Day Twenty-One

November 23rd, 2012: Langdon Beck Hotel to Dufton (12-ish miles) …

I’d hoped to get going early today, but after peeping out my window and checking the rain, chose to take a rain check. A check of the weather in England this year is indeed a rain check; there’s really no need to verify what you already know. There’s also really no need to hurry up and then procrastinate. Still, I flipped the television on to hear what the meteorologist had to say, in the event events became less eventful. As it turned out I couldn’t get past her attractiveness and missed everything she said. Today’s forecast: BONER!

It would take a couple hours but I finally quit procrastinating and came to a decision: to postpone making any real decision. This left me right where I was all along, which was fine by me since the Langdon Beck Hotel is quite accommodating. Even with all the hemming and hawing it was still too early in the day to start in on the liquor, so instead I kept knocking back the tea while recording a few thoughts in my journal. English tea is clearly caffeinated and I found myself so jacked-up that I collected my things and headed out into the wet, gray yonder. Drugs sometimes make you do things against your will.

Oddly enough though, when I started back toward the path, the weather lifted. Just like that, the clouds retreated, the wind abated and the temperature climbed. Well, the temperature didn’t so much climb as crawl, but it was crawling in the right direction (which was more than I could say for myself). I even had to remove my balaclava and swap the mittens for gloves. When I’d found a five-pound note on the side of the road I knew it was going to be a great day. Had I actually listened to the meteorologist earlier I might have known as much.

I’d reconnected with the PW where I’d left off the previous night, beside the Langdon Beck itself(1). I couldn’t see the intersection or its surroundings then, but I could see it all now. And it was worth seeing! The beck was bustling with bubbles from all the rapids it was forced to traverse and the hillsides were expansive, steep and riddled with rock outcrops. Manmade objects were few, just a farm here and some stone walls there. Stone walls are everywhere in Britain and if Wal-Mart ever makes their way over here(2) I’m sure they’ll call it Stone-Wal-Mart. Same with Walgreens.

The path was easy to follow but hard to hike. In places it was less of a hike and more of a scramble. I had to collapse my hiking poles and remove my gloves so I could use my hands to grab hold of the rocks and secure myself as I clambered onward. Near Cauldren Snout the route was what any sane person would consider, ‘rock climbing.’ There were rocks and I was climbing. And, to liven things up, the rocks were also wet and slimy, swathed in a nice layer of moss (or, as it were, a not-so-nice layer of moss). It was the most vertical stretch of land I’d faced yet and I couldn’t help but notice that there were no safety nets in the event I were to have slipped.
The Snout is another waterfall, every bit as impressive as High Force (if not more so, as it lays claim to being England’s highest) and every bit as dangerous. Despite the physical strain I’d been undergoing as I scaled away, I realized it had been one of the few times on the journey that I was effortlessly in full conscious attendance. Prospect of death brings with it great focus. Each handhold here is putting your life into your hands, I recall thinking.

Near the top of Cauldren Snout
England obviously doesn’t have the same liability concerns the United States has. If Cauldren Snout were in the US, and thousands of hikers were to climb alongside it each year as they do here, it’d be surrounded by warning signs and permanent safety measures. Hell, you’d probably even have to sign a waiver/release of rights to pass on by. But here in England it’s explicitly understood that if you choose to partake in a particular activity or action, well then, any repercussions resulting from it are your responsibility and yours alone. I love it.

Mother Nature is never negligent. She can’t be held responsible and She can’t be sued. She cannot be “brought to justice.” It’s Her way or no way, and it’s always been this way. Emerson fittingly wrote that “nature never wears a mean appearance.” Man likes to hold Her responsible for his stupidity, but ultimately he is the one trespassing and he’s who pays the price, not Her. A storm doesn’t “kill” a man; a man kills himself by subjecting himself to that storm. The same thing applies to any outside activity. If I were to expire out here along the Pennine Way because a tree fell upon my head, well then…c’est la vie and c’est la mort.

Fortunately, there were no trees nearby.

Atop the Snout I pulled my poles back out and began walking again---that beautiful, wonderful mode of moving from one place to the next. Climbing has never been my forte or even an activity I enjoy much. Land is enjoyed most when it’s mostly horizontal, not when it’s mostly precipitous. I like knowing that if I were to slip and fall, the ground would appear before I could do any real damage, not after I’ve gained a bunch of speed. Land should not have airspace beneath it.

Interestingly, I’d learn that the flow gushing through the Snout is controlled by a reservoir immediately above it, which I couldn’t see until completing the climb. Equally as interesting was the basin’s name: Cow Green Reservoir. You get used to strange names in England.

By early afternoon, that is to say around the time it started to get dark, I’d emerged upon High Cup, a massive gorge created by the glacial craftsmanship of Mother Nature and Father Time. Unfortunately by now, the clouds and rain were back and in full attack mode, but every few seconds a break from it all would sweep in and sweep me off my feet. This, beyond a shadow of a doubt (though few shadows appeared this late), was the highlight of my journey and would likely remain as such by its conclusion. Truth is, if that conclusion had come right then and there, I’d have been okay with it.

Nary a word was mentioned about High Cup in the few Pennine Way books I had skimmed. (Admittedly, I skim quickly and carelessly, as my ADD commands me to.) The guidebook only mentions it in passing. Yet there I stood in utter awe. Indeed, I did not dare walk for fear I might trip over my jaw and fall into the chasm! My camera would never do this justice, I thought, but I knew I had to give it a shot (or ten), and so I did. Half the pictures turned out terrible and the other half lousy. Still, I shoot photos for memory sake and not to impress. Or at least that’s what I convinced myself when looking back at the photos later in the day(3).

When later in the day came, it had become night. At this latitude, the sun was now doing its disappearing act by 3:45pm. Or this is what my GPS unit told me, anyway. Truth is, the sun sets on the horizon at that time, but there is no fixed horizon in the hills, not a level one anyway. The sun sets when a big obstacle blocks you from it and hills and clouds are such obstacles. This is all a way to say that it was now basically dark.

I enjoy hiking in the dark, not because it allows me to make up for “lost time,” what with the shorter days and all, but because it puts me in closer touch with the universe and in closer touch with myself. Night hiking allows me to take one step closer to nature, on its terms. Often times, I’ll flip my headlamp off and continue on without being blinded by its narrow funnel of light, which narrows my perspective, leaving me isolated. Like any outdoorsy type, I hate being closed off from my surroundings and in our modern age obstructions are many. Roofs, buildings, billboards, lights, cars and even windows all close our world off to us, and our universe. Given the choice, I rarely even sleep inside a tent, as its thin walls, flimsy though they are, do the same.

Night hiking ignites the senses and increases alertness. I hear better; I see better; I smell better (though only to me). I even think better. And, of course, I feel better. Indeed, it’s hard to feel any better than when outside, no matter the time. Why let night put a stop to that?

On a clear night I’ll gaze up into the infinite canopy of stars and brood over life’s big mysteries: why we’re here, what is it that gives our lives meaning, and so on…the same mysteries our ancestors have always contemplated, those who delivered us here. As long as I’m learning---and searching---like they have, the experience holds meaning. Night allows for this far better than day does.

I also think the closer we get to understanding the animal kingdom, the closer we get to understanding ourselves. Much of the animal world is nocturnal (about two-thirds of the mammals are night dwellers, in fact), and what better time to study that world than when they’re a part of it?

By the time I reached Dufton I’d lost all use of my fingers. This was becoming a normal part of each day (and night) and I couldn’t manage even the simplest of tasks. I tried to pinch my nostrils to fling the stream of snot leaking out of them, but it was futile; instead I just let it run down my chin, by way of my lips. In town I was fortunate to find a ‘Public Convenience,’ a public restroom. A small sign inside the men’s room stated that the local county council had saved the tiny building after they’d voted in favor of continuing to fund it.

I never really thought about it before, but it probably costs a lot of money to run a public bathroom. It would cost that much more after I was through with it. An electric hand dryer affixed to the wall worked a charm, repeatedly blowing hot air on my hands, then my face, then down my pants. Had my survival not depended on it so much, I might have felt a tinge of embarrassment when an older local man walked in and caught me holding my penis in front of the device and the warm current of air flowing from it. I’d imagine they’re used to seeing such strange behavior along the Pennine Way.

Having regained the use of my digits, I called around (Ruth had furnished me with a UK-capable cell phone) to find a bed for the night. More than a bed I needed a roof. The local youth hostel was closed for the winter and each consecutive B&B told me they were full. Full of shit, I’d guessed. Although it was a Friday, there was no way that tourists were all flocking to little ol’ Dufton for the night, not with the weather (mis)behaving the way it was. Truthfully, I think the B&Bs had all already heard about my little penis-warming party (little being the operative [or inoperative] word here). Word travels fast in rural communities.

The last place I dialed(4) assured me they had a bed and a roof, if I was okay with the walk there, roughly a half-mile west of town. “I’ve come from Edale,” I said, “I’m used to walking.” The joint was called the Coney Garth Bed & Breakfast, where I was soon comfortably situated and taking care of the usual Pennine hiker chores: showering with all my clothes on, boots included, for the double purpose of getting me warm while washing my clothes; cleaning the mess I’d just created; hanging everything out to dry; heating some water for tea; getting caught up with the outside world on BBC; wringing out my socks a few hundred times; ringing Ruth a few hundred times (the connection was bad and we never connected); and wringing out the thoughts in my journal. That last task is now preserved here forever in its virtual form.

(Footnote of the Day #1: Re photos: It’s hard to reminisce over what you initially miss; it’s easy to reminisce over what you continue to miss.)

(Footnote of the Day #2: A beck, by any other name, is a river. At least this year here in the UK it is. It can also be known as a branch, a brook, a burn, a creek, a gill, a rill, a rindle, a rivulet, a run, a runnel, a streamlet, or even a watercourse, though this last one is so pathetically apathetic that the water might as well be piped. A stream is smaller than a river and a creek is smaller than a stream, but yet larger than a brook. Stream, brook, creek, and rivulet are all applied interchangeably to any small river. There are no small rivers in England this year.)

(Footnote of the Day #3: Wal-Mart has indeed already invaded England, under the guise “ASDA”.)

(Footnote of the Day #4: The truth is I did not dial the number. Like so many other things in our rapidly changing world, dials and dial-tones are a thing of the past. Rather, I called Coney Garth.)

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