Jack Lawton was one of life’s real characters. He was a Royal Marine Commando during the war and was badly wounded during the landings at Anzio in Italy. Apparently, Jack was wounded in the ankle and fell backwards from the jetty into the landing-craft, fracturing his skull.
Eventually, he was invalided back to the UK, with a metal plate inserted in his head and a caliper fitted to his leg to aid his walking. Despite this, none of us young lads could keep up with him when going up the mountain, but we left him behind on the descent!
I can shed some light on the ‘In memory of an overnight walk and its repercussions’ comment in the paragraphs about Jack by the Jewitt brothers in the Wholehope History. In 1947 (pre Wholehope) Jack suggested that it would be a nice walk to go over all the highest tops of the Eastern Cheviots in one go. Jack, Bob Jewitt and I took an early bus up to Whittingham one Saturday and walked to Alnham Youth Hostel, where we hoped to get permission to sleep in the hostel until early evening but the wardens were going out for the day so we had to think of some other way to get some kip.
In those days, we all carried light-weight down sleeping bags, so we bedded down on the stone flags of the porch of Alnham Church (see header image) for an uncomfortable few hours. When the hostel did open, we were able get in and cook our early evening meal before setting out on our big trip.
The first part of our route took us over Cushat law, then over Bloody Bush Edge, both climbed in beautiful weather (we had chosen the week-end of the full moon) and as we approached Uswayford the moon rose behind us and night turned to day, a magnificent sight.
After an easy walk on the vehicle track down the valley, we came to a very good track up onto Windy Gyle and in a short while we were sitting on the cairn enjoying our sandwiches and coffee while looking at a beautiful panorama of moonlit hills stretching to the horizon. Sadly, our luck was about to change, because about a quarter of an hour later the view was all gone and a thick mist enveloped the scene.
Our intrepid leader Jack said “No problem, all we have to do is follow the border fence onto Cheviot”. This was in the days before the Pennine Way and not many people walked that track, so there was no well trodden path to follow and when we began to lose quite a bit of height Jack was confident that “it’s just the dip down to Auchope Cain” but then the mist cleared a bit and we were back at Uswayford!
After quite a heated discussion, Jack convinced us that he knew exactly where he had gone wrong, so up we went again to the cairn on Windy Gyle and retraced our steps along the border fence once more and what do you know, we landed back at Uswayford again!
Twice was enough, we refused to go another step and we were soon bedded down in the old caravan at the farm. Sod’s law, the next day was beautiful and sunny as we walked over lower hills to Wooler and the bus home. At Christmas time, I also received an identical and totally unexpected Christmas present from Jack; Poucher’s “A Camera in the Cairngorms.”
This was the only time that a long walk with Jack Lawton ever went wrong. I remember many wonderful day walks, in particular a trip from Pooley Bridge up on to High Street and along the high ridges above Ullswater to the top of Kirkstone Pass, then down to Patterdale Hostel. With Ronnie Mowbray, who now lives on Vancouver Island, Jack and myself went to the Lake District the first weekend of every month during the Winter and enjoyed many excellent walks over snow clad hills.
Jack Lawton was a hard man in many ways but always a very enjoyable mate to be out in the hills with, he was a grand lad, an excellent hill-walker and mountaineer and it was a privilege to have known him. I was sorry to lose contact with him when he went to live in Wales, about fifteen years ago.
The photo at the head of the page shows Jack with my brother George, near the bothy called Ben Alder Cottage, or McCook’s bothy. Click here to read a true story involving this bothy.