I thought it was the steps that would be the end of me. All 274 of them going from the gift shop at the bottom of Jacob’s Ladder, to the top of Cheddar Gorge. In fact, they weren’t as bad as I had feared, although it took the first flight before I realised I had to lean forward to counteract the weight of the camera equipment in my rucksack. It was much heavier than last year and contained not only a second lens – the super wide zoom that I had been so desperate to try out on landscapes, but also a heavy-duty torch. No more trying to climb to a viewpoint in the gloomy hour before dawn carrying what we normally use to check the chickens in their house after bed time. I had a proper torch now with a powerful beam. It lit up the surrounding area a treat and in an emergency could even be used in self-defence. (I nearly christened it for this purpose later on in my trip, but more of that in another blog post). I was much better equipped, but completely weighed down.
So the steps didn’t match my worst nightmare. It was the relentless uphill slog afterwards, from the top of Jacob’s Ladder to the Pinnacles – the highest point in the gorge and also England’s highest inland cliff. Not just the climb over very rough ground, but also in the heat of the afternoon in the middle of September. Those left on the ground far below were probably grateful for such a glorious Indian summer, but I couldn’t agree. So I arrived at my destination, hot, bothered and with legs turned to jelly. Not ideal for approaching the edge to find the best view on offer! To be fair, I had done my homework and I knew by heart some of the sights that could be seen by those with a head for heights, only I couldn’t find them. Somewhere down there was a delightful horseshoe bend in the road, but I could only see where I had parked our car. Further hair-raising attempts only revealed a lot of greenery and the road seemed to have disappeared. I decided to sit down and rest for a few minutes.
That was my next mistake. Opening the bottle of drink that I had carefully packed earlier, I was rewarded with an explosion of bubbles. Thankfully the camera was still in the rucksack, but everything else was wet and sticky and while I may have brought along everything but the kitchen sink, the wet wipes were still sitting over 450 feet below in the car. I was still trying to clean my hands on the grass when I realised the sun had just gone behind a large cloud, presenting me with an ideal opportunity to try my new lens. This I did rather gingerly with the cleanest fingers I could find and set up the tripod on the sticky grass. The view was pleasant enough, but it needed some foreground interest. This was found in the shape of a leafless shrub a few yards away. Hovering between the piles of goat poo and the cliff edge, which was only two feet away, I stuck around long enough to catch the sun peeking out above the top of a cloud.
Half an hour later and I had to pack up in preparation for the descent. With a fixed ankle, downhill is equally as difficult for me and I wanted to be back in the car before dark. The steps nearly did finish me off the second time round. I went too fast and got myself totally out of breath. I should have rested at the bottom, but the car was a fair distance away and up yet another hill. I pressed on, tripped up and went sprawling across the pavement. I still have a swollen knee and my legs are black and blue. The good news was that my camera gear stayed safe inside the rucksack. I got a few pretty landscapes too.