York to Edinburgh (by accident)

A guest post by Joe "Joseph D. Martin" Martin

Prologue: The Best-Laid Schemes
September 19, 2018: Cambridge to Inverness York

 “This train will terminate at York.”

Shit.

This is not a sentence you want crackling from a PA system when it’s 3:30 p.m. and you’d planned to make it to Inverness by suppertime. Yet here we are, terminated at York. Gales are lashing Scotland and northern England. Overhead lines are down. Some maniac has managed to smash up a Peugeot on the tracks near Berwick-upon-Tweed. No trains will reach Inverness until the next morning, if then.

Joe hatches a demented scheme. A hired car. A rented bike rack. A seven-hour drive. Our Edinburgh-bound Aussie seatmates and their dog-eared Agatha Christie paperbacks for company. Damn the winds of Storm Ali! Full speed ahead!

Agnes proves the wiser. “Here’s a wild idea. What if we just cycle from York to Edinburgh?”


Well, duh. 

So the Inverness-Edinburgh cycle tour becomes the York-Edinburgh cycle tour. Perched outside York station, we phone a hotel with room to spare, cycle past the city’s sturdy medieval walls, and drop our things. We wander into town, where choral evensong is just beginning at the Minster—clearly, the Universe is telling us it’s all going to be fine.
The York Minster, a.k.a. “All that Gothic shit,” in Joe’s artful phrasing.
Over pizza and pints on Fossgate, we determine that York ranks in the highest echelon of world cities. (Also determined: precise rankings are for suckers.) Back in the room, with schlocky hotel television setting the mood, we map out a rough route for the next few days.

Robert Burns, the pride of Scotland, figured that scuppered plans brought “nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!” Pish! York is a pearl and we’re raring to ride by the seat of our pants. 


Chapter 1: Mr. Mole
September 20, 2018: York to Osmotherley (route)


“Would you like to hear the world’s hardest crossword clue?”
    “Sure!”
“‘Contents of a mail carrier’s bag.’”


We encounter that little riddle in the Golden Lion, an Osmotherley pub, where we’ve secured a cozy table next to the coal stove and Agnes is busy grinding out a tenacious victory on the travel Scrabble board. It’s set for us by the owner of a rickety old dog named Mr. Mole. We learn that, in addition to being a Doctor of Boneology, Mr. Mole tries his paw at Scrabble too on the occasional weekend. Mr. Mole’s owner had jumped in to play referee after Agnes challenged one of Joe’s more hopeful moves (Joe lost) and he then shared some of his genuine Yorkshire warmth and cheer, which included giving us the puzzler above.

The warmth was much needed by that point.

The morning’s ride north out of York had been stunning. The landscape moves quickly into rolling farmland, which glows on a crisp, sunny autumn day, and we’d taken to the open road light-hearted, content with our new plan.

Yorkshire. Delightful.
The British have a talent for the literal that they deploy to great effect when it suits them. To wit: the designation “AONB,” or “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” Before long, we’re sailing into one such area, the Howardian Hills AONB. Agnes sets a jaunty pace down a gradual downslope, flanked by natural beauty that we both rate as quite outstanding. And cows.
Cows.
We’re a touch spellbound. By the time we stop for a snack (and to admire the cows), we’ve wandered about 10 miles off course. No matter. Onward to the little town of Hovingham, where the staff in a charming cafĂ© think we’re a little crazy, but give us a solid tip for a sandwich shop in Helmsley, the comparative metropolis just a few miles up the road (and in the right direction).  

Lunch in Helmsley turns out lovely. The weather in Helmsley turns from lovely to loathsome. The next six miles are a white-knuckle thrill ride through hills of up to 25% grade—a series of trying climbs followed by screaming downhills around blind corners in the driving wet. Joe skids out on a particularly gnarly hairpin, but manages to stay more or less upright. Agnes struggles to strike a delicate balance: braking hard enough to avoid careening off the road, yet not so hard as to catapult herself over the handlebars. No one dies, but we can’t help but think it no better than happenstance. By Hawnby, we decide to look for a place to dry out.

When imposing yourself on the kindness of strangers, it doesn’t hurt to look like a drowned rat. “Better than you, by the looks of it!” is the response we get when we issue a “how are you?” to the proprietors of the Hawnby tearoom. These kind folk help us call up every inn, hotel, B&B, pub, and hostel within ten miles. They even quip that, as a last resort, we could squat in the local pub that shuttered a few months ago. But no need for that. After about 45 minutes (and a pot of hot tea) we strike gold with a room at the Golden Lion in Osmotherley, about ten miles on.

Those ten miles much resemble the six that sent us scurrying for shelter, but now we know we have soothing ale, warm beds, hot meals, and a hotter hearth awaiting us at the end of the slog.

And, to our surprise and delight, the affable Mr. Mole and his jovial owner.

    “Hmm. How many letters?”

“Hundreds.”


Chapter 2: A Horse in the Country; A Rainbow in the Sea
September 21, 2018: Osmotherly to South Shields (route) 


“Images of the sea are easy up here, high, images of the sea are what I come for, what I seize upon. What I crave are the long horizons, flat and steel-grey; sometimes a line, a rigid bar, thou shalt not pass: sometimes only a smudge, a blur where sky and water meet and meld with no distinction. Sailors and seagulls bear each other’s souls and nothing is fixed or certain.”

Day two in the saddle begins with a hearty (if late) breakfast and a steep decline into Swainby—our exit point from the North York Moors National Park—which we take at full tilt in the newly dry conditions. After yesterday’s excitement, we welcome a sedate, gentle ride through the string of towns south of Durham. They recall, to our North American ears, the names of fairytale ogres. Crathern. Yarm. Thorpe Thewles. At the last of these, we pick up the National Cycle Network (NCN) Route #1.

Just south of Murton, things get weird. Our path, which had been narrow and rocky, but serviceable, gives way into an open expanse of tarry black goop that sticks to our tires and slows us to a crawl. This is part of the NCN?


We make for the nearest patch of grass and ask a horse for directions.
This horse did not know the way to Edinburgh.
After a leisurely lunch in a nearby park, which helps us recover our balance after our battle with the quicksand, we again find a path fit for human use. Before long, the North Sea peeks over the trees ahead.

NCN 1 guides us into Sunderland—a study in contrasts. South of the River Wear, the old shipbuilding town gives off a gritty, post-industrial vibe. When we cross to the north bank and follow the path along the shoreline toward the sea we find ourself on an open, tiled pathway dotted with public sculpture. 

 
We stop at one particularly poignant installation. A concrete telescope, seat, bag, and notebook containing a poem (“Images of the sea…”) about looking for the things we’ve lost just over the horizon.

As we rejoin the trail, Agnes comments that it’s looking like good rainbow weather. Impeccable timing. We ease past the mouth of the Wear and start heading up the coast when we’re greeted by a majestic double bow beyond the breakwater. The selfie is too blunt an instrument for this task. Time to rope some hapless passerby into taking a real photo.
 

The rainbow fades as twilight approaches, signalling the urgency of finding a campsite. First attempt, strike one. In our cursory planning, we’d identified the West Hall Scout Campsite as a likely stopping point, and Google confidently suggested it was open for business. Agnes had been joking about us joining the boy scouts. She was a bit too close to the mark; the site, in fact, turns out to be the headquarters of a boy scout troop and doesn’t look kindly on random adults rolling up looking to camp. Fair enough. No badge in basic background research for us. The scoutmaster sends us instead in the direction of the charmingly named Lizard Lane Caravan Park and Campsite, where we pitch tent, unpack the hexi stove, and fry up the sausages and peppers we’d picked up in Sunderland.

With the basics of food and shelter accounted for, we move to the dilemma posed by the next rung on the hierarchy of needs (the British edition, anyway): trains. Specifically, the lack of them. Our detour in the Howardian Hills and two mornings of late starts means that we remain a good 140 miles from Edinburgh, and neither of us thinks it’s worth trying to pull that off before sundown Saturday. But a combination of line maintenance and industrial action means that all trains north of Berwick-upon-Tweed up to Edinburgh have been replaced by bus service, nixing the option of seeing how far we can get before surrendering the remaining miles to the rails.


The elegant solution presents itself: an early train from Newcastle to Berwick, where we put foot to pedal once more, bringing Edinburgh within reach and avoiding the shame of arriving at our destination under something other than our own power.



Chapter 3: Breads and Butters
September 22, 2018: South Shields to Edinburgh (route)
 

“Let her finish, Jane!”


The bread is better in the UK. Not the posh bakery bread, necessarily, but the daily-baked bread you can get at any grocery store for a pound or two. This astute observation of Agnes’s has guided our provisioning, and the bread we got from Lidl to go with our sausage and peppers is a case in point. On the train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, we break out the rest of our seed loaf for open-face peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwiches. It’s still rich and fluffy and delicious. Breakfast of champions.

And we’d certainly earned it! We crawled sleepily out of the tent at 4:45, decamped, and cycled to the Newcastle suburban metro by the break of dawn, in time to make a train that got us into Berwick before 9. All fueled up when we disembark in Berwick, we start making our way up the A1. This involves mostly sticking grimly to the shoulder, dodging drainage grates, and pushing against the wind. But we’re rewarded in just a few miles with the Scottish border and, soon afterwards, a turn off the main drag into some stunning Caledonian hills.

The path ahead will make this day our favourite of the three. The cool morning is ideal for our steady climb. When we reach peak altitude, we have a breathtaking view of the path ahead that we can admire while cruising 'round gentle curves on smooth asphalt. Next stop: Dunbar.
Dunbar Castle
Dunbar, we learn, is best known as the birthplace of John Muir. But we’re much more interested in its association with Black Agnes, the Countess of Dunbar, a fourteenth-century noblewoman who’s remembered for commanding the successful defense of Dunbar castle when the English besieged it in 1338.
Agnes, the heroine of Dunbar
Like the residents of fourteenth-century Dunbar, we're also facing a crisis. We're really hungry. Bold action and steady leadership are required. Once again, an Agnes is the heroine of Dunbar. Our Agnes spots a bakery, where we procure a lovely rosemary onion boule. We find a bench on a grassy perch overlooking the Dunbar Castle ruins and she sets to work readying tomatoes for our sandwiches with the camp knife. Black Agnes, eat your heart out.

Hunger vanquished, we face our final leg. Thirty miles into the wind. We narrowly dodge the inconvenience of a less beautiful route when we meet some local day-trippers who point out the path to the coast and assure us that when we get to the train station in Longniddry that yes, we really do need to lug our bikes up the stairs over the pedestrian bridge. Worth it. What a coastline!
The Longniddry coast
Agnes has been singing the praises of Warm Showers, a couchsurfing site for cycle tourers, and has secured accommodation for us in Edinburgh. John and Jane Butters will host us for the evening. My expectations are hopeful but modest. We know our hosts are a retired couple who spend three months of the year cycle touring and have enthusiastic feedback from the site’s users. That seems like a promising recipe for a warm meal and a restful sleep.

Man, did I underestimate the Butterses. When we arrive, they show us to a flat within their house that’s bigger than my flat in Cambridge and we take a few minutes to wander around it gawping. I think I got lost for a few minutes somewhere near the grand piano.

John, it turns out, had read history at Cambridge in the 1950s, become a lawyer, and retired at 49 because cycling is better than lawyering. Jane had become sold on cycle touring after meeting John, and the two of them have spent the better part of the last 30 years collecting cycling stories—both their own and their guests’. They set about collecting ours. Jane is eager to hear every detail of our three-day tour, and can’t help interjecting with stories from their own tours that spring to mind as we talk. John, having heard these not insubstantial digressions before, wants to get back to the main thread of our story—“Let her finish, Jane!” is his soft, but determined admonition. Jane is undeterred. She continues effusing about the joys of cycle touring, as if John wasn’t even there.

This is clearly a well-worn and practiced interaction, because the result is that we end up talking through the last three days in glorious detail, and the Butterses find numerous points of connection with their own travels. Over dinner and a smorgasbord of Scottish beers, they regale us with stories of their cycle travels across the United States, Europe, and New Zealand. Jane has documented all of these in a series of meticulous, hand-illustrated notebooks, in which she draws the people she meets and relates their stories. The historian in me can’t help but think what an incredible source these are for the sort of day-to-day, slice-of-life experiences of ordinary people that so often don’t make their way into the documentary record.

We have three different desserts. After this high water mark, I’m ruined for Warm Showers forever.

Our gracious hosts see us off

After eggs with the Butterses the next morning, our journey ends much as it began: train trouble. The 11 a.m. out of Edinburgh Waverley is cancelled. Then the 12:00 after it. We secure seats on the 12:20, changing in Grantham and then in Ely. We’re half tempted to remove our fates from the hands of the London North Eastern Railway and start cycling home. But our makeshift itinerary eventually gets us back to Cambridge around 6. 

The end of this journey is an occasion to reflect on its origins. Some weeks ago, feeling my nose a little too close to the grindstone, I’d resolved to plan a weekend away. “If it were me,” Agnes had said, “I’d go on a cycle tour.” In the spirit of “why not,” I’d agreed to let Agnes school me in the ways of cycle touring and conquer a bit of Scotland in the process. By the end, I was hooked [As Agnes had promised! —AB]. We didn’t, perhaps, follow the route we planned, but we ended up where we needed to be.

(More photos here!)





Lake District Day 3

Pensive - or annoyed by wet boots?
Tuesday April 24
We are SORE.

Breakfast at these places is only between 8 and 9:30. Seems late for walkers, but whatever. We wanted to make the most of today - we had to go back, so Agnes could work. More reasonable portions here, you could choose what you wanted with your eggs. We’re demanding about more toast and butter - but those are the best things!
Much more confident in our compass and map reading abilities today. We wanted to use the new map Agnes had bought - a waterproof one, that she worked hard to also download onto her phone last night. Bonus GPS! Is that cheating, or just using the best available technology?
We figured out a new loop to try. Up to Stickle Tarn, across to another little bit of civilization - Easdale - then back across and down to the road/Cumbrian Way. The goal was to get back around 2 or so. We set out just after 9 AM. How could we up the ante from yesterday?


Agnes retrieves our clothes from the drying shed - still wet. She’s been dreading wet boots, and I don’t blame her at all. We kit up, and one of the New Dungeon staff points us in the right direction - the path to Stickle Tarn starts right behind the hotel.


It feels like we’re in totally new countryside once again. Delicate yellow flowers on spiky stalks, more trees than we’re used to - even some pines! - and this lively ghyll. We start to climb again, and for once, it feels actually warm. I’m walking in a t-shirt.


At the top - Stickle Tarn! There’s someone wild camping on the far side, just set up by the edge of the water.  For the first time, the idea of wild camping seems really appealing - the sunshine helps.
Just around the tarn, our path splits off to the east. Agnes takes the compass today, and after a few false starts gets the bearing.


SUN! TREES!
We still don’t fully understand the logic of the map. Sometimes you’ll see the word ‘cairn’, in an area with lots of cairns. Sometimes - like here - it’ll just say ‘pile of stones’. I’ve been hoping to see a pile of stones! But how is that different than a cairn, exactly? Right at the fork, we think we see a pile (though still not sure) and set out east.


Like yesterday, we are now freestyle walking. Dead dry grass, peaty bits, clahhhty bits, sheep shit, and huge rocky crags. It is very steep - toe touching shins steep - and there is definitely no sign of a path. Up, up in to the wind, but no cloud today! We get to the top of the crag and — just want to start running. Fuck boot bruises and sore knees, this is insane. You have to fling your arms out and yell.


We take a break from yelling in the shelter of a small cliff. Apples and nuts, excellent combo.
Now we can see what must be our target. There’s a tarn, irregular shape - it’s not the one that’s closest though. My hypothesis - that one’s hidden behind the crags.


And soon, somehow, we find something that resembles a path. A groove in the dry grass, a footprint, a few stones that might be a pile - it is a path! Both tarns come into view. We are definitely on the right track.


As we climb down, the landscape changes again. We’re in the land of red sticks. Dry and dead and rusty coloured now, they cover the hills. What’s it look like in summer? And why don’t the sheep eat them all?


There are more people on this path now. It seems well-established, broad flagstones paving the way. Agnes’s challenge: can we say ‘y’alright?’ In a believable way? The first guy beats her to it. New strategy: let them say hi, then go for it.


Pretty sure this sheep is peeing.
It starts to rain again, as we trudge into the grid of sheepfolds. We are on the new map now - waterproof! - and use the GPS to pinpoint our exact location, just for fun - not because we NEED to. This is our turning point - we need to do almost a U-y to head back. But of course the path isn’t obvious. Across this sheep fold? Or up by that house? The compass points us to the house, and sure enough, it’s the right way. Up through the spiky gorse and juniper (I think that’s what it is) and more red sticks, through some very clahhty bits. Once again, not much of a path.

We decide to have lunch, on a mossy ledge under some trees - a bit of protection from the rain (straight down today, not sideways), but no protection from the sheep poo, which is everywhere. Agnes’ food planning has worked out brilliantly. We’re down to one sandwich, and one leftover toast and jam from the day before. A sausage and some ham from Wasdale Head. The last of the carrots and hummus. Then a new invention: a ‘nut pool’ with the tail end of the chocolate bar. Salt, chocolate, so good!


We try to switch boots - Agnes’s ankles are destroyed - but my orthotics are just too much. So we slog on, following the compass and what might be a path.


We’ve been following a pack of sheep trotting single file along a very mucky path by a stone wall. It’s the right direction - the trouble is just getting down to the road/Cumbrian Way. It’s close - we can see the odd car whizzing along (way too fast!) but there are many fences between us and the road —- and there is just no path at all, even on the map.  We’re going to have to jump at least one ancient wall. Is it trespassing, when we’re already walking in a crowd of sheep?


We start to pick our way down - the hills are still steep, and very slippery. I fall hard on my right hip, on a rock. We are sopping wet by now, cold and sore and a bit cranky. There are actual trees ahead, behind a rocky outcrop. I scramble down first. Turns out we’re still fairly high up - on a ledge above a series of little pale green portable homes (possibly cottages? Trailers?) We’re above the roofs - way too high to jump, even if we could get close enough to the ledge. As it is, there’s a wall in our way. I climb up first, careful on the moss-covered rocks, holding on to a nearby tree. It’s not nearly as bad as I was worried it might be - no slips, and it didn’t crumble under me. (Thank you, whoever built these things so strong!) Agnes clambers over after me, I can tell she’s not impressed.


On to the next challenge: getting down. Of course, it’s harder than it seemed from way up the hill. One way seems promising, down a little gully - but up close, I see thick thorn bushes covering everything. Not that way. I edge along, hanging on to trees, desperately trying not to slip again. So far, I don't see any signs of life in the portables below. But there is a blue car, parked on the driveway … I run through what to say, if someone asks what the hell we’re doing … but nothing seems particularly convincing.


I think I see a way down. Agnes is definitely not into this. I edge out along the cliff, right next to a very old, very mossy bit of wall. Hang on to the living tree branches - not the dead ones. Step on stones, not rotting plants. Gingerly, I make it down - hurrah!! But Agnes is still up at the top, not at all convinced this is a good idea. Face the wall, and just keep moving - she puts her feet in just the right spots - and makes it down. Quickly, we hustle out to the road - we didn’t get caught!


Only then does she reveal her big fear. Falling, sure. But more than that: what if someone finds us trespassing, and she somehow loses her position at Cambridge?


Vacation still to come!
Thank god, we’ve avoided that fate. And even better, we’re closer to New Dungeon Ghyll than we could have hoped.  Very soon, we’re in the Stickle Barn by the fire, resting our aching feet and drinking ale and lager with delicious lamb stew on the way. (Dessert too!) Just a few hours behind schedule - but another adventure accomplished.

Finally, after 11, we make it. It feels a bit sad - that part of the vacation is over. But tomorrow is only Wednesday!

Lake District Day 2

Monday April 23


Monday! And the view out our window is nothing but fell.
At breakfast we figure out the plan. We want to do Scafell Pike - the tallest in England! - and then figure out a different path back to New Dungeon Ghyll.


Traditional English breakfast is way too much food. Black (it’s really blood - though Agnes is reluctant to tell me that) pudding, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, sausage, bacon, eggs, fried bread (kinda gross), toast, and delicious jam. We get our sausage to go, and the lady looks at the map with us. Should be fine, but a LONG walk she says. Fine by us.


It’s colder today, windier, but not raining for now. We set out to climb up the opposite side of the valley. Clear path, quite steep, up along a creek. Two guys coming down from Scafell seem bundled up, and a bit judgy. It’s -4C up there today, they tell us. Then, in response to our apparent surprise: but we were prepared - we’d checked the weather forecast. Well, thanks Mr. Gold Earring.


As we continue, another guy comes running along in jeans and Blundstones. He stops to tell us it’s not too far now. Was he cute? Hard to tell under his hat and ski mask.


Once again, into the cloud. It’s thick and very cold. Once again, the path forks unexpectedly. Is it going around, or do we just go up? Once again, I make the wrong call - I’m just way too devoted to following a clear path. Agnes, logically, knows we need to go up, but follows me anyways - we’ll just see where this goes. Some people coming down set us straight. Just follow the cairns, like Mr. Judgy Gold Earring said. It’s a rock field, and they are the only thing you can see in the cloud. It’s not a bad climb, but a bit of a scramble.

There are a few people at the top - a crowd, compared to what we’ve seen before - including a couple speaking Polish. Agnes says hello, and we start chatting. Both wearing buffs, her with short hair, him with long dreads and a straggly goatee. They work in the food industry in Manchester and are making the most of their holiday. They take a picture of us by the plaque - the National Trust land was given after WWI - and give us tangerines. After a short chat, they head off down the mountain.


We follow a bit later, after another look at the map. Going down is much less fun. It’s scrambly and windy and impossible to see far. At one point, I can’t see the ground more than a metre or so ahead. It looks like we just drop off a cliff, into the cloud abyss. I’m totally paralyzed. Agnes calmly tells me to just keep moving, keep going. I shuffle forward - this is not cool - but finally, the ground re-appears.
Entering the Cloud


We reach a fork. We know we want to head down into a valley by a river. I see where it SHOULD turn off, but no clear path. Another path goes straight ahead. We opt to follow the cairns. Two girls appear out of the fog - confused, because they’re heading down when they want to get to the peak. For once, we can give directions - and be a bit judgy, since they have no map.


We slog on across a boulder field. Cairns are the only markers, and thank god they’re there. The wind is horizontal, freezing cold. Finally, we get onto a path, start to come out of the cloud. There are big patches of snow around still.


And then we see a lake. What the hell is that?


We are definitely not by the river we hoped for. So where the heck are we?


Agnes shows, once again, her innate skill at translating between map and reality. (Does a PhD in scientific models help?) That tarn is a clear landmark, she says. And the only thing that makes sense is Sparkling Tarn. But how the hell did we get there? I say. We were heading east, sure, and we did cross a rock field, fine, and that does look like we could have gone to Great End … but the trail ends there. And clearly we were on a trail!


Agnes adds:
I point out parallels between map-and-compass navigation and some problems in the philosophy of science. It’s all epistemology, really: how do we know what we think we know? For instance, there’s the underdetermination of theory by evidence, the fact that multiple theories are compatible with a given set of observations. I had a theory about where we were on the map, with evidence to back it up, and so did Julia. Both theories explain some phenomena -- the position of the tarn for my theory, the fact that we were on a trail the whole time on Julia’s. Both also fail to explain others -- we shouldn’t have been on a trail the whole time, on my theory, but we were; the tarn shouldn’t have been where it was for Julia. So how do we choose between them?


We walked to a fork, and waited for a couple to get close. The guy checked his GPS, and pointed out exactly where we were on the map. Exactly where Agnes expected. Who cares that the map didn’t show our path? That lake did not lie.


We were actually back where we’d been with Tim the day before, and we set out back towards the New Dungeon valley … now very cold, very hungry, and very sad to be heading back into the cloud.


Once again, we got a bit confused at a crossroads. I was determined to use the compass properly. Straight ahead!
Soon enough, we were out of the cloud. There was Angle Tarn. Exactly where we’d been yesterday. But we didn’t really want to just retread familiar ground, right back to the hotel. Where’s the fun in that?


We finally plunked down to have lunch (sausages!! Never tasted better!) and another look at the map.


There was another little path going away from Angle Tarn, across the hills. It eventually hit the Cumbrian Way, and went down into the valley along a different route. Why not try that?
As soon as we got cold (didn’t take long) we packed up lunch, and headed back along the path. There was an older gent in a blue raincoat with a scruffy little terrier. I asked him if he was alright (genuinely, not just a greeting) and he said no, not really. He’d had heart and lung operations not so long ago, and he really wasn’t feeling great. We chatted a bit, but broke it off fairly soon. We had to keep moving. (This prompted a conversation about the right amount of chat with strangers you meet - it’s a balance. You want a bit of info, but you don’t really want to get into a long committed conversation - turns out Agnes and I have about the same limits).


Off onto the grassy hillside. Right away, the path was faint. Barely pathy. We took a compass bearing, and followed it. The weather was getting wild. It started to rain - not straight down, but directly sideways. The right side of my face was getting pressure washed. My glasses were so wet I couldn’t really see. If you lost your balance, the wind would push you the rest of the way. We were up on a kind of ridge, trudging along with no real path, just following the compass. Agnes’s pants were soaked through, her boots were killing her.


We were both cold and soaked, and this added a sense of urgency. If we didn’t keep moving, we’d freeze. If we couldn’t find our way back, we’d be in real trouble. For a little bit, we jogged down the narrow path -- in part to stay warm, in part because it was just so much FUN! We’d given up keeping our feet dry, and just sloshed right through the middle of puddles. Also fun. The whole time we were giggling like we were high. No twining, just a little clahhhhhhty bit! It could have been miserable. But it was just the opposite.
Not how we looked at this point.
But kinda how we felt!


Off in the distance, I saw another line cutting across our path. The Cumbrian Way? It had to be. Finally we got there - and it was a path! The path down!


It was a treacherous descent - down is SO much harder than up - the path was a small waterfall, full of switchbacks.


Finally, familiar ground - the Cumbrian Way down in the valley. Only about an hour to go!
So we started singing. Yelling, really, into the wind and rain. It started with All Star. Sugar Ray - what was that song?? - Just Wanna Fly. Lion King. I’m Blue, Barbie Girl. Trying to remember that Third Eye Blind song … Ace of Base. Hanson’s classic Mmmmbop, then Where’s the Love. Chilli Peppers, Sublime’s Santeria (though I was pretty rough on the words for that one - Agnes was on point).


Then sheepfolds. The Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel. Past the Stickle Barn. And we made it! Sopping wet, boots covered in sheep shit. Tracking it all into the posh entrance of the New Dungeon Ghyll. Room 2 tonight, on the ground floor - once again cute twin beds.
One problem: the drying room was outside - just a shed with a heater and a lot of hangers. Not much help for our boots, but whatever. Showers, but still not warm.


We opted for the Walker’s bar, rather than the restaurant for dinner - more our speed. Beer, burger for Agnes, meat pie for me. Okay food, not amazing. Biscuits and tea and TV again - this time a hit of hard news. A press conference with Ralph Goodale - some car drove into pedestrians in Toronto, killed 10 people. Unclear if it’s terrorism. Too much reality.
Then, trivia competition between Cambridge and Oxford teams (Cam won!!) and some strange BBC 4 drama involving virtual reality called ‘Kiss Me First’ (who is kissing whom? We never figured that out). I fell asleep before it was over.


Total walking - 10 AM to 6ish. A solid 8.5 hours.
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