Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Day 33 : Hawes to Bowes

Friday 16th February 2007

Distance Walked: 25.7 miles
Start Time: 9:20
End Time: 18:03
Elapsed Time: 8:43
Weather: Wet
Distance walked so far: 648.2 miles

The days of slogging through the snow, ice and rain have taken their toll on my nose and throat. I hack phlegm and splutter snot into the sodden grass as I slide through the fields between Hawes and Hardraw where, behind the Green Dragon pub, for a small charge, it’s possible to gawp at the highest waterfall in the country. Having seen its mundane wonder before, however, I hit the hills and begin the long, relentless slog up to the flat misty peak of Great Shunner Fell, the highest point of the Walk so far. Again, the stone pavement through the bogs enables a safe and rapid passage, though the low clouds prevent the kind of views that would make this a worthwhile experience.

The Pennine Way continues to irritate. I naively assumed that not only would the walking be a constant delight, but also that the infrastructure would be in place to remove any worries about accommodation or navigation. Sadly, not. The signposts are sometimes useless or non-existant. The Youth Hostels are closed (“Open all year, except Oct-Mar” actually means “Open half the year”, doesn’t it!), and many of the B&Bs have shut down completely. Worst of all, the walking itself is often unrewarding. Yes, there are highlights, but the Way insists on plunging through every single marsh or shitty swamp on the map, meandering in the most perverse way so that not a single bog is omitted. I get the rage.

As the rain begins to fall, I pass through Thwaite and then follow the Way as it winds up and around Kisdon Hill on the rocky path to Keld. Even the moist view of Swaledale below, with the classic layout of walls and barns, doesn’t lighten my mood as, from Keld, I reach Stonesdale Moor, where all notions of a safe passage disappear. Maybe in a different season the ground would be springy and fun, but in a wet winter it’s tiresome and treacherous. To my dismay, my boots, which have been so faithful to this point, are starting to allow water to seep through and, allied to the drenching from above, I’m thoroughly bedraggled by the time I reach the safety of the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in England.

Though time and the light are against me, I stop for a symbolic pint, before beginning the assault on Sleightholme Moor. Unbelievably, it’s even more deadly than Stonesdale, and there are moments when it appears I’ll have to retreat, but the rage takes over and, making myself as light as possible by thinking happy thoughts and whistling Disney songs, I plough straight through it all. Then it’s a long, cold, wet stomp through tracks and fields to the small but comforting village of Bowes where, thankfully, the Ancient Unicorn pub provides fantastic food and warm, friendly beds. At the end of an exhausting day, as my clothes stew by the fire, I can ask for no more.

Song of the day:

Memphis Slim
“Mother Earth”

Don’t care how great you are /
Don’t care what you worth /
When it all ends up /
You got to go back to mother earth

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