IN THE heat of a Spanish night, while a full moon hangs over Sierra Luja, a car speeds along a winding mountain road towards the lights of Orgiva and its dusty valley. Crickets sing in the darkness. Tyres growl on gravel as the car swings round tight bends – black scrubland rising steeply on one side, cliffs falling to an inky river on the other.
At every turn the driver catches glimpses of Veleta in the Sierra Nevada – at more than 11,000ft the third-highest mountain in Spain. He dreams of the day – soon to come – when he will climb to its summit. The passenger dozes, her head rolling gently as the car swings round the hairpin bends. Soon they will be in Orgiva, drinking something strong and sweet as the town hall clock strikes midnight and dogs howl at the moon.
Suddenly. Flash of eyes at the side of the road. Big black shape shooting into the headlight beams like a train shrieking from a tunnel. Jesus Christ. A bloody wild boar.
Screech of brakes as the car slews across the road and judders to a halt. The boar squeals and disappears into the scrub. The woman, rather startled, shouts: “Bloody hell why don’t you watch what you’re doing you bloody madman you’ll kill us both. Why don’t you just slow down? Why can’t you drive normally? I want to sleep in my bed tonight even if you don’t. I wish you’d just slow down until you get used to these roads because it’s not like driving round Darlington here you know, you bloody idiot. I’ve a good mind to get out and walk.”
The driver says: “Well get out and walk, but mind that bloody wild boar.”
And the woman says: “What bloody wild boar?”
That, really, is my only genuine experience of a wild boar. There was another incident when I went for a run through the forests of the Gironde near La Palmyre, but I didn’t learn until afterwards that the forests were thick with boar – and the sows were killers because their piglets were young at that time of year and they would attack all-comers. I didn’t go for another run.
And here I am, parked in a small quarry beneath the charmingly-named Fell End Clouds – fine terraces of limestone clints in a quiet valley where the Pennines roll down into the dampness of Cumbria. The wind is strong, the upper reaches of Wild Boar Fell are wreathed in mist, and the forecast has given deteriorating weather. Spain it is not.
I boil a brew on my new MSR Whisperlite petrol stove – which is a lot more fiddly to light than the old Coleman – and ponder the situation. Really, there is no choice. I’ve come this far, so what the hell . . . God, though, it’s cold.
The clints are very impressive and I take lots of pictures. There is a series of short levels driven into the limestone terraces, for what purpose I know not. Perhaps they were for some sort of rudimentary heading blasts – where tunnels were used to undermine quarry faces as a means of working them. But I don’t think so.
Above the clints is a gently rising plateau, about a mile across, composed of bog and firmer ground. I plod over this towards Wild Boar Fell’s summit, and emerge onto the ridge in the teeth of an icy gale. With my waterproof jacket on for extra warmth, I make the summit cairn for about 11.15am (where there are three old blokes huddled down taking their bait like the three wise monkeys), then cross to a stone shelter – above the drop into Mallerstang – where I stop for lunch.
There is a row of cairns here, built in the same style as the marker cairns on nearby Baugh Fell. Unlike cairns in the Lakes, these are tall and slender – quite sinister looking – and most probably built for a purpose other than direction finding. It becomes obvious that I can’t have been more than a couple of hundred yards from the summit when I was wandering about in the mist on my last, and fruitless, expedition. Still, I am glad I have returned. Otherwise I wouldn’t have seen the clints or the cairns.
I steam south along the peaty ridge – right into the gale – to Swarth Fell Pike, which is not quite so impressive, and descend to Holmes Moss Hill and the track from Uldale. And here, on this elevated peat bog, I suddenly smell winter. I cannot determine the exact nature of what it is I am smelling – a mixture of cold air, sheep, muck, early evenings – but it is definitely winter-like and reminds me of my childhood in Askam-in-Furness.
In this reflective frame of mind I saunter down the track, have a cuppa beneath a copse of Scots pines, inspect a couple of charming bridges, then wander through Uldale House farm to join the road. It’s a good two-and-a-half-mile slog back to the car, but I have the wind behind me and the scenery is uplifting.
Fell ponies are mooching around the car. There’s quite a lot of them but they keep their distance from me. I crack up the stove again and have a can of tea, followed by home-made Serbian bean and sausage soup. It’s early still – about three-ish. Nothing to hurry home for, it’s still windy but fine, so I take my time and enjoy my soup, reflecting on the wildness of the valley and how Wild Boar Fell came about its name.
Then, out of the bracken, three tusky wild boar come racing towards the car, squealing menacingly with their tales in the air.
Sorry. Made that last bit up.