Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 10th April 2018

SIZE, it seems, is everything when it comes to determining when it’s a hill, a mountain or just simply a fell.

The Times nominated “Haystacks hill” as one of its 20 recommended spring walks in one of those weekend supplements designed to get its readers out and about over the Easter holidays.

It set me wondering what Alfred Wainwright, author of the celebrated Pictorial Guides to the Lake District, would have made of the “hill” description.

Haystacks suffers, in the height department, from being 42ft short of 2,000ft. Internet site Wikipedia says it is “a hill of not great elevation”.

For all their somewhat dismissive view, it’s where A.W. chose to have his ashes scattered for all eternity. The great man once wrote that, if future walkers felt a bit of grit in the corner of their eye, it might just be him blowing in the wind.

I suppose the Times was strictly correct in calling Haystacks a hill and not a mountain. While Wainwright always maintained his favourite fell was “the one I am on at the time,” it’s fairly clear that Haystacks, even if it failed to make his top dozen due to its height shortcomings, was, in A.W.’s eyes, the special one.

He wrote of its beauty, sheer fascination and unique individuality, adding that the summit area was “supreme — in fact the best fell top of all.”

For all the experts and their vital statistics, I’ve always regarded Haystacks as more than just a hill. Running in the Ennerdale fell race in days of yore it certainly felt like a mountain to those of us puffing and panting in the rear. And I’m sure it does to anyone who has approached its summit by Honister’s Via Ferrata.

I believe Haystacks derives its name from the Icelandic stack meaning “a columnar rock”. Officially it appears it’s a hill. But to me it will always be more than that, at the very least a magical piece of the Lake District that deserves to be an honorary mountain.

SQUIRREL HEAVIES

THEY are the A.J.’s of the nature world. Like the world heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua they are bigger, stronger and cleverer than their opponents.

It’s official. Grey squirrels are not just bigger and tougher than their red cousins, they are smarter. Researchers have demonstrated that greys are better problem solvers, a key factor when it comes to sniffing out food.

The universities of Exeter and Edinburgh have been testing greys and their study, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, says that the greys’ “flexible skills” may have facilitated their invasion success. Given a task of pushing and pulling levers to get hazelnuts, 91 per cent of greys were able to work it out compared to 62 per cent of reds.

The findings suggest greys, imported from North America in the 1880s as a fashionable extra on country estates, now outnumber reds 15 to one. Prince Charles, a recent visitor to Cumbria, is a supporter of the campaign to control the greys and it is legal to kill them provided it’s done humanely.

But try defining humane. One chap, in 2010,was prosecuted for drowning a squirrel that was robbing his garden bird feeder. You can shoot ‘em with an air rifle if you have a licence, or you can put them in a sack and knock them over the head. The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals recommends taking them to the vet to be put down — at your own expense — or calling in a pest control expert.

It all seems blooming hard on the greys. It’s not their fault some posh toff 140 years ago decided it would be a good idea to have them running round their country pile. But they are incredibly effective breeders and carry a nasty virus that doesn’t affect them yet kills 99 per cent of reds that catch it.

Our local politicians are particularly clued up when it comes to wildlife. Penrith and Border MP Rory Stewart once amazed the Commons with a speech about hedgehogs, and Lord Inglewood likewise arrested the attention of noble lords a few years back with his contribution to a debate on the survival of red squirrels.

Lord Inglewood suggested using greys as food, quoting a recipe claiming it to be the tastiest of all small game. In the national interest, he was prepared to invite members to a dinner party at a Lake District hotel for a squirrel dinner. As we have some distinguished chefs working in Cumbria these days, producing dishes from local produce, I wonder what happened to Lord Inglewood’s idea. Perhaps fine diners are a little too squeamish about ordering steak a la squirrel and squirrel terrine. But if squirrel became an accepted delicacy, it would spell trouble for the greys.

Some would say nuts to the idea of squirrel pie. but it’s one way of making the cull of the heavyweight champs of the squirrel world a bit more justified.

RUN RABBIT RUN

SO what would Beatrix Potter have made of the way they’ve portrayed Peter Rabbit for the latest animated film?

I’ve not seen it yet. So I can’t praise or criticise. However, leading film critic Mark Kermode said: “If you have read the books you will be appalled.”

Beatrix left almost all her property to the National Trust and her books continue to sell in large numbers throughout the world. Her books and art, her Herdwick sheep and her indomitable spirit are all part of her legacy.

But I don’t think she would have been into the “PG-violence” rating of Peter Rabbit at the cinema despite the fact that those who have seen it tell me the film is funny and enjoyably irreverent.

Burger chain McDonalds has been involved in the promotion for the film. Miss Potter would assuredly have hated that. If squirrel isn’t on the menu, how long will it be before your Big Mac contains some of Peter’s pals? Better run rabbit run just in case!

CLEVER CUMBRIANS

MICHAEL Overs, in a letter printed in the i newspaper the other day, spotted something that had already occurred to me. Many of the newspaper’s letters page correspondents are from Cumbria.

Mr Overs pointed out that, while we have more sheep than people, “we also have more socially and politically aware citizens than most counties of a comparable size”. Plus, he added, “we have a shedful of intellectuals, from Lord Bragg to Rory Stewart”.

When it comes to government funding and the Northern Powerhouse, we Cumbrians invariably get left out in the cold. Football fans down south, when entertaining Carlisle United, chant “you’re just a small town in Scotland”. That’s how geographically educated they are, and how remote we seem to them.

So well said, Mr Overs. See, we aren’t as daft and dim-witted as that there metropolitan elite down London, what’s never been north of Barnet, think we are.

A PEACEFUL LEGEND

AS modern day sport is ever more tainted by cheats, jiffy bags, state-sponsored use of performance-enhancing drugs and a win at all costs mentality, it’s refreshing to hark back to the days when Bill Teasdale, from Caldbeck, was winning fell races on nothing more sinister than sherry and eggs.

There was once a rumour of misdeeds when his trainer was spotted handing him something out of a tin which Teasdale put in his mouth at the end of a race. It turned out to be his false teeth.

Reader Robin Barratt, who taught at Keswick School from 1956 to 1960, recalls seeing Teasdale, having run over from Caldbeck, lapping the school’s 440 yards track, always clockwise. He timed the runner who clocked a series of sub-five minute miles for “what seemed to be indefinitely”.

Sports physiologists measured Bill’s oxygen uptake at 62 and said it was that of a fit 20 year old. Richard Askwith, author of the fell running book Feet in the Clouds, said Teasdale compared favourably in his prime with any athlete alive.

Askwith met Bill and wrote that, unlike many sporting millionaires, he seems at peace with himself. He won his glory in a world that has vanished, but he knows that in that world the honour he won was real. That was a world with boundaries where a hero’s worth was measured not by nationwide celebrity but by the respect of his neighbours”.

No international glory for Bill. When Teasdale went to London to collect his MBE it was the furthest he had been from Caldbeck.