A lone Woman’s Journey from Shropshire to Knoydart in Style
A journey on foot by a woman in her late forties from the back door of her small home in Shropshire to Knoydart on the West Coast of Scotland, sleeping rough, eating pemmican, suffering from dysentery and dehydration and generally doing it the hard way…..and this is only part one!
I’ve been advised to write something about myself as an introduction to my ‘Expedition from the Back Door’. It’s probably best to start with the idea behind the title, which is that you don’t need to go far, or do extreme sports, to engineer an experience for yourself that puts you on another level. For me, right now, it’s a walk from home (South Shropshire) to Scotland, with no idea where I’ll be sleeping, except that it will be in a bivouac. The uncertainty is part of the challenge, as is doing it alone. For some people this wouldn’t be a stand-out event. That doesn’t matter.
I’m in two minds how much to trawl my past for credentials and defences to persuade you take me seriously. I am going to succumb. So here it is: When I was a very young thing, before I talked (whether I could or not I don’t know), I used to pack up a bag and walk down the street. I don’t remember this, but the anecdote adds some poetic closure to the story of me. As I grew up, though, I would say that I was physically quite timid and unsure of my body. That changed when I started Karate in my teens, and I still remember how sensational it was to be able to feel each muscle work, and to be able to concentrate on one and contract it whenever I wanted to. It made me mentally stronger to have connection with my body like that. I loved throwing myself into things to see if I would sink-or swim. I kept staying on the surface, and got myself a long way from where I started.
They say your thirties is the best era, when your talents have matured, and I certainly felt that way. I’d become a doctor of psychology, director of a university training programme, and I was in good shape. I met Andy, and, at the end of my thirties, had our daughter Katy. During that time we climbed and we ran.
We met because we climbed. I’d dedicated myself to Alpinism by the time I met Andy, enjoying the mixed climbing of rock, snow and ice, and I’d also climbed to 7,200m on the north side of Everest.Together we climbed extensively in the UK (I particularly enjoyed winter climbing in Scotland) and also took to the Alps whenever we could get away. We discovered that each other ran too, and discovered the competitiveness in one another! Although I competed in races on the roads and fells, I always saw the races as training for the running rather than the other way around. This made me a sceptical competitor, but for a few years I enjoyed winning and took championship titles. Ultra-running took more precedence as I tired of the short/fast buzz, and I trained and competed at long distances over the hills (for example, the OMM – Original Mountain Marathon). I can remember vividly the years when we pushed Katy over the hills in the stroller until she got too big for it.
I feel I can’t leave out my serious back injury, (related in my other post Zambezi: Surviving Dinorwig Quarry) because it has figured highly in my mind as much as my body. In 2003 we went out climbing in Llanberis. The ‘Electric Mountain’ is an extraordinary labyrinth of slate quarries, and I was leading a climb on a pretty one, called Holy Wall (route: Zambezi), beside a grassy platform and round pool of water. Slate is tricky rock, and when I fell, so did all my protection (my gear): after about 35ft I hit the ground. The ambulance couldn’t get through, so I was airlifted off, to Bangor Hospital.
My body has always been reactive (Raynauds Disease, for example, cutting off the circulation), and for a while there were suspicions of internal bleeding since the sats were so off, but eventually I left the ’emergency room’ and lay prone and catheterised, with spinal fractures confirmed (later corroborated by MRI: crushed T12 and L1, with spinal encroachment). It was testament to the vigour of my family that I was taken from a geriatric ward in Bangor to the spinal unit in Oswestry, Shropshire. I joined a research programme into the use of braces rather than surgery, and within two weeks was mobile again. Within another two weeks we were in Scotland, on the mountains. We saw Mountain Rescue out, perhaps searching for another party, making me aware of the brace holding me together, and what might be said if I got into difficulty. It wasn’t hazard so much as mental restoration that I needed badly.
I still have repercussions from the accident, but luckily the back pain is now rare. In 2013 I left the academic world and we started a Bushcraft and Survival company called Farafoot. Now I have the opportunity to explore the things that inspire me, and to work on my writing.
I give this as background to my ‘Expedition from the Back Door‘, because although it doesn’t evoke the heights of fear I have felt on a rock face, or the level of risk of some climbs in the mountains, I still count it as testing. The reasons are clear, I hope, in the following.¹
¹ The diary entries in what follows were written at home, and the Logbook entries made during my walk, hence the different writing styles.
I want to call my walk an ‘expedition’ not just because it sounds good (although it does!), but because what I was after wasn’t just a holiday; it had to be daunting, and it was! It’s not over yet though, not by half. Even though I still blush a bit to talk about it in expeditionary terms, the sheer effort and time it took me to get the plan and the gear right make it pass the test.
The plan was: walk from home (the Clee Hills, Shropshire) to Knoydart, Scotland. Not so difficult so far, but much harder with the added aims to be self-supporting, sleeping ‘rough’ (wild camping, without a tent), carrying my food and sourcing water from the route. It didn’t allow me at any point to relax and let go. I won’t go on about that any more; make up your own mind.
The idea wasn’t random. I’m interested in survivalism and bushcraft, and I was writing a story called INCH (standing for, ‘I’m Never Coming Home’). In the story-line my main character had already set out on foot for Knoydart, and I was trailing behind in terms of experience. So it was research. Well, I thought it was, but what comes first, the fascination or the story? My character was female and only 19. I’m approaching 50, so it wasn’t like-for-like. Maybe being older would pose less objective risk for me (threats from other people, that is) but the physical aspects might be harder. It was just a guess. Once I’d made it to the ‘I can’t go back on this’ stage, I was bothered and preoccupied with the uncertainties. They were built-in to the plan, so it was a case of just leaving despite the queasy feeling: walking down the road and keeping on going. I’d read about Rosie Swale-Pope who jogged off and kept going around the globe. She had wolves for company some nights. That’s why I was so embarrassed by my disproportionate fears. By this age I’ve come to see myself as physically and emotionally courageous, and yet the idea of sleeping rough gave it the lie. It must be fear of strangers rather than anything else, because sleeping out hasn’t worried me when I’ve done it ‘legit.’ so to speak (courses, out climbing, in hill camps).
When an expedition is low-key and personal, like this, the time-out from home and work is also taken slyly (shaved off from the normal routines), so at first I managed only three days. Once I was ready to go, feeling expeditionary, I was afraid of missing the window, so it was disappointing to have to settle for a short trial-run. Maybe the expedition was going to turn into merely a few days out! I didn’t set myself a goal of mileage, nor a final destination. The idea was to go in the direction of Knoydart (east from the Clee Hills then north on the Staffordshire way), and keep the route flexible.
As I’ve been stressing, it wasn’t so much the walking, carrying and route-finding that worried me, but the problem of finding somewhere safe to sleep. It’s become a habit now: when I’m out and about I look around all the time for likely spots. One of the most significant decisions I made was not to take a tent. On the one hand it chimes ethically – testing my self-sufficiency – but I can’t lie that it was mainly to allow for visibility. There’s less fear when you can see around you, on the other hand when there’s reason to be afraid there’s more chance of escape. I took a sleeping bag, bivi (bivouac) bag and thermarest mat. For rations I’d made pemmican (a related fascination of mine is the early expeditions to the poles and Himalayas, where pemmican was the staple diet, at least when everything palatable had gone!). I took oatcakes and whisky too. I’m a romantic! With that to eat and drink I didn’t need any kind of stove to cook on.
My walk began in September 2014 – a hot one!
Diary entry made on the day I left:
I went to bed early, and spent hours awake thinking that I wouldn’t be in my bed the next night nor the next, in fact not until I’d found my way home from whatever place I could reach in the few days I had. On the one hand my plan seemed to me to be ridiculously tame, and yet on the other it felt audacious. Was this any way, though, whatever the answer, for an adult, a middle aged one, to behave? Sleep solved the problem. Then it was morning and time to leave. Thin trousers with double zips down the lengths of my legs, and my long sleeved Helly Hansen top were all I needed, it was so mild. I realised that I’d probably sweat a great deal once I was walking with the pack, so just before going I stuffed extra underwear into the pack. It’s almost impossible to get warm again without dry layers next to my skin.
Logbook Entries: Made on the walk.
“Left home at 9.15. The pack felt comfortable. Wanted to get past familiar ground and frustrated to be passing through known places all morning. Didn’t begin to feel that I was really on my way until Chelmarsh. Difficult to use the footpaths since passed through farms with dogs, or signs destroyed/missing, or stiles rotten through. Not a good way to start – feeling like an unwanted intruder. Lost my way in Chelmarsh Coppice and had to bushwhack through. Amazing place though – steep sided ravine. Enjoyed walk around the reservoir, then dunking feet in the water. Put sweaty socks on back of pack and felt at that point that the backpacking had properly begun. Hadn’t anticipated using the Severn Way, but had to walk along the river because ferry shut and bridge private. Was checking all the way for Bivi sites, and even escape routes – anxious practice.
At Highley – no fruits to collect anymore so got thirsty. Trees cut too high and verges clean. Pub in Highley shut on Monday – very Shropshire! Walked through Alveley (didn’t like it. Bungalows on wide, fast roads). Very hot day so desperate for a drink stop so much that went into pub on main road. Sat outside with beer and lime & soda. Insecure without pack on (felt too light) and back got cold even in the sun. As I got up to leave the bench, man who’d glared at me at the bar walked out through patio door and headed to his car. He sat in it, not leaving. Felt watched. Sat back down on the bench to wait for him to leave, trying to check what car looked like for future reference (habit!). After ten minutes he left, and after another five I did too, watching. It reminded me how as a youngster I’d walked at night, always ready to run. Took road round to Birdsgreen, then paths to Astley then Filletts.
Route finding tricky. Picked up bridleway. Dogs barking. Approached ‘No Man’s Green’ around 6pm. Pushed through thick, low scrub. Found a spot with withies bent over and lots of leaf litter. Dragged stick through to find and cut away bramble tendrils. Didn’t want to get all my kit out but came out in one super-compressed lump. Mosquitoes homed-in big style once I settled. Already had on my midge net but couldn’t see properly through it. Put on waterproof jacket and pulled wrist straps tight, then gloves over the top. Got lower body in Bivi bag. Lay hoping darkness would send them away. Got really hot. Mosquitoes got worse and worse. Constant whining. Couldn’t re-arrange myself encase of making an opening. Realised I was in a swamp! Felt like tropical hell. Had to move on. When I moved they retreated a bit. Packed as quickly as I could. Needed head torch to get out but once away from the copse bright moonlight. Moved upwards to side of a field next to clumps of thistle. Lovely breeze – good night.
Wet stuff in the morning, left out in the dew. Moon still shining during daybreak. One lost sock and lost sunglasses in the copse. Decided not to retrace steps though. Enville next stop, over rolling ridge (Sheepwalk). Landowner welcomes ‘caring walkers’ – funny. Large Hall, impressive grounds, and a tatty old orchard on the way out with gorgeous windfalls. Walled arena of some kind – vast walls. Jousting?! Change of scenery on the way to Highgate Country Park – large open fields, retention ponds, metal footpath gates and metal fences. Light aircraft above. Nightmare once at the park. Footpaths crisis-crossing and no clear Staffs Way path. Had to use compass. Lots of Himalayan Balsam. Too angry with the park to eat the blackberries.
After Highgate, scenery of golf courses (one at exit and one near Wrottesley Hall). Long Common/Abbotts Hill ridge traced the road so shame to have sound of cars. Nice damsons. Exit very suspect – had to turn sideways to avoid drive wall built out in way of the footpath. Lots of large houses. Horses. Ignored by a grumpy old man who nearly stepped into me from his garden gate – rather he sniffed and turned his back! Felt my life better than his. Found an iPhone on railway bridge and returned it to girl walking spaniels – making a point! Not finding water getting thirsty. Found lovely ford near Pattingham – rather the road was a driveable stream bed. Next golf course footpath squeezed through blackberry bushes and empty lager cans strewn. Easier to walk across the links but resisted. On the far side of Wrottesley Hall had to find the Staffs Way behind a small golf club house with private signs everywhere.
Shock of fast road on the way to Oaken, then a kind of suburban parkland walk through hospital grounds to Codsall. To the pub! (Must try not to make this a habit) I was nervous of being trapped again. The last thing I wanted was to be inside (didn’t want conversations and also very sweaty). Cumbersome going outside – pint in each hand (one of beer and the other of lime & soda) and ski pole wedged under arm. Was irritated to be soon followed by a tall muscular bloke who took up a bench on the other side of the garden area. Soon, though, he was on the phone deep in conversation with his wife/girlfriend – clearly absorbed. Good. I could relax and enjoy my drinks. Found way out on private track immediately felt safer. Long straight track over motorway. Looking for Bivi and there were lots of good fields but too much traffic noise. Came out on busy road. Regretted decision. But staffs way took to fields again. Walked decent distance through desiccated crop and found grassy patch under oak tree. Perfect.
Sound of really heavy slow machinery on road made me worry about an evening/night harvest. Could see the top of it above the roadside hedge. Eventually threatening rumble went away. I looked at my maps and I knew that I wasn’t going to get as far as I’d hoped. Slight sense of relief to not have to deal with Cannock Chase. The associations there aren’t so good – something about the name. What exactly is a chase? Certainly looks large and imposing on the map, but not in the inviting way of the Peaks or Pennines – at least to my eye. Stafford sits next to it on the map, with a kind of sadness: a neither here nor there feeling. Ambiguity makes the whole area seem insecure. Maybe, maybe not.
Sound of footsteps and I was ready with “sorry, this spot’s taken”. A man’s head peeped round the tree. A backpacker. Once I’d listened to how experienced he was at this kind of thing, pleased with myself to have settled on just the spot that he wanted. He noted the Bivi bag, “doing it the hard way” in his view, and described the benefits of his Terra Nova competition tent. I didn’t want to admit the real reason why that wouldn’t appeal to me, especially after he remarked on it being unusual for a woman to backpack alone. He provided some interesting perspectives on walking in Scotland on account of the right to roam and the consequent lack of worn paths and designated routes.
Walked together with David next day, more because he said it was nice to have someone to talk to for a change than my need of company. Nice man though. Good chats about occupations, that coloured the following chats about foraging, trapping, boots, tents, costs, and food. On Shropshire Union Canal I missed the exit for the Staffs Way. Really annoyed with myself. Abdicating responsibility for navigation? Shouldn’t walk with anyone else again. Scene today was polytunnels, everywhere, and bused-in workers. Lots of country road. Then BAM – Penkridge. Major road that impossible to cross except by diversion to traffic light crossing. David left to get provisions and have a cafe breakfast. I looked for the route out but confused by all the roads. Couldn’t see which way to go. Sat by the road bridge over the river and felt insecure/disempowered after the navigation incident. Wondered whether to push on to the dreaded Cannock Chase but decided to stop here. Headed for the railway station.
The route from Brown Clee to Penkridge.
I was generally pleased with the trial – that I’d proved to myself I could cope with the idea and practicalities of wild camping in populated places. Thought about the navigation and knew that it was a gender issue and that I’d be alright on my own (as I had been to that point). Once the strenuous activity had stopped I felt really cold and also weaker. Made me wonder whether I’d been living on ‘borrowed energy’ (adrenaline?) or just that hard activity makes you feel stronger. Felt hungrier too, and thirstier. Dark brown pee – dehydration. It was combinations of small things that led me to under-drink, not the problem of finding water per se, showing me just how much I need to pay attention to the details and make myself take them seriously, especially when I’m distracted by what seem to be the big things.Delayed menstruation, imbalance ? But vitality!
- Pack – 11kilos
- Distance = 40 miles
- Ascent Approx 400m (1,312ft)
- Day 1 – Ditton Priors to ‘No Man’s Green’ between Alveley and Enville
(start of Staffordshire way). Slept first in a mosquito infested copse then
abandoned for edge of field on higher ground (Moonlight Bivi).
- Day 2 – North of M54 crossing. Slept under an oak tree between two
fields of crops. Backpacker David introduced himself. (Oak Tree Bivi.)
Day 3 – hiked to Penkridge and left by train
Preparation for leaving, April 2015
As soon as I was back home I earmarked April to get going again. In the intervening time came the ‘change’ (an apt term for the menopause), or the bothersome start of it at least. I thought about it, read about it, and suffered massive swerves of perspective. Then I settled on HRT (bio-identical for anyone interested). I was two weeks into the HRT, but it’s not easy to swap and change plans when you’ve organised a month or so away, so I went ahead, not knowing what to expect. As soon as I started sticking on the patches of oestrogen my body responded, and I was sore and sleepless. I admit that some of the insomnia might have been from trepidation.
It was still early in the year, still cold at night, so a stove and warm clothing were first on the list this time. I also added a poncho (ex-army, camouflage) to use as a rain cover in the day and a basha (tarp) at night (with a few tent pegs and some paracord to string it out). Another major difference was footwear. Instead of trekking sandals I wore mountain boots. As for the dehydration, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of making sauerkraut the first time round, because I’d already used it as an electrolyte on ultra runs, so I fitted some in somehow, and was glad of it. I also found a different filter system for water so that I could drink more at a time. Tea bags were also added since I’d have a stove.
I first learned my mountaineering in the French and Swiss Alps, and in all the climbing I did afterwards I appreciated more and more to think carefully about rucksack packing. It’s not just about whether you’ve got the right things with you (though you certainly should have), but also about how and where you’ve got them stowed. So I packed and re-packed until I thought it was all good. It weighed 17 kilos (quite a bit heavier than my pack in the Autumn), and was in a large, 70 litre, rucksack. There was, though, pleasingly, nothing at all tied to the outside except my plastic trowel tucked into some webbing. As before, I carried a bumbag for the much-used or valuable bits, including map, compass and glasses.
I took-up the journey where I’d left off in September, at Penkridge on the Staffordshire Way. The big difference was the season of course, and this time there were no apples, nuts and berries to snack on along the way. On the other hand, there were no biting insects either – a major plus. For a map, for the sake of reducing bulk and weight, I’d cut a corridor of my planned route from OS footpath maps, spanning a few km each side, and used an old ‘Beyond Marathon‘ (ultra running) race map for the Peak District. My route carried on up the Staffs Way, diverted to the Limestone Way at Rocester, which I departed from to take in Dovedale and then pick up the Pennine Bridleway – alternating between the two trails through the Peaks until taking the Pennine Way at Edale, for which I had two old Footprint maps covering the South and North sections.
Expedition Kit List and Packing:
- 70ltr pack with plastic liners inside the two cavities.
- Ski Pole with micro towel attached (handkerchief-sized)
- Plastic trowel (attached with a clip to the pack and tucked into webbing pocket on pack).
- Mountaineering boots (half shank, leather, goretex lined)
- Lightweight Craghopper trousers
- Wicking teeshirt
- Lightweight fleece (full zip)
- Primaloft jacket
- Summer weight buff
- ‘Smartwool’ socks
- Ankle gaiters
- Fleece gloves (in bumbag when not needed)
- Paramo breathable & waterproof hat with peak and neck panel (in bumbag when not needed)
- Water filter bottle
- tinted reading glasses
- Purse (cash and card),
- Lightweight penknife
Main Cavity of Pack:
- Winter weight crag-hopper trousers
- Triple layer gortex jacket
- mountaineering mittens
- waterproof trousers
- Bag of clothes: underwear, 3 spare pairs walking socks, spare cap hat, silk glove liners, Lycra shorts, winter buff, spare gloves, Helly long sleeve top, Mammut long sleeve top, Mammut short sleeve top, silk tee for sleeping, silky long johns for sleeping
- travel towel
- cacoon liner for sleeping bag (adds a season in terms of warmth)
- mosquito/midge face mask used as a bag for bit: matches, charge monkey for phone, phone charging cable, tampons, dry shampoo, talc, all purpose biodegradable soap, deodorant, alum block (good antiseptic and deodorant), insect repellant, antibacterial dry wash, cotton buds, nail file, nail clippers, lube, 6 extra head torch batteries, duct tape, string, sewing kit
- Medical/emergency kit: (ibuprofen, paracetamol, diazepam (in the event of back spasms), allergy pills, tick removal tool, micropore tape, hypodermic needles, reflective squares, hydrocortisone, moleskin dressing, crepe bandage, dioralyte, elastoplast, wound dressing, second skin dressing, wound closure strips, tweezers, safety pins, handwarmers, insect repellant, wipes, hormone tablets and patches, lymecycline for rosacea, finacea skin cream for rosacea).
Bottom Cavity of Pack:
- Three season sleeping bag
- Tent pegs
- Bivi bag
- Plastic survival bag cut to make ground sheet
Lid of Pack:
- Food: sauerkraut 650g, oatcakes 291g, 30 tea bags, pemmican 260g, nut/fruit 260g, whisky, coffee powder
- Spare water bottle for filter
Zip Pocket under lid:
- Writing book
- Maps not in use
Side Pocket 1:
- Filter-cleaning syringe
- Pocket rocket stove
- leather gloves
- tin mug
- folding plastic cup
- spoon (personal favourite horn spoon)
Side Pocket 2:
- Plastic bags
- pencil sharpener
- 2 pencils
- head torch
Pre-Expedition Diary Entry. March 2015.
I’m preparing to leave and it has me in conflicts again. I’m still preoccupied with sleeping arrangements, leaving the daytimes to take care of themselves. My other overriding concern is with my physicality. I’ve been taking HRT for a few weeks now and for the last few days have felt sore all over and floppy and uncoordinated slow to think and do things. I’m not confident in my body at all. It became most obvious yesterday when we went climbing at Stanage, and I just felt incapable of anything. I can usually conjure up something that draws out the climber in me, but not yesterday. Am I being defeated by my imagination though? It might be that the burden of the walk is drawing all my energy away from anything else. I’ve often found that when I start the physical ‘project’ – the big run, big climb, whatever – energy comes coursing in, so I can do what seemed out of the question only days before.
These past weeks I’ve gone for runs on alternate days, each time thinking to stimulate this phenomenon, but overcome by something or other (painful hip, lethargy, breathlessness etc.) so that I’ve felt bad from start to finish. And I’m puzzling over the possibilities: HRT, hay fever, poisoning, flu, morbid thoughts and other impediments, as explanations. But, and this is my hope, maybe it is my investment in the INCH project. The thought makes me stop short though because INCH stands for ‘I’m never coming home’, whereas I fully intend returning (the element of fiction that might come true). The walk was originally research for the novel, but now INCH has been written. And yet I’m holding on to the acronym that seems to make sense of what I’m doing. I find a great big lump of superstition right at my centre. But changing the name would knock me off course, even if I need to evade some questions in order to justify going. I’m sticking to the primitive diet, even though I’m not really clear why. Self-sufficiency is a motivation from INCH and now I’m attached to it. I’m sort of trusting that the meaning or significance in this will come out later – on the journey maybe. It’s like trusting the writer’s muse and exploring something because it presents itself for examination. So there’s a lot on top and under the surface. Why wouldn’t I feel weak!? I notice that I’m taking a lot of products/treatments that are to do with my skin – the reddening and flushing of my rosacea, compounded with the peri-menopause. Irrelevant, perhaps, outside, when exertion, windburn and sunburn normalise rugged, febrile skin.
Logbook: Entries made on the journey.
1. Monday 13th April pm.
The first day is over and I’m completely shattered. Andy dropped me at Penkridge, by the river bridge where I decided to stop the trial. I tried to fathom the route out, but in anxiety to actually get walking I just followed the road out towards Taddesley lock/boat yard. My pack was heavy but felt moveable, and I took on quite a good pace. Had a route-finding issue at the motorway bridge and ended up on the Sabrina Way then doubled back. After the lock it was lovely walking through the arable land to Cannock Chase (not so scary after all). Hot weather. Shugborough Hall alright, after ignominious ejection from the Chase along a busy road, then a long slog along the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. More housing than I’d anticipated – very well to do, very tidy. Neatly fenced on the Shugborough side all the way along. I was exhausted and looking for a way off to either side of the canal to a Bivi spot, but absolutely nothing. Loads of people, on boats, bikes, foot, and road bridges and pubs to boot. Far too visible here. I began to hate boats and canals. Realise that this is amenity land through and through. This more apparent when I decided to leave the waterway and strike out for farm land at the A51/A513 junction, Bishton, where the area was covered in brown visitor attraction/ AONB signs.
Didn’t look promising. Again, lots of large houses, horse fields and paddocks. Trudged along Colton Road desperately – hotspot on my heal, shoulder straps digging in, hip and quads hurting – watching out for potential. Saw thick shrubbery behind a high wall. A turn, small gate and jungly path. Squirreled in behind a laurel, holly and yew – lots of greenery. Now I can hear the busy road, see trains passing a few hundred metres on the other side of the playing field between us. Seems ideal. Basha is strung to make a barrier between myself and the large (old manor?) house that I can just see through the scrub. I’m thinking after the first day that I need to get a feel for the scale of my maps get my eye in. Also, I probably need to fill both water bottles before stopping. As it is I have no water for a morning drink. I’m wondering how this will go given having the sweats overnight last night (at home). Well I’ll see but presently so exhausted just want to lie down and relax. Not sure how my legs will be in the morning though. I’ve had a little nibble of everything and found that a small crumb of pemmican in my tea softens the flavour. Can’t really drink black tea. Lots of midges (I think midges) around earlier coming off the water in clouds but don’t seem to be biting yet – thank God! It’s 7pm now and not yet dark but I’m ready to sleep. There’s a rather strange smell that keeps waking me up though. Comfortable bed of dry leaf litter.
Route from Penkridge to ‘Jungle Bivi‘.
2. Tuesday 14th. pm.
Put in a lot of distance today, added to which some extra circles to find a Bivi site. A mixture of awe and frustration. Up at 5.30 and on the road by 6.30. I had a good night and seem to have recovered well (little sleep but very comfortable, apart from the smell. Watched the trains). Easy route-finding to the reservoir (main landmark of the day). No dogs about – I’m used to them out loose around Shropshire farms. Affluent area. Signs to stop the HS2 (High Speed Rail Link) in Colton. Abbotts Bromley very friendly, and appears to have a few fields set aside for dog walking. The path out is through a housing estate onto fields. Strong sun on my back walking towards Bagotts Park an immense farm of immaculate rolling arable fields (yells affluence). Annoyed me that there was a dump of slurry, covered in flies, by a footpath post. Stopped to change socks and bathe feet in minuscule stream.
Very sweaty. In a bad mood because of tampering/removal of signs from Radmore Wood and into Bagotts Park.After latter a change to sheep farming. Annoying. Lots of episodes of sheep packed into tiny fields trying to herd me, yell at me and variously stand up to me, also some farmers really obstructive. All day the stiles have been really high (no doubt to stop dogs) so I could barely get over them with my tired legs and heavy pack. I’ve been refining my stile technique all day. At Scounslow green there was obvious obstruction, the exit from the field was completely closed-off with hawthorne and wire (tired and cursing I pushed through it despite injury) and at Knightsfield I was sent down a muddy overgrown gully, fenced off from the farm and drive alongside. There was strategic use of junk to make it difficult for me to stay on route. Relationships settled down on the approach to Uttoxeter, and the way was easy going. It was a strange exit from Uttoxeter from the railway, through an industrial estate, but in beautiful open fields very quickly. Once on the main road I noticed a Derbyshire County sign. Thrill! The route from there was made easy to find although through convoluted, murky paths under the road bridges, with glimpses of dappled light and exciting water – the River Dove. Feeling very good.
Doveridge exceptionally lovely, but very soon obscured in noise – tractor at speed in field below the slopes (I think), then clay pigeon shooting. Had seen a site for a Bivi on the ridge, but concerned about the activity. Walked through the park of holiday cottages and shooting booths. Red flag up. Exhausted and just pushed on. Then bloody sheep and lambs as far as the eye could see. Thought I’d left them behind once past Eaton Dovedale, but more and more fields. No places to stop. Lots of planting of hawthorn in non-sheep areas. Took a steep hike upwards looking for cover. None really. Ended up walking out too far in Easterly direction but then I chanced upon a turned arable field. Somewhere to crash at last. House quite close and dog walkers went past on the other side of the field, but not approached. I had a spillage of unfiltered water today into my food bag. Tried to clean it up and didn’t detect any actually on the food. Lots of sock changes required. Routine now of drying sweaty ones on back of pack. Streams drying out already. I’m getting a rhythm of slow, even walking, telling myself to walk smoothly so as not to waste energy. Pack very heavy. Hot spot on heal not going away. No phone signal at all. Route from Bishton to ‘Fallow Field Bivi’.
Route from Bishton to ‘Fallow Field Bivi’.
3.Wednesday 15th. pm.
Another hot one! Went carefully for a shorter day today, stopping at the foot of Dovedale at 3.30 pm rather than pushing further.Annoyingly today I did more miles than needed through walking with a meander in the river rather than cutting across. Thought I could see a prison ahead (or was I completely off course and it was Abbotsholm School?) It turned out to be JCB world headquarters in Rocester. Not so bad up close! Had breakfast under the bridge, where I picked herbs for later. Path through Rocester quite simple (a relief to me since I turn out to be useless at navigating in towns). Getting better with the maps, though. Very careful to get off the Staffs Way and pick up the Limestone Way. No particular trail symbol for the Limestone Way, just generic footpath signs (shame). Again, in Rocester, amenity dog-walking land on the edge of town. Change from ridiculously high stiles to some of them being the typical upright stones of the peaks and Pennines. Felt a thrill. Walked an idyllic stretch near Dovelays. Picked ransom and rolled up my trousers.
In Ellastone was disappointed with route destruction. Ended up stepping over electric wire to exit through a driveway because the stile had been destroyed. I guessed that I was supposed to go through the field of cows by the river, but there was no sign to say so. Hip went bad – very painful. Sat on a stone wall at Ellastone to sort out socks, and became part of village life (nice chats) and then when got up again hip was excruciating. Kept trying and trying – thought I’d have to quit. Managed to walk through it eventually having told a concerned man that once it was warmed up it would be alright (wasn’t entirely convinced myself).
Headed out too far to ruined abbey and had to find way up fields to the path. Lovely traversing path at Northwood, coming around the ridge above the trees. Getting high up again – onto picturesque ridges. At Harlow stopped at noon for lunch and to dry out damp gear (the dew last night had been heavy). Glorious sun and wind to do drying (like a line of kites in the wind, kit tied to the fence). with views down to Mayfield. Treated to a good track towards Thorpe and lovely farm at Coldwall down to the river bridge. Funny, steep, undulating sheep field. Very tidy. River Dove gorgeous under stone bridge. An angler strode straight past me as I dangled feet in the water and filled the bottles, headed straight into the river and across to the other side, Labradors accompanying. Greeted each other.
Stopped early to find a Bivi on the river bank. No candidates. Then I climbed up the valley side to find a flat site. At first chose a semi-flat platform in the trees, half way up the bank. When I looked about it turned out to be between a fox nursery (prints, scat, lots of tracks) and feeding ground (bones, feathers etc.). Could have been a very noisy night. Also, the gradient looked okay from standing but I could imagine gently slipping down the valley in my sleep (a bit, but not a lot, like the time I bivied on thevery steep side of the Ober Gabelhorn in a storm, ice-axe tuning in to the lightning strikes). So I pushed up to the very top and found a flat patch covered in dry worm casts, underneath a hawthorn tree. Collected dried up moss from the grass to use as mattress. Lots of signs of wildlife – dug patches, dens, tracks, piles of nut cases. Today saw a heron, a hare, and heard nightingales. It was tough physically and I took it slowly. Have a deep blister now on my left heal, and shallower one on the right. Used whisky to clean skin and hypodermic needle (put into medical kit by sister – sound thinking) to drain it and micropore to push the skin down.
Route from Eaton Dovedale to ‘Moss Bed Bivi‘.
4. Thursday 16th.am.
Not a great deal of sleep last night. Up at 5am deciding that I might as well try to go to the toilet since I’d had some indigestion and wind cramps during the night. The rain was only light during the night but it was horrid getting drops falling on my face so I’d crawled further down under the tarp but that created condensation. Then I had the problem as well of the tarp touching my face – damp and cold. In the early hours I propped it up with my ski pole. Need in future to stretch out the tarp more and keep it away from my body. There was a red sunset last night behind the trees on the opposite ridge. The sunrise was monochrome (thankfully!). During the evening yesterday watched dark mists growing and thought it mightn’t be out the question to get thunder and lightening. Then what would I do? Stay put is what! Too much work to get here, and would be a big mess to leave now I thought! My body wasn’t happy and I began to worry about my tight chest and breathlessness. Would I be found up here? But I resisted turning on the phone. Felt this way before – no big deal. But it got me thinking a lot about death and getting old. Maybe I didn’t know when to stop and rest?! But having a bloody good time though! Reminds me of walks-in to climbs in the Alps, and climbing on Everest. Incredibly hard work due to the weight of the pack that I can hardly lift, and yet I do it, and it works! In fact, the walk feels like high altitude at times. Bells started ringing around the valley off and on, and all the animals started calling as well – geese, sheep, song birds. Felt Alpine – the valley calling up to the pastures on the mountains. Made me muse on the meaning of the church – how traditionally it holds us safe and gets us through this briefest life. Ritual, belonging, insignificance – giving us the power to continue.
It looked as though today was going to be disastrous – several times. I was up at 5am, and after writing my log while things dried a bit, didn’t get away till 7am. I set off slowly but was struggling a lot. It was quite cold and I didn’t seem to warming up under my own steam. As I walked up Dovedale I began feeling really sick and not able to breathe deeply. Just like being at altitude. I had to force myself to eat and drink something. Began wondering what would happen if I had a heart attack absolutely nobody about. Surprised me. I’d have thought at least a few dog walkers. Anyhow, got a bit scared – alternating with not caring at all. Felt very light headed, and thought perhaps this, today, was my extreme ‘vision quest’ – bordering on hallucinating. The last few Kilometers in Dovedale went on forever. Tried to console myself that at least I wasn’t rock climbing in this state – remembering polished, slippery limestone. Noticed how slippery the rocks were on the path. When wet they’d be frictionless. Wondered why you never see fossils when rock climbing when they were everywhere on the path. Came off at Millbank, where there was a DofE (Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme) group – all girls, in good spirits.
Began to feel better. Had decided to head up to Alstonefield to a campsite rather than push to get to Biggin. I desperately needed a campsite because not sure what might be going on with me health-wise. Wondered about the HRT and the new patch I’d put on this morning, and taking progesterone even though I am now, unexpectedly, bleeding (too early, from stress?). Going to stick with the regime though. Wondered about sunstroke perhaps – maybe that was why struggling with my temperature – unlikely. Anyhow, tried to tell from the map which road/path might bring me out at a campsite. Followed the Sabrina Way up a very steep hillside and surprised myself that I had the energy. Sapped, though, on arrival. Not a soul about. No sign of any campsite. Wandered up and down looking. This a very tidy place. All I saw were dustbin lorries plowing through thetown, and various other amenity workers. One tractor. No other people except the backs of the heads of old folk in the community centre. I tried to get in to ask if they knew of any sites but the inner door was locked. A sign on the outer door said the post office was there, briefly, Monday and Thursday, but I was too early by far. Began to hate the place. Couldn’t even find the pub. Decided to trace a route to Biggin along Biggin Dale, cutting down to Wolfscote Dale to get there. The path should be opposite the pub, so I needed to find it. There was a school bus parked by a path and when I started looking at my map a woman jumped out to say the path was behind the bus (DofE). I chanced the question whether she knew of a campsite and she believed there was camping at the hostel further down the road. Found it. Hostel locked. Got talking with a friendly man doing the gardens. Private (pre-booking) hostel, he said. The patron had gone to the doctors and would be back soon. I said I’d wait because I couldn’t go any further anyway and that maybe he’d allow me to camp. He said that he was sure that Mr Teesdale, opposite, wouldn’t mind me camping (didnt want to say that I had no
tent), but he’d also gone out for a bit and would be back soon. I followed him into Mr Teesdale’s grounds. Sat on a bench. SO GLAD. £5.00 per night. Lovely, mown, camping field, toilet and wash-up area. I began to feel a whole lot less negative about tidiness. Apparently a chap stayed for two nights and left yesterday, from Cornwall doing the end-to-end.
It was now 11.00am. I slept, washed, changed, experimented with stringing the tarp. Happy with the result. Went to the pub (easy to find!). Incredibly friendly. Boot over-shoes (plastic covers) in the porch – well why not! – coats taken from my shoulders and hung up by one of the customers. What a (slightly insecure) joy to be without my pack. Blankets and cushions arranged neatly at every seat. Open fire, copper-coated bar, I wonder how I’ll cope outside after this! I also wonder how my body will cope with rich steak pie. Treating myself to this in the interests of being able to carry on. Clearly I’ve been on starvation rations and doing too much work for the amount of food. Blood pressure issue (low)? Very articulate people in the pub. Lots of banter. Most not local though I’d say – retired here from the city??
Route from Thorpe to ‘Tidy Camp’, Alstonefield.
5. Friday 17th. pm.
Heading out from Alstonefield I felt rapturous – just loving it! An early morning angler on the river (mutual ignoring). Lovely valley scenes and stony climbs until reaching the Tissington Trail (disused railway and Pennine Bridleway). Another milestone. Pristine, bright, white underfoot (needed sunglasses even though cold, overcast weather). Had been sensing rain ever since campsite but none came. Quite breezy – North Easterly (cold) – so I had to keep adjusting from hot – cold warm. Only changed socks once through the day at Street, so obviously much colder today. Cyclists and more cyclists. I felt like a pack-horse – slow, large, but also STRONG. Allowed myself a hot drink and teacake at Parsley Hay because from an outside booth so technically foraged on the trail!! Haven’t needed to source water – foraged it also from taps on the trail! Good thing because I was worried when out of Dovedale and on the dry tops what I’d do for water. Spent a lot of time looking at the map and calculating distance/times, even though the route absolutely obvious. Signs and facilities everywhere.
Fields are different now, past Street – small and with stone walls (many fallen in places). Not many stocked.
Started thinking about a specific bivi site early, at 3.00pm, and found it at 4.00pm on a cliff top overlooking Chee Dale (Buxton water flowing!).
Exposed but stunning. Strung basha against a wall at an angle to shelter from wind, otherwise would have been a wind tunnel.
Route from Alstonefield to ‘Clifftop Bivi‘.
Had a very comfortable night. Wakeful at times. Found the inside of the tarp got quite wet even though no rain. Must have been hill mist. Used ski pole again to prop up the tarp. Was visited a few times by a black and white cat/kitten, who nearly jumped out of his skin. Had a bell so I could hear him returning. Also, a farmer drove up and down several times on the other side of the wall. Not sure why, but so close he could have seen me if he looked over. My paranoid speculation was that the farmer on the other side of the valley, who could probably see me easily, had phoned him! I was too warm again I think, and I also needed a pee but couldn’t be bothered to get up – doesn’t help with sleep! Got up at 5.00am and struck camp. VERY cold wind until I descended to Chee Dale. Huge limestone cliffs either side. Steep RSPB path down – dodgier than I’d counted on. Then pulled out of the valley to Wormhill.
Quarry signs everywhere warning of death. After the exposed tops of Wormhill I opted for a low route through Monks Dale, Peters Dale and Hay Dale (limestone Way). Extraordinary scenery. Took local footpaths over trunk road (shock) to pick up sharp climb onto tops above Castleton. All very quiet until Old Moor, and especially the Rowter Farm track. Groups of older folk heading over Ox Low and Bradwell Moor. ‘DofE Central’ at the track. I dried out tarp and thermarest there whilst I had a drink and some sauerkraut. A gate hanging on its side was singing as the wind blew through it. Reminded me of Tibet. All groups seemed to be talking of taking Mam Tor and the benefits of. Shorts and teeshirts brigades started to turn up, and I felt distinctly out of place (they’re tough up north!). Lots of day trippers (babies carried in slings) hauling up Castle Dale (a stream bed of slick limestone blocks). Mountain bikers. Tried not to let my expedition mentality slip. Had worries I might relax into a heap.
In Castleton, slunk behind a parked car by the river and draped my gear over the bench to dry in the sun. Quite hot. Decided on shorts now rather than rolled-up trousers. I was debating whether to get water from the stream or buy some. Lots of youngsters around the stream so I did neither. Recalled that I needed cash. Must have something to eat, but what? Also wanting a return call from home for one I made as I walked in to the town. Hard to know what to do. A town ‘in the way’. Well in fact quite easy to describe – I hated it! Guided groups, obligatory DofEs, school groups, tourist groups, the rest rather bored holiday-makers. The place is just full of Blue John gift shops, tea shops and B&Bs. Decided to get cash after drying sleeping bag. Weird experience. Post office closed and Londis shop it was in didn’t seem to want to give me cash back even if I paid. He directed me to a gift shop with an ATM that might be okay (!!!). I couldn’t find it. Tourist information directed me to one in a pub that turned out to be offline. Decided to walk away and towards the youth hostel. Found a deli and bought a pork pie, soft cheese, potted beef, seaweed crackers and pork scratchings (the potted beef and soft cheese were never touched. The rest, on and off, were sampled over the subsequent week). Got cash back for a £1.00 fee, which I didn’t mind paying for once in my life! Decided as I walked to just strike out for Edale since the weather was so good. The cold wind had eased a bit and the sky clear blue and sunshine. Headed up Losehill. Tiring climb after such a long day (2.30pm by the time I left Castleton).
Took some possibly dodgy water from stream. Staggered into Edale feeling ill. Rowdy bunch swearing in the pub ‘garden’ as a I went past. Kept head down. That made me feel more that I needed a campsite. Found nice one by the National Park centre. Set up in ‘backpackers area’ next to a large family sized tent! Suspicious looks from the blokes in tiny tents at the end of the field when I string the tarp. Nausea set in and diarrhoea followed. Decided to try and get hot food in vain attempt to bring health back. Pizza from roadside oven (couldn’t eat), half pint of beer at pub – not the rowdy one but the exceptionally good Nag’s Head (apparently official start of the Pennine Way) – but had to leave it (uncharacteristic!). Drank some lime and soda though (on the house!). Gutted, because I was starting to feel really strong. Started calculating how far I might get, but secret anxiety about transition onto the PW. Odd. Some thoughts that I might have to stop, but I suspected that stopping would be because of the anxiety more than illness, so I decided I’d definitely continue once the runs had passed.
Route from Chee Dale to Edale, ‘Dysentry Camp‘.
7. Sunday 19th.
Had to get up three times urgently in the night and on the last two didn’t make it! Had to wash my clothes this morning. Will need a day off. Slept well once nothing left inside! Hopefully careful treatment today should see me right.
No dioralyte! Typical! Nibbled crisps from pub, and sips of water instead. Had to take extreme care of myself all day. Slept. Made myself get up and take a slow stroll (more implementation of things learned at altitude). Eyes and face hurt. Wondered whether this was going to be a migraine. Went to the phone by the Nags Head to call home but it took my money and didn’t put me through. Man in local shop/post office said, when I asked, that it was a known problem, that it gets used and abused a lot – vandalism. What he didn’t say was that there was another box a short walk down the road! Beginning to worry about small post office owners. Extremely withholding! (Made a complaint to BT from the phonebox no.2 that phonebox no.1 had taken 60p and given nothing. Sending me a voucher (funny).
Nibbled a banana all day, pulverising it before swallowing. Must get some food I can heat up I think. Tried to take some paracetamol and projectile vomited horizontally out from my sleeping bag. Thank goodness for the trowel! Otherwise all seemed to be well in the excretion department. Pee the correct colour. No unexpected substances. Tried to phone home again in the pouring rain from mobile (located a signal on the way to phone box no.2). Really good to speak with Andy and Katy. She sounded good and hearty. She’s a trooper! Been at our friends Helena and Mike’s while Andy at work, birdwatching, baking, drawing and playing piano. At her friend Finlay’s party yesterday as well. SO PLEASED.
So this afternoon, first test of heavy rain. Basha seems to be doing the job. Just a few adjustments needed. I’ll see properly later. Looks like fair weather due to resume for rest of the week, though, so good time to be in the camp site whilst the rain is about. I hear that Bob (father-in-law) is offering to book accommodation for me from a distance. Smiling deeply! Won’t be taking up the offer but good cosy feeling. As I lay ostensibly sleeping a family passed-by surveying the site for a pitch and dubbed me a “professional camper”! It made me wonder whether it was possible to tell from the look of my pitch whether I was female. Was there anything about it that spoke of female or maleness? Curious question. Intrigued.
8. Monday 20th.
A tough day. I’m going to have to get used to the scale of the footprint map and not underestimate the distance/effort. It’s quite sparse of information compared with the OS footpath maps, but then it’s also small and light. Woke up with the Basha soaking and other bits of kit damp from all the rain. Decided to push on without drying it. Left 8am. Forced down some food before leaving (nasty expulsion of such at Upper Booth). Frustrating not to have the wider context on the map – can’t orient myself to the landscape easily. Some DofE (Duke of Edinburgh Award) groups (missed by leaders – they always seem to be chasing groups who’ve already passed). Carried hat to a group up Jacobs Ladder, Kinder Scout. Turned out not to belong to them. Left it. Took climb, deliberately, really slowly. Felt okay. Nearly took route back South off Kinder Scout because misjudged the distance travelled. Orange peel trail (tiny pieces) in a line over the mountain (DofE Hansel and Gretel scenario?).
Mill Hill Post to Snake Pass a path of interminable flagstones. Couple of very concise conversations about my plans (PW focused enquiries). Kept putting off stopping, but eventually had a proper stop at Snake Pass. Clouds of insects (took me by surprise), but still not in biting mood. Dried out tarp and changed socks (4th time today). Very hot. Devils dyke dried out. Lovely mountain streams above though – idyllic. Started to feel hemmed-in on each side by walls of peat. Bleaklow like Dartmoor. Gritstone territory around Kinder and Bleaklow rather than limestone. Very sandy. Beautiful to walk on. But boulders on paths very tiring. North side went on and on. Exhausted. At the river down towards the Torside Reservoir (Crowden) I expected things to get easier. Not so. Unclear whether to cross the stream up to the ‘Castle’. Did so over tenuous path and wondered whether to just settle in what was identified in a sign as the Pulpit. Pushed on and followed a narrow path, wondering whether this was correct. When Crowden came into view heart sank. Busy roads and long walk round. No thanks. Put pack down and looked for where to crash. Lovely dip with long grass, expansive views. Went in search of water. So near and yet down a very steep valley side.
Dug trench for a trickle of water coming down through the grass. Sheep visited a few times during evening but no other visitors but birds and insects. Starting to feel a bit more courage about ‘winging it’. Had felt constrained by the Pennine Way, since it is laid out on my map from accommodation to accommodation. Know now easy to be flexible – should make it easier to look after myself. Will look for breakfast opportunity in the morning (and dioralyte). Party of three women passed under my bivi on footpath, but bivi well concealed.
PENNINE WAY from Edale to ‘Comfort Bivi‘.
9. Tuesday 21st.
Woken this morning to glorious clear skies. Stars were abundant last night. Sunrise over hills. Frost on bivi bag and sound of red grouse. Had more health thoughts during the night and left eye hurt, but cared less! Katy emailed that she is missing me along with her other news. Cared about that. Emailed her back.
In Crowden, before setting off ‘proper’ bought foods from a Caravanning site ones I thought my body might be happier to accept: jelly, custard (breakfast and lunch respectively) UHT milk for tea, a snickers for breakfast tomorrow and a small can of spaghetti for dinner. Quite a few folk out today on Black Peak, though still quiet and splendid.
Stunning crags on the way up to Featherbed Moss.
Also, lovely mountain streams again with beaches of stone. Changed socks about 8 times today since it was so hot and exerting climbs as well. Wessendale Moor quite different. An ominous place. Felt watched all through from the road along the ridge, down to reservoir where much work being done and men sitting smoking, with ‘helicopter at work’ signs and taped-off paths.
In bivi today at 5.00pm, again on my last legs completely and unable to go further. All day to-and-fro with the party of three women who must be the same who walked past yesterday. I guess they are B&B or something. Anyhow, at Wessendale I was starting to get annoyed with it, but it felt like such a God forsaken place, and quite a few lone blokes aimless down by the reservoir, that I was quite glad that they were behind me. On the way down the path to the reservoir I bent over to dip my hat in a stream so as to cool my head, and the weight of my pack pulled me over completely so that I was upside down and unable to get up. Blazingly hot sky all day and completely clear – crazy. Nice breeze now on the moor. It may have been the helicopter spraying that made the place look so desolate and barren. It felt a frankly hostile place. Feel more rested now and beginning to like Wessendale. Comfortable. The grass is tinder-dry so no lighting of stove for tea and spaghetti.
Route from Crowden to Wessendale, ‘Hunted Bivi’. Frost overnight.
1o. Wednesday 22nd.
When settled last night had the works: mountain bikers in view, sound of road, military jets, airliners, then shooting began at dusk when I was hunkered down. Felt
hunted. Grouse calling. Bad stomach again because I’d scrunched it up trying to
get changed in a horizontal position. However – the good bit – FEEL HUNGRY. Frost
overnight. Lots of dreams (one where a man gave me the security code to his house and was glad when I told him to be more careful). Red grouse everywhere, really going for it at dusk and dawn along with many other birds besides.
Long day again but easy walking. Kept getting impressions of Passage to India from the woozy sunshine. Hot and hazy with only the sound of my pacing and indistinct other sounds. Backpack ‘speaks’ to me all the time with little squeaks and sometimes seems like actual voices. Gets quite hallucinatory. Today felt ominous again in places – vast urban expanses pushing against the pieces of moorland I was on. Thrilled to be on the eastern-most edge of Lancashire on White Hill. Going over the M62 made me watchful. Truck stop on the road approaching the footbridge. Before that, on the hills over Oldham, bizarre scene: barren moorland with one after another lone man in knee-length shorts stalking about. Twitchers?
Out of desperation drank some (filtered) water from one of the rivulets off the peat bogs. Flavour too strong. Drank my milk instead. APPETITE now good. Therapeutic binning of old food I’d been carrying and couldn’t stomach. Had a small lunch at pub. Couldn’t manage even half a pint of ale but managed mash and gravy and some pie. In the pub the group of women turned up again. I’d thought they might have decided against this section because not salubrious, but they say they are headed for Mankinholes tonight – the YHA hostel, then they’ll try for Gargrave.
My next section of map (Calder Valley to Thornton in Craven) says 3,100 ft of ascent – SURELY A MISTAKE?! Today it was land of the reservoir again! I never found the direct route off the tops to Mankinholes and ended up walking up the road, and also ended up at the youth hostel looking for camping. Didn’t intend to stay but so well treated by the warden that couldn’t leave. Room to myself. Was only £10 tonight – maybe because the water was going to be unavailable from 8am tomorrow. Washed clothes, warden span them and put in drying room. Pub to finish charging phone.
Route from Wessenden to Mankinholes YHA, ‘Bricks and Mortar‘.
11. Thursday 23rd.
Had a good night in the hostel. Left early (7am) ahead of the ‘girls’, and haven’t seen them all day. In Bronte country now so seen signposts everywhere for all sorts (in Japanese as well as English). A lot of up-and-downing through valleys, but really nice scenery and interest. Seems as though this area, around Colden and Heptonstall, quite ‘alternative’ (relaxed folk). Really good day. Met a man with his dog at Colden Water who at first I was wary of (young, well built, tracky bottoms, tatts) but was really open and kind. He told me about May’s shop and where to find it. Said he’d love to do this himself but not good with maps, and time scheduling doesn’t allow. Asked me if I used GPS. May’s shop excellent. Met a couple and they asked if they could try and pick up my pack because it looked so heavy. The man had a basha and his son was to buy him pint if he’d camp out with it. A lot of help in May’s shop – cup of tea whilst I ate a yoghurt not yet paid for, gas hunted down for the stove (with citronella!), savoury rice in homage to the old days when I used it on my travels, noodles, banana, jelly babies (very unsure of the wisdom of that), dioralyte.
Route contouring round Heptonstall Moor missed so I took the route over the trig point and back down. Frustrating that my map is limited – can’t see the bigger picture. VERY quiet from Colden all the way to Pondon – then Bronte big time, although actually not that many people. Mesmeric walkin on flagstones when tired – pack talking to me as well – over Withins Height and Top Withins. Nearly ended up in Haworth because got careless when hit the road. Doubled back in time. Kept walking to get out of the valley and find a bivi site. Was determined not to resort to a campsite – although didn’t see one open anyhow – and wanted to be away from density of things.
Just set up bivi. Seems good here. Two fighter jets gone over already and sounds of shotguns as well (but cover is good here in old quarry, which seems important!). Clouds came in, worrying me a bit, so I messed about with the basha, but the clouds cleared. Cooked a meal of noodles on stove. Very digestible. Blessings! Birdsong and a rabbit tonight for company.
Route from Mankinholes to ‘Rockpit Bivi’.
12. Friday 24th.
Had another good night. No frost but cold wind. Quite exposed to wake up to! More cloud this morning. Expecting rain later today. Anxiously watching sky!
Not much time in shorts today – back to trousers after a few hours. Clouds, or rather hill mist, built up, and wind still cold so without sun needed more clothes. Easy-going over Ickornshaw Moor. Two Roe Deer approached when I was getting water at the stream – saw me but didn’t run. Met a few hill runners today on Lumb Head Beck and Pinhaw Beacon. Friendly feeling – fewer hostile notices. Pub was not yet open in Ickornshaw, nor Lothersdale when I went through. Met farmer at Surgill Beck with two Labradors, one aged four and the other twelve. Shared stories of having a young and old Labrador. Kept me talking ages. Route went awry and ended up in Earby. Hated at first because housing and yet more housing. Bought provisions at Coop.
Very hard to get going again. Staggered along disused railway to Thornton in Craven. Route finding from Thornton horrible because description on my map misleading and also things seemed to have changed on the ground. Ended up going South on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal because of leaving Cam lane at the wrong time. Got my compass out after travelling a mile or so and turned about. I hate canal walking! Countryside after leaving the canal was all ups and downs. Intended to search for campsite at Gargrave, and took directions for one, but put on a final push and got myself to the woods beyond. Stopped in a fenced off piece of coniferous woods – pheasant nursery by the look of it (not yet stocked). Many other nice looking woods on rolling hills.
Route from Bare Hill to ‘Pheasant Bivi’.
13. Saturday 25th.
Rain and rain overnight. Spent some time sorting myself out in the morning because still raining. Moved to more cover for a hot drink and rice pudding. Feeling okay. Planned a shorter day today – maybe Malham Tarn for a bivi, or the ruined wall at Tennant Gill. I found that my poncho wasn’t as good as all that because it didn’t cover my pack and myself as I’d intended. Instead I wore my gortex and wrapped up my pack in the poncho. That was alright. Proper Yorkshire rain today. I was soaking but warm enough, and happy. Went to the toilet for the first time in a few days now (no cramps or anything). Walked along river to Malham. Broad leaves coming out for the first time today. Lots of groups and individuals out for walks in Malham. More small children than in Edale. Some cattle in fields now rather than all sheep. Clouds over the tops. Stopped for some soup and to dry at least my gortex jacket in the pub.
Pushed on out towards the Cove. Only two climbers on the rock bloody cold on the hands! Peregrine Falcon observatory going on. On the climb up the steps out of the cove rain started again. Covered pack with poncho. Limestone pavement at the top wet and slippery. Lots of people there, badly dressed. Lots of groups coming down the steep gorge up out of the valley from the pavement. Out of the rain in my direction came the words “Dr Livingstone I presume”! Once on the top Malham Tarn came to view. Picturesque. The large house turns out to be a field studies centre. Thought it empty at first but started seeing people all about – teachers! Couldn’t find cover. Bird-watching hides everywhere, bat boxes, etc. it’s all watching! And woods all deciduous, widely planted and not in leaf. Eventually climbed up behind a wall behind some houses. Set up basha against the wall. Lull in rain thank goodness.
Route from Gargrave to ‘Secret Bivi‘.
Dry during night but things didn’t dry out. Company (mouse?) during night. Had to be very quiet because lots of chattering during the afternoon/evening. Up at 4.45am. Out at 6.00am. Very, very cold. Frost. Could only do small job at a time then had to warm hands. Steady climb out to Tennant Gill. Farmer asked me whether lost. Sun in my eyes all morning so couldn’t see the route and slightly off. Was pointed in the right direction. Sunny day, cold wind – nice. Dried out my gear by the side of the road prior to the ascent of Pen-y-Ghent. Fantastic views. Many more people.
Tough climb up the mountain and scramble at the top. Legs feeling the strain. Amused and impressed by woman in her sixties with standard poodle and grandchildren in tow, instructing the dog and them as she descended. Limestone – lovely formations from corrosion. Sink holes. Caves. Disappearing streams!
Had message from Andy that he thinks maybe I could get to Tan Hill Inn then need to stop. Looks good/do-able. Latest weather forecast, though, is snow and high winds with wind chill of minus 10 degrees on the tops for Monday evening onwards. Maybe I could try for it sooner. Intrigued about the weather – feel well equipped. Route not too arduous now I think. Had thought I might stop the expedition at Horton-in-Ribblesdale but keen now to carry on. Hikers Cafe – wonderful resource for Pennine Way and Yorkshire Three Peaks. Given their book to sign. Had bacon sarnie. Was warned of bad weather to come. Patron didn’t think there were any buses out from the Tan Inn if I stopped there, said he would check, but I left before he had done so. Saw discarded ski poles and bits of ski poles in Horton bin! Three mile walk out to plantation at Langsthrodale for a bivi. Feel that cover would be helpful now that weather turning.
Route from Malham Tarn to ‘Forest Bivi’.
15. Monday 27th.
Good soft bed of pine needles last night. In scrubby bit with some ‘widow makers’. Very soft ground. Wind disturbing the tops of the forest, but not much movement on the ground. Bed early and slept. Middle of the night woke and began going through each day in my mind. When I got to ‘here and now’ it made me panic. Like vertigo. I was alright again when I started thinking of the route onwards. Very quiet in my little thicket. Just the sounds of pheasants and grouse. I stared at the basha and the camouflage pattern became like a Roscharch Test – I was deciphering the blobs of colours into pictures. Will maybe see if my sister can pick me up from the Tan Inn.
Noticed frost as walked out from the forest. Felt alright but on the walk along the high, old, Roman road I noticed a pain in my left leg above the knee (stabilisers?). Also had RSI in my right shoulder from using the ski pole. Swapped hands but it made me quite clumsy. Pains in leg getting sharper. Took it very slowly. Wonderful waterfalls on the way. Took more pictures (sensing the end of the expedition?). Maybe having a painful walk makes it easier to make the inevitable stop, so all the better. Annoyed with PW paths in Gayle, on outskirts of Hawes. After long and painful descent from Dodd Fell (Tan End) didn’t want to walk more than necessary.
Disconcerted by Wensleydale creamery but soon found the town. Had tea and muffin in a B&B and considered asking for a room. But knew I’d hate it. Went to Dales info centre at the museum and uncharacteristically sought help with campsites and transport. Tried to find the campsite she suggested (very good help) but no joy. Just got to one at a fishery and got no answer from their bell. Happily set off for the youth hostel – leg feeling better. Didn’t want to stop walking now! Got to the hostel at 2.30, knowing I’d have to wait till 4.00pm (turned out to be 5.00pm!). Who cares! Warm lobby with leaflets but feels like a school or NHS waiting area. Yet once the door opened so much help and a room to myself! Stayed in the hostel and ate my savoury rice. Coach loads of students arrived & got drunk.
Lying in my bunk unable to sleep but unbothered. Listening to the ferocious wind on the hills. Opened the window and turned off the radiator so as to enjoy it! Thinking about how I’ve managed my discomforts on the expedition. As in other scenarios I often think about the great, and ill feted, explorers like Shackleton – well more his men left on Elephant Island – or soldiers on the front line. Puts a touch of dysentery and some physical strain into perspective! Now feeling very fit and strong. Heard of the quake in Nepal in email from Andy. Googled to find out more but found the news like pornography (press here for more pictures!) – disgusting. Don’t want any news media in my life for a while longer.
Route from Langsthrodale Forest to Hawes, Wensleydale. Snow on the tops.
Data from April 2015:
Pack weight: 17kg/38 lb
Distance – 174miles
- 4,109m (13,480ft).
- Ascent from Penkridge to the Pennine Way approx 1,000m (3,280ft).
- Ascent on Pennine Way to Hawes – 3,109m (10,200ft)
- Day 1: (13.04.2015) Penkridge to Bishton.12 miles. Slept in bushes in grounds next to large house (Jungle Bivi).
- Day 2: Bishton – Sedsall (Eaton Dovedale). 18 miles. Slept in turned field on ridge (Fallow-Field Bivi).
- Day 3: Sedsall – Coldwall. 9 miles. Slept under Hawthorne tree above the valley (Moss Bed Bivi).
- Day 4: Coldwall – Alstonefield. 5 miles. Camp Site (Tidy Camp).
- Day 5: Alstonefield – Chee Dale. 13 miles. Slept on cliff top (Clifftop Bivi).
- Day 6: Chee Dale – Edale. 13 miles. Camp Site (Dysentery Camp).
- Day 7: Rest (dysentery). Heavy rain
- Day 8: Edale – Crowden/Torside Valley. 13 miles. Slept in grasses on hillside above Torside Reservoir (Comfort Bivi).
- Day 9: Torside Valley – Wessenden Moor. 9 miles. Slept on the moor (Hunted Bivi).
- Day 10: Wessenden Moor – Mankinholes. 14 miles. YHA Hostel (Bricks and Mortar).
- Day 11: Mankinholes – Bare Hill. 17 miles. Slept in Bronte country on the moor on exposed stones / pit (Rockpit Bivi).
- Day 12: Bare Hill – Woods north of Gargrave (diversion to Earby).17 miles. Slept in pheasant nursery woods (Pheasant Bivi).
- Day 13: Gargrave woods – Malham Tarn. 9m. Slept in grounds of studycentre behind walls of residential houses (Secret Bivi).
- Day 14: Malham Tarn – Old Ing Moor (forest). 14 miles. Slept in forest (Forest Bivi).
- Day 15: Old Ing Moor – Hawes. 11 miles. YHA Hostel.
Arrival at Shrewsbury, taking the Settle-Carlisle line, and Carlisle to Shrewsbury.
The first few days were tremendously hard, not being used yet to carrying the weight, and added to that the weather turned really hot, creating blisters. Although the sun was intense the wind was also chilly, which was comfortable when I was moving, but I had to take care when I stopped, especially since I have Raynauds, a circulation issue that can cut off the blood supply to fingers and toes. The headwind was Northerly, giving a good but hard-going navigational aid and keeping the hair from my eyes! You wouldn’t expect to get sunburn in the Peak District in April, but after a week I needed sunblock on my nose and on the backs of my legs. The food was working well for the first few days, and I wasn’t hungry at all. Most days I woke at around 5am when it was starting to get light, struck camp, walked for a few hours before stopping for breakfast, walked on till around 1pm before another refreshment stop, and then continued till about 5pm. I tended to be in my sleeping bag by about 6pm, have a nip of whisky, and made myself manage a few notes in my log book before my hands got too useless.
Throughout the day I took water as I found sources (clear, running) for my filter, and stopped to change socks hourly. But for the first few days, despite knowing that I should take them quite easy, I over-exerted myself, walking too long before breaks and walking too fast before my body had got used to carrying the weight. In Dovedale I began really suffering, and diverted for a camp site and meal. Next morning my health was restored and I was ready to move on. It made me think about ‘expedition lassitude’ in the hilarious ‘Rum Doodle’ story, and their need for the delivery of cases of champagne. The result of that brief lapse was that I took a lot more care with my pace, deliberately slowing myself down even if I felt able to walk quickly, and trying to eat and drink more regularly. I still made the mistake, though, of not collecting enough water when it was available and repeatedly finding myself without enough overnight. I’d run out of everything apart from a little pemmican and a lot of whisky by the end of the first week.
I still don’t know if it was over-exertion again or something foreign in my system when I got the runs and violent vomiting once in Edale. Enforced stillness gave me time to read things randomly, and doing that I discovered that this is the 50th anniversary of the Pennine Way. I also read about the ‘mass trespass’ on Kinder Scout in the 1930s that led ultimately to the National Parks and the right to access the land. This seemed to fit nicely with my expedition since I was exercising the right to sleep when I couldn’t move any further!
I became quite good at innovating ways to use the poncho, but the bivi bag wasn’t a huge success. Even though it was ‘breathable’ the condensation build-up left my sleeping bag damp. On the clear, cold nights I wrapped up my pack and boots in the poncho to keep the frost off, and just scraped the ice from my bivi bag in the morning. It was better then making another layer of insulation that would have the ice thawing and getting everything wet. Striking camp could take a bit of time since I needed to keep re-warming my hands. On the few days and nights of rain the poncho worked well enough, strung at an angle and covering me and my pack. Luckily the sun and wind meant that I could dry my gear each day, but constant rain would have presented a more difficult situation. At each bivi site I adjusted the area for more comfort, using dried-up old moss to make a mattress in one, bending the long grass over on another, using a dish-shaped pit in an old quarry fortified by banks of rock, and other variants. None very elaborate. My most difficult bivis were on the first night, through reaching exhaustion before I could be clear of a residential area, andmthe night by Malham tarn, where the only good cover was behind a wall close to a few houses. There was a lot of coming and going and so I had to hunker down quietly despite having walked through heavy rain and being soaked. Luckily that was the only really significant rain for the entire expedition.
Passing to, through, and between the National Parks made for exciting transitions, and each time the geology changed, or the design of the stiles, I had the thrill of getting somewhere new. The livestock remained dependably sheep, and the fields were adorned with masses of colourful buckets just for them. The dearth of dogs, working or otherwise, was a surprise to me and maybe just a seasonal thing – during lambing. I did see tell-tale poo bags left beside the trails – even on the Moors. Can’t get my head around that – neither the need to bag it nor leave the plastic bag! What dogs I actually saw were all on leads.
Around the attractions like Pen-y-Ghent (Malham Cove, Cow Low by Castleton, Kinder Scout, the Howarth area, etc.) there were people about, many foreign, but the sightings outside of those places were rare – mostly the occasional cyclist. Later in the season is probably busier. Travelling in April is quite magical since its nesting time and the birds are many and varied. The cover is limited though, the leaves not being out, and there are surprisingly few coniferous woods, so sleeping sites are hard to find. One enduring sound I have is of Red Grouse. The other is of my pack gently squeaking with my pole tapping.
Walking alone looking down at the flagstones on some of the trail also tended to put me in trances. It made me consider that my expedition was spiritual as much as it was anything else – like a pilgrimage or vision quest. The heat of the sun intensified the smells and created the kind of woozy feeling that you get in the desert or on a sultry beach. It reminded me of the walk to the caves in ‘A Passage to India’. My bivi on Wessenden Moor offered me a different kind of twist in perception: feeling hunted, like the Red Grouse who were calling over the entire moor. The people encounters I had were all wholesome (why not, but not what I’d expected). I didn’t want too much involvement with anyone, so I was pleased that the few chats I had lifted my spirits rather than annoyed or oppressed me. I was given encouragement by some folks out near the ruined abbey at Ellastone, help from a gardener who showed me the campsite at Alstonefield, a good turn by a man in Colden Water (near the River Calder) who told me about May’s shop which turned out to be just as good as he’d said, a mug of tea from the kitchen of the shop patron whilst I prevaricated over what to buy, an ego boost from a couple at the shop who were keenly interested in wild camping and trying to pick up my heavy pack, a warm and very lengthy chat with a farmer in Gill Beck (near Ickornshaw) out with his Labradors, a wry “Dr Livingstone I presume!” coming my way in the rain out of Malham Cove, route guidance by a farmer for Tennant Gill on the route to Pen-yGhent, advice and interest from the patrons of The Hiker’s Cafe (Horton in Ribblesdale) who gave me their Pennine Way book to sign, and unbidden assistance from the hostel warden at Mankinholes. (After another big day, as they all tended to be, despite my promises to myself that I would have an ‘easy one’, I was looking for a campsite, having drawn a blank on potential bivi sites. Rehearsing questions about whether they would allow camping in the grounds, I stood and waited in the lobby. When the warden came in she exclaimed, before I’d said anything, that she’d get me sorted – a “wait there while I go around” and off she sped. When she opened the glass window she had all the paperwork ready and said that although I wasn’t pre-booked she couldn’t possibly turn me away. I wondered what I must be looking like!)
Every few days I emailed home to give them some idea of how I was doing and to get a sense of whether this was still working for them or whether they needed me to get back. Characteristically, Andy was more than happy to do the work while I continued. Katy (our daughter) sent me regular messages so I switched the phone on to test the signal each night or morning, giving me a chance to take a few pictures as well. I was very determined to use the phone as little as possible, not just to conserve power but also to protect the clarity of my expedition.After fourteen days of, mostly, unseasonably glorious weather, I was being informed everywhere I went that it was all about to change and that snow and strong winds were expected on the tops. I needed to get home for work within three more days, and possible routes out were getting thin in terms of public transport. But I was feeling strong and toyed over and over with pushing on further. I had Winter clothes with me, barely worn till now, mountaineering mittens, sleeping bag liner and plenty of gas for the stove (courtesy of the efforts of May’s shop to root out something that was compatible with my stove), so I’d definitely be able to survive Winter conditions. It was a real possibility, though, that I’d not make my deadline out. It was lucky, then, for me that on my final day of walking a jolt to my left leg, sustained coming off Pen-y-Ghent, developed into a painful strain over my left knee. Luck comes in many forms, and I had a lot of it. I hope that this will help me trust the process more next time, and not work myself up ahead of leaving.
Things I will leave behind next time:
- Silk glove liners (didn’t dry quickly)
- Cap hat
- Fewer wipes and tissues
- Leatherman (very heavy and not needed)
- Dry shampoo
- Finacea cream (skin treatment)
- Alum block
- Insect repellant wipes
- Hand warmers
- Plastic ground sheet
- Full length thermarest
- Coffee powder
Things I will take next time:
- Maybe tent and no bivi bag and poncho? (Inclement conditions),
- poncho but no bivi bag (hot conditions),
- A soft (noiseless) and camouflage-coloured ground sheet (maybe footprint sheet for my tent)
- Shorter thermarest / sleeping mat
- a wood-gas burning stove rather than gas and pocket rocket
- nylon liner sacks for pack rather than thick (noisy) plastic
- Drinking chocolate powder
- Katy’s version of Mary Berry fruit cake
- 60p BT payphone voucher
Diary Entry July 2016
It’s been over a year since my expedition paused at Hawes, and it’s been frustrating to see the Spring come and go and not to have completed the rest – to Knoydart. Although finding the spare time has been an issue, it’s been not half the problem compared to injury. In fact, since October 2015, only six months after I made it to Hawes, I’ve been incapacitated with arthritis in my right hip. The hip is, it seems, too far gone for any remedial kinds of surgery.
Over the years these kinds of flare-ups have come and gone, and I’ve tended to think it must be something systemic since my entire body was always a wreck for a while until whatever it was subsided. The difference this time was that the pain wasn’t going away and that my knee was also bad, making moving around even more of a problem than when it was just the hip. To put it in context, I’ve been used to aches and pains of the back and hips, which have sporadically effected for me for over a decade since a rock-climbing fall I took in 2003 (about 35 ft), when I crushed a few vertebrae – so the hip issue has coincided with other pains and gone undiagnosed. In November, though, I was diagnosed with degenerative changes, but I wouldn’t say it was done in a way that I could easily take on board. Given that I’ve suffered flare-ups since my thirties it was difficult to accept that it was purely an ageing process. Anyhow now, June 2016, I’ve seen a consultant privately (funded by my excessively generous father-in-law) who has talked me through my scans, and the damage is obvious. Most importantly for me though, my own reading around has indicated that undiagnosed dysplasia (mentioned on my scan report) can cause osteoarthritis in younger people, meaning to me that I’m a normal midlife adult with some explicable damage. After some very depressing months I feel able once again to view myself as having physical potential to tap, rather than as someone who needs to take it easy. This, in spite of the fact that I am (still) going through my menopause, and have those sadly-named ‘degenerative changes’ to my hip.
This middle-aged era is paradoxical, and sends me a bit mad. For 8 months I’ve been less able to get around than most of the 70 and 80 year-olds that I know. The booklet given to me by my G.P. sets out the latest non-surgical recommendations, but speaks to a version of me that I expect to reach in 20 or so years, referring to Age-UK, for instance, when I won’t be at the current retiring age for another 15 years. Anyhow, diagnosis confirmed, I’m onto the treatment side of things now. Last week I had a steroid injection into the hip, which seems to be relieving the pain so long as I stay sedentary. Again, walking sets it off. On the brighter side, in January I joined a gym, which has rescued me from the depression that set-in around December (particularly poignant when I couldn’t bring myself to un-box my birthday and Christmas presents from Andy and Katy of light-weight gear for the next stage of my expedition). What cheered me up was the discovery that I could cycle on the static bikes without pain. With the increase in my physical confidence I tried to go out running, but both times I ended up in agony. So I’ve had to stick with cycling and weights (not much walking, even around the shops, and no remote chance of running).
I’m fit as a flea and desperate to move, but stuck in a gym (albeit a really nice one with watt-bikes) or in and around the house, rattling with pills (mainly replacement hormones and pain killers). I keep thinking about an elderly lady called Iris (mother of the friends I’ve mentioned, Mike and Helena) who I was helping to look after during last summer. She was hating being stuck in the house on a chair and kept saying “don’t get old”, telling me to live while I could. It seemed quite morbid at the time, and I just wanted to get away from that particular conversation, but now I’m obsessed with the idea. I’m worried that by the time I qualify for a hip replacement, and go through the rehab. process, I won’t be able to make good use of it, and by extension I certainly won’t be able EVER to complete my expedition. That statement is not acceptable to me. I’m going in the Spring of 2017, or possibly sooner given the strength of my feelings, and that is that. I’m not growing old gracefully, but I’d like to point out that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t do other things gracefully.
Diary Entry June 2016, Hayton’s Bent, Near Ludlow.
I’ve been faced again with a situation of necessity, now looking after a neighbour’s smallholding and so having to get about to manage sheep, geese, dogs and produce. It looks as though the injection has worked. I wasn’t sure at first because I was having good days and bad days, but mostly now I’m pain free. It’s a bit of a virtuous cycle I think – the more I walk the more I can. I’ve not done so much walking in wellies – ever! The rain hasn’t stopped and everything’s been falling over or sinking into the mud. When I started three weeks ago there were 28 shetland sheep, and now only 27. I’m not sure why no.28 died, but I figure the rain had something to do with it. My joints stood up to the task of getting it down from the fields.
I feel an affinity now with sheep. I can’t see me ever railing at them like I did before. I love the geese too. Not just because I lost one, but I did. Unlike the others she was still nesting and went astray. I went out again and again to find her but had to accept it eventually. There’s something really nice about being followed around by animals, even if just for food; it makes you feel kindly and maternal (on the darker side of things maybe also powerful, but I hope not). I can understand why humans became farmers, apart from the obvious access to food. I’d like to think that some of the farms I walked through represent this softer side of things, though I have big problems with modern farming practices.
The dogs have caused me trouble, and I might find myself even more nervous of farm dogs on Part 2. These are collie-pointer crosses, highly strung and strong. In the first week here I had a bloody facial injury trying to restrain them on leads when they spotted a neighbour’s cat. It was, unfortunately, heading for their territory. Worst of all I caught them destroying a hedgehog. I understand that they only have one way of killing, but the frenzy was horrid to see. They are surprisingly mild about sheep and rabbits, but hedgehogs…well! I got them off one, but had no chance with the second. We had a tense few days after that, but now I’m properly in charge and butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.
It’s a very different experience here, in Hayton’s Bent, to when I house sit for Helena and Mike in Oreton, beside Titterstone Clee Hill. They have fewer sheep and geese and much smaller dogs. A sheep died on me there too, in 2014. Everyone’s telling me that it’s what sheep do best, which helps a bit, but it feels awful when you are supposed to be looking after them. The cats at each place deserve a mention, but cats being what they are, they don’t need much human intervention. Oh and, by-the-way I decided to open-up those presents now that I feel strong again. A lovely lightweight cooking pot, a gas-fired lightweight Tilley lamp, an ultra modern sleeping mat, a notebook, down booties, and a waterproof sack. Joy!