Sunday, February 18, 2007

Day 27 : Padfield to Diggle

Saturday 10th February 2007

Distance Walked: 18 miles
Start Time: 7:45
End Time: 15:21
Elapsed Time: 7:36
Weather: Deep snow and zero visibility.
Distance walked so far: 541.8 miles

Holy fucking fuck! What an absolutely amazingly awful shit of a day. This was such an intensely miserable and shocking experience that at times I clutched it to my chest and tried to cherish every moment. This is what it’s like to be alive and in peril. For today I could have died.

I’d often thought it would be interesting if I could be a given a list, a top ten at least, of the moments when I had been closest to death. As far as I’m aware, I’ve been lucky. Death, particularly my own, is not something that has inconvenienced me, though maybe the list would indicate that I’ve had some narrow escapes that I was completely unaware of. The avoided crash. The bungling hitman. The antidoted allergy. I think today made it onto the list and, for now at least, it’s probably higher up there than I’d like to consider.

There’d clearly been another snowfall in the night but, as I trudged the miles back from Padfield to rejoin the Pennine Way, it was already turning to slush in the driving rain and my only real concern was the flapping wound in my overtrousers that I hadn’t quite got around to fixing. As I began to climb higher up Black Tor however the sleet was turning to snow, the dense clouds were moving in and the snow on the ground was above the boots. If there was a path it couldn’t be seen, and my feet were constantly sliding off the concealed rocks below the surface.

It was probably when I was crossing the ridge of Oaken Clough with the drifting snow, in places, above my knees that I began to worry. And when I reached the exposed upper ground it’s fair to say that panic was setting in. For this is a treacherous place even in the fairest weather. Huge grassy groughs with peat channels running between. In places a path has been marked out, with a snaking pavement to guide the adventurous walker. But, today, all was snow covered and virtually flat. The groughs were filled so that only a few grassy tufts remained, as I discovered when I strayed from the upper levels and sank up to my nuts in snow. Whilst this is certainly preferable to walking through bog, at least in a bog you have a chance of knowing where to aim for. Here nothing could be seen and, as I flattened myself to the snowy mounds and crawled onwards, the realization that I was lost and heading in the wrong direction crept upon my befuddled brain.



The GPS saved me. With no landmarks against which to take a bearing, I desperately headed for the point where my pre-programmed route told me the path should be and, amazingly, after twenty leg-sapping minutes of floundering, there it was. Intermittent stone slabs and, beyond, the trig point at the top of Black Hill. With renewed hope I descended and, though there was stumbling and flailing, I finally dragged myself onto the tarmac of the lonely A635, as the infrequent cars sloshed by, indifferently.

From here the snow was less deadly and even though the trudge through the dull reservoirs of Wessenden seemed to go on for hours, I was giggling. I’d made it. Surely nothing would be as challenging, as fraught, as this, and I’d made it through. Maybe I could actually do this, after all. The boundaries between bravery and idiocy are hard to define, and very much depend on the end result of the action in question. History defines us. I’d been reckless, but prepared enough to survive. A brave idiot.

I slithered down the hill to Diggle (simply because I loved the name!) and, having found a B&B willing to take me in and dry my bedraggled belongings, I nestled in the bar of the Diggle Hotel and tried to pull myself together. There I read an article in a newspaper written by Paul Theroux in which he described the difference between holidays and travel. We go on holiday, he says, for fun. We travel, however, for experience. To learn more about different places and more about ourselves. Travel, he says, should never be fun.

Thanks for that Paul. I’m really travelling now.

Song of the day:

“Can we start again?”

I’ve been wading through it /
Don’t you know it’s up to my neck /
And it won’t be long /
Till it’s over my head

1 comment:

John Hee said...

.....but bet you felt really alive after it all