Back from the Desert? The End of my First long-distance walk. Only another 49 to go to reach my target!

Post 18: After some pleasant walking through a wooded area, Windermere the lake came into view and all our aches and pains were forgotten. The Dales Way leaves you enticingly on the edge of the Lake District, whetting your appetite for future long-distance walks! We then posed for photographs at the ‘official’ end of the walk, a built up slab of slate with a small plaque. Gary probably would have preferred not to have his physical state recorded on print for it was a sorry sight. It was 3.30pm.

The End of the Dales Way 1990
The End of the Dales Way 1990
The end of the Dales Way in ore recent times. Haven't they weathered well?!
The End of the Dales Way in more recent times, 2014.  Haven’t they weathered well?!

‘Hurry up,’ I said heading down the path to Bowness-on-Windermere. ‘We have a train to catch from Windermere station at 4.20pm.’

Emerging onto the busy main street of this tourist honey-pot was like re-entering the earth’s atmosphere after a six-month stay on the Mir space station. The contrast from what we had been through was stark, with noise from cars and lorries, screaming children with ice-creams, prams on the pavements, and crowds of shoppers. I was already wishing I was back on the Dales Way. However, before we had time to ponder on our situation, a bus to Windermere went past and stopped a few hundred yards up the hill.

‘Come on, run for it,’ I said. The torture was not over for Gary.

‘Oh, I can’t run,’ he groaned.

I ignored his pleas and tried to sprint. If you have ever tried to sprint with a 30lb pack and walking boots on, you’ll know it is impossible. Despite this we managed to clamber on the bus to arrive at Windermere station on time. We needn’t have bothered as our train was late and there is no colder place than a railway station. Combined with our growing hunger, we chilled down rapidly so that by the time the train arrived half-an-hour later we were in the first throws of hypothermia. However, we survived to arrive at Oxenholme station, then got a connection to Preston, albeit late, to find we had missed the Leeds train. A student called Sue was having a panic attack as she hadn’t seen her boyfriend for two weeks. I hadn’t seen my wife for four days and was much calmer, although in view of the considerable effort on the walk it seemed like four weeks, for Gary it seemed like four years. Just when you need a porter to assist you, they are nowhere to be found. After checking of the timetables, we decided we could go to Manchester, then get a connection to York. Sue came along too, which was good from my point of view as Gary was past interesting conversation. Having survived relatively unscathed, I was feeling quite chirpy and proud of myself and Sue was good company, having a great love of walking and the Lake District; she had also completed various projects on National Parks. After changing at Manchester, then more confusion, we finally managed to get a train to York, arriving at 9.45pm where Gary’s wife was waiting to give us a lift.

Looking at Gary she said, ‘Heck, where have you been, the desert?’

There was no answer. It would have been difficult to describe Gary as a ‘New Man’ at this point. To be one, don’t drink out of streams unless you have sterilising tablets; there is usually a dead sheep just up-stream from where you are drinking. By omitting this simple precaution, Gary made regular trips to the toilet and the Doctor for the next six months. In addition, don’t underestimate the amount of energy required in walking with a pack over a number of days. Keep the daily mileage to reasonable amounts, say twelve miles in mountainous areas, fifteen in hilly areas and twenty over very flat countryside. Have some shorter days to recover or have a rest day.

When I got back home my normal shoes would not fit as my feet had swollen by half a size; whilst on the walk make sure your walking boots are large enough to allow for some expansion.

Where is the jacuzzi when you need one? Had wait over 20 years for this.
Where is the jacuzzi when you need one? Had to wait over 20 years for this.
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Saved by Milk, Barley Sugars and a Blonde

Post 17: 11 April 1990: Day 4 – Grayrigg to Bowness-on-Windermere – 16 miles  

In the morning I tiptoed down the stairs to explain to the landlady that Gary had been somewhat poorly and wouldn’t be having breakfast. She was quite sympathetic, so I didn’t let on it was due to him drinking out of streams. I ate with relish my huge breakfast of porridge, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, black pudding, toast and marmalade, all washed down with buckets of tea. I felt great, my energy was restored for the day ahead, and with only sixteen miles to go felt we had cracked this walk. At least I did until I saw Gary unshaven, hair uncombed; a ghostly apparition.

‘Oh dear, you look a bit rough,’ I said stating the obvious. ‘It’s drinking out of streams that made you ill.’ I turned the dagger. ‘You never listen to what I say.’

‘Oh shut up,’ Gary groaned.

You know you’ve reached the low point of a long-distance walk when you can’t even shave. Gary had reached it, I now needed to find a way of reviving him. Soon after leaving one of the best bed and breakfast establishments in the country, we arrived at a newspaper shop, but Gary was so bad he didn’t even want to buy a newspaper. He needed nourishment; you can’t walk sixteen miles on an empty stomach.

‘Milk and barley sugars should do it,’ I said cheerfully.

He managed to drink a pint of milk, but declined the barley sugars.

Having to catch a train at 4.20pm concentrated our minds and legs and we made quite good progress. After 6 miles, we entered a café in Burneside, a small town dominated by the paper mill industry. As the caffeine was pumped into a body racked by tiredness, sickness, and lack of food Gary’s spirits lifted; only 10 miles to go. The next 3 miles along the River Kent to Staveley were flat, but going over the stiles made Gary groan. As we left Staveley, the route became a bit more up and down and Gary developed the runs. Just when he was about to expire, I pulled out the barley sugars and, like injecting him with morphine, enabled him to continue.

Arrival at Hag End Farm was the signal for the mist to come down; it was at this point that navigation became a matter of life or death. If I went wrong here, Gary might not see Bowness-on-Windermere or his dear wife ever again. On reflection perhaps it might not be a bad thing if his wife didn’t see him in this state, she might blame me. To say I was still learning the art of navigation would be putting it mildly, but, to keep morale up, I pretended I knew where we were going, but in reality hadn’t a clue. On emerging from the mist onto a clear path a delightful blonde lady walking her dog appeared. Was it a beautiful mirage? I decided to check it out and asked politely if we were on the correct path for Bowness-on-Windermere.

‘Yes,’ she said looking at Gary, somewhat mystified as to why he looked like a tramp. ‘You’ve only another three miles to go.’

‘Thank you,’ I said, greatly relieved to find we are on the correct route.

Exhaustion, the mind and bodies are going……but where?.

Post 16: The rain eased off and we made good progress along Dentdale. Suddenly the path deteriorated as it does when you know you have gone wrong. We had been counting the number of bridges, but somehow had managed to miss-count, with the result we had passed Rash Bridge, which we should have crossed. Clearly exhaustion was creeping in as we could no longer count to three. This was an opportunity for Gary to get his own back as he lashed into me about my incompetent map reading. I retorted that it was his fault as he should have been counting the bridges more accurately. Fortunately, another bridge further along was evident on the map so that after going through undergrowth, which seemed like the Borneo jungle, we eventually managed to cross it. This couldn’t have involved more than a few hundred yards deviation, but Gary was adamant we had done at least another five miles.

We passed through Sedbergh, but didn’t have time to explore its fine charms. In order to make up time we pushed on to Lincoln’s Inn Bridge, then along the River Lune where we stopped for lunch. We had done over 15 miles and it was only just lunch-time. Whose daft mileage programme was this? Eccles cakes restored my lost energy and we were soon on our way again. We reached the Crook of Lune Bridge three and a half miles further on but, whereas its lovely high curved arch would normally be a joy to behold, it just added to our aching muscles. However, we were making progress as we had just left the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Our bed and breakfast for the night was off the Dales Way at Grayrigg; the last section of road walking felt like walking on hot coals as our feet burnt with the foot pounding. On arrival, we had a warm welcome, then, after a shower, a wonderful three-course meal, sufficient to feed an army of walkers. After stuffing myself until I could have burst, I sat tired but content in front of a warm fire.

‘I’m cold,’ Gary said, sitting on top of the fire so that the wool on his pullover started to singe.

‘Don’t be daft, it’s really warm in here,’ I replied, glowing from the effects of the huge meal and the fresh air of the last few days.

‘No I’m freezing,’ Gary said, his teeth chattering.

‘Well put another jumper on.’

‘I haven’t brought one.’

‘Okay, okay, have this,’ I moaned, giving him my high-tech ‘top’ that can even keep you warm in the Antarctic. As Gary continued to shiver I said, ‘you must be ill, better get to bed.’

It wasn’t until about 3.00am in the morning that I found out how ill he was as I heard this wrenching noise; I thought I was having a nightmare.

‘Oooooh… I feel ill,’ Gary groaned. Unfortunately you can never find a sick bucket when you want one, but Gary just managed to stagger to the toilet to deposit his three-course meal. My only relief was that there was no pub within miles of the place so that the landlady wouldn’t think we were drunken fools. Fools yes, but not drunken fools.

Terrible Knitters, frenzied females and Dent psychopaths.

Post 15: At Cowgill, the Dales Way leaves the road and I thought Gary might have been there. How would he know which route to take? I waited fifteen minutes but when he didn’t appear I decided that, without maps, he would have stuck to the road. For the next four miles I encountered awful road walking in heavy rain, so I cursed Gary for forcing me to use this route. He had broken the golden rule of walking that you should stick together. I eventually arrived at Dent, noted for the block of Shap granite in the centre of the village, which perpetually spouts water and is dedicated to the geologist Adam Sedgewick. On a soaking wet day this is about the last thing you want see.

The perpetual spouting stone
The perpetual spouting stone and Celia.

The other famous people in these parts are the ‘terrible knitters’ of Dent, so called not because they were useless at their craft but because of an older meaning of the word which indicated the great speed at which they worked, at home or while even attending cattle.

Equipment used by the Terrible Knitters of Dent
Equipment used by the Terrible Knitters of Dent

As I walked around looking for Gary, I half expected some frenzied females to come hurtling out of their houses to stab me with their knitting needles as in a Hollywood horror film, The Dent Psychopaths.

So I don’t get into trouble, the lady in the picture perpetually spouting is my wife Celia, not a Dent psychopath or a frenzied female. She nearly qualifies to be a ‘terrible knitter’, although not of Dent. Oops now in trouble. What I meant to say is she is standing next to the Spouting Stone and is a quick knitter!

There was no sign of Gary, perhaps he had been removed by the ‘terrible knitters’? This was getting serious as, without maps, his walk would be at an end. I would then have to keep my own company, which, at the best of times, is not very exciting. After ten minutes wandering along the cobbled streets of Dent, I decided I would give it a further five minutes, then I would be on my way. After four minutes and fifty-nine seconds, I put one foot in front of the other to leave Dent, then, from a pub, emerged smiling Gary.

‘Over here,’ he said gleefully.

‘Where have you been?’ I replied angrily.

‘In there having coffee,’ he said innocently.

‘Why are your trousers that funny colour?’ I enquired, thinking to myself he must have been caught short.

‘I got soaked in all that rain, but I’m drying out now.’

‘You could have fooled me.’

After splashing out on a cup of coffee for me, I forgave him, but only just. It was a symptom of our state of minds and bodies that we had coffee, not the locally produced Dent brew.

Hostel Regulations, Infectious Diseases and Sweeping between the Legs.

POST 14: 10 April 1990: Day 3 – Dent Youth Hostel to Grayrigg – 24 miles                  

Despite us feeling exhausted in the morning, the warden of the hostel showed no mercy, giving us the onerous job of hoovering the lounge. This was like being at home. However, as a potential ‘New Man’ I whizzed the hoover around and felt pleased for having helped. Gary, not a ‘New Man’, seemed to disappear for a long session on the toilet until all the work was done. Fortunately, most hostels no longer require jobs to be done. However, if you go back to the original hostel rules, first described many years ago in a publication ‘Youth Hostels in Lakeland’, third edition, price one shilling, it is a very different story.

Foreword

We want our guidance of you to be gentle, since we know people, and especially young people, are apt to shy away from anything which resembles education, control and regimentation when they are seeking a holiday (sounds like my teenage son!).

Regulations

Youth Hostels are for the use of members who travel on foot, by bicycle or canoe; they are not for members touring by motor-car, motor-cycle or any power-assisted vehicle (if this was still in force the hostels would be nearly empty).

No one may stay more than three consecutive nights at one hostel, except at the discretion of the warden (what a warm welcome!).

Members who have contracted, or been in contact with, an infectious disease must not use hostels during any part of the quarantine period (a bit worrying this one).

Members arriving or returning after 10.00pm without the previous consent of the warden, are liable to be refused permission or fined one shilling and reported to the Regional Secretary (this would be a serious curtailment of our evening activities and fortunately has been significantly relaxed. However, I would be quite happy to return to these rules if meal prices were as then, one shilling and nine pence each for breakfast and supper and nine pence for lunch packets).

Hostel Duties

There is often a special place for special kinds of scrap and if the containers are not plainly marked then please explore the containers to make sure that you are not dropping your paper, tins, or plaster dressing in amongst the scrap food! (The spirit of exploration was even extended to disposal of waste, clearly the YHA were one of the first organisations to be into re-cycling).

The peeling of potatoes seems to be regarded by members with mixed feelings, but despite its age-long association with servitude we would rule that this particular hostel duty is amongst the best of hostel duties. One can, at least, sit and talk whilst it is being executed, and in the process one can pick up quite a deal of useful information. It is admittedly one of the lengthiest of hostel chores, but if the company is good, and it usually is, that can be an advantage. Washing-up is another important and rather heavy duty, but wardens usually allot plenty of hands to this task. It needs to be organised pretty well if it is to be done speedily and economically. Hot water should not be wasted by running of hot water into the washing-up sink and subsequently you are not to be faced later by cold water; the process should be reversed if you are not to be faced later on by cool water emerging from the ‘hot’ tap when greasy plates still have to be washed. (This seems excellent advice as some conception of times past would not go amiss with many of today’s cloistered teenagers. My son has great difficulty loading and unloading our dishwasher, something many of the larger hostels now have).

Sweeping duties need a little thought; this point needs stressing for the benefit of the newcomer to hostelling who, landed with the not really exacting job of sweeping a dormitory, passage, stairway or a dining or common-room, often feels over-faced when he has the job of facing a shifting mass of fellow-hostellers and apparently has to sweep around or under them, or just be polite, and ease off his work so that the job is unduly lengthened and probably something is skimped. It is best to wait a little while until the traffic has thinned out a little, and the waiting time can always be employed in finishing off your own packing.’

Having diligently carried out my duties, we left the hostel in mist and rain. I immediately took my waterproof trousers out of my rucksack and it was at this point Gary said he had forgotten his and left them at home. On finding this out the heavens opened and, so as not to have to wait for me to put my trousers on, he made a hasty decision to meet me in Dent. The fact neither he nor I had a clue where Dent was didn’t matter. I wasn’t concerned as I had the maps; Gary wasn’t concerned either, but should have been. As I completed putting my waterproofs on, I saw his figure disappear at fast pace into the mist and rain; he was obviously contemplating a warm dry pub, compared to a wet road.

Dentdale
Dentdale

Where’s the massage parlour? The Devil’s Causeway. Lost in the mist and Stoops Bog. Drug smuggling?

Post 13: As we started to climb the blisters on my heels rubbed more painfully and Gary seemed to use this as a cue to increase the pace. Showing no mercy, he began to stride out, full of energy and in sickeningly good spirits, whilst I began to curse him under my breath and focus my pain and anger on him. It did the trick as we made good progress towards Cam Houses, at which point, some 14 miles into the day’s walk, we stopped for lunch. This was my usual youth hostel packed lunch of rolls, crisps, cake and an apple (if they give you an orange take it back. The horrible things give you sticky fingers and squirt orange juice over your expensive waterproof jacket). Had we been doing the walk ten years later, the owner of the Cam Houses Farm would have supplied food and drinks, such is the growing popularity of long-distance walking. However, they have yet to provide a masseuse, which would have been most welcome at this point. One day an entrepreneur will open a massage parlour on The North of England Way, Pennine Way or Coast to Coast Walk and make an absolute fortune. Who needs a massage in the Cities? It is long-distance walkers who have a real need for a massage to ease aching and tired muscles.

A steep climb, then gentle descent, brought us to the spaghetti junction of footpaths on the Cam High Road, where the Dales Way, Pennine Way and The North of England Way meet. The Cam High Road is a Roman road and was known as the Devil’s Causeway where, in medieval times, wolves roamed and howled. The only devil I saw was Gary keeping up a horrendous pace and the only howling heard was from me in response to the pain from my blisters. You can’t imagine tough Roman centurions suffering from blisters, but I expect they did.

As we descended to Gayle Beck the mist started to envelope us. With tiredness creeping on and over 3 miles to go, an ascent onto open moorland near High Gayle was the last thing we wanted. On reaching a stile, beyond which all I could see was impenetrable mist and featureless bog, I said we had better take a compass bearing. Gary was clearly frustrated at the delay and didn’t want to stop for a compass bearing.

‘The paths over there,’ he said.

‘Hm…. possibly,’ I said trying delaying tactics, whilst I rummaged in my rucksack for my compass.

‘It must be over there,’ Gary said, getting cold and ever more impatient. I tried not to get flustered but was feeling harassed, tired and hungry.

‘No, I think you’re wrong,’ I said not very confidently, ‘if we head north instead of west along your path we should hit a lane’

We proceeded north through a squelching bog, aptly named Stoops Moss, and, as my knees sunk further into the quagmire, I thought maybe I was wrong. However, two further stiles were reached which, according to our guide book, should have been the North Yorkshire and Cumbria boundary. There were no customs or passport controls and had we been into drug smuggling we could have got through scot-free. Some years later I returned to this bog in dry conditions to see the good views of Ingleborough. After further scrambling over moss grass and bogs, we at last reached the lane leading down to Dentdale Youth Hostel.

Dentdale
Dent Head Viaduct, Dentdale

Had we taken Gary’s path we would almost certainly be wandering around the bog to this day, albeit as the ghosts of Gary and myself. As it was my feet were in such a poor state that in the evening, I couldn’t even walk a mile along the road to the Sportsman’s Arms. Gary did obtain liquid refreshment there at the end of his ‘thirsty’ day, but with 24-miles planned for the next day, all I could manage was to climb into my bunk.