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Ancient Feet: 18 - Grike

'Bloody ridiculous. I could have died in there. It was so steep I fell over, got torn to shreds by the gorse, landed on my front and couldn't get up because I was trapped by my pack. I was hidden from view by the bracken and could have been there for weeks without anyone knowing'...

One of Alan Nolan's companions on the long walk across England finds the going tougher than he had anticipated.

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Their day had not been uneventful. Of course, Paul had told me already that they had decided to take the direct route from the camping barn to Ennerdale Water, avoiding the village of Ennerdale Bridge. This meant ascending the hill called Grike which is about 1,500 feet above sea level. The only problem was that this is not a well-known summit and is not walked regularly so that, although there is a public footpath shown on the map, there is no clear path on the ground.

Having struggled with the weight of his pack on the first day, Don had decided to allow himself more time and had set off early, disappearing even before the others had eaten breakfast.

Joe and Tom walked together and they told me that they had found the descent from Grike very difficult because of the lack of a clear path and the steepness of the hillside but, eventually, they reached the path alongside Ennerdale Water and were able to make better progress. After they left Ennerdale Water behind and joined the Forestry Commission track, they had caught up with Don and found him in a foul mood. If they thought they had struggled coming down from Grike, they had had a comparative doddle according to Don. He had completely lost his way and struggled through the bracken and gorse and this, combined with the steepness of the fellside and the weight of his pack, had caused him to fall several times, so that he was scratched and bad-tempered.

Apparently, the conversation had gone something like this:

'It was bloody ridiculous. I couldn't find the path, there was
gorse growing everywhere, the bracken was up to my armpits, it
was too hot.''
'Don, we've just come over there as well, you know. We know what it's like,' Joe had said in a placatory way.

'Bloody ridiculous. I thought it was supposed to be a National Park. Why do we pay our taxes if they're just going to allow it to grow wild?'

'Don, the whole idea of a National Park is to retain it's natural beauty. If they chopped down the gorse and bracken and put in a paved pathway and put up signposts, nobody would want to come here.'

'Bloody ridiculous. I could have died in there. It was so steep I fell over, got torn to shreds by the gorse, landed on my front and couldn't get up because I was trapped by my pack. I was hidden from view by the bracken and could have been there for weeks without anyone knowing,' he said sullenly. 'It was pure luck that I managed to roll on to my side so I could release the straps on my pack and wriggle out.'

Joe and Tom had struggled to keep straight faces at the thought of Don writhing about in the bracken for days, trying to shoo away inquisitive sheep.

'Bloody ridiculous. And whose stupid idea was it to go that way, anyway?'

Paul now wondered whether he had overtaken Don whilst he was scrabbling about on the ground.

'Come to think of it,' he interjected, 'I did notice some grunting noises and bracken swishing about at one stage, but I got out of there as quick as I could in case there was a dangerous animal in there.'

'I've only known Don for twenty-four hours,' Joe confided in me, 'so I couldn't say any more, but I was surprised at Tom's reaction. I know he likes nothing better than a bit of confrontation and Don was giving him the perfect opportunity for a real ding-dong argument, particularly the comment about whose stupid idea it was, yet he let it all pass with barely a comment. Still, I thought, they've been pals for over thirty years and Tom must know how to handle him, and perhaps he thinks he's too sensitive to be taken to task. On the other hand, I've realised already that Don's the sort who gets himself so worked up about things that he'll ignore any advice and act completely irrationally rather than accept any advice, so I wondered whether Tom thought it just wasn't worth¬while arguing.' I was beginning to realise that there was more to Joe than met the eye. Clearly, he was very aware of what was happening around him and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of his companions.

Taking the low route, the path passes the youth hostel known as Black Sail Hut after about ten miles. This is the most remote hostel in the land and, by the time they got there, Don had fallen behind. Joe and Tom stopped to refill their water bottles, before stretching out and relaxing on the grass. As Don approached a few minutes later, they recognised that, if anything, his mood was even darker and, as he un-strapped his pack and threw it to the ground, he well and truly gave vent to his feelings with a torrent of expletives, the like of which Joe had not heard before (well, not since
they left Don an hour earlier).

'That's it. I've had enough. I'm going home,' he said at last. Tom's patience was at an end.

'Look Don, don't be so bloody stupid. You're in this mood because your pack's too heavy and that's because you're carrying all sorts of crap you'll never need and, if you'd had any sense, you'd never have brought. Why don't you just go inside the youth hostel and ask the warden for a bag and put all the things you're never going to use in the bag and ask the warden to send it home for you? Otherwise, you'll struggle for the next ten days and drive us mad the whole time with your fucking moaning.'

Joe was lying back on the grass, watching and listening.

'Tom, why don't you tell him what you really think?'

This seemed to do the trick and they had walked on from Black Sail together and, by the time they reached Longthwaite, Don was in much better spirits. After Andy's enforced retirement, I had listened to their story with growing concern that we would be down to only four after just two days of our journey, but his demeanour suggested that my anxiety was misplaced. For the moment, anyway.

Up-dated on the day's events, Don went off to pitch his tent.

'Make sure you don't pitch it within quarter of a mile of the hostel,' Andy shouted after him 'we want some sleep tonight.'

'Make that half a mile,' Paul added.

'Better make that a mile to be on the safe side,'Joe said.


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