The Peak District. A sprawling beautiful landscape of highs and lows, of literal peaks and troughs as the valleys cut deep into the stillness of the hillsides that tower above to provide beautiful viewing points. The oldest National Park in the United Kingdom, it is filled with quaint tiny little hamlets and villages as well as traditional towns that are the hub between North and South. To have been born in Eyam, the village that was ravaged by bubonic plague in the 1600’s whereby most of its inhabitants died an awful and painful death, is both a blessing and a curse. The former because it means you are inherited to the landscape of the Peak District, your blood flows in its streams and in the wind that blows; but the latter because you get a bit fed up of being asked if you have the plague.
Just down the road, en route to Manchester is Castleton. A gorgeous little town filled with bistro pubs that provide an endless supply of hearty food nestled in under the remains of Peveril Castle and surrounded by the caverns that have a bounty of shimmering blue, purple, yellow and red treasure, Blue John stone. Castleton is a geographers dream as it has a wealth of history regarding the landscape that surrounds it and not just for the geological science it provides. Mam Tor, a beautiful tall mountain towers above the town and nearby Edale as the magical Winnats Pass cuts through its side where it wouldn’t be uncommon to find a sheep perilously balanced on a rock up a steep ravine chewing on a patch of grass.
Mam Tor translates to Mother Hill and consists of beautiful walks that enable you to see down into the quaint villages but catch a glimpse of its big sister in Kinder Scout. Currently protected by the National Trust, it is fairly easy to climb the steep ascent and to sit atop this spectacular viewing point to see far and wide across the Peak District. It is also people friendly in that you don’t need walking boots, backpacks, sleeping bags or compasses to reach its peak. Just a set of sturdy shoes and perhaps a raincoat for the odd showers that tend to pass over the area.
Many times I had been to Castleton and had never walked atop Mam Tor, always feeling a pang of jealousy for the little stick figures that would stand, arms outstretched feeling the pure beauty of the Mother Hill. There was never a reason for not going, it was just one of those familiar feelings that when you live there, you take it for granted. You’ll travel miles to be a tourist and witness something spectacular, but something on your own doorstep becomes dampened by the regularity of its view. Also, Castleton tended to be a town we visited in winter to admire the Christmas decorations, to bask in the glowing shadow of Peveril Castle and to sit in peculiar little pubs that had spitting log fires and an endless array of different Walkers crisps hanging from the bar top. The fact it was cold, wet, raining and would be dark soon was our excuse to not really gravitate outdoors other than to revel in the uniqueness of the old A625 road that has slipped down the hillside leaving layers of tarmac and abandoned cats eyes.
But something changed. Me and my Father were becoming more akin to going outdoors and whilst total and complete amateurs in the field, we suddenly had a pang of wanting to climb Mam Tor. We had done gentle steady paths in the surrounding areas and atop our wish list was to sit up Kinder Scout with a tin of beans on a small camping stove to admire the views and feel fulfilled. It was only natural therefore that we should test our abilities and attempt Mam Tor.
And we did. Despite being spectacularly unfit, taking regular breaks and relying on our rescue Siberian Husky to drag us up the really steep sections, we made it. We were blessed to have a day of calm and a day of sunshine with blue skies and the odd white cloud passing by. It was not uncommon to find gliders floating off the hillside from down below, but it was all the more serene to witness them gently take to the sky and drift back and forth in the gentle breeze. For hours we sat in the tall grass at the edge of the Hill, pointing to old valleys and villages that were stitched into the fabric of my Father’s history having been brought up in Eyam and the High Peak. There was nothing quite like the calm, but the achievement of having climbed a literal hill and being able to admire the richness of what the Peak District National Park can provide.
I would love to say this sense of adventure continued in on us at such a scale. That we did manage to reach Kinder Scout with our expanding collection of camping gear and be able to look down on its little sister with a new larger sense of achievement. I would love to say that this spiked us to keep going and we might have been one of those people you saw climbing over stiles, carrying a useless dog over all the while reading laminated maps and pointing compasses to the sky. But unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Mam Tor wasn’t to be our only achievement, in the grand scheme of what was to come, it was miniscule in comparison. It’s not uncommon to find me watching the same short video clip of floating gliders on my Instagram to be taken back to that dreamlike day and wish that it had never ended. That instead of what we were to face, we should never have left that hill and we would never have left that huge feeling of accomplishment.
But, life always gets in the way. For some, it’s a sense of you get back into routine and you watch the weeks whizz by that you don’t realise years have passed and not much as gravitational has been achieved. For us, it was the start of a devastating, distressing but eye opening and life changing journey that would meet me at the crossroads of life and death. Mam Tor was the beginning of this journey, but it wasn’t to be the end. We were in store for something greater, something darker, but in essence to be blessed with an opportunity for me and my Father to become even greater friends, even closer as Daughter and Pa and to be there with each other through what will always be the hardest two years of my life. This is all about His Lungs.


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