Thursday, April 19, 2012

How I'm gettin' on

I am sitting writing this in front of a coal fire at the Youth Hostel in Dufton, Cumbria. I am the only guest. 

As is the case most evenings, my thoughts right now are centred on going to bed, reading for a while and thinking about what the next day holds. 

All the same, it occurs to me that people might like to know how the journey is going. So I'll try to explain how it looks from here with about 660 miles behind me and some 400 or more still to go. 

At times the path behind me seems immensely long. I occasionally review it while I am falling asleep at night. Sometimes a whole section of the journey is a complete blank and then the only thing to do is to go back a little - nearer to the start, to a part I remember - and to 'walk back in' to the forgotten part, to rediscover it again.

To be more specific: yesterday I set out from the youth hostel ... but I should explain, I've jumped ahead; I'm now in Once Brewed, by Hadrian's Wall; it's two days since I wrote the first part. 

... I set out in sunshine and under a clear, blue sky, climbing steadily along a sunken, tree-lined path, past abandoned barns and farm buildings, away from the village towards the high fells. And, as has been the case for weeks, the fields are full of sheep -the ewes moving to one side on my approach, followed by the lambs, who wait for a while before running to their mother and suckling at her roughly for reassurance.

The tops of the fells are swathed in cloud or thick mist. The distinction is important because mist will burn off in the sun, whereas cloud promises rain or worse. 

It turns out to be cloud and after a long climb across open moor, past the remnants of snowdrifts, I am in it. There's a bitter east wind blowing and when the clouds open it's not rain that lashes my face but a fine hail. Raising my head to glimpse what's ahead, I take note of a ghostly stone cairn on the sky-line, a vital landmark in the otherwise featureless, mist-enshrouded landscape. Over the next three hours, working from cairn to cairn and occasionally, when no cairn is visible, with aid of a compass, I work my way across Knock Fell, Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell - the highest point on the Pennines. 

On the other side of Cross Fell is Greg's Hut - an unlocked bothy - in which travellers can find some shelter from the elements. There's a dry sleeping platform and a stove and it's clear that people pass the night here - either out of choice or on account of the weather. 

After Greg's Hut there is a long, 7-mile walk along an old miners' road. Not describing it in detail is a fair reflection of it's interest. The road leads down to the little former mining village of Garrigill but the day isn't over till I've walked a further 4 miles through river meadows to Alston where I seek out a bed for the night. 

All in all a fairly ordinary day. 

(I must post this on my blog now. I have a good Internet connection and there's no time for polishing)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A walk of two halves

I am somewhere in the middle of a long walk from Land's End to Cape Wrath at the northwest tip of Scotland

It was on a long, lonely road in Shropshire that I came to the startling realisation that there are two of us doing this journey.

There's 'the bottom half' - the bit that does all the walking, negotiates fallen trees and climbs over stiles. Then there's 'the top half' - the part that gazes across distant vistas, lost in poetic reverie and philosophic reflection.

Needless to say, it is the top half that is writing this piece. It has been clear for quite some time that philosophic reflection is not one of the bottom half's strong points. The bottom half is not a great communicator. His conversation - if you can call it that - is confined to an endless series of grumbles and complaints such as "how he would never have agreed to come along if he had known what was involved" and "Just name me one thing I'm getting out of this?" and - the one that irritates me the most - "Are we nearly there yet?"

With regard to what he's getting out of it, I remind him that the giant pork pies and chocolate brownies are solely for his benefit and that, left to myself, I would just as soon exist on rough oatcakes and green salads. That's usually enough to shut him up.  If there's one thing I'm sure of it's this - there's nothing the bottom half likes so much as a good feed. At times I suspect it's the only thing that keeps him going. 

All the same I have to admit he has a point - it can't be very much fun down there; it can be quite wet and the view isn't anything to write home about. Sometimes I find myself admiring the dogged persistence with which the bottom half approaches his task and I like to imagine his efforts are rewarded with some form of brutish gratification . Enduring a few grumbles seems a small price to pay if that's all that's needed to keep him 'at it'. Besides, I've found if I pretend I'm not listening he quietens down after a while. 

So, on the whole, we get along quite well and though it would be ridiculous to expect the bottom half to come up with much in the conversation department, I am happy to spend some time introducing him to 'higher things'. I'm probably fooling myself, but like to think that something might be 'going in'. 

It was only the other day: I was telling him the story of Robinson Crusoe and I could swear he was listening quite intently.