A week or two ago the British media was full of the story of scientists hoping to discover why the indigenous people of Tyneside are wont to few clothes even in the briskest of breezes and the worst of winter cold snaps. If you’ve been out on the town in Newcastle any time of year, you will likely have spotted lads and lasses strolling between pubs and clubs with barely a stitch of clothing among them, save for the shortest of skirts, the flimsiest of shirts and rarely a hat, barely a scarf and never a pair of gloves. When it’s really, really, cold a Geordie lad might fasten the top button of his shirt.
Some of you are probably wondering why, as a Geordie, I didn’t cover this incredible news when it broke. Well, at the time I was carrying out my own scientific experiment into my personal hardiness. I was hoping to discover whether my Geordie thick-skin genes had ceased to express the necessary hypothermal protection during the twenty years since I relocated to the much more southerly, and supposedly warmer, Cambridge.
The experiment involved heading north-west on a minibus, with my son and a group of his friends and assorted dads. The minibus was packed to the top with multi-layered, multi-season sleeping bags, backpacks, padded walking trousers, padded jackets, double-socks, waterproofs, fleecy sweaters, breathable tee-shirts, Goretex jackets, Thinsulate hats, gloves, snoods, etc etc. Oh, and a few flimsy tents to sleep in.
Our plan was to camp in Edale at the start of the Pennine Way (this was mid-February you realise, not the balmiest of months anywhere in Britain). We would then stride up Kinder Scout several kilometres and camp overnight somewhere vaguely sheltered well over 600 metres above sea level. Next day, we’d walk even further, stopping to pay tribute to the air crews of a DC47 “Dakota”, a Lancaster, and a Superfortress that crashed up there in the bleakest, foggy conditions during and after WWII.
Unfortunately, the Sunday morning weather looked far too perilous for an overnight camp atop Kinder Scout with inexperienced youngsters (and dads), so we regrouped and changed tack so that we spent two nights in the vaguely sheltered Edale (which has a lovely pub with both a hikers’ bar and a locals bar). Ultimately, we covered the same ground walking but based at a single site and using the minibus on the second half to get us to the Snake Pass starting point on day two. There was not a spot of sun and plenty of fog, but it was fun.
Anyway, the conclusion is that with five layers on my upper body and a waterproof coat over the top of all that, I felt comfortable doing all that striding and scrambling up waterfalls and peaks. However, it felt like I was betraying my roots, although snow drifts, gale-force winds and fog meant I didn’t dare opt for the fashionable Newcastle Bigg Market look. I’m ashamed to admit, but it seems that my thick skin genes may have diminished in their potency against hypothermia. There is a glimmer of redemption for me though, underneath all those breathable waterproof layers I made sure that I didn’t fasten the top button of my shirt. They’d be so proud of me back home.