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Ancient Feet: 14 - I'll Take The High Road

...I stepped over the threshold into a small, stone-floored sitting room and, immediately, she instructed me to remove my boots. Bearing in mind that we were in the middle of a mini-heat wave and I had not seen any running water since I had dipped my toes in the Irish Sea that morning, I was a little taken aback. Not that I had a problem about removing my boots. Indeed it would be a relief to my overworked and overheated feet...

Alan Nolan now realises the test and the delights of walking the width of England through some if its finest countryside.

To purchase a copy of Ancient Feet visit

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

I could feel the mid-afternoon sun burning my skin as I made rapid progress on the steep descent of Dent.

Helter skelter in a summer swelter...

Bloody hell, he's got me at it now. That Andy's got a lot to answer for. Am I going to have another eleven days of American Pie swirling through my mind?

Mind you, Tom has a lot to answer for as well. Hadn't he told us that the first day was an 'easy' fourteen miles or so? In this heat and with this pack on my back, it doesn't seem that easy, I thought, and the steepness of the descent meant that I was travelling faster than I wanted. Tom had advised us to take our time on the first day, for two reasons. Firstly, to allow ourselves to become accustomed to the challenge of walking for six hours or more each day and, particularly, as the days which followed would be much tougher than the 'easy' first day's walk! Secondly, arriving at the destination too early would be a mistake, he said, as there is nothing to do when you get there. I could understand this, I thought, if you have been stupid enough to choose to stay at a camping barn in the middle of the countryside, but I had been led to believe that Ennerdale Bridge has two pubs, and a place that can support two pubs must have other attractions — maybe a nightclub or two?

Having completed the descent of Dent, I crossed the boundary into the National Park and was stopped in my tracks as my breath was taken away by the view ahead. The small, green, valley of Nannycatch Gate was something to savour and I followed Tom's advice (for once) and dawdled through this beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, however much I dawdled, it was not long before I was leaving Nannycatch behind and soon came to the road, alongside which I walked for the final mile or two to Ennerdale Bridge.

As I approached the village, I began to understand Tom's warning about arriving too early as it was only half past four. The long drive to St Bees meant that we had not started from there until about ten thirty so, if we had set off immediately after breakfast (as we would each day from now on), I would have been here by early afternoon. Still, at least I could indulge myself and inspect the attractions on offer in this pretty village, whilst congratulating myself on my decision not to stay with the others in a crumby camping barn with nothing to do.

I stopped for a drink at the Fox and Hounds, purely for re-hydration purposes in view of the hot weather, before resuming my inspection tour of the village. I passed what used to be the village Post Office cum store which, sadly, like so many village Post Offices, had closed and was falling into disrepair. This was a great pity as I prefer to patronise local businesses. Ah well, I'll just have to stock up at the supermarket, I thought. A few yards beyond the old Post Office was the Shepherd's Arms and I stopped for another drink, this time simply to avoid arriving at my B&B too early, you understand. Leaving the pub twenty minutes later, I was surprised to find that I seemed to be leaving the village as well. Where was the supermarket? At last the penny began to drop and I could understand Tom's concerns about reaching the day's destination too early. Apart from the two pubs, Ennerdale Bridge has no facilities.

A few more yards and I was at the front door of my digs for the night. Despite my two refreshment breaks, I was still 'glowing' after six hours strenuous walking under the relentless sun and to say my clothes were damp would be an understatement. As my landlady opened the door, I thought she might react in the same manner as women tend to do when they see Colin Firth as Mr Darcy emerging, dripping wet, from the lake at Pemberley but her look of suppressed horror suggested that her recollection was more of the Monster from the Deep. Nevertheless, she invited me inside and I stepped over the threshold into a small, stone-floored sitting room and, immediately, she instructed me to remove my boots. Bearing in mind that we were in the middle of a mini-heat wave and I had not seen any running water since I had dipped my toes in the Irish Sea that morning, I was a little taken aback. Not that I had a problem about removing my boots. Indeed it would be a relief to my overworked and overheated feet and, in any event, I would have taken them off without being asked. No, it was more the fact that I was being asked to sit in a lounge chair whilst removing my boots and the landlady seemed more concerned about protecting her stone floor from my clean boots than protecting her upholstery from my damp (and possibly whiffy) clothes. It would have been more appropriate to take off my clothes rather than my boots, I reflected. Indeed, I was to arrive at the next few destinations in a similarly damp condition and yet not one landlady asked me to remove my clothes. Funny, that.

Whichever way you look at it, this was not the most friendly of welcomes at my first B&B of the trip.

'I'll just get some milk for your tray,' she said, as I started to unlace my boots, deducing that this was a euphemism for 'don't think I'm going to make you a pot of tea, you scruffy bastard. I'll give you some milk and you can make your own.' Things were going from bad to worse. I had managed to remove only one boot by the time she returned, milk jug in hand.

'Your room's up here,' she said as she disappeared upstairs. I found her waiting, impatiently, on the landing, ready to show me the bedroom which, inevitably, was at the front of the cottage with traffic passing immediately below the window, which "would have to remain open all night in view of the unusually warm weather. Before leaving me to fend for myself with the kettle and teapot, she pointed to the bathroom across the landing, making a particular point of mentioning that the switches for both the light and the extractor fan were on the landing which, I was to discover, was important as there were no windows or natural light in the bathroom.

Apparently, I was the only nuisance (I mean guest) that night so at least I would not have to queue for the bathroom.

'We lock the front door when we go to bed, and breakfast is at eight o'clock. I'll see you at breakfast then.'

What? I had just arrived and it was only half past five. I was beginning to think I may have been better off at the camping barn. At least I would have had someone to talk to, even if there was even less to do.

I bathed and tidied myself up until I looked almost human again, before setting out to sample the delights on offer in Ennerdale Bridge. Although determined to stay out late and force my hosts to get out of bed to let me in, I was back at the B&B before eight thirty to find that they were entertaining friends to dinner. It was one of those Friday nights when there was a second helping of Coronation Street, presumably because something particularly exciting demanded an additional episode. I can't remember whether it was the time ¦when Ken was roused from his stupor and was practicing darts on Deirdre, or whether it was Sally Webster planning to give 'the girls' something other than baked beans for tea. Whatever it was, I settled in the lounge and turned on the television to full volume. Well, their guests could have been Corrie fans.

My experience of B&Bs generally has been very good, with most landladies making guests welcome and endeavouring to make them feel at home. They are very special people because, after all, there are not many who would allow strangers into their homes and let them have the run of a large portion of the place, even for money. Indeed, many of them give the impression that money is not the main reason for offering to share their homes for a night. They appear genuinely interested in their visitors and seem to enjoy their company and, I convinced myself, I was just unfortunate to be staying here on a night when the landlady was preoccupied with her dinner guests.

At breakfast next morning, she seemed more cheery so I assumed I had simply arrived at an awkward time the day before (although it did pass through my mind that she was more cheerful because I would be paying and leaving soon but, perhaps, that was a bit uncharitable of me).

From Ennerdale Bridge, non-campers have no alternative on the second day other than to walk to Borrowdale, as there are no B&Bs along the way. Indeed, there is no habitation and no roads are crossed (so there is no opportunity to sneak a lift either). The day's walk would take me deep into the Lake District National Park, crossing much more difficult terrain than that encountered on the first day. In fact,Wainwright described two routes with the more direct route staying at lower levels and covering fourteen or fifteen miles. However, I had chosen the higher route, which he recommended for more energetic walkers as a fine weather alternative.

Well, the weather was fine and I was energetic after all my pie-eating training, so I didn't need to give the matter much thought. Even though this option added several hours and some distance to the journey, it was the high route for me.

As I settled up with the landlady, it must have been the relief that prompted her to become more chatty and she enquired which route I would be taking.

'Oh, the high route,' I replied, confidently, knowing that she would be impressed by my stamina.

'They all say that,' she said, to my surprise and, I have to say, disappointment,'but none of them do,' she added.

What? Well how would she know? This was the final humiliation. Unless all the landladies listed in Mrs Whitehead's Bed and Breakfast Accommodation Guide have regular conventions when they can exchange notes, how would she know? Of course, these days it's possible that they have an internet chat room, I thought, but it would be easier for her to ask where I was staying that evening and phone the next landlady.

'Have you got a tall Mr Darcy look-alike staying with you tonight? You have? Did he take the high route from Ennerdale Bridge?'

'Well, he said he did but I didn't believe him.' I decided it wasn't worth wasting my breath trying to persuade her that my extreme training regime demanded that I should always take the tougher option and said my grumpy farewells.


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