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


  1. Excellent and very candid post David.
    I'm sure we all know those moments very well when the little devil is murmuring in our ears about how easy it would be end the slog and go home, that's why I find the mindset the most important aspect of backpacking. The mind plays dirty tricks after many miles of hiking, especially when many of them have been in crap weather.
    It's one reason why I limit myself to four-day routes max these days.

    I'll be interested to see what happens next.

  2. I think I understand what you went through. Our last TGO Challenge was very much a curate's egg of a walk. Hand on heart, I enjoyed just five of the walking days of the fourteen.

    The first day, though mightily - and unexpectedly - difficult was fabulous for the rugged hill and the views on such a ragged weather day.

    The walk through the bealach to Glen Roy was charming, and I do love picking my way through the boggy stuff. The next great day was the gorgeous stroll through Glen Banchor and catching up with you and Andy in the Silverfjord; such happiness after an easy day, a few beers and smiley people.

    The next day was an absolute corker, tracing the old stalkers' path up the side of a chasm to arrive at the Shangri-la of a magnificent caochan, totally knackered, but blissfully happy.

    Very oddly, the long walk from there down to Braemar in the rain was very satisfying, as we bumped into Lou & Phyll who we hadn't seen for years.

    All the other days were either tedious (and for the life of me I don't know why) or felt like bloody hard work.

    Nine out of fourteen days were not good. That's the worst I've ever felt on the TGO Challenge.

    Getting back home I seriously questioned whether or not I wanted to do another Challenge. I beleived I was in a rut and could barely see over the lip.

    My coping strategy was to plan my most recent holiday - a completely new thing for me, cycling around Provence on my folding city bike / electric Brompton. On my own, and carrying all my luggage on the bike and going over Mont Ventoux. The planning for such a trip was new for me and it all seemed like a jolly good wheeze. That is until I was on the TGV zooming at Mach 6 towards Avignon.

    Throughout the next three days of cycling there was this dread of what was coming up on the fourth day. Mont Ventoux. It's 1910m up in the sky for God's sake! But, I did it. And I loved it.

    That holiday made a huge change to my outlook. I'm now looking forward to next year's TGO - if we are spared a place.

    David. There's no such thing as failure. It's just experience. A lost Mojo can be found again. You just need to walk with someone who'll lift your flgging spirits now and then. I'm lucky, in that Phil puts up with my mood swings (he just ignores me) and I hang on to his coat-tails until finally my walking brain kicks back in again.

    Talk to Mad'n'Bad. You two seemed to get on fine in May. Go for a walk with someone who'll talk you to death, disappear over the horizon, only then to trip over him as he appears from the completely wrong direction.

    But don't backpack. B&B it, hotel it, do it large and grinning. You've still plenty of time to change your mind about May.

    You just need a break from all this rufty-tufty nonsense, my friend

    1. Well done on your cycling in France, Alan. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I am, indeed, taking a break from "all this rufty-tufty nonsense". I have no idea how long this break will be for, but I can not think I will be changing my mind about the 2020 Challenge.


  4. What a great read David. I think all hikers and backpackers will relate to this post. Its refreshing to read an honest account of a trip warts n'all, and not just a cherry picking presentation of the nice bits. I think we all lose our hiking mojo at some time of our lives. I've only managed 2 fells all year. There are just other more interesting things to do at the moment. I know for certain that at some point in the future hiking will be top of the agenda again. Don't know when ... but I know the hills will always be there, unchanging and ready to great me when I'm ready. The Pennine Way will wait too and will be much more enjoyable when it feels like a pleasure rather than a chore. Even it takes a B&B every night a rucksack shuttle service - perish the thought! ;-)

    1. The hills will, indeed, always be there, Steve, although sadly our physical abilities will not be. Which is one of the reasons I had decided to do the Pennine Way this year.

      But on a more positive note I must say that your camper van is looking splendid in its new livery. Fabulous colour too. I love that shade of blue as it sets my eyes off so nicely when I wear a shirt of that colour. :-)

  5. What an exceptionally honest post, I hope it was cathartic for you to write.

    Sometimes we do not know, in minute scientific detail, the "why". But your heart was not in it and you decided to change your plans. That is OK, in fact, it is more than OK - you'd have been daft to continue in that mindset and probably have ended up poorly/hurt or something.

    I reckon every one of who has sometimes headed off with just a map & rucksack have sometimes not done the walk we started, or damn well wished we could just go back to the car and have a cuppa somewhere. And those who claim otherwise are telling 'porkies', to themselves if not to others.

    Ditto Alan's wise words - you did not fail, you changed your plans to take account of the circumstances. And thank you for the memory of Supertramp at the Royal Albert Hall, February 1977. (Oh poo - I really am that old!()

    1. Hi Jayne

      I never saw Supertramp live but if you think that going to a concert in 1977 makes you old you might like to know that my first concerts were in about 1972 or 1973 when I saw Wizzard and Mud. I did become more sophisticated in my musical tastes - the last two I went to, both in the last couple of years, were Showaddywaddy and The Proclaimers. In between, though, I did see some absolute rubbish bands - the likes of Slade, Queen, Roxy Music, Split Enz, Jack the Lad, Rory Gallagher and so on.

  6. My RSS feed slowly stacks up with a long list of blogs to read. At last I've got round to reading your epic. After all the hard work you reach Hebden Bridge and decide to go home. I've nothing to add to the very good comments above, echoing Alan there is no such thing as failure, just experience. Nevertheless a jolly good read.

    Thanks for sharing
    Colin @colinoutnabout

    1. Hi Colin

      Thanks for dropping by and for reading my posts. Yes, it certainly was an experience. As ever, I learnt lots - both positive and negative!

  7. David, I read this with some dismay - I do hope you can find a substitute for "crawling into a little tent to cook 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 think most of the population would run a mile from that prospect - even jump on the first train home. Those of us who continue to enjoy it must be in a very small minority!
    As I get older - whilst remaining one of that minority - I've started to really appreciate carrying a day sack from hotel/hostel to hotel/hostel, the only serious duty being to judge a sensible itinerary, and to wash out t-shirt and undies most nights.
    Hoping you manage to find an activity that suits you - Alan Sloman's bike ride was an interesting experiment...

  8. Hi Martin

    Good to hear from you. I have never really fancied the hostel to hostel approach. Not sure why. Perhaps I'll change my views. At the moment I'm hoping that as the weather starts to improve next Spring that my desire to backpack and, indeed, just to get into the hills, will return.