Tuesday, 26 July 2011

North by Northwest - the first outing

North by Northwest is of course the title of an iconic Cary Grant film from 1959 in which he plays an urbane city man suddenly caught up in a Cold War spy intrigue. It involves his impersonating an imaginary US government agent who The Other Side mistakenly assumes him to be. At first, Cary Grant wants out, but then assists the CIA in earnest, in order to save the life of a female agent he has fallen in love with, and barely rescues in the end, with a thrilling denouement on the craggy presidential faces carved into Mount Rushmore. Most of the time he moves around in a £1,000-dollar suit (that's £1,000 dollars in 1959 values) and looks, speaks and moves in his best Cary Grant manner - which was the very model of appealing, handsome sophistication for any man of the time with aspirations to impress the girls in his life. I so much admired him and his style - probably for more complex reasons than I understood back then!

One incident in the film has him lured out into the country, a desolate spot, where he waits for something to happen. It does. He gets attacked by a crop-spraying biplane:

I think it looks better in black and white! And the relevance to myself? Well, towards the end of my inaugural walk in the new boots, when I was trapped in a field behind a barbed wire fence, would you believe it, this came into view and flew low over me:

But fortunately that was all that happened. One pass only.

Anyway, I'm jumping ahead. Let me tell you about this first walk in the new boots. Basically it went very well, but it left me exhausted.

Not that I was carrying too much. I had a lightweight black Lowe-alpine pax 20 rucksack with plenty of clever pockets. Carefully folded into the base of that was my outer wet-weather shell clothing, two Gore-tex items by Berghaus: a green waterproof jacket, and blue waterproof trousers. It was a sunny day; but you can't venture onto hills, even the gentle South Downs, without proper stuff to get into if the weather takes a cold or rainy turn. Both these items dated from the 1990s, and were styled for a man, but that hardly mattered if I needed something roomy to zip up or pull up over my other attire. And more air between layers meant more insulation. Next in the bag: SeaSalt woolly hat, gloves, and spare Wigwam socks. So that was my 'standard' kit, for every outing. It didn't weigh much at all. Next in was my Olde Trustye Redde Metall Sigg water bottel:

And my Olde Trustye Garisshe Orange Tupperware foode container, with an apple and a Kitkat inside:

Also in the rucksack went a 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map, my purse, my Nokia E71 phone, my HP iPAQ PDA (which had an array of OS maps stored in its memory, and was in effect a standby electronic map), my Leica D-Lux 4 compact camera (naturally), tissues, sunglasses, comb, cosmetic bag. I could have added a little more to eat, and a compass. The walk lasted longer than intended, and when you are tired and getting disheartened, a second snack can cheer you up and make you think more clearly. I had two Silva compasses, but they both dated from 1979, and frankly I didn't trust them for critical use, such as for walking on a bearing in fog or mist. They'd been in cars too much, and might have been affected by the electrics. (So a new compass before the autumn)

I was wearing a beige low-neckline top, bra, panties, watch, black leggings, Wigwam socks, the new Alt-Berg boots - a pretty minimal garb. I also had with me a wine-red SeaSalt lightweight fleece jacket that soon got wrapped around my waist, as the sun made it too warm to wear. It was a decent 'mat' to sit on though, spread out on the dry grass.

All in all, the rucksack weighed no more than my Nikon D700 camera plus lens had in its backpack, and that was about 5kg, so I reckoned I was carrying about 10 pounds altogether. No problemo.

For once I didn't bother with a panty liner. I've never 'leaked' very much, and I wanted to see how it would be on a proper walk if there was just me and the cotton panties, and nothing between us. I'm pleased to report that it all went well. Of course, as always, I had a panty liner in the cosmetic bag just in case; and on a longer walk, I'd carry spare panties to change into if necessary.

The boots themselves were a dream. They were so supportive and comfortable. I forgot I was wearing them for much of the time - that's a very good sign. They had plenty of grip. I didn't slip or stumble once, even when I began to get very tired. And my toes were able to flex and waggle all the way. So full marks, Alt-Berg!

Right then. I drove the short distance to the top of Ditchling Beacon, parked, and set off around 9.30am. the first objective was Keymer Post, west along the South Downs Way, then I'd turn south on the Sussex Border Path to The Chattri. All this went magnificently well. I stopped to talk with a man looking for a good spot to hang-glide from, and a nice lady with a little dog. The Chattri is a strange thing to see in the English countryside. It's a memorial to Indian troops who died from their wounds in the First World War. Built in 1921 in white marble, it's been the scene of a unique memorial service held in June every year since 1951, to commerate the valour of these troops and remember the gallant individuals who died so far from home.

They let sheep graze, to keep the grass down. It's in a remote, peaceful spot without road access. Apparently 'Chattri' means 'umbrella' in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi, and in this case refers to the marble dome; but also symbolically to an umbrella sheltering and protecting the memory of those who died. They were cremated where the granite slabs are in the foreground, with the wreaths on them.

Having contemplated the memorial, I sat down in the sun to have my snack, then decided to return to Ditchling Beacon via a farm at Lower Standean and a valley that went in the right direction. Here I went wrong. I found myself on the wrong side of a series of interminable recently-erected barbed wire fences, and I had to struggle uphill through rough fields densely sown with rape. Those oil seed pods got into my boots and worked their way through my socks. And I couldn't escape. There was no getting over the new fences. And there was the proper open path, so tantalisingly close, and I couldn't get to it! At one point, when feeling really low, I nearly cried from frustration. That was when the biplane swooped past. Then at last I found a place where I could crawl under the bottommost strand in the fence, to freedom:

The car park was just over the next rise, and believe me, I was glad to flop into the back of Fiona. I sat with my feet dangling, the hatch shielding me from the hot sun. It took half an hour to pick the worst of the seeds from boots and socks. Then I tidied up my face and hair. Then I discovered that I'd plonked my rucksack right on top of my glasses, and that both lenses had popped out. Complete panic! I can hardly see without my specs! I managed to get one lens back into the frame, and realised that a tiny retaining screw had dropped out. Then began a cyclopean search for that screw. I did find it; it went carefully into the Tupperware food container. I drove home rather deflated. A poor end to a walk that began so well.

But I soon cheered up once I'd had a cup of tea, fixed my specs, and entirely deseeded the boots and socks. After all, the boots had been a huge success, the rest of my gear had functioned perfectly, and I'd acquired a pretty suntan!

But it was the slowest walk ever. Four and a half miles, five at the very most, in four hours! I clearly wasn't ready for any kind of sustained hill walking, and must first spend a lot of time building up my stamina. Especially before walking with anyone else. I didn't want to be a pain. OK, I'd stopped to admire the views often, and was taking photographs all the time, and had two chats along the way. But I only had one sit-down, and ducked into a bush for a pee only once. It was the last mile that did for me, through those awful fields. That wasted an hour at least.

But (need you ask) I'm taking my walking gear with me to North Devon next week. I can get to Exmoor and Dartmoor equally well. And there's the South West Coastal Path too.

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