Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Mountain memories

Lake District 2020 -more than fifty years after my first visit 

Earlier this year my mum took the difficult decision to move to a care home. She’s increasingly frail and immobile, but still takes joy from simple pleasures such as sunshine through her window and the accompanying dawn chorus.

Like many very elderly people her memory isn’t great and large parts of her past are now at best a blur. Sometimes when I visit, we sing together, for it’s well known that music, and particularly the association of lyrics with melody can help. But last week it was a conversation about mountains that triggered a surprising recollection.

We were talking about a childhood holiday to the Lakes and I mentioned how we’d climbed Latrigg Fell on the edge of Keswick; it was my first mountain walk, I said. ‘But oh, you did more than that’ she interjected, ‘we went up Cat Bells and Skiddaw and Haystacks too.’ And she went on to mention Blencathra and Red Pike and the Old Man of Coniston, describing the routes we’d taken and even the weather.

How strange – and yet how wonderful – that when so much of her past is lost in mist, she could remember these hills and wild places with such clarity. It made me wonder if, through the effort of climbing, our footsteps embed themselves more deeply in the pathways of our minds. As if they somehow create a sort of memory map that’s as hard wired to our brains as the circuit board is to the computer I’m typing this piece on.

That’s probably cod psychology but I’m not sure it really matters – what’s important is that it feels that way. If I’m lucky enough to last as long as my mum, I pray my own mountain memories remain as clear as hers. For in truth, they are high among the most precious moments of my life.

Here's to making memories that last.

(This post was first published in the AAC UK monthly e-newsletter)


  1. When a parent's memory starts to fail, it is always a blessing to know that they can still recall the good times. Very late in life, my father loved talking about his childhood, by all accounts a very happy one is a village in rural Sussex, and my mother would tell anyone, at length and with clarity, about the wonderful four years she spent as a WW2 evacuee in Canada.
    Best wishes to you and your dear mother.

  2. Those little moments of memory bursting through will be treasured by you, I'm sure.

  3. Hari OM
    What a joy to find such ground firm in mind - may it remain so. Memory is a slippery thing, and to be able to recall such anchors helps to make sense of who we have been, who we have become... YAM xx

  4. As my parents age, my father in particular, has difficulty with his memories. But I love to get him talking about events in the distant past that are so clear in his mind. How wonderful to have that experience with your mother and the mountains.

  5. What a lovely memory for your Mom to have! I do think there is something wired into our brains by especially enjoyable experiences. The opposite is very true, as well, since our brains' job is to keep us alive. As we age and perhaps are having less novel experiences, we can go to the rolodex of the past, and have a wander and relive some of the more pleasant experiences. I have seen people age really well, meaning they continue to learn and grow, stay curious and experience new things, along with keeping physically active. They don't seem to have to rely on their memories for comfort. That is who I hope to be.

  6. Dealing with vascular dementia in MiL I am saddened to note how little of anything seems to remain and she never talks of her childhood, or the childhoods of her children. You and you Mum are indeed fortunate that you still have those memories to share and with such clarity. I hope they give you both comfort and joy as I am sure there are time (as there are with MiL) that there is momentary clarity of the present and an appreciation in the sufferer of just how much has been lost and how much has been replaced by confusion - like a moth eaten pullover perhaps.

  7. Memory is a strange thing. I liken it to one of those silver faceted ball lights that featured in any good dance hall. The memory spins and then without warning triggers a sharp shaft of enlightenment. Keep walking Pembrokeshire it has a lot to offer.

  8. There are different keys that unlock memories. I think that is one of the most amazing things that I learned about dealing with dementia. As you mentioned, music is one key. There is something called muscle memory, which allows people to do things automatically. The body remembers, and sometimes, the body memories trigger the mind. It is all too heartbreakingly random. You (and your mom) have a rough road ahead of you, but it is those random moments of clarity that will become your own treasured memories as you walk with her.

  9. I often think that our blog posts capture so many precious moments and memories. I wish my parents were still here to recollect about holidays to Scarborough and the like. A very moving post.

  10. Dear Mark,

    Welcome back! I’m sorry for not writing to you sooner after I read this moving post. I hope that you and your mother are both doing well.

    One of the reasons why I adore visiting the Lake District (preferably, during the “off season”) is enveloping calm feeling that the mountains can bring, and this place is so full of beauty and peace that it makes me forget about the world. Mountains have a way of shutting out of the external world.

    With all the pain and suffering on this planet, we are desperately in need of more places like this to which we can all escape from time to time.

    Mountains are the catalyst for reflection and memory because they have a transformative power. They are envisioned by the Romantics as conductive to the creation of poetry and to daydreaming (although there are other Romantics who are more attracted to the ideas of Sublime in the mountains that evoke terror and intoxication).

    How wonderful it is that you can share these precious memories of your mountain walks together with your mother. The potency of nature stays with us in our memories.

    Do you know that Dante used a similar mnemonic device in The Divine Comedy? After climbing up the mountain of Purgatory, there is a river called Eunoe. It derives from Greek "eu" meaning "good" and "noe" meaning good mind. Before entering Paradise, a soul is washed in the river of Eunoe so that he only carries the memory of those good things he accomplished in life.

    The story that you shared with us (mountains and memories) in this post evokes something akin to the similar spiritual quest that Dante (and to a certain extent, all of us are) is making for transcendence. It is a kind of blessing to know that we will be replaced by the good memories at the top of the mountain, isn't it?

    With warm wishes, ASD