12/30/12

Day Seven

November 9th, 2012: Hebden Bridge to Near Gorple Reservoir (5-ish miles) …

“If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?!” ~Pink Floyd

We’ve been living out of backpacks for a week now, spending the better part of our days outside, under the influence of stupidity. You see, I find it hard to write much more about the weather that hasn’t already been said. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dark, it’s damp, it’s windy, and it’s sporadically sunny. True, it hasn’t been warm yet, so I haven’t written about that. But somehow, as we march steadily toward winter, both in terms of our northward advancement and our progression toward December, it seems improbable that it’s going to be, at least not until May. And if Ruth and I are still out here then, we’ll likely be incurring more dreadful problems.

English people are deficient in vitamin D, I’m willing to bet. Today we’d awake to more rain, the kind that had me wondering why people live where they do. At this time last year I was residing in Tucson, Arizona, a sewer of a city if there ever was one, but yet able to deliver a guarantee of sunshine every single day. That’s why people live there. Because the sun makes people happy. If it didn’t exist, none of us would be happy.

We were happy at breakfast. As has become our ritual, we partook in another full English breakfast. I find it peculiar these hotels and B&Bs even offer the option to have anything else, and you’re forced to wonder how a vegetarian would ever survive out here. Meat may be murder, but murder is the meal of choice along the Pennine Way.

I made the mistake of thinking my pudding was actually pudding. The Pink Floyd quote above makes no sense whatsoever since pudding here in England is more like meaty stuffing back home, compressed into a neat little disc-shape: easy to take; hard to swallow. It is not chocolaty or remotely sweet. In fact, it tastes more like sweat, or the quite possibly the inside of a horse’s hoof. I don’t dare care to surmise what it’s really comprised of---blood and peckers and crap---but the thing is, I like it. Maybe my tastebuds have been washed away with all the rain, I know not.

It seems breakfast is always included with lodging in the UK, whether staying at a Bed and Breakfast or a swanky hotel like the White Lion. Only the hostels and bunkhouses stiff you, but then they save you enough cash so that you could afford to buy any feast you desired at a nearby cafĂ© or restaurant. But there’s something so delightful about walking down to the ‘breakfast room’ in your PJs. Of course, in our case, our pajamas looked an awful lot like hiking attire, but never mind that.

The ‘breakfast room’ is typically a small alcove about the size of the average living room back in the US, but detached from the main dining area and from the pub. Most establishments, like the White Lion, seem to maintain distinct rooms or areas that, by custom, “belong” to particular kinds of customers: those eating dinner, those eating breakfast, and those who plan to be loud and obnoxious at the pub. It all seemed a bit orderly and pedantic but the protocol is, like everything else in England, steeped in tradition. In any case, it worked for me, so long as breakfasts remained massive. Where I eat isn’t nearly as important as what how much I eat.

After gorging ourselves and packing up everything we’d hung out to dry, we filled our water-bottles, hoisted our loads and headed out into the horrid gloom. Our route returned us first to the Rochdale Canal towpath and then to the Pennine Way proper. The gray sky ruined any would-be photos, but that didn’t hamper me from taking them. Thanks to the digital era I can now snap as many pictures as I want, without paying the price for my photographic ineptitude. In fact, the high-capacity memory card I purchased for these sorts of journeys allows me to take no less than ten thousand shitty photos per trip.

My friend Jon Sadler, an esteemed professor of photography at Boise State University, tells me to shoot as many. “Take a ton, they’re free. What you lack in quality you should make up for in quantity,” he’d say, in so many words. (To clarify, when he said you he meant me, not you the plural; he’s well aware I put the kill in skill.) “And anyway, it’s pretty easy to doctor them up after the fact.

Mine would need a lot of doctoring, maybe even a whole hospital.

The climb from the valley in which Hebden sits, the Upper Calder, was an eye opener. It wasn’t that there was much to see---trees cloaked the route and choked all long-range vistas that the clouds hadn’t already---but that it was unexpectedly steep. After yesterday’s gentle topography, this was altogether brutal. We’d traded the wind for the work that only gravity can provide.

A narrow cobbled path(1), fenced in by vines and property lines, led us away from an unincorporated settlement called Mytholm, and then toward an abandoned graveyard perched high on the precipitous hillside. I took a second to catch my breath and snuck into the once-sacred site, by way of a rusted arched gate that was slowly leaning downward, giving in to the years. Tombstones barely peered from the waist-high weeds, and they advertised that the dead dated back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. It was an ominous setting on such a dreary day and it made me sad to think that there was no longer any love for the deceased. 

It was no wonder. The site takes some serious getting to and was as improbable a place to bury the dead as anywhere I’d ever seen. The nearest road was not too terribly far off, but it still meant laboring uphill under your own steam for ten or fifteen minutes. This was genuinely odd, since most people who go to funerals are old, since most people who die are old. All I could think was that the foliage that had enveloped the area wasn’t there two hundred years ago, making the trip a little less arduous. Still, the dead(2) laid to rest here have probably always done so in peace and will likely do so forever. Vandals wouldn’t even bother coming, let alone kin. Of course, kinship is also likely all dead, gauging by the headstone dates. No mention of dead Pennine Way trekkers was made. 

Leaving the dead center of nowhere, the climb grew steeper and steeper, bordering on the preposterously steep as we neared a small spillway beneath an unnamed lane. (Unnamed to us, anyway.) We were soon back in filthy farmland, slogging our way through manure and mire, coming up for breath as needed. Narrow corridors of moss-covered stone had us skirting between open plots of grass dotted with sheep. Gates and stiles ruined any rhythm we might have had, while the drizzle assured our fizzle.

We momentarily escaped the muck when we reached Colden Water, a relatively meek creek (relative to all others in Britain this year) spanned by a mossy stone-slab bridge that sat five feet above the water. There were two slabs, each like elongated tombstones that had been laid down lengthwise across the creek. A small decrepit handrail jutted from the side of one of the slabs, that way, in the event of a fall, you’d trip over it on your way into the creek, assuring you that you’d go in headfirst, likely to drown and be swept downstream, never to be seen again, at least not until your bloated, decomposed body was pulled from the ocean. We took pictures, but again, because it was rainy, they’d end up grainy. 

About the time we emerged upon a thin strip of pavement called Edge Lane, the rain started to fall in earnest. With it, our moods. A small sign attached to a stone barn promised Pennine voyagers of untold excesses at May’s Aladdin’s Cave High Gate Farm Shop, located just two hundred yards up the road. We didn’t need excess or food---the Co-Op in Hebden took care of that---but we agreed something hot might perk us up. We turned left and smiled at our good fortune. It seems that just when the Pennine Way is about to beat you into submission it changes its position and heads into remission. 

Aladdin’s Cave is run by a kind lady named May SomethingorOther(3). The guidebook calls May ‘redoubtable’ and describes her as possessing a natural instinct for knowing what wayfarers want. This isn’t all that difficult, I’m afraid, but we didn’t doubt it for a minute. From what we could gather (figuratively speaking), there didn’t appear to be anything she didn’t stock; Tesco’s has a smaller assortment. Yet the place is not much bigger than a one-car garage. May started the shop a number of years ago when she saw she could help hikers, selling a few snacks for cheap and offering free camping across the alley from her farmhouse. For us it was a godsend.

We stood inside, crowding around a small wood-burning stove, trying to bring consciousness back to our fingers. The place was so crammed with goods that there was no way to keep our packs on, so we removed them and shoved them into a corner, near the stationary and the spray cheese. I’d debated stuffing mine into the stove but thought better of it since my money was buried deep within.

We used some of that money to procure a couple of cups of hot chocolate and some oven-warmed sausage rolls. Had a meteorite slammed into the store at that very instance, I’d have expired in a state of bliss unknown even to fellow hikers. We might have stuck around a little longer, but it was obvious we were crowding the place. Then again, so too would a gerbil. We drained the rest of our hot chocolate, offered to wipe the steam off the windows, thanked the gal working behind the counter, and headed back out into the wild gray yonder. 

It would’ve been a stretch to claim that we were renewed, but we were as close to it as a cup of hot chocolate has ever afforded anyone anywhere. Refurbished, I guess you’d say. The weather even seemed a little more manageable. I felt like singing, ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ as we walked down the narrow lane back to the path, but a motorist flying up the hill in the opposite direction put a halt to that. There was hardly enough room between the walls lining the road but we managed to flatten ourselves against one of them and were soon disrupting only the sheep.

The wind pledged that the umbrella I’d been carrying would only be useful if unused, and I was forced to wonder why I’d talked Ruth into carrying one. I just hoped she didn’t start to wonder the same thing. We’d only tried them once so far, near the moors after Black Hill and that turned out, in a word, fucking disastrous. Okay, that’s two words, but the adjective applied. It would have here too, except that we didn’t dare pull out anything so utterly unaerodynamic. Rather, we’d just keep lugging them across the lovely English countryside.

The umbrella wasn’t the most useless thing I’d been hauling, though. That distinction belonged to my sunglasses. The pair had remained safely stowed in the bottom of my pack for the entire trip. I was just pleased they didn’t weigh but an ounce or two, unlike the bowling ball I’d brought.

Atop the moors once more, we plugged away toward the horizon. We could not see said horizon but according to our maps, it was there, somewhere. It had seemed, however, that no matter how far we’d walked, we never quite reached it. I tried blaming it on the leprechauns, only to remember that we were in England, not Jamaica. Instead, I blamed in on the gnomes. I hate those little fuckers.

Evening arrived long before we ever reached the horizon, but just prior to its onset we dropped off the moors and giddy-upped into Widdop, an apparent ghost town. Our guidebook showed it as existing, right there on page 111, but word must’ve gotten out that the two Yanks were fast approaching (or, as it was, slow approaching, allowing them the time to pack up and leave). Not a soul was in sight. Nor were there any buildings or churches or pubs or any of the usual stuff found in places where people amass. The only activity we could detect was that of a lone farmer seated in his covered tractor, moving a bunch of mud around. We approached.

The old man told us Widdop was really just an area, not a settlement. (Areas need names too I guess, otherwise they could feel neglected and abscond elsewhere.) He was the epitome of an English farmer, complete with a lifeless upper lip, a jumper, a pair of Wellies and one those wacky flat caps/Gatsby caps that they all seem to wear. There almost certainly had to be a Border Collie around. I pegged him around seventy, maybe a hundred. (The farmer, not the Border Collie, seeing as in dog years that would be like five hundred years old or something.) He was also the nicest gentleman I’ve ever had the pleasure of conversing with, quick to share his stories of traveling through the US, that is once he found out we were Yanks. 

“As I saw you coming down the hill, I figured as much…that you were Yanks.” He didn’t give an explanation for this presumption, but both Ruth and I figured it wouldn’t have been one we’d care to hear. Did we really look like Americans? How could he tell? Americans aren’t all covered in mud, are they? He then told us about his trip around the United States, the one he took his wife on for their fortieth wedding anniversary, figuring we’d been everywhere he had visited. We didn’t dare tell him that Connecticut is nearly two thousand miles from where we live, practically half the distance to his doorstep here in England. “Next year’s our fiftieth anniversary and we’re thinking of returning, this time perhaps to the western half.”

We assured him Colorado was worth seeing, and that he should come visit it, and us. (I’m not sure where he’d visit me since I’m currently without a fixed address, which is a nice way of saying homeless. Perhaps we’d meet in a coffee shop or a bowling alley or a parking lot somewhere. Ruth is a homeowner however, so she could easily play host to him and his wife and their Border Collie, though there wouldn’t be enough room for the sheep.)

He’d have sat there in his tractor prattling on throughout the night had we not cut short the conversation, convincing him we needed to carry on---that Scotland wasn’t getting any closer. The rain was still falling, as it had almost the entire day, and we were starting to catch a chill. Or more of them, anyway; you always have at least one ongoing one when hiking the Pennine Way in November.

We slipped though a shiny green metal gate and continued on. In a matter of minutes we’d left the farmer’s property and plunged into a deep ravine, where two wooden bridges spanned the confluence of Graining Water and the efflux beneath Gorple Lower Reservoir. A rock outcrop hemmed the junction in on one side, choking off the view of the reservoir’s grass-covered dam(4), while a steep boulder-strewn embankment took care of the other. A lone telephone pole stood between the outcrop and us. The spot was unexpectedly attractive after everything we’d walked by, though you’d never know this studying Google Earth. We dug the site and rendered a quick verdict: it was to be our digs for the night.

(“Foot”note of the Day #1: Alfred Wainwright wrote of the paths in this area “examples are met of a type of footpath not found elsewhere on the Pennine Way. Obviously they date back to the time of the construction of the carraige roads, when there was as much concern for foot-travelers as those with conveyances, and they were made with care in the form of narrow paved ways between enclosing stone walls.”)

(“Foot”note of the Day #2: Get it?! Still, the dead…)

(“Foot”note of the Day #3: SomethingorOther is not her real last name, but to protect her identity I don’t want to mention her real last name of Stocks, which is an appropriate name for any shop owner.)

(“Foot”note of the Day #4: Only one side of the dam was grass-covered; the other was covered in water.)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Loved your journal, but especially your style of walking: fast is not always the best. Some nice pictures. Congratulations on finishing the Pennine Way despite the appalling wet weather. You know that you were crazy to even attempt it in November. Its much drier in the summer. I’ve hiked it 2.9 times (1969, 1977, 2010). See my trailjournals, but I cannot write nearly as well as you.
The pudding Pink Floyd is referring to is “dessert” in North American. Hence the motherly advice to finish your meat and veg before you can have any pudding /“dessert”. Types of English pudding include: bread pudding, Christmas pudding, rice pudding and everyone’s favourite spotted dick. They are often served with hot custard. Black pudding that constitutes part of northern England’s huge breakfasts is another concoction entirely. Essentially blood sausage, with other stuff you probably don’t want to know. But if you can stomach it, then try Wikipedia for an explanation. Congratulations again from Not Dead Yet. 09 March 2013

Chuckie V said...

Thanks for the kind words, Not Yet Dead! I love your trailname!

~Funnybone!

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