WALKING TYPES No. 1:
The Wiry Old Guy
He's thin and stringy, he's got a face like a walnut and a shock of fine white hair which stands out from his head in the slightest breeze. He walks quite slowly, with his hands tucked neatly under the bottom of his rucksack, but he never stops. In knee-deep heather, vertical bog, scree or on a wet grass slope, he walks at two miles an hour, taking little economical steps, and not breathing hard at all. You pass him three times on the way up, but each time he passes you again while you're wheezing on a rock, 'admiring the view' and trying to decide whether to throw up before or after you finish the last of your water.
He always nods gravely and says, 'Morning!' or, 'Fine day!' or, 'Bit blowy!', but you can just tell from the way he looks at you that he's thinking, Young idiots, flinging themselves up the mountain - be dead before they're seventy-five. And he's probably right.
I think that he was cunningly constructed from steel wire, springs and fine leather at some time near the start of the century, by the last great craftsmen of the automotive age, just before the British car industry went phut. And he will still be purring along smoothly when your big end is well and truly gone.
He carries an old khaki A-frame rucksack which weighs twenty pounds empty, and he seems to have packed his army greatcoat in case the weather turns nasty later. He's wearing a collarless shirt, three cardigans, and what seems to be an antique dinner jacket - it's got silk lapels. 'Feel that,' he says. 'Wool through and through. Warm as toast, fifty years old, and still a few years' wear in it yet. Got married in that, I did.'
At the cairn, he drinks a bottle of dark beer and eats a piccalilli sandwich, then nods towards the next peak, across two thousand feet of descent with a bog at the bottom of it. 'Fancy coming on to the next one with me?' he says.
You gabble something about trains, or baby-sitters, or lame grandparents still in the car, and say you'd better head back.
He gives you that look again.
TAC 11 Index