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. Ah...now 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.