The sun broke the darkness of our room as an end came to a rather nice Tramadol and Paracetamol cuddled sleep. Pain was very much still deep within my legs and even the task of getting to the bathroom seemed harder than ever before. The previous day had seen me broken, battered, chewed up and spat into a taxi while the lads, as brave a tigers on magic mushrooms, soldiered on until the cold and need for a pint caused them to halt the impossible day. So no matter what, they were going back to complete the missing 10km.
My head was still slightly to the left as a clambered down the stairs toward the breakfast table with all the grace a dead baboon with rigor mortis. Over morning caffeine delivered as tea for me and coffee for the other 2, we discussed the day ahead. It was looking very much like the people we paid to organise our walk had messed up the distances. This had lead to the boys having to backtrack a couple of times. It also looked like the full distance would not be achievable so something would have to be skipped. Some of the most interesting parts of Hadrian’s Wall were on the bit missed last night so if they were going to jump past any of it, they wanted to skip it closer to Carlisle. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do, then the food arrived. This chewable joy lifted my spirits and I agreed to go back with the boys and continue the walk from where they left off.
The owner of the Bush Nook Guest House was a rather lovely fella called Malcolm. During our discussion about the walk and what could be missed we enlisted his local knowledge. This lead to him offering to drive us back to the Mile Castle. This act of generosity would save us at least an hour of the day, and we happily accepted.
Back on the hills and my first worry wasn’t about getting my legs moving, the stiffness would soon pass. My first worry was about returning to the darkness of yesterday. I knew the boys with their superior fitness and Dory like ‘Just keep swimming’ attitude would take them away from me at times. I needed a way to level my head. My wonderful painkillers would help in one way, but I also needed to keep moving forward and I doubted ambling along in a cotton candy glow would get me very far.
I decided to play in my head, and sing out loud, Pink Floyd’ The Wall for both the joke and as a challenge to see if I could remember all the words. As I looked up at the first of the rocky clambers that the day I mentally put the needle in the groove, I was playing the vinyl version I’m not a barbarian. This allowed me to fall into my own world, my own movie. When the boys waited for me to catch up the soundtrack would fade and the dialogue begins. For the next 3 hours, I was very tired but quite content.
The harsh rock encrusted landscape came to a very abrupt end at Cawfield Quarry, turning into steep yet rolling farmland. This gentler terrain was still tough, just less arduous. It rose and fell like undulating waves leading us trepid explorers back to Gilsland and the Samson Inn for a lovely Sunday lunch.
The afternoon carried on in much the same way only this time I couldn’t figure out which of my record collection I wanted to recount and stepped forward with the sounds of nature. We continued up and down, through forests and across farmland. Many a sheep were seen but far too many to count safely without falling asleep. Time moved on and trudging became the order of the day. My mind started to over think a past that could not be changed and it was time to stop for a rest. Steve’s guidebook informed us about the Hayton Gate Hut, a most wonderful place with tea and coffee and crips and juice and chocolate. All supplied by the wonderful people of the cottage and paid for with an honesty box. It is simple little havens like this that fill me with hope. There are nice people out there who genuinely care.
Time was not for waiting and we had to push on. As fatigue started to take hold my mood did darken. We were all tired and just wanted to get to our next stopping point. Through fields we marched, step after step. The gap between me and the boys was winding and in turn, I was starting to fall inwards. We passed more sheep, through woods, farmyards, through gardens, and just as I was about to declare myself done, I found the boys by a village green calling a taxi. This was the end of our walking today. Now a ride into Carlisle for pizza and medicated slumber.
Photos by Colin Davies and Mick Arthur