This is another blog from my Lake District holiday, that I hope will not annoy readers who are busy in their work.
Patterdale is a busy walker’s village at the south end of Ullswater, with pubs and hotels that cater for active people. Even at 9 am Sunday the car parks are filling up, and their passengers putting on their hill- gear. As I ready myself, I nod at the guy in the next parking bay, who responds with a brief recognition of my existence. I am headed for Place Fell, a medium- sized hill which is also a stage in a number of longer routes.
I am maybe first on the track apart from two older women whom I soon ovetake. They are on the coast to coast walk, sponsored for an international charity, and committed to maybe 15 miles today and more tomorrow. I’m impressed and say so. They are just the first of many people I meet, mainly as I make my descent, which always gives one a slight advantage over those still toiling upwards. But we all exchange greetings as a matter of course, recognising our common citizenship of the nation of walkers. We might have passed each other silently in the village street, but here we are happy to greet and be greeted. Obviously this is a better realm in which strangers are taken as friends: a common humanity is being asserted. What’s going on?
We trust each other as those who value the ecosystem in which we exist. Today it is beautful, other days it is frightening, but always it is something of which we are a small and appreciative part. We have different knowledge of it: some of us have climbed these hills since childhood; others do so for the first time today; some have studied sciences which assist an understanding of this system, others know it simply like the back of their hand; but we all respect the knowledge of our fellow citizens, because all express a common affection for this landscape and its creatures. “Did you see the deer up there?” a man asks me, telling me he’d noticed them from below. A group of young mountain bikers are carrying their cycles up the fell so as to enjoy a rapid descent on a less rocky track to the north. They have never been here before but have a sufficient map of the landscape in their heads. Here all travellers affirm each other’s journey.
Of course, there are many sorts of artificial communities in which people are recognised and valued: work, social organisations like the Rotary Club, charities, churches, sports and cultural associations, and so on, where individuals recognise and affirm each other. But these are communities of acquaintance, whereas the community of walkers is a community of strangers, who may never see each other again, but are pleased to greet each other in passsing. Their mutuality is only a momentary goodwill, significant precisely because it is impersonal, a recognition that each is part of something bigger. Less than half a mile from a botched society this grace happens regularly.
If I was asked what sort of nation I would like to belong to, I might well put this kind of civility as one of its founding customs.