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Ancient Feet: 56 - Encouraging Youths?

...Paul and I reached the village of Brompton and stopped to let Tom and Joe catch up again and, fortuitously, found that we were waiting outside a pub, so forced ourselves to help the landlord meet his overheads by having a drink...

Alan Nolan continues his hilariously entertaining account of a coast-to-coast walk with his mates.

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We soon reached the road where the eight miles of road walking described by Wainwright began. This 'road' walking was mainly along country lanes with virtually no traffic and, at times, we walked for half an hour or more without being disturbed by a passing car, so it was not quite as bad as it sounds and we made rapid progress towards Danby Wiske, a name which has a special ring to it. I can imagine Terry Wogan now, saying 'Danby Wiske. Ah, the old Shakespearian actor.' Unfortunately, the reality is a major disappointment.There is a pub, the White Swan, but it does not open until lunchtime and we were there soon after eleven. It seemed odd at first that the pub did not see the advantage of catering for Coast to Coast walkers but, thinking about it, we had set off from Bolton-on-Swale whilst most walkers travel from Richmond and will not arrive in Danby Wiske until much later.

However, we thought we were in luck as we had seen a sign advertising teas at Ashfield House, which was only a hundred yards or so further on. As we approached, there were no signs of activity and when we went to the door, we were told that they did not open until two o'clock.

Disappointed again, Paul and I decided that we would wait here for Tom and Joe to catch up but, as we sat on the wall, the owner, Mrs Norris, came out and said that she would be happy to serve us. Ashfield House is a private house and Mrs Norris had only started the tea shop business, serving teas and home-made cakes, three or four months before. She opens from eleven on Mondays to Fridays but not until two on Saturdays.

She looked after us extremely well, particularly considering that she was not supposed to be open and also had a constant stream of visitors delivering cards and presents, as there had been a birth in the family. Mrs Norris also does bed and breakfast for Coast to Coast walkers but, unfortunately, there is little else to recommend about Danby Wiske, which is only 110 feet above sea level and is the lowest point on the journey (other than at the coasts, of course). The altitude (or, rather, the lack of it) gives an indication of the featureless nature of the landscape in the area although, on a positive note, it does make for easy walking.

The road walking continued for several more miles until we reached the point where the Wainwright route reverts to public footpaths. The footpath route is easier underfoot, but continues across the flat plain and is hardly exciting. After the rain of the previous day, we just wanted to cover the miles as quickly as possible, so we turned south, making our way towards the A684. Paul and I reached the village of Brompton and stopped to let Tom and Joe catch up again and, fortuitously, found that we were waiting outside a pub, so forced ourselves to help the landlord meet his overheads by having a drink. The barmaid happened to mention that we were only half a mile from Northallerton. Northallerton! It had taken us two whole days to walk here from Reeth, and I could not help thinking about Tom's conversation with police headquarters a few years earlier. If we had been reporting an emergency, the entire population of Reeth could have been murdered by the time the police arrived. In fact, the situation is even worse now as the police house in Reeth is no longer there. Well, the house is still there but it is no longer a police house. I can only hope they have a helicopter for emergencies.

It was not long before Joe and Tom joined us and, after our period of refreshment, we walked on to join the main road for the last few miles to Osmotherley. The main A684 is a busy road, particularly on this Saturday afternoon in September, and we kept a close watch on the traffic as we made rapid progress.

As in all spheres of life, walkers respond to encouragement and there is one small group of people who take great delight in providing that encouragement and I must take the opportunity to acknowledge that here. These are youths who always seem to drive either a Volkswagen Golf or a little Peugeot something or other. This was evident now as we trudged along the busy main road and a youth's head appeared from the window of just such a car and shouted something unintelligible. It's a great pity that these youths are unable to grasp that their words are lost on the wind and that, perhaps, their encouragement would be better received if they were to slow down but, undaunted, they take great satisfaction from their good deed. A minority of them must have realised that shouting from a vehicle moving at sixty miles per hour may not get their message of goodwill across, so they add a shaking of the hand as though they are holding a snake. Unfortunately, I don't know what this means but it is nonetheless encouraging.

No doubt, that evening they would brag to their pals about the excitement of their day: 'You'll never guess what we did this afternoon. We drove along the A684 and shouted out of the window at some old farts out walking. Silly old buggers didn't seem to hear us, but it was dead exciting. You should have come.'

'I wish I had. It sounds great. Certainly more exciting than my afternoon.'

'Why what did you do?'

'Went to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United play Chelsea.'

'You poor sod.'

Not all of these youths are as friendly as those who encouraged us with their cheery calls and supportive gestures, as Andy discovered on one of his earlier Coast to Coast expeditions. He and Tom were walking along the same stretch of road when, in addition to shouting, a youth hurled an egg which struck Andy on his left calf. No doubt the youth found this funny and would argue that he was only trying to 'egg on' the old farts, but an egg thrown from a vehicle moving at sixty miles an hour hits its target with enormous power. Fortunately, the egg was not hard-boiled and broke on impact, leaving Andy with a yolk-soaked sock and boot, as well as a nasty bruise.

Andy is a big, tough man and, like the Incredible Hulk, you won't like him when he's angry. He was still fuming when they walked into Osmotherley an hour later and kept his eyes peeled for Volkswagen Golfs and little Peugeot something or others. He peered into every parked car, looking for the tell-tale egg carton on the back seat. If he had found the give-away clue, I can imagine a furious Andy lying in wait for the owner's return, shirt buttons popping open from the strain of his tense muscles, only to frighten to death the innocent old lady who had the misfortune of buying eggs that morning.


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