Wednesday 25 September 2019

Come on Heart: Pennine Way Day 4, Jack in at Jack Bridge

Manchester, 5.50am

This is a post about how I lost my love of backpacking and why I gave up walking the Pennine Way.  Was it difficult to write?  Definitely.  Is it honest?  In the main, but time does change the mind’s perspective.  This is how I see things now.  Could it be dishonest?  Possibly, but only by omission and, given that, I do hope that readers will not expect, in the words of Queen Elizabeth I,  “to make windows into men’s souls”.

Day 4.  I was still feeling good with myself about how I'd coped with the conditions the previous day.  It was now dry.  A bit of a chilly wind first thing, but nothing serious.   It was to be a shortish, straightforward walk to the campsite at the New Delight Inn at Jack Bridge where a re-supply parcel awaited.  Even better, I would have time to divert into Hebden Bridge on the way to seek out coffee, bacon rolls and cake.  The schedule and weather forecast for the subsequent days were also benign.  What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing, as it happens, except I gave up.

I am still at a loss to explain why.  I set off along the long, flat, easy track by the series of reservoirs before Stoodley Pike.  Within a few minutes my head was down, despite the easiness of the terrain which meant that looking around for sustained periods as I walked, without risking a fall, was an option, possibly for the first time since Edale.  My mind could not wander, could not appreciate my surroundings.  I had another two weeks of this.  Just putting one foot in front of the other.  Crawling into a little tent most evenings.  Cooking and eating lying on my side, elbow and shoulder aching.  Peeing into a bottle a couple of times a night to avoid putting on boots, unzipping the tent, going out into what would often be rain, then reversing all this and lying there hoping to get back to sleep.  I am over 60 years old, I told myself.  What on earth did I think I was doing.  My heart had no answer.  It just gave out.

I walked along the higher ground towards the monument at Stoodley Pike, erected according to the graffiti, to honour Manchester City FC.  My guide book had wrongly claimed it was to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon Buonaparte.  It was superb walking country.  But my heart had given in.  I felt resentment every time a piece of gritstone on the track caused me to alter my regular pace or foot placement.  Who wants to walk in this fashion?  Tarmac is so much easier.

Stoodley Pike: Originally built to celebrate defeating the Frenchies (again). Now a shrine to Manchester City Football Club if all the graffiti painted on it is to be believed

My brain took its lead from my heart. But they were also arguing.  With each other and with me.  There’s no reason to give up.  You’ll hate yourself if you do.  It will be so embarrassing. You told all those people what you were doing.  Why didn’t you just quietly set off and not tell anyone?  I knew the answer to that.  By telling people I was less likely to give up, or so I had believed.  I sat below the monument.  I couldn’t move.  Not knowing what I wanted.  I’d decide in Hebden Bridge.  I eventually set off again and diverted, as planned, from the official route of the Way and followed the Hebden Bridge loop path down into the valley.

I hadn’t given up at this stage.  Part of me was still doing the walk.  Part was not. I sought out the gear shop to buy a spare gas canister.  I was thwarted.  It was only 11.35 in the morning, yet a sign said they’d closed early for lunch.  I went to a café and put my phone on charge as I’d need more juice for the next couple of days.  I could get to the camp site and make a decision tomorrow, then, if I wanted to give up, I could walk back to Hebden Bridge and catch a train.  I googled Sunday train times.  Thwarted again. There would be heavy disruption, this being useless Northern Rail country with its lack of drivers.  But Saturday afternoon trains were running to time.  I ate my bacon and sausage butty.  Was I doing this walk or not?

I headed out of the café and turned towards the steep pull up to Colden Clough and the woodland path that led away from Hebden Bridge and toward Jack Bridge and the Pennine Way north.  I think it took about an hour to get to the camp site.  Every second I was arguing with myself.  Angry for even thinking of going home; and also angry for even thinking of walking on towards Kirk Yetholm.

I arrived at the New Delight Inn.  Collected my parcel from behind the bar.  “I’m sorry, I’ve decided not to stop," I told them, “I’ll pay for my pitch, though, as you were kind enough to hold my parcel for me”. It was not necessary, they said.

Of course, before doing anything else I should have taken my boots off and sat outside in the September sun and had a bar snack and a pint for lunch with Hendrick and Marie who had also arrived.  But I didn’t.

Forty-five minutes later I had purchased a rail ticket home and was sitting on the platform at Hebden Bridge.  My brain and heart were still arguing. I could be back at Jack Bridge in an hour. I could stop on the way there for a cup of tea and cake on the way out of town. I'm British for goodness sake.  I believe that a cup of tea and slice of coffee and walnut sponge can change the world, let alone a person's mood. The train pulled in to the station.  I climbed aboard and found a seat.  This was, as we used to say, long ago when I was at University, “a piss poor show”.

And since then?  I’m still at a loss.  Every day for the  fortnight after I arrived home I was thinking about what leg of my walk I would have been on.  When the sun was out I was beating myself up for stopping; when it was wet and windy I was telling myself it was the right decision. I kept arguing with myself about what I had done.

Well this is a miserable post.  Cathartic?  I had hoped it would be, but in reality it is not.

I started off this series of posts about my short journey on the Pennine Way with a linky thing to a piece of music, Dreamer, by ‘70s band Supertramp.   In my bleaker moments that is how I think of myself.

“Dreamer, you're nothing but a dreamer…I said dreamer, you’re nothing but a dreamer…Dreamer, you stupid little dreamer…”

Plans that do not come to fruition.  How silly having such dreams.  But that is, indeed, a bleak thought.  And it is not really what I believe.  I promised  in my first post about this trip to finish with a link to something far more uplifting, far more how it should be.  So here it comes.  It’s one of my great favourites, both the lyrics (even when they change to French!) and the music.  Yes, it’s just pop music but I love it. And this is a particularly good version because it’s live and much faster than the original single, which came out in 1981 when I was still young and pretty.  Do play it.  Do turn up your speakers. You’ll love it. I promise.  It may even make you want to dad (or mum) dance and the lyrics are reproduced below if you like a bit of karaoke in your living room.  My plan is to listen to it enough until I am so sick of it that I have no choice but to pack my rucksack and head for the hills. So click here now. Yes you! Just do it.  It could well be the most joyous three minutes you've had today.  And scroll down to read the lyrics.

Hold on tight to your dream
Hold on tight to your dream
When you see your ship go sailing
When you feel your heart is breaking
Hold on tight to your dream
It's a long time to be gone
Time just rolls on and on
When you need a shoulder to cry on
When you get so sick of trying
Hold tight to your dream
When you get so down that you can't get up
And you want so much but you're all out of luck
When you're so downhearted and misunderstood
Just over and over and over you could
Accroches-toi a ton reve
Accroches-toi a ton reve
Quand tu vois ton bateau partir
Quand tu sents ton coeur se briser
Accroches-toi a ton reve

Saturday 14 September 2019

Come on Legs: Pennine Way Days 2 and 3:

Day 2 20.1km, 650m ascent, 6 hours 45 minutes
Day 3 29.0km, 1086m ascent, 9 hours 35 minutes
Much respect to those who walked the Pennine Way bogs before the worst were slabbed.  But they do make for a weird hill walking experience.  These were on the way to the Snake Pass.

I can remember little of Day 2 of my walk, even just 10 days later.  It was a day of very heavy showers, still very windy, but nothing compared to the day before.  The climb up William Clough was not as bad as feared after my slow descent in the gloom of the previous evening.  My plan remained to get to Crowden Great Brook beyond Laddow Rocks for a wild camp, but the previous day’s diversion to Hayfield meant that this would entail an additional 5km and about 300 metres of extra ascent.
On Clough Edge 

Mill Hill, Snake Pass and Bleaklow Head passed.  The path up Bleaklow was interesting, lots of twists and turns, less obvious on the ground than I had imagined the path would normally be on a National Trail, but the weather was clear and navigation wasn’t challenging.  The walk above Torside Clough added interest.  It was here that Austrians Hendrick and Marie and their two exceptionally well behaved dogs overtook me.  They were through-hiking the Way and I passed them again at their next pit stop.  They, sensibly, had not micro-planned their itinerary, unlike me, and hadn’t decided how far they would go today.

As I descended towards Torside Reservoir, I suspected that I couldn’t make my planned destination.  “Come on legs,” I said.  But they were having none of it.  It hadn’t been a particularly gruelling day, but I was more tired than I felt I should have been.  Perhaps the nervous exhaustion of the previous day was catching up with me.

“Come on legs”.  Nah.  They were having none of it.  I decided on an early finish to make the most of the comforts of the campsite at Crowden.  Hendrick and Marie arrived soon after.

Crowden Camping and Caravan Club Site: I had planned to wild camp night 2.

Day 3.  Raining.  Again.  Heavily.  Hence the lack of photographs. I sang the obvious as I set off towards Laddow Rocks.  Click on the linky thing to find out what it was. 

Onwards and Upwards. Cloud almost down to the valley floor.  I was determined to get back on track, literally and metaphorically. As yesterday, this would mean an extra 5km in distance, 300 metres more climbing and two more hours.  I was apprehensive about this.  The two-hour estimate proved accurate to the minute, as I arrived where I had planned to camp by Crowden Great Brook exactly two hours after starting.  The walk over Laddow Rocks had seen the intensity of the rain increase and the wind had picked up.

By Black Hill the rain was torrential, and the wind was becoming problematic.  The cloud began to lift soon after, but although visibility was now better, the rain was of biblical proportions.  My rain jacket gave up the fight and my mid and base layers became soaked.   I haven’t used it in the rain since so do not know whether it was simply overwhelmed in the awful conditions or whether the waterproof membrane or seams have gone for good.  But I didn’t care about any of this.  Nor was I having to say “Come on legs”.  I was enjoying myself.

A sign warned that the stream half-a-mile or so ahead in Dean Clough was dangerous to ford after heavy rain.  It suggested an alternative route with a bridge.  I foolishly ignored this, not thinking and not checking the map, assuming it would mean a long detour.  As it happened the stream was easy to cross, with a small ledge a metre or so above the normal crossing point offering a way across in water under six inches deep.

Dean Clough: I crossed just above this little fall, an easy fording despite the notice half a mile earlier warning of certain death

Wessenden Head.  Result!  The hoped for snack bar was in the lay-by.  The best mug of tea and a sausage and bacon bap were consumed in its lee.  I walked on.  Within 15 minutes of setting off again, and of being in some of the heaviest rain I had ever experienced, the sun broke through and large patches of blue sky appeared.  The weather remained good for the rest of the day, with the walking now straightforward and the legs working well.  Reservoirs.  A short sit down just before Standedge. White Hill.  The dirtiest lay-by in the world just before the M62 (filthy scum) set-off nicely by a burnt out Range Rover a few metres further on. Blackstone Edge.  The Aiggin Stone.  Then as I walked on in the beautiful late afternoon sunshine there, in one of the disused quarries before the White House Pub, Hendrick and Marie’s tents.  Space for a third that would do nicely.

It really was a splendid spot

Super wild camp in evening sunshine just short of the A58 and only 10 minutes from the White House Pub

As the final peg went in the turf and I turned to empty my pack a voice.  “Hi.  How you doing?”  It was old friend, Johnboy Sanderson.  The chap who first walked the Pennine Way, solo, aged about 7 years old.  Well, I exaggerate, but I believe he bunked off school to do it.  Tracking me via my SPOT messenger and come to meet me with many words of encouragement and a battery power pack to enable me to charge my phone.  But what a selfish sod.  If he’d bothered to arrive ten minutes earlier he could have put up my tent for me.  We went off to find a decent supply of running water.  Sadly, the closest source was in the pub, just a few minutes beyond my camp spot.  Well, we stopped for a quick pint.  It would have been rude not to.
John Boy considering some tactful phrases after his tent inspection in which he saw just how badly a Mountain Laurel Design's Duomid can be pitched

A great day.  For me the distance and height gain to get back on track had felt rather daunting before I had set out in the morning.  The conditions would make the first part of the day a severe test.  Yet it had gone super smoothly with legs, head and heart all performing nicely.  I felt great and was still on a high as I got into the sleeping bag for the night.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Come On Head: A Walk Along the Pennine Way

Day 1 14.9km, 708m ascent, 5 hours 5 minutes
The Old Nag's Head, Edale

I set off from Edale at 1.10pm after a rather unpleasant baked potato with cheese and beans at the Old Nag’s Head.  I am only surprised I didn’t have a stroke whilst still eating it, given the amount of salt the cook had added.

The nastiness of lunch was soon forgotten in the fabulous walking weather as I crossed the fields to Upper Booth.  Sunny spells, interrupted only by lovely white fluffy cumulus clouds which scudded across the sky.  Have you noticed that clouds always ‘scud’ across the sky?  Why is that?  Let me tell you.  It’s because most people, including me, virtually never pick up a thesaurus.  Well I just did, and, to my surprise, I learnt that the word ‘scud’ was used in Gaelic and Manx to refer to the clouds themselves, which were believed to drive the wind.  Anyway, the clouds were scudding, skimming, darting and flying across the sky.  A bit breezy, yes, but nothing to worry about.  I was feeling good, confident, and fit, despite the lack of any proper training.  I even walked through three fields of cows without ‘Mad and Bad’ Andy Walker to hold my hand and shoo them away.

With 'Mad and Bad' Andy Walker on a walk across Scotland.  Andy is my cow shooer-in-chief.
By Upper Booth rain drops were falling on my head.  Just like they did on poor old Sacha Distell.  You know, in that film.  Where Butch Cassidy cycles across Bolivia with that woman on his handlebars.  Waterproofs and pack cover time.  I’d heard of Jacob’s Ladder, the next landmark on the route, but didn’t really know what it was.  Just that it was the first steep climb of the Pennine Way.  Now I don’t want to sound boastful or crude but, to use a backpacking term, I pissed up it, overtaking a young bloke in shorts, who was only carrying a small day pack, and who looked dead ‘ard.
At the foot of Jacob's Ladder.  About an hour into the walk.  My waterproofs had just been donned and I wouldn't take these off for another two and a half days. Except in the tent, obviously.
The wind picked up.  By Kinder Low it had picked up a bit more.  By Kinder Downfall it was doing the Kinder party trick of picking up the waterfall and blowing it uphill, causing a storm of wetness to hit me as I forded the stream.  Just after the Downfall the wind picked me up and dumped me against a big lump of gritstone.  Hmmmm.  I carried on along the Edge.  I noted that Sandy Heys looked a good spot for pitching a tent, but not on a day like today.  As I descended the steep drop after Sandy Heys towards the col before Mill Hill I was blown over again, fortunately into the slope to my side.  I tried to stand and was forced down again.  I sat there, not wanting to risk getting up again.  What had so far been a challenging but fun experience was turning serious.  As I said to myself, “Well, Fellbound, what has so far been a challenging but fun experience is turning serious.”  I could no longer wander along in my own world.  “Come on head,” I told myself, “keep calm, concentrate and switch on brain”.  So I did.

Kinder Low
The original plan had been to wild camp about a kilometre to the east of the col near the site of a 1950s aircraft crash site.  Would it be sufficiently in the lee of the hill to be safe?  More hmmming.  But the head was working on alternatives.  I soon had my plan.  I’d carry on down to the col then descend east towards the crash site for 10 minutes or so.  If it was appearing sufficiently more sheltered in that direction I’d carry on as planned and wild camp there.  If not I’d climb back to the col and escape west off the plateau and down William Clough to the camp site at Hayfield.  All this time I could see a figure sitting down at the col, not moving, but obviously watching me.

I continued the descent to the col.  The figure stood up.  A young woman with a very large pack, who was on her own northbound Pennine Way journey.  Did I think she would make Crowden before dark, she asked.  It was about 5.00pm.  I did not know how fit or experienced she was but the very question hinted at the answer.  I replied simply that I knew I couldn’t.  It turned out she had started a couple of hours before me and so was clearly making very slow progress.  I explained where I was thinking of camping.  “What facilities does the camp site have?” she asked.  I sort of explained that it had a stream, a lot of heather and peat, and some scattered pieces of two jet aircraft, but not much else.  I suggested that instead she might think about dropping down to Hayfield.  She only had a strip map of the Pennine Way itself so didn’t know where Hayfield was.  My decision was, therefore, in effect made for me.  In any case, it was still so windy at the col that I already suspected that my planned wild camp would be foolhardy.  I offered to show her the way to Hayfield.  It was a long, slow plod down the rough, slippery path in William Clough as the dusk gathered.  I stopped at the Camping and Caravan Club campsite; she decided that even there it was too windy and so the site warden booked her into a B and B in the village.  I’d walked for almost two hours more than planned, and lost about 1000 feet in height, all of which had to be made up the next day.  Still, I felt stoic as I cooked my evening meal in the dark.

It must have been about the time that I wearily crawled into my sleeping bag that Heathrow, Gatwick, Charles de Gaulle and JFK airports were for some reason closed and all planes in the western hemisphere were diverted and instructed to land at Manchester Airport.  “There’s a stiff westerly wind so take the flight path in over Hayfield”, the pilots were all told, “go in low, if possible just above the height of the street lamps.”  Well that’s what it felt like.  I got little sleep.  But I’d seen a Youtube video only a couple of days earlier made by a very experienced American backpacker.  He gave some very wise advice.  He explained that he rarely slept well when in his tent.  The thing was, he said, just to accept that you will keep waking up and not worry about it.  So that is what I did.  “Well done, head”, I muttered at one point in the early hours.  That Zeno of Athens was onto something when he philosophised about stoicism 2300 years ago, I can tell you.  As was the bloke who invented the pee bottle so you don’t have to go outside in the middle of the night when you’re in a tent and it’s pouring down.

Monday 9 September 2019

Come on Legs, Come on Head, Come on Heart

"And in the darkest hours of urban depression, I will sometimes take out that dog's eared map, and dream awhile of more spacious days; and perhaps a dried blade of grass will fall out of it to remind me that I was once a free man on the hills."

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, Walking Essays, 1912

Edale, Derbyshire
I want to tell you a story.  It is about how I set off to walk the Pennine Way but didn’t get very far.  It is the sorry tale of a man who has lost his ‘mojo’ for what has been his passion for 48 of his 62 years.  Walking in the hills.  But do not despair, oh reader, for these posts, (there will be a couple), are not all doom and gloom despite the initial introspection.  There may even be messages of hope in here.  Forgive the following rambling paragraphs.  I need to clear my head.

Image result for tom stephenson pennine way guide cover
It was all Tom's fault
In about 1976 I bought Tom Stephenson’s guide to the Pennine Way.  The Pennine Way was Tom's love child.  I dreamt [Click on that linky thing , but only if you are aged over about 55] of walking Tom's Pennine Way.  When?  Dunno.  But I walked many other places. The hills of my youth in Shropshire, with my bestest school friend.  We went off to university together and I’m seeing him next month down in the Brecon Beacons, with other uni friends, friendships rekindled recently after a long gap.  These renewed acquaintances have brought me much pleasure.  I had some wonderful friends at school and university.  Look after your friendships people.  I went almost forty years after university before I made more real friends.  I have this belief that friendships are most lasting when they are based on shared deep experiences, such as those gained when everything is new.  This might involve things like your early trips into the hills, or when you are living away from home for the first time, such as at university.

My walking progressed from Shropshire to other places.  The Berwyns.  Snowdonia.  Glencoe.  The Alps with my university mountaineering club.  Coast-to-coast across Scotland on five TGO Challenges.  The TGO Challenge is, for many, another intense experience that creates lasting bonds of friendship, as it has done for me.  I also had a few trips to the Pennines and the Peak District over the years.  However, the latter never really inspired me.  It always felt bleak, unwelcoming, even in the sun.  That is a reflection on me.  I am sure millions would disagree.  But my heart was in the Lake District.  The Lakes  had become my obsession since early forays with my school cadet force.  I would hitch hike there at every opportunity in my sixth form and college holidays to hike or backpack alone in the fells.  They were relatively quiet then.  The Band up Bowfell, now a major highway, was still an intermittent track, for example.  I never spent a 50 pence piece for twenty or thirty years.  I saved them towards the house I would buy in the Lakes.  A job opportunity, in reality a poor career move, allowed me to move to work in Cumbria in the late 1980s and I could at last walk the fells almost whenever I wanted.  The Pennine Way was well and truly on the back burner.  Tom Stephenson’s guide went to a charity shop, in pristine condition, no mud on the cover, no dog eared corners, out-of-date.
UCW Aberystwyth  Mountaineering Club in The Otztal Alps, Austria, 1977

A pretty 19 year old in the Otztal Alps crossing a glacier to the spectacularly located Bresslauer Hutte (???) in the left middle of the photo. Crikes, was I ever that young? 

This year I decided it was now or never. I had to walk the Pennine Way before my declining fitness and increasing age prevented it. The idea actually excited me. Of course it should have done, or why bother?  But I was more than semi-conscious that some of my walking was starting to feel like it was being done out of habit, a chore.  Especially the long, arduous days that things like my last two TGO Challenges had entailed.  I planned a moderate schedule.  18 days.  Several wild camps, a similar number of camp sites and 4 B and Bs.  I managed just 4 days.  At times the weather conditions were desperate.  Within four hours of starting I had to make a long diversion off Kinder Scout down to the valley to assist another walker who was in quite some difficulty and which knocked my plans.  But it was not the weather conditions or my legs or lack of fitness that did for me.  It was not my head, or lack of skill or my ability to adapt or solve problems.  No, it was my heart that gave up.  Not in the medical the human sense.

Any human heart?  No, just mine.  Not up to the job.

That’s the introspection over, for now at least.   I promise the following posts will be back on track. The normal inane Fellbound rambling.  There will be tales of rain of biblical proportions, of wind, such wind and of damsels in distress, rescued from certain death as darkness descended, with descriptions of endurance that will make Ernest Shackleton look like a complete wimp, of athletic young Austrians stalking our hero, and of the best sausage and bacon bap every made.  Oh.  And music.  The tale will end in the final post with a piece of music that will, I promise, make you want to dance.  Even the dads out there.  You'll hear it and want to dance with exuberance and hope and it will renew your desire to achieve your dreams.  I’m off to play it again before I write anymore of this nonsense…and it's not Showaddywaddy or The Proclaimers, I promise you.  But it jolly well could have been.