We climbed a mountain

We climbed a mountain last week.

On the middle of our 3 days in the Lake District after Holy Week and Easter, we ‘did’ Skiddaw. Skiddaw is in the northern lakes and overlooks Derwent water and the town of Keswick. At 931 metres it is the 4th highest mountain in the Lake District (though an outdoorsman friend of mine tells me it is in fact the ‘biggest’ despite not being the ‘highest’ – quite how that works I’m not sure, though I have never known said (very clever) friend to be wrong about anything), and the bulk of the ascent is via a fairly inoffensive (though at moments quite steep and at all times utterly relentless) stone pathway. As we clambered higher and higher, my thoughts turned to School (I need to work at switching off, I know….) and how slugging it up this mountain was a bit like leading a school over the last two years during the pandemic.

I hadn’t set off on his path before – none of us had – and I had people with me relying on me to get them to the top. It got tricky at times – really tricky – and the path veered left and right and threw up some very steep moments indeed. Sometimes the route under our feet gave way and we stumbled; at other times it became monotonous and tedious. On a few occasions the sun went behind the gathering clouds and it became bitterly cold; on others the wind picked up and we seemed to be forever adjusting our layers to respond to whatever the conditions threw at us. On more than one occasion people got grumpy and tempers got frayed: sometimes the answer was gentle encouragement, sometimes it was enthusiastic cajoling, sometimes it was no-nonsense clear instructions. A few times I said I knew exactly what was over the next hill, and a few times I shared that I didn’t know at all. And there was chocolate – lots of chocolate – to keep us going.

And then, magically, we could see the summit coming into view. The clouds disappeared, the wind died down, and as we took a sharp turn to the right and came up over the final hill, we were greeted by the most extraordinary view all around us. Laid out for as far as the eye could see were hills, mountains, lakes, fields, more hills, more lakes, towns, villages, the sea, the Isle of Man, the edge of Scotland, the sun shining, the birds singing – quite literally breath-taking.

The comparison – though perhaps a bit contrived and pretentiously poetic – is not too far-fetched. We haven’t conquered the pandemic – just as Skiddaw kept on going way into the distance after we had ‘topped out’, so we continue to have some considerable way (as yet unknown) to go. But whilst the journey so far has been full of slips, surprises, uncertainty and tensions, it is a journey we have done together, and my sense is that we are beginning now to get a glimpse of the glorious view that has been waiting for us.

As we set out on a restriction-free summer term, perhaps we can – at last – look forward to what’s in store: sunshine, fixtures, trips, plays, jazz evenings, chamber concerts, speech day, prizes, sports days, adventure camps, dinners, ice-cream stalls, celebrations. We always talked about there being hope on the horizon: maybe now, just as with those spellbinding views stretching down across Cumbria and beyond, we can at last see laid out in front of us the beauty, promises, excitement and hope of what lies ahead. Let’s enjoy it.

James Featherstone


29 April 2022
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