Day Nineteen

Lost, but Making Good Time!

November 21st, 2012: Bowes to Kirkcarrion Copse (10-ish miles) …

Upon rousing, our first undertaking was to take cover under the covers, in attempt to get back to sleep. Waking up is rarely pleasurable during a thru-hike, but it is a special kind of hell when the weather forewarns of trouble or is already in trouble or causing trouble. Procrastination inevitably kicks in, and if it weren’t for it, nothing would get done. After all, waiting around to do nothing is better than doing nothing, right?

Eventually, we pulled the covers off and took off. Our opening tourist attraction was the Bowes Castle, the first of two or three castles the path passes by. Built by Henry II during that nutty wacky medieval period, back when weapons were comprised of swords and stones and arrows and really loud farts, the structure has stood for more than eight hundred years, or about twice the age of the Tan Hill Inn. It’s fallen into disrepair and could certainly use a new roof, but it stirred the imagination just the same.

Due in part because of the shitty weather, Ruth and I had the massive structure all to ourselves. We tiptoed around and snapped more than our fair share of photos; we figured since most of our pictures weren’t likely to turn out, as our own history had long ago proven, it seemed fair game. As I walked around, attempting to protect my camera from the drizzle, I tried to imagine all the events that had taken place within (and surrounding) the walls. There must have been lots going on at one time or another, but here now it was silent. And silencing.

Ruth was concerned she might miss her ride back to civilization, so we returned to the bus stop, little more than a roadside awning. It turned out that the coach wasn’t to arrive for another couple of hours, so I stuck around a few minutes before we hugged one another and said our goodbyes. It had been an unforgettable eighteen days and I was so proud of Ruth for having put up with me that long. She didn’t even wear an iPod once. And I was equally proud of her for never uttering a single complaint. The Pennine Way is not the easiest trail to cut your teeth on. Trial by flame-thrower, really. She withstood it all.

Before we parted ways, Ruth asked if I knew which way to go. I assured her I did, but checked the guidebook one last time, to reconfirm the route. “Better safe than stupid,” I joked. I grabbed my hiking poles and pole-vaulted my way out of town, past a building that claimed to be the inspiration to many, including Charles Dickens’s inspiration for Dotheboy Hall in Nicholas Nickleby. The place inspired me too, but only to continue on out of there, which is what I did, skating away on the thin ice of the new day.

Two hours later, I approached yet another castle, this time the Bowes Castle. WAIT! What?! Sure enough, as is typical for me when I’m on my own, I’d managed to get lost. I had done a giant circle around the area, repeating the ‘Bowes Variant’ loop of the Pennine Way, only in reverse. I could see that Ruth was still at the bus stop, but I dared not go say hi. My reputation as an accomplished hiker need not have been tarnished. I stomped over to the castle for a second look, took a few more pictures (just to be safe), then headed out of town the proper way: right up the road, with GPS unit in hand. The Ruthlessness was already affecting me, and ruthlessly so.

It turned out the route from Bowes was entirely atop asphalt and for a solid mile or two. (Solid is the operative utterance here, as I could walk again without risk of sinking.) Near the knee-deep Deepdale Beck, I reached an unusual heather-thatched farmhouse. With its sloping curved rooftop, it looked to belong in a children’s book. I stopped and took a few dozen pictures (just to be safe) before arriving at yet another gate, approximately the ten-thousandth one on this trip.

This was more of a gateway though, as the land behind the house was open and inviting. A gate, after all, signifies impedance, whereas a gateway implies freedom. And, though I was indeed ruthlessly Ruthless, I was free---free to roam wherever or however I wanted. I could speed up, or, more likely, slow down. And, as I had already shown, I could get lost without anyone else’s help. (Getting lost is one of my primary goals when traveling, else there’s no adventure. A hiker can put his head down and trudge the trail’s length to impress himself with a display of great determination and endurance, but it’s much more appealing to use the path as a thread...to come off it at any point that strikes your fancy and have a taste of whatever’s on offer. If, from here forth, the journey offered an experience or a taste of something new, whether it was on the trail or near the trail or, in as is usually the case with me, nowhere near the trail, then who was I to refuse it? That’s the whole point of adventure...to experience the new.) I strode along in a blissful eurhythmic state, lost only in thought.

"The lunatic is on the grass." ~Pink Floyd
The day would slide by peacefully and uneventfully, in spite of the sinister weather. I’d pass stone walls enveloped with moss the color of a pool table, and I’d slosh my way through endless fields of heather. Heather is known scientifically as Calluna vulgaris (I kid not), likely named by Pennine Way hikers who tend to know all about vulgarity. Of course, I can only speak for one Pennine Way rapscallion now, but vulgarity is his regularity.

By late afternoon, after skirting a pair of splendid reservoirs, the Blackton and the Grassholme, I stood atop a big grassy hill overlooking the old-world village of Middleton-on-Tees. It was nearly dark and I knew better than to go knocking on someone’s door in search for a place to stay---this was England after all, where procedure and orderliness rules all---so I meandered off the path and into an enclosed grove of fir trees that my guidebook called Kirkcarrion. The wind was starting to kick up and the trees and the circular stone wall surrounding them, I figured, might offer some asylum. Had I known that it was once an ancient burial ground, I would’ve marched on, but I wouldn’t learn that morbid little tidbit until mourning morning.

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