“A transformation is wondrously wrought within you. Your thoughts are simple, in tune with your surroundings; the complicated problems you brought with you… are smoothed away…you are conscious of the infinite; you gain new perspectives… Something happens to you in the silent places… and it is a good thing to sit awhile in a quiet spot and meditate. The hills have a power to soothe and heal, which is their very own. No man ever sat alone on the top of a hill and planned a murder or a robbery, and no man ever came down from the hills without feeling in some way refreshed, and the better for his experience.” ― Alfred Wainwright
The theme of trust first came up on day 4, then on day 12 and finally on the last day, day 16 sitting in the pub at the end of the whole endeavour feeling a mixture of elation and deflation simultaneously, while being quizzed by an obnoxious Sheffield man who continued to pass offensive judgement on the information he was able to bully out of me. Yes, that’s how my hike ended… In deep painful reflection of life the universe and everything. Just how every long distance hike should end.
If you haven’t read some of my other posts from earlier in the year or don’t know me personally then you won’t know that in Nov 2017 I quit my job after over 5 years, which took me about a year to decide to do. That year consisted of a mini-meltdown, 6 months in talking therapy, and then a year ago this month becoming voluntarily homeless, pet sitting and living with friends so to save money until I left London in Feb 2018 where I went to India and Nepal. So… long story short. It took me a year to trust my Intuition to jump and create a short-term plan. Then the short-term plan ran out and it felt like I had jumped, rather than off a cliff into the magically awesome life-altering Instagram life-coach-designed perfect life, into a muddy ditch of frustrated resolve with no clear goal.
As if this metaphor of my mental state wasn’t enough, I then went and put myself in a physical muddy ditch of the peat bogs of the Pennine Way, which I found, was to trust the learning I gained hiking in Nepal, that I was there to ‘prove that I can’, to prove to myself, that I am indeed a strong person, and to re-trust that I made the right choice. I do not regret leaving my job and London, I do not miss it. However, now the twinkle of saying screw it to conventional social expectations has faded, I am now left with nothing to lose. Any step forward, as long as its forward, I think, will be ‘a’ right path, because who is to say, we only have 1. A.Wainwright finishes his guide with this line “You have learned not to give up”. I just need to choose my own trail, then follow the Way.
Crashing back to earth after my first true solo-unguided-camping-backpacking-walk, meant all I wanted to do, was not sleep, but plan the next hike and immerse myself in mountain and walking literature. Anything other than re-engaging in the day-to-day. Hiking for a few days always creates enough memories to make it feel like 2 weeks in normal life. So 16 days, feels like at least 2 months. Days fly by so quickly when you are home, whereas so much can happen in 268 miles of: hilltops, Roman roads, black peat bogs, 204 bridges from Roman to last year, old miners tracks, purple heather moors, 249 stiles- some hidden- some unnecessary, old packhorse trails, the greenest green fields, 287 gates and nearly the same number of ways to open them, flower-filled meadows, and deer scattered forest. This trail has it all. A tenth of the Way is forest, woodland or river bank, and half is open moorland and pastures, the Englishness of the landscape is quintessential, you couldn’t be anywhere else. However, it does not compare to the mountains of even Scotland let alone my recent trip to Nepal unsurprisingly and is actually quite unextraordinary in comparison, but there is beauty in the subtle, in the light and dark of simplicity. Substance doesn’t have to be record breaking to be engaging.
The paths created by feet, grass flattened in the direction of prevailing pedestrian traffic or burning through to dirt and rock scaring the landscape. I say scar as its unnatural, but it is what Tom Stephenson the creator, inspired by the US’s Appalachian Trail, had envisaged of “a faint line on the Ordnance Maps, which the feet of grateful pilgrims would, with the passing years, engrave on the face of the land”. The trail is the oldest in the UK, opening on 24th April 1965, and within 20 years the not so faint line of erosion meant the Way became known for swallowing some hikers whole in peaty bog blackness head to toe. Luckily the closest the bog monster got to me was my ankle, although other fellow hikers have other stories. Most of the boggiest trail is now rebuilt and covered in joint-inflaming flagstones to keep wayfarers feet as dry and the current precipitation will allow.
“Give me a map to look at, and I am content. Give me a map of country I know, and I am comforted: I live my travels over again; step by step, I recall the journeys I have made; half-forgotten incidents spring vividly to mind, and again I can suffer and rejoice at experiences which are once more made very real. Old maps are old friends, understood only by the man with whom they have traveled the miles.”
To attempt to manage my withdrawal symptoms of walking day-in-day-out I am leafing over my weather-beaten AZ for walkers OS map books and writing out the memories as it happened with the meditations along the Way.
The majority of wayfarers walk south to north keeping the sun and wind behind you, and because that’s how most guides are written, so that’s what I did. Part of me wanted to go against the grain, but I felt more motivation having the Northumberland wilderness as my aim point, rather than the civilisation of Derbyshire.
4 trains from Essex to the starting lines of The Way in Edale, in the Peak District National Park, followed by a slightly overambitious ‘warm-up’ scramble, up Grindsbrook Clough with a far too heavy pack, to wild camp for the first time solo on Grindslow Knoll. The idea for this pre-start was so, to have Day 1 and my 29th birthday (yes I am odd, contently) to start with a magical sunrise over Edale. I did think I was slightly delusional to get what exactly what I wanted from the weather in the UK in September but one can hope. After making it to the top of the knoll, I wandered around a bit over thinking about finding a place to camp. It was too early, 5pm ish, so I sat down and cleared my mind. Time jumped forward to the sun starting to set and I strode down the path half-way to look up at the hill to get a better view and was able to see a little scoop out of the hillside to the left of the southeastern ascent path. Up again I trudged, passing the last of the day hikers descending and set up camp.
Not a bad view at all. Success!
While cooking dinner I wondered about a nice man I had met getting off the train. He was also walking the whole Pennine Way, but for his 4th time, and was camping somewhere over on Kinder Scout: my first snack point for tomorrow. “I am sure I will see him again”, I thought. Little did I know, I would, but it wouldn’t be until Alston at the end of Day 11.
I wake at 2am thinking that grouse make the strangest sounds. I eventually adapted to be comfortable with their parrot chatter barking gobble that it never bothered me after night 3. I drifted awake just before 6am and was astounded to find that the universe had delivered on my seemingly not so delusional hope of a beautiful sunrise: (below and cover image). I felt a sense of calm and confidence. All was going to be great! It would seem I can trust myself to successfully wild camp (leaving no trace, as it’s not actually allowed here) and manifest good weather. With beginners nerves left on that hill, I descended down the short, easier south path that overlaps with the Pennine Way. However, starting out wanting to be a purist, I headed back into Edale along the Way looking for the official trailhead…