While our tour around the Lakes District stopped at the Honister Slate Mine and others wandered around, I got talking with our tour guide/driver. I'll call him Bob.
Born into a disciplined family of 13 children, Bob has lived all his life in the Lake District. There was not much chance of an education, apart from the very basic one at the local school. The family was so poor there was never breakfast for any of them. Bob didn't elaborate on what food they had the rest of the day.
He'd been told constantly by a raft of teachers that he'd never make anything of himself but one teacher saw something in Bob and asked if he'd like to go to Outward Bound school. He was about 13 at the time and his schooling days were over. Having wandered all over the fells and mountains as a boy he'd unconsciously developed a love of nature and the outdoor life.
Bob was excited by the very thought of going to Outward Bound but knew it would never happen. There was no money to pay for such a luxury and he wished this teacher had never mentioned it. With his head hanging low, he had a very embarrassing conversation.
'Thank you sir, but I can't go. You see, there's no spare money in our house. Every last penny goes on feeding us all,' Bob explained, scuffing the dirt with the toe of his shoe.
'You just go home and ask your parents first and we'll talk again,' his teacher said kindly.
Bob's parents were very surprised when he asked if he could attend the Outward Bound school.
'Well, son, you know there's no money for this sort of thing, but your ma and I have no objection to you going, but I really don't see how,' his dad said, scratching his head.
Bob duly reported back to the teacher.
'Leave it with me, Bob. There's places we can ask for funding. I'll send a letter off,' his teacher said.
After school, about three weeks later, the teacher asked Bob to stay behind.
'I've had a response from our application and we have the money for you to attend the Outward Bound School.'
Bob whooped and skipped and jumped his way home to tell his parents.
Bob scraped together the little clothing he had, stuffed it in a canvas bag, threw it over his shoulder and off he went to Outward Bound for two months. He hated it.
On his first morning, Bob was woken at 5.30 a.m. when the camp leader did the rounds of the huts banging a metal bucket with a spanner to rouse everyone. He marched the boys down to the lake edge, breaking up the ice by bashing it with a sledge hammer. Bob was then thrown into the water, with the other boys, and told to wash. None of them could swim.
What a dreadful ordeal. The boys were told this would make men of them.
Bob came from a very disciplined household where you got a clip around the ear for stepping out of line and his mother ruled the house with an iron fist. Everyone had their jobs - one would polish all the shoes, another would haul coal in, someone would have to set the table and so it went on. No one had a free ride. As much as it was disciplined Bob said there was love. He enjoyed his big family immensely and there was always someone to play with or hike and explore the fells with.
As time went on at Outward Bound, Bob came to love it, learning how to track, what the various mosses could be used for and how to survive on your own. No need for compasses or maps. In those early days when it was hard the best thing for him was he got to eat breakfast. It was a luxurious breakfast too; bacon and eggs and bread. He cried when it was time to go home.
Bob went on to do various jobs over the years, learning at every chance he got. Some jobs sent him on courses where he had to six exams. He'd never sat an exam in his life but discovered he loved learning and came top in his classes - often. This was when he realised he did have a brain. Bob ended up as the head of his chosen field for the entire Lake District. With his knowledge of the great outdoors he also became a volunteer with the local Mountain Rescue Team and had had many adventures locating and bringing people out of the mountains in all weathers.
At 60 he decided he wanted further education and went to university where he gained an MBA. Incredible. So much for 'you'll make nothing of yourself.' He was rightly proud of his achievement.
Bob's life still revolves around the mountains where he now has great joy in taking his grandchildren, passing on all the knowledge he has gained over the years. They too now have a passion and love going out on great exploring hikes with him.
A life well lived.
Photos below are of the exterior of the historic Honister Slate Mine area. It's a stunning place. You can enter the mine, pull yourself up the mountain side on a Via Ferrata or scream your way down a zip line. I did none of those things - it was pouring with rain and that's my excuse!