Sunday 11th February 2007
Distance Walked: 17.4 miles
Start Time: 8:58
End Time: 15:00
Elapsed Time: 6:02
Weather: Urgh. Cold wind, rain, sleet and fog. Bit brighter later, though.
Distance walked so far: 559.2 miles
Curse you Joss Ackland! Curse you!
Everything I know, I’ve learnt from TV. School taught me how to pass exams. University taught me not to bother. But television filled my head with real knowledge. Johnny Ball, Mrs McLuskey and Norris McWhirter were my teachers. And television first introduced me to the concept of the end-to-end walk when, sometime in the late eighties, it beamed the image of a fat, ageing man slogging up a dark hill in the rain in an ill-fitting blue cagoule into my pre-pubescent goggle-brain.
Ackland and the John O’Groats walk. Of course, he wasn’t actually doing it. He was using acting. All lies. But the concept was real, and it was the concept that stuck with me, embedded somewhere, until somehow it emerged and insistently forced me to comply. And it was the image of that bloody blue raincoat that dominated my thoughts as I plodded up the road from Diggle in the fog and rain this morning, reluctantly dragging myself back to the Pennine Way and the dreary snowy peaks of yesterday’s misadventure.
The night’s rain had cleared some of the larger drifts and, as opposed to the virgin vista of yesterday, at least there were occasional boot prints and even bike tracks that I was able to follow when the path was obscured. Indeed, out of the mists soon emerged a herd of mountain bikers whose progress in these conditions was embarrassingly slow, but nonetheless amusing. I wasn’t the only hopeless case up here after all.
Having crossed the narrow misty bridge that swings high above M62, the Way eventually descends to the Roman Road and finally, below the cloud level, the valleys came into view, the sun, unbelievably, emerged, and I began to feel almost human again. Walking through the country certainly provides plenty of time to appreciate how the land shapes our lives. We are subject to it. The towns and cities are rare, sporadic outposts in a vast sea of earth and grass. The power is in the hills. The pylons and wind turbines are the modern signs, but the energy here once flowed down the valleys, into the mills and factories of Manchester and Sheffield, Leeds, Blackburn and Halifax. Here industry flourished. The revolution. This is the real heart of England, the engine that drove the land. You can feel it still.
I pass the Stoodley Pike Monument, another cock planted on another hill, and drop down the Calder Valley into the increasingly aspirational town of Hebden Bridge, where organic shops and right-on thinkers mingle with the tourists, hippies and junkies. The mills and factories are now luxury apartments. The canals are watery playgrounds. In such small ways, we try to reshape the world.
Song of the day:
Life is like a maze of doors /
And they all open on the side you’re on /
Just keep on pushing hard boy /
Try as you may /
You’re gonna wind up where you started from