Some years ago, I started to research my family history, more out of idle curiosity than from any burning desire to uncover carefully hidden secret royal connections to ease my latter years.
I found many interesting and unlikely facts about our family, which I never had a clue about. How about the man who built Sheringham’s first lifeboat by hand? A family left homeless when the village of Hallsands in Devon was washed away in a storm?
A 92 year old bowling champion? A leading light in the WW2 Spitfire fund raising team?
All relatives, and none of them or their stories previously known to me.
Like many people, we have relatives who were killed or injured in the First World War and that is when Remembrance Sunday brings those long lost relatives to life in our minds, all the more poignant with 2014 being the Centenary year.
Having had a lifetime passion for the outdoors and walking in particular, I was intrigued some years ago to discover that there was an annual Remembrance Day service held at the summit of Great Gable in the Lake District. This was not known about by myself or any of my walking mad friends, despite the fact that we had been in that area many times over the years.
In 1923, the Fell and Rock Climbing Club raised funds to purchase 3000 acres of land around and including Great Gable (899 metres, 2994ft). This was donated to the National Trust in memory of all walkers and climbers who had given their lives in the Great War. A plaque was placed at the summit cairn which was dedicated the following year.
Held on the second Sunday of November each year since then, my friends and I have attended quite of few of these ceremonies in all weathers and it seems that more and more people are attending year by year.
For this year’s memorial service, my party ventured out from the slate mine at Honister where marshalled car parking is available in return for a donation to the British Legion.
Other starting points are from Wasdale Head or Seathwaite.
Bear in mind when considering appropriate clothing that Seathwaite frequently appears at the top of the U.K’s wettest place list! It is a well deserved title. Inevitable setting out in torrential rain, we trudged up the path from the slate mine and out onto the open slopes, glad of our grippy walking boots on slippery granite.
The human snake of visitors stretched out ahead and behind us.
Atop the minor peak of Green Gable, we then skidded down the loose scree slope into Windy Gap, a col between the two mountains. Anybody guess why it’s called Windy Gap?
A steep and rocky scramble upwards then had us drawing sharp intakes of breath as everyone resorted to finding good hand and foot holds on the wet rock. As we climbed, the low cloud and rain eased off to give us a dry break to the summit. The sun even made a watery appearance, brightening the autumn colours in the valleys below. Clouds streamed from the summits of hills all around us. Truly spectacular scenery.
I would guess that 600 to 1000 fellow walkers and climbers had made the summit by 11am when a reading was conducted, followed by an immaculately observed two minutes silence. A spontaneous round of applause rang out at the conclusion.
This was a very moving and thoughtful few moments.
People started to drift away down the slopes, though many stayed in quiet reflection or to place their own tributes to family members at the base of the memorial.
The trek back to the slate mine was a delight in the weak sunshine and we were soon enjoying a well earned steaming hot cup of tea in the cafe, as the rain resumed it’s onslaught, adding to the tumbling streams splashing down the flanks.
This is a very worthwhile and humbling, non-denominational service and a worthy reminder of the debt we owe our not forgotten relatives and friends.
If you wish to join the throng, allow 2-3 hours to ascend the mountain, leaving Honister around 08.30 for the six mile return trip. It can be hazardous in snow or mist and should not really be undertaken by inexperienced walkers, unless in good company.
Here’s to next year.