Day Five: Shap to Kirky Stephen

(these events occured last friday – there has been a slight delay in writing this post for reasons that will become apparent very soon)

I decided on Thursday night that the 20+ miles to Kirkby Stephen was too much for my knee to bear, and that I might even do myself an injury if I tried to put it through too much. I toyed with the idea of cutting out this section completely and having an extra rest day, followed by a planned rest day on Saturday, to allow my lower limbs to recover while still keeping to schedule.

However I felt shamed by the fact that I was surrounded by people in the pub garden who were carrying everything on their backs and they were still going all the way. A sense of cameraderie builds up along the route that links you with anybody else who is also trying the coast to coast. Even if you only chat for a minute, ask for or give a small piece of advice, you are connected by a shared experience and goal. I would feel a bit of a fraud indulging in that community if I were cutting days out willy milky just because I was a bit tired.

On the other hand, I knew the next day would be too much, and hurting myself would sacrifice being able to do the entire walk itself. I didn’t have the flexibility to spend an extra couple of days on the trail, so what was I to do?

I compromised by getting a bus to Orton, a small village about 7-8 miles away, cutting out a third of the day. I would still feel I was properly taking part (Orton to Shap is a full day on some itineraries), I’d find out whether there was a real problem with my knee or if I was just being pathetic, and (hopefully) I wouldn’t damage myself.

I set out early, and was so focused on getting to the bus stop in time that I forgot to pick up my packed lunch on the way out of the pub. Once at Orton I picked up a replacement (quiche-very metrosexual of me) set off on a very pleasant stroll along a country road, with the misty Howgill Fells on my right looking like they were slowly waking from a long nights slumber. It was lovely and peaceful and I seemed to be the first walker out for the day. Soon the path turned onto a heather moor, and I promptly got lost almost straight away.

Getting lost is frustrating not just for the time you lose but also because the route you take is always much harder going than the official route. The uneven ground made my knee start to twinge uncomfortably. I righted myself and set out for a lovely stroll along a clear path through rolling grass moorland. It felt lovely and wild, until I once again got lost and had to resort to using my iPhone to get me back on track after a quick panic. Behind me were a couple of others who had also give astray, so I helped right then and we continued on for a bit.

The landscape was getting more classic dales-like, with more stonewalled enclosures and green grass. I left the couple having a mid morning snack while I continued on, and then promptly overshot a turning and got lost again. I was starting to get frustrated by my constant mistakes, and my knee and blisters were starting to hurt.

I rejoined the route and decided I’d have a sit down, rest my aching body and eat some quiche. The sun was blazing and it seemed the right thing to lie on the grass for a couple of minutes and relax. Within seconds I was joined by a flock of large flies, all competing to see who could irritate me the most.

No rest for the wicked, I quickly joined another couple to escape the flies nd try and ensure I didn’t make any further mistakes. By this time I was properly hobbling, especially on the downs, which was unfortunate as we had to descend down the the steep sides of a hill to a bridge across the stream in the valley below.

The couple decided, quite wisely, to have a little snack and sit down at the bridge. I wanted to continue onwards as Jenna was arriving into Kirky Stephen mid afternoon. I made my excuses and goodbyes, and proceeded on a couple of metres before the female part of the couple informed me I was going in the wrong direction and physically turned me onto the right path. I must have looked a state to these people, hobbling, unable to navigate, and laiden down by an immensely heavy rucksac. They weren’t wrong.

I heaved myself up a steady sloping path around the steep sides of Smardale Fell. At the top I was rewarded with the amazing sight of the land dropping down to the flat eden valley below, beyond which it rose again to form the monumental Penines. They were so big they looked like a massive cloud bank had descended from the sky and landed on the earth. The weather was so bright and clear I could see cross fell and the northern pennines to my left, and eveb make out the radar station i had walked past while on the Penine Way, while directly infront of me was what I could only assume was the start of the Yorkshire dales.

It was absoultely stupendous, as was unfortunately the pain in my knee, left heel, and soles of my feet, so I continued down the side of Smardale Fell. At the bottom I took a detour to the train station to meet Jenna-the only thing keeping me going was the thought of the sympathy I would soon be getting.

I had made it to Kirkby Stephen and now had the rest of friday and whole of saturday to rest and see whether I was in a fit state to continue, or whether this was one ambition I needed to put on the back burner.

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