Thursday, 28 August 2008

Trout fishing on the River - Buckden to Skipton

To get back to the Dales, I had to get an early train from York, change at Leeds, fight my way through the rush hour crush to the platform for Skipton, and then catch the little Dales bus to Buckden.
I'd been looking forward to the "Dales Way" or the part of it I was doing.An 82 mile walk, running from Ilkley to Bowness, this should be one of the most scenic sections.To start with it was a great relief to be on the flat, alongside the River Wharfe. After Kettlewell,an idyllic dales village, location of "Calendar Girls" it was the signs directed me up and up, presumably for the wonderful views. But it was a hot day, worn and weary, I'd done enough up, up and aways in the last few days. And there was a little yellow road running alongside the river, shouting out to me to tread it's path. It certainly looked a more desirable option.
Back on the riverside path was a truly delightful stroll, except I didn't have time for ambling, with a train to catch in Skipton. Treating myself to an Ice cream in Grassington, I was preparing myself for the inevitable haul along the road up and then down into Skipton.
And so it was a very tired and sweaty walker who finally arrived back on York Station.

An Uninvited Walker - Reeth to Kettlewell

Over breakfast Bob and I chatted about the "Coast to Coast". Reeth, being right on route, was the reason why the place was always so busy. As he set off to meet friends he'd hooked up with along the way, I waited on the Green for Lis, Alan, Alice and Rachel to pick me up.
First, Alan obligingly drove me back to the spot where I thought I'd lost the phone. We all hunted high and low, to no avail and so it was a late start for Lis and I back in Reeth. With arrangements to meet Alan and the girls for a picnic near Aysgarth Falls we left the village. Somehow or other the cycle track marked on the map, wasn't where it should have been. Through phone contact we knew Alan wasn't far away. but somehow we never met. Disappointingly they had to track back to the falls with the cool box, and by the time we eventually arrived they'd already eaten. After a hurried late lunch walking companions were swapped with a revised route. i.e. a shorter one if we were going to get back to York at a reasonable hour. Alice and Rachel took the car while Alan, Alice and I took the familiar route (for me) to Thoralby. As a family we'd holidayed here and it brought back many happy but poignant memories.
Just before we hit the main road we were joined by a frisky little puppy. For some reason, he didn't want to leave us, and try as we might, we just couldn't catch him. He whisked this way and that way across the busy road. It was embarrassing, every passing car must have thought we were it's careless owners. Not only that, he was likely to get run over at any moment. After about two miles of this a car screeched to a halt, out jumped a young man, clicked his fingers and grabbed the dog's collar, just like that!
"That's Cooper's dog that is, always getting out he is" "Coopers as in at the Caravan Park?" I asked. The very same people we'd rented our holiday cottage from. Small world in the Dales!
Thankfully he drove off with the dog and we carried on...and on. The road rose up and down along with the sun and we were relieved to finally reach our destination and the car.
Back in York with a Chinese take-away we planned the next day.

Chapter 4. Like a pack of cards. Barnard Castle to Reeth

This was the Chapter in the story where nearly everything started to go wrong.
Like a pack of cards, things started to tumble. Starting with phones. My super dooper radio/camera phone dropped down the toilet, water damaged, it was useless so I took Sophie's phone with me. When it fell out of my pocket somewhere in the middle of the Dales, I not only lost photographs, but more tragically, something of very sentimental value.
And then there was Darlington. Looking up bus timetables on the internet it seemed the last bus to Barnard Castle was at 4.30pm. My train didn't get into Darlington until 4.40pm so I had to book a B & B in there. It was something else. To say the owner was a fan of Nelson would be a gross understatement. Like stepping into a museum, it was stuffed with memorabilia. Led to my room passed a wall long mural of the battle of Waterloo, he proudly told me he'd been collecting for the last twenty years. The room was small, basic and reminiscent of my attic abode in Wick, but thankfully, Nelson free.
And now for somewhere to eat. Not a great deal of choice, and I made a wrong one. Tapas bars are for sharing platters with friends, not for sad and lonely singles. How does one choose two dishes from about fifty selections on the menu? Gloomily I went back to the "Admiral" Lot's of noise and jollity hailing from the "Waterloo" bar, tempted to join them, I thought better of it and headed to my room.
The next morning at breakfast the table was adorned with red, white and blue napkins and little union jacks waving between the salt & pepper pots. Outside in the garden, the flags of England, Scotland,Ireland and Wales waved back.
Wondering how any wife could put up with this Nelson fanatisism, she told me she herself was also a fan. They'd got married on the HMS Belfast, in full costume (of course) as seen on the photo of their business card.
Phew! with a quick salute to the flags at the front door I was off to Barnard Castle, a lovely dales town with lot's of lovely places to stay, eat and drink. Grrr!
First stop, the Information Centre. I needed to know how I was going to get from Reeth to York tonight. By taking three buses and a train apparently, and the last bus from Reeth was at 5.30.
Right! Better get going then. All was going well on the yellow roads. The sun was shining accompanied by a gentle breeze until I hit the high road. Battling in the wind across the moors, I somehow lost my way and when I saw a dirt track I took it -because it led back to a road. Disorientated setting off in the wrong direction, I soon realised I was heading north, not south. Now I may be crap at map reading but along the way I've picked up a bit of geographical knowledge as I'm able to tell the difference between the rugged northern pennines and the rolling dales.
Scrambling down to a ford I stopped to fold the map. This is where I guessed, later, I must have lost the phone, because not long after that I tried to ring York. I wasn't going to make that bus tonight.
With no way of contacting my friends I just hoped and prayed there'd be somewhere to stay in Reeth. It was a pretty big village with five pubs and a couple of B & B's but- It was Saturday night, and with a wedding party in town, to every knock the answer was "No room at the Inn" My last hope was the "Temperance Hotel" As I started to knock, the door flew open. The owner was dashing off to Evening Service, and I just caught her in time. With everything crossed I asked the question. Yes! She did have a room "But did I mind being alone in the house with Bob?" the only other guest. Did I mind? Did I care? Most certainly not, but first I needed to use the telephone.
I had a super large room in this huge three story Georgian House, I was amused to read the notice in the bathroom about how the ten reasons people give for not washing can easily be the same reasons people choose not to go to church. Well, as I needed some cleansing, spiritual or otherwise I was pouring bubbly into the large bath from the "help yourself" array on the shelf when I spotted a blast from the past "Goya's Aqua Manda for Men Aftershave" One quick sniff and I was catapulted back to the Seventies (A decade with a lot to answer for in Fashion and Musical taste-well some of the music was ok, but a lot wasn't) Dancing to the "Revolution Shuffle" with spotty youths in wide flares and ludicrously tight cheesecloths shirts ,who somehow, in the cold light of day, never looked as dishy as the illustrated boys in "Jackie" magazine, were stood up on the first date.
Ah well, back to 21st century and food. Not having eaten since breakfast, choosing somewhere to eat wasn't that difficult as all the pubs were heaving. Wedged between the Billiard table and the wall, I read the B & B lady's account of her "Coast to Coast" 25th Anniversary walk with her husband.

Hot and High. Stanhope to Barnard Castle

It had been a big mistake to celebrate one day to soon, as Keith and I had one more day to complete before going home. On a hot day, trekking over the northern pennines was not going to be fun. Even less so with a heavy head and tired eyes-but it was our last night in Stanhope with Angela, Peter and Jenny and so the partying didn't end there we arranged to meet up in Cornwall. Invited to join us in the cottage for the final week, I was determined to get them walking somehow, somewhere!

The only way to tackle a day like today was to hit the road and stick to it. I wasn't brave enough to tackle the footpaths dotted across the moors and so, boring as it was, we didn't take long to reach the outskirts of Barnard Castle (where Keith had left the car) The only highlight of the day had been the strange sighting of a car full of "dolly birds" stopping off for a picnic in the most unlikely setting of a quarry.

George made it! Hexham to Blanchland to Stanhope

The party split into two camps. Those that had sensibly had an early night - The walkers. Keith, Jenny and I. And those that hadn't -The drivers. Hilary and Maurice.
We met in the very urban setting of the Hexham Business Park, but were soon heading up the steep hill out of town and into the rural countryside. Walkers and leaders from different groups around the area had come to join us, and with Alison, thankfully, back in charge of the map, I was able to have a chat to them all. She'd devised a scenic route weaving in and around the river and after about 3/4 miles the three ladies of the group set off in a taxi back to Hexham. But not before "Jane" tried to take "George" with her. George, her husband, was in his 80's. Attired in a long sleeve shirt, tweed jacket, topped with a Duffle coat, he decided he wanted to walk onto Blanchland. Clearly, this was not the original plan as he had no packed lunch or water.
But, he was insistent and with a wave to a worried looking Jane, we were off again. As we climbed higher over the moors the sun got hotter and hotter, but still he kept his coat on, as "he didn't want to have to carry it"
I don't know how Alison navigated us across the moors down into Blanchland, but somehow before too long we were sitting in the Abbey tea shop garden enjoying some well needed refreshments. Once again, it was time to say goodbye. They'd been such good company, but it was time for me to trek the last 10 miles on my own.
George didn't seem to have Jane's number so unsure of quite where to leave him, my last sight was of a rather worried looking Alison driving off with a tired but happy man.
Later that evening in the pub, young student Jenny had been so inspired by old George that she told us all that from now on she'd walk to all her lectures everywhere around Bristol. Another convert to "Walking for Health"!

Off Duty! - Bellingham to Hexham

As Alison (WHI Co-ordinator for this region) hopped on the bus outside Hexham, I knew today could only get better. The sun was shining and so was the map holder slung around her neck. Yes, I was off map control duty for the next two days!

We arrived at Bellingham, and after a brief chat with some local walkers we were off on our way. With Alison map reading, I could concentrate on what I do best -talking! We compared notes about our respective Co-ordinator positions and before too long met yet another lone "Lejoger" He certainly didn't look like he'd make it to Bellingham, never mind John O' Groats. Oddly, he was wearing all his waterproofs. Sweating profusely, in the heat of the day, he explained he was trying to minimise the weight on his back. At 4.30am with a minimal water supply he'd set out from "Once Brewed" or was it "Twice?" I can't remember now, but feeling very sorry for him we decided it was time for our own "brew" and stopped off at the delightful little teashop cum Post Office in Simonsburn. An estate managed village, it was a picture postcard place with all the houses painted in heritage green.

We had to speed things up a bit as I'd arranged to meet Alec-a walk leader from Cramlington, who'd driven over here especially to meet me. We eventually caught up near Hadrians Wall where Alison was leaving us to return back to her village. Back in map control, within five minutes, Alec and I managed to get lost in a field. After going round in circles a few times we eventually found a dog walker who guided us towards the minor road into Hexham.

The next problem now was guiding Keith (mapless husband) out of Hexham to come and meet us. Now I read maps in a colour coded way. Yellow=ok for walking. Orange=not ideal, but ok for a short stretch if there's no alternative. Red= to be avoided at all costs, unless absolutely necessary. Blue=If found walking on one of these you should be carted away in a little white van.

Anyway, Keith is taking directions down the phone. "Yellow road, what yellow road? are you mad?" he barked down the phone. "What the hell are you talking about, all roads are grey!"

Fortunately, as Hexham was his childhood stomping ground he knew where he was going and we all eventually walked into Hexham together.

Bidding farewell to Alec, with promises to meet up next time he was down in Redhill visiting his family, we set off back to Stanhope.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Writers Blog

As I sit here in Devon, with Lands End in sight I need to apologise to any confused readers who may be wondering why I'm still in County Durham.
When I set out on the "Lejog" trek last year, the Blog became the millstone around my neck with never enough time to keep it up to date. This year, with a job & domestic activities piling up every time I came home between each leg of the journey, "Writers Blog" set in. It stuck at the bottom of a "To do" list.
Now, I'll endeavour to catch up, but keep it brief. The notes are all there for the longer journal (which may eventually be written) but for the loyal supporters of WHI groups who've enthusiastically joined in to support me I want to get it finished!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

What a difference a year makes

Well, with no sounds of snoring from the opposite bed, I guessed, correctly, that Jan was a woman. Quietly creeping out of the room, so as not to wake her, I was planning on an early start.
Not quite as early as the 5.30 am the kitchen clock told me it was! However, since I was up and about, I started preparing breakfast and packed lunch when into the kitchen strolled Jan's husband and (male) friend from Canada. I understood the sleeping arrangements.
After long discussions about the pros and cons of the Pennine Way, addresses were exchanged, and with an offer of a bed if I was passing through Herefordshire, I was off.
But not before saying goodbye to Mr & Mrs Youth Hostel. They really had done a stirling job of turning this place around when it was on the point of closure. I could see for myself the improvements from last year. The showers for one. Yes, I would heartily recommend this place. Where else could you get a bed, breakfast, two course evening meal, with wine (yes, they even have a license now!) packed lunch and towel hire for £26.00.
Practically skipping through Keilder Forest, which last year had seemed such an eternally long end to a tough day, by 11.00 am, I was triumphantly calling my sister from "Witley Pike" "Guess where I am?" She couldn't believe it. Last year, following late night revelling with old school friends, we'd climbed the steep hill out of Bellingham, in the searing heat of a midday sun to reach this point. But what a difference a year makes. Of last years trio of hills, heat and hangovers, only the hills remained.
Feeling smug, self satisfied, and thinking I really ought to slow down to a stroll, as Angela (my host) wasn't picking me up until late afternoon, I took a long rest, and was admiring the views, when along the path came a couple of walkers. Laden down with heavy rucksacks they were camping all the way to John O' Groats. While he looked quite chipper, she looked completely knackered, and pretty fed up. And I soon realised why. After brief exchanges of what we were doing, how and why, he looked me up and down a bit and sneered "Well, if you were carrying packs like ours, you certainly couldn't get away with wearing those" pointing to my lightweight trainer style walking boots. And then added suspiciously, "You're not a member of the Ramblers are you?" Not quite understanding the relevance of this question I replied "Well, yes I am actually" "Thought so! The sought of people who think walking is to drive to a nice location, stroll around a bit, go to the pub, get back in the car and go home" Gritting my teeth, and trying to remain polite, I wished them the best of luck with the rest of their journey. And as they walked on, she turned round, as if to say "Please take me with you" I tried to convey my sympathy at her misfortune in ever agreeing to walk with him, silently replying, "Take my advice and do yourself a favour. When you get to John O'Groats, buy him a one way ticket to the Orkneys "
Unfortunately, I then took his advice of trying the "Alternative Pennine Way" So alternative, that all the signposts disappeared. All my early progress was lost in a wasted hour of scrambling about on the moor, looking for a way down to the road.
When Angela picked me up and whizzed me off to Sunderland, for a quick shower, before heading off to South Shields, I was amazed. I'd expected cranes, warehouses, ships and a grim grey landscape. The reality was golden sand stretching for miles. With a distinct lack of any of the trappings of a seaside frontage, in the evening sun it looked like the south of France.
We were in South Shields for a Dance Show. Her daughter, Sophie, was performing with the elite Northern Dance Company. A contemporary performance it was nothing like the dance shows I'd been subjected to over the years To sit for hours watching other peoples children prance around just to see your own little darlings brief appearance as a chicken or a fairy is, I suppose, all part and parcel of playing the dutiful parent of dancing daughters.