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Ancient Feet: 31 - A Full Fifteen Rounds With His Pack

...he started struggling with a large metal object. After going a full fifteen rounds with his pack, he managed to extricate what appeared to be a small torpedo and, with some satisfaction, began to unscrew the top. When he began pouring water from the torpedo into the unscrewed top, I realised that this must have been the sort of flask that would have been standard issue to the army in World War One, capable of withstanding a direct hit from a German shell. It seemed to be made of cast iron, but with a stainless steel inner which was so much narrower than the outer casing that I could only assume that there was an asbestos lining between the two layers and which left only enough room for a couple of swigs of water...

Alan Nolan continues his generously good-humoured account of a Coast to Coast trek across England with his mates.

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

During the afternoon, we found a nice spot and stopped for a break and I got out my sports drink and watched Don trying to find his drinks bottle in his pack. He took out his waterproofs, his trowel (yes campers really do carry trowels so that they can bury their 'doings'), his box of Ryvita, his monster tub of cheese spread, his machete (only joking), his camera and his map before he started struggling with a large metal object. After going a full fifteen rounds with his pack, he managed to extricate what appeared to be a small torpedo and, with some satisfaction, began to unscrew the top. When he began pouring water from the torpedo into the unscrewed top, I realised that this must have been the sort of flask that would have been standard issue to the army in World War One, capable of withstanding a direct hit from a German shell. It seemed to be made of cast iron, but with a stainless steel inner which was so much narrower than the outer casing that I could only assume that there was an asbestos lining between the two layers and which left only enough room for a couple of swigs of water.

'Bloody hell, Donkey, that must weigh a ton,' I suggested.

'This is the best flask I've ever had,' he said. 'I've had it since I was a lad and it keeps water as cold as ice.'

'Yes, but it can't be worth carrying all that weight for such a small amount of water. I carry four of these half litre plastic bottles which seem bloody heavy when I set off in the morning but the great thing is that when they're empty, they weigh nothing. Your torpedo doesn't hold anything like two litres and will weigh almost as much empty as when it's full.'

'But, plastic bottles don't keep the water cold.'

I decided to adopt a more subtle approach.

'You should try these sports drinks they're much better than water, as well as being much lighter to carry,' I said, waving my body fuel (I do like that) at him. His expression suggested that he was unconvinced, so I read from the label.

'You need to tackle the two key factors that affect performance do you know what they are?'

'I'm sure you're going to tell me.'

'Energy loss and dehydration.'

'But I'm drinking water so I won't be dehydrated.'

'It's not the same. Listen ... Sporto has been scientifically formulated to deliver essential carbohydrate, fluid and electrolytes to help fuel your performance and maintain hydration giving you an edge when it matters most. You must be impressed by all those long words.'

'What a load of bullshit.'

'Scientifically formulated to deliver essential ... thingies.'

'And why would I need electric lights?'

'I didn't say electric lights, I said electrolytes.They're good for you.'

'Why what do they do?'

'Erm ... they're like carbohydrates,' I stammered.

'In what way are they like carbohydrates?' he demanded.

'Well ... erm ... they've got four syllables.'

I never did find out what happened to his golf umbrella but it was clear that I would not be able to persuade him to discard his torpedo.

We arrived in Shap late in the afternoon and arranged to meet Don later as he was camping behind the Bull's Head. There is no YHA in Shap so the rest of us were staying at New Ing Farm where Paul was already waiting for us in the large guest lounge. New Ing Farm is no longer a working farm and the farmhouse is on the main A6 at the north end of the village. This is a real B&B. Although there was a bench in the porch where walkers could sit and remove their boots and leave them there, the landlady didn't seem concerned whether we removed them or not. She offered us tea in the lounge, but showed us to our room first. As there were four of us, we were surprised when she told us that we were all in the same bedroom and, as we climbed the stairs to the second floor, we were wondering what awaited us, preparing to give Tom a bollocking if we were expected to share double beds. And, I pondered once again, why are we always given rooms on the top floor in every B&B and Youth Hostel? Do they think we look as though we need more practice for going up and down hills? No, I decided, it must be because we look so fit compared to all the other guests. After several rest breaks along the way, we reached the second floor and found the bedroom was enormous, with three single beds and one double. Despite the four beds, there was still plenty of room for a couple of armchairs and a washbasin in the corner.

Tom allocated the double bed to me and I have to acknowledge that he always seems to be concerned about my comfort. At least part of this must be because the rest of the group were happy to stay in youth hostels and, of course, Tom knows that I am not a fan of YHAs. In the absence of a youth hostel in Shap, he had been forced to book a B&B and now he could not bring himself to allocate the extra comfort of a double bed to himself or the other YHA lovers.

Also, I think this has something to do with his upbringing. Being the youngest of eight, he was used to making do and sharing (including beds) from an early age. Also, he is old enough to have done National Service and army barracks must have been akin to youth hostel dormitories.The result is that he seems to be able to sleep anywhere in a chair, on a plane, in a car (hopefully not whilst driving) or on a train. With that sort of background, he doesn't feel the need for the comfort of a double bed.

Shap is a sad place whose fortunes changed dramatically in 1970. The village is little more than a ribbon development along the A6, being the main route to Scotland on the west side of the country, and the traffic used to be heavy and constant. In my younger days, Shap was regularly in the news during the winters as the A6 was closed on a regular basis as a result of the heavy winter snowfalls (whatever happened to them?). Although the traffic was the bane of the lives of Shap's residents, it provided a livelihood for many of them. This changed overnight when the M6 was opened and the village became quiet. At least it still has two or three pubs and there is a small Co-op where walkers can stock up on food and drinks.

After smartening ourselves up, we met Don at the Bull's Head and had a relaxing couple of hours. The pub allows campers to pitch their tents on the lawn at the back of the pub and lets them use the toilet facilities. Don was very pleased with the arrangements and insisted on taking us out to the garden to show us how comfortable he was, claiming that this was all far superior to our B&B. After failing to convince us, we went inside and sat down for our meal. Whether the food was good or bad is impossible to say as we were having such a good time, recounting everything that had happened during those first four days. Don was in excellent spirits, but that didn't stop us reminding him about all his grumbling which prompted us to re-name him Whinger Spice and, whenever he showed his grumpy side, Tom was told he'd become Old Bastard Spice. After a great evening and a good laugh at our own expense, we left Don to enjoy his cosy facilities, agreeing to meet him outside the Co-op at half past eight next morning, not that he needed to stock up on his food supplies!

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