Back in the depths of March, when the sun was beating down from an azure sky, I did the initial reccy for this walk along with my ever loyal companion (providing I possess food, that it..) Bruno aka Superdawg. And, the County Durham Guided walks programme for the laughable and slightly ironic title of the “Summer Programme” (Ha!) said that I was to lead the walk on 24 July. This meant doing a reccy shortly before 24 July.
I’d been in Wales with Dawn and Alan till a few days before this, and the weather forecast for the first available day – last Thursday involved weather warnings and serious flooding in bits of the North of England. Friday’s forecast was poor too, although the actual weather wasn’t too bad, so it was at the very last minute, on Saturday that I saddled up the pooch in Bowes Village Hall car park and marched of up the Pennine Way Loop towards Tan Hill.
It soon started raining and it with a full-on headwind. The River Greta was in spate. I was chased by cattle (Bruno was chased by cattle who turned out to be no more than skittish yoofs who were unable to cope with Bruno’s manoeuvring, so it was OK , really.
We marched through meadows and sploshed over moors, ultimately coming to the really sloppy bit near the top of Frumming Beck. This is described by Alf (isn’t that Herdwick ewe pretty?) Wainwright as “ a journey of despair” And so it would be were it not for the oasis of shelter and delight sitting, in full view, on the hill – The Tan Hill Inn. The highest pub in England.
I was soon inside holding a pint of Black Sheep, followed by another pint of Black Sheep and finishing with a flourish with another pint of Black Sheep.
Soon, and with the wind behind me, a spring in my step and three pints of Black Sheep shaking Mr Bladder from his slumber, me and superdawg skipped off down the road to Sleightholme – this avoiding the soggy sphagnum of Sleightholme Moor – you only want to do this bit once in a day. Bruno took the opportunity to tidy up a bit of litter – a plastic drinks bottle. He carried this all the way back to Bowes, in fact, occasionally giving it to me to be kicked along the road…
We walked back to Bowes on the road, all the while being sprayed and spattered by driving drizzle.
On Sunday, seven walkers turned up, plus the two stewards, Ann and Steve. Steve had been coerced by Maria at the Council. Everybody else wanted to be there , though. They must be mad.
We marched off, on exactly the same route as the day before. It was quite a nice day at first. The rain and headwind didn’t really start till we got to the exposed bit on the Sleightholme Moor road. This is where the desperate struggle began. We lunched, briefly in a sheepfold (cracking camping spot by the way….) and, despite the foul conditions, we all stumbled into the smoky warmth of the Tan Hill public bar, where skilled and highly trained bar staff supplied refreshments and comfy chairs soothed our aching limbs. A guitarist/singer gave renditions of Beates and Paul Simon songs. He was very good. Outside, the elements raged in impotent rage (it was raining again). But soon (two pints of Black Sheep) it was time to return to Bowes.
We followed the road to Sleightholme and then the still sloppy Pennine Way back to Bowes. A count of heads revealed that we had neither gained nor lost anybody.
The walk was advertised as 16 miles. I measured Saturday’s walk as 17 miles. Three of the walkers announced that we’d walked 18 miles. There’s something odd about the Pennine Way. I suspect it might be stretching due to it getting really wet. I expect it’ll go back to it’s proper length when it dries out. If it ever dries out.
We’ll be back to the Pennine Way shortly. the next time, it’s the Bowes Loop/ Bowes Alternative, complete with God’s Bridge and Poison gas. I’m specially looking forward to the poison gas.