A prudent bluffer should:
• Refrain from offering them food – your shapeless cheese and tomato sandwiches won’t feed all of them and you will only encourage demands for more.
• Bark out a sergeant-style command using the word ‘SIT!’ and hope for the best.
• Extend a hand as a clenched fist and offer them the back of it to sniff. Once they’ve smelled your fear, they will do one of two things: jump up at you because you’re a pushover, or run off to tell another 219 dogs to come and hassle you further.
From time to time, you will encounter other hikers en route. In popular areas such as the Lake District or the mountains of Snowdonia, the paths can seem as populated as a garden centre on a bank holiday Monday. There is an etiquette to acknowledging other hikers.
Mount Washington Hiking Trail Map Photo Gallery
• Always say ‘Morning!’ no matter what time of day it is. This demonstrates that you are enjoying your freedom so much you are completely unaware of time passing.
• Follow on with a ‘Lovely day, isn’t it?’ even though they may not be able to hear you through the hailstorm and gale-force winds. For dedicated hikers, every day is a lovely day for it, no matter what the weather.
• If you stop for a chat (and it’s good to swap tales), exaggerate. If you began walking at 10 o’clock in the morning, imply that you heard the dawn chorus. If you have only walked 3km (2 miles), suggest a somewhat higher number, and at some point casually remark that you are less than halfway round. Never allow a fellow hiker to outsmart you. If they have 12 miles still to go, you still have 15.
• Swap advice. Tell them about the particularly nasty patch of stinging nettles surrounding that third stile, and they’ll warn you of the farm gate with the dodgy hinge. And the 220 dogs.
There are some hikers, though, who just want to be at one with their surroundings. Alfred Wainwright was one such. He’d catch the first bus of the day into the mountains and then hike his way over a couple of ridges to catch the last bus home. On a good day he never met a soul. Not many people used public transport then either.
These solo hikers are easily spotted. They will nod in acknowledgement as they pass by, but be long gone even before you’ve had a chance to open your mouth. Let them go. If they’d wanted someone to talk to them, they’d have brought a friend.
If you’re eating, remember that real hikers never have starters – unless they classify the first three rounds as ‘starters’.
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