Rt Hon Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, sings the praises of the day he joined Chris Bonington and the BMC for a walk up Blencathra in the Lakes.
There are many privileges to being an MP but in seventeen eventful years nothing has quite beaten being led up a mountain path by none other than Chris Bonington, the world’s most famous mountaineer.
John Mann and David Rutley, co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mountaineeing, had the inspired idea of taking their crampon and rope-loving colleagues out of yet another committee room in Westminster and transporting them to the heart of the Lake District. There the living legend of Sir Chris Bonington was on hand to lead a tough uphill walk to the summit of Blencathra, also known as Saddleback. It was traditional Lake District weather – rain, wind and cloud in the morning and then once the summit trig point had been reached and the walk down begun, the clouds lifted, the sun appeared, and the full glory of the northern lakes and hills were revealed.
On the last Friday before the September 2011 session, MPs and Peers gathered with executives of the BMC at the Mill Inn in Mungrisedale between Penrith and Keswick. David Davis MP, a regular coast-to-coast walker, turned up with his GPS, the details of the route on his Ipad, and a vacuum flask sensibly full of delicious looking vegetable soup – exactly the right antidote to a chilly, wet, windy morning. Lord Alan Howarth who has bagged every Munro and climbed many peaks between the Pyrenees and the Caucusus represented the Lords along with Tony Greaves, the Lib-Dem peer. Two Labour women MPs, Lillian Greenwood and Nia Griffiths and experienced fell-walker, former Labour Defence Minister Derek Twigg, made up the party. Rory Stewart MP who must have out-tweeted everyone in the Lake District about events in his constituency where we were was meant to join us but was detained on other business in the warmer climate of Libya.
The politics was kept to a minimum. The point of the mountains is to get beyond mobile and Blackberry signals and forget about the 7/24 political news media grindstone and so it proved.
The walk up was steady and not for the unfit. At 77 Chris Bonington seems forty years younger. Wisely he avoided the direct ridge route to the summit which he said was covered in slippery slate made worse by the rain with a guaranteed death fall if one of the MPs had missed his footing. Thus by-election were avoided.
Bonington himself must be the most approachable of any of the big heroic names in British sport. He has been hero of mine ever since as a boy I watched his climb of the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney live on BBC TV. Everest and the north face of the Eiger, a monster I have looked at close but in incomprehension how humans can scale it, are just some of his mountains. Gently he took turns with everyone for a chat and I wonder if there are many living legends with so little side.
The 70,000 strong BMC put the day together. To be sure for the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, MPs spending a day doing something they enjoy as a sport is an intolerable abuse of our time even if the Lake summits are free and we drove our own cars to get there. But I doubt if I have spent a more enjoyable day in the company of fellow MPs while politics was put on hold for six hours of working leg muscle and joints in the company of one of the greatest Englishmen alive.
Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Minister of Europe. He walks and climbs when he can in the Alps and Peak District.
To read a news item about the day click here.
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