In less than two weeks’ time I’m going to embark on a journey from Kirk Yetholm in Scotland, to Edale, walking the 268 mile Pennine Way from North to South. Most of my weekends this year have been spent in training. Instead of relaxing with family at Easter, I walked the 35 mile Gritstone Way to refresh my memory of just what a multi-day hike is like.
Yesterday was the last day of training – I’ve walked a total of 446 miles in preparation this year. It’s been a mixed bag, as hiking in the UK is at the best of time, walking through flooded fields, skirted around submerged paths, trudging up snow slopes, battling against gale force winds or slogging uphill in blistering early summer sun.
But today is the first day this year I can remember that I’ve put up with persistent rain.
I hate walking in the rain – if the lightest shower is forecast I’m likely to cry off with any old excuse. But today was the last chance and I wanted to finish with a good day on the hill so I went for it anyway.
The rain held off for quite a while – and when it came it was the soft, light rain that makes you wonder if it’s worth putting on a waterproof. You tell yourself it’ll pass, you don’t want to break your rhythm by stopping and rummaging for a jacket stowed at the bottom of your pack. We were skirting around the edge of Kinder Scout, on one of the accessible bits that people can stroll to from the car and be back home in time for lunch. There were people in hooded sweatshirt, balancing umbrellas while they hopped over paths that had turned to lakes without getting their trainers drenched, not dressed at all well for a moorland rain shower. I noticed how bedraggled they looked, how the expressions on their faces said that they wanted to turn back but none of them wanted to be the first to admit it. The rain had strengthened, it was wet and miserable for them but I didn’t care – I was too busy having fun.
There are certain pinch points on this walk that often get to me – one of these is coming over the edge at Back Tor, where the path drops away into an apparent abyss. It is important to note that the hillside beyond has slipped away so there is an actual abyss of sorts. A rounded bump of a hill, split like a just-cut cake, with the remnants – the rocks and boulders strewn on the grass way below. So usually I get to the edge and I stop while my legs shake as I look down, wishing I was somewhere, anywhere else. I always get myself down the steep path, but it usually takes some coaxing, a certain amount of swearing and some leg-trembling moves.
As I neared the edge a fell-runner overtook and hopped over the abyss in front of me. It should have been terrifying but instead of stopping and worrying about what was beyond out of sight, I simply followed him. I wasn’t entirely sure what had got into me, but something had, because there was (almost) no fear. I didn’t run like he did – I wasn’t feeling quite that brave but I was able to do what most people do — put one foot in front of the other, keeping going until I got down to safer ground. And when I stopped it was to admire the drama of the path with the cliff edge to my right and a steep tree-clad slope on the left. If you know the area it may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me it is a very big deal. These moments when the height gets to me have been enough to ruin a day, a weekend break or even a whole summer vacation.
So maybe by the time the rain came down I knew it wouldn’t beat me. And maybe that’s why I didn’t want to stop, and continued on a few more miles when we could have called it a day an hour earlier and headed down away from the threatening rains.
Pennine Way, you’d better be ready for me, because I’m ready for you and here I come.