The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Friday, 30 April 2010

Day 39 - Kilsyth to Easter Drumquhassle

Friday 30 April
Distance: 21.5 miles (Tot: 670.75 miles)

Within a mile of setting out this morning, I was kicking myself (metaphorically; it wasn't a case of tripping over my laces). There I was, looking to see which road we needed to take to pick up the path to take us south-west out of Kilsyth, when I noticed that rather than going SW back to the canal, W along the canal, and N up a disused rly to Milton of Campsie, we could simply have gone W along a track and then a road from Allenfauld Farm (which was again an excellent night stop and one which I thoroughly recommend), had a two kilometre yomp, and then picked up a track down to Milton.

The latter route not only would have been more interesting, but would have been about 3 miles shorter, which on a 21+mile day (moreover the first day in boots rather than slippers), would have been my preferred option.

So, annoyed I was as we walked along, that I hadn't looked at the map last night (as I usually do), for if I had I may well have spotted the option.

We were where we were though, no point crying over spilt milk and all those platitudes, so onwards we walked, along a burn to join the canal and then along to Kirkintilloch.

There it started to rain with something of a vengeance and reluctantly concluding that it wasn't just a shower that would quickly pass, out came our waterproof trousers.

A chap who was at the breakfast table with us this morning had commented that one of the nice things about walking must be getting to talk to other people out walking, to which we responded that it wasn't just other walkers that we got to talk to, and that some of our most interesting and pleasing chats are with non-walking folk whom we pass.

Today we had a few such enounters. We were just walking through Kirtintilloch when a voice behind me said "Are you taking donations?". It was a chap we had just passed, working at the side of the road, and even though it was raining with some enthusiasm at the time and he wasn't wearing a jacket, he was full of questions about the walk.

Having picked up the disused rly we hadn't proceeded too far when I realised that I had my MP3 player in my chest pouch and that it wasn't in a bag, so under the arch of an old bridge we dived, and there ensued our next chat, this time with a chap out walking his dog.

Although the flat bed of an old rly may not seem like it would be any more interesting than a canal, I did find it so, even if my booted feet didn't wholly approve.

Along to Strathblane the path took us (having turned less pleasingly to tarmac), where just as rain was falling again we came upon a hotel, which has apparently been trading since 1605 or some such date, although I doubt that they had the gold-effect metal ceiling in the bar back then.

Some very tasty soup and the most expensive lime and soda we have ever had anywhere ever, set us up for the afternoon, and out into the sunshine we went. It was finally looking like the sunshine and showers forecast for today were turning more towards the sunshine.

The path became little trodden and rather nice as we headed rapidly towards the West Highland Way (WHW), albeit a few fallen-tree obstacles did present themselves, just to make it all the more interesting.

By the time the WHW was reached the sky still featured clouds but was fine enough to set off the hills, which had now come into view, rather nicely.

I could gauge how much my feet hurt by the end of the day by how often I was looking at the map as if I might find that we had just magically teletransported forward by a mile or so. No teletransportation did occur, but we did eventually get to Easter Drumquhassle Farm on whose rather un-pretty campsite we're staying tonight.

After a couple of not-so-interesting days, we're rather looking forward to tomorrow. Hard work it will no doubt be, but it will be nice to get some squidgy earth and lumpiness under our feet again.

(Duncan - hello! Good to hear from you. In answer to your question, we just use mains chargers, spare batteries and gadgets that run off AAA batteries. The MP3 players, GPS and head torches all use AAA. We each have a spare camera battery with us (but no charger), and I have 2 spare phone batteries, to give me enough power to blog for 9 days between B&Bs (where it becomes something of a chore to get all 3 batteries fully charged again before we leave). Anyways, hope your Pennine Way trip in Sept is a good one (with weather as good as in late Sept 2008).
Josh - you got a good week for your field trip - I hasn't been so fine since.
Chris/Geoff - you were both spot on about Beecraigs Restaurant. It may not be the sort of place where you walk in and think "this is nice", but the food was fresh and so plentiful that it even defeated these very hungry backpackers.
Alan - each to his own, eh? What is strange is that I appreciate that both canals are quite 'wild' and therefore pretty, and yet I still find them incredibly dull.
Sophie - you're right about the adverse conditions making the most interesting memories. Alan pointed that out after we had a nightmare of fallen trees in a forest on our LEJOG, and it's very true (even if it doesn't seem that way at the time). As for the Falkirk Wheel, a shame you weren't allowed in, but at least it's somewhere that you can still fully appreciate the spectacle of the engineering from outside the perimeter. I assume you got the shower in the tunnel too?
Ken - it did cross my mind as we walked from Falkirk to Kilsyth that you weren't dreadfully far away. As for the dullness, just to clarify, it was just the canal to which I was referring - I'm sure the surrounding areas have much to recommend them!
Anyone - does anyone happen to know whether there's a shortcut on the Blackberry to take me to the bottom of the page in an email?
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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Day 38 - Beecraigs Country Park to Kilsyth

Thursday 29 April
Distance: 23 miles (Tot: 649.25 miles)
Number of canal-going craft we passed/passed us in 19 miles of canal walking: 0

Ever since our first week, back down in Kent, we have been seeing trees bursting from bud to leaf, but the majority of trees have been more brown and twiggy than green thus far.

This morning, walking along the canal, the trend was most definitely green. Spring is here!

As further evidence of this fact, last night was by far the warmest yet.

With today being the longest of the trip (per the plan, anyway), an early start was called for, so it was just before 7am when we strode out of the campsite.

Looking at the map, you would believe that to walk north from the campsite to join the Union canal involves road walking all the way, but thanks to some woodland trails and then a trail running adjacent to the road, it's possible to get most of the way there without the peril of cars.

The Union Canal is a lovely waterway along much of the length that we walked today, but with a complete lack of any life on it, it's not the most interesting walk that can be had.

It sped us on in the right direction, so much so that we didn't just achieve our target of 11 miles by 11am (a target just for today's big distance, I should say, it's not something we usually try to do), but we smashed it. By my reckoning, the Falkirk Wheel was reached after 12.5 miles of walking, and that's where we arrived at just gone 11am.

An hour was spent there, refuelling in the cafe whilst watching a couple of rotations of the wheel. My opinion formed on our LEJOG that it is a fascinating and fantastic bit of engineering is unchanged.

My opinion formed on our LEJOG that this is was the most incredibly dull day of walking of the entire trip is also unchanged (which does beg the question as to why we repeated the same route). The only redeeming features were the Falkirk Tunnel (worth walking through just to marvel at the work that must have been involved in carving it out, but expect a few showers from the leaky ceiling!), and the Falkirk Wheel.

With only 3 locks worth of ascent the whole way from joining the Union Canal at Linlithgow until leaving it some 19 miles or so later at Kilsyth, and with a made path the whole way, my feet were screaming at me from the constant pounding of landing the same way on every step (rough ground and hills have their benefits). The intense boredom probably doubled the pain, as I did notice that once we started walking uphill in Kilsyth to get to Allenfauld Farm (where we're staying tonight - it's off route but very nice indeed, not to mention the only option) the pain disappeared almost completely.

We're now unexpectedly ensconsed in a log cabin. It's new at the B&B since we last stayed here in 2008, and due to a changed booking in the house we have not just a room tonight but a well-equipped mini-house.

Waiting for us in the cabin was the next re-supply parcel, including a change of footwear. Tomorrow I change from the slippers in which I have been walking thus far (Inov8 Terrocs for the last 300 miles) to my boots. Gulp!

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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Day 37 - Cauldstane Slap to Beecraigs Country Park

Wednesday 28 April
Distance: 16 miles (Tot: 626.25 miles)
Number of dogs that pissed on Mick's backpack: 1

Surprisingly, after such a long spell of rain that showed no sign of abating, our procrastination paid off this morning. By the time we were ready to exit the tent the rain had become just showers and ten minutes into our walk, at about ten past eight (see we weren't that late away), it had become so light as to be barely noticeable.

Not long after, as we made our way down the waterlogged path from Cauldstane Slap to Little Vantage, there was a hint of sun behind the clouds and the day wasn't looking so bad after all. Even the strong wind was mainly behind us (and when, later in the day, we caught it head on a few times, we were very glad it was mainly behind us!).

Unfortunately the A70 couldn't obviously be avoided, but its verge was wide and we weren't on it too long before we headed off up a minor road.

About half way along that road was Selm Muir Wood, the top of whose access track seemed like a good enough place for 2nd breakfast and with the woods offering toilet opportunities.

All was so quiet as we arrived, but as I emerged from the woodland a while later it was to find Mick talking to a chap (one of whose dogs peed on Mick's pack, right on the back and inside of the hipbelt). By the time we left about 3 minutes later three vehicles had pulled up and it was getting busy. We timed our arrival well.

Reaching East Calder it was unclear from the map whether the line I had plotted was on an unclassified road or a track. The answer was that it was on a disused railway line (mainly unsurfaced) which gave us a very easy walk, without any requirement for thought, all the way through to Uphall.

I had thought that from there our only option was to take to the roads. However, as we left Uphall on the main road, a footpath sign helpfully didn't just indicate a path but said "Public Path to Binny Craig". A glance at the map was all that was required to tell us that Binny Craig (a craggy lump with a trig point on top that looks completely out of place in the surrounding flatness) was in a helpful direction, so on a magical mystical tour we went.

The track and then grassy path was perfectly obvious, and must have been better than walking along the pavement of the main road, even if the direction we then had to take to get us to our destination had us walking into the wind for a while.

By the time we arrived at Beecraigs at just after 2pm, the wind was still up but the day had tranformed from what it was this morning. Only high clouds remained and the sun was beating down.

Bits of the campsite here are undergoing renovation (including the toilet block next to the tent area, giving us a bit of a hike to the caravan area), but it's very well kept and the facilities are right up there with the best we've seen. There's even a restaurant next to the entrance, where we will eat tonight, and the restaurant has kindly made a generous donation to Help for Heroes (thank you Brian!).
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Ordinarily at this time of day we're almost packed away and are well on our way to finishing our morning cups of tea and breakfast.
This morning we are still in our sleeping bags and there's a certain reluctance to move.

The wind that was hitting us as we pitched last night has continued unabated all night and about 9pm it was joined by rain.

Real, lashing rain.

It doesn't seem to have stopped all night.

It feels like all of the rain that hasn't falled in the last three weeks was saving itself for last night and today.

Of course, rain always sounds worse on nylon than it is in reality, but it's still not conducive to getting an early start.

Still, we can't stay where we are everytime it rains, so up we're going to get.

(Oh, and the small leak on Susie's rear seam, which I sealed after the TGO Challenge last year, seems to have opened again. We have ingress...

...Hope my newly re-proofed Paramo turns out to be more waterproof.)
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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Day 36 - Peebles to Cauldstane Slap

Tuesday 27 April
Distance: 18 miles (Tot: 610.25 miles)

An excellent three-course meal was served to us last night (thank you Ian!), which was a treat indeed after having had a proper lunch too. So, this morning we were full of energy as we prepared to set out.

Irrespective of the energy levels, it struck me as we packed away that there was little merit in leaving the campsite via the road, retracing our steps back towards town, veering off through a housing estate, and then taking a lane, all to get two fields away from where we were camped. That there was a river between us and those fields might have put us off, except that last night we witnessed two girls crossing the telegraph pole lying across it, and so the option of the road-avoiding direct route seemed like a goer.

The navigation of the telegraph pole started off with some wobbles for me, but we both made it across without incident - only to find a few yards later, over a hump of ground, that there was another water obstacle. We certainly weren't going back over the pole, so over this obstacle we also had to go. A very muddy left shoe and a mildly damp foot ensued.

Considering that our start and end points for today matched those of the same leg of our LEJOG walk, we didn't walk entirely the same route, and all of the variations made proved to be improvements.

Just a mile and a bit in, we decided on the spur of the moment to drop down from Hamilton Hill to the north (which also transpired to be the waymarked route). Better than our previous route it was, albeit there was a bit of prickling by overgrown gorse.

With the joy of the liberal Scottish access laws, a further two sides of a triangle of road walking were omitted in favour of some more fields a bit further on.

The old drove road between Peebles and West Linton is a lovely walk, and so well waymarked that you would struggle to lose your way. It wasn't without obstacles today though. As we entered a large lump of forest, the path was littered with the tops of trees which had snapped clean off. They had obviously fallen recently, and by the position and the manner of snappage (rather than having simply fallen over) we surmised that it was snow rather than wind damage.

Happily, none of the tree debris was of a nature to cause one of those dreaded forest assault courses, so we passed by with just a bit of extra weaving around the path.

Per our previous route, we would have dropped down to the A701 and then taken the B road into West Linton (not a nice bit of walking), except that Ian had advised us of a much better off-road route. Longer it was, but also far and away nicer than the road march.

Despite instructions received, we were thrown by the 'Private - No Public Right of Way' signs at Romanno Farm, and it wasn't until we were past that I looked at the map and realised that was our intended path. Down we continued and before we met the A road found some nice waymarks that took us across a field and through a new housing development to get us to where we wanted to be.

We knew not the exact line of the path once we had crossed the main road, but that didn't matter as waymarks made the route (a reasonably wiggly route) perfectly followable and took us to rejoin the road, just before the pavement started, to take us into West Linton.

Finding the Toll Tea House to be apparently closed, we opted to go through the middle of the village, a route that took us through the restaurant and the bar of The Gordon Arms. We tarried a while in the bar, drinking an enormous pot of tea and two sizeable servings of cheesy chips (all for a more than reasonable price), before leaving through the opposite side of the building to where we had entered, and heading out to investigate an alternative to the road route we took up to Badinsgill last time around.

Once again, it proved to be a massive improvement over the 3-miles walk down a little lane, which more than made worthwhile the extra distance and undulations.

The stroll over Cauldstane Slap rounded off a very pleasant (and comparatively easy - all good path and tracks today) day nicely. If anyone reading this is contemplating a walk that involves going from Peebles to Cauldstane Slap, I would definitely recommend the route we took today (except, maybe for the morning river crossing bit!).

We're now camped only a very short distance to where we pitched 2 years ago. We couldn't use the same spot, as the wind is coming from the opposite direction, making the slope aspect wrong today. Having chosen a different spot (where the tussocks didn't seem too violent), we swivelled the direction of the tent twice during pitching, but still found that we're not on an ideal slope (a sideways slope, rather than heads-down; we do try to avoid heads-down), but that wind is rather brisk and so is dictating the tent direction too.

The wind may be up, but the very light rain that has fallen for a few hours of the afternoon has stopped for the moment. Isn't it meant to be the other way around - shouldn't it start rather than stop once you're pitched and ensconced in the tent?

(Martin: you're right that I wasn't in the scary pink underwear. The only time that gets seen outside of the privacy of the tent is when my trousers are being washed!
Mike: we did try the grass test after the first shock. Perhaps we didn't hold it against the fence for long enough - or maybe it was the wrong type of grass? Funny how the word verification can be so apt at times, isn't it?
Chris: Pesky work demands, eh?
Ultra Greenford: is there still a job for me come June?!
Dawn: Backpacking pole dancing indeed (particularly the way I was teetering around at first!))
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Interesting start to the day!

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Monday, 26 April 2010

Day 35 - Glengaber to Peebles

Monday 26 April
Distance: 12.5 miles (Tot: 592.25 miles)
Number of Trail Angel encounters: 1 :-)

It wasn't until we set out to yomp uphill through heather, moutainous tussocks and bog this morning (there seemed no point in returning to the track and taking two sides of a triangle when we could just take the direct line) that we realised quite how close we'd camped to a house last night. It was marked on the map, but those little squares can be a ruined sheep fold, a ruined house or a house, and the latter is not what we expected. Still, we were out of sight and neither of us disturbed the other, so a good night was had.
The track, once we gained it, was a lovely grassy job that required no thought, other than admiration of our surroundings, as we followed it down to Traquair.

Traquair was where the Proud Scotsman, who features in many an End-to-End trail journal, met us and made our day during our LEJOG, and as we walked down to there this morning (from a different direction this time) we could see a van parked at the side of the road. Passing thought was given as to whether it could be Ian, but as we got closer we could clearly see that it wasn't his camper.

What we didn't know was that Ian has changed his camper van in the last 2 years.

Great big mugs of tea were soon in front of us as we sat in the comfy seats inside, and an hour and a half passed in the blink of an eye.

We did still have a walk to complete, so as nice as it would have been to stay there chatting all day, we had to say farewell and off up the road we toddled.

Our route from Traquair to Peebles was exactly as we walked two years ago, but that didn't stop us dithering at length at the first junction we reached in the forest. We even remembered having the exact same dither before, but couldn't recall the outcome.

I guess we came to the same conclusion on both ocassions, as we ended up in the same place, that being on the edge of the forest looking up at Kailzie Hill. Mick recalled the pull up the hill as being a bit of a 'mare. As usual, my mind had blanked out any difficulty, and so it was a surprise to me when the first little bit was jolly steep as well as rough.

We've hit a better time of year for it, though, as the bracken has not yet grown and the vast nettle beds are only an inch or so high, so a pretty straight line could be taken.

The views from the top made the effort worthwhile and although the wind wanted me to stagger all over the place, the views remained fantastic as we made our way down the old drove road along the spur.

Arriving in Peebles, a bee-line was made for an outdoor shop to buy Tech-Wash and Tx Direct to restore the waterproofness of my jacket, then after a couple more pauses for shopping and lunch, out to the campsite we walked.

We're now pitched next to Ian who is staying here as well tonight so that he can very generously treat us to a home-cooked dinner. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the man is a Star of the First Order!

As for today's weather, there were a couple of showers worthy of note, but both came and went whilst we were supping tea with Ian at Traquair, so the rest of the day was fine and warm. Perfect conditions to enjoy the fine surroundings of this area.
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Day 34 - Hawick to Glengaber

Sunday 25 April
Disance: 19.5 miles (Tot: 579.75 miles)
Ascent: 5500' (some unnecesary!)
Number of electric shocks: 3

Well that wasn't a day that went entirely to plan!

It started off okay (except for the rain - the first time the waterproofs have been used in 23 days!), touring the outlying estates of Hawick to get ourselves back to the planned route. Despite being warrens, we managed successfully to get through the streets of houses (only being slightly waylaid by a half-naked man who called to us through the upstairs window of a house and wanted to give us something; "It's for hikers" he said "and you're hikers"; I've no idea what it was, we politely declined and moved on).

Leaving the urban area, and a bit of road walking later, we took ourselves up a slippery track. The heavy rain had abated by this time, and shortly after shedding our overtrousers (and establishing, as I had earlier suspected that my Paramo Velez smock is well overdue a proofing - I was quite damp), we saw three horse riders.

Those riders were significant, as if we hadn't seen them, we would have paid more attention to the bearing we needed to be following at that point. What we actually did was to make that ridiculous schoolboy error of thinking "they've just come down a path from the left, we want to go left, therefore that must be our path".

It was a while before we noticed the problem and some headscratching ensued to work out where we had gone wrong, and more to the point, where we were. Annoyingly, righting our wrong involved going back down a steep bank we'd just come up to return through a gate, to reascend the other side of the wall.

Getting ourselves to where we thought needed to be, things still weren't right. The forests were too close together to match where we thought we were. More headscratching and this time we were sure we knew where we were, so more corrective action was taken.

The corrective action involved a man-eating bog and some barbed wire (having negotiated both, Mick threw his poles to the floor whilst cursing strongly; it turned out he'd just realised that when he'd had a shoe faff a while before he'd left his gloves on the wall; I waited whilst he retrieved them).

Eventually we got to the end of a forest we had been handrailing, and all we needed to do was to head north for half a km, and we would be back on the right line, albeit having walked a good mile extra and over some pretty rough and lumpy terrain).

Three minutes later some more tree plantations came into view, and if we were where we thought we were, they shouldn't be there. Already writing the day off as the worst navigation we've ever achieved, we gave up on trusting the old fashioned methods and got the GPS out.

Happily for us, we were exactly where we thought we were. For some reason the Ordnance Survey has decided to omit those bits of woodland (which were certainly far older than the map) from its surveys.

Still vowing to pay more attention, onwards we went.

We managed quite a distance further until we next went awry (in between times being followed by a herd of overly inquisitive cows and, in my case, demonstrating the least elegant way to climb over a gate), although this time we had merely overshot our turn. I'd even noted as we passed where I thought we needed to turn, yet the turn was ignored in favour of the good track on the ground - another of those schoolboy errors.

A barbed wire fence was successfully surmounted and working out the best way to get back on track (figuratively speaking; over this section it was entirely track- and path-less), down to a gate we headed.

Arriving at the gate it became apparent that it was a wooden barrier rather than a gate, and over the top was a single strand of wire.
For the last couple of days we've been living in a world where electric fences have taken over from barbed wire, except that none of those fences have been live.

We didn't even think about the wire over which we needed to clamber being electrified until, climbing over together, we simultaneously exclaimed. Mick was had on his inner thigh, me on the back of my hand.

With showers being the weather of the day, we were constantly in and out of our waterproofs (put them on and the rain stops; take them off and it starts again), things went much better for a while, even if the much of the going was rough.

Then I got my second electric shock of the day. It was on our way up to what should have been our last col of the day, just after passing a positively Disney-esque castle/tower, and I just couldn't be bothered descending to a gate I could see just to regain the height on the other side, so being very careful I climbed the fence. My care was not as great as it should have been. Mick heard the 'crack' of the fence at the same time as my 'Ow - you bastard!'. It was my inner thigh this time.

The last col of the day turned out not to be the last. After a day of few breaks and much hard work, I was ready to stop (moreover my mind was unwilling to contemplate another 750' of ascent), but Mick was voting to pop over the col before finding water and a pitch.

Any whinging on the issue was prevented when we found the nearer side of the climb to be inhabited by a large herd of cattle which took great fright as we passed through. They didn't half stampede around those slopes, and not wanting to be caught under the hooves of marauding cattle, I suddenly found the energy to almost run up to the saddle between Peatshank Head and Glengaber Hill.

More rain swept in as we got to the top, and continued as we made our way down, searching the area for a suitable place to camp. We had to wander a bit of track to find somewhere without massive tussocks, but as is usually the case, something did turn up - and just at a break in the rain.

So, a hard day, with a good demonstration of how not to navigate, bit we got to where we wanted to be and we'll be paying more attention in future (honest...).
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Saturday, 24 April 2010

Campsite Chic

Mick here.

Snap of Gayle, on her way back from the laundry, demonstrating the latest in campsite fashion.

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Day 33 - Dod Burn to Hawick

Sat 24 April
Distance: 10 miles (Tot: 559.25 miles)

With such a short day ahead of us (I'm calling it a day off; Mick doesn't agree with that classification), I was lazy this morning, not getting out of my sleeping bag until an hour and a half after the alarm had gone off.

Once we did get going, climbing back out of the valley in which we had camped, it was a pleasant stroll indeed.

Our packs were light (little food, little water), and there was much evidence of ancient settlements and forts to interest us on the early parts of our amble.

The second half of the route I had plotted on the map looked very circuitous, with great detours being taken simply to avoid walking down the B road into Hawick.

The circuitous route was not needed though. On the ground, as we passed through a curious area that we guess was the location of an old army training camp, it became apparent that a much more pleasing, and much more direct route could be taken. Through sheep and lamb filled lush pasture land we went, then past a couple of reservoirs to pick up a minor road into Hawick.

As is usual in a town of a significant size, it took us quite a while to get to the other side, mainly today being distracted for a couple of hours by Morrison's coffee shop, which, after lunch, allowed Mick to read the paper and watch our bags whilst I stocked up on supplies for the next couple of days.

With hindsight, I wouldn't have planned to spend a night in Hawick, and would have walked on, as we seemed to have more than enough short days at the moment. However, that wasn't an option on the spur of the moment as we had a food parcel waiting for us at the campsite. So, a 2.5 mile walk out of our way (although not unpleasant, being along the river) was required to get to the campsite.

Still, it's a lovely afternoon to be sitting around. I've hand-washed all of our clothes (the washer being out of order) and it's now all hanging (knotted, in the absence of pegs) on the site washing line drying.
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Day 32 - Kershope Bridge to Dod Burn

Friday 23 April
Distance: 15.75 miles (Tot: 549.25 miles)
Number of dead sheep in and around Braidley Burn: 9

Last night was by far the warmest so far, and despite the threats that had materialised in the early evening, it was a peaceful one. The two factors combined served to give us our best tent-night's sleep yet (Mick woke up at 4am and realised he still had his earphones in - that's how well he was sleeping!).

Under overcast skies, we started the day with a walk into Newcastleton, where a cafe was found resulting in two big grins and a very early, not to mention quite substantial, second breakfast.

With only 3 miles covered in the first 2 hours of the day, things did then get faster, as we left the village and, after a while of following the road, took ourselves off up the driveway of a house.

With the track soon petering out, a few miles of pathless yomping were called for. Parts of those miles would, in most other months, have been almost endless bog-trotting, as evidenced by the bright green mossy stuff that signifies bogs. Our recent run of luck with the weather meant that those bogs were at worst a tiny bit moist (when I'm complaining later in the walk of great wetness, remind me how lucky we were at this point!). It also meant that the stream we were following, which looked like it should be quite substantial, was just a trickle.

It wasn't all easy going in the dryness. There were still tussocks and knots of grass to be negotiated, but we managed it without wet feet, and that was a bonus.

My drinking water was running low by the time we started climbing up towards a forest this afternoon, but I was glad not to have filled up in the lower reaches of Braidley Burn when we saw the number of dead sheep further upstream. In fact, it put me off filling up until we had passed clear of the sheep-inhabited area.

Once we had cleared the lower farmland, for the rest of the day it was hard to believe that we had started this morning just 5 metres away from England. Everything we could see this afternoon was big, empty and lumpy; from lunchtime no sign of habitation was within our view. It felt very Scottish, and that wasn't entirely expected so soon after entering the country.

Yomping uphill after lunch, we hit the forest on the ridge of Swire Knowe at the exact right point, but the path is not well trodden (and as a contrast to this morning's yomping was as wet as they come) so it wasn't entirely clear where to go. We muddled through, however, and managed to pop out the top edge of the forest in the right place too - and with a minimal amount of being smacked in the face by branches overgrowing what appeared to be the path.

Around the edge of the forest our legs once again got a workout, with bogs, heather, tussocks and knots, but we made pretty good time. In fact, it was only 4pm as we dropped down to Dod Burn.

Passing thought had been given to continuing on, but there was a nice flat-ish area next to a nice steam and it would have been a shame to pass it by.

Up went the tent and within minutes moisture was felt in the air. The moisture turned into rain and, not for the first time on this trip, we felt smug about our accidental excellent timing.

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Friday, 23 April 2010

Day 30 - Houghton to Kershope Bridge

Thursday 22 April
Distance: 20.5 miles (plus half mile lunch detour) (Tot: 533.5 miles)

A month to the day after setting off from St Margaret's at Cliffe, today we crossed the border into Scotland, in the process achieving our second end-to-end of England (and this a true one, as last time we strayed into Wales).

At the beginning of the day, it looked like that would be the only notable point. On paper, it looked like rather an uninspiring, positioning sort of a day.

The route on the map showed us on roads for the first 12 miles of the day, which is way more road work than on any other day of this walk so far.

Not relishing the thought of so much tarmac, the map was examined and a few footpaths over fields were identified. They didn't cut off any corners, but they did serve to save us from being on constant car look-out (and on our first lane of the day some of those cars were travelling rather too fast for comfort).

It soon became apparent that the footpaths north of Houghton aren't used a great deal. In fact, we found no sign of usage at all, and when we came to a stile that was blocked by a fallen tree, there was no hint that anyone else had forged a way under/round/over.

The going was far from easy either. The fields that looked so green and lush from a distance had been horribly rutted by cows when the ground was wet, and now those bumps and ruts have set solid. I did think I was just being a bit of a girl, making a meal of our passage, until Mick confirmed that it was harder going than it ought to be.

Much of the final four miles on road could have been avoided by taking a slightly longer route, but experience from the morning had suggested that such a route would be more trouble than it was worth. With the roads being quiet, we took that option.

The first vehicle to pass us on one particularly quiet lane was a Transit, partially converted to a camper van, and alongside us it stopped.

"Where are you going?" asked the driver and upon explaining he said "You'll not want a lift then", but after a bit of conversation he did suggest that if we didn't mind a half KM detour from the route then we could pop to his house for a cup of tea and some lunch.

What's the point of doing a walk like this if you're not going to be receptive to such offers? So telling him we would see him again in an hour he continued on his way, and so did we.

Exactly an hour later we arrived where Gordon had described, but had a bit of trouble locating his front door (it looking more like the door of a storage barn; a good chunk of his land also looked like a graveyard for old cars, caravans and trailers). Finally we did find him, and he wasted no time in spreading a picnic blanket out on the grass, and serving us with mugs of tea and steaming bowls of homemade thick vegetable broth.

The sky promptly clouded over the moment we arrived and the wind picked up, cooling the day down remarkably, but nevertheless we spent half an hour or so enjoying Gordon's hospitality.

With a good handful of miles still to go, we thanked him kindly for our unexpected and very tasty lunch and back off down his track we went.

We were now off road for almost all of the rest of the day, but with the route being through forestry, we were entering an unknown. Would the tracks be as shown on the map? Would we be walking through tall trees, without views?

The answer was, by way of a pleasant surprise, that all of the tracks were exactly as shown on the map, and with the trees being of various ages, complete with cleared areas, seldom did we find ourselves walking down a green corridor.

What we hadn't expected, however, was to find ourselves on a rally trial track.

When a man wearing a radio set up jumped out of his vehicle to ask us where we were going, we took the opportunity to ask what was going on. A Rally in the forest over the weekend, he answered, and having checked our route he confirmed that we weren't going to wander onto the track, albeit we may encounter some cars (as we already had by the time we met him).

I was curious as to how there could be cars whizzing around access land without there being a closure order displayed, and a while later, in a different part of the forest such a notice was found. It told us that the rally (Pirelli International Rally 2010) is taking place over the next two days during which the land will be closed for public access (good job we didn't have that rest day in Halifax then!) and that after 1700 today there would be a course recce going on.

It turned out that our route followed one of the stages almost perfectly, so it was a good job that we cleared the forest by 1615. It could have been a bit annoying to have to keep leaping out of the way of cars when walking through what you thought would be a carless area.

Only a matter of minutes after leaving the forest tracks, we crossed the Kershope Burn, which also marks the Scottish Border.

We're now pitched on the Scottish side of the river, having wandered up it far enough to be out of sight of the road. It was, perhaps, a laudable thought, but as it goes, one of the rally stages will go along the track on the other side of the river, and soon after we pitched the recce activity began. Dozens have cars have driven along, kicking up clouds of dust. I wonder if we're a curiosity to them?

Hopefully it will quieten down later, and we'll have the peaceful night that should be had in such a location.

(No sooner than I had typed that, five gobby lads, heavily laden, one with a case of beer, appeared on the track opposite, where the final rally sweep vehicle had just gone through. Our hearts sank as we heard "Shall we go and camp over there?". "How are we going to lug all this stuff across a river?" One of his companions answered. We remembered the barbed wire fence too and crossed our fingers that they would come up with an alternative plan. As they paused for five minutes, I was in fear of them pitching within earshot and partying all night. Then a car pulled up, they got in, and into the forest it went.)
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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Day 30 - beyond Sebergham to Houghton

Wednesday 21 April
Distance: 11.5 miles (Tot: 513 miles)
Number of red squirrels seen: 1
Number of fence-thwarted killer dogs: 2

Oh what a fine night we had last night! Rose Castle Farm shot right in to our top 3 favourite B&Bs in the UK. Aside from the glorious, deep, hot bath and the roaring fire, our stay featured the use of comfy chairs in a sitting room (which was where the fire was), an extraordinarily comfortable bed, fluffy dressing gowns, a massive and very tasty breakfast and some absolutely lovely friendly hosts, all in a fantastic building, sympathetically furnished with proper good and chunky farmhouse furniture. It's up there with Warren's Farm in Yeoford, Devon as one of those B&Bs that I wouldn't just recommend, but would go out of my way to return to.

Well rested and fully fuelled with breakfasts, we set out this morning under clear skies for an easy amble into Carlisle.

It turned out that the short-cut to get us back on route was feasible, so we didn't have to go back around the houses to return to the river, and after some field tracks we arrived in a village.

Borrowing the words of Gandalf, I said "I have no memory of this place". Everything that had come before was familiar, but even though I knew we must have walked this way four years ago, for a mile or so none of it rang any bells. Maybe last time we missed the path and took the road around, which would have been a good option today, as after getting distracted by the killer labs (and even Mick agreed they were far less than friendly) we missed our turn. A slight variation to our intended route saw us to where we needed to be.

There's not an awful lot to say about the walk from Dalston into Carlisle. It's a riverside walk mainly on a surfaced cycle path. It was on that section that a chap on a bicycle asked if we had just walked the Cumbria Way, and was rather surprised by our answer. After gawping at more bank erosion, where the footpath apparently went straight into the river, to emerge further down the bank (a new path is rapidly being trodden around) we made our way through the outskirts of Carlisle. The cycle path has been extended by a few hundred yards towards the centre, and on that section were two men with clip boards. I suspected, on clocking them, that we were about to be subjected to a questionnaire, and I wasn't wrong. It was quite funny really; the questionnaire was for Sustrans, and the questions really weren't suited to our journey!

Our journey from one side of Carlisle to the other took us the best part of 3 hours. First there was the supermarket, then there was the need to find a canister of gas, then there was Wetherspoons. The bar-tender (barmaid isn't the word to use these days, is it?) told us where we could find a barber and quite a wait ensued there before our lengthy locks got shorn back down to half an inch (me) and a quarter of an inch (Mick).

It was then just a stroll out to Houghton to complete our short day. After the lengthy stop in Carlisle, it didn't feel like a short day - I've many a time noticed that a slow-but-short day feels almost as tiring as a long-but-fast one.

We're now pitched up for the night on a little campsite, which is all caravans apart from us, enjoying the early evening sunshine before a chilly night sets in.

Other news from today is that our Help for Heroes fundraising took a tremendous boost, firstly from an exceptionally generous donation from Helen and Stephen at Rose Castle Farm, and then from Green Acres campsite donating half of the pitch fee.
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We've just seen a plane!
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Day 29 - Scales to beyond Sebergham

Tues 20 April
Distance: 19.25 miles (Tot: 501.5 miles; >50% complete)

After two days of hilliness I obviously thought, when I planned this walk, that the best thing to do today would be to throw in a 19 mile day with lots more ascent.

So, the day started with rather a sharp ascent up Mousthwaite Comb so that we could follow the River Glenderamackin up to the col between Blencathra and Bannerdale.

Blencathra (and Sharp Edge in particular) looked rather good in the fine weather, and on another day we would have been tempted to nip up to the top (bet Helvellyn's top was clear this morning too - Mick pointed out that we would have enjoyed that clarity if I hadn't cancelled our day off in Halifax).

Oh, but the windchill! A very brisk north westerly was blowing and I reckon that if we'd stood still for too long we would have become encased in two perfect ice cubes (in a cartoon style).

The wind got no better as we took a pathless yomp to descend down over Mungrisdale Common to the River Caldew, the (dry-footed) crossing of which proved more tricky than it looks from a distance.
In trying to find somewhere to hop from rock to rock, I did negate our efforts by giving my feet a good and proper dunking in any number of boggy areas. Can you believe that in 29 days of walking in non-waterproof, mesh topped shoes, that was the first time that my feet had got soggy-wet?

My legs had already objected to the first ascent of the day (they had no objections to the abuse of the last 2 days, but weren't so forgiving today), so they really weren't amused as we started up towards Lingy Hut. A pause was had low down for 3rd breakfast in an effort to give me a bit more energy, but it didn't really work and without Mick gently coaxing me up the hillside fifty double paces at a time, it's likely that some significant whinging would have occurred.

By the time we reached Lingy Hut my feet were rather cold in my wet socks and shoes (not helped by the wind whistling through the shoes), so we took advantage of the shelter of the hut to allow me to change into dry socks and my oversocks. I also took the opportunity to pop my long-sleeved top back on, as I knew that most of the rest of the day was either flat or downhill...

There was absolutely no good reason why we then went up High Pike. We could easily have gone around, but it was there, so we went up it, which was worthwhile not only for the views (Lakeland fells to the south, Solway Firth to the north, and more lumps beyond the Firth) but also because the effort got a bit of blood back into my feet. Our stay up there wasn't long; being blown all over the place we wasted no time in taking a few photos and moving on.

We almost raced down to Caldbeck, praying that the Old Smithy Tea Room would be open, although as insurance we did have elevenses on the way (after the effort of the last few days I was so hungry today that I reckon I could have eaten a whole horse and still have contemplated a pudding).

Despite Mick's best efforts to ensure the Tea Room would be closed (by fantasising out loud about what he would eat there), it was open and hot on our heels into the empty place were two other couples and a singleton. A good friendly atmosphere ensued as we all joined in conversation together.

Despite being first in, we were last out having enjoyed a generous amount of tea, scrambled eggs and beans on toast and huge slabs of rich fruit cake. That took the edge off my hunger for a while!

As we set out, I knew that the last seven miles of the day were pretty flat, alongside the River Caldew. I knew that because we were following the Cumbria Way, which we walked a few years ago and I definitely remember flatness.

My memory was deceiving me! That first mile and a half out of Caldbeck cerainly undulates. Fortunately it has been pretty dry of late, because otherwise (as we belatedly recalled) they would have been awfully muddy miles too. Happily for us, all of the churned up earth was at worst a bit squidgy.

We did reach the flat bits that I recalled, and found that yet more of the river bank has been washed away. It's surprising that the footpath still exists as in some places it's clear that its original line no longer exists, and in other places it's in immediate danger of being washed away.

About 4 miles beyond Sebergham, Rose Castle is a fantastic building that you can't miss from the Cumbria Way and I was delighted when looking for a B&B to find that Rose Castle Farm, next door to the 'castle' fitted the bill.

Getting excellent views of the Castle (although crenallated, it's not actually a castle; it's the residence of the Bishop of Carlisle and from the front looks to me like a priory) as we passed two sides of it, we arrived at the Farm, which is also a lovely building.

Things then didn't get off to a flying start when, due to our booking slipping the owner's mind, we found ourselves first searching the farmyard for one of the owners, and then sitting outside waiting. The best part of 45 minutes after arriving, we did get in before I got around to pitching the tent on the lawn!

Things have picked up since. I've wallowed in a deep, hot bath and we're now sitting in front of a roaring fire, looking forward to a lie-in preceding our short day tomorrow.
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Mick and Gayle in Dent

Photo coutesy of Melvyn and Diana at the excellent Stone Close Tea Room in Dent.
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Monday, 19 April 2010

Day 28 - Grisedale Tarn to Troutbeck (by Scales)

Monday 19 April
Distance: 12 miles (Tot: 482.25)
Ascent: about 5000'

Well that wasn't a bad day at all!

It was preceded by a night that felt warmer than any other on which we've camped on this trip so far (which was a bit unexpected given our altitude overnight). It was the cloud cover that did it.

It was also the cloud cover to blame for the sound of rain pattering on nylon as we woke up this morning, which didn't herald the type of day we were hoping for for our ridge walk.

Not put off, we were up and away at our usual hour (by which time the rain had stopped), climbing the man-made stone staircase that leads to Dollywagon Pike.

The main motorway of a path actually by-passes most of the tops, but we took a detour to the top of Dollywagon mainly bacause I've always liked the name.

I made a little bit of a meal regaining the path from there, but by and by we did make it up Nethermost Pike, and with the odd hint of brightness breaking through the gloom we could only hope for a miracle lifting of the cloud in the next half an hour.

Alas, it wasn't to be. As I stood atop Helvellyn for the first time in 25 years, we could see nothing except each other and the long line of a cornice of the last remaining snow.

With the temperature up there being somewhere below 'very cold' (and with windchill added in somewhere below 'very very cold'), we didn't tarry long on the deserted summit (bit of a contrast to the last time I was up there during Spring Bank holiday week 1984 (or 5) when the skies were clear and the summit was teeming).

We were really careful with the next bit of the navigation as we didn't want to find ourselves overshooting the turn we needed to take on Lower Man, as to do so would see us descending in completely the wrong direction.

Still in dense cloud, we paid attention to our timings, noted when we needed to turn (which was pretty much in the right place, as it turned out) and yet still got lured in the wrong direction by the good path! Fortunately we hadn't gone more than a hundred yards when I realised we had overshot so off uphill we headed and by the time we got to the right place the cloud broke and we could see clearly our route ahead. That's also when the first snow started to fall (alternating with frozen rain and hail - but at least none of it got us wet!).

The climb up the next lump got the blood through to my fingers again, and I was positively glowing by the time we paused for elevenses on Raise - where we cooled down a bit too much. Good job there was another hill to warm us up!

It was after Raise, at Stick's Pass that we saw the first people of the day. All those other summits all to ourselves - which wasn't overly surprising given it was so early on a murky Monday morning.

We didn't need to go to the top of either Stybarrow Dodd or Watson's Dodd, as paths by-passed each, but having visited every other top on our day's route it seemed a shame to miss these out. Plus, the day had cleared remarkably by the latter hill and we had fine views of seemingly endless tops.

Great Dodd was our last top of the day, and once there attention was needed again as the obvious direction down was not where we needed to go.

By the time we were by Wolf Crags, quite low on our descent, our stomachs were rumbling and finally the day had warmed up enough to contemplate stopping. Down we plonked ourselves with a good view and out came lunch.

For a while we contemplated what might be going on on Threlkeld Common, as there seemed to be a number of groups of people walking around with odd items.

The answer came when a chap came down the hillside right behind us (he'd just popped up in his lunch break to touch the snow) and in chatting we found out that they were geography students from Durham University using ground penetrating radar and taking core samples to examine the geology of the bowl. The chap who happened upon us was Josh and in making a donation to H4H he won the award for the most bizarre location of a donation. We've certainly had donations on hills before, but on this ocassion we were no-where near a path and on really quite a steep slope. It turned out that Josh had seen us there and figured that we had taken a good route of descent (what he didn't know was our history of taking ridiculous descent routes!).

After a lengthy chat Josh had to go to rejoin his group who were laying out the radar thingumy, and we had a few more miles to walk.

Having surveyed the ground below over lunch, the decision had been reached that the direct route across the Common would be as good as any and so with the sun now (finally) beating down on us, yomping and bog-trotting we went.
Reaching enclosed fields by some farm buildings we were met with a number of 'no path' signs, which left us with a bit of an issue as to how to rejoin the RoW. A bit of discreet trespass was the answer.

By the time we were on the road to the campsite there was barely a cloud to be seen and every single top was clear. Don't you just hate it when that happens? (And, clear skies = another cold night, I guess).

It's another C&CC site we're at tonight, and this one charged us full price. It's not cheap, but the facilities are good - I don't think I've ever had a better shower on a campsite. The laundry facilities have been used too (and I've sworn that I'll not wash all of the clothes in one go by hand again!), so we'll be notably less smelly when we set out in the morning too.
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Atop Raise

Been over Dollywagon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Lower Man and White Side and now the cloud has finally lifted we can see something of our surroundings. 'Tis snowing on and off, mind.
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Day 27 - Staveley to Grisedale Tarn

Sunday 18 April
Distance: 16.25 miles (Tot: 470.25 miles)
Ascent: 4700' (per Anquet); 5000' (per Mick's watch)

Last night didn't feel as cold as all of those that preceded it, but that was deceptive (and perhaps based on a huge meal and a hot shower in a heated shower block before bed) as we awoke this morning to frost on the tent again.

Making use of the excellent backpacker's cabin meant that we could swing our arms around as we packed away, although the leisure to pack simultaneously didn't seem to speed us along, so it was our usual hour of 7.30 by the time we set out.

Reaching Staveley, lanes, tracks and paths (with a bit of the A591, which was reasonably quiet on this Sunday morning) took us north-west towards Ambleside.

The track from Town End to Ambleside gave us fantastic (if hazy) views of the fells and down to Windermere such that there was undoubtedly quite a high 'photos per mile' ratio along that section - although nothing compared to this afternoon.

Reaching Ambleside provided us with a re-stocking point not just for food but also for a new pair of X-socks for Mick. One of his pairs (quite an aged pair, not new for this trip) has sprung a hole where a hole should not be, so a replacement was needed.

Having run around all of the necessary shops (I always find that getting the right selection of groceries in Ambleside involves visiting both the Co-op and the Spar, and finding X-Socks was even more of a challenge), the final thing we needed to do before leaving town was to have a massive meal. Because a massive meal is exactly what you want immediately before heading steeply uphill...

It was always clear that this was going to be a day of two contrasting halves. The morning was a nice easy amble, with views giving a taster of what was to come, whereas the afternoon saw us leave the low levels we've stuck to so far and head up, up and up.

I struggled a little on the lower reaches of Heron Pike until finally I decided the answer was to remove my jacket. I may have been a bit chilly on the downhills and flat bits, but a t-shirt was all that was needed for the climbs.

Once in my stride the walk was not difficult on the motorway of a path that leads over Heron Pike, Great Rigg and Fairfield and as a contrast to the last couple of days over fields, navigation was not required. In such good visibility (and it was good indeed today) even the most navigationally challenged couldn't have gone astray.

How to describe that walk though? I'm not sure there are superlatives to do it justice. The skies may not have been blue (in fact the light was very grey), but visibility allowed us to see the sea and every hill and lake in between.

Even better, having not left Ambleside until gone 1pm, the stream of people coming down the ridge thinned the further up we went, and by Lake District standards I wouldn't say it was busy.

Gaping at the views, we made our way up to our high-point of the day - Fairfield at 873 metres. Our luck with the weather ran out at that point. We still had views to the south and west, but low cloud was covering the tops to the north and east, and as we reached the summit so the cloud came down upon us.

With the temperature collapsing, all of the layers went back on before we ignored our intended descent route and headed down a horrible eroded path to Grisedale Hause (despite the horrible scree-ish surface (or lack of a surface really) Mick managed to stay on his feet the whole way down; I didn't).

By the start of our descent the cloud had started depositing hail on us, and just as we pitched by the outflow stream of Grisedale Tarn the rain started. It was good timing (and we had made far better time over the tops than I had expected), as we dived into the tent whilst still dry.

Fingers crossed that the cloud has passed through by morning, leaving us with clear tops as we tackle the Helvellyn Ridge.
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Saturday, 17 April 2010

Day 26 - by Sedbergh to by Staveley

Sat 17 April
Distance: 17.5 miles (Tot: 454 miles)

Something very noteworthy happened today: we finally ate the lunch that we took with us from home down to Dover four weeks ago. We intended to eat it on Day 1, but we found a pub instead, and then everyday since we've found either an eatery or we've found something fresh to have instead and thus that first lunch has remained in our packs (call ourselves lightweight, eh?!). With no shop, no pub, no cafe and a definite need for lunch today, we investigated the state of the oat cakes, found them still largely in one piece and enjoyed them in the sunshine with tins of fish.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself, and what you all want to know (surely?) is whether we opted to freeze our feet off by wading the river this morning.

Well it was something of a cold night (by the fact that I keep mentioning cold nights you may gather that my sleeping bag is a bit too light for the conditions). With a heavy frost, we both found ourselves getting dressed in the middle of the night (preceded in my case by the best part of an hour lying awake contemplating the fact that I wasn't warm enough and yet reluctant to emerge from my sleeping bag to do anything about it). So, after a night of chilliness, I didn't much fancy more coldness by plunging into a river.

As a result of the detour (which wasn't on road - we found that the farm on which we stayed last night has a permissive path which led us to a bridleway, which led us to a footpath and avoided the roads nicely), an hour after setting out we were less than half a mile from the campsite as the crow flies.

Things didn't get much faster as at that point I needed a major layer-faff and so called for second breakfast. What we failed to notice, until we stood up to continue, was the sheep giving birth behind us. We opted not to disturb goings on in the maternity suite and took a bit of a detour to go around.

There were quite a few people around today (probably because it's Saturday), and the surroundings were once again lovely. A bit of riverside walking was interspersed into the crossing of lots of lush farmland (sheep and bouncing lambs have been keeping us amused for days now), which led to a continuous game of 'spot the stile'. I don't know who designed some of those stiles, but I'm sure they had someone 8 feet tall as their model user.

Lunch was had in a nice sheltered vantage point next to the train line by Beckhouses, whereafter things became a bit of a game of leapfrog as we bunched up with some other walkers.

One of those walkers was a chap called Dennis with whom we walked down towards the crossing point of the A6, after he had hurried up behind us to give a donation to H4H.

There was a change of plan for the late afternoon, as I had noticed at lunchtime that not overly far off our route was a campsite. By the wonders of mobile internet I was able to confirm that it does exist, and thus rather than having to kill time until sundown and heading for our not-very-wild-and-potentially-a-bit-dodgy night-stop we re-routed to the campsite. My only annoyance was that I hadn't spotted it last night; if I had, we would have set out significantly earlier this morning.

It being a C&CC campsite (Windermere C&CC apparently), we had visions of charges akin to the £24 asked at Keswick in February. Arriving here we found it to have better facilities than Keswick (even if it is a lengthy walk up to the showers) and the wardens Maureen & Gerald donated half of the (reasonably priced) pitch fee to H4H.

Even better, there's a bar/eatery on site (funny how the things that would put me off a site ordinarily become an attraction when doing a long walk), so we've been able to have a proper meal, not to mention a small pint of beer.
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Friday, 16 April 2010

Day 25 - Gayle Moor to by Sedbergh

Friday 16 April
Distance: 14 miles? (Tot: 436.5)
Number of killer alpacca: 2
Number of killer dogs: 1

I don't want to make any complaints about the current run of weather and would love for it to continue - but it doesn't half cause some cold nights. By the time we pitched last night the sky had cleared again and by the middle of the night it was decidedly nippy.

It wasn't an overly comfortable night for me either. The pitch had seemed so good until I lay down to find that not only did I have a lump on my side of the tent, but we were on a slight slope too.

I still managed to drag myself out of the sleeping bag this morning and in spite of the temperature we managed to get one more cup of tea apiece out of a near-empty gas canister (took a while, mind!) and by 8am we were yomping through dew-laden grass to pick up the Ribble Way.

Within a mile we were back on the Dales Way, and it was a road walk for 3 miles (we had two sizeable road sections today, which has been unusual in this walk).

The general theme of the day was more riverside walking, which was as pretty and as clear as the previous two days, but with more bird-life today (or maybe I was just paying more attention).

There was an exception to the riverside walking, when we went very slightly up the valley side, through farms and through a forest that has been recently felled and is just being replanted, so it's now a forest of stakes sporting green mesh sappling-protectors.

In between two chunks of such forest, a small field had to be crossed, and that field contained two massively fluffy alpacca. Mick got across unscathed, but upon seeing me they both ran straight at me. "Like being charged by a teddy bear" was how Mick described it.

About 8 miles through the day the river suddenly disappeared. That is to say, we were still walking alongside its bed, which had become bouldery, rather than its earlier state of stone slabs, but the river was apparently running under those boulders. When it did reappear it was hard to believe that so much water could have been hiding!

Arriving in the lovely village of Dent just after 11.30 we did things a little out of order by walking past the shop where we needed provisions in order to find the public conveniences, then on the way back to the shop we fell into Stone Close Cottage Tea Room. In a village that seems to have more than a generous sprinkling of pubs and tea rooms, we made a good choice: pleasing interior, excellent food (just wish I could have fitted in the chowder too - it smelt fantastic!) and nice owners.

Tummies full, we set out back the way we had come, as we still needed to visit the village store, but an hour and a half after entering the village, and on our fourth pass through it, we did manage to leave.

Beyond Dent there was a noticeable change in our surroundings again. As well as bigger hills imposing over us, the immediate scenery changed from the typical dales scenes that were with us until Dent, to less distinctive pasture-land.

According to the itinerary, and taking into account the extra distance we walked yesterday, today should have been 16 miles long. However, a quick tot-up at lunch time told me that we had walked the best part of 9 miles and only had about 5 to go. Now, I know that I can be a bit stupid when it comes to simple arithmetic, but that seemed to give us an unexpectedly short day.

No bad thing, though. Not only was I tired today (in contrast to yesterday when I felt fit and strong enough to climb any mountain) but we had campsite chores to do so arriving early was good. With the sun beaming down, the washing is drying nicely on the fence as I type.

Alas, on the way to the campsite we discovered that the disused rly bridge, which we had hoped to use to get us back on route tomorrow, so as to avoid a 2 mile road walk via the nearest road bridge, is not usable. It's not just the 'private property' signs preventing us from nipping across (it's only about 50 feet across to join a footpath one side with the Dales Way the other), but the massively tall palings liberally strewn with balls of barbed wire. They *really* don't want us to cross the river that way.
The choice we have now is whether to go for the 2-mile walk around, or whether to start the day with freezing legs by wading the river. It looks safe enough to do, but it's wide - and awfully cold for a nesh bird like me.

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Day 24 - beyond Grassington to Gayle Moor

(Delayed posting due to lack of phone signal)

Thurs 15 April
Distance: 19.5 miles (Tot: 422.5 miles)
Number of rabbit carcasses: dozens

What were you doing on this day in 2008? I know what we were doing. We had just completed the first day of our LEJOG walk, and had done so in stunning weather. Little did we know at the time that 2 years later we would be nearly half way up the country on our second end-to-end.

But back to the present: we enjoyed a bit of a lie-in this morning (intentional this time!), and so the sun had risen high enough to hit the tent before we packed away, and it was 8am before we stepped out onto the moors for another cracking day in cracking surroundings.

With jaws almost literally agape the loveliness of our surroundings (typical dales scenes with the valley bottoms and lower sides being divided neatly with dry stone walls and with a healthy scattering of immaculate stone built barns) we made our way towards Kettlewell.

The morning may have been sunny, but it was also spectacularly cold in that headwind, so our packs were lighter as we wore everything warm (I even broke the buff out for the first time). Dropping out of the wind, a slight warmth of the sun was felt but the real warming was had in the tea-room in Kettlewell. Following LondonBackpacker's tip yesterday, as we topped up provisions in the village store, we likely would have indulged in bacon/egg sandwiches, except the tea room had cunningly made its presence known by putting an advertising board on the approach into the village. Needing to kill a little time during the day so as not to arrive at our night-stop too early, a sit down with a cup of tea seemed like a good plan.

The tea-room was deserted as we entered, but we timed our arrival well as within a quarter of an hour there was not a seat to be had (the arrival of Seven Platoon from an Army Training Academy (in matching logoed gear) and their instructors particularly swelling the numbers). An hour, multiple cups of tea and full-cooked breakfasts later, and we had to concede that we couldn't bask in the warmth of the sun streaming through the window for ever, so back out we stepped.

Quite a few of D of E-esque groups were seen, although it took Mick to convince me that it wasn't the same group we kept seeing (going in circles, I thought) as each one had one person out of the six or seven who had a pack on his back and a tent in his hand. Didn't strike us as being a comfortable way to carry a tent over any distance.

Riverside walking then became the order of the day for a few hours, with the riverside being much quieter today. Even with fewer people around we did have one chap pass us as we faffed only to double back a few seconds later to thrust money into my hand with an apology that it was all he had on him. We thanked him kindly and after a brief chat our paths diverged.

Passing Hubberholme at half past noon a pub threw itself directly in our path such that it would have been rude to ignore it. After our huge, late breakfasts we weren't in need of food, but did pop in for a sit down and some pop. A nice pub (can't remember its name), but it was a bit like being back at school in that you had to go to the barman to ask if you could go to the toilet (the toilets are outside, across a yard and to prevent people weeing unlawfully they keep them padlocked. The key will only be released to paying customers).

Even though the day had clouded over, we couldn't complain about the afternoon as once again our surroundings were first class. We had noticed how clear the river was yesterday afternoon, and this afternoon it wasn't just clear but packed with interesting geological features, like the rock beds featuring perfect round basins which have been eroded into the rock.

Except for a trio out picnicking in deckchairs and wrapped up against the cold ("We're not mad", they shouted across to us), we were on our own and so we continued for some miles until we were on the track along Oughtershaw Beck, when another D of E group was met as well as a few workmen.

Heading up out of the end of that valley we met up with the Pennine Way at a cairn that I clearly remember from when we passed it 2 years ago. On that day we saw absolutely nothing from within half an hour of setting out from Horton until the following day, after we left Gayle. By contrast today was beautifully clear, so we got to see the views that we had previously missed.

Even better were the views from higher vantage point of Gayle Wolds, where there were hills all around in the near distance as well as definite lumpy things in the far distance to the North West.

We were ready to find somewhere to pitch by that time, but it turned out to be easier said than done. A pathless yomp had been taken up to Gayle Wolds, where there were any number of suitable pitches (and quite a few patches of snow), but no running streams (admittedly we were right at the top of those streams, so perhaps not surprising they were dry in the recent spell of weather). Considering our options, we continued a way, chose a stream and followed it down until it started to run convincingly. The problem then was a lack of flat and level ground. We did come up trumps after a bit of poking around. We're pitched by the confluence of two small streams, well hidden from the nearby farm and road and with views to be enjoyed. As a side effect we've also walked further than intended today, making tomorrow shorter (tomorrow we end at a campsite, so an early finish is welcome so that some washing (of us and of clothes) can be done).

(Other stuff: Thanks to everyone who confirmed the pronounciation of Appletreewick. My guess had been 'Appletrick', but it seems I wasn't missing out enough letters.)
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Thursday, 15 April 2010

Cold, but very fine

There must be worse places to wake up ...
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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Day 23 - Ilkley to beyond Grassington

Wed, 14 April
Distance: 19 miles (Tot: 403 miles)
Number of other people out: about 4000

Once again our public transport trip back to yesterday's end point didn't go entirely to plan. We seem to be jinxed, but this being the last time in the walk that we plan to do any such shuffling back and forth, it shouldn't happen again.

Thanks to the problems we had, it was 10am before we strode out of Ilkley, towards the River Wharfe, which we were to follow for the next 17 miles.

With Addingham being so close after Ilkley, it seemed to take a long time to get away from civilisation, but by and by we did get out of the sight of houses and quite lovely it was too.

It was north of Addingham, just after we had passed a restored Quaker Meeting House and just as we were ascending a stile, that someone asked whether we were walking the Dales Way. A chat ensued with a very nice group of people from Lincolnshire, who set out from Ilkley this morning to walk the length of the Dales Way (three of whom we had already encountered as they backtracked in search of a missing walking pole). A big thank you goes to Eileen, Ron, Ann, Christine, Terry and Tony for their generous contributions to Help for Heroes. It was a pleasure to meet you all and I hope your trip was a good and successful one.

The remains of Bolton Abbey (which looked good with the blue-skied backdrop) came into view well before we reached them, but at that point we didn't appreciate how far up the river the grounds extended (miles!), and how popular that riverside section would be. Admittedly today was a glorious day during school holidays, but if it was that busy on a Wednesday in April, then what must it be like on a summer bank holiday? There was picknicking, paddling, rubber-dinghying, playing and relaxing going on - and what a good setting for all of it.

Having been powering along (struggling to get past some ignorant women on a narrow path who knew we were behind them but seemed intent to make us walk at their pace) we weren't paying a great deal of attention to our progress, so it was a surprise to me when we found ourselves at Appletreewick (which seemed like an excellent location for an afternoon break). It was an equal surprise to Mick to learn how many miles we still had to go (that's the downside of late starts).

Incidentally, does anyone know whether Appletreewick is pronounced as it's written?

Grassington was reached at 5pm and a brief sojourn followed in the Black Horse, chatting on our way in to a quartet of Americans who are setting out tomorrow on the Inns Way. Having refreshed ourselves with pop and topped up with water (our bags were already heavy today with six evening meals apiece; with three litres of water added they became groan-worthily heavy), we were on our way again when Jacqui caught up with us to donate all of the money she had in her pockets. That brought our total donations for the day to £19, and we far exceeded any previous record of individual donations in a single day.

With new smiles on our faces we took ourselves out of the village (nice little place, Grassington) and uphill onto Grassington Moor, which was quite a contrast (and a pleasing one at that) to the rest of today's terrain. Unfortunately, what it gives in its scenery and rugged appearance it lacks in flat pitches, so there's some bumpityness going on under the tent tonight!

After such a fine day (gloriously sunny, but seldom warm enough in that north-easterly wind to take hat or gloves off), I think it's going to be another chilly night in Susie.

(As a complete aside to all that, anyone who is paying close attention to the itinerary may have noticed that we were due a day off a couple of days ago. We decided that we didn't need that day, but so as still to stay with Ma-in-Law for two nights, as planned, we did the unplanned shuffle back and forth from Ilkley. That puts us a day ahead of ourselves for the moment. We'll likely take it in due course.)
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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Day 22 - Denholme to Ilkley

Tuesday 13 April
Distance: 14 miles (Tot: 384 miles)
Number of hats in our possession whilst walking over Ilkley Moor: 4

Arriving back in Denholme at 7.25 this morning, Mick broke all previous records for the earliest 2nd breakfast when, as he paused outside a bakers for a shoe-faff, I popped in and bought him a sausage bap.

With Mick suitably fuelled we headed out through a housing estate which has been built since my map was charted, and onto farmland that would have been green had it not been sporting a good covering of white by virtue of last night's heavy frost.

The sun streaming through the high arches of Hewenden Viaduct was a fine sight, matched by the perfect reflections in the still surface of the adjacent reservoir. As much as viaducts are more impressive when viewed from below, we both fancied walking over it, but it wasn't until we were immediately below that I looked at the more detailed map and found that there is a permissive route over the top which we could have taken. We'll just have to return another day to appreciate that view.

Within a short distance (and not before christening my new shoes by plunging a foot deeply into a boggy area) we were exclaiming on how lovely our surroundings were, and so they continued for much of the day. It may not have qualified as spectacular, but with the streams (sometimes tumbling and falling) and delightful woodland, with some wonderfully uneven paths, festooned with root/stone obstacles, it was all certainly lovely.

By the time we joined the Leeds and Liverpool Canal (7th canal of the trip) for a very short distance, the sky had clouded over and not long after there was moisture being felt in the air. That wasn't ideal, given that we had not expected rain and thus Mick had no waterproof jacket with him and I had no waterproof trousers.

It was only the slightest hint of moisture, though, so clinging to the hope that it wouldn't amount to anything, we put all our layers back on (with the sun gone and that northerly wind blowing it had turned rather parky again) and turned off into Shipley Glen to enjoy some more delightful woodland.

We ignored our plotted route at this point as a very nice path seemed to be going in the right direction, and it turned out to be a good choice.

It was then but a bit more farmland before we were heading up onto the moors.

By the time we were up there we were in the cloud, it was jolly nippy and that bit of moisture in the air had developed into light rain. That rain was an annoyance to me as, giving my eyes a break from continuously wearing contact lenses, I had my glasses on, so the world was soon obscured by rain drops. Fortunately, it didn't amount to enough to make us rue our lack of full waterproof cover (good job I re-proofed Mick's windshirt before we left home, mind).

Having passed over Ilkley Moor with hats most decidedly in place, we met the masses on Ilkley Crags and on our descent into Ilkley, passing the White Wells bath house on the way (the cafe at which was, unsurprisingly, not open).

With spectacularly good timing we arrived at the train station in Ilkley (at 1.15pm - a nice easy short walk today) with just enough time to buy tickets before stepping straight onto a train, which (with a walk and a pause in Bradford) took us back to Halifax.

I had some errands to run in the town, and it turned into a pleasing couple of hours. Firstly there were the very friendly staff in H Samuels who chatted as they changed my watch battery, and then donated the charge to Help for Heroes (thank you Kirsty!). The next task, on the way to the barbers, was to see if I could get internet access in the library so that I could order some more socks. Jean on the Customer Services desk was extraordinarily helpful, and even though I don't live in Calderdale had me signed up with a library card in no time, giving me the same access as locals to their internet facilities (up to 2 hours at a time). Socks were soon bought (I resisted the new Montane Venture Jacket, at a very good price, which Mick was egging me on to buy), and I was impressed with the library service and facilities.

Alas, I failed in the hair cut. The only barber I know of in the town was closed, so the hair will have to wait another while yet.

All in all, a very pleasing day.

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Another Shoddy Day...

Second waterfall of the day and it's not even 8.30 yet. And there's not a cloud in the sky either.

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Monday, 12 April 2010

Day 21 - Marsden to Denholme

Mon 12 April
Distance: 19 miles
Number of shoe-faffs: 84 (all mine bar one)

There was a definite nip in the air as we were dropped off in Marsden at 0730 this morning, to counter which we headed out of the town uphill, which certainly got our lungs working and blood pumping.

I'm sure that there are spectacular views as you look back down towards Marsden, but we weren't to have the benefit of them today. The cloud was right down and looked like it was going to take quite a while to burn off. And so it was with mystery surroundings that we made our way across Slaithwaite Moor (I made the mistake yesterday of pronouncing Slaithwaite as it looks. After he stopped laughing at me, Phil told me the correct pronounciation (which may have been 'slough-it', but do correct me if I'm wrong).

As many will know, the lie of the land in this area is steep sided valleys, such that it would be difficult to go for a walk of any significant length without encountering at least one pull up a killer hill. We had many today, but the real extreme angle of ascent was up from Deanhead Reservoir where work was in progress on the dry stone walls (must be the season for it - we've seen quite a bit of walling going on during this past week).

The height we had huffed and puffed to gain was soon lost as we made our way down to the M62, to cross at the farmhouse that sits in the central reservation, between the two carriageways (and I'm sure that anyone who is familiar with the M62 will know where I mean).

We hit Ripponden just before 11, and adjudged that it was worth the detour to find a cafe - which was easier said than done as not everywhere that advertises itself as a tea-room in Ripponden actually trades as a tea-room.

Leaving Ripponden a while later I thought that the route I had planned was the same as we had taken with Martin ( last June. As we walked it we realised that our plan involved almost no repetition of that route. It seems that the paths (of the hundreds of paths in this area) I had picked from the map were not those we had previously trodden, even though that had been my intention. Our route may have been slightly more circuitous in some places, but was more direct in others, and in one place we decided that to avoid some unnecessary ascent we would switch to Martin's route for a wee while.

In amongst all of the route changes (we made many refinements today) we would likely have paused for lunch, except that elevenses had been so substantial that lunch seemed superfluous.

More pulls up hills (one not steep, but seemingly endless) and an interesting tour through a housing estate put us next to Mixenden Reservoir. One of the interesting (or perhaps counter-intuitive is a better description) reservoirs in the area, this one is D shaped, with the entire semi-circle of the shape being a dam. They must really have been desperate to put a reservoir there, as it seemingly wasn't an area naturally suited to the purpose.

The woodland around the reservoir is surrounded by tall concrete defences (Mick tells me that there used to be quite a problem of cars being dumped in the reservoir), and we likely would not have spotted the entrance to the start of the path except that we saw a woman disappearing through the wall. Following her we found the point where the wall overlaps itself, but the gap was so tight that Mick had to take his pack off to squeeze through.

At Ogden Water we would have stopped for a break, except by that time we realised that we were cutting it a bit fine for the bus we wanted to catch from Denholme (the buses being once per hour we really didn't want to miss it just by a few minutes). The turn of events meant that we did pause there long enough to consume an ice cream and to have a chat with the woman manning the Visitor Centre, and by the time we left we had 1 hour to cover 2.5 miles.

Not an issue, you may think, but add in uneven terrain, a bit of uphill and a lot of navigating through fields, whilst wearing backpacks, and we knew that we really were at risk of having to loiter at a bus stop for 55 minutes.

Well, we must have almost run those last 2.5 miles! With Pacerpoles under my arms, map in one hand and compass in the other, we powered along and made such good time that we arrived with 15 minutes to spare.

From Denholme a short bus ride had us arrive a Ma-in-Law's house where many cups of tea were waiting for us (not to mention two pairs of new shoes) followed by a fantastic dinner.

As for the shoe faffs: during the first two weeks, I found that I was constantly taking off one shoe or the other to remove pieces of grit, and rued not having taken my mini-gaiters with me (the ones designed for trail shoes). So, I thought I would pick them up whilst I was at home. For reasons I really can't explain, when at home I had those gaiters in my hand and spuriously decided that I didn't need them. As a result, I'm still having to take one shoe or the other off at least six times a day...

(Richard - I remembered that the area around Marsden was your old walking area (for the benefit of others: Richard is my reader in New Zealand). Absolutely stunning, isn't it? Particularly on a sunny day.
Carol - Hello! - and thanks for your comment. Always nice to hear from someone I didn't know was reading, and glad you're enjoying my witterings!
Robin - thank you for not jinxing our weather. Did you have a good trip with equally good weather? I look forward to reading about it on your blog when I get back.)

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Day 20 Postscript

Whilst paused in Ripponden for elevenses this morning (which, unusually, fell before 11 as we had omitted 2nd breakfast) I had to re-read what I'd written last night as I was so tired as I wrote it that I feared that it said no more than "went for a walk past some reservoirs". I'm pleased to see that I managed to string together a few more words than that, but I did miss out a couple of notable points.

If you were to go way back to the post I made last September announcing the route that we intended to take on this walk you'll see that I said that as we touched the Pennine Way at Wessenden Head we would pause for an egg bap and a cup of tea at the snack wagon on the main road there.

Mick positively rushed up the hill once that van came into view, but it proved that our usual tea-room jinx was holding firm. The hatch was closed and we were advised that they'd sold out of everything except cold drinks. They were just packing everything up to leave.

With just a chocolate bar out of our rations with which to console ourselves (I dropped my half on the floor but wasn't going to forego it, so brushed it off and ate it anyway), we continued on our way (where John belatedly noticed that when he'd bought a bottle of pop from the van he'd been underchanged by a fiver).

It was at the snack van that we had our first (but not our last) convergence with our LEJOG route. For the next three and a half miles, into Marsden, we followed the exact same route as we did 2 years ago, except that just outside of Marsden John decided that rather than taking the road we were much better trying to kill our knees with a long flight of steps. It was the sort of flight where you wouldn't want to stumble on the top step if you wanted to make it to the bottom in one piece. It was also deceptive, as from the top you could only see the top two-thirds of the flight; the bottom third, being much steeper than the top part, was hidden from view until we got there. Our knees groaned again!

All else to be said about yesterday is a huge thank you to Phil, Rosa and Megan for the transport, hospitality and use of their facilities (and to Cathy for the use of her room in her absence). We enjoyed being spoiled to such an extent!

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Sunday, 11 April 2010

Day 20 - By Hingcliffe Hill to Marsden

Sunday 11 April
Distance: 16 miles (Tot: 351 miles (that's more than 33% complete!))

A somewhat nippy night was had, which was perhaps predictable after our day of fine weather and given that we were camping at the bottom of quite a steep sided valley, and rising just after 6am it started to feel even colder as a mist descended, obliterating our surroundings.

The mist was shortlived, and by the time all five of us were setting off at 7.45 everything was starting to come into focus, although it didn't show much promise for the forecast glorious day.

Having ended yesterday somewhere slightly different (and undoubtedly far superior) to where originally planned, a bit of rerouting saw us back on track just beyond Langsett Reservoir this morning. A quick yomp on an obvious footpath took us across fields (and under power lines which Richard will be pleased to know were exactly where they should have been!) to join the Trans Pennine Trail, which gave swift passage (it being (at this point a disused railway line) to Winscar Reservoir, where a leisurely second breakfast was had.

The blue skies opening up above us convinced all of us that within minutes it was going to be a scorching day, so off we all stripped, only to find that the breeze was a bit keener than we had thought and thus although the day was gorgeous, at no point did I feel as hot as I did yesterday (incidentally, I have a glowing beacon in the middle of my face, thanks to putting suncream everywhere except my nose yesterday).

We're well and truly into reservoir country now, so after Langsett and Winscar we passed Riding Wood, Ramsden, Brownhill, Digley, Wessenden Head, Wessenden and Butterley reservoirs on the way to Marsden, although not without stopping at the Fleece Inn at Holme to refresh ourselves at lunchtime.

Reaching Marsden our numbers decreased as Dave and John departed for their trains home, having enjoyed (or perhaps they were just being polite and they meant 'endured'?) their weekend of walking with us in stunning conditions. Phil's time walking with us is also over (work tomorrow for all three of them), but he and his family are kindly putting us up tonight, so having paused briefly in another pub, Phil's wife Rosa arrived to transport us to their house, where we have enjoyed an enormous and mightily tasty tea.

So, tomorrow we're back down to the two of us, and unless anyone's going to surprise us along the way, as far as we're aware we're on our own now for the whole of the rest of the distance.