So it has begun. This morning I woke at 5 am, left the house at 6 am and hit the road, destination Bowness-on-Solway. But first a diversion. The day before a lorry drove rather inconveniently into a bridge spanning the M6 between the M55 and the Lancaster turn off, otherwise known as, the bit I wanted to get on the M6 at. The driver is not dead and accounts claim him to be much less injured than one would expect from the photos. This has pushed all the traffic heading to and from Scotland onto the A6, which is never a good thing.
So I decided to head to Lancaster via Shard Bridge. With the sun hanging low in the east, a light early morning mist rising from the fields and Kate Bush’s ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’ playing, a moment of contentment happened. My smile was heartfelt and the day seemed right.
With the help of GPS, I found Bowness-on-Solway, parked the car, gathered my pack and headed off in the direction of Carlisle train station some 22km away. Radiohead was playing in my ears and I will admit a slight bounce in my step. For the next couple of hours, I walked the twisted roads of Cumbria. Radiohead turned into Jethro Tull and ‘Aqualung’ became the soundtrack for the adventure.
Now I might be making this sound nice and easy. Trust me when I say this, it wasn’t. In fact, it was as tough as I thought it was going to be, and being as I have been trying to talk myself out of it for months, I thought it was going to be pretty tough. You see this first bit for me was on my own and with a full pack. The rest of the walk will be hard, don’t get me wrong, however, we have paid for a firm to take our heavy bugs from digs to digs, so we will only have our day packs with us. And the extra weight makes quite the difference. On top of this, which I found out later, all the sugary stuff I bought to give me that extra boost when needed as in fact sugar-free. So as I was walking in the oppressive heat of the sun, without a cloud in the sky to hide it, my energy levels were just continuing to drop.
I viewed this part of the walk as akin to writing. Being alone with my own thoughts, seeing beauty all around, struggling every so often to find the right path, finding it a drudge and just having to push on no matter what, hating it, loving it and ultimately having to push really hard to get to the end. There was one part of the road that summed it all up. 3km of open land, a straight road that you can see the end of but never seemed to get any nearer. Bulls just wondering around and cars flying past you at daunting speeds. This section took some mental strength.
Time moved on and the destination moved closer, only thing was, I was getting weaker. I reached the outskirts of Carlisle, a mere 5km from the train station, that’s when it started to bite. I started to think about resting up for half an hour. Maybe in the next pub, get some food and a pint of cold. But the next pub never came. Another 2km down the road and I hit the wall. Everything was hurting but mainly my shoulders. The pack was feeling very heavy, my hands were shaking. I had to stop but there were no shaded areas. I just halted and sat on a garden wall, that’s when a panic set in. Shortness of breath, thoughts of not being able to carry on. I took the pack off just to release the pressure. I started to calm down. I just needed energy, that’s when it hit me.
My friend Simon Jay, feels like this from the moment he wakes from his restless sleep to the moment he returns to the bed for another go at slumber. Rich Davenport has these aches and pains just sitting down to watch the telly. Suffers of ME have to endure this kind of fatigue all the time. I can stop this, in fact, I did. Once I got to the station, waited half an hour for the train to Hexham. Sat resting on the tracks for 50 minutes. I left the station, looked at the 2-hour walk ahead of me, and got in a taxi. I couldn’t take the weight of the full pack anymore.
So now I am here in the hotel waiting for the boys to arrive. They will undoubtedly be naked from their endeavours of the day. Now I have rested I feel I little more confident about tomorrow.
I have completed something that I never thought I could, and actually, during it, never thought I was going to.
Photos by Stephen Barr and Mick Arthur