Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tan Hill Inn to Bowes

The Tan Hill Inn has the prestige associated with being the highest inn in Britain.  It's a whopping 1732 feet above sea level.  Of course, that doesn't seem like a huge height to those of us from the Mile High City, but in Britain, it's pretty high. It's a lovely inn.  Cozy fire, warm drinks, gentle music. The fire, in fact, is there every single day of the year.  The bartender, who was adding coal to it at the time, told us it hadn't gone out in "years."  

We spent the evening down in the pub - eating, playing Scrabble, enjoying ciders.  Chuck even got one of the guitars down off the wall and played me a tune or two (even though it was missing about half its strings).  I keep the video for future blackmailing purposes!!!
The serious Scrabble player
Needless to say, we loved the Tan Hill Inn.

The morning of my last day on the trail started with breakfast in the bar.  The landlady was feisty!!! We ordered two coffees, and she brought a tea and a coffee. Then she continued to insist that we'd asked for the tea, and a number of breakfast misadventures ensued.

We shared our table with a young couple.  Well, we thought they were a couple, but they were a couple of cousins.  They were very young.   He was a photographer and she was a journalist, both freelance.  They were doing a piece on, of all things, the weather for a magazine called "The Weather."  More specifically, they wanted to interview the landlady of the Tan Hill Inn about the unique weather conditions around the inn.

We didn't really see anything unique about them.  It was raining and cold and a little windy - nothing new.  We kept trying to convince the young man that a picture of two crazy Americans setting off into the rain from the inn would be perfect for their article.  I think he took a few pictures just to stop us from pestering him.

Our morning's walk was through mushy moors, Sleightholme Moors.  There were posts sprinkled periodically along the way.  Someone had gone along and placed a lost dog poster on the top of each post. Poor dog.  We think it must have been swallowed by the moors. After all, what else could get it?  It was a bigger dog.  Maybe the sheep ganged up on it?

Frumming Beck was running alongside us all the way across the moor. In many places it had flooded the path, and we were ankle deep in water.  The beck would meander its way right up to us and then dart away, like an animal trying to check us out but not get too close.  As it was raining again, we weren't feeling too disappointed by the beck's reluctance to jump up and say hello.  The rain was coming from our right for the first time the entire trip.  In fact, the right halves of our bodies were soaked and our left halves were completely dry.  It was a bizarre sensation.
After a couple of hours of slogging through mud, we reached pavement. Just in time - I was afraid the mud would swallow us as it had surely swallowed countless sheep before us!  The rain seemed to be letting up too.  We crossed over a "railway sleeper bridge" where the Frumming Beck met the Sleightholme Beck.
It was shortly past the bridge where we had the worst argument of the trip. I chalk it up to stress about my last day and being cold and wet for too many days in a row.  It was a stupid argument about a plastic bag and my clumsiness with said bag.  I apologize now to the Earth for whatever damage is caused by the bag that blew out of my hands and out onto the moors.  We yelled at each other for a bit. I thought maybe it was a good thing that today was my last day on the trail.  Eventually we settled down and got back into our normal rhythm.

Speaking of rhythm, at some point in the last day and a half, my body had finally figured out this walking thing.  Throughout the journey, Chuck had pointed out "opportunities" for me to improve my walking technique.  He tried to make parallels or give me things to think about. It hadn't sunk in.  My uncoordinated self just doesn't pick up these kinds of things very easily most of the time.  But, I realized that my foot falls were smoother and lighter.  I was rolling from heel to toe, walking carefully like a cat.  I GOT IT!!!! I couldn't believe it.  It wasn't completely second nature, but I was definitely walking "better."  It felt so different when I thought about it.  I felt like I could keep going for days now.  Too bad I had only a few miles left.

After Tan Hill Inn the Pennine Way branches into two paths.  The original path kept going through the moors, but there was an official alternate, called the Bowes Variant.  And so we left the moors and went back into farmland.   We got lost a couple of times, as the path was none too clear.  Several times, we stopped and gazed off into the distance, looking for the Pennine signposts. Fortunately, we were heading back into civilization, and so we couldn't get too far off track.
The Pennine walker is fearless!
Although the rain would continue all the way to Bowes, we were again walking beside (and over) a lovely stream, Sleightholme Beck, and the pleasant sound of running water made us forget the rain.
But the mud was hard.  Sinking to my shins with each step was getting old. Worse - it was messing with my new found stride!  It's hard to roll through a step when you have to pull on your knee to get your foot out of the mud.  We finally emerged onto pavement near Lady Myres Farm, but it was all too short.  We decided, for the second time in as many days, to bail on the Pennine Way and walk on the road.

The road into Bowes was more of a quaint country lane.  With picturesque barns and cute post office boxes/drops, we decided that our deviation from the Way was an even better decision than we had originally thought.

All too soon we reached Bowes.  There were a couple of men working on the roof of a building we passed.  They yelled something at us. I'm sure it wasn't a wolf whistle. Who would wolf whistle two people bundled like Michelin Men?  I think maybe it was something about how cold it was.  The northern accents were hard to understand.  I rarely struggle with any London accents anymore.  I lived in London for four plus years, and I spent at least half of 2012 there as well. But my ear was unaccustomed to the northern UK accents.  We just kind of mumbled something, nodded, raised our hands, and hoped they wouldn't climb down from the roof and come after us!!!

Our destination for the night was a pub called The Ancient Unicorn.  What a great name!!!! I love creative pub names - The Slug and Lettuce, The Duck on the Pond, The Olde Cheshire Cheese, Oddfellows Arms (my old local), The Rat and Parrot.  Imagine a unicorn... now make it ancient.  In my mind it has a beard down to its knees.

The landlady (Joanne) had left us a note on the door telling us where our room was and inviting us to join her for dinner and drinks later.  So nice!

We cleaned up, hung everything out to dry and played a little Scrabble while we waited for the pub to open for dinner.  A plaque near the entryway informed us that Bowes was 128 miles from Edale - the halfway point!

I was humbled, I was amazed, I was overwhelmed.  I walked 128 miles.  Or close to it. Let's say 123 miles to account for my bus day through Keighley from Haworth.  I thought back to the start of our journey. I thought of all the hardships I'd experienced.  I thought of the fun.  I thought of the liberation I felt. How could I give all this up?

Going back to work seemed like the worst possible thing I could do. However, I'm not independently wealthy, and so work is a necessity.  My hope was(is) that I could hold on to the feelings, the exhilaration, the joy.  We'll see how that goes!

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