November 5th, 2012Beer and travel
Morning in Dufton is heavenly. Soft light glistens on the village green, the distant hills are misty, and the birds seemingly haven’t slept, instead devoting every moment, dark or light, to their celestial symphonies.
No wonder it’s called the Vale of Eden. And the prospect of exploring Cumbria’s fertile land spurs us to leave Dufton. That and the unenviable comfort of youth hostel bedding…
Within minutes of joining the Way we’re surrounded on all sides by undulating fields of faultless farmland dressed in a glorious, consistent green. The land is all one hue, the only difference in colour between fields achieved by the sun that dances on the curvatures of the land. Nature creates art with the shadows of millions of blades of grass, a silent spectacle unfolding beneath a cloudless sky.
As we rise above Cosca Hill, fresh faced and glad we didn’t win a week’s worth of beer at the quiz the previous night, the terrain dissolves into the no man’s land between moor and field; trees thin out, streams narrow, and hedgerows give way to the resilience of reeds and gorse. Greenery darkens, the sun rises towards its late morning perch above the verdant cone of Dufton Pike. Against a dull hill the rigid blue sky is speckled with ever watchful radomes bouncing radio waves against passenger planes in the sky.
This eerie place sits 1000 feet above Dufton. It’s a tough climb for the first day, and our route avoids the curiously new road surface that curves up towards the heavenly looking golf balls. Just to spite us, the detour naturally involves the circumnavigation of a disused quarry shaft, appropriately named ‘Dunfell Hush’ which is exactly the sounds of falling down it when miles away from another living creature. Luckily we skip over any hidden mine shafts and the path pop us right up against the radomes. The spooky spheres are less angelic up close, coloured in roughly with worn-off white and sat atop windowless square boxes that looks like they’d blow away in a gentle gust. They look less airport security and more hideout for mad scientists trying to create a real life Day of the Triffids. On the cheap.
We’re not halfway done for the day but lunch is calling. The afternoon trek towards our hostel seems an age away. We can’t even begin to think of a pub yet…
Our lunch stop marks the tallest part of the entire Pennine Way so far, surpassing the more foreboding features of even the Three Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen Y Ghent. Cross Fell’s summit roars with wind and we join two southbound walkers sheltering behind the meagre walls of its dry stone cairn. The air is pregnant with cold and hot air which sweeps along the inclines of the fell and gives birth to the Helm Bar, an innocuous enough looking line of cloud that rustles the winds into a turbulent force of nature. They say Cross Fell is named for the typical English meaning of the words – think angry, grumpy wind demon sitting atop a desolate fell trying to keep pesky explorers away. “I don’t care how windy it is, it’s MY fell!”
Suddenly two fighter jets accelerate cloud wards over nearby Dun Fell, so low against the brow of the hill that we could pluck the pilots faces out of a police line up. But even the power and noise of their twin jet engines fails to out muster the Helm Wind which sweeps across the tops and batters us into the cold hard discomfort of the shelter walls.
Along with our fellow explorers we re-gather our strengths – bananas, dried apricots, Mars Bars, cheese and pickle sandwiches consumed via osmosis in the teasing gaps when the wind doesn’t batter us blue. Even without our lunch the views from our lofty plateau lift us – a panorama of vale and fell in equal measure spreads out for miles below. From this vantage point we can track the wandering of smoke from distant factories which cloud the view towards the peaks of the eastern line of the Lake District.
We rise and turn into the wind, and very soon lunch seems insufficient and a pint seems unimaginably far away.Tags: alston, dufton, pennine way
September 11th, 2012Beer and travel
(…or ‘How to lose pub quizzes and alienate local people’)
Appleby and it’s border of police tape falls behind us, but the sun is relentless. It pours from an open sky, an azure coloured two fingers raised up to the sun cream at the bottom of my pack. And the sunglasses that sit forgotten in my man drawer at home. The man drawer on which sits one of the three copies of OL31 that should be guiding us towards Dufton.
Sitting a few miles north of Appleby, Dufton’s loudest residents are the songbirds that flutter and sing each evening as they perform their nesting rituals and celebrate another day in Cumbrian paradise. We’re in no rush as we amble forwards – the hostel won’t open until after five o’clock, the sun is out, and The Stag Inn is open ’til late. What could go wrong?
Mud is what could go wrong.
Under oppressive heat (not helped by hastily repacked rucksacks) we precipitate rather than perspire, and it’s not pretty. In the distance Pennine hills glimmer like a Saharan horizon rather than the northern countryside. Two pints to lubricate the short walk soon seem like a bad idea…
But despite the rousing display of solar prowess it’s not long before our pleasant lane becomes a narrow bog of brown sludge stretching from the fences that hem us in. Despite the hottest day of the year so far, the long trail ahead is cloaked in a slimy foot-deep puddle of danger.
“Some walk in the park this turned out to be!”
Taunts directed at my father – whose idea this whole thing was – are short lived. Mid-sentence I navigate a rocky outcrop sticking up from the mud like a mischevious iceberg, an iceberg hiding a sea of stones and pain and soggy brown shorts should I hit the deck.
And promptly I lose balance, spin under the weight of my pack and frantically grab thin air with one hand, whilst conducting a wild balancing action with the other that would have an orchestra dropping their instruments. Flapping and wobbling, my hand meets a solitary wafer thin branch and somehow I piroutte to safety. Phew.
And then I realise my right shoulder doesn’t seem to have stopped moving. That’s because my right foot seems to be sinking beneath me into a world of mud. Another branch comes to the rescue but this one is decorated with thorns the size of pint glasses. I look up, still sinking, just as John wobbles along the hedgerow cursing the red liquid also trickling down his arm.
It couldn’t get much worse, right? There’s no way that the powers that be would punish us by making us circumnavigate impassable mud flats lined with sharp as nails bramble in dehydrating sunshine and then throw us delirious into a steep sided forest of blood sucking insects clearly starved and awaiting their first feed of the summer? No, there’s obviously no-one up above because that would just be pure evil.
We’re not even on the Pennine Way yet and we’re caked in mud, sweat, blood and bites. I mutter something that starts with ‘f’ and ends in ‘idiot dad’ as I watch the mud rise above my ankle yet again.
But an hour later the orienteering is soon forgotten as we sip our first pint at The Stag Inn. Mud, midge and map woes are long washed away with a hot shower and a cold beer. Food barely touches the sides, cool pints of Cumbrian pale ale wipe the memories clean from view. Before long dusk fills the beer garden, the village green glints and glows in the lowering sunlight, and avian evensong is the only thing stopping us retiring for a sensible rest in preparation for tomorrow’s twenty mile hike to start leg 4 of 5 proper.
“Trust you’ll be in the pub quiz?” an over enthusiastic voice breaks the magical spell. Wide eyed and under the influence of buxom smiles we nod obediently and throw a clutch of pound coins towards the pint glass thrust towards us. “But don’t win, eh?! The locals won’t like it.”
Four pints later, having navigated the thorny inquisition of Dufton’s premier quiz master, that voice pierces the calm again.
“Pennine Wanderers? Pennine WAN-DER-ER-ERS please?!”
Isn’t that us?!
“You’re in the tie break lovelies If you win you get to pick next weeks quiz master And you’ll win a round of beer for the night There’s just one question It’s DEAD easy Immediate answer please No dilly dallying The other teams already answered so I’ll crack straight on… How many bones in the human body?”Tags: appleby, cumbria, dufton, pennine way, pub quiz
1August 29th, 2012Beer and travel
It’s not like this trip wasn’t planned in advance. It’s year four of five, day sixteen of twenty four. We booked the rooms six weeks ago. Without much thought or effort I could have procured all the necessary equipment, accoessiries and maps at any point in the last four years, when this Pennine adventure began.
So why am I crouched, at 12.39, on platform 5C, arms flailing in and out of my rucksack, clothes tangled in a blizzard of futile prayer to St Stephen, desperately, frantically searching for Outdoor Leisure 31 (North Pennines) as the far more prepared passengers (that is the rest of the passengers) aboard the 1245 Leeds to Carlisle service.
Of course the map that will get us to this years starting point – the short walk from Appleby to Dufton – is at home (specifically one copy is on the arm of the sofa where the cat sleeps, whilst one copy is on the bookshelf in the spare room. A third is in an envelope ready to be posted back to a forgiving Amazon bookseller after I over ordered). It’s the only map in the world that I own three times and it’s the only one that eludes me as the train guard prepares his whistle and flag. Sometimes I don’t know how I’ve managed to get to twenty eight years old…
The driver fires the train up ready for it’s ponderous trek through Shipley, Saltaire, Settle and Kirkby Stephen. Soon radiant sunshine pours over the ethereal moorland below Ribblehead Viaduct and the entire carriage of tourists climbs out of real life for a moment to appreciate the beautiful landscape that the Settle-Carlisle line navigates through.
For once mist doesn’t obscure the views northwards, towards the unmarked graves of navvies who laid the huge pieces of rock supporting the track nor southbound, towards Leeds and my now redundant trio of maps.
The sun is bright and the view from our 22-arch vantage point prompts a blooming of SLRs from surrepritious camera bags. Lenses are detached and reattached to a theme tune of oohs and aahs and pointing fingers. No-one, not even the cynics, even contemplates the inevitable disappointment of realising viaducts are best viewed when not on top of them.
I’m still restlessly, hopelessly poking around in my bag for the elusive map as we roll into Appleby mid-afternoon. (At one point I’d caught a sprig of the familiar Ordnance Survey orange as we flew past Ruswarp’s statue at Dent, the UK’s loftiest mainland station; but it was a false call: we don’t need OL42 until Monday, and even then it’s only for the last short slog into Bellingham, 58.5 miles away from us along the Pennine Way).
“At least our sun cream and shades will come in useful” Dad offers as we tumble towards Appleby town centre under an eager sun.
Oh balls…Tags: appleby, dufton, ordnance survey, pennine way