Saturday, 15 January 2011

Every type of hike

We go for a hike today. Hike. It's one of the words that caught me out when I arrived in Hong Kong. It means such different things.

In England a hike means, to a particular type of outdoorsy person, quite a bit of preparation. You have to wear the right type of green waterproofed and waxed walking gear, get the Labrador in the Audi and drive to the Lake District, saying 'it's only a spot of drizzle'. You must arrive at a destination away from the tourists to perch the car just off the road, change into the right kind of walking boots and woolly knee socks for the terrain, then double-check the contents of the backpack before setting off. The hike proceeds without problem (thanks to proper planning with walking stick/water/maps/compass/Kendall mint cake/dog/dog bowl/torch/GPS/emergency flare) until you have completed the three-mile trek, when you return to the car, wipe the dog down to maintain the clean interior, remove the boots and drive home happy, quoting Wordsworth.

Grit's hikes never worked like that, ever. I have fond childhood memories of the Sunday outings to the Derbyshire dales in the 1960s; the ones which probably introduced me to the great outdoors. We'd arrive at the village car park, thronging with day trippers from Nottingham and Derby, to disgorge from the family Zodiac with the Jack Russell terrier who ran off almost immediately. My brother and the dog would spend the day chasing each other about, my dad would point and say 'We're going over there', and my mum would gamely follow behind, clutching her handbag. The best sight, apart from the massive limestone outcrops, were the ladies with wobbling bee hives who looked like Barbara Windsor, tottering up the path towards the nearest rock pile in their high-heeled sling-back sandals and a woolly cardy, accompanied by a red faced man with an Elvis haircut, huffing and puffing in a patterned shirt. They'd reach a particular point on the hillside, turn round and come back down again to complete the turn in the fresh air by sitting in the pub beer garden, smoking. That is a 'hike up a hill' from where I come from.

Dig, on the other hand, interpreted a hike to mean suddenly swerving off a totally isolated road over the back of Northumberland, jumping out a beat up old car that looked like a van (don't bother locking it), clocking the position of the sun, then walking for three hours in a terrain with nothing to mark out one track from another, except maybe, the sheep droppings. Take a coat. It gets chilly on the moors. Don't fall down the holes. I'm not sure whether that was called a 'hike' or a 'walk'. Anyway, I was deeply impressed and probably unwisely fell in love at that moment.

A hike to the Chinese means something quite different again. You take this signposted, fenced and concrete path located between the managed slope (registration number 2345/R) and the storm drain. The path leads up to the hill to the photography point (clearly signposted, one of three) where you may buy an ice lolly from the legally registered trader. As you begin, note that this section of the concrete is provided by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The hazardous rocks en route are painted yellow and black. Observe the fire beaters, placed at regular intervals. Emergency phones are marked at 500 metres. The trail is approximately one hour ten minutes in length, contains three information panels, and the first point where you may turn around and return to the nearest public beach is the traditional viewing pavilion from where you may observe the power station.

It has a sort of charm. You don't need any special clothing, and you can behave in a silly manner on downhill slopes to see if it will provoke disaster.

Today, we blend a little of every type of hike. It is strangely satisfying.

Dig, leading the way, suddenly plunges off the path to follow a trail that may or may not be a river gully while I trip along behind, clutching my handbag, stumbling over the stones and regretting the lack of sensible walking shoes. I only know which route to follow because Squirrel dashes ahead of me, wearing her pink cardy, and she occasionally pauses to find out if I am still following (thanks, Squirrel).

The tracks are suitably remote, even though the beach at Lamma is the same as every weekend - crowded - being just far enough from the town on the rural trail (15 minutes). We never spot another person on these mountain tracks all day long. It seems that no one except the confident and hardy come up here, without a care for walking gear or planning, to this directionless and unsigned landscape.

There is a strange absence of animal, and I keep wondering about the sheep. The vegetation changes to a type of scrub, and the rocks I think are granite. But, thanks to the absence of map, lack of water, and the remonstrations of Tiger, our resident Health and Safety Supervisor who is convinced we are all about to die on the mountainside (and have we bought flares?), we decide to turn back before the sky sinks into total darkness.

It is probably wise. Lamma's volcanic mountains are great lumps of dark shapes, and they don't get any brighter overnight. The path going down is hard on the feet, especially if you're wearing soft shoes. But as we come down the mountain path to complete our hike, we are rewarded with a lovely clear view of Lamma Island, Hong Kong. In particular, the glorious, coal-fired power station.


Rachel M. said...

Is it true? Finally a front view photo of the elusive Grit?????? You are so pretty. I was worried I'd never recognize you in April - should we actually manage to meet!!!

Grit said...

thank you rachel, you are kind! pretty is not usually a word used to describe me. when dig read your comment, he burst out laughing, which says something about him or me. i thought it was a suitable moment to bury a picture in the blog; it can skulk there alongside the thoughts about being silly while on the downhill slope. but it's a shame i wasn't wearing purple.

Sam said...

Photo of Grit! Elegantly silly :-)

Knew you'd find a "field" somewhere. And we also have a resident Health and Safety expert (Funny!) - it's odd to be told off for being irresponsible by your 10 yr old.

Michelle said...

Aw. You do look happy :-)