How do I begin to write about my walk on the Pennine Way? I’m at my writer’s retreat in France now; I finished my walk 11 days ago. I’m here to work on other projects, but I know I also want (and need) to write about this walk.
I can’t stop thinking about it.
Each walk I do is so different, my experience with it is so different. As I walked the Pennine Way I thought- I don’t need to do this again. It’s beautiful and wonderful but it’s also hard and that hill seemed endless and one time on the Pennine Way is enough.
But yet, I sit here in a small village in France and I wonder who’s out there, hiking the Pennine Way right as this very moment. I think of them with their packs and their walking sticks and I’m envious. I wonder if they have the beautiful weather that I had. If the bogs are still mostly dry. If the heather has turned purple.
I jotted down some words, some memories this morning, and I think this is as good a place as any to begin. I’ll blog more- surely- about this walk in the weeks and months to come, but for now, here is what the Pennine Way was to me:
It was openness, it was the moors. It was the Brontës. It was walking in the soft morning through the bracken. It was reading chapters of Jane Eyre and eating thin ginger biscuits in empty bunkhouses.
It was a cappuccino from the good looking owner of the highest pub in Britain. It was a Greek meal and a glass of good wine on a terrace with a girl from Norfolk. And fish and chips in a pub with a man from LA by way of Liverpool and talking about Meatloaf and toasting to sturdy ankles (mine).
It was the full English breakfast.
Half pints turned into pints, and restaurants that stopped serving food in the early evening and cold quinoa from a bag and a loaf of bread.
Rescuing a lamb stuck in a fence, retreating from a field of bulls and being helped over a high stone wall by a man running a race.
It was entire days of walking alone, it was struggling over the stiles and figuring out the locks on gates. Taking the shortcuts. Missing the shortcuts. Conversations about life and death, and how an endless field with racing dogs and a seat in the sun was probably some version of heaven.
It was hills and mountains with names like Bleaklow and Cross Fell and Kinder Scout and Great Shunner Fell and Pen-y-Ghent and The Schil.
It was not thinking I had the strength to get over these hills, and counting to ten with each step, and repeating this over and over until I reached a top I thought might never come.
It was 268-miles minus the 20 I skipped with a train ride, plus (possibly) an additional 20 I added with wrong turns and mistaken detours.
It was learning not to follow what I thought was a path along Kinder River.
A pack that started heavy and grew heavier, and learning how to shoulder that weight. Four blisters and aching feet, sunburn on the tips of my ears and a fall into the soft grass that startled all of the sheep.
Walking through a heat wave and discussing the weather with everyone I met.
Nights in a tent wrapped in a borrowed sweater, wind that pushed me sideways, air and a sky that made me feel alive. Dry and prickly heather weeks away from its bloom, puffy white flowers growing from the bogs, a deer bounding along train tracks, and the constant scattering of hundreds of sheep.
Tarns and burns and crags and fells and becks. The moors and the mountains. My stride, sometimes slow, sometimes fluid, as I moved through this landscape.
A small tub of Wensleydale ice cream on a bench in the shade. An apple on a rock in the sun. A muffin and a cold coffee drink in the middle of the heather when I thought I couldn’t walk any further. So many rounds of Babybel cheese and flour tortillas.
A clear blue sky nearly every morning. Horse flies and honesty boxes and bad coffee. Duckboards and slabs. Signposts with a white acorn.
And: standing alone at the top of a great expanse and feeling as though this might go on and on, and that it might last forever.