Mountains and Molehills


I hobbled around the Garden wood this morning, reflecting on a well crafted article in Shooting Times last week. Barry Stoffel’s piece was based on a series of conservations with ‘older generation’ countrysports enthusiasts. The main theme being that the older we get, the more we adjust our activities to compensate for changes in physical ability and health. It certainly cut right to the bone with me!

When I finished reading the piece, I recalled a distant conversation with my late father-in-law, Derrick Bailey. He was a life-long sportsman and the son of a gamekeeper. Derrick had shot since boyhood, was a keen wildfowler and an occasional sea / coarse angler. On retirement from the Fire Service he took up coaching for BASC and the CPSA. Despite a slow deterioration of his health due arthritis of the hip and TIA’s he continued to coach, beat and load for clients. That conversation? Well let’s just say that he warned me how much your health can change over a decade. That was in 2015, the year I climbed Snowdon for the first (and last) time. Derrick passed away, aged just 69, two years later.

I was travelling light in the wood as I pondered this. Long gone the huge kit-bag I use to tote on every shooting sortie. A bag loaded with everything I might need for a full day in forest and field. Today I had just a small bag over my left hip, a camera across my chest and my beloved .22LT over my right shoulder. Tucked in the bag was my telescopic seat, which I knew would be essential later. In deference to my own physical condition I was stalking slowly and silently. Knowing the wood intimately I crept towards an almost guaranteed squirrel hotspot. As I neared it, I slipped the rifle from my shoulder and kept my thumb on the safety catch. Peering between the beech leaves into a shallow depression beneath a towering yew tree, the flick of a bottle-brush tail caught my eye. Though I couldn’t see the critters head as it fussed among the nettles, I could see its front shoulders. A shot to the engine room rolled the beast over. I recovered the cadaver and hung it the cleft of a tree to be recovered later. High enough to be safe from an opportunistic fox.

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I hobbled on, my hips rocking and rolling. To an observer I would look as though I’d just dismounted a horse after a long ride. John Wayne in camo. So what happened between Snowdon 2015 and today. The truth is, I’m afraid, that the mountain adventure was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. I’d already had a series of muscular / skeletal problems and my long-distance running and walking had been long since curtailed. I was limiting myself to walks of five or six miles. Living in Norfolk doesn’t exactly condition the body to hill climbing either! The decision to go up Snowdon was made out of pride rather that sensibility. My wife (20 years younger than me) and my brother-in-law decided to tackle the ascent while we all were holidaying on the Llyn Peninsular. We had already done a switchback coastal path trek around the Peninsular that had left me hurting. Having initially declined the Snowdon climb, bravado got the better of me and I joined them for the walk. Half way up, I was convinced this was a plot to get my life insurance money! Starting in sunshine and wearing shorts and light-weight cagoules we finished in a freezing sleet storm. I was in a bad way, my hips and thighs screaming yet still refused to get the train down. I was determined to walk back down and that, I fear, was where the damage was really done. It was my own stupid fault. I finished the holiday with Meralgia paresthetica (Bernhardt-Roth syndrome) and haven’t been able to rid myself of it since, only mitigate it with pre and post walk exercises.

A good walk for me now is around three miles on level terrain. I make more use of my 4×4 now, too. I can no longer spend a day in my boots trudging around my permissions, so limit my outings to a few hours maximum and have to ‘manage’ my arthritic hips and damaged thighs. Hence the telescopic seat, which allows me to plant myself comfortably in cover and ambush my quarry. Which is how things ended today. John Wayne 4 – Grey Squirrels 0.

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And please don’t think I’m complaining. I’m very conscious how privileged I am to be able to walk amongst the molehills and avoid the mountains. I just need to manage the damage limitation and remember I’m not getting any younger.

Keep the faith.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2021