The Pennine Way South - Cowling to Malham - 18th May 2014
The previous evening, after leaving the pub, I had returned to my tent in the field at the back of the guesthouse and soon fell asleep under the influence of a few pints of beer. However, the effects of the alcohol soon wore off and I awoke at around 1.30am to the realisation that the road passing the guesthouse was continually busy with traffic that showed no sign of abating. To make matters worse, what I hadn't realised when pitching the tent was that the tall trees on the opposite side of the field obscured a church tower whose bells tolled every fifteen minutes. I tossed and turned in a vain attempt to get back to sleep but everytime I was about to drop off, I would be rudely awoken by either a loud vehicle passing by or the tolling of the church bells. And as if this wasn't bad enough, I was still cold and I had to put on virtually all of my normal daytime clothing in an attempt to get warm and hopefully induce sleep. The final straw however was the fact that despite having looked flat on arrival, my pitch was very slightly sloping to one side and I felt as though I was constantly rolling downhill. I spent the rest of an infuriating, tiring night fighting with one or another impediment that combined to prevent me from getting anymore sleep and by the time I finally got up, I calculated that I had had only three hours sleep all night and I was in a terrible mood. To cap it all, I discovered that my second gas canister was now empty and I realised that my stove must be the problem, which meant that I couldn't even enjoy a coffee before I started walking. I packed up and headed off to the nearby village of Ickornshaw and began climbing some fairly steep fields to the beautifully situated village of Lothersdale. Much as the countryside was idyllic, my mood was fixed for the day (or so I thought) and I struggled up the hills with my rucksack, stopping frequently as my tiredness dictated. I consoled myself with the fact that there was a cafe at East Marton on the Leeds - Liverpool canal and I promised myself that I would stop and enjoy lunch to make up for my discomfort the previous night.
I passed through the neat houses of Thornton-in-Craven before descending to the canal where I left it for a road leading downhill to the cafe. As I descended the tarmac, mentally choosing items from the imaginary menu, I was suddenly passed by around two dozen lycra clad cyclists who fizzed past me downhill in the direction of the cafe. With a growing sense of unease, I realised that they were probably heading for the same cafe so I increased my pace but it was all to no avail. I reached the tiny cafe to find that it had been invaded by these 'lycra louts' and a large queue had formed that led out of the door and into the seating area in the garden. I would normally have walked straight past but I had been so looking forward to a pleasant, relaxing lunch and wasn't about to be denied so I joined the queue and made no concessions to the fact that my large rucksack was taking up huge amounts of space in the tiny cafe. If my mood had been black before, it was now thunderous and I took great delight in swinging the pack off of my shoulder when it came time for me to pay for my food and pot of tea. As I passed the queue on the way out of the cafe to try and secure a table outside, the 'lycra-louts' made no attempts to give me any room to pass with my large pack so I just pushed past them using the pack as a battering ram to get by. A woman just about to enter the cafe through the tiny doorway, thought better of it and backed out as she could see I was in no mood to take prisoners and in any case, I had nowhere to go, such was the lack of space. The fact is though that I would have happily trampled over her if she had tried to push by me! I found a table after depositing my pack against a nearby wall and was soon joined by numerous cyclists, including one particularly 'screechy' woman who insisted on giving the whole cafe the benefit of her dietetical knowledge as she squawked on about 'carbs' and 'calories' and how 'fat intake restricts the absorbtion of carbohydrate'. If I hadn't had already ordered, I would have left immediately but I waited patiently (almost) until my food arrived, minus the tea! That was it, I pushed the sandwich into my mouth, picked up my pack and left without waiting for the tea and headed off into the sanctuary of the nearby fields as the Pennine Way departed from the canal and headed off again into the countryside.
My mood was now at an all time low and it was at this point where the whole walk changed. Crossing a field towards some large trees, I pulled out my guidebook and found the number of a guesthouse in Malham and rang to enquire after a room for the night. I was overjoyed to find that they had a vacancy, which I duly booked, brightening my mood immediately. I thought back to the previous nights trials and as I entered the small knot of trees, I made a decision. My tent, sleeping bag and stove had all let me down so they were now going to pay the price. In the trees, I found a deep hollow off to the side of the path and unbuckling my pack, I retrieved my camping gear and threw it over the side in a cathartic cleansing ceremony. I was overjoyed! I no longer had the weight to carry. I no longer had the worry of the tent leaking if and when it did start raining, and I no longer had to endure cold nights trying not to roll downhill.
I bounded along like a new born gazelle, chuckling as I pictured my gear tumbling down the side of the hollow. The tent, despite being a good quality purchase fifteen years earlier had obviously suffered from being neglected, squashed into a stuff-sack for most of it's life and the sleeping bag had never been up to the job. Suddenly, I was free, released to do what I love best, walking! I had now joined the ranks of the slackpackers! The walk soon linked up with the River Aire and I enjoyed a stroll through meadows and fields to enter the Yorkshire Dales National Park, eventually arriving at a very busy Malham village as it sweltered in the mid-afternoon sun. The guesthouse was actually on the Way and I was soon unpacking what possessions I had left in my room and enjoying a hot shower. Later, as the afternoon turned to evening, the skies clouded and it began to rain and I wondered if this marked the turn in the weather that the forecasters had been predicting ever since I had set off from Edale. Thankfully, at least for now anyway, it appeared to be a just a late afternoon shower and once it had passed I made my way to the Lister Arms pub for a meal and contacted my wife through the wonders of a free wi-fi connection that actually worked.