Day Five

November 7th, 2012: Diggle to Warland Reservoir  (10-ish miles) …

Though the bed we slept in was as saggy as the moors are soggy, I slept surprisingly well. My head had remained quiet for once. This, in spite of my deep concern for the presidential election back home (read: sarcasm). The truth of the matter is I could not have cared any less, so long as the colored guy didn’t win. Okay, I kid. He’s whom I’d have voted for had I been home and had I been a registered voter. I’m not much the patriot, I dare say, except of our planet. Countries don’t interest me; only countryside does.

Climbing from the amorphous lump of a bed, we’d soon be enjoying another FEB, a full English breakfast, not unlike the one we had had yesterday at the Old House B&B (the one I failed to bring up until now, though I was worried I might bring it up yesterday). A full English breakfast is occasionally referred to as the Full Monty and consists of the following…

  • Bacon (the English kind, which is like American ham)
  • Egg(s) (usually poached or fried)
  • Sausage (usually a mystery meat but nonetheless tasty)
  • Fried mushrooms (not hallucinogenic, alas)
  • Black pudding (WARNING: this is NOT chocolate pudding!)(1)
  • Hash browns
  • Baked beans (they’re not just for dinner anymore!)
  • Bread (usually toasted or fried, often served together)
  • Fried tomato (red, never green)
Also served…
  • Coffee
  • Yogurt
  • Cereal
  • Milk (whole)
  • Fruit
Altogether, it’s entirely feasible to consume three or four thousand calories when ingesting a FEB, and it’s hard to do much of anything once the predictable postprandial effects kick in. The first order post-meal is of course the loo. The second is water. The need for the loo should be obvious enough; the need for water perhaps not quite so much.

The full English breakfast is named as such because it’s full of sodium and cholesterol, both of which conspire to kill you, given enough time. Sodium in itself isn’t all that harmful---it’s found in every single cell in the body---but too much of it, or too little, can wreak havoc. The FEB, without question, has too much. To balance any increase in salt intake, the body requires water. And lots of it. Ruth and I joked that we could probably just hike with our mouths agape and our tongues hanging out and be okay, but our thirst was almost immediate and the rain, heavy as it is, doesn’t always fall quite so quickly. Nor does it always fall where you’d like it to. We’d let thirst be our guide, as it’s generally a pretty precise mechanism, not unlike hunger(2).

Fully stocked with liquids, calories and sodium, we thanked our hosts and dug ourselves out of Diggle, but not before we’d walked into the tiny town to lay our eyes upon the Standedge Canal Tunnel’s west end. Turns out that New Barn B&B was just a stone’s throw from it and likely much closer in a vertical sense, though no one I’ve ever known has been capable of throwing stones through the ground.

As we grew closer to the tunnel, our appreciation of the magnitude of the task of its construction grew keener. It took legions of men to build the thing, with little more than picks, shovels, candlelight and the need to earn a living. Fifty men would lose their lives during the process (never to find them again, so dark was the tunnel). So it didn’t matter to me if it was merely a hole in the side of a hill; its appeal wasn’t for the eyes, but for the imagination. I envisioned, perhaps with only a paltry measure of success, what the men must’ve endured; how the engineers accomplished it with only basic surveying techniques; what those on the first boat through felt (besides cold)(3); and so on.

The project began in 1795 after Parliament gave it the thumbs up (I’m assuming an elevated thumb was a good gesture in Europe in those days, though an American never really knows). As it was with all canals in those days, its completion would enable great amounts of goods to be transported, primarily building supplies and coal (though the railroad would soon abolish the need for canals). Not surprisingly though, tunneling was hampered by much larger quantities of water entering the workings than had been expected. By the middle of 1799, a thousand yards of the tunnel had been finished, and a further thousand had been excavated but not completed. Construction involved a team working on each end of the tunnel, digging toward one another.

This led to its own problem, as one of the teams burrowed in at the wrong bearing. It was realized the tunnel would not end up meeting in the middle. A bend had to be created, to correct the thirty-eight feet the tunnel had drifted. Ultimately of course, it was corrected and the tunnel was completed seventeen years after work had first begun. At three miles long, six hundred and thirty-six feet underground at the deepest point, and six hundred and forty-three feet above sea level, it is the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in Britain.

The canal tunnel is only wide enough for one narrowboat for much of its length, and to save on cost, as it had been in other canal tunnels in England, no tow-path was provided. Canal boats were horse-drawn in those days, the boats had to be “legged” through the tunnel---a process where one or more boatmen lay atop the cargo and pushed against the roof or walls of the tunnel with their legs. Professional leggers were paid one Shilling and six Pence for working a boat through the tunnel, which took more than an hour for an empty boat and three hours for a full load.

I’ve never really been into manmade shit, but canals, tunnels, aqueducts, viaducts and old Roman ruins intrigue me to no end. In this vein, the Pennine Way hasn’t disappointed. (No comment regarding the bogs.) History lines this route. Admittedly, the tunnel wasn’t too terribly exciting, at least in terms of outward appearance. There was some litter floating nearby and the entrance was gated. But what it did for the imagination was beyond profound! So much so I decided my next big adventure over here will be to paddle throughout England’s inland waterway system. I know not the logistics or legality, but I will, and not long after wrapping up this hike.

We were hesitant to leave, or at least I had been, but we had a bus to catch back to the trail. After detouring all over the place in pissing down rain last night, we decided we’d avoid retracing our footsteps and instead pay someone else to leg us back to the pathway. It was only a mile or so, but the bus took just a fraction of the time that walking would have.

Back on the PW, we could see so much of what we’d missed the previous night. It wasn’t the most scenic area by any means, but what a difference it was compared to only having a few feet of visibility. The path was a muddy mess but the countryside looked inviting. The weather couldn’t decide whether it wanted us to accept the invite, raining one minute and stopping the next.

That’s exactly how we’d walk, as it were. On and off. So too would the jackets go on and off. The Pennine Way is ruthlessly undulating; one minute you could be risking overheating, while the next you might freeze, no matter the time of year. Each time you go up, you sweat; each time you go down, that sweat starts to freeze. Not unlike the quagmire, the process is wearing.

By midday we’d crossed a bustling motorway, the M62, and slaved away toward Blackstone Edge, pursued by a group of geriatric hikers. The pedestrian bridge across the motorway was built specifically for Pennine hikers---narrow and sturdy enough to withstand even my backpack. Oddly, there was no gate or stile at either end.

The M62 Pedestrian-only Overpass
The group pursuing us was a competitive bunch, in spite of of their advancing age. Incidentally, we’re all advancing in age. So old, so soon. As one of my top 73 bands croon…

“You’re older than you’ve ever been.
And now you’re even older.
And now you’re even older.
And now you’re even older.

You’re older than you’ve ever been.
And now you’re even older.
And now you’re older still…”

They were comprised mostly of men with accents that could only be understood when drunk (you, not the accents), but there were a few women too, who seemed to be a little less worried about winning and more focused on fun, like us.

Fun was not easy to come by though. Atop Blackstone the wind was absolutely howling, ripping into anything in its path. We sought shelter from a six-foot tall outcrop of rocks but continued on curtly, since even the rocks were rocking. This was the kind of wind that had you screaming at one another from just a foot apart so you could each be heard. Sign language would have helped us but we knew what we had to do, without so much as a finger point.

Doing exactly that we quickly descended from the gale and onto a peaceful canal path, though the canal was really just a small ditch and fairly uninspiring since the ditch was without water. En route we’d passed an old Roman road and the Aiggin Stone, a Roman marker dating back some six hundred years. The wind and weather had worn it down something fierce, not to my surprise, and it looked like little more than an unmarked tombstone marking the passing of the empire.

The Aiggin Stone
A mile or so down the ditch path we entered a small quarry once used by the Romans. There, we met two blokes staring intently at one of the rocks walls, as though it might run off at any point. They looked like rugged sorts and were each wearing packs so big it was as though they were in midst of migrating. We couldn’t figure out the attraction to the wall. No offense to the Romans, but it wasn’t even natural.

It turned out they were writing a rock climbing guidebook for the Yorkshire region of England, so they needed to study and map out the routes, rating them after they’d climbed each one. It was too wet and slick to climb on this day, they told us, so instead they shot a bunch of pictures and studied the walls closely, to come up with an accurate grade. Their packs were full not just of ropes and climbing gear, but also of photography equipment.

As we walked on past a steep paved roadway and a lonely restaurant/pub called the White House (for reasons plain enough), I thought to myself, it’s interesting climbs are given ratings; it seems so subjective to me. What might be hard for one guy (i.e., me) to climb might be entirely easy for another (i.e., either of them). And why stop there? Why not grade hiking trails? But then maybe no one would ever hike the Pennine Way.

Past the road and the restaurant, we started in on some of the most boring walking the path had taken us on yet. A series of flat, uninviting reservoirs lined the way and the footing didn’t even deviate in the slightest. It reminded me of the dams on the Boulder Reservoir back home: most uninspiring. Because of the topographically-challenged geography, the wind was once more unimpeded, just as it had been when we clambered up Blackstone Edge.

Wind in the hills seems more tolerable than it does on the flats. At least it comes from different directions and adds some excitement to the scene. But here on the flat ground it never really strays. In our case it was from our left, the southwest, and had only us to redirect it. There were a few hills between us and its origin, but they all stood below us, doing little to alter its course. These hills were once mountains, so say the geologists, but like the Aiggin Stone, they had been worn down to their core. The wind, the rain and the years all take their toll.

They’d taken their toll on us too, and even though the striding was flat, it was tough going. Tougher yet was our quest in finding a place to pitch the tent. Sure, it was flat and we could easily have set camp up atop one of the dams, but we desired some sort of windbreaker. None could be found. By now it was closing in on dark thirty and neither Ruth nor I cared to be upright any longer, if even at the angle the wind forced upon us, which was as close to horizontal as one could be when walking.

Without any other alternatives, we erected the tent atop Warland Reservoir’s spillway, just a mile or two shy of the distinctively labeled settlements of Mankinholes and, my personal favorite, Lumbutts. It was one of the least appealing spots I’ve ever decided to sleep and had I known I wasn’t going to come even remotely close to sleeping, I would have carried on.

(“Foot”note of the Day #1: Back pudding consists of the blood from pigs or sheep, along with grains [usually oats] and enough salt to drown out any would-be taste.)

(“Foot”note of the Day #2: Hunger, however, should never be confused with appetite. One is need; the other want.)

(“Foot”note of the Day #3: It is a constant fifty degrees Fahrenheit inside the tunnel, or nine degrees Celsius. [The Brits actually use the metric system when talking temperature, yet they still use their own currency and miles and, weirder yet, stones. Strange folk, I say.])

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