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Ancient Feet: 15 - Upon England's Mountains Green

...Eventually, we reached the summit and, boy, was it worthwhile having taken the high route. The views were tremendous, with the lakes of Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater all visible below. Paul allowed me to linger for at least thirty seconds or so, before we resumed our journey...

Alan Nolan continues his achingly exhilirating trek on the Coast to Coast path.

To purchase a copy of Ancient Feet 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 http://apn.thelea@yahoo.co.uk

Even though it was only half past eight as I left the B&B, it was clear that it was going to be another hot day and I hoped that the two litres of fluid I had managed to buy from the pub the night before would be enough, as I knew I would not be passing any retail outlets throughout the day's journey. The trouble is that drinks weigh heavy and I could feel my pack pulling at my shoulders as I made fairly rapid progress before the sun really got to work. The first few miles were reasonably level and took me along the southern side of Ennerdale Water with magnificent views across and along the lake. I was in real Lake District country now, mountains rearing up to either side and ahead of me. There weren't many people out and about but, after three or four miles, I became aware of another walker coming up behind me.

'Good morning,' a familiar voice rang out and I would have recognised it as Paul without the unnecessary addition of'you old bastard.'

'Less of the old,' I warned, as I turned to see him, looking sickeningly fresh despite having managed to catch up with me when I was on course for setting a record time for the day's journey.

He explained that he had set off on his own for a number of reasons, the first of which was that his usual walking companion, Andy, was not walking that day. Apparently, when they reached the camping barn on Friday afternoon, Andy had taken off his boots and socks to inspect his blisters and the others were horrified by the state of his feet. Four of them were staying in the camping barn itself but Don was camping outside, so they called him in for his opinion and he was equally appalled. Andy basked in the sympathy from his colleagues.

'You shouldn't have set such a blistering pace.'

'I bet you've been bursting to show us those.'

'Well, you'll just have to rub along as best you can.'

Although they were sleeping in the barn, the farmer's wife provided evening meals in the conservatory of the farmhouse and, when they went across for dinner, the subject of Andy's blisters was raised and he needed little persuasion to take off his sandals to display his ravaged feet. Indeed, he relished the attention which made the pain almost worthwhile.

Fortunately, she was sensible enough to insist that he should visit the hospital and that he must not walk on Saturday. She told them that the Sherpa van would be calling in the morning to collect or drop off some bags and that Andy could go in the van to the hospital in Keswick.

The Sherpa Van Project is one of a number of organisations which provides support to Coast to Coast walkers and a minibus travels each day to all the B&Bs and YHAs along the route, moving bags from one destination to the next. For about 6, the van will take bags up to twenty kilos. There is no charge for passengers as long as they are paying for at least one bag and as long as there is enough room, so Andy was having a day off walking in order to sample the delights of Keswick.

Paul went on to explain that they had endured a disturbed night because Andy was in so much discomfort that he couldn't sleep and decided to watch the television in the barn in the middle of the night and because, although he was in a tent outside, Don decided to break the world record for the highest decibel level achieved by a snorer. Joe's farting was only a minor irritant compared to the other disturbances. In the circumstances, Paul had decided to make an early start although Don had set off even earlier as he wanted to establish a lead on the others because he had struggled so much the day before.The route Tom had mapped out for them avoided Ennerdale Bridge and went over a hill called Grike and, at one stage Paul caught sight of Don ahead of him but he had disappeared from view and Paul hadn't seen him since, so assumed he must have gone a different way.

As well as these other reasons for walking on his own, Paul explained that he was thinking of taking the high route but he was not sure of the way, despite some rough directions from Tom. In the circumstances, I agreed to let him walk with me but only on the strict understanding that he should walk at my pace.

We walked together as the lakeside path gave way to a forest track and the rising temperature caused us to contemplate the perils of dehydration as we wondered whether our drinks supply would see us through the day.

Paul proved to be something of an expert, having suffered from it on a previous occasion. He was taking part in a charity event, walking from Birmingham to London along canal towpaths and, at first, he did not realise he had a problem. Now, most of us appreciate that canals and the accompanying towpaths are relatively flat, but what Paul saw ahead of him was the canal and path rising steeply as far as the eye could see. He found this confusing as his mind was still alert enough to tell him this was not possible, yet his eyes were telling him that it was. He was sensible enough to seek assistance before his condition became more serious but it was apparent that he had had a lucky escape from what could have been a very serious incident.

About five miles from Ennerdale Bridge, the high route branches off and ascends from the valley heading for the summit of Red Pike at 2479 feet. Ordinary mortals should ignore the alternative and keep plodding along the road Wainwright suggested, but Paul and I were no ordinary mortals and we needed no persuading to embark on the climb with gusto.

Unfortunately, I found that the gusto didn't last very long and I was soon wondering whether I was an ordinary mortal after all. It must have been the heat sapping my normally abundant carbo-loaded energy levels and I began to think we should have postponed the high route option until a
cooler day. The problem was that Paul was showing no signs of wilting, so I had to keep going somehow. This was a tough ascent of about 2000 feet which was to take us about two hours and it would be easy to become disheartened on this sort of long climb. On long ascents like this, I find it best not to look up as the distance to the top can discourage me (I know, it's hard to believe), so I put my head down and look at the ground immediately ahead and count my steps. The effect of counting seems to send me into a sort of reverie, casting all other thoughts from my mind so that my brain forgets to tell my body how much it hurts.This is a very effective means of maintaining progress because when I feel I must stop to catch my breath, I promise myself a break when I reach fifty and have to keep going until then and, when I reach the magic number, I tell myself I can keep going for another fifty, and so on. Well, it seems to work for me.

On this occasion, I found the ascent particularly taxing and
began to fall behind. I resolved not to look up and...1...2...3... laboured up the slope...22...23...24...and somehow kept going...44...45...46...bump, I had collided with Paul who had stopped to let me catch up. I took the opportunity to check whether we were nearly there and as I looked up, my heart sank at the sight of the steep incline stretching into the distance.

'Paul, you know when you suffered from dehydration and you
thought the path went up forever. I think I must have it.'

'Yeah, but the difference is that this does go up forever.'

Eventually, we reached the summit and, boy, was it worthwhile having taken the high route. The views were tremendous, with the lakes of Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater all visible below. Paul allowed me to linger for at least thirty seconds or so, before we resumed our journey, walking along the ridge to the summit of High Stile, the highest point of the day at 2644 feet, and then on to the summit of High Crag before the long, steep descent of Gamlin End. The trouble with descents in the middle of the day is that, in my experience, they are always followed by ascents and this was to be no exception to that unwelcome rule. The summit of Haystacks may be no more than 1750 feet, but it is
a steep and rocky climb for the weary walker on a hot day, particularly one who is trying to conceal his tiredness from his unnaturally vigorous companion and I was glad to reach the top.

'I'm knackered, and we've still got miles to go yet,' I gasped as we turned and took in the wonderful view stretching out over Buttermere and Crummock Water.

'You can do it,' Paul said encouragingly,'and just think how all this is building up your muscles.You'll have calves like Mike Tyson by the time we get to Robin Hood's Bay'

'What, black d'you mean?'

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