By Jane Holmes
For more than twenty years we have been walking on the Cumbrian Fells with Reg almost every Friday. We were known as ‘geriatric b’. I was never sure who ‘geriatric a’ were. We must have been on nearly a thousand walks. It is very hard to summarise that. Reg hoped the group would continue but how could it without our resident story teller.
The group began when David & Janet walked with Teresa and then Liz. Then all four walked together led by David. Some time later Pat & Reg joined them followed by the rest of us in ones and twos. Many of us met in 1988 at a WEA music class in Gosforth, taught by another David, who often joined us on birthday walks, in recent years. Of course everyone in West Cumbria knows everyone else anyway but it underlies our shared interest in classical music. Fifteen of us walked regularly at different stages, including Jack who isn’t mentioned elsewhere and who died in his 80s. Our children and siblings would occasionally join us when visiting. Some of the group, including David & Janet eventually stopped walking, and then Reg and Allan led the walks on alternate weeks. David was a tough leader and the group memory might have embellished some early walks when David led us down into valleys late in the evening. He refused to stop at non-Jennings pubs until eventually the evening meal was a pint and a packet of peanuts.
In the summer we walked till late and then went to the nearest pub to eat but in the winter we finished by four and then met at a local pub to gossip and eat. Some of the group became diners rather than walkers and for many years there were 12 of us eating and talking. How annoying we must have been with our great shouts of laughter. On the last Friday before Christmas, for many years, we met at Fangs Brow at 10 and walked along the coffin trail and down through Holm wood to Loweswater and along to the Kirkstyle for Christmas lunch.
The photo was taken on one of these walks. We are: Brian, Pat, Margaret, Jane, Reg, Liz, Teresa and Allan with Polly in the front row. We are on our way to meet Emmelien, John, Mary and Peter at the Kirkstyle.
Various dogs: Tess, Hinney, Henry, Buzz, Soesja, Polly and Coco regularly accompanied us. We have a few tales of pushing them up rock faces and helping them down cliffs. Polly nearly killed Reg as he climbed out of Piers Ghyll. He had lifted her onto his shoulders and as she leapt off she pushed back. Polly loved to play in streams but one memorable, hot day when we all swam in the Esk she sat on the side looking most uncomfortable. A couple of times on our rare Cumbrian hot summer days we stripped off and jumped into lambs foot dub high on the fells.
When on the fells no one could get at any of us and we reverted to childhood and played and relaxed and laughed. We had some wonderful word games. I remember one on the side of Dent, drinking Fizz on Margaret’s rainy birthday, when every word had to begin with Q. We were very silly on the fells. That led to another game, which ran and ran, based round the word ‘silly’. Reg was such a marvellous resource as he could quote from everything. So the ‘silly buckets’ in ‘the ancient mariner’ led to all manner of jokes. We collected synantonyms (sometimes homophones) and were delighted when we found another to share. I remember finding ‘oversight’ and getting very excited. I have since found them called contranyms but much prefer Reg’s name for them.
We talked about everything and shared the high and the low points of our lives. Reg once rang me from Australia when I was in Carlisle hospital waiting for an operation. He was so kind. He shared his writing with us too and we can all recognise each other in the books, but not ourselves. We talked about books and he shared his enthusiasms and discoveries. How lucky we are. He enriched our lives. He also shared our enthusiasms too. Emmelien, Liz and Mary are artists and Reg and Pat have always supported their exhibitions.
‘Our’ books deserve a mention. On Friday January 30th 1998 after a day’s walking on Causey Pike, Reg presented Allan with a signed copy of ‘On Beulah Height’ at the Ratty. Allan had known nothing about it and he nearly died of shock and then happiness. The music is such an important part of the book. Reg had taken great interest in Allan’s hard work at his singing, his visits to festivals and even attended a performance of Verdi’s Otello with Teresa, when Allan was singing in the chorus. Reg’s own translations of the words to Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder into Yorkshire capture the feel of the music and the book and intertwine it all.
Reg’s characters all grew and changed and lived. My own favourite is Ellie Pascoe (closely followed by Wieldy). So when in September 1999 he presented us all with copies of ‘Arms and the Women’ we were dumbfounded and delighted. Then in 2005 he produced ‘The Stranger House’ dedicated to the men. I could never wait for a new book to be published knowing that I would race through it sometimes weeping and at others hooting with laughter. The second reading could be taken more slowly. The books are full of such depth and riches. They can all be read many times and on many levels.
Reg also developed a fondness for photoshopping great paintings with our faces. We all own treasured photos of ourselves in extraordinary poses and places. It all started with him placing us in unlikely poses on unlikely fells and in unlikely rivers. One picture has us, sporting coloured wings, seated on a beautiful amanita muscaria fungus, the red one with white spots. Like everything he did he mastered it and changed it into another creative art form.
Reg was a skilled cook. Some of us supported him when he walked the Ennerdale Horseshoe in June 1999. Reg recorded times, locations and interesting events on the way round. His revival with ‘a twirl’ on the top of Gamlin End after we thought he had died led to some marvellous tales and suggestions for adverts. A week or so later he and Pat invited us to a sumptuous feast and we relived it all by listening to the tape he had made and had a great, very drunken, evening. Our celebrations and parties dot the years and were hilarious events but have turned into even more fantastical stories.
We’ve just been through our second April 3rd without climbing Pen, above Esk Buttress but below Scafell Pike. We used to drink Fizz to celebrate his birthday and admire the god’s graffiti round the rocks at the top. Each walk we now do in the lakes is filled with wonderful memories. ‘Do you remember when’ rings out. Wonderful memories, but oh how we miss him.