Burnley, destination unknown

Well I’m in Burnley right now, having given up on the Pennine Way after roughly two days. The Pennines are absolutely beautiful – rugged, isolated, craggy – and the weather was agreeable for the most part, but the path meandered and dipped and climbed and it was starting to drive me crazy. Progress was slow, too, and that’s the most important thing at this point, so we’ve decided to stick to the valleys and to civilization for now. I’m just past the halfway point, time-wise, and I still have at least four hundred miles to go. This could be close!

Anyway, internet access has been patchy at best here. When I can find a computer that’s connected, it’s invariably too slow to trace out my route on Google Maps, so I’ve got no idea what the total distance I’ve covered so far is. My feet are saying it’s probably around 500 miles. Anyway, I’ve taken to typing up blog updates on Alex’s laptop even if I don’t have internet access, so here is one I typed up two days ago:

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My goal of walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats will no longer be achievable. I’ll explain why in a bit, but first I’ll fill you in on the past week or so.

We made our escape from the Cookley Asylum extremely early this past Monday morning, with the sole intent of getting as far away as possible. Around midday, we managed to find a library, and from there we booked a stay in a very nice hotel in Wolverhampton for a very low price. All that remained was to walk the remaining distance, which happened to be along a very nice bike path, and then relax for the evening (and catch up on sleep!).

The next day we ran into some difficulties. I’d managed to find a B&B called Highfields that appeared to be right along our intended route, but unfortunately this was not the case. It was, in fact, around six miles east and slightly north of the position indicated by Google Maps, in an area for which I had been unable to find an ordnance survey map.

I didn’t know any of this, of course, and by the time we clambered up from the canal path we had taken into Stafford, it was apparent that we weren’t going to arrive before seven PM. So as not to inconvenience our hosts with a late arrival, Alex caught a bus north to Stone, from which it should have been just a short distance, while I phoned ahead to inform them of our plans. About twenty minutes later, Alex called me on a stranger’s phone with some bad news – nobody in Stone had any idea where our night’s lodgings were located, nor had anyone even heard of it. In short, we were screwed.

Having heard from Alex, I had no choice but to continue walking through Stafford and onward to Stone, where I thought we could at least meet up and form a new game plan. Five minutes later, the skies opened up and it began to pour with rain. I had just put on my rain gear for the fourth time in four days when Alex called again, this time with some good news: Phil, the proprietor, had miraculously managed to locate him at the bus station in Stone, and he and his car were on their way to pick me up.

We ended up staying at Highfields with Phil and Jenny for two nights, and I quite honestly cannot thank our hosts enough for all the help they provided. Phil, obviously sensing our complete incompetence, helped us plan our routes, lent us a map, and even shuttled us around so we could leave our packs at the room for an easy day’s walking. On Tuesday we hiked from Highfields (which turned out to be seven miles northeast of where I had left off in Stafford) to a town called Leek, a circuitous route which once again featured a late afternoon rain shower. On Wednesday morning Phil dropped me off in Stafford to hike the portion I had missed two days before, then gave us both a ride in to Leek to continue onwards.

Unfortunately I put myself right back into the same predicament the next day as I attempted to hike from Leek to the only nearby accommodation we could find, in Chapel-en-le-Frith. I got a late start and made it as far as Buxton before I had to call it quits and take a bus to Chapel. Friday morning saw me playing catchup again, and we didn’t leave Chapel until the early afternoon.

Friday also saw us take our first steps along the Pennine Way, a 270 mile slog through some of the most rugged terrain so far and Great Britain’s oldest long distance trail. It was all very exciting, and for the most part the incredible views made up for the difficulty of the trail.

Coincidentally, it was my first day on the Pennine Way that led to my failure in walking to John O’Groats. Seven in the evening had come and gone and we were still in one of the remotest stretches of country I’ve seen yet on this trip. The last thing I wanted was to be up on the side of a cliff in the dark, so we abandoned the Way and headed down towards town on the straightest path we could find. I don’t recall where we ended up, but it was roughly three miles from our lodging and we arrived at 9, about 45 minutes before sunset. It was apparent that we weren’t going to make it in time, but the last thing I wanted was to spend yet another morning retracing my steps, and so I did the only thing I could.

“It’s not all fun and games, hiking the length of the country,” I thought as I jogged along the bike path in the falling rain and the failing light. I could hardly see the map by the time I arrived, drenched in either sweat or rain and absolutely exhausted. And that is why I will never claim to have walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats – I ran a bit, too.

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4 Responses

  1. Ah, I see. Labrynthine posts, eh? Well, technically, you aborted your goal some time ago when you hobbled and limped across the better part of Cornwall. Or are we being gait-specific?

    Nice to hear from you again, Alex. You’re doing marvelously! It’s exciting to follow you…

  2. Alex, I’m getting my Alexes (Alexi?) mixed up, which Alex is which? Alex Alex Alex Alex.

  3. Also, you evil bastard, with your twist endings! Ran indeed! You should be taken out and shot, but you can’t be, as you are likely already out… shame.

  4. Um its been a little too long since your last update. Since I live vicariously through your adventures, I have done nothing exciting for 5 days. Well, I have done nothing at all, because you have written nothing at all.

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