Day Twelve

Note: This also appears here and without all the pictures clogging the view. 

November 14th, 2012: Malham to near Tennant Gill Farm (5-ish miles) …

Bill Bryson, one of my preferred authors and a Malhamdale resident for eight years, once wrote, “I won’t know for sure if Malhamdale is the finest place there is until I have died and seen heaven (assuming they let me at least have a glance), but until that day comes, it will certainly do.”

Bill Bryson's Old Digs
We awoke halfhearted but joyful we could finally see the place (Malhamdale, not heaven; I already knew I’d never be welcomed to the latter locale; my types are the reason heaven is gated). Turns out, Malham (aka Malhamdale) was nearly small enough not to see. The population is pegged at less than a hundred, but according to Bryson(1), it contains more seventeenth century buildings than the whole of the United States…certainly worth a gander. But had we inadvertently blinked while walking around, we’d have spent more time looking at the back of our eyelids than we’d see of town. My eyeglasses weren’t enough; I needed a microscope. 

Surprisingly though, there was a café/camping store/ironmongers/gift shop in town, a joint by the name of Gordale Gifts and Outdoor Wear. It wasn’t opened yet, but if we remained patient enough---to the tune of about fifteen minutes---we would be able to take a look-see inside. We decided it was worth the wait. In most cases concerning shops that hock knick-knacks it’s seldom worth any kind of wait, but after we’d window-shopped long enough, we could see that the store carried a few things that might be of use. All cafés carry food, which is always of use, but there was also shoelaces visible from outside the storefront. I desperately needed a new pair after pulling on mine too tightly an hour or so prior. I’d wanted to show my feet that I didn’t care about their feelings, but they won that battle, with help from their altruistic lacey lovers.

The store was phenomenal! Just as it had been with Aladdin’s Cave four or five days prior, there were so many things crammed into such a small space. But unlike that one, this store catered to hikers in more ways than just calories. We weren’t completely ill-equipped; we really just wanted a pair of shoelaces and to kill some time, but we ended up walking out of there outfitted enough to furnish a small army. We purchased small foam sit-pads, extra tent stakes, candy bars, razors, granola bars, blister pads, cookies, a Pennine Journey book, a hat, socks, a pack rain-cover, and the laces themselves. I didn’t see any, but I’d have picked up a dirty magazine had they had them. Of course, all magazines end up dirty on the Pennine Way.

The sit-pads may have seemed like overkill, but we’d often found ourselves eschewing the usual rest and relaxation taken when hiking, since the ground (and all else) was so sodden. The pads would allow us to plop our arses down nearly anywhere, so long as they didn’t sink. That was the theory anyway. One thing we knew for sure by now: without adequate rest breaks, the body itself would break.

The paperback was by one Alfred Wainwright, England’s most famous rambler-writer. Wainwright deserves plenty of mention here, since he’s one of the forefathers who had brought the Pennine Way (and indeed all of England’s countryside) to the limelight through his many ramblings, both those done on foot and those captured in print. But I’m really not into writing about crotchety old men right now, and I’ve already mentioned one other well-known writer today, so I’ll put it on hold for a later entry. Or not. If you care enough, you can also do the Google gig.

The Godfather of the Pennines
We stuffed all our new belongings in with the old ones, straining our already overburdened packs and soon straining our already overburdened backs. We hoped our possessions would not grow to become personal effects. Books aren’t exactly lightweight and I could only trust that Wainwright wrote in a manner that made the additional heft worthwhile. Few things are worse than reading a shitty book, except of course carrying that shitty book on your back all day before reading it. Wainwright better not be Wainwrong, I joked to myself.

We set off in earnest, departing polite ol’ Malhamdale around 11:15am. It wasn’t our tardiest launch to date, but damn near. With the bitter mornings and all the rain, it’s hard to muster the gusto necessary to toil through sodden soil, but then the daylight hours are so pithy that we really aren’t given the option: we have to get going early. It’s bad enough that our usual hiking pace---roughly two to two and a half miles an hour---is severed in half because of the malicious temperament of the bogs, but it’s extremely difficult to hike far at all, now that the abbreviated days are here to stay. Night really cuts into available hiking hours on the Pennine Way, and the navigation is tough enough by day. The combination of all these considerations conspiring against us meant we either had to hike early, late or fast. We already knew the latter was unfeasible.

What it would mean on this particular day was that we’d likely be hiking late again, that is if we cared enough to. In my case I have to care enough. The pressure is that, by prolonging the journey another day here and there, Mother Nature gets a greater chance to invite her comrade Old Man Winter to the party. Ruth and I understood all too well that it’s their party---and that we weren’t really invited in the first place---but we wanted to be sure things remained cordial and didn’t get out of control, control we had no control over. 

Ruth is hiking until she needs to return to work, about another week or so; this, regardless of how far north she makes it. I, on the other hand, plan to complete the path, and the later I wait to do so, the less likely my chances. Lao Tzu once wrote that a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving, but traveling for the sake of travel would only leave me not traveling. I idle without goals and at least a vague target is required if I’m to move or aim myself anywhere. Like so many others, I was born with an impulse that impels me---no, compels me---to go, rather than to stay. But going is best when it means going somewhere. 

Arrival matters not,
I know,
But there’d be no going
If there was no place to go

Perhaps my worst trait out here though, of the infinite dire ones I seem to cleave to, is that I also rarely give up on something I’ve started. Such stubbornness is seldom sensible, but it’s allowed me to accomplish some of my life’s bigger dreams, dreams that would’ve never transpired had I not walked them down. Most my dreams stalk me, but I stalk a few of my own too.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s only going to get colder and the days are only getting shorter; with that, my odds of reaching Scotland and Kirk Yetholm get slimmer. I knew this heading over here to England, but I wouldn’t have hopped on that plane had I only wanted to do part of the Pennine Way. Without developing into a “purist” nut-job or worrying about sticking to every inch of the PW, I will walk from Edale to Kirk Yetholm. I can’t predict the future, but we all manufacture our lives and I do have some degree of control over mine. Screw you Mother Nature!

Just twenty minutes or so outside of Malham’s middle (and its outskirts), we reached Malham Cove, a lofty limestone formation towering more than two hundred and fifty feet above us, and the site where a scene from one of the Harry Potter films was, um, filmed. It was as much natural beauty as The Way had presented yet, on par with something you might see in the Sierra Nevada foothills or at the base of the Alps, and we just about had it all to ourselves. Only a dozen or so other living beings were in the vicinity and most of them were winged, including a noteworthy pair of peregrine falcons, which I noted and am now noting here.

Two nerds atop Malham Cove
Falcons are noteworthy because they are the fastest animal on earth, or at least the fastest not requiring machinery. Sure, they use gravity to aid in their cause, but they’re free from the pollution we humans produce when ripping through the air. There’s a reason fighter jets and football teams are named after the bird; they’ve been clocked at over two hundred miles an hour as they swoop down to clock unsuspecting prey or perhaps poop on their heads. Although it’s doubtful the raptor can keep that pace up for an hour---he’d have to start his dive somewhere near where satellites orbit the earth---it’s still quite impressive. The fastest rate Ruth and I have reached for the past twelve days is three miles an hour, though also not for an entire hour.

The top of the limestone formation was every bit as spectacular as the curved wall itself, especially as it had been punctuated by a largely azure sky. Enormous cracks in the rock, brought on by eons of erosion, made the moseying a smidge tricky, but the slower speed allowed us more time to explore. Malham Beck, the small creek we paralleled in getting to the wall, flowed underneath us, though we couldn’t hear it. Originating from surrounding hillsides, the stream vanishes underground somewhere before reaching the rock, instead of flowing over it. It reappears at the bottom of the cove as though it had never been hampered, looking like a spring sprouting from Middle Earth.

Fiddling around for far too long, Ruth and I finally forced ourselves to forge forward. While we’d move onward, we’d continually look backward. The route beyond the cove was as fetching as the cove itself, but we wanted to be sure we experienced everything in more than just one direction, which is what hiking usually tends to educe. 

Steep hillsides, strewn with white boulders and ashen sheep, lined the way. Shaggy brown cows kept the sheep company, their coats confirming God’s sense of humor. The rocks were perfectly accentuated by carpets of deep green grass and the sporadic sunlight that had made its way through each break in the clouds. We took pictures galore, in hopes we might actually capture some of the beauty, though we both knew that nothing could replace being there. And yet we walked on. That’s the nature of wanting to see more of nature.

When we arrived at Malham Tarn, which was less of a tarn and more lake-like, we had already laid witness to innumerable stone outcrops, caverns, cenotes and tightly enclosed ravines. The splendor had been nonstop, and we repeatedly stopped as a result of it. The tarn was just a mile or two beyond the cove, which was barely a mile beyond Malham the town, and yet it was already late afternoon. Our progress had scarcely been progress…it was more amateur‘gress. Still, while there may have been somewhere else to go, there was nowhere else to be.

We sat upon our new foam butt-pads and enjoyed a lunch of cheese, cookies and trailmix, overlooking the lake and the Great Close Scar, another massive rock wall created by the gods and their apparent love of geology. How we overlooked it all, I’m not sure. It was all so big and blatant and beautiful. Or at least that’s how our guidebook described it.

The pathway skirted the lake before climbing to the Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre, an old Georgian homestead leased from the National Trust for the purpose of educating people, children mostly, about nature and whatnot. (Ruth and I each knew what nature was, but had no clue as to what whatnot may have been.) Comprised of ninety beds, the dwelling is hardly a house. To be sure, it is a mansion. Still, it is nicely nestled amongst a grove of semi-old-growth trees and barely perceptible until you are right beside it, where the Pennine Way lay. We felt as though we were trespassing, but by now we’d learned that the Pennine Way often leaves you feeling as such. The ‘Right to Roam’ is taken seriously in the UK and it seems there are few places outside where you’re not allowed to wander. Regardless, we didn’t stroll by so much as tiptoe. We hiker types aren’t typically permitted near mansions or manors.

The scenery wasn’t quite as magnificent after the study center, but views continued to spread before us far and wide. We left the natural world and returned to mankind’s version of it in these parts: farms. Cows and sheep dotted the hillsides and a sole strip of pavement divided the alluring expanse. We accompanied the road from far above, eventually striding down alongside it, then over it, and then again away from it, as we neared Tennant Gill Farm. The roads in bucolic Britain aren’t much wider than an econo-car, but this one was not much wider than the path. We wisecracked that we could have easily mistaken it for the Pennine Way had it not been for the asphalt and the upkeep.

Tennant Gill Farm signaled the first time all day that we had encountered quagmire. The sludge wasn’t especially deep or thick, but it felt odd to be atop it again (or, as it was, within it). I slipped and stomped and flung a flurry of flippant phonetics while we made our way toward Fountains Fell but would escape relatively unharmed. The climb from the farm plucked us out of the goop, only to replace it with peat bog. We were soon calf-deep in the unsweetened chocolaty gunk, anxious we might not unearth a dry enough patch of earth upon which to lay our heads for the night. 

We weren’t being picky of course. We just wanted to be sure we didn’t wake up underground.  The axiom six feet under could easily pertain to those still breathing, those who’ve hiked the Pennine Way in 2012, and we didn’t want to sink into anything other than a deep sleep. After some of our usual poking around(2), we decided the path itself would have to make do. And it would.

(“Foot” note of the Day #1: Page 103 in Notes From a Small Island.)

(“Foot”note of the Day #2: Poking around, as in both the figurative sense---dawdling---and the literal sense---sticking our hiking poles into the ground, to be sure it was safe.)


goSonja said...

Beautiful story thus far. So glad you are back in your element and enjoying your long walk.

Love the photos too.

Chuckie V said...

Thanks Sonja! If only I knew what my element was. I thought it was coaching, but that didn't work out so well, so now onto some soul mining adventures. I hope everything is good for you and Troy.


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