Post 201: April 2000
I started training for the walk at the Opening Ceremony of the Dome on Millennium Eve as I dodged the trays decked with champagne glasses that came at me from all directions. However, I had limited success and by the end of the evening my legs were like jelly – was it the numerous glasses of champagne or was I totally unfit? Clearly there was a lot to do if I was to walk 200 miles at Easter.
My first setback occurred when my personal trainer (a 14 year old dog) decided he no longer wanted to go for a 3-mile walk in the morning. In the end I decided to go out on my own first at 6.30am with a 30lb pack (the maximum weight I would have to carry) and take the dog for a shorter walk later on. Then walking companions decided to start moving house or on occasions claiming injury (any excuse to avoid getting up at 7.00am on a Sunday morning – no medical notes were produced). In order to catch up on training it was necessary to take drastic action including purchasing an exercise bike and joining my local gym, B-Fit. I soon found out that there were muscles I had never used since childhood, triceps, biceps, quadriceps, abdominals to name a few. However, Christmas and Millennium celebration excesses were soon purged and progress was evident when, walking with the pack, I surprised a jogger by passing her!
As part of the training at weekends I had been walking sections of the Centenary Way, an 82 mile walk from York to Filey, and was delighted to finish it in February – my tenth long distance walk completed in 10 years. It can be a bit addictive! Other highlights of training included two glorious sunny March circuits of the head of Farndale on the North York Moors, close encounters with deer on the Yorkshire Wolds, listening to a skylark most mornings and at dawn seeing a meteor burning up in the sky over my local village Dunnington (no I hadn’t touched the Guinness).
Potential disaster – two weeks before the start of my C. to C. suspected ‘march fractures’ developed, an inflammation of the bones in the foot, so called because new soldiers often develop it when marching. I also developed ‘sore big toe joint’, what doctors describe as a traumatic arthritis. A Swedish speed skater and walker once said to me that you learn about your body through walking – mine was starting to protest. The balance between sufficient training and overtraining is fine one – I had overstepped the mark on road walking. A Canadian walking friend saw the funny side, ‘Of course you have march fractures; it is after all March. Wait until April Fools’.
April arrived and my feet were still sore. However, forever an optimist, I began to load my rucksack – even including a pair of shorts. The next day was the coldest April day on record and the Pennines, which I would cross, were covered in snow. Winters last fling? Two days to go and I still had a severe pain in the foot. The only possible solution was to wear my stiff walking boots in the house all weekend to stop the bending of the big toe – Celia (my wife) said, ‘you can’t do that as you are always telling Alastair (our son) to take his trainers off in the house’. She was correct but this was an emergency – and it worked!
11-14 April 2000: Lake District Section – Days 1 to 4 Ravenglass to Burneside 46 miles.
As Alf and myself set off (he joined me for the first 100 miles) I was well prepared as at Christmas I had been given the latest walking gadget, a trekking pole (thanks to mom and dad), which hopefully would prevent a recurrence of 1993 when, after slipping in torrential rain, I became the first person to aquaplane on my stomach along a section of The North of England Way/Pennine Way leading into Hawes. Note – walking companion Gary only walked the Pennine Way, much easier. Alternatively, should I succumb to the Guinness, the pole would come in useful to steady me on the return journeys from the pub.
I dipped a toe in the Irish Sea carefully watching my boots in case they disintegrated in front of my eyes due to the Sellafield nuclear waste discharged a few miles along the coast. Muncaster Castle and Fell (described by Ruskin as the entrance to Paradise) were soon reached to give dramatic panoramic views of the snow covered Scafell mountain range (England’s highest). The first day took us into a different world – to a Roman bath house,
a 13th century corn-mill, a 15-inch narrow gauge steam railway, and a narrow gorge and waterfall. In the evening it soon became evident that there was a lot of time on our hands – it took some adjustment to get used to this slower pace of life. It is a good idea to take a small book as there is plenty of time to relax in the evenings.
The second day involved two steep climbs and near the top of the second, on the Walna Scar Road rising from near sea level to 2,000′ towards Coniston, I said to myself ‘never again’ (I have since changed my mind). The afternoon of the third day was wet but we soon dried out at Townend – a National Trust yeamon farmer’s house with original furnishings, wood carvings etc.
Arriving at Burneside on the fourth day I was relieved to hear that the fourth best tattooist in the country had moved to Ambleside (see my 1993 walk!).
15-19 April 2000: Yorkshire Dales Section – Days 5 to 9 Burneside to Ellingstring – 69 miles
The Dales Way was followed in reverse for much of this section, with delightful riverside walking. Soon after leaving Burneside we saw deer. The description of me in an article in the Yorkshire Evening Press as ‘Mountain Man’ (my new trail name) had gone before me as an old lady in Sedbergh asked if my trekking pole was an ice-axe. Another stranger we met there said he had supper with a women from Stillington, near York, and stayed with her for 11 months – Alf replied that it must have been a good supper. A third stranger we met was a young German vet who was moving from Wick in Scotland to Hampshire – what a change. We directed her to Hampshire via Dentdale in order that she could see some of the best of the Dales countryside! At the Sun Inn, Dent, by chance Alf met some school friends he had not seen for many years – a small world. At Cowgill Chapel we were kindly invited for tea and biscuits and soon after a lady from the Quaker House ran out with a donation to Hospice 2000. Near our bed and breakfast at Scow Cottage we saw a ring ouzel, which rarely nests below 1,000 feet. In the morning I awoke to the sound of a woodpecker tapping away on a nearby tree. On leaving we thought we saw an otter but it was so quick we couldn’t be sure.
My Rohan white sun hat with ventilation holes (to reduce perspiration) seemed to be an attraction for birds and on leaving Askrigg a bird dropping landed on my head to Alf’s great amusement. Rohan will have to redesign the hat to make it bird proof. Despite carrying a huge bird book Alf still couldn’t identify the responsible bird. At Aysgarth Falls, Alf departed to return to work.
In the evening I met a couple who had just completed the Herriot Way for the third year in succession – the walks obviously went well as they were getting married in July.
Next morning Aysgarth Falls were magnificent after heavy overnight rain.
With Alf’s departure the weather improved greatly and at last I was able to wear shorts.
As I reached the 100 mile point curlews danced in delight as though in celebration – halfway to Scarborough! However, paths were streams and streams had turned to rivers and some wading near Redmire resulted in wet feet. After leaving the delightful church at Wensley (where the television wedding of James Herriot took place) I followed the swollen River Ure, majestically winding its way like a huge snake along Wensleydale. At Cover Bridge I couldn’t resist a Guinness in the 15th-century inn, followed a few miles later by 3 huge scoops of the Brymor ice cream (3 of the over 40 varieties made from the milk and cream of Guernsey cows) from High Jervaulx Farm.
20-24 April 2000: April North York Moors Section – Days 10 to 14 Ellingstring to Scarborough – 85 miles
In Ellingstring I was woken by a cockerel at the crack of dawn and got up at 7.00am to have an early start on the longest days walking – 21 miles across the Vale of York. Near Masham there were rabbits everywhere and near Thornborough I saw a stoat running along the lane ahead of me. Despite trainers to ease the road walking, on reaching Thirsk my feet were on fire; however, the site of the North York Moors lifted my spirits.
The next day involved a steep climb to Sutton Bank and there was water, mud and more mud everywhere. I had never seen the Moors so muddy in fourteen years. Despite it being one of the wettest Aprils on record, I only experienced 1½ days of rain on the whole walk.
At Helmsley my wife and son Alastair visited for the evening. Alastair was invited to join me for the last three days. He declined the invitation.
On arriving at Lastingham there was an unexpected surprise as Alastair had changed his mind and decided to join me for the last two days of walking (30 miles). He was wearing some of my worn out oversize old boots that he had found in the garage at home. At our overnight accommodation, the Blacksmith’s Arms, I looked out of the bathroom window in our room and noticed the cross on the roof of the nearby church. I suggested that in the morning Alastair visit the 1,000-year underground crypt in the church. In the middle of the night he had the most awful nightmare (the prospect of walking?). After breakfast Alastair went to the crypt whilst I packed the rucksacks. The crypt is a timeless. He came back to the pub and we began our journey together.
For a 19-year student, ‘hiking’ is not the trendiest thing to do but with good weather and plenty of fresh air Alastair’s enjoyed talking to some young walkers from London and Sheffield who were on the ‘Cleveland Way Missing Link’ long distance walk – one of them was a film producer and had been involved in producing videos for Oasis and Britney Spears.
My route out of Lastingham was now well marked and cairned whereas some seven years previously there was no distinct path through the heather and even in bright sunshine compass bearings were necessary. At Levisham Station we took ‘time out’ to take a steam train to Grosmont and back but, being a bank holiday, it was so busy we couldn’t get a seat on the outward journey!
At last Scarborough North Bay came into view, 200 miles were completed, and my feet, ½ size larger than at the start of the walk, were dipped in the North Sea.
Did I enjoy the walk? In the words of Diana of Prague, the first recorded female to complete the North of England Way in 1993, ‘it was marvellous’. Was the walk better than the Opening Ceremony of the Dome? Well the Dome was one amazing night, but the North of England Way for Hospice 2000 was an amazing and memorable two weeks.
A person without dreams is a person without a soul. In life it is important to have something to inspire – dreams inspire. Men and women only got to the top of Everest because they dreamt about getting there. So if you have an idea or dream have faith in it and yourself and, despite setback after setback, keep pursuing it and it may eventually be realised. There will be many unforeseen benefits from your pursuit, even if the dream is not realised.
I had a dream to devise a long-distance walk and despite many hurdles it came to fruition and was published. It required much energy and effort but led me to many beautiful and memorable places and resulted in many new friendships. The best things in life do not come easy. It also led to some unexpected outcomes. I have seen many places, met many people, have acquired many memories and not regretted one step of the journey in my life.
I did a a few appearances on local radio when my book was published in 1997. Radio Merseyside nearly floored me as they wanted me to describe my route backwards heading west rather than east.
The other stations were Jersey, Stoke, York, Cumbria. There were also some newspaper interviews by phone and the book was widely circulated in outdoor related publications. I then gave a talk for the Youth Hostels’ Association on Planning a Long-distance Walk at the first ever Outdoors Show at the NEC in 2002. The Show has been huge success since, but I think recently moved to London (like most things).
Top talkers were Alan Hinkes, Chris Bonnington, David Bellamy, Doug Scott, Ray Mears, Simon Yates. I think I was there to make up the numbers!
My biggest surprise was walking into York one day just after my book was published and there was a display in its own window of my book with boots and other walking gear!
In 2007 I took early retirement from work and continued with weekly day walks. I set myself a target of completing 50 long-distance walks by the time I reached 85. That is in 30 years.
Since then, at the age of 65, I have increased my total of long-distance walks completed to 52 and so have passed my target early.
It was towards the end of 2011 that I was diagnosed with early arthritis in my hip. It became apparent just before walking parts of the Peddar’s Way and Norfolk coast path when I started to get some pain in my hip. The walk was a way of celebrating a friend’s 60th birthday. However, after taking painkillers and anti – inflammatories for 3 days, I walked 11 miles on day 1, 19 miles on day 2, 23 miles on day 3 and 19 miles on day 4. The hip pain went, but I did get bad blisters!
It was not long before the pain returned and, after X-rays, I was diagnosed with early arthritis. Now it could be that my arthritis was caused by too much walking, but then that doesn’t explain how I also have arthritis in my hands. Also 1 in 4 people over 60 get arthritis. A lot of advice for arthritis is that you have to keep the joints mobile through walking, swimming and stretching exercises. In other words I need to try and carry on as before!
So at 65 the journey continues, perhaps a little slower, but the enthusiasm and love of the countryside doesn’t fade. It all started by just putting one foot in front of the other………………………………
However, after the Millennium I had what can only be called a Forrest Gump moment – I suddenly stopped.
No not walking, but writing diaries.
I resumed writing them in 2015, which is why your reading this now. May the walking and, according to one or two notable readers, the diaries long continue.
As Wainwright said:
The Fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest: always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed in mind and body.
Watch this space.