(I had a little trouble with my website last week, so in case you missed my recap of Day 9 where I found myself lost in a field for an hour or two, here it is!)
I woke up around 5:00am in the camping barn in Holwick. I hadn’t set an alarm because the battery on my phone was low, really low. There was no electricity in the barn and so I’d powered down my phone the night before, hoping to save what little battery I had, in order to take a few photos the next day.
The bright sun woke me up, and despite the early hour, I decided to get out of bed and start the day. I moved slowly through the morning tasks: brushing my teeth, loading my pack, eating breakfast. My food situation was not ideal, but still okay- I’d eaten my bread the night before but still had a granola bar and banana for breakfast, and I hoped it would be enough to keep me going until my lunch of cheese and tortillas and an apple and another granola bar. I had a few other snacks as well, but the day’s route was isolated and wouldn’t pass by any pubs or restaurants or stores.
There was no good way to make coffee, but I tried anyway- dissolving a packet of instant coffee into some hot water, shaking it up and gulping it down. It was bad, but I think it got at least a little caffeine into my system, which I suppose is better than nothing?
I left early, before 6:00am, and I was glad to be moving on. The camping barn was adequate but after my misadventures of the night before, I was ready for a new day.
But within about 20 minutes of walking I realized that my body was tired. It was a particular kind of tired, and not the kind that I could shake after warming up my feet and my legs. It was a drained kind of tired, and later I would wonder if it had anything to do with not eating enough the night before. In normal life, a dinner of quinoa and bread wouldn’t be a lot but it would be enough. Maybe I wouldn’t be satisfied, maybe I would be tired the next day but it wouldn’t really affect me too much. But when hiking day after day, on an often strenuous route no less, my body was burning through the calories and needed the right kind of nutrition.
Or, who knows, maybe the Pennine Way had just tired me out, and I was having an off day. In any case, my weariness persisted the entire day. Just about every single step felt like a great effort and it was probably one of the most difficult days of walking I’ve had yet. This was also the sort of day where the mental challenge became almost as difficult as the physical challenge: I had to work hard to keep my mind focused, to not overwhelm myself thinking about all the miles I still had to walk, to not stress over the challenging sections ahead.
Because this day’s stage, from Holwick to Dufton, wasn’t going to be easy. It’s one of the more popular stages of the Pennine Way because it passes several great spots: three big waterfalls- Low Force, High Force, Cauldron Snout- then a long, slow ascent up to High Cup Nick, one of the most iconic images of the Way. And I had a great day for it, too, another day of blue skies and sunshine, but almost from the get-go I couldn’t enjoy it. As I walked, all I could think about was sitting down. I fantasized about a food truck appearing in the distance. I pictured a bed with fluffy blankets and lots of pillows.
I wasn’t enjoying the walking, and I also couldn’t whip out my phone every few minutes to take photos, because the battery was almost dead. Every time I reached a waterfall I’d pull out my phone, turn it on, take a photo and then turn it back off. And then I’d keep walking, moving slowly, my head down, counting steps, trying to distract myself from how tired I felt.
One of my worst parts of the entire Pennine Way came in the approach to Cauldron Snout. It was a flat section of the route that ran along the River Tees, but the path was through what felt like a small boulder field clinging to the side of the river bank. This section took me forever- I had to watch every footstep so carefully, picking and choosing where to take my next step, needing to climb up and over rocks, watching my balance. I nearly stepped on a dead sheep (this is probably way too much information, but it just felt like either a bad omen or else more proof that the day was not a good one), and when I finally reached the end of the boulders I had to scramble up a rocky wall alongside the raging waterfall of Cauldron Snout. I climbed up the rocks mostly on my hands and knees and when I reached the top I stopped for a long break, relieved that I’d made it. The scramble wasn’t dangerous or even too difficult (I thought the scrambling section up Pen-y-Ghent was harder), but I was bone-tired and scrambling makes me nervous even on a good day.
From here it was a lot more walking until I would reach High Cup Nick, a geological formation that’s kind of hard to describe. It’s a valley, a chasm, an enormous chunk scooped out of the earth and the Pennine Way takes you right up to the edge. To get there, I had to walk through moors, up Rasp Hill, through the long and open valley of Maize Beck. Along the way I met two old men, both shirtless, coming from the opposite direction. They stopped me to comment about the weather, and one of them, gesturing to the clear blue skies, said, “Ahh, but you’re so lucky!”
And despite how difficult the day’s walk had been, I had to agree. I was lucky to get to do this. I was lucky that the weather had been so beautiful, that- aside from my first day– navigation had been easy, lucky that the ground wasn’t boggy, lucky that my socks and shoes could stay dry. I was lucky that my mishaps so far had been small, lucky that it was only fatigue that I had to walk through, and not something much worse.
High Cup Nick was, indeed, beautiful, and the few photos I was able to take on my now nearly charge-less phone don’t do the landscape justice. If there is ever time for a wide-angle lens, it would be here. But it’s not about the photos, is it? It was about my ability to sit at the rim, peel off my shoes and socks, lean back on my pack and lift my face up to the sun. It was about a good chunk of cheese and a crisp apple, chocolate that hadn’t yet melted. There was a large school group off to my right, the kids must have been between 8 and 10 years old and I watched them, how they listened to their leaders talk about how the valley was formed, how they smiled and laughed, how they dutifully went off into the bushes for a bathroom break before continuing their trek.
A couple other hikers drifted in and out, but after the school group left I had the view mostly to myself. And then I carried on, and although my body was tired, the walking from here on out wasn’t too bad- just four more miles until I reached Dufton, all downhill.
Dufton is a small hamlet, not much more than a few streets, a restaurant, a corner shop and post office, a youth hostel (completely booked) and a camping caravan park. I walked through the village and before figuring out my campsite for the night, I made a stop at Post Box Pantry, the little corner shop. I walked inside, then had no idea what I wanted. Do you ever have those moments when you’re just so tired that you can’t make basic decisions? I looked at the food on the shelves, I looked at the small menu, and then I ordered a strawberry milkshake. But the milkshake wasn’t really a milkshake, not the kind with ice cream anyway, and I was handing a large glass of pink milk and so I took it outside to drink it on a bench in the sun.
There was a Dutchman sitting at the next table who was also walking the Pennine Way. “I couldn’t find a bed in this village,” he told me, “So I’m staying a few miles away and the owners of the B&B are picking me up.”
This had been my dilemma, too, when I’d been making reservations. There were no beds available at the only Inn or in the hostel, and so I’d settled on a campsite. But now hearing that being shuttled out of Dufton and back in had been an option, I realized that maybe I hadn’t needed to bring along a tent at all. But before I could sink further into these thoughts, the Dutchman introduced yet another stress.
“Look where we need to go tomorrow,” he pointed. “It’s going to be a really, really hard stage.”
Far off in the distance, way above the village and into the mountains was a round, white radar station. It was jut a pinprick on the horizon and tomorrow, I would have to walk up there, and then I would have to keep going. I couldn’t imagine having the energy.
I pushed those thoughts away, too, telling myself that I’d worry about that tomorrow. So I finished my strawberry milk, said goodbye to the Dutchman, hoisted up my heavy pack and headed off to my campsite. Once there, I found a sign that said I needed to call a number to check-in. My phone was dead (and I didn’t have an international calling plan or a local SIM card so I wouldn’t have been able to call if I tried!), but there was an address listed on the sign so I set back out.
I arrived at a house with a fenced in yard, so I let myself in though the gate but stopped short when I heard loud, angry grunting coming from a small enclosure. I waited, and then a huge black pig appeared, and can pigs ever be aggressive animals? Because this one did not seem happy to see me. And why in the world was I standing in someone’s yard, in a showdown with a pig? Things were getting stranger and stranger.
But I was in the right place and a man came out and took me back over to the campsite, showing me where I could set up my tent. It wasn’t the most ideal situation- I was on a patch of grass in the middle of a circle of camper vans, where people were parked on holiday. There were no other tents and for the life of me I can’t figure out where other Pennine Way walkers stay in this village. Maybe there weren’t other walkers that day, maybe they’d taken up all the rooms in the Inn.
I mentioned that I was planning to have dinner at the pub that evening, and once again, I got a concerned look and the manager asked if I’d made a reservation. “You might not be able to get dinner,” he told me, “you really need a reservation and at this point they’ll be all booked up. But go over anyway and ask at the bar. You might have to wait until every else is served, but if you ask nicely they might be able to make you something.”
My heart sank. I needed dinner that night, I couldn’t face the possibility of another difficult day on not enough calories. The corner shop had already closed so there wasn’t the possibility of buying food items there at this point (note to self: stock up when you have the chance!!), and so the restaurant was my only option. This is something that I wished my guidebook had pointed out. Maybe I was supposed to have known that I needed to make reservations at restaurants (and not at pubs?), but there was no mention of this in my guide and I assumed that as long as I showed up at the right hour, I would be able to order some food. But this was now the second night in a row where I was running into problems!
After I showered and washed my clothes and set up my tent, I went over to the restaurant. It was around 6:00pm, and I went to the bar and asked about the possibility of food. The response was along the same lines of what the owner of the caravan park had given me, and once again, the barmaid looked at me a little sternly, showing no sympathy. But I persisted, asking if there was any way she could ask the chef if he could fit one more meal in. She disappeared into the kitchen, the came back a few minutes later.
“You can sit at one of these tables,” she pointed to a section of the restaurant in front of the bar. “You might have to wait awhile but the chef said he’d make you something.”
Nearly two hours and a couple of beers later, a piping hot meal was placed down on my table. I ate every single scrap and then left a very generous tip that I hoped would make its way to the chef.
The sun was beginning to set as I arrived back at the caravan park, but the golden light was still pouring onto my tent and the inside was toasty, and warm. I snuggled deep into my sleeping bag, my belly finally full, listening as children and dogs ran together in wild glee, watching their shadows dance across the walls of my tent, watching as the light dimmed and faded to darkness.