The Longmind, Shropshire
16th - 18th Feb 1999
We set out for Shropshire in good spirits, John Helen Zena and myself travelled up in Zena's car, It would be good to get away for the weekend and meet up with the rest of the project group. This would be our first weekend together. The turn off from the main road was obscure, so obscure in fact that we missed it and took the next turn off instead. From here on in the things became creepy. The mist rolled in enveloping the car and the high banked country roads seemed to lean in from both sides. The roads made no attempt to match the map as John diligently navigated us towards our final goal. After several junctions, which appeared out of nowhere, before vanishing into the fog behind, the Youth Hostel loomed out of the mist before us. At least we thought it ought to be the hostel, though it was making a good attempt at looking like an old village school.
After leaving a message on the blackboard in the foyer we inserted ourselves into a corner of the local pub and waited the later arrivals. Adele and Hannah turned up first, bringing tales of driving over the top of the Longmind in mist like a scene from the Hound of the Baskavilles. Woolfie soon followed with stories of the most bizarre taxi ride from the not so local station into the back of beyond. Several drinks later we headed off to our respective dorms to see what the morning would bring.
The intrepid team on the top of the Longmind
The morning brought more mist. This time however it was high on the tops of the hills leaving a clear view of the valley in which were staying. A good day for a walk, the air was relatively still and the temperature on the cool side. After finalising our route over breakfast we packed our kit and set off. The air hung heavy, full of moisture, and so after half a mile of uphill struggle we were soon stripping off the layers we had piled on at the start. It wasn't long before we had broken into the mist and were approaching the top of the ridge. By this time conversations were flowing and the team had started to get to know one another, Well at least broached the conversation topic "So what do you do then?" and "How did you get involved in Himalayan Hands?".
A couple of changes of navigator later, without mishap, and having passed a mysterious ancient earth circle, we arrived at our highest point for the day on top of the Longmind. The views were…well, non existent but we took some group photographs of ourselves, the intrepid explorers leaning against the viewpoint cairn. It was ironic to look blindly into the white mist along the directions, inscribed in its metal top, of local landmarks we couldn't see. We followed the ridge ever onwards, skirting the local handgliding club perched on the side of the hill, and eventually found ourselves on the downward slope off the end of the Longmind.
Lunch, at the bottom sitting on plastic bags to keep off the wet grass, was a quiet affair. We munched our butties made the day before and contemplated the route ahead. The walk back up the valley was pleasant and full of chat, though discussions on tropical diseases and creepy crawlies that get under your skin could have been gladly omitted in my opinion. All this was laid to rest however when we found ourselves outside a pleasant pub just 6 km from home. It would have been rude not to stop and sample the landlords ale, so we shuffled in, in our muddy boots and sequestered ourselves on a table by the bar. Shropshire Lad was a delight to the taste buds as it sank in rapid fashion, and the food menu looked to be superb. And so it was later with some struggle that we said goodbye to the landlord and the warmth of the pub, and promised to come back that evening for some more beer and food.
From this point onwards the conversation turned more bizarre as we spoke of sex, sheep, religion and pornography in no particular order, though mostly in combination. At least we know what to buy Woolfie for his birthday, some green wellies and velcro cloves, Bahhh! With a few strained nerves and quite a few laughs besides we soon found ourselves marching up the road towards the youth hostel. We were early, so the swings out the back provided some amusement for a while whilst we awaited the opening of the hostel.
Navigation in the wilds
That night Adele's back was giving her some problems and it was left to Helen to drive us all back to the pub in Adele's enormous Volvo Estate. The back two rear facing seats were really designed to take kids but Woolfie and I squeezed into them regardless and watched with growing panic as the car parked behind us got steadily closer as first gear refused to engage up the hill out of the car park. This mishap aside we made it safe and sound back to the pub for a fantastic meal and plenty more Shropshire Lad. Thoughts turned to the coming months and the expedition in Nepal. All of the hopes… and fears we had were laid out, to the encouragement of us all, and we tried to detail in what we aimed to achieve in the Nepali village.
That night back in the dorm was not particularly pleasant for the lads amongst us. One of the members of another party had had too much scrumpy jack in the local and sleep was disturbed on several occasions. John and Woolfie, the more awake amongst us, spent half the night trying to shift the 18st guy off his back to ensure he didn't die whilst in his comatose state. He surfaced the next morning none the wiser though still looking distinctly green.
We scoured the map once again over breakfast looking for a shorter route to tackle that day and with route found, once more we set off. The day had an eerie feel with the mist hanging in patches across the valley and the surrounding hills. No exciting hills to climb this day, and with waterproofs on we wound through country lanes and muddy paths. The mud was particularly prolific and found its way over boots and into socks on many occasions till most became beyond caring what they tramped through. We arrived back at the hostel still in good spirits despite the mud and spent some time standing in the stream watching the dirt wash off our boots before walking back into the local pub next to the hostel for a spot of lunch and more beer. Yet again the food was to be recommended and we all had our fill before deciding it was time to wend our merry ways back to our respective homes.
The drive home back across the Longmind was spectacular as we broke out of the mist at the top of the hill. The view across the hills was like looking at islands poking out of a white sea. The road down was precariously perched on the side of a steep valley and only the swirling mist enclosing us as we headed back down stopped the feeling of vertigo. At this point we realised what Adele and Hannah must have experienced two nights before as they drove over in the dark and fog.
All in all it was a great weekend and I for one am looking forward to the many we have to come.