I’m going on a school trip tomorrow, for the first time in over two years. I am stupefied with exhaustion, like every other teacher everywhere who’s still crawling towards the end of term, but I am still ridiculously excited, because, school trip! It will be a fabulous one, too. We’re taking the Gold Duke of Edinburgh group away for the weekend; the weather forecast is good, and we’re going to the Yorkshire Dales, one of my favourite places in the whole world. The students, meanwhile, are like a Year Two class before an end-of-term party, not at the thought of the expedition itself but because we’ll be stopping at a service station on the way and, OMG, service station! Remember we’re in south Lincolnshire, where there are barely even any dual carriageways, never mind service stations. I swear if I were to organise a school trip that was basically a tour of UK service stations, it would be the most popular school trip ever.
We’ll be in Three Peaks country, climbing Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, and the thought of being in the hills again after months in the Flatlands has kept me going for quite a while now. The Husband, the Dude and I have climbed all three many times over, starting when the Dude was six. I’ve got a lovely photo of him by the trig point on top of Whernside, munching through a chocolate Rice Krispie cake the size of his own head, completely unbothered by the fact that he’d just climbed the highest hill in Yorkshire. I could honestly witter on for hours about walking in the Dales: the crunch of your walking boots on the path as you approach the Ribblehead Viaduct; the sight of Ingleborough stretched out like a lion in the sun; the waving cottongrass and clean fresh air; the beer at the Station Inn. I’ve even got a favourite route, for goodness’ sake (Ingleborough from Clapham, if you really want to know; and there’s a fabulous café in Clapham where you can buy big chunky sandwiches and wodges of Millionaire’s Shortbread before you set off). It will be excellent.
It’s kind of appropriate that we’re going to the Three Peaks, at the end of this particular year, since I’ve occasionally used the ascent of Pen-y-ghent to illustrate the idea of resilience. If you’ve ever climbed Pen-y-ghent from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, you’ll know that there’s a steep bit, up the ‘nose’ of Pen-y-ghent, where, if you’re me, you might need to do a bit of a scramble, and swear a bit, and stop for a breather. And you’ll think you’ve reached the top, and you’ll look for the trig point. But it’s not there. Because you’re not there yet. You’ve still got another couple of hundred metres to go. The Husband and I did the Three Peaks the year we turned forty, starting with Whernside and ending with Pen-y-ghent, and that final ascent was killing. I might have actually cried. But you drag yourself on, because you’ve got no other choice, and that’s really what this year has been like. Lots of hard slog, and realising that even when you thought the hard yards were finally behind you, there was still a little bit more to negotiate.
Term finishes here next Wednesday, and on Thursday, partly because we like a challenge and partly because we don’t have the sense we were born with and didn’t think about how knackered we’d be at the end of this year, the Husband, the Dude and I will be setting out to do the Coast to Coast long-distance walk. At some point this summer, I might actually sit and do nothing.