging a meeting with Ingrid to discuss this Vic finds her surprisingly receptive to the idea. Perhaps they can make the best of the situation after all?

So obviously we're in kitchen-sink drama, angry young man territory here, all of it eminently satirisable, just as with Sartre. The hellishness of the cycle of boy meets girl, they both have urges, accidents happen, both are forced into a marriage neither really wants, bloke becomes uncommunicative drunk while girl becomes frustrated shrill harridan is very well laid out and provides a bracing antidote to the sort of Daily Mail woolly nostalgia that got us, among other things, Brexit. This, right here, is the soft-focus 1950s idyll that we're being asked to hanker nostalgically after (those of us who can remember it in the first place). There are a whole raft of books in this genre and, as good as this is, there are others that are probably better. John Braine's Room At The Top, for instance, is probably the best of the "serious" ones (or at least the ones that I've read, anyway), and Kingsley AmisLucky Jim is the best of the comic ones. There's nowt wrong with this, though, although it is very much of its time and has some linguistic tics which are slightly jarring now: Vic's constant referring to women as "bints", even affectionately, for instance.

A Kind Of Loving was filmed in 1962 - directed, coincidentally, by John Schlesinger, who also directed the film of the previous book in this series, The Day Of The Locust. Schlesinger also directed the film of The Innocent in 1993.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

roth: a thad loth

Today sees the Curse Of Electric Halibut in particularly deadly form, as we learn of the death of American novelist Philip Roth. Roth was the last living member of the trio of white male American novelists often mentioned in the same breath - John Updike and Saul Bellow being the other two - and who were often held up as the pinnacle of American late-20th-century literature. Note that I'm not saying I think this was a justified view, as admirable as they all are individually - it's very white-male-centric and no doubt Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates, not to mention Marilynne Robinson, Anne Tyler and Alison Lurie, would have something to say about it, as would countless others not featured on this blog.

Anyway, my review of The Human Stain from last December did contain the throwaway observation that "Roth's days on this earth are of course now numbered". That is of course trivially true for anyone who's not already dead, but since he was 84 at the time it seemed a reasonably safe bet. Well, that number turned out to be five months almost to the day, which gave him time to celebrate his 85th birthday in March, but not much else. Even the value in the "Curse length" field (the second-shortest one in the list after Michael Dibdin) in the updated table below seems to act as a final Jewish kvetch against the injustice of it all: "Oy! 150d?"

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 1y 291d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 6y 218d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 6y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 6y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
Umberto Eco 30th June 2012 19th February 2016 84 3y 234d
Anita Brookner 15th July 2011 10th March 2016 87 4y 240d
William Trevor 29th May 2010 20th November 2016 88 6y 177d
John Berger 10th November 2009 2nd January 2017 90 7y 55d
Nicholas Mosley 24th September 2011 28th February 2017 93 5y 159d
Helen Dunmore 10th March 2008 5th June 2017 64 9y 89d
JP Donleavy 21st May 2015 11th September 2017 91 2y 114d
Ursula Le Guin 6th December 2015 22nd January 2018 88 2y 49d
Philip Roth 23rd December 2017 22nd May 2018 85 0y 150d

Monday, May 14, 2018

the last book I read

The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West.

Tod Hackett is a young and talented artist. Hardest game in the world, though, the old young and talented artist game, and it's not really putting food on the table, so Tod has got a job as a trainee set designer with a Hollywood studio. This doesn't exactly provide untold riches either, but at least keeps a roof over his head and allows him to get a sneaky insight into the movie-making process and interact with some assorted Hollywood types.

And a motley bunch they are too: from enraged dwarf Abe Kusich to lanky cowboy impersonator Earle Shoop and his Mexican sidekick (and occasional on-screen Native American impersonator) Miguel, all desperately trying to make it in the film industry but basically all just scrabbling around for a few crumbs dropped from the high table and having to take on trivial and demeaning work just to make ends meet. Most significant from Tod's point of view is Faye Greener, an aspiring actress who lives in the same apartment block as him.

Faye is an attractive young lady of no particular talent who becomes the object of Tod's increasingly violent sexual fantasies. In the real world she has no particular interest in him as a prospective partner; he's too "nice" and not rich enough. Instead she supplements her minimal acting income with some lucrative escort work for the shadowy Mrs. Jenning - a bit of the old whoring, in other words. This doesn't seem to be too much of an imposition for her as she seems quite partial to The Sex, carrying on off-screen with Earle and possibly one or two others. Not Tod, though, and not Homer Simpson (yes, I know, we'll come to that later), the slightly simple accountant whose spacious house Faye talks her way into living in.

A series of increasingly bizarre episodes ensues: Homer and Tod have an encounter with Adore Loomis, the supremely irritating child actor (imagine!) who lives with his pushy mum (imagine!) next door. Miguel organises a cockfight in Homer's garage. There is a wild party at which Faye has sex with Miguel, mainly for the purpose of making Earle jealous, seemingly successfully as a punch-up ensues. Eventually Tod finds himself in a crowd of people who have gathered for a downtown movie premiere. Crowds are fickle things of volatile mood and when Adore Loomis' taunting of Homer Simpson eventually cracks Homer's placid exterior and he gives the boy a savage beating, a riot ensues and Homer is swept away in the crowd. Tod is swept away too but manages to work his way clear of the crowd and is eventually rescued by the police.

The Day Of The Locust was published as long ago as 1939, but feels more modern than that (a sort of reverse True Grit syndrome, if you like). It's a pretty broad satire of Hollywood and the desperate cast of hangers-on who populate its seedy underbelly. Pretty much no-one here is an appealing character - Tod is the nominal hero of the book and seems like a basically decent guy, but the regular fantasies of clubbing Faye over the head with a bottle and raping her suggest there may be something darker going on. It's really more of a series of episodes than a grand sweeping narrative targeted towards making some specific point, and it's hard to know what to make of the ending where Tod is driven away in a police car cackling to himself while the city descends into rioting and chaos. Has he been driven insane? Or has he come to his senses and realised the absurdity of the life he's been living? No doubt the intention was that it could be taken either way.

It's entertaining, and short and snappy at under 200 pages. I'm not sure, for all that, that I'd be including it in any 100 best 20th-century novels list (not that I have any plans to compile one). TIME magazine did, though, so it joins a few others on this list like (among others) Blood Meridian, The French Lieutenant's Woman, On The Road, The Moviegoer and The Bridge Of San Luis Rey. Incidentally the claim in that TIME article that West and his wife were killed in a car crash on their way to the funeral of F Scott Fitzgerald is not corroborated anywhere else as far as I can see. The car crash bit is true, and Fitzgerald had died the day before, but there's no documented connection between the two.

The Homer Simpson connection is an odd one; Matt Groening is on record as claiming that Homer was named after his father, but this article confidently claims a direct link with The Day Of The Locust. It could of course be both.

There was a film of the book made in 1975 with some heavyweight names on board, including Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson. I expect you could construct a good pub quiz question out of that. It also stars the guy who keeps getting punched by Bruce Willis's wife in the Die Hard films as Tod Hackett.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

marnoch depression is a frustrating mess

Let's do another whisky post, wherein I bemoan the fact that I don't get to do whisky posts any more because I've got five kids to feed and all. No, you fuck off, it's my blog.

So you'll recall my pleasant surprise when the Glen Marnoch whisky I bought from Aldi a while back turned out not to be a mixture of turps, cold tea, razor blades and despair, but instead was quite palatable. And all this despite Glen Marnoch being a figment of someone's imagination, a mythical Shangri-La where the rivers flow with cheap non-distillery-specific whisky.

And so it came to pass that someone bought me a bottle of Glen Marnoch, the Speyside one this time (the previous one being the Islay-flavoured edition), for Christmas. Whether they'd been inspired by my blog post of almost exactly a year earlier I couldn't say, but anyway, there it is. I did get a couple of bottles of other stuff as well, which was very gratifying, but I'd had all of those before.

So how to assess this one? Well, the best thing would seem to be to start by having a look at it. I note, first of all, that nowhere on the bottle or the packaging carries any sort of warning, in any European language, about the amount of industrial food colouring in it. So that's nice. What I decided was that I should pour what you might call a reference dram of something else of a broadly similar colour, so I chose Highland Park, partly because it's my favourite thing and partly because I happened to have some in the cupboard. Here they are side by side, the Highland Park on the left, slightly lighter as you can see.

There's some stuff on the bottle which makes reference to things like butterscotch, toast and marmalade. I'm not sure I get much of that: butterscotch maybe, but if you want toast and marmalade then my recommendation is that you get hold of some Dalmore. It's a pretty standard sherry-infused Speysider - speculating which distillery it came from is pretty futile given the ludicrously huge number currently in existence, but it's certainly not dissimilar to the Glenlivet and Glenfarclas that have featured here before. There's all the usual leather-topped wooden writing desk stuff that you usually get with sherried whisky, plus a suspicion of something vegetably which is a bit reminiscent of the Tobermory.

It's not as distinctive or interesting in its own right as any of the ones I've just mentioned, but perfectly quaffable and a steal at around £18. The Highland Park reference dram kicks its arse, though.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

I've got a pike you can hike it if you like

As promised, a follow-up on the earlier post about our week's holiday in the Lake District. Part one was mainly ticking off some low-level and mainly kid-friendly activities, part two is all about the lung-busting assaults on various lumps of rock of varying degrees of spikiness and steepness.

A brief historical interlude: I remember being slightly confused when it was revealed, in probably my early teenage years, that the Lake District, in addition to having lots of lakes, as the name suggests, also contains a substantial number of large mountains. And, moreover, the Peak District, whose name suggests exciting rugged lumps of rock, in fact contains almost nothing of that nature at all, but rather a lot of rolling moorland plateaus and fairly gentle hills. I should add that I don't think we ever went on holiday there as kids so I don't know it nearly as well as the Lake District. I did go there for a week with my ex-girlfriend Anne in what was probably about 1999, mainly to do some cycling on the Tissington and High Peak trails, but we also (at my insistence I suspect) went up Kinder Scout, an experience I can't honestly describe as all that thrilling. Wikipedia describes it as a "moorland plateau" rather than a mountain, and my recollection is that the location of the actual summit is far from obvious - the rain and fog on the day we went up wouldn't have helped.

Anyway, back to the Lake District - I went on this particular holiday with high hopes of doing some proper mountain hiking, but tempered by an expectation that there was a good chance of weather, conflicting scheduling or childcare requirements conspiring to thwart me. As it turned out, however, not only did I manage to organise two proper days in the mountains, with different but equally delightful company each time, but we managed to bag excellent weather for both.

The Buttermere Fells

My first idea for a day out was to tackle the group of fells on the south side of Buttermere, none of which I'd ever been up before. These are variously known as the "Buttermere fells" or the "High Stile range" and principally comprise Red Pike (not to be confused with the slightly higher mountain of the same name over in Wasdale), High Stile and High Crag. They're not supremely high as Lakeland fells go - High Stile is either the 29th, 11th or 33rd highest peak in the area, depending whose list you use - but it's reasonably easily accessible via the Honister Pass, very popular and provides a nice circular walk starting and finishing at either Gatesgarth Farm (where we parked) or in Buttermere village. Which of these you choose may dictate which direction you choose to do the walk in, for reasons outlined here, i.e. it's probably preferable to have the long flat section at the start rather than the end. Starting from Gatesgarth we decided to walk along the lakeside path and tackle Red Pike first, thereby ensuring that we'd end up dropping off the ridge pretty much straight back into the car park. The path up to Red Pike from the lake is pretty steep and gets very crumbly and scree-y towards the top, but this is by far the most strenuous section of the whole day, and once you get to the summit there's a very inviting broad grassy ridge leading towards High Stile.

The main thing you notice being up on the ridge is that its central location within Lakeland affords the most comprehensive views I can ever remember seeing. Obviously it being a very clear day helped, but from Red Pike you get spectacular views of Crummock Water and Ennerdale Water and from High Crag in particular amazing views of Pillar directly across the valley and also the Wasdale group, in particular Great Gable, Kirk Fell and the Scafells.

We had intended to take in Haystacks as a little detour while dropping off the ridge, as it was legendarily Wainwright's favourite mountain and the place where his ashes are scattered, but unfortunately we didn't have time. Here's the route info and elevation profile; it was a mere 7.1 miles according to the track log, but still took us most of the day, although we didn't get started until nearly 11am.

The Scafells

It's generally accepted that the Lake District has four peaks of over 3000 feet: Scafell, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw, although Scafell disappears from certain lists which have particularly stringent relative height requirements. Prior to this trip I'd been up Scafell Pike twice and Helvellyn and Skiddaw once each, so Scafell itself was a major omission from my mountaineering CV. As luck would have it Ray not only hadn't been up Scafell, he hadn't ever been up Scafell Pike either, so the possibly tricky job of selling a trip to bag the two highest mountains in England in a day turned out to be quite easy.

One of the most challenging aspects of climbing mountains from Wasdale, which is the best place to attack the Scafells from, is that it's extraordinarily time-consuming to get there. It took us the best part of an hour and a half to get to the National Trust car park at Wasdale Head from Keswick, despite their as-the-crow-flies separation being little more than ten miles. Having got there, though, it was straight into some lung-bursting climbing up the path alongside Lingmell Gill to Hollow Stones at the base of the crags which protect the two peaks. 

The original plan had been to search out and ascend Lord's Rake, Wainwright's preferred route up Scafell, an exciting scree scramble up a cleft in Scafell Crag which leads (especially if you take the option of the West Wall Traverse about halfway up) pretty directly to the summit. For some years this route had been subject to some severe safety warnings as a rock fall had resulted in a large chockstone being precariously wedged in the middle of the rake about halfway up in such a way that it could fall at LITERALLY ANY MOMENT and turn nearby hikers into strawberry jam. Needless to say LITERALLY ANY MOMENT turned out to be the best part of a decade later in 2016.

So, encouraged by the prospect of not being mashed to a gristly pulp by a rock the size of a small car, we headed up the scree slopes below Mickledore to have a look for Lord's Rake. It's hidden from view most of the way up from Wasdale and only really becomes obvious when you get to the Mickledore side of it and look back, at which point it's completely obvious. Unfortunately what was also completely obvious was that it was full of snow, presumably snow which had been there all winter. The snow we encountered on our brief reconnaissance expedition certainly had a treacherous icy crust on it, so there was every chance the snow in the rake would have been in the same state. We reluctantly concluded that while it probably would have been fine with an ice axe and a pair of light crampons each we weren't really equipped for it in shorts and T-shirts, so we had to arse-toboggan back down some scree to Hollow Stones and have a rethink.

Other routes up Scafell from Mickledore all encounter the same problem: the great bulk of Broad Stand which stands in the way of access to the summit plateau and is pretty much off-limits unless you're equipped with proper rock-climbing paraphernalia. So the usual route is to drop off Mickledore to the east (i.e. away from Wasdale), skirt round the bottom of Broad Stand and then head steeply up to the little natural amphitheatre that houses Foxes Tarn. 

As with most forms of physically challenging activity, half of the battle is mental, and there was a bit of a low moment when we realised we'd have to do another scree scramble up to the Mickledore ridge and then drop down 800 feet or so to get round Broad Stand, then do a scrambly ascent of Scafell, then do the whole height loss and regain again in reverse to get back to Mickledore in order to head up onto Scafell Pike. But we had a drink and a choccy bar, gave ourselves a stern talking to and set off.

And, in fact, although the height loss is frustrating, the Foxes Tarn route is actually quite good fun, in particular the section where the "path" heads up a rocky cleft which contains a stream and which requires some proper hands-and-feet scrambling. It doesn't take long to get to Foxes Tarn, which is little more than a greenish puddle but sits in a very lovely natural amphitheatre (presumably a glacial cirque). The main path up from there to the summit area is a crumbly scree-y nightmare, so having gone up that way and bagged the summit (where there is an obvious cairn but no trig point) we descended via some grassy slopes on the other side of the tarn to get back to where we came up. Once we were back at Mickledore we headed up onto the great stony dome of Scafell Pike, which contains no technical difficulties but occasionally requires a queueing system to get your trig point photo. I'd be intrigued to know the ratio between people summiting Scafell Pike and people summiting Scafell on any given day, but I'd imagine it'd be in the ballpark of 10:1 or maybe more. Having done the summit formalities we headed off the north end of the summit dome and eventually rejoined the path down to Lingmell Gill and the car park, from where we drove the mile or so down the road to the Wasdale Head Hotel where we had a reviving pint in Ritson's Bar before tackling the drive back to Keswick.

Here's the route map and elevation profile. Note that I've put some arrows and numbers on the map in an attempt to make sense of the spaghetti-like route we ended up taking. This one was only 6.9 miles lateral distance according to the track log, but packs over 4700 feet of ascent and descent into that distance, so it's pretty unforgiving. Open the images in a new tab for a full-size view.

Photos, including rugged mountain activity but also the more child-friendly stuff described in the earlier post (and combining some of mine and many more nicked from Hazel and Emma), can be found here.