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Ancient Feet: 1 - Bring Me My Arrows Of Desire

...Okay, I had always enjoyed fell-walking, but the idea of trekking almost two hundred miles across the country, in all weathers, and staying who knows where had never appealed to me. Not that I had given it much thought. I didn't need to. Give me a comfortable hotel bedroom with a nice en-suite bathroom, and I'll walk all day as long as the weather's fine. So what was I doing here with these five elderly nutters, about to set out on the Coast to Coast Walk?...

Alan Nolan and his four companions are about to launch into one of England's toughest long-distance walks - the width of the country from St Bees Head in Cumbria to Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire coast.

To purchase copy of Alan's book please visit
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ancient-Feet-Alan-Nolan/dp/1906510970/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258967135&sr=1-1

Signed copies of the book are available from Alan apn.thelea@yahoo.co.uk

'This will be the tenth time that I've done it, and it will definitely be the last,' said Tom.

'What does Pam have to say about that?' asked Andy.

'She's very happy with it. She thinks ten times is enough for any man.'

'Well, I've only done it once and I did it the other way round but I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I think you should try it that way before you pack it in altogether,' chipped in Don.

Tom ignored him.

'Well, an old fogey like you couldn't manage it again either way round,' Andy muttered, trying to goad Tom into a reply.

As for me, I had never had any desire to do it even once, never mind ten times. Okay, I had always enjoyed fell-walking, but the idea of trekking almost two hundred miles across the country, in all weathers, and staying who knows where had never appealed to me. Not that I had given it much thought. I didn't need to. Give me a comfortable hotel bedroom with a nice en-suite bathroom, and I'll walk all day as long as the weather's fine. So what was I doing here with these five elderly nutters, about to set out on the Coast to Coast Walk?

I had made an early start for the hour's drive from my home in North Staffordshire to Tom's house just outside Macclesfield in the beautiful countryside bordering the Peak District, looking forward to our great adventure with some trepidation. It was not yet seven o'clock as I walked through the door, but the others were already there.

'Hi, Andy,' I greeted the burly figure lounging at the kitchen table, 'long time, no see.'

'Hi, Al. I see you decided against the anti-ageing pills then?'

'Yes, I didn't want to have to carry my birth certificate around to prove I'm old enough to buy alcohol and drive a car, but it's obvious you haven't stopped taking the obnoxious pills.'

It must have been a couple of years since I had last seen Andy, but here we were exchanging insults as though we'd never been apart and I relaxed a little on the realisation that we were going to have a great couple of weeks, whether we completed our demanding escapade or not.

Don welcomed me with his usual firm handshake and broad smile, his eyes twinkling as always. Since his move from Essex to Norfolk a few years ago, he had been faced with an even longer drive to Tom's than me and, as he looked so fresh, I assumed he had driven over the previous day and spent the night at Tom's. Tall and slim, the grey beard enhancing the permanent sparkle in his eye, it is hard to believe that he can behave like the archetypal inventor, apparently living in his own world, oblivious to what is happening around him.

'Why didn't you call in and see us on your way to London, Tom?' he would ask.

'Because Norfolk is not on the way to London from Cheshire.'

'You could have called in on the way back.'

'Surprising as this may be to you, Don, but Norfolk is not on the way back to Cheshire from London either.'

'Well, perhaps you can call in next time,' he would say, as though arrangements were in hand to move Norfolk across the country.

Tom was busying himself with last minute preparations for our trip and barely had time to acknowledge my arrival, but I knew that he was preoccupied with ensuring that nothing was left to chance. For someone who seems to have a carefree attitude to life, he goes to great lengths to make sure everything goes smoothly and that everyone around him feels comfortable. Not that he could ever succeed with Andy, who seems to believe that his role in life is to needle everyone and Tom bears the brunt of his moans.

'I thought you said Trevor would be here with the minibus at seven. I could have had a lie-in,' he grumbled. As always, Tom ignored him. They had been pals for years and Tom loved the banter.

Paul greeted me with nothing more than a smile. He is the quiet one who is always on hand when you need him. He lives in the village just down the road from Tom's, so he had not had far to come. He is also a big pal of Andy's who had lived in the same village for many years until he moved the few miles to Glossop two or three years ago, where he had met the sixth and final member of our party, Joe, and they had become firm friends.

Trevor duly arrived and we piled into the minibus for the drive up to St Bees on the Cumbrian coast for the start of the Coast to Coast Walk. This would be Tom's tenth (and final) Coast to Coast Walk. He had done it for the ninth time in 2000 and his plan then was to do the walk again the following year for his final time at the age of sixty-five, when his intention was to invite all his companions from the previous nine walks to prove their endurance once again. The plan had been aborted because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 which closed most of the footpaths, and the idea of a tenth walk had been forgotten.

Forgotten, that is, until one night in the pub when alcohol-induced bravado had prompted him to claim that nothing would stop him from completing the Coast to Coast Walk one more, definitely final, time. By next morning, he was regretting his stupidity but knew that he could not retract his declaration of intent if he wanted to retain any credibility. Over the next few months, he managed to enlist five companions to do the walk with him again. Strangely, of his previous Coast to Coast companions, only Andy had accepted Tom's invitation to go through the pain barrier one more time. I wonder why?

The pub seems to be the cause of a great many commitments in Tom's life although, more correctly, I think it is probably what the pub sells that is responsible for the repeated excursions between the Irish and North Seas. After a few pints, when bragging is at its most robust, he cannot resist recounting his experiences and falls into the trap of boasting about his stamina (usually hoping to impress any young ladies who may be listening) and utters the fateful words:
'Well, when I was doing the Coast to Coast Walk...'

'Have you done the Coast to Coast? I want to do that,' someone equally uninhibited (a euphemism for stupidly drunk) interjects. Next morning,Tom wakes up and tries to recall at least some of the previous night's events, struggling to differentiate between his drunken dreams and what actually took place.

'Please tell me I didn't promise to do the Coast to Coast with someone this summer,' he groans.

'You enlisted half the pub and insisted that everyone sign their names as a commitment, so they can't back out,' says Pam, with a pitying sneer.

'Oh no. Where's the list?'

'I didn't say there's a list; I said you got them to sign.'

'All right; don't be so bloody pedantic. Where did they sign?' he asks, wondering why she seems to be so angry, when it isn't her who is going to have to think of an excuse.

'On the back of that new shirt I bought you last week.' Sometimes, his boastful prospective companions come to their senses and find that 'work commitments' will not allow them to honour their pledge, although 'we'll do it next year' is their more usual way of avoiding the issue. Tom responds with a whispered 'thank God for that.' On this particular occasion, there was no backing out. Pam would be away with friends and he had thought it was an opportunity to complete his tenth (and did I say final?) trip.

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