Moments of Truth

Moments 0414Moments of Truth shows us four stories that could happen to us. They may already have or you’re going to have to face or duck some such at some time. Two are written by members of the cast, Charles Rogan and Steve Donegan; one by the director, Tom Mclennan, and the first one by a Midland’s playwright, called Will Shakespeare.

Each tale involves people being placed in a dilemma. Have you had to cross a picket line? Have you? Have you not? Or go against the flow during a team meeting by saying what you believe to be right, even though it may cost you? Your job, your pension, your reputation…your friendships. Watch as four characters arrive at a tipping point and see what happens.

What I liked about the elements of these four playlets is that I’ve been here. ‘Don’t do it…Go on, say something…’ I heard myself saying. How different it is when you are faced with a decision or a choice in real life? We’ve all been here.

One by one, they let you look at the difficult next step. You know it’s coming. What are they going to do or say? What would you do? What did you do? And the answers aren’t always the ones you expect because these decisions are neither simple nor straightforward. Situations like these don’t just happen. There is usually a build-up of tension with surprising results.

I know from friends telling me that the National Theatre is preforming ‘King Lear’, broadcast live in cinemas around the country tomorrow, 1 May. Having watched the first scene here, I definitely would like to see it.

And there’s another chance tonight and tomorrow, 29 and 30 April 2014,to see for yourself the four stories, presented here – set in a supermarket, a school, a council office. They’re playing at the Lantern Theatre, surely the most charming theatre space in Liverpool.

Our thanks go to all the hardworking WEA students and their tutor, Tom, for an evening of thoughtful observation. Lots of individuals and groups are talking about the changes taking place in our society today? Drama is a powerful way of sharing our stories and it’s good to see our students having a go. There’s more we can do, so if you would like to get involved, then contact a member of the Merseyside team at northwest@wea.org.uk or look on our website – www.nw.wea.org.uk .

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And we sing

Report for Hardshaw and Mann Area Meeting

on Quaker Life Representative Council,

held 4-6 April 2014 at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham

ff poo bear and all

I feel my Local Meeting is spirit-led and in touch with the divine, as Alistair would say. I know much less at the moment about my Area Meeting. But how would you know? Alistair wondered about what makes us well, as meetings. There aren’t any perfect meetings. For the new resource, Sharing Our Meetings’ Stories, staff and volunteers from Quaker Life visited meetings of every shape and size up and down the country and asked the same three questions?

  1. Tell us the story of your meeting that has brought you to the place you are now.
  2. What nourishes the life of the meeting?
  3. How does this meeting connect to the wider world?

And we sing

If you want to see the Private,

I know where he is. I know where he is.

If you want to see the Private,

He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.

I saw him, I saw him,

Hanging on the old barbed wire. (I saw him)

Hanging on the old barbed wire.

(Downloadable from Forest School Camps,

Virtual camp fire songs)

From this emerged twelve common practices for a healthy meeting, be it local or area. Here are three of them:

  • Centrality of worship – the connection with the divine
  • Food and fellowship – generosity offered
  • Flexible and open to try new things and explore new possibilities – fruitful, not busy

 “We are our stories.”

 And we sing

Then he’s taken out his handkerchief

To wipe the tearing eye.

Wipe up, wipe up them flowing tears,

Likewise those mournful sighs,

And be of good courage, love, till I return again,

You and I, love, will be married again.

(White Cockade, in Forest School Camp songs)

 I joined my first workshop of the day in Holland House sitting room. It was on Prayer. What word came up for us when we thought of prayer…openness, connection to God? We were asked to choose one. I settled on ‘willingness’ because it’s about being present and surrendering oneself totally, trusting in God.

And what about practices? I thought of one, the 5 minutes peace I often take nowadays when I close my eyes at my desk at work, just to centre down and reconnect with what’s important. Jean, the office manager, teases me, ‘5 minutes shuteye, you mean!’ But we talked one day waiting for the kettle to boil. ‘I find it really helpful…I feel more aware of my surroundings and the chatter in my head fades and I wait patiently…takes about four minutes, and then, I know. That’s it. That’s what I need to do now.’ ‘If I closed my eyes for 5 minutes’, she said,   ‘I’d be fast asleep.’ ‘Practice,’ Jean, ‘all it takes is practice and a little know-how.’

And we sing

 Dear friends, Dear friends,

Let me tell you how I feel.

You have given me such treasure,

I love you so.

 Maud, our tutor, asked why is prayer and spiritual practice important to build community? What can you do with your meeting in terms of prayer and spiritual practice?

I’ve been to four out of the last five Rep Councils (two a year), so I’ve one to go to complete my first triennium. I’m committed for a further three years and then that’s it. Each conference has been wonderful yet I was beginning to have doubts about carrying on. True, I was also struggling a bit with my own stuff but there really is so much coming out of Quaker Life, so much of it exciting. There’s a lot to take in. I know you can’t take it all in. Just go with what’s important for you, we’ve been told. And I thought about what’s changed in my meeting as a result of coming here?

I’m not really aware of what’s happening in my Area Meeting. I’m even beginning to grow a little distant from my local meeting, not having been to meeting for worship for two weeks and prevented from attending the last few meetings for worship for business. Looking at my diary for the foreseeable future, that’s not going to change much.

Yet, I love my meeting and feel a part of my Area Meeting, even if I haven’t been much lately. I confided in a friend that I feel the discipline of our local meeting for worship for business has become strong. I sense we are under strain but not fragile anymore, as I used to feel. We have resilience but I know most friends in positions of responsibility at the moment are either under or have been under continual strain.

And we sing

 Bind us together, Lord, bind us together,

With chords that cannot be broken.

Bind us together, Lord,

Bind us together,

Bind us together with love.

I attended my second workshop – making a family friendly community. ‘Does it matter?’ Simon, the tutor asked the nine of us, sitting in the Cherry Tree room. We started off by looking at some of the entries in the Book of Meetings:

  • Children are welcome and will be provided for
  • Children and young people welcome with advance notification
  • No children’s meeting

I wondered what it says in our entries? These would be on Quaker websites.

How welcoming is your meeting? Do doorkeepers know what to say if a family arrives unexpectedly on a Sunday? Who is part of your meeting? As is often the case, the characters from Winnie the Poo come in helpful here. At the centre, represented by Christopher Robin and Poo, are the regulars, familiar with all the practices and language of the Society. Then, you have those who come less regularly. These might be Eeyore, Piglet and Owl, who know a bit but are easily kerfuffled, apart from owl, of course, who knows everything anyway. Finally, there are our families and friends and workmates. There must be hundreds, thousands of them. How often do we share with them our experience of coming to meeting for worship with heart and mind prepared? I’m told four thousand people pass through the doors of Liverpool meeting in a single year. That means less than one per cent of people coming into my meeting house are Quaker in name or direction?

 The average age of people attending meeting for worship in Britain today is 61.

The average age of people attending their first meeting is 43.

30% of meetings do not have children.

Does it matter?

I was thinking of my own practice. Yes, I’ve taken children’s meeting for worship a few times but was it really only a sticking plaster? I was even starting to think that I’d been doing it all wrong by imposing my own stuff on the children’s meeting without listening to them. ‘You have to start somewhere…’ I trailed off, like….

There is help available from Quaker Life in the form of guides and resources. There is an edition of Journey in the Spirit for any topic you can imagine, all downloadable. Quaker Life has produced a leaflet containing lots of useful ideas and suggestions for being ready for children. And courses too. Simon told us about ‘Feed Your Meeting’, two consecutive day courses at Woodbrooke in early July on ‘Growing Your Meeting’ and ‘Organising courses for learning’.

He left us with two questions. Think about one way your meeting is family friendly. And two ways in which it might be better?

And we sing

 Fare thee well,

the Princes Landing Stage,

River Mersey, fare thee well.

For I’m bound for California,

It’s a place that I know right well.

So, fare thee well, my own true love,

When I return, united we will be.

It’s not the leaving of Liverpool,

That grieves me,

But my darling when I think of thee.

Something shifted in me overnight. ‘Did you hear that rain last night?, a friend asked. ‘What rain, no?’ I awoke feeling, well, actually, maybe my first three years were about getting some sort of handle on Quaker Life stuff; how it was organised, what it did and how it could be of service to our meetings. After two years, I was only just getting it. What if the next three years were spent in passing this on within our Local and Area meetings? Planting seeds, waiting for them to come up..? Connecting people and communicating better..? Even with neighbouring area meetings? Above all, enabling friends to be and to do. We come to meeting for worship to connect with the divine, Alistair had said. Get that right, being spirit- led in all we do, and see where it leads us.

In our Home group, more than one friend spoke of ‘I’ and ‘them’ in reporting back. Good intentions could be ‘squashed’. ‘Quaker Squashing… very interesting but that’s not our way!’

And we sing

 Alive, alive, oh. Alive, alive, oh,

Singing cockles and mussels,

Alive, alive, oh.

This isn’t something I sense from my own Area Meeting. But I do feel people are stretched, with limited time, if not energy to pick up new things. We have dear friends who have already given dedicated years who are pressed back into service, because there is a gap, to keep on providing pastoral care, spiritual and temporal. But I don’t think it’s ‘I’ and it’s not ‘you’. It is ‘we’, ‘us’. How can we involve more people into our meeting, sharing in new ways, while retaining the old? Where can two or three friends come together to play or sit with a question? It might be fun. It doesn’t have to be a heavy thing. Don’t make it so.

Can we be tender with one another and love one another. We’re not perfect. Thank God. Let’s see what love can do.

And we sing

 People should smile more.

There’s a light in their eyes that will guide you (or find you).

People should smile more,

Close your eyes, let it go, let it drift away.

Keep moving…

(From People Should Smile More by Newton Falkner)

 

Quaker Life and Woodbrooke Staff mentioned and their roles

Alistair Fuller, Head of Outreach Development, Quaker Life, Friends’ House

Maud Grainger, Faith in Action tutor, Woodbrooke

Simon Best, Nurturing Friends and Young Meetings tutor, Woodbrooke

References

Forest School Camp Song book / Virtual Camp Fire Songs

Sharing Our Meetings’ Stories, Quaker Life, April 2014

Being ready for children in your Quaker meeting – a guide, available from Quaker Life Children and Young People’s Staff Team

Feed your meeting!

Go to http://bit.ly/grocomm (Growing our Community)

Go to http://bit.ly/quakgl (Quaker Groups for Learning)

Further Reading

Prayer by Ginny Wall, article in Friends Quarterly, February 2012, Vol. 40, No. 1

David Johnson, A Quaker Prayer Life, Inner Light Books, 2013

 

Quaker Life is set up by Britain yearly Meeting to support the life of our meetings.If a meeting has a concern, it can go in the form of a minute from Area Meeting to Meeting for Sufferings, the body which meets every other month at Friends House. Meeting for Sufferings oversees the decision-making process in between Britain Yearly Meetings. Jennie B from Southport meeting is the Area Meeting representative on Meeting for Sufferings. This passes on the detailed working on a concern to one of two committees, Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) or Quaker Life (QL). Both sets of staff are largely based at Friends’ House in London.

Quaker Life supports and nurtures the pastoral care of meetings. It provides guidance and support on lots of things from managing staff and premises, Quaker roles, the right holding of meeting for worship, the library at Friends’ House, chaplaincy work, working with young people and much more. You can read more about it in Quaker Faith and Practice, the red book, and on the website, Quakers in Britain, https://www.quaker.org.uk/quaker-life . QL central committee is made up of friends, nominated for the role. It oversees and holds accountable the work of Quaker Life staff and volunteers.

There is also the Quaker Life Network. More than 1200 friends and attenders receive a regular email bulletin of the activities taking place in Britain and abroad. Friends are invited to offer service by filling in a ‘yellow form’ which gives details of their interests. There are a number of cluster groups, made up of volunteers and supported by staff, which explore a particular topic or theme eg conflict in meetings, mental health, 1652 Pilgrimage Country and the newest one, Chaplaincy work in prisons and universities.

Quaker Life Representative Council (QLRC) meets twice a year in April and October. Over a hundred representatives from their Area Meetings attend a weekend conference to find out what is going on in our meetings and to learn from Quaker Life and Woodbrooke staff and volunteers in talks and workshops as well as from one another. The theme of 2014’s two conferences is ‘Developing Community’. Reps are encouraged to share what they have learned with their meetings in whatever form arises – workshops, talks, newsletter article, art and craftwork, poetry…

There is also a QLRC planning committee which meets solely to plan the weekend conferences. A clerk and assistant clerk are nominated to serve for the weekends. Isobel D, from Southport Local Meeting, has recently joined Quaker Life Central Committee and is the link person between the central committee and the Rep Council Planning committee.

Bernie K is the QLRep council representative, with Bayo O as deputy., both from Liverpool Meeting. Please feel free to contact any one of us if you have any questions. If we don’t know the answer, we will probably be able to put you in touch with someone or something you will find helpful.

Hardshaw and Mann Area Meeting
8 April 2014

 

 

 

Keywords

Exhibition at Tateliverpool, 28 February – 11 May 2014

opulence           static          culture

             mulch           slavery             myth

These were some of the words we were asked to think of; words, which sprang up for us after looking at one of the sculptures in the exhibition. We were attending a workshop taster at TateLiverpool to explore the Raymond William’s exhibition, based on his book, Keywords. It was open to all ‘members’ of the WEA community.

I hadn’t anticipated such terrific carrot cake and coffee to perk us up on arrival. A good start! Then, Ed, one of the tutors, opened up the theme of the morning. He asked us to choose one of the sculptures in the exhibition and let the words flow. Pick five of them. And, then, the other tutor, Colette showed us how to make our prints. ‘Take a dab of printer’s ink. Roll it forwards and backwards and from side to side. Keep rolling till you hear it squeak, like a mouse’, she guided us.

On inking your shapes…’Oh, no!’, she cried out, ‘I meant to say ink them on the reverse side.’ We had each drawn a silhouette of one of the sculptures in the exhibition and then used a scalpel to cut out them out, leaving two “plates” – the object cut out and the negative space left over. Not easy using a scalpel – I’d last used one on a cadaverous, dead body of a team mate (but that was such a long time ago and a different story) – and the cutting out started to go well, once Colette pointed out I was holding the scalpel the wrong way up. ‘It will cut much better using the blade.’ And it did!

Copy your word onto a piece of fun foam in a lovely, cursive script. ‘mulch’  I wrote. Lovely. Surround it with a border and don’t forget about your negative space. Apply the ink by roller on the reverse side and set it up on the printer. Turn the handle to make your work of art. And so we did and they were. Several delighted, smiling faces showed as much. Saad commented how peaceful the place was. We were working quietly, listening to classical piano music, looking out the wide windows over the river Mersey.

If we’d had more time, we were told, we could have gone on to practise ‘etching’, using a scratching on plastic method. One for another day, I hope.

Before we parted, I discussed the possibility of running an ‘Introduction to Printmaking’ course, its theory and history as well as practical, in the autumn. Any takers out there? Anyone at all…now that we’ve wetted your appetite? Get in touch.

Off the map

A first time long distance walk solo                  along the Yorkshire Wolds Way,                          the wrong way

 Beginnings

The idea of taking a walking holiday on a long-distance footpath did not come to me in a flash. It was something that grew over time. You could say it started years before during the many occasions spent driving over the Snake Pass on   visits to Sheffield. I may even have drawn on memories of Blue Peter’s John Noakes’ walking and camping along the Pennine Way one very wet summer. On holidays, I had often snatched walks along stretches of Devon and South Pembrokeshire costal paths but never for more than a few hours at a time. Something about the challenge of a long-distance walk appealed to me.

I was used to the city and everything it can throw at you: masses of jostling people, non-stop noise from traffic and building work, a stressful job too thrown in to the mix. A couple of years earlier, I had joined my local Ramblers’ Association group and usually went out with them about once a month. Typically, we covered 12 miles or so on most days. I then had three weeks to recover. Before joining, I had worried over the prospect of spending a whole day in the company of people I barely knew. It turned out not to be like that. You find yourself stepping in and out of conversations with people for a short while, for as long as you want before being left to your own thoughts again until you fell in with someone else again. One rambler told me of her forthcoming reunion in Scotland with walking friends from all over the world. It sounded wonderful, just you, your map and your compass. She explained that her favourite way of rambling was ‘solo’, taking off into the wilderness on her own. ‘Really?’

PoppiesIn my late forties, I was, like many others, coming to terms with the end of my marriage. For the first time in years, I did not have a family holiday to share that summer. I could actually take time off in September if I chose. There were advantages to this. Accommodation was cheaper and more likely to be available. The weather would probably be fair to very good. On the other hand, everyone was going back at work after the summer break. September at work is always one of the busiest times of the year for me. Would my colleagues be able to cope without me for a whole week?

I thought about it idly for weeks without doing much. Being idle is a good thing. I knew from going out with my local Ramblers’ Association group for the day just how much kit you needed for food and drink and changes in the weather. How much would you need for a whole week? How would you carry it? One Sunday, off rambling in the hills, I shared my thoughts with the rambler, who was soon off to Scotland.

I was playing with the idea, I told her, of sleeping rough. This appealed to the romantic in me. I could picture myself from under the comfort of my duvet, bivouacked under a hedgerow along the way, in harmony with the rhythm of the season, closing my eyelids as the sun set and rising full of beans to do my exercises with the dawn. I even investigated various army surplus stores for outdoor sleeping or ‘bivvy’ bags. My walking companion gave me some sound advice. ‘You will need to stay somewhere where you can have a hot shower and a warm bed each night, not to mention starting the day with a hearty breakfast. Don’t leave it to chance. Make sure you book ahead.’ ‘How long is it before you go?’ she asked. ‘Oh, just three weeks’, I replied nervously, hoping she wouldn’t notice my sharp intake of breath. ‘Time to get cracking then, don’t you think. And good luck to you. You will really enjoy it.’ She didn’t say if she thought I was mad. She left those kind of thoughts to me.

The Wolds Way is 79 miles long. According to the information available, it is a well-signposted path, ideal for a first-time, long-distance walker. That sounded promising to me. I liked the good signs point. Starting at a place called Hessle, just outside Hull, it winds in an arc northwards all the way towards Filey on the coast. Most people start out from Hessle, ending with the glorious views of the sea from the chalky cliff tops. But all my life, if someone has told me to do it one way, I’ve wanted to do the opposite. It wasn’t just that. I wanted to finish within sight of the glorious Humber Bridge at sunset. I’d only ever seen the bridge on television or in pictures. It looked very impressive. If I got there, I would take a photograph to mark the end of my journey.

a vague ideaWhat had been a vague idea for the last few months had now come to the crunch. It was time to start making phone calls. So much to do! The BnB’s were soon booked. As usual, there were little panics. One owner didn’t get back to me because she had been on holiday. When she did ring, she was already booked up for the night I wanted. Fortunately, I had been able to make alternative arrangements. Later, while actually on the walk, I bumped into a couple who had stayed at that BnB. The woman who ran it was well into her 80s, kept a wonderful vegetable garden and served the most delicious meals. Well, next time, I thought.

The phone number of the pub at another of my intended destinations in South Cave rang out continually without reply. What kind of establishment was this that didn’t pick up the phone? Eventually, I rang the village store for help (acting on another tip from my rambling adviser), getting the number from a pamphlet I’d obtained from Yorkshire tourist board. Fortunately for me, staff from the pub often came into the shop and the woman serving in the shop, promised to pass my number on. ‘Have to go now,’ she said, ‘I’ve got a customer.’ I was slightly sceptical about this but then the phone rang. It was someone from the pub and my last booking was done. She told me that they had changed their telephone number.

A new, bigger rucksack, more socks, two OS maps showing the route all needed to be purchased. The whole route was covered by 4 OS maps but I reckoned that I could get away with the guide book for the missing sections. After all, how difficult could it be following a well-signed path? I checked out the train times. It was simpler for me to get to Filey by mid-day than Hull. So, my mind was made up – Filey, here I come. I would be aiming to complete the walk ‘in reverse’!

Then the fateful departure day came. Friends and colleagues wished me luck. Don’t you think whenever anyone does that, it seems as if they know something you don’t. I was half-expecting the worst and had checked out possible escape routes by bus from Hull or Scarborough. Besides, I told myself, the journey wasn’t at all about completing the route. It would be great if I could, of course but it was more about experiencing the countryside for a longer period, relying on my own resources and seeing how I would deal with problems that would inevitably crop up. It was also to do with winding down, I discovered. I had no idea how stressed I had become by the strains of modern day life.

Day 1 – All the Way to the Ganton Greyhound

I woke up in need of the loo, not an uncommon experience these days. In the darkness of my bedroom up in the roof space of my new flat, I spied out of the dormer window a trail of thin, wispy cloud, back lit by translucent, blue light. Breakfast beckoned. I burnt the toast while consulting my checklist. Attempting to be organised, I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that I’d forgotten something obvious. There had once been a family incident on the motorway driving down to the ferry port of Poole on the way over to France. I had been overcome by the strangest misgiving that I had left all the family passports at home. We stopped, tipped out the suitcase, no passports and consternation all round. Then, I checked again and, hey presto, there they were all the time. It had given everyone a bit of a fright which I now realised was ongoing. Nowadays, it kept happening more and more. I feared it was a sign of early dementia, half-hoped the explanation could be stress-related. This seemed more reasonable, I counselled. Fortunately, I recognised a tendency in me towards suspecting the worst, only to be assured that all was well. I just needed a few days away from it all; revitalising trip and this was one way of doing it.

For the last time, I mentally went through my list – wallet, cheque book, keys, mobile phone, water bottle and so on – all accounted for. I had no sooner finished my listing when, remarkably, a thin sliver of blue lightning flashed inches over the end of my bed. Interesting, I thought. Should I get up or give up now? Deciding to mull this over in bed for a further five minutes, I searched the sky for any more omens. None came. So, I swiftly put on my slipper socks and headed down the stairs and adventure.

I was training myself to leave five minutes earlier than usual, tired of legging it onto a train just as it was leaving. One time, I left for work without my front tooth and had to go back. This time the tooth would be staying in the bathroom. The world would just have to get used to my toothy grin.

I arrived at the ticket office of my local station. ‘Single to Filey, please’, anticipating at least one raised and curious eyebrow. ‘Filey? What draws you to Filey at such a time as this?’ I imagined him saying. Or ‘Filey, wow, mate, how lucky are you! Wish I was going there.’ But all I got was a ticket. What was going on? Was I trying to re-capture some of the excitement and bravado from the long train journeys of my student days to Bratislava and Venice? I had got so used to seeing places, I didn’t get excited anymore and I missed that feeling of seeing something afresh. For some reason, I was reminded of the lightening strike earlier that morning and a grim feeling of foreboding crept over me. I shook myself and made my way to the top of the ramp, leading down to the platform below.

After hours of planning, I was at the start of my journey. I experienced something of the feeling of combined nervousness and excitement at going travelling. But most of all, I needed to escape or face up to – I wasn’t sure which – the problems of trying to manage a stressful workload while trying to work through some of the issues arising out of a slow and painful separation from my wife of fifteen years. It would also be helpful if I could become a bit less grumpy, a little more positive.

I planned to go from my local station into Liverpool Lime Street. From there, I would come back the same way through the long line of tunnels which cut through the sandstone wedge running under the city. Then, I’d be on my way to Scarborough. Just as I arrived at the top of the ramp, the Liverpool train appeared round the bend. ‘Yes!’ I cheered. I later found out that the timetable had changed and the 07.40 was now the 07.30, running 10 minutes behind schedule

I couldn’t help but think about my rucksack, which by now was pressing down heavily on my shoulders…neck, arms, and back. It had back straps, which were adjustable to the height of the person carrying it. I was reluctant to touch it in case it ‘opened’ and wouldn’t work.

Holding my copy of the Liverpool Daily Post, I bordered the train for Scarborough. I’d just taken my seat when I was asked to leave the carriage while it was cleaned. Back on the platform, I looked at my rucksack – friend or foe for the next 5 days. It was no good. I had to do something about that strap. There are four notches on the back of the bag. I lowered it by one, didn’t want to over do it. The bag felt better with less of the weight on my hips, more evenly distributed on my shoulders.

The platform started to fill up ahead of the train leaving. I took a seat on the platform. A man in a pinstripe suit and sun tan annoyed me by smoking in my direction. I noticed how intolerant I had become towards anyone smoking nearby me, just increasingly intolerant generally. I really was feeling old and grumpy. Was this the reason I was on this trip? Didn’t people take on a challenge? I didn’t really want to think too much about what reasons I had. I just wanted to get going. I couldn’t wait to start walking, feeling the sun and wind on my face and stepping out, as Joe Jackson once said. A few more years and my poor ankle might seize up completely.

As a group of us stood waiting patiently for the doors to open, I wondered if I would get the same table seat I‘d sat in earlier. I scanned the people around me, daring them to sit in my seat, challenging them. And this without any morning coffee! I’d decided to skip the caffeine surge and stick to water instead. With only a half- litre bottle of water plus my flask, I had to take it easy. I wanted to avoid dehydration and headaches. My thoughts went back to previous journeys – anxiety, guarding possessions, being watchful and mistrustful of my fellow passengers. I realised how wound up I had become and hoped this holiday would help me unwind.

The open button on the train door suddenly lit up. A young woman with two hydraheads pressed it and it slid open. I grabbed my book, checking that the newly re-arranged strap held, half expecting it to come loose but it didn’t. A man with a bald head and an attractive female companion sat in ‘my’ place, I gloomily observed. Never mind. I sat at a different table, all to myself. The luggage rack was empty. Strange, I looked about me, am I the only person on this train wearing shorts? It was early September. The whole train was full of people wearing suits, heading to work, exchanging words about their summer holidays. I was just starting on mine.

The train was filling up but I still had my table to myself. But just before departure, there was a flash of red tracksuit and a man sank into the seat opposite. He at least closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. The train had just started to pull out when a man in a grey suit, sporting a hideous yellow and magenta striped tie in my face sat next to the man in the red tracksuit. To make matters worse, he was holding a pungent, costa coffee and, double whammy, they were old mates.

Who said men don’t talk? We were barely passed Birchwood and they hadn’t stopped for breath. In the 45 minutes it took to get to Manchester, they covered DIY, loft conversions, football, a man’s peak. It’s physical at 21, mental at 25, apparently. Did I sense a competitive edge to their conversation? The man in the red tracksuit looked over 40 while his younger colleague was still in his twenties. As someone who had officially passed into the late-forties age group, that put me not just over the hill but out to pasture. Fields, pathways, quick, where are you?

Next, they worked the conversation onto uncles and the miners’ strike in the 19Text80s. This at least got interesting, not that I was trying to listen, you understand. ‘It taught me to look after number one,’ said the red track suit. ‘Sad but true. Just earn enough money for yourself and the kids, sod everyone else.’ Even if the lesson learnt was not the one I would have wished for. How local communities supported and sustained one another in a time of struggle against injustice. In the next breath, we were back to motorbikes and football. In the end, I was sorry to see my fellow travellers leave the train at Manchester. It was so quiet. The rest of the journey passed quickly until, look at me, I was standing outside the railway station at Filey, having my photo taken.

I was looking for someone to take a Germanphotograph of me to prove I was actually there. I approached a man who claimed not to speak any English. ‘Ah, tourist.’ I thought, just like me. He had a companion who was happy to take a snap of me. ‘German?’ I guessed out loud, as she shaped to take my picture. ‘No, no, not German, Polish.’ ‘Ah, well done, Bern,’ a good start. I hailed another passer-by. ‘Excuse me, are you local? I’m trying to get to Filey Brigg.’ I explained in my best tourist voice. He directed me to the large map of Filey outside the station. They have very good maps and signage in Filey..

In no time at all, I was sitting on a bench at the cliff head, overlooking the sea, eating my lunch. Next, I found a set of steps leading down to the foreshore, lots of them, tearing at my knees. At the bottom, I passed a group of teenagers. They seemed to be picking on one of them. I thought about asking if he was OK but decided not to and moved on. I found myself walking along the Coble, complete with fishing boats and chalets for hire. Soon, I had to turn up the hill to get to the tourist office. Although only about 75 yards up the hill, I had to pause half-way up looking around for a bench to rest on. I’d been told that I’d ‘get the weight’ of my rucksack by the third day. This seemed unlikely to my mind at this point. It fleetingly occurred to me that I had rather more than 75 miles and a bit still to go.75 and a bit to go

Filey Brig

By the time I pushed open the heavy door to the Tourist Information Office, my brow was beaded with sweat. Once I’d recovered my breath, I paid my £12.00 for the guide to the Wolds Way coastal path. As a budding writer myself, I scoffed at the price in the knowledge that only a small portion would actually go to the writer.

On the Map – Filey to Ganton, 13 miles

My first task was find the right road out of Filey leading to the track. I hated walking on concrete slabs and was crying out for the earth beneath my boots. With my exceptional map reading skills, I guessed that I was going in the right direction. Asking a local lad, passing by where the start of the path might be, he paused before answering, ‘The Wolds Way? It may be in there.’ he said, pointing to the entrance into a housing estate. ‘Or it could be further on. I’m not sure.’ It looked too soon to me and so I decided to carry on further along the Muston Road. My determination was soon rewarded by the sight of a nut kernel carved into the top of a signpost. The symbol on top of a post and a magic cabbage white butterfly were to be my ever present companions for the next five days. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Taking a deep breath, I was on the map and on my way.

The track was hugged by bungalows for the first part. A man came out of one of them into his garden, as if to wave me off. I gave him the thumbs up sign. He looked the other way. Who could blame him? I was happy and showed it with a big, beaming smile, albeit one front tooth missing.

On Beacon Hill, I made my first acquaintance with cows in a field. Feeling a little nervous, I quietly hoped that blue, the colour of my rucksack, would turn out to be a placid colour for cows. Keeping to the path, I walked in even pace past the herd. Just one more to go and I would be at the gate. Getting nearer, I scanned the one remaining animal for tell tale signs. To my horror, I noticed the appendage which told me instantly that I was definitely approaching the male of the species. I caught my breath, glanced to the left of me. There was no escape. I was three quarters the length of the field and only 30 yards from the haven of the gate. If the bull charged, I was a dead man, for sure. I swallowed and, maintaining a steady gait, continued on my way. I had not paused, you understand. All this calculated, decision making happened in the space of a few seconds. To turn round, I reasoned, would invite interest from the bull and probably from some of the cows too. Besides, I was almost certain to meet more cows along the way and so had to get used to them or else head straight back to the city with my tail between my legs.

I gave the bull a quick glance, trying to avoid his gaze and looking away so as to appear not to challenge him. So far, so good, he showed little interest in my presence, preferring to eat the grass. I hoped this would remain the case. I was now level with the beast. No movement. Five yards beyond, now ten, I flicked a look over my shoulder. Should the bull charge, it was 50:50 that I would get to the gate in time. The odds were getting better with every step I took. Was he playing with me? At the gate itself, I had the calm self-assurance to turn round, still inside the field, mark you, and look back at the bull, well, at the bull’s backside, to be precise, as it still hadn’t moved. I savoured my triumph, taking one bar of the gate at a time as I climbed over and to safety. I had looked into the face of danger and had come through unscathed. True, my mouth was dry, my knees wobbled uncertainly on jumping down off the last bar and my heart would take a little while to come to rest, notwithstanding the great weight I was carrying. Still, I had to admit I was rather pleased with myself. It is common knowledge that people are more likely to give up nearer the start of an adventure, if unsettled by some unfamiliar occurrence and I had passed the first test, the Pillar of Bull.

I looked at the map, waiting for something to make sense and tell me where I was. I was in a village called Muston. It Mustonseemed very pleasant with its own hall for the squire and a pub. The local people were welcoming. I chatted briefly with a young man, quenching his thirst from a lemonade bottle. He worked at the factory in the village. When he asked me where I was heading, he looked very surprised when I told him, ‘Hessle, only 78 miles away’. Walking past a house, a line of crows seem to peer malevolently. It took me a moment to realise that they were all carved out of wood. Across the road, a couple of women were busy picking blackberries from bushes. On such a warm, sunny day as this, I thought how lucky people were to live in such a nice place.

Making my way to the end of the village, I climbed a style and found myself for the first time in the Yorkshire Wolds proper. Walking over Flixton, then Staxton Wolds, this was what I’d come for. Startled game birds and rabbits dived out of the rough about 18 inches in width which lined the side of the path. I walked along hedgerows made up of hazel and hawthorn. Flowers grew all around with one field covered in masses of red poppies. And right from the start, the small cabbage white butterfly popped out of nowhere to be my guide and friend.

RAFI was walking along the tops looking down into the valleys and gullies on either side. I recalled slightly nervously the reason why the path kept to the heights. The low areas were the domain of the bulls, of which there seemed to be plenty promised along the route. I decided against taking a photo opportunity by the RAF listening station on the basis that you never know who is watching you

Of course, you pass a large number of farms along the way. One, in particular, sticks in my memory. Walking past the gate, I glanced over to my left and noticed something large and fleshy, lying motionless on its side, outside the pen. Peering more closely, I realised it was a dead pig. There was no sign of anyone in the yard. It was so quiet. I couldn’t think this was a common occurrence but didn’t want to hang around. Just in case. I decided it was time I moved on. I hadn’t expected to witness such a scene but that is what happens on pig farms, I suppose. I was glad that I don’t eat meat.

The way ahead was bathed in brilliant sunshine and I could feel myself relaxing into the walk. I followed the straight lines and curves of the tops, while tractors rotated around me, stirring up the chalk by their ploughing. Time and the weight of my backpack pressed on my joints, which were starting to hurt.

hurt gratefully

Gratefully, I spotted what had to be (please!) the church tower of St Nicholas in the village of Ganton. Stepping into the village, I was welcomed by the sound of a fast flowing brook which ran in front of the houses. There were tiny bridges built outside each one, joining the grassy verges. It saddened me to see the post office and the local shop had both been converted into living accommodation. Yet the bulletin board revealed an active parish life with lots of events happening.

Turning the corner, I finally arrived at the Ganton Greyhound. Wailing guitar solos by The Smiths whirled round my head, particularly good for getting you up steep slopes. The longer I walked, the less concerned I was with how I looked; a good sign and one of the benefits of travel I’ve always thought. I felt hot, dirty and sweaty. During this first day, I had also been thinking a lot about how I was going to get on with my ex-wife and our two teenage boys without really seeing any particular way forward. What about other relationships? Don’t even go there, I told myself. Random thoughts, I suppose you would call them. Above all, I felt I was starting to connect with the human race again, regaining a sense of trust in others. Strange that I’d had to distance myself from most of them to begin to feel this?

Day 2 – from Ganton to Thixendale, 20 miles

Starting from Ganton, no-one in their right mind would choose an end point of Thixendale, over 20 miles away. For someone new to long distance walking, I was taking on too much. That said, I had the self-belief that I could do it and no experience to the contrary was going to put me off.

I was pleased that I had limited myself to two pints the night before. The golfing party, joining me in the restaurant for breakfast, were looking slightly the worse for wear. One of them asked me, ’Doing the Wolds Way, are you? Where are you heading today?’ When I answered, ‘Thixendale’, he gave me an astonished look. Better get me skates on. I’d planned to make a good start by 8.30. First, I had one important task left. I needed a photograph to prove to my gates of Gantonsceptical colleagues and friends that I had indeed passed through the Gates of Ganton. The waiter on breakfast duty was only too pleased to help. The picture taken shows me with the satisfied look on my face of someone who had completed his first ever 16-miler and can’t wait to get started on the next stage, without a clue what he is letting himself in for. I think it’s called the ‘bliss of ignorance’. Still, we’ll allow him his smile.

I was walking in light drizzle. From the footpath, the mist covered the top of the wold, less than 100 metres away. Unless it started to pour down, my spirits were high. I was on the path again and striding out. I looked about for my friend and guide, the indomitable cabbage white, but it was rightly taking shelter. Just before I left the Ganton Greyhound Inn, the breakfast waiter told me, ’Look out for the pigs! You can’t miss them’. I wondered what he meant, not wanting to see rows of dead pigs. After roughly half-an-hour’s walking, I came to a place marked on the map as the ‘grits’, which was a huge field divided into plots. There was a corrugated iron shed, home for one, very big pig, on each of them. I’d never seen anything like it, although the wide, sticky-out ears reminded me of someone. I couldn’t quite remember who. As I walked slightly nervously along the track, some of the pigs were curious to see me, while others ignored me completely. I don’t know which felt worse.

across A64

Pig Town

To my right, across the A64, lay a large village. Looking at my map, it had to be Sherburn. Smugly satisfied by my beginner’s luck map reading success, I continued along the track. To my great delight and urged on by my blinking glances, the sun slowly struggled to pierce the grey mist. It tried harder and harder. ‘Go on,’ I called, till, just like that, an orange tinge broke through. I thought it was rather magical, where the mist was greeting the sun for a brief moment before parting company. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my face and felt stronger for it. Lengthening my stride, I became more and more excited, approaching as I was the village of West Heslerton.

Over twenty years ago, I had undertaken my one and only archaeological dig à la Time Team. It turned out to be one of the best holidays of my life, although it ruined my back. We camped, made good friends and helped to discover an Anglo-Saxon settlement. It was one of the reasons for coming up this way. I had marked the quality of the light, especially at dusk. It bathed you in its warm rays and I wanted some more of it. I was sure it was going to be a great day, without a doubt!

From my vantage point overlooking the main road between York and Scarborough, the A64, I could almost reach out and touch the old village of ‘West Hes’. Extending on the other side of the road, the Vale of Pickering stretched out for miles and miles.

A few steps more and I was looking on the village itself. Down there lay the Dawnay Arms, where I’d played some of my best ever pool (my greatest exploits mixed with the odd defeat too, I’m man enough to admit now). That was a long time ago now and a fair bit had happened in the meantime.

Deepdale plantationA steep descent took me into the heart of Deep Dale Plantation. It seems strange to say how exciting it was to see a group of game birds ahead of me on the path. I was perfectly alone in the stillness of the wood. Of course, I was nervous. What if I turned an ankle? What then? I’d look a right idiot. I had asked some friends if they’d like to join me for some of the route. The timing for them was bad as it was the start of a new term. But I was enjoying the stillness. I was glad to be away from the roar of the traffic and the hum of the electric pylons. I was testing myself on this route and looking to see how I’d shape up. I’d grown too comfortable, taking lots of things and people for granted. Above all, I wanted to take some risk, not too much, nothing I couldn’t get out of. I had set myself a challenge and how would I get on?

I settled into a comfortable rhythm walking solo but didn’t feel on my own. I was aware, free of the continual distractions of the city, of the non-stop chatterings taking place inside my head. Sometimes, it seemed to be hosting a discussion programme without a chair with a panel of different voices jostling to be heard.

But right now, a glance at my watch showed me that it was lunchtime. The pack slid off. I’d found a lovely glade wrapped in sunshine. While quietly munching my way through the remains of my packed lunch from the day before, I realised that I was being observed. A game bird, possibly a pheasant or it could have been one of the other ones, was staring at me from behind a fallen tree trunk. It was making an awful noise – cack-a-cack cack, cack-a-cack cack, over and over again in staccato bursts. What had I done? Would it attack me? I looked around. Was I sitting too close to its brood? Was my presence an affront to its birdhood? Who knows but I decided the risk of attack was minimal. I could always take cover behind the blue rucksack. Watching the bird kept me entertained as it played hide and seek, running for cover across the bank.

But I didn’t have long. Twenty minutes and lunch was over. I had a schedule to make if I was going to get to Thixendale in a day. Soon, I could see the tall tower of the church at Wintringhammy next stop, Wintringham. According to the guide book, it was made from the same stone as York Minster. I had to see it. When I arrived the tower was covered in scaffolding and polythene. The workmen’s’ tools lay on their sides by the doorway which stood open. I entered the church and found myself completely alone. How cool it felt inside. I hadn’t appreciated how warm I had become. I would have liked to sit down for a few moments but took a photograph of one of the stained glass windows and took my leave.

The path headed around the back of the village. According to the map, I must walk the entire length of the village before doubling back almost half-way  before re-joining the path. Half-way along, I paused at a farm gate. I had noticed that a path led directly down to the road, where I wanted to get to. By my reckoning, the Wolds Way lay just across the other side of the road. Yes, wasn’t that the acorn sign in the distance? Trouble was, it was somebody’s private path. For a moment, a rascally voice in my head urged, ‘Go on, save you time. No-one will see you. People must do it all the time. Don’t be an idiot.’ Then I thought of barking dogs I’d probably meet, no farm is complete without barking dogs. I pictured the embarrassing exchanges with the farmer which would follow. Despite my aching toes, I decided to do the decent thing and keep to the path. On my honour, I was representing the Rambler’s Association after all. I was glad I had. At the end of the village, I passed a garden with the most interesting selection of garden furniture, ornaments, swings and metalwork. It had a run for chickens which flapped their wings towards me in welcome.

It turned out I was right about the signpost at the foot of the private trackway. The next WW signpost lay across the road from the inviting farm track. It led me to the village millennium garden through which ran Wintringham Beck, a fast flowing stream, perfect for breaking your journey for a snack. Ah, well, next time, I thought, keeping an eye on the clock.

Wintringham marks a turning point on the Wolds Way. For those journeying north, it marks the eastward turning towards Ganton and Filey. For those foolhardy souls like me, making the journey in reverse, this is where you head south, away from the vistas across the vales of York and Pickering which had accompanied my journey all day. The next stage of my journey was about to begin.

I tramped along a tarmacked track towards Stack Hills. In the distance, I saw two dots moving gingerly down the slope towards me. The dots turned into two fellow walkers, a young couple. We met at the bottom. It was interesting to note my own and other people’s reactions when we met on the path. Sometimes, we stopped and exchanged a few words. At other times, we exchanged a quick word of encouragement or passed a useful piece of information without breaking step. Still, just once, nothing at all. It’s possible they didn’t speak any English rather than not wanting to talk to me. Or was it me to them?

We paused to chat for a few moments. While welcoming the strange peace which came from long hours of solitude, I was solitudeglad of the opportunity of giving the voices in my head a rest and start a conversation with real people. They told me they were spending a few days walking in the area. They knew of a very good BnB which didn’t appear in any of the literature I had. If only I’d known! I doubt if I would have made Thixendale, however romantic it sounded, my destination for the day. I couldn’t get away from the thought that I must be completely stark staring bonkers. Why was I doing this? What could be the pleasure? A short walk of 8-9 miles was perfectly acceptable but 79 miles in five days! Crazy. Crazy and stupid, a voice told me. Yes, but ‘small steps’, called another, so low that I had to listen well to hear it. What was I so bothered about? Getting to the end of the route? Wasn’t my goal just to complete as much of the route in the time I had available, enjoy the fresh air and the countryside? That phrase, ‘small steps’, kept me going and meant lots of different things to me, I considered. Still, it would be nice to walk across the ‘finish line’, if I could do it.

My increasingly painful feet were a constant reminder of the distance I’d come on foot, not to mention the distance I still had to go. It was also about having realistic expectations. Small steps in themselves were not significant but looking back would signify a considerable sense of achievement. I thought back to how I had felt walking up the slope from the beach in Filey, carrying my backpack. I’d felt knackered and that was at the start of my walk. I also wondered if I would change as a result of the experience. Without doubt, yes. I talked about the experience to anyone who would give me five minutes for months afterwards. ‘Guess what I did this summer?’ It also gave me a good excuse for not booking another Sunday ramble for ages after.

Never mind, those small steps after more huffing and puffing, had eventually got me to the top of the hill. There was a marker around here, Settingham Beacon, so my guide book said. This indicated the highest point along the entire route. I spotted its top pointing out of the spruce trees in the plantation. Yet another mast!

But look around you. Over there were the North Yorkshire Moors. From this height and distance, you could see how the villages and towns fitted into the surrounding landscape. Map reading and, mathematical calculations of time and distance, history, introspection and song had all been my companions at different times along the way. How good was this! What about this song? Well, it was impossible to wander far without a tune suddenly filing the space between your ears. You just had to hope it wasn’t one that would drive you mental. ‘Vindaloo’ was the worst. Once it got hold of you, there was no escape, although it did help eat up the miles with a spring in my step.

My next target was Wharram le Street and, after that, the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy. It involved a slight detour at the wonderfully named ‘Bella Farm’ – and yes I did plunge helplessly into the song about the ‘Bella Citta’, ah, Figaro qui, Figaro qua, bella citta!. In good spirits now, I crossed the bridge which marked the entrance to the site. This was the historical high point of the trip. Yet I sensed danger. There were cows in the field and cows could mean a bull. And bulls meant difficulties, didn’t they? So far, I had only encountered one bull which, happily for me, had ignored me completely. Keeping to the path, I told myself that lots of people came and went this way without coming to any harm. If you kept your wits about you, you would pass through without incident. Probably right about this thought, I happened to look to my right, up the embankment where staring straight at me was a very big bull. I nearly wet myself but averted my gaze and had the good sense to keep on walking. How would it respond? Would it pick up on my fear and charge me? I strained to listen for pounding hooves on the beaten track.

At a calculated safe distance, I stopped and nonchalantly looked over my shoulder. The beast stood munching its grass in the same place and had completely ignored me. I felt quite foolish and quickly looked around to see if any of the small number of people visiting the site were noticing my embarrassment, as shown by my reddening cheeks. They were just meandering round the site, ignoring the livestock. On the other hand, I had successfully manoeuvred my way though a possibly tricky encounter, so had some cause to celebrate. I felt happier with this thought and was, therefore, due a cup of hot water and a fruit bar. Marvellous! I staggered across to a spot overlooking the church. ‘Feed the belly, feed the mind’ played out my mantra.

My rucksack seemed to know exactly where it wanted to go and I followed it. Wriggling my arms out of its straps, I leant back looking up at the sky. It was filled with fluffy white, cumulus clouds, bluffing their way across the skyline. I didn’t think rain was in the offing but I didn’t want to get too comfortable.

A refreshing drink and snack later and I was ready for knowledge about Wharram Percy. A combination of changes to farming practices and health concerns (the plague) had eventually led to the village being abandoned and left to itself. Stones had been rubbed out and reused in other properties. The only building standing was the church which had still been in use until the early 1900s.

early 1900s

Wharram Percy Church

Behind me lay the plan of houses and paths etched in the grass. I wish I could say I was struck by the eeriness of the deserted village but I couldn’t. I was too knackered.

I would have liked more time to have a good look around but I couldn’t. More pressing matters awaited me, although I did not know it. I was about to face the most outstanding challenge of the entire journey. At this point, I was blissfully unaware but should have known that there would be more cows to face. For now, I marvelled at a railway cutting. I was actually walking along the top of one of the embankments, built in the nineteenth century to bring the railway to connect with local industries and settlements.

Ahead of me, a long way off, I could make out a large herd of cows in single file, coming towards me along the path, making their way back for milking along the top of the same embankment. A voice in my head was very clearly saying, ‘You can’t walk through them. There are too many of them’. They were strung out across the top, the furthest one being some 50-60 yards from strung outthe nearest. I weighed it up. If I descended a little down the bank of the railway cutting, I could get round them that way. I started to but the descent was too steep. If my ankle goes over here, I’ve had it. Returning to the top, I studied the map seriously as the herd drew nearer. The boundary running parallel with the trackway was marked by a fence covered with barbed wire. What to do? Decisions, decisions. Beginning to panic, I retreated back to the gate and climbed over for safety. I breathed a sigh of relief. A detour while significantly adding to my journey time was preferable to impalement on cow horn or barbed wire. I walked about 50 yards before I gave in to the quiet but firm voice inside my head. ‘Bern, it said, this is hopeless. Just look at the map. If you carry on this way, how are you ever going to rejoin the path? It just doesn’t connect and you will have lost valuable time. You have to turn around, keep your nerve and face the herd.’

For someone who is used to passing through a herd of cows in a field, my fears may seem irrational. After all, cows are soft, docile creatures which do as they’re told, aren’t they? Well, not always and definitely not when they feel their young calves are being threatened. They can become very aggressive and they are big and strong animals.

By the time I’d returned to the gate, the cows’ spear tip was 30 yards away in front of me. I clambered back over the gate and, taking a deep breath, with everything crossed, I started walking slowly but steadily through the herd. I took great care to keep away from any of the young, trying to give off a calm air, as if just out for an afternoon stroll. To my left stretched the barbed wire fence. If one of the animals took a dislike to me, I was well and truly stuffed. No way would I be able to get over that fence, even without the backpack. Its only use would be to cushion the blow.

Surprisingly, this was actually a comforting thought. I began to ask myself what was the worst that could happen? They might jostle me a bit but what of it. I probably wouldn’t come to too much harm. Thinking along these lines, I became lost in my own thoughts and forgot about the cows for a few moments. So, I don’t know who or what was the most startled when I almost walked head on into a big, brown cow. The cow clearly hadn’t seen me coming and, to my head onrelief, leapt out of the way. I carried on, hoping that my heavy breathing wasn’t too audible. My main difficulty was in stooping low enough beneath the overhanging branches on the other side of the fence. The top of my rucksack rose above my head. With its dangling straps and cords, it would just be my luck to get stuck under one of these branches, leaving me suspended and surrounded by curious cows at best; at worst, beasts intent on defending their own. For the most part, I successfully estimated the optimal stooping distance but it was getting increasingly tiring on my poor knees. I couldn’t keep it going and, as I rose up one time, I felt like I had got stuck on the end of a spring, snagging underneath a bush. Immediately, a small, quiet voice advised me, ‘Stop going forward, bend your knees and lower yourself down and backwards’. I came free and this time allowed more space to get under the branch. It worked. I was under and on my way again.

With me going one way and the cows the other, I was about two thirds of the way through the herd by this time. I started to think that I might make it. Then, I remembered my first driving test when I’d had similar thoughts about half-way through. The nagging thought remained with me as I passed the last straggler, Still, I did not turn round for a long time. I made occasional backward glances but it was only when I had climbed over the next gate that I felt safe. My knees were jelly but I smiled to myself. It may not rank highly on many people’s set of accomplishments but I had just walked right through the longest herd of cows I’d ever come across. I had the presence of mind to photograph the retreating herd. If you look carefully, the specks along the top at the far end of the embankment were my herd of cows. I waited for my heart to stop pounding and slow down to a more acceptable rate before moving off.

Reading the map later, I noticed that the wood I had passed to my left was called ‘Fairy Dale’ and its ‘fairy stones’, whatever they were, were not far away. Who knows, perhaps, a benevolent eye had been looking after me? In any case, it had the effect of making me feel more at ease with myself and my surroundings, walking solo, out in the Yorkshire countryside.

After all that, where was I? More to the point, how far was it to Thixendale? I was starting to think it might not really exist. This was helped in part by the fact that, in my drive to make savings, I had bought two of the four main OS maps, covering most of the route but not all of it. There were tiny, little, short stretches which were ‘off the map’ . I was coming up to one of them now and wouldn’t be back on the map until I approached Fridaythorpe, hopefully.

Where was I? Fortunately for me, the path really is well signposted, making it an ideal for first-time, long distance walkers. After walking past a seemingly endless string of hedgerows, I found the left turning I was looking for. Good. The going was hard underfoot as I found myself walking on white chalk. Each step was painful. It was about half-past seven when I rounded one more bend to see a village laid out before me? Surely, this was Thixendale. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. It was still there. Please, let it be Thixendale and let that farmhouse near the bottom of the track be the one I am staying in tonight.and it was

And it was. Oh, what joy! As I passed by the kitchen window, my host was standing at the sink, doing the washing up. ‘How nice to meet you. I wondered where you’d got to.’ Not nearly as nice as for me to meet you, I smiled back at her. Looking in on her nice, clean floor, then at my muddy boots, I took them off outside. This was not only out of consideration and respect for my host. I dearly wanted to be free of the tightening constraints of the boots and let my feet breathe.

It is not always easy to take in all the instructions and explanations which come when you stay at a bed and breakfast establishment. I tried my best to take everything in with a smile. In truth, as soon as I was on my own, I ran a bath as quickly as I could in an effort to soothe my aching toes, not to mention the rest of my weary bones. I had covered well over 20 miles in one day, something I had thought at the planning stage going over the maps might be tricky. But I had done it. I deserved a pint and some chips. The village pub came highly recommended but with a warning. The landlord could be a bit grumpy. I’d been forewarned by a couple of walkers heading in the other direction a couple of days earlier. He sounded like a character to me and I set off with interest to meet him.

I hadn’t expected another long walk, long if you are making very tiny footprints. I had put on my yachting shoes which helped. Having walked the length of the main street and feeling about to give up as I couldn’t see a pub anywhere, I spotted a light on outside what looked like an ordinary house. As I got nearer, I could hear the unmistakeable sounds of laughter and the delicious smells of food cooking. Here I was! I ordered a pint and examined the menu. ‘You can pay as you go or all at the end’ said the smiling barman. Could this be the same landlord mentioned previously? He seemed fine to me. My meal was brought to me, including my second pint of bitter. It was a huge plate of mushroom omelette and chips with just a slight salad garnish to keep me feeling healthy. Just as well as I couldn’t easily move. A trip to the loo took a lot out of me. Did it get any better than this? A long walk in fine weather, triumphing against the odds, good food and a quality pint of real ale, I was content and stretched out my legs, savouring the rich textures of my ale.

I had almost abandoned the idea of keeping a log of the journey each evening. I had so much to do anyway. I usually managed just a few notes. Key themes of endurance and self-discipline were emerging. Insect repellent featured regularly as did cracking jokes about climbing over fences ‘in style’. It felt that the long walk was giving me the chance to get to know and like myself better. And the tune ‘From May to September’ played around my head in a melancholy way.

In the pub, the map came out as well as the guide book as I started to read up on the next day’s route. But it’s good to have a chat too. I exchanged hellos with a young couple facing me. They were doing the Wolds Way but the ‘right’ way, not in reverse like me. This was fantastic. I could give them the benefit of my experience. And they had a problem. Even better. They were unsure if they would make the distance to Ganton in one day. Their average speed was a little over 2 miles an hour. With the air of a conqueror who has been there and done it, I advised them, ‘Get an early start and it’s definitely doable, albeit with 10-12 hours worth of walking.’ I said. ‘But what else would you be doing? Walking was the reason for coming here in the first place.’

This pub was one of the friendliest I’d ever been in. Much as I enjoyed the comfort of staying at the farmhouse, the pub was very appealing. Humorous drawings of village life, particularly cricket, adorned the walls. Later, I learned that the grumpy landlord exists but works alternate evenings. I’d been lucky in that the chap serving behind the bar this night was good natured and helpful. I left the pub reluctantly, the memory of big chips and tasty omelette, washed down with a draught of fine ale still fresh. Although tomorrow was my third and shortest walking day, I could not afford to over-indulge. I wanted a good start. Above all, I wanted to be horizontal and take the weight off my feet. Outside, it was dark. There were a few house lights throwing light across the pavement. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I gained my night vision, everything seemed just right. I was glad that I’d chosen Thixendale as one of my night’s stays, even gladder that it really did exist.

Day 3 – from Thixendale to Millington, 16 miles, if you’re lucky

I awoke to bright sunshine. So far, the weather had been great. Not bad with the breakfast either. With a lot of walking still to do, I had the full works of cereal, scrambled egg on toast and coffee again. I love coffee but I was only drinking it in the mornings. It was my shortest route today – about 16 miles. With any luck, I should complete it in seven or eight hours. A stroll! I was starting to regard myself with ever increasing confidence as quite a seasoned walker. The farmhouse was probably the most interesting place I had stayed in. It was certainly the most luxurious and I had allowed myself extra time to enjoy the fantasy of living in grandeur, if only for one night. I had the run of one floor along one side of the building. Peacocks, real and metal framed, adorned the lawn beneath my window. Family furniture from past generations filled the rooms. Above all, thick, inviting rugs and carpet soothed my aching toes back to life with each step. I’ll come back and spend a few days here, I told myself, as I always did when I found somewhere inviting. My boots beckoned.

there is a photoThere is a photograph of me posing outside the front door of the farmhouse. I am pointing to my map. This is where I am, I’m saying. But where was I heading? My toes felt OK, not brilliant but passable, journeyable. This had been my greatest worry. I didn’t want to cut short my journey. There were buses which would carry me to a train station but not yet. My toes wiggled inside my boot. The pain was tolerable. With the boots on, they were still ok. I slung the rucksack over my shoulder. My knees juddered but held up. After waving farewell to my hosts, I carried on my way, slowly. I had walked the length of the village the night before and could take more of it in during the day. I took slow, measured strides so as not to cause undue pain. I was talking about man pain, after all. After a couple of hundred metres, I was back into my stride. A quarter of a mile extra and I had entered one of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. I was completely alone walking along the footpath. It meandered like a river between low, undulating banks. Oaks lined my route, showing me the way forward. I felt happy. This was the Yorkshire Wolds at its best. The world was well or so it felt. I even passed to the side of a group of cows. They seemed to eye me with suspicion. I avoided all eye contact. Fifty yards on, I looked back. Not one cow was staring after me. I was honing my cow management (or avoidance) skills under bright, warm sunshine. All they seemed interested in was eating the grass.

I carried on until the head of the path. This proved to be a mistake, I now know. I should have turned off somewhere earlier but when you’re stepping out and all is well with the world, it’s easy to miss a turn. Again, my lack of experience at map reading had cost me. But I was not unduly perturbed. These things happen and sometimes for the best. I would never have met the kind tractor driver, who was ploughing the top field. He had just completed a run and, for some reason, had paused. Because I’d not seen a human being all morning, I pounced. ‘Morning, could you tell me if I’m on the right path for Fridaythorpe?’, I asked. right path for Fridaythorpe‘Yes’, he answered and we fell to talking. I spoke of my close encounter with cows on the paths. He laughed but then went on. ‘Most people who aren’t used to livestock do get into difficulty sometimes. It’s usually if they bother a calf or have a dog which goes after one of the cows. They can be quite dangerous then.’ He told me of an accident in which a man had been killed. An experience stockman, he had been the wrong side of a cow when it had been startled by something and had kicked out, catching the man fatally. I recalled reading at one time that agriculture has one of the highest rates of accidents at work and here was further evidence. Food for thought. We wished each other good day and carried on our way again.

Unfortunately for me, I was about to make the most calamitous mistake and all because I couldn’t read a map properly. I had come to a road at the end of the pasture. It marked a point about half way between the villages of Thixendale and Fridaythorpe. Get it right and I was flying. Make a mistake and the short walk I was looking forward to and more of a rest would be a forlorn dream.

I stuck my chin out and studied the map closely. After several minutes studying, I still wasn’t sure which way to go. I made up my mind and set off along the road. Almost an hour later, I finally sighted what I thought was Fridaythorpe. I felt so happy. My feet ached from stomping the hard tarmac. Within ten minutes, quiet satisfaction was replaced by crushing disappointment. I had, in fact, walked in a circle back to Thixendale. No wonder I thought the village looked familiar. It was the one I’d just left a couple of hours ago. I was back where I’d started and now was way behind schedule. How would I make Millington now? I just had to get to Fridaythorpe as soon as possible. Head down, reversing my steps and cursing my stupidity and bad luck in equal measure, I set off back the way I’d come.

The road was gruelling. Each step banged on the soles of my feet but at least I knew for certain that Fridaythorpe lay at the other end of it. Nevertheless, I was determined. I don’t know if my jaw was jutting out. I had made a simple mistake when I’d been ahead of the game. It had cost me and put me well behind time but I could still do it. I had to. The room was booked and I had nowhere else to stay. The distance between Thixendale and Millington looked enormous on the map. When an hour earlier, I wasn’t able to tell West from East, my map reading skills became crisp and sharp. How could I have got the overnight stay spots so badly wrong? I had to continue and, after about an hour, I arrived at the outskirts of Fridaythorpe. Was this it? Surely it must be but my attention was first attracted by another Norman bell tower, decorated with an ornate mechanical clock resembling a sundial. The grass in the church grounds looked so inviting I took my pack off and lay down. Sleep whispered in my ear and I could have slept there for a couple of hours, it felt so peaceful. Five minutes later, I forced myself to move on.

If my guide book was to be believed, Fridaythorpe marked the middle point of the walk and there ought to be a sign in the village. And here it was. Hessle was only 39 miles away. There it was in black and white. I had walked 40 miles, the furthest I had ever walked in my life in one go. And how do you feel about that?’ my feet groaned at me.

I was hungry and had by this timeI was hungry used up all my supplies from day one. Where could I get something nourishing, a little something to keep me going? There it was, opposite the village pond, a proud sign declared ‘The Pie Shop’. Inside, the pie man was talking to a customer. Both eyed me with interest as I struggled through the doorway. ‘Do you sell anything vegetarian?’ I asked, once I’d got through. I just caught the fleeting glance they gave each other as if to say, we’ve a right one here. I looked around me at the wares, displayed in the chill cabinet. Joints of beef and cuts of lamb took pride of place. Rashers of award-winning bacon invited a quick purchase. This was a prize winning butchers, one who took great pride in his trade to the point, I suspected, that he carried out his butchering on site, round the back, as they say. ‘We don’t get many vegetarians coming in here’ said the pie man. ‘Fair point’, I acknowledged, going on to explain I was walking the Wolds Way in reverse. His customer then had an idea. ‘What about a fruit pie?’ ‘Would I like a slice of cherry pie?’ ‘Absolutely, I would.’ The butcher cut me a slice and wrapped it in paper, oozing jam out of the sides. I thanked them both, paid for my pie and headed across the road to the bench by the pond. Just as I was biting into the juicy side, jam dribbling down my chin, it started to rain. To every problem, I was fast coming to learn, there is an answer. I was sitting next to a bus shelter. Quickly, I moved inside, eating my thick crust pastry and observing village life through my postage stamp vista. Could it get any better than this, I wondered? Amazing what a piece of pie can do, even when it does taste a bit suety.

The good news was that I was ‘back on the map’! I calculated that it was about nine squares to Millington or approximately 18km. I don’t know why but somehow the distances only seemed real if I could turn them into miles. I had great fun coming up with a rough conversion between miles to kilometres. The problem for me was that I had no idea how far 18km was, being more used to miles (apart from being an awful long way). After much painful trial and error and many failures, I settled on one kilometre being about two-thirds of a mile. Divide by three, times two. 18km divided by 3 is 6; 6 times 2 is twelve ie 12 miles. Definitely do-able, my new catch phrase. At 3 miles per hour, I would be there in four hours, if I was right. It was now quarter past two. However, my average pace was probably not much above two miles per hour, meaning I was more likely to get to Millington by 9.00pm and in the dark.

Time to move. My tail was up – again – and I was on my way. Just outside Fridaythorpe,    I passed another of the few people I met during the walk that day. A young man walking,    I recommended the pie shop to him, should he feel hungry. In return, he told not to pay any notice to the diversion signs further ahead. Stick to the track was his advice. I thanked him for the tip and, waving in the manner of fellow long distance footpath travellers, we took our leave, never to meet again. I was looking for the Wolds Way acorn sign, pointing me towards Huggate, the next village in my sights.

I cursed myself one more time for my stupidity in taking the wrong turn earlier. What should have been a relatively short and restful walking day had turned into another arduous journey. Still, the rest of the walk was picturesque, walking along the top of the wold. Fields and cloud seemed to dance in juxtaposition, giving the impression of part-walking, part-flying. Finally, my eyes espied a distant settlement nestling within woodland for protection. Surely it had to be Millington? I searched the map eagerly. And what’s this? I’d pulled up next to what looked like a park bench. These were dotted all along the route, often at the most convenient places. To rest or not to rest? Trouble was, if I sat down, would I be able to get up again? My bag dragged me down towards the firm seat, making my mind up for me. I was drinking some water and eating a snack bar when my mobile rang. It was my mum, wondering where I was. Quite a lot of my family and friends (not all, I have to say) were wondering where I’d got to, if I was still in the land of the living, that sort of thing. This was reassuring when you are walking your first long distance footpath ‘solo’. It is the wonder of technology that I was able to have a pleasant chat with my mum while taking in the panoramic view below on my first long distance footpath.

While the mobile was out, it occurred to me to ring my BnB in Millington to give them an estimated time of arrival. Lucky for me I did as my landlady explained that she and her husband would be out that evening, unexpectedly called out to aid a friend. However, they would leave me a key. How trusting!

How trusting

There was one more field with cows to walk through which I managed without incident. ‘Feet, don’t fail me now!’, I appealed to the Mothership. In no time, I reached my short term goal, Warram Farm, perched on the peak of the Wold. From here, I could look directly down on to Millington. A glance at the watch told me it was half-past seven. I was tired. My feet hurt. I just hoped that Laburnam Cottage was somewhere near this end of the village. What luck! I was able to greet my hosts just as they were leaving. I made it gingerly up the stairs to my room, took my boots offffffffff – oh, boy! – and made it into the shower.

A hot meal and a welcome pint were awaiting me just as soon as I could get to the pub. I could only walk slowly along the street. Fortunately, the pub was near. I found a table and ordered my meal. Fish and chips and a fine ale. I must say that I was very pleasantly pleased by the quality of the real ale I’d found along the way. It had always been a slight disappointment on family holidays that I’d be lucky to find somewhere which sold a decent pint. Here I was in yet another warm and friendly hostelry with good beer. But two pints and I was cream crackered. What a day! Yet I had made it. I was still on the map and kicking, metaphorically, at least.

Outside, it was so dark, the darkness you get when there is little or no street lighting. I paused for a moment, looking across the night’s starry sky. I was quite alone. Not a cat stirred yet I knew, the other side of the pub door, the room was thronging with noisy revellers. There was a feeling of peace and calm in the air. I knew my place in the night’s sky. I was one point of an endless series of twinkling, winking bright lights.

This put me at odds with the shooting pains from my feet. With much ‘ooing and ahhing’, I made my way back to the cottage, made my way as quietly as I could up the stairs and manoeuvred myself into bed. I applied more cream to my toes and hoped my feet would be up to the trip in the morning. Still, I had the bus timetable information filed away in the back of my mind if it came to the crunch but I didn’t want to use it, not yet.

Day 4 – Millington to South Cave, only another 20 miles

It was the middle of the night and I needed to go to the toilet again. How do you do this without waking everyone up? Impossible, I decided, so turned to Radio 3 on my sports radio instead. The music it plays through the night is relaxing, soothing and, I hoped, distracting. I dozed off but was awake from 6-ish. The knock on the door I’d arranged with my landlady the night before came at 7am. Thoughts of sleeping in looked foolish now and I was down for breakfast by 7.20 – orange juice, cereal and the most delicious scrambled egg, mushrooms and beans. I declined the offer of fried, red tomatoes. They just wouldn’t go down. I stuck to hot water. With a 20 mile walk ahead of me in hot conditions, I’d do best avoid coffee, especially after another two hugely satisfying pints the previous evening.

One last favour to ask, a photo in front of the Labyrinth of Laburnum Cottage sign to show I’d stayed. The house name was partly covered by the roving cotoneaster. It was time to go. I thanked my landlady for her hospitality and set off. After only a few strides down the lane, I met an elderly lady in an electric wheelchair. We exchanged greetings, as you so often do when in the country. She looked at my rucksack and asked where I was heading. She expressed surprise at my answer, South Cave, surprise at the distance. ‘If I get there’, I proffered as a feeble joke. Her reply was affirming. ‘You will’, she said, ‘I think you will.’

I retraced my steps back up the slope, this time taking in a field holding half-a-dozen horses. I adopted the method of walking steadily, gaze averted, steer a path away from or at least equidistant from horses in a group, especially giving a wide berth to youngsters. I took slow but steady steps, map string held tight in case its swaying distracted the animal. I marched through, pausing to look back at the horses only when I reached the style. They were carrying on as if I’d never been there, without the least interest in me. There was a lesson here. Why should they be?

Back on the tops, the early bright sunshine had given way to overcast skies but it was still warm. Today, I was wearing my breathable teeshirt and could afford to sweat all I wanted. Arriving at Millington meant I was on my second map, itself an indication that the worst was over and I could look forward with eager anticipation to whatever the day might bring. My aim was to get to Market Weighton by lunchtime. Then, I’d be about half way or 10 miles for the day. My feet felt stiff and sore. I had applied cream to the dry areas that morning and stuck Vale of Pickeringplasters over the toe grazes. These small precautions would be in vain when I learned in due course what ‘fish ponds’ meant at Nurnburnholme. But I was on top of the Wolds, on top of the world again and enjoying the panoramic view across the Vale of Pickering.

There are no less than three power stations including the impressively named Drax plant in the area. Drax is, apparently, the largest coal fired station in Europe. Off to the east, you could make out the outline of York Minster. What a contrast!

I recalled the words of the couple I’d met in Thixendale two evenings before. They had warned me of two Hereford bulls in a field just by Nurnburnholme. I hadn’t run into them yet but which field was it? Could they be in the next one? I climbed cautiously over the style, scanning the field. It was long and contoured. A section of it curved round to the right out of view near the bottom. A large, heavy branch, a cudgel really, lay on the ground before me. I picked it up, threw it down, then picked it up again, thinking it might have been left there for a purpose. Following the path, I headed straight through the middle of the field with as bold a step as I could muster when faced with the imminent onrush of a charging, two ton bull. It was a gorgeous morning. Bright sunshine warmed the air and birdsong provided musical accompaniment to my idle musings. Despite my foot problem, which was holding up well so far, I could look round and breathe in the warm, late summer air.

I passed through the field without incident, only noticing on climbing over the style the picture I feared most, ‘Bull in field’. This had to be the field the walkers had been speaking of. What a stroke of good fortune! Yet another advantage of walking the Wolds Way in reverse.

At Nurnburnholme, as I mentioned earlier, there are ‘fish ponds’ depicted on the map. I had laughed at this when I was planning my route. I had completely failed to register the blue which showed the course of a beck or stream. Was I taken aback to see a marker indicate a depth of 1 foot in the middle? Absolutely! There was no way around either. I could just wade through but something told me that wet, sore feet and wet socks and boots was not a good idea. I remembered my rambling friend telling how she had successfully crossed fast flowing rivers in Scotland. ‘Boots and socks off, boots back on and wade through; dry feet and put socks back on.’ I took my boots and socks off and waded through in bare feet. The cool, fast flowing water nulled the pain, creeping through my feet. At the other side, I dried my feet as best I could, put on my socks before setting off again. On leaving Nurnburnholme, I was heading upslope and making good time. I felt confident that I was on course and heading towards Londesborough. This was a place for the landed gentry, very like Croxteth Park in Liverpool, once owned by the noble Stanley family. It offered a manicured estate, making a change from the woodland and hills I’d become accustomed to. No sight of deer though that the guide book mentioned.

I met a very nice couple in Londesborough village. They were experienced walkers from Hull, on a 8-miler around Market Weighton. We exchanged pleasantries and I gleaned that Market Weighton was a mere hop, skip and a jump away. The news gladdened my heart. The route was so well signed, they said, that you couldn’t go wrong. We waved farewell to one another. The sun shone out brightly. It was tempting to halt and take in good weather and scenery but 21 miles wouldn’t do itself and at probably less than 2 miles per hour now, I still had an awfully long way to go.

My small difficulty which I was only now starting to appreciate came from walking the Way backwards. I do not mean this literally. That really would have been a challenge but in reverse. In practice, this meant that all the signs pointed in favour of the northerly bound walkers. Those taking the southerly route did not get as much help from the direction finders. And I rued again the lack of a compass. Never mind that I didn’t know how to use one. At least, it would have given me a crude north bearing, which would have been of some value if I lost my way.

As I entered the next field, the sign pointed diagonally across. I know from ramblers that sometimes the path does take you straight across a field but it is unusual, especially when it is cultivated as this one was. Mistake number one was to plough on. Number two was to ignore the map tagged to a gatepost at the end of the field. I took off in what I thought was the right direction, only to get to a dead end. A quiet voice was vying with an exasperated but slightly panicky one in trying to rescue the situation. I reversed my tracks, headed back to the original field and followed its boundary. It didn’t feel right. I stopped, took a swig of water and took in the lay of the land. Here I was on one of the most easily signed footpaths in the country but going round in circles. How easy it is to lose your bearings outdoors if you’re used to following the all too familiar landmarks in a town or city.

A still, quiet voice was telling me ‘look for the road on the map which is parallel to the track.’ This would surely help me in getting back on track. I was getting hungry too but had wasted 40 minutes walking in an exasperating loop. Through the trees, I caught sight of a van making its way along the road I was seeking out. Spying it from the far side of the field, that’s the road I want. I was in no mood to walk around another border so, apologies to the farmer, headed in as straight a line as possible across the diagonal. I found myself in yet another field but this looked more promising, especially when I identified the remains of a lost medieval village, as detailed on the map. O, what unconfined joy! There was the Wolds Way path again,clear as you like. However, a barbed wire fence now stood inbetween us.

It took me another 10 minutes to reccy the length of the fence, looking for the easiest way over. My explorations led me back to the lowest section. I hoisted my back pack over and down, taking care that its momentum did not take me with it. Holding a post with my right hand, I placed my left boot on top of the wire. I wasn’t sure it would carry my weight. The wire began to sway alarmingly beneath my foot. It wouldn’t take much for me for me to impale myself. I didn’t fancy the jump, landing on my poor soles.

A small, quiet voice provided an alternative. I didn’t have to jump. At this point, the fence was quite low. If I held the wire away from my sensitive parts, I might just be able to step over. And so it proved. I walked into the empty streets of the abandoned village. A few horses and ponies nibbled at the green grass. My welcome back onto the WW was complete when three of the friendliest, barking farm yard dogs came out to say hello. Could it get any better than this? I was back on the map.

It was time for a swift lunch break along the straight path which stretched to wards the town of Market Weighton. It would pavements of MWhave been so nice just to snooze but I’d lost time. At this rate, I‘d be lucky to arrive in South Cave before 9.00pm. I waved hello to my guide, the remarkable cabbage white butterfly which had come out to meet me again. Soon, I was pounding the pavements of Market Weighton.

I’d come this way because I was looking for an outward bound shop advertised in the ‘little gems’ leaflet, supplied by the tourist office. Head down, I turned into the main street, passing the 3-star Londesborough Arms Hotel. Just keep straight on, a voice said. ‘Don’t’ think.’ ‘Think’, said another. ‘Look at the map.’ The route appeared to dart behind a church. What church? Where was it? Set slightly back from the road, I’d walked right past it. Remarkable how you can miss something as big as a church. And look, etched on the pavement was a large footprint, pointing up an entry. ‘This way’, it directed.

A few more steps saw me reunited with my favourite WW sign. This time I was walking along the remains of a railway line, which was now a woodland trail. Half way along, I met the couple from Hull againl. They had almost completed their circular walk and I was only just over half way. There is great pleasure in walking but I was making hard work of it. It must have showed on my face. The woman asked me if I was enjoying myself. Well, yes, of course, I am but enjoyment is not quite the word. Some day I’ll look back on this and say I did that. But I wouldn’t allow myself the luxury of thinking of completing anything yet. It was just the next step for me. One small step at a time, taking me a little bit further and then I would see where it led me. Of course, if I’d been wearing sensible boots which didn’t hurt my feet, then I’d be having a perfectly wonderful experience, sounded out my nagging voice.

I set my sights on my next destination, a little place called Arras. My host in Millington had suggested I break my journey there so it would be interesting to see what it was like. Before then, I had my last look of the Vale of Pickering

from the top of the Wolds

from the top of the Wolds. I picked my way over the hard, chalky, rutted surface, occasionally stopping to swig a drop of water and admire the views. You could see for miles. The port of Goole, the Doncaster power station and Big Drax were all visible. Everything looked small and compact. How different distance and time look when you are travelling on foot.

But poor Arras, what has happened to you? I hesitated, as I always do, when following a path through a farmyard which gave me the impression for all the world of being deserted. I passed gaping holes in the corrugated sides of the huge, decrepit barns. I listened for signs of anything. Where were the dogs? One foot in front of another, I turned the corner. Rusty, old farm machinery lay scattered. Yet the front end of the farm was altogether different. It looked lived in. A line of washing showed that there were human life forms somewhere nearby. The grass was freshly mown and children’s toys lay upturned on the ground as if the kids had just run off for their tea moments before. A large green hut under the trees attracted my attention. Was it the children’s’ play room or could it be the farmer’s refuge? Not quite of scout hut proportions but it wasn’t far off. The track, lined on ether side by tall trees, continued towards the main road. I enjoyed the sensation of shade, provided by its overhanging branches.

Impressive, detached large houses dotted the sides of the track way. My eyes took in the washing on the line of one house, an assortment of cars parked outside and a ‘For Sale’’ sign obscured by a ‘Sold sticker. I tried not to glance at the map too often. South Cave was clearly marked and tantalisingly close. It was like clockwatching when you are engaged in some extremely tedious pursuit. It was still a good 8 squares by my reckoning, each measuring a kilometre in length. My mental maths grappled with the conversion. I found this helped with my concentration, especially towards the end of the day’s walk. That must be about 5-6 miles before I could take off my boots. I checked the time. It was getting on for quarter to four. At two miles an hour or even less, I had 3-4 hours walking ahead of me. I tried to keep my spirits up. ‘Small steps’, I repeated my mantra. My feet felt very uncomfortable but I wanted to keep going as long as I could.

Still, it gave me hope. I had by now come on to a busy road. I was forced to spend a few hair-raising moments walking a hundred yards or so along the side of the road as cars pelted past. I was glad to reach my marker and, as if to greet my arrival at this new field boundary, my faithful guide, the cabbage white butterfly, flew up to greet me and I followed behind.

Around Newbold Wold, I came a cropper again. Just as I thought everything was going well, the path seemed to disappear without trace. It looked like another straight across the field job. It couldn’t be (but it was as it turned out). I decided to keep to the right of the field’s edge for many yards till even I realised it didn’t feel right. I ought to be making my way towards the communications mast I could plainly see over the treetops in the near distance. It was plainly marked on the map, right next to the path. I turned up the slope walking over the newly cut wheat stalks. It pained me to admit that I was lost again and off the path. I knew I couldn’t be too far wrong. After all, only fifteen minutes earlier, I had been flying along the clearly marked track. I was technically trespassing but, hey, what the heck, they can’t shoot you for it. Wrong, as it happens.

To my right over the next field boundary lay a strange collection of huts. For a moment, I considered trying to get over the wire and head towards the farm house and from there onto the road. Suddenly, shots rang out. I couldn’t believe it. Looking round, I couldn’t see anything. More shots were fired. Was someone shooting at me for being in the wrong field? Surely not! I started to bristle with anger. My feet were hurting terribly, I was parched. My pack was heavy and I was lost. I was ready for a fight, to make my last stand, determined that if anyone was going to shoot at me, it would be not be in the back. Nevertheless, I was aware that I’d lowered one knee slightly to move below the line of the hedgerow.

Then I spotted where the firing was coming from. At the top of the rise, there was a shooting gallery dug partially into the ground. From there, someone was firing pellets at the inhabitants of the field, rabbits. I had come close to a rabbit farm and someone was taking pot shots at the quick-moving, big eared mammals. At one and the same time, I was relieved, then annoyed. How could anyone shoot at these harmless creatures? But then young farmers have to learn how to shoot somewhere, I suppose.  I decided to put some distance between me and the shooting barrel and carried on up the slope. A gap in the hedge allowed me access onto the road, taking care not to pitch myself out onto the tarmac and onto the onrushing traffic. ‘Now, where was I?’ I checked the map and looked around me. A post at the edge of a field some way off looked strangely familiar. It couldn’t be. No, but, yes, it just might be. I started to walk towards it. Yes, it was. A Wolds Way signpost. It had never looked so good. ‘Hello, me beauty!’

I was now entering an area of natural Wolds woodland and railway embankments. I descended downwards along a very steep slope, meandering on and on without any sign of reaching the bottom. Suddenly, a runner ran past me on the way up. I thought this was a good sign. South Cave and a night’s rest were near. It was cool in the wood. I came to a locked gate and considered the options. Take the pack and push it over. Then climb over or under myself. Garnering my last shreds of energy for the effort of getting over the high gate, I glanced off to the side where the WW signpost greeted me. Walk this way, friend, pointing to the path continuing round to the right and along the path. Teenage voices rose out of the evening’s air. I was getting closer, had to be, to journey’s end. One step at a time. The path headed up a steep incline. I found it on my map with mounting excitement. More forest trail this time on the flat. The WW sign pointed me off to the left. I had a square and a bit to go. It was getting quite dark. I thought about my torch in the rucksack. Maybe I would get to test it after all.

Finally, I came to the crest of a hill, overlooking South Cave. The lights twinkled in the near distance and beyond. There was the Humber estuary. lying like a silver bracelet, glinting in the last rays of the setting sun. I took one more picture. You can’t see much of South Cave but if you look carefully you can make out the river amid the dark grain of the photograph. I knew in my heart that the Humber bridge, for so long my intended destination at the end of the WW, would stay just out of sight around the bluff.

Never mind, the mouth watering prospect of the Fox and Coney was beckoning. I paused to ask the way from an approaching couple, out for an evening’s stroll.

evening's stroll

South Cave     Not far now

‘See where that car is turning’, it looked about a quarter of a mile away and my heart sank, ‘then down the road to the lights, another quarter of a square, then just on your right, no more than 100m up.’ His companion must have seen the sag of my shoulders and decided to take pity on me. ‘He’s joking. It’s only 50m’, she said laughing. I managed to laugh too but not during this last part of the journey. It was dark. I was walking on concrete. My poor feet were in a bad way, for sure.

Never have I been so happy to get to the pub. I pushed open the door to the bar. I don’t know why but I was surprised to be the only person there carrying a rucksack. Surely this would get me served in double quick time. I had phoned ahead earlier to let them know that I would be late but was definitely coming and to keep my room. In time, a member of staff looked my way. ‘I’ve come for my room. Can I have my room key, please? Quick as you can, I need a bath.’

Further exploration of the interconnecting corridors and stairwells led finally to my room. I prised off my boots. Oh,my poor feet! I ran a bath as best I could. Each step felt like pincers were being applied to my toes. I rubbed on more cream. I’d have to be quick or I’d miss the last orders for food at half-past nine. I ordered the vegetable lasagne. ‘With chips?’ ‘No, thanks.’ No more chips. Salad and garlic bread would do me fine. And the beer! What a choice! Abbot and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Perfect. I’m sure my feet started to warm. I toyed with the idea of one more pint. After all, it was my last night. But the pain made me want to get to bed.

 Day 5 – South Cave to Liverpool

I had a better night’s sleep till 5am when I had to get up as I needed the loo. Facilities were ensuite but I still had to get there. My toes were discoloured, my feet swollen. Every step was agony. That was it then. There was no way I could carry on. I was going home but how was I going to get there. I’d have to sort that out later. I felt sad and disappointed that I wasn’t going to finish the walk and see the Humber Bridge. Only thirteen miles to go; a doddle. Yet my next decision was working out how to get dressed. It took me twice as long as usual. Then, I had to face the warren of corridors in the Fox and Coney. I ordered two fried eggs and beans on toast. I got one fried egg on toast but the staff made up for it later. For a moment, I thought, maybe I could complete the walk but when I stood up, I knew for definite, that was not going to be, not today. I had to find out what time the bus left.

I asked the breakfast crew where the bus stop was. No-one knew. Everyone travelled by car, everyone that is, except Tracey. The bus stop was 30 yards down the road. I don’t suppose she knew what time it left? ‘I’ll go and find out for you, back in a minute’. This certainly made amends for the missing egg yolk. Tracey wasn’t long. ‘The bus leaves at ten to ten.’ I looked at my watch. It was quarter to nine now. I had plenty of time, or did I? Everything was taking twice as long or more to do as normal. I started to feel self-conscious, trying to stifle grimaces of pain. What would people make of me hobbling home at slow speed? Indeed, would I get home? My major problem was that the ends of my feet felt like needles, pointing into all parts. I thought there might be something to reflexology after all. I was wearing my yachting shoes, which were much lighter than my walking boots. The laces were loosely tied. For now, I had to sort out immediate problem of getting to the bus stop all of 30 yards away, without wincing out loud, and with my rucksack.

No-one seemed to pay attention to me as I slowly made my way down the road to the stop. I hoped the bus would not come early. As I was waiting, an Asian man passed. We exchanged our ‘good mornings’. A teenage couple chatted, waiting for the same bus, I assumed. I wanted to ask them about bus fares but, no, young people know nothing. The couple were kissing, anyway. A car carrying friends of theirs hooted and they waved back. When the bus arrived more or less on time, they waited for me to get on, patiently and courteously. I felt rather bad that I had misjudged them. I wanted to get to Hessle so that I could catch the train to Hull and then back out to Liverpool. The driver though advised me to get off at Brough. It left a short 300 yard walk to the station. Just 300 yards! Every step was a good’un. I could only move very slowly. A five minute walk took more than twenty but I got there.

The ticket seller told me I had to change at Manchester Piccadilly. Just after the train departed, I enjoyed my last view of the estuary. ‘Could I see the Humber Bridge?’ I wondered excitedly. I had 3 photos left but the camera lay in a pocket of my rucksack. And that was on the luggage rack. In any case, there was no sign of the bridge. I’d have to save that for another day.

The train arrived at Piccadilly. Wouldn’t you know it, l had to get from one end of the station to the other. The shortest route was over the bridge but there was a moving walkway the other way. I headed off away from the bridge. O heaven! These moving walkways should be installed everywhere instead of pavements. I had no problem letting the belt carry me along at its own pace. It was quicker than mine. I was conscious of being watched and the excuse of walking on the Wolds was now less obvious. I had to share the train part way to Liverpool with an ear-piercing toddler. What I wanted most was sleep and rest. The toddler’s parents smiled benignly at the antics of their child. I remembered myself what seemed a long, long time ago doing the same with my own children but the time and distance made me feel a harsher, less tolerant person.

I got back to my local station. The long, upward-sloping ramp was a challenge and then down the hill. I realised I needed newspapers and fruit. Soon I was back at my front door, entering the flat. With pleasure, I dropped my boots at the bottom of the stairs. Was this symbolic? Clang…I didn’t put those boots a wee laddieon for another six weeks. I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘Had it been worth it?’ Wasn’t I a foolish, old bloke trying to re-find my youth, if that was what I was doing, trying to throw off old man with stooped shoulders demeanour and a pessimistic approach to life? Poor me! It has been very tough, separating from my wife. There had also been changes at work over the past eighteen months. And the legacy of my eldest son’s head injury two year’s earlier. This had had a massive affect on my outlook. I felt physically and mentally battered.

But walking had enabled me to listen to the voices inside my head. One had been the procrastinator. Another had been the censorious denigrator, the one which said I would never do it. But I had also heard a voice of the teacher, gently encouraging, quietly, an intelligent voice. The experience revealed how my character had been shaped over time and gave me an explanation of how I could appear to be both clever and wise on one occasion and preposterously daft at another. Was it possible to change my outlook? I thought back to the day on the walk between Thixendale and Millington. I had told my sarcastic, bombastic voice to get lost. I wanted to hear more from the quiet voice inside my head. If I hadn’t attempted this walk, I would have missed this. It had been the main, unexpected benefit of taking a long distance walk solo. You cannot hide from yourself. It is a surprise to find out what is going on inside your head. Usually, there are too many external distractions which demand your attention.

Through undertaking this challenge, I felt that I had gained a better understanding of how I worked. It might seem strange but, in simplifying my life so that I only had to think about one day at a time, I had come to understand myself more and, more importantly, to like myself better.

I took to my bed for the weekend, calling on my youngest son to help with some basic tasks, such as emptying the ‘bedpan’. He did this cheerfully and without complaint, I recall. It is now three months down the line and I am planning my next three rambles. I have even started thinking about walking part of the Cumbrian Way next summer, a triumph of hope over disappointment. Who knows where it will lead you! I probably won’t do it on my own though next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginnings

 

The idea of taking a walking holiday on a long-distance footpath did not come to me in a flash. It was something that grew over time. You could say it started years before during the many occasions spent driving over the Snake Pass on   visits to Sheffield. I may even have drawn on memories of Blue Peter’s John Noakes’ walking and camping along the Pennine Way one very wet summer. On holidays, I had often snatched walks along stretches of Devon and South Pembrokeshire costal paths but never for more than a few hours at a time. Something about the challenge of a long-distance walk appealed to me.

 

I was used to the city and everything it can throw at you: masses of jostling people, non-stop noise from traffic and building work, a stressful job too thrown in to the mix. A couple of years earlier, I had joined my local Ramblers’ Association group and usually went out with them about once a month. Typically, we covered 12 miles or so on most days. I then had three weeks to recover. Before joining, I had worried over the prospect of spending a whole day in the company of people I barely knew. It turned out not to be like that. You find yourself stepping in and out of conversations with people for a short while, for as long as you want before being left to your own thoughts again until you fell in with someone else again. One rambler told me of her forthcoming reunion in Scotland with walking friends from all over the world. It sounded wonderful, just you, your map and your compass. She explained that her favourite way of rambling was ‘solo’, taking off into the wilderness on her own. ‘Really?’

 

In my late forties, I was, like many others, coming to terms with the end of my marriage. For the first time in years, I did not have a family holiday to share that summer. I could actually take time off in September if I chose. There were advantages to this. Accommodation was cheaper and more likely to be available. The weather would probably be fair to very good. On the other hand, everyone was going back at work after the summer break. September at work is always one of the busiest times of the year for me. Would my colleagues be able to cope without me for a whole week?

 

I thought about it idly for weeks without doing much. Being idle is a good thing. I knew from going out with my local Ramblers’ Association group for the day just how much kit you needed for food and drink and changes in the weather. How much would you need for a whole week? How would you carry it? One Sunday, off rambling in the hills, I shared my thoughts with the rambler, who was soon off to Scotland.

 

I was playing with the idea, I told her, of sleeping rough. This appealed to the romantic in me. I could picture myself from under the comfort of my duvet, bivouacked under a hedgerow along the way, in harmony with the rhythm of the season, closing my eyelids as the sun set and rising full of beans to do my exercises with the dawn. I even investigated various army surplus stores for outdoor sleeping or ‘bivvy’ bags. My walking companion gave me some sound advice. ‘You will need to stay somewhere where you can have a hot shower and a warm bed each night, not to mention starting the day with a hearty breakfast. Don’t leave it to chance. Make sure you book ahead.’ ‘How long is it before you go?’ she asked. ‘Oh, just three weeks’, I replied nervously, hoping she wouldn’t notice my sharp intake of breath. ‘Time to get cracking then, don’t you think. And good luck to you. You will really enjoy it.’ She didn’t say if she thought I was mad. She left those kind of thoughts to me.

 

The Wolds Way is 79 miles long. According to the information available, it is a well-signposted path, ideal for a first-time, long-distance walker. That sounded promising to me. I liked the good signs point. Starting at a place called Hessle, just outside Hull, it winds in an arc northwards all the way towards Filey on the coast. Most people start out from Hessle, ending with the glorious views of the sea from the chalky cliff tops. But all my life, if someone has told me to do it one way, I’ve wanted to do the opposite. It wasn’t just that. I wanted to finish within sight of the glorious Humber Bridge at sunset. I’d only ever seen the bridge on television or in pictures. It looked very impressive. If I got there, I would take a photograph to mark the end of my journey.

 

What had been a vague idea for the last few months had now come to the crunch. It was time to start making phone calls. So much to do! The BnB’s were soon booked. As usual, there were little panics. One owner didn’t get back to me because she had been on holiday. When she did ring, she was already booked up for the night I wanted. Fortunately, I had been able to make alternative arrangements. Later, while actually on the walk, I bumped into a couple who had stayed at that BnB. The woman who ran it was well into her 80s, kept a wonderful vegetable garden and served the most delicious meals. Well, next time, I thought.

 

The phone number of the pub at another of my intended destinations in South Cave rang out continually without reply. What kind of establishment was this that didn’t pick up the phone? Eventually, I rang the village store for help (acting on another tip from my rambling adviser), getting the number from a pamphlet I’d obtained from Yorkshire tourist board. Fortunately for me, staff from the pub often came into the shop and the woman serving in the shop, promised to pass my number on. ‘Have to go now,’ she said, ‘I’ve got a customer.’ I was slightly sceptical about this but then the phone rang. It was someone from the pub and my last booking was done. She told me that they had changed their telephone number.

 

A new, bigger rucksack, more socks, two OS maps showing the route all needed to be purchased. The whole route was covered by 4 OS maps but I reckoned that I could get away with the guide book for the missing sections. After all, how difficult could it be following a well-signed path? I checked out the train times. It was simpler for me to get to Filey by mid-day than Hull. So, my mind was made up – Filey, here I come. I would be aiming to complete the walk ‘in reverse’!

 

Then the fateful departure day came. Friends and colleagues wished me luck. Don’t you think whenever anyone does that, it seems as if they know something you don’t. I was half-expecting the worst and had checked out possible escape routes by bus from Hull or Scarborough. Besides, I told myself, the journey wasn’t at all about completing the route. It would be great if I could, of course but it was more about experiencing the countryside for a longer period, relying on my own resources and seeing how I would deal with problems that would inevitably crop up. It was also to do with winding down, I discovered. I had no idea how stressed I had become by the strains of modern day life.

 

Day 1 – All the Way to the Ganton Greyhound

 

I woke up in need of the loo, not an uncommon experience these days. In the darkness of my bedroom up in the roof space of my new flat, I spied out of the dormer window a trail of thin, wispy cloud, back lit by translucent, blue light. Breakfast beckoned. I burnt the toast while consulting my checklist. Attempting to be organised, I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that I’d forgotten something obvious. There had once been a family incident on the motorway driving down to the ferry port of Poole on the way over to France. I had been overcome by the strangest misgiving that I had left all the family passports at home. We stopped, tipped out the suitcase, no passports and consternation all round. Then, I checked again and, hey presto, there they were all the time. It had given everyone a bit of a fright which I now realised was ongoing. Nowadays, it kept happening more and more. I feared it was a sign of early dementia, half-hoped the explanation could be stress-related. This seemed more reasonable, I counselled. Fortunately, I recognised a tendency in me towards suspecting the worst, only to be assured that all was well. I just needed a few days away from it all; revitalising trip and this was one way of doing it.

 

For the last time, I mentally went through my list – wallet, cheque book, keys, mobile phone, water bottle and so on – all accounted for. I had no sooner finished my listing when, remarkably, a thin sliver of blue lightning flashed inches over the end of my bed. Interesting, I thought. Should I get up or give up now? Deciding to mull this over in bed for a further five minutes, I searched the sky for any more omens. None came. So, I swiftly put on my slipper socks and headed down the stairs and adventure.

 

I was training myself to leave five minutes earlier than usual, tired of legging it onto a train just as it was leaving. One time, I left for work without my front tooth and had to go back. This time the tooth would be staying in the bathroom. The world would just have to get used to my toothy grin.

 

I arrived at the ticket office of my local station. ‘Single to Filey, please’, anticipating at least one raised and curious eyebrow. ‘Filey? What draws you to Filey at such a time as this?’ I imagined him saying. Or ‘Filey, wow, mate, how lucky are you! Wish I was going there.’ But all I got was a ticket. What was going on? Was I trying to re-capture some of the excitement and bravado from the long train journeys of my student days to Bratislava and Venice? I had got so used to seeing places, I didn’t get excited anymore and I missed that feeling of seeing something afresh. For some reason, I was reminded of the lightening strike earlier that morning and a grim feeling of foreboding crept over me. I shook myself and made my way to the top of the ramp, leading down to the platform below.

 

After hours of planning, I was at the start of my journey. I experienced something of the feeling of combined nervousness and excitement at going travelling. But most of all, I needed to escape or face up to – I wasn’t sure which – the problems of trying to manage a stressful workload while trying to work through some of the issues arising out of a slow and painful separation from my wife of fifteen years. It would also be helpful if I could become a bit less grumpy, a little more positive.

 

I planned to go from my local station into Liverpool Lime Street. From there, I would come back the same way through the long line of tunnels which cut through the sandstone wedge running under the city. Then, I’d be on my way to Scarborough. Just as I arrived at the top of the ramp, the Liverpool train appeared round the bend. ‘Yes!’ I cheered. I later found out that the timetable had changed and the 07.40 was now the 07.30, running 10 minutes behind schedule.

 

I couldn’t help but think about my rucksack, which by now was pressing down heavily on my shoulders…neck, arms, and back. It had back straps, which were adjustable to the height of the person carrying it. I was reluctant to touch it in case it ‘opened’ and wouldn’t work.

 

Holding my copy of the Liverpool Daily Post, I bordered the train for Scarborough. I’d just taken my seat when I was asked to leave the carriage while it was cleaned. Back on the platform, I looked at my rucksack – friend or foe for the next 5 days. It was no good. I had to do something about that strap. There are four notches on the back of the bag. I lowered it by one, didn’t want to over do it. The bag felt better with less of the weight on my hips, more evenly distributed on my shoulders.

 

The platform started to fill up ahead of the train leaving. I took a seat on the platform. A man in a pinstripe suit and sun tan annoyed me by smoking in my direction. I noticed how intolerant I had become towards anyone smoking nearby me, just increasingly intolerant generally. I really was feeling old and grumpy. Was this the reason I was on this trip? Didn’t people take on a challenge? I didn’t really want to think too much about what reasons I had. I just wanted to get going. I couldn’t wait to start walking, feeling the sun and wind on my face and stepping out, as Joe Jackson once said. A few more years and my poor ankle might seize up completely.

 

As a group of us stood waiting patiently for the doors to open, I wondered if I would get the same table seat I‘d sat in earlier. I scanned the people around me, daring them to sit in my seat, challenging them. And this without any morning coffee! I’d decided to skip the caffeine surge and stick to water instead. With only a half- litre bottle of water plus my flask, I had to take it easy. I wanted to avoid dehydration and headaches. My thoughts went back to previous journeys – anxiety, guarding possessions, being watchful and mistrustful of my fellow passengers. I realised how wound up I had become and hoped this holiday would help me unwind.

 

The open button on the train door suddenly lit up. A young woman with two hydraheads pressed it and it slid open. I grabbed my book, checking that the newly re-arranged strap held, half expecting it to come loose but it didn’t. A man with a bald head and an attractive female companion sat in ‘my’ place, I gloomily observed. Never mind. I sat at a different table, all to myself. The luggage rack was empty. Strange, I looked about me, am I the only person on this train wearing shorts? It was early September. The whole train was full of people wearing suits, heading to work, exchanging words about their summer holidays. I was just starting on mine.

 

The train was filling up but I still had my table to myself. But just before departure, there was a flash of red tracksuit and a man sank into the seat opposite. He at least closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. The train had just started to pull out when a man in a grey suit, sporting a hideous yellow and magenta striped tie in my face sat next to the man in the red tracksuit. To make matters worse, he was holding a pungent, costa coffee and, double whammy, they were old mates.

 

Who said men don’t talk? We were barely passed Birchwood and they hadn’t stopped for breath. In the 45 minutes it took to get to Manchester, they covered DIY, loft conversions, football, a man’s peak. It’s physical at 21, mental at 25, apparently. Did I sense a competitive edge to their conversation? The man in the red tracksuit looked over 40 while his younger colleague was still in his twenties. As someone who had officially passed into the late-forties age group, that put me not just over the hill but out to pasture. Fields, pathways, quick, where are you?

 

Next, they worked the conversation onto uncles and the miners’ strike in the 1980s. This at least got interesting, not that I was trying to listen, you understand. ‘It taught me to look after number one,’ said the red track suit. ‘Sad but true. Just earn enough money for yourself and the kids, sod everyone else.’ Even if the lesson learnt was not the one I would have wished for. How local communities supported and sustained one another in a time of struggle against injustice. In the next breath, we were back to motorbikes and football. In the end, I was sorry to see my fellow travellers leave the train at Manchester. It was so quiet. The rest of the journey passed quickly until, look at me, I was standing outside the railway station at Filey, having my photo taken.

 

I was looking for someone to take a photograph of me to prove I was actually there. I approached a man who claimed not to speak any English. ‘Ah, tourist.’ I thought, just like me. He had a companion who was happy to take a snap of me. ‘German?’ I guessed out loud, as she shaped to take my picture. ‘No, no, not German, Polish.’ ‘Ah, well done, Bern,’ a good start. I hailed another passer-by. ‘Excuse me, are you local? I’m trying to get to Filey Brigg.’ I explained in my best tourist voice. He directed me to the large map of Filey outside the station. They have very good maps and signage in Filey..

 

In no time at all, I was sitting on a bench at the cliff head, overlooking the sea, eating my lunch. Next, I found a set of steps leading down to the foreshore, lots of them, tearing at my knees. At the bottom, I passed a group of teenagers. They seemed to be picking on one of them. I thought about asking if he was OK but decided not to and moved on. I found myself walking along the Coble, complete with fishing boats and chalets for hire. Soon, I had to turn up the hill to get to the tourist office. Although only about 75 yards up the hill, I had to pause half-way up looking around for a bench to rest on. I’d been told that I’d ‘get the weight’ of my rucksack by the third day. This seemed unlikely to my mind at this point. It fleetingly occurred to me that I had rather more than 75 miles and a bit still to go.

 

Filey Brigg

 

 

By the time I pushed open the heavy door to the Tourist Information Office, my brow was beaded with sweat. Once I’d recovered my breath, I paid my £12.00 for the guide to the Wolds Way coastal path. As a budding writer myself, I scoffed at the price in the knowledge that only a small portion would actually go to the writer.

 

On the Map – Filey to Ganton, 13 miles

 

My first task was find the right road out of Filey leading to the track. I hated walking on concrete slabs and was crying out for the earth beneath my boots. With my exceptional map reading skills, I guessed that I was going in the right direction. Asking a local lad, passing by where the start of the path might be, he paused before answering, ‘The Wolds Way? It may be in there.’ he said, pointing to the entrance into a housing estate. ‘Or it could be further on. I’m not sure.’ It looked too soon to me and so I decided to carry on further along the Muston Road. My determination was soon rewarded by the sight of a nut kernel carved into the top of a signpost. The symbol on top of a post and a magic cabbage white butterfly were to be my ever present companions for the next five days. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Taking a deep breath, I was on the map and on my way.

 

The track was hugged by bungalows for the first part. A man came out of one of them into his garden, as if to wave me off. I gave him the thumbs up sign. He looked the other way. Who could blame him? I was happy and showed it with a big, beaming smile, albeit one front tooth missing.

 

On Beacon Hill, I made my first acquaintance with cows in a field. Feeling a little nervous, I quietly hoped that blue, the colour of my rucksack, would turn out to be a placid colour for cows. Keeping to the path, I walked in even pace past the herd. Just one more to go and I would be at the gate. Getting nearer, I scanned the one remaining animal for tell tale signs. To my horror, I noticed the appendage which told me instantly that I was definitely approaching the male of the species. I caught my breath, glanced to the left of me. There was no escape. I was three quarters the length of the field and only 30 yards from the haven of the gate. If the bull charged, I was a dead man, for sure. I swallowed and, maintaining a steady gait, continued on my way. I had not paused, you understand. All this calculated, decision making happened in the space of a few seconds. To turn round, I reasoned, would invite interest from the bull and probably from some of the cows too. Besides, I was almost certain to meet more cows along the way and so had to get used to them or else head straight back to the city with my tail between my legs.

 

I gave the bull a quick glance, trying to avoid his gaze and looking away so as to appear not to challenge him. So far, so good, he showed little interest in my presence, preferring to eat the grass. I hoped this would remain the case. I was now level with the beast. No movement. Five yards beyond, now ten, I flicked a look over my shoulder. Should the bull charge, it was 50:50 that I would get to the gate in time. The odds were getting better with every step I took. Was he playing with me? At the gate itself, I had the calm self-assurance to turn round, still inside the field, mark you, and look back at the bull, well, at the bull’s backside, to be precise, as it still hadn’t moved. I savoured my triumph, taking one bar of the gate at a time as I climbed over and to safety. I had looked into the face of danger and had come through unscathed. True, my mouth was dry, my knees wobbled uncertainly on jumping down off the last bar and my heart would take a little while to come to rest, notwithstanding the great weight I was carrying. Still, I had to admit I was rather pleased with myself. It is common knowledge that people are more likely to give up nearer the start of an adventure, if unsettled by some unfamiliar occurrence and I had passed the first test, the Pillar of Bull.

 

I looked at the map, waiting for something to make sense and tell me where I was. I was in a village called Muston. It seemed very pleasant with its own hall for the squire and a pub. The local people were welcoming. I chatted briefly with a young man, quenching his thirst from a lemonade bottle. He worked at the factory in the village. When he asked me where I was heading, he looked very surprised when I told him, ‘Hessle, only 78 miles away’. Walking past a house, a line of crows seem to peer malevolently. It took me a moment to realise that they were all carved out of wood. Across the road, a couple of women were busy picking blackberries from bushes. On such a warm, sunny day as this, I thought how lucky people were to live in such a nice place.

 

Making my way to the end of the village, I climbed a style and found myself for the first time in the Yorkshire Wolds proper. Walking over Flixton, then Staxton Wolds, this was what I’d come for. Startled game birds and rabbits dived out of the rough about 18 inches in width which lined the side of the path. I walked along hedgerows made up of hazel and hawthorn. Flowers grew all around with one field covered in masses of red poppies. And right from the start, the small cabbage white butterfly popped out of nowhere to be my guide and friend.

 

I was walking along the tops looking down into the valleys and gullies on either side. I recalled slightly nervously the reason why the path kept to the heights. The low areas were the domain of the bulls, of which there seemed to be plenty promised along the route. I decided against taking a photo opportunity by the RAF listening station on the basis that you never know who is watching you.

 

Of course, you pass a large number of farms along the way. One, in particular, sticks in my memory. Walking past the gate, I glanced over to my left and noticed something large and fleshy, lying motionless on its side, outside the pen. Peering more closely, I realised it was a dead pig. There was no sign of anyone in the yard. It was so quiet. I couldn’t think this was a common occurrence but didn’t want to hang around. Just in case. I decided it was time I moved on. I hadn’t expected to witness such a scene but that is what happens on pig farms, I suppose. I was glad that I don’t eat meat.

 

The way ahead was bathed in brilliant sunshine and I could feel myself relaxing into the walk. I followed the straight lines and curves of the tops, while tractors rotated around me, stirring up the chalk by their ploughing. Time and the weight of my backpack pressed on my joints, which were starting to hurt.

 

Gratefully, I spotted what had to be (please!) the church tower of St Nicholas in the village of Ganton. Stepping into the village, I was welcomed by the sound of a fast flowing brook which ran in front of the houses. There were tiny bridges built outside each one, joining the grassy verges. It saddened me to see the post office and the local shop had both been converted into living accommodation. Yet the bulletin board revealed an active parish life with lots of events happening.

 

 

Turning the corner, I finally arrived at the Ganton Greyhound. Wailing guitar solos by The Smiths whirled round my head, particularly good for getting you up steep slopes. The longer I walked, the less concerned I was with how I looked; a good sign and one of the benefits of travel I’ve always thought. I felt hot, dirty and sweaty. During this first day, I had also been thinking a lot about how I was going to get on with my ex-wife and our two teenage boys without really seeing any particular way forward. What about other relationships? Don’t even go there, I told myself. Random thoughts, I suppose you would call them. Above all, I felt I was starting to connect with the human race again, regaining a sense of trust in others. Strange that I’d had to distance myself from most of them to begin to feel this?

 

Day 2 – from Ganton to Thixendale, 20 miles

 

Starting from Ganton, no-one in their right mind would choose an end point of Thixendale, over 20 miles away. For someone new to long distance walking, I was taking on too much. That said, I had the self-belief that I could do it and no experience to the contrary was going to put me off.

 

I was pleased that I had limited myself to two pints the night before. The golfing party, joining me in the restaurant for breakfast, were looking slightly the worse for wear. One of them asked me, ’Doing the Wolds Way, are you? Where are you heading today?’ When I answered, ‘Thixendale’, he gave me an astonished look. Better get me skates on. I’d planned to make a good start by 8.30. First, I had one important task left. I needed a photograph to prove to my sceptical colleagues and friends that I had indeed passed through the Gates of Ganton. The waiter on breakfast duty was only too pleased to help. The picture taken shows me with the satisfied look on my face of someone who had completed his first ever 16-miler and can’t wait to get started on the next stage, without a clue what he is letting himself in for. I think it’s called the ‘bliss of ignorance’. Still, we’ll allow him his smile.

 

I was walking in light drizzle. From the footpath, the mist covered the top of the wold, less than 100 metres away. Unless it started to pour down, my spirits were high. I was on the path again and striding out. I looked about for my friend and guide, the indomitable cabbage white, but it was rightly taking shelter. Just before I left the Ganton Greyhound Inn, the breakfast waiter told me, ’Look out for the pigs! You can’t miss them’. I wondered what he meant, not wanting to see rows of dead pigs. After roughly half-an-hour’s walking, I came to a place marked on the map as the ‘grits’, which was a huge field divided into plots. There was a corrugated iron shed, home for one, very big pig, on each of them. I’d never seen anything like it, although the wide, sticky-out ears reminded me of someone. I couldn’t quite remember who. As I walked slightly nervously along the track, some of the pigs were curious to see me, while others ignored me completely. I don’t know which felt worse.

 

Pig Town

 

To my right, across the A64, lay a large village. Looking at my map, it had to be Sherburn. Smugly satisfied by my beginner’s luck map reading success, I continued along the track. To my great delight and urged on by my blinking glances, the sun slowly struggled to pierce the grey mist. It tried harder and harder. ‘Go on,’ I called, till, just like that, an orange tinge broke through. I thought it was rather magical, where the mist was greeting the sun for a brief moment before parting company. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my face and felt stronger for it. Lengthening my stride, I became more and more excited, approaching as I was the village of West Heslerton.

 

Over twenty years ago, I had undertaken my one and only archaeological dig à la Time Team. It turned out to be one of the best holidays of my life, although it ruined my back. We camped, made good friends and helped to discover an Anglo-Saxon settlement. It was one of the reasons for coming up this way. I had marked the quality of the light, especially at dusk. It bathed you in its warm rays and I wanted some more of it. I was sure it was going to be a great day, without a doubt!

 

From my vantage point overlooking the main road between York and Scarborough, the A64, I could almost reach out and touch the old village of ‘West Hes’. Extending on the other side of the road, the Vale of Pickering stretched out for miles and miles.

A few steps more and I was looking on the village itself. Down there lay the Dawnay Arms, where I’d played some of my best ever pool (my greatest exploits mixed with the odd defeat too, I’m man enough to admit now). That was a long time ago now and a fair bit had happened in the meantime.

 

 

 

A steep descent took me into the heart of Deep Dale Plantation. It seems strange to say how exciting it was to see a group of game birds ahead of me on the path. I was perfectly alone in the stillness of the wood. Of course, I was nervous. What if I turned an ankle? What then? I’d look a right idiot. I had asked some friends if they’d like to join me for some of the route. The timing for them was bad as it was the start of a new term. But I was enjoying the stillness. I was glad to be away from the roar of the traffic and the hum of the electric pylons. I was testing myself on this route and looking to see how I’d shape up. I’d grown too comfortable, taking lots of things and people for granted. Above all, I wanted to take some risk, not too much, nothing I couldn’t get out of. I had set myself a challenge and how would I get on?

 

I settled into a comfortable rhythm walking solo but didn’t feel on my own. I was aware, free of the continual distractions of the city, of the non-stop chatterings taking place inside my head. Sometimes, it seemed to be hosting a discussion programme without a chair with a panel of different voices jostling to be heard.

 

But right now, a glance at my watch showed me that it was lunchtime. The pack slid off. I’d found a lovely glade wrapped in sunshine. While quietly munching my way through the remains of my packed lunch from the day before, I realised that I was being observed. A game bird, possibly a pheasant or it could have been one of the other ones, was staring at me from behind a fallen tree trunk. It was making an awful noise – cack-a-cack cack, cack-a-cack cack, over and over again in staccato bursts. What had I done? Would it attack me? I looked around. Was I sitting too close to its brood? Was my presence an affront to its birdhood? Who knows but I decided the risk of attack was minimal. I could always take cover behind the blue rucksack. Watching the bird kept me entertained as it played hide and seek, running for cover across the bank.

 

But I didn’t have long. Twenty minutes and lunch was over. I had a schedule to make if I was going to get to Thixendale in a day. Soon, I could see the tall tower of the church at my next stop, Wintringham. According to the guide book, it was made from the same stone as York Minster. I had to see it. When I arrived the tower was covered in scaffolding and polythene. The workmen’s’ tools lay on their sides by the doorway which stood open. I entered the church and found myself completely alone. How cool it felt inside. I hadn’t appreciated how warm I had become. I would have liked to sit down for a few moments but took a photograph of one of the stained glass windows and took my leave.

The path headed around the back of the village. According to the map, I must walk the entire length of the village before doubling back almost half-way  before re-joining the path. Half-way along, I paused at a farm gate. I had noticed that a path led directly down to the road, where I wanted to get to. By my reckoning, the Wolds Way lay just across the other side of the road. Yes, wasn’t that the acorn sign in the distance? Trouble was, it was somebody’s private path. For a moment, a rascally voice in my head urged, ‘Go on, save you time. No-one will see you. People must do it all the time. Don’t be an idiot.’ Then I thought of barking dogs I’d probably meet, no farm is complete without barking dogs. I pictured the embarrassing exchanges with the farmer which would follow. Despite my aching toes, I decided to do the decent thing and keep to the path. On my honour, I was representing the Rambler’s Association after all. I was glad I had. At the end of the village, I passed a garden with the most interesting selection of garden furniture, ornaments, swings and metalwork. It had a run for chickens which flapped their wings towards me in welcome.

 

It turned out I was right about the signpost at the foot of the private trackway. The next WW signpost lay across the road from the inviting farm track. It led me to the village millennium garden through which ran Wintringham Beck, a fast flowing stream, perfect for breaking your journey for a snack. Ah, well, next time, I thought, keeping an eye on the clock.

 

Wintringham marks a turning point on the Wolds Way. For those journeying north, it marks the eastward turning towards Ganton and Filey. For those foolhardy souls like me, making the journey in reverse, this is where you head south, away from the vistas across the vales of York and Pickering which had accompanied my journey all day. The next stage of my journey was about to begin.

 

I tramped along a tarmacked track towards Stack Hills. In the distance, I saw two dots moving gingerly down the slope towards me. The dots turned into two fellow walkers, a young couple. We met at the bottom. It was interesting to note my own and other people’s reactions when we met on the path. Sometimes, we stopped and exchanged a few words. At other times, we exchanged a quick word of encouragement or passed a useful piece of information without breaking step. Still, just once, nothing at all. It’s possible they didn’t speak any English rather than not wanting to talk to me. Or was it me to them?

 

We paused to chat for a few moments. While welcoming the strange peace which came from long hours of solitude, I was glad of the opportunity of giving the voices in my head a rest and start a conversation with real people. They told me they were spending a few days walking in the area. They knew of a very good BnB which didn’t appear in any of the literature I had. If only I’d known! I doubt if I would have made Thixendale, however romantic it sounded, my destination for the day. I couldn’t get away from the thought that I must be completely stark staring bonkers. Why was I doing this? What could be the pleasure? A short walk of 8-9 miles was perfectly acceptable but 79 miles in five days! Crazy. Crazy and stupid, a voice told me. Yes, but ‘small steps’, called another, so low that I had to listen well to hear it. What was I so bothered about? Getting to the end of the route? Wasn’t my goal just to complete as much of the route in the time I had available, enjoy the fresh air and the countryside? That phrase, ‘small steps’, kept me going and meant lots of different things to me, I considered. Still, it would be nice to walk across the ‘finish line’, if I could do it.

 

My increasingly painful feet were a constant reminder of the distance I’d come on foot, not to mention the distance I still had to go. It was also about having realistic expectations. Small steps in themselves were not significant but looking back would signify a considerable sense of achievement. I thought back to how I had felt walking up the slope from the beach in Filey, carrying my backpack. I’d felt knackered and that was at the start of my walk. I also wondered if I would change as a result of the experience. Without doubt, yes. I talked about the experience to anyone who would give me five minutes for months afterwards. ‘Guess what I did this summer?’ It also gave me a good excuse for not booking another Sunday ramble for ages after.

 

Never mind, those small steps after more huffing and puffing, had eventually got me to the top of the hill. There was a marker around here, Settingham Beacon, so my guide book said. This indicated the highest point along the entire route. I spotted its top pointing out of the spruce trees in the plantation. Yet another mast!

 

But look around you. Over there were the North Yorkshire Moors. From this height and distance, you could see how the villages and towns fitted into the surrounding landscape. Map reading and, mathematical calculations of time and distance, history, introspection and song had all been my companions at different times along the way. How good was this! What about this song? Well, it was impossible to wander far without a tune suddenly filing the space between your ears. You just had to hope it wasn’t one that would drive you mental. ‘Vindaloo’ was the worst. Once it got hold of you, there was no escape, although it did help eat up the miles with a spring in my step.

 

My next target was Wharram le Street and, after that, the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy. It involved a slight detour at the wonderfully named ‘Bella Farm’ – and yes I did plunge helplessly into the song about the ‘Bella Citta’, ah, Figaro qui, Figaro qua, bella citta!. In good spirits now, I crossed the bridge which marked the entrance to the site. This was the historical high point of the trip. Yet I sensed danger. There were cows in the field and cows could mean a bull. And bulls meant difficulties, didn’t they? So far, I had only encountered one bull which, happily for me, had ignored me completely. Keeping to the path, I told myself that lots of people came and went this way without coming to any harm. If you kept your wits about you, you would pass through without incident. Probably right about this thought, I happened to look to my right, up the embankment where staring straight at me was a very big bull. I nearly wet myself but averted my gaze and had the good sense to keep on walking. How would it respond? Would it pick up on my fear and charge me? I strained to listen for pounding hooves on the beaten track.

 

At a calculated safe distance, I stopped and nonchalantly looked over my shoulder. The beast stood munching its grass in the same place and had completely ignored me. I felt quite foolish and quickly looked around to see if any of the small number of people visiting the site were noticing my embarrassment, as shown by my reddening cheeks. They were just meandering round the site, ignoring the livestock. On the other hand, I had successfully manoeuvred my way though a possibly tricky encounter, so had some cause to celebrate. I felt happier with this thought and was, therefore, due a cup of hot water and a fruit bar. Marvellous! I staggered across to a spot overlooking the church. ‘Feed the belly, feed the mind’ played out my mantra.

 

My rucksack seemed to know exactly where it wanted to go and I followed it. Wriggling my arms out of its straps, I leant back looking up at the sky. It was filled with fluffy white, cumulus clouds, bluffing their way across the skyline. I didn’t think rain was in the offing but I didn’t want to get too comfortable.

 

A refreshing drink and snack later and I was ready for knowledge about Wharram Percy. A combination of changes to farming practices and health concerns (the plague) had eventually led to the village being abandoned and left to itself. Stones had been rubbed out and reused in other properties. The only building standing was the church which had still been in use until the early 1900s.

 

Wharram Percy Church

 

Behind me lay the plan of houses and paths etched in the grass. I wish I could say I was struck by the eeriness of the deserted village but I couldn’t. I was too knackered.

 

I would have liked more time to have a good look around but I couldn’t. More pressing matters awaited me, although I did not know it. I was about to face the most outstanding challenge of the entire journey. At this point, I was blissfully unaware but should have known that there would be more cows to face. For now, I marvelled at a railway cutting. I was actually walking along the top of one of the embankments, built in the nineteenth century to bring the railway to connect with local industries and settlements.

 

Ahead of me, a long way off, I could make out a large herd of cows in single file, coming towards me along the path, making their way back for milking along the top of the same embankment. A voice in my head was very clearly saying, ‘You can’t walk through them. There are too many of them’. They were strung out across the top, the furthest one being some 50-60 yards from the nearest. I weighed it up. If I descended a little down the bank of the railway cutting, I could get round them that way. I started to but the descent was too steep. If my ankle goes over here, I’ve had it. Returning to the top, I studied the map seriously as the herd drew nearer. The boundary running parallel with the trackway was marked by a fence covered with barbed wire. What to do? Decisions, decisions. Beginning to panic, I retreated back to the gate and climbed over for safety. I breathed a sigh of relief. A detour while significantly adding to my journey time was preferable to impalement on cow horn or barbed wire. I walked about 50 yards before I gave in to the quiet but firm voice inside my head. ‘Bern, it said, this is hopeless. Just look at the map. If you carry on this way, how are you ever going to rejoin the path? It just doesn’t connect and you will have lost valuable time. You have to turn around, keep your nerve and face the herd.’

 

For someone who is used to passing through a herd of cows in a field, my fears may seem irrational. After all, cows are soft, docile creatures which do as they’re told, aren’t they? Well, not always and definitely not when they feel their young calves are being threatened. They can become very aggressive and they are big and strong animals.

 

By the time I’d returned to the gate, the cows’ spear tip was 30 yards away in front of me. I clambered back over the gate and, taking a deep breath, with everything crossed, I started walking slowly but steadily through the herd. I took great care to keep away from any of the young, trying to give off a calm air, as if just out for an afternoon stroll. To my left stretched the barbed wire fence. If one of the animals took a dislike to me, I was well and truly stuffed. No way would I be able to get over that fence, even without the backpack. Its only use would be to cushion the blow.

 

Surprisingly, this was actually a comforting thought. I began to ask myself what was the worst that could happen? They might jostle me a bit but what of it. I probably wouldn’t come to too much harm. Thinking along these lines, I became lost in my own thoughts and forgot about the cows for a few moments. So, I don’t know who or what was the most startled when I almost walked head on into a big, brown cow. The cow clearly hadn’t seen me coming and, to my relief, leapt out of the way. I carried on, hoping that my heavy breathing wasn’t too audible. My main difficulty was in stooping low enough beneath the overhanging branches on the other side of the fence. The top of my rucksack rose above my head. With its dangling straps and cords, it would just be my luck to get stuck under one of these branches, leaving me suspended and surrounded by curious cows at best; at worst, beasts intent on defending their own. For the most part, I successfully estimated the optimal stooping distance but it was getting increasingly tiring on my poor knees. I couldn’t keep it going and, as I rose up one time, I felt like I had got stuck on the end of a spring, snagging underneath a bush. Immediately, a small, quiet voice advised me, ‘Stop going forward, bend your knees and lower yourself down and backwards’. I came free and this time allowed more space to get under the branch. It worked. I was under and on my way again.

 

With me going one way and the cows the other, I was about two thirds of the way through the herd by this time. I started to think that I might make it. Then, I remembered my first driving test when I’d had similar thoughts about half-way through. The nagging thought remained with me as I passed the last straggler, Still, I did not turn round for a long time. I made occasional backward glances but it was only when I had climbed over the next gate that I felt safe. My knees were jelly but I smiled to myself. It may not rank highly on many people’s set of accomplishments but I had just walked right through the longest herd of cows I’d ever come across. I had the presence of mind to photograph the retreating herd. If you look carefully, the specks along the top at the far end of the embankment were my herd of cows. I waited for my heart to stop pounding and slow down to a more acceptable rate before moving off.

 

Reading the map later, I noticed that the wood I had passed to my left was called ‘Fairy Dale’ and its ‘fairy stones’, whatever they were, were not far away. Who knows, perhaps, a benevolent eye had been looking after me? In any case, it had the effect of making me feel more at ease with myself and my surroundings, walking solo, out in the Yorkshire countryside.

 

After all that, where was I? More to the point, how far was it to Thixendale? I was starting to think it might not really exist. This was helped in part by the fact that, in my drive to make savings, I had bought two of the four main OS maps, covering most of the route but not all of it. There were tiny, little, short stretches which were ‘off the map’ . I was coming up to one of them now and wouldn’t be back on the map until I approached Fridaythorpe, hopefully.

 

Where was I? Fortunately for me, the path really is well signposted, making it an ideal for first-time, long distance walkers. After walking past a seemingly endless string of hedgerows, I found the left turning I was looking for. Good. The going was hard underfoot as I found myself walking on white chalk. Each step was painful. It was about half-past seven when I rounded one more bend to see a village laid out before me? Surely, this was Thixendale. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. It was still there. Please, let it be Thixendale and let that

farmhouse near the bottom of the track be the one I am staying in tonight.

 

And it was. Oh, what joy! As I passed by the kitchen window, my host was standing at the sink, doing the washing up. ‘How nice to meet you. I wondered where you’d got to.’ Not nearly as nice as for me to meet you, I smiled back at her. Looking in on her nice, clean floor, then at my muddy boots, I took them off outside. This was not only out of consideration and respect for my host. I dearly wanted to be free of the tightening constraints of the boots and let my feet breathe.

 

It is not always easy to take in all the instructions and explanations which come when you stay at a bed and breakfast establishment. I tried my best to take everything in with a smile. In truth, as soon as I was on my own, I ran a bath as quickly as I could in an effort to soothe my aching toes, not to mention the rest of my weary bones. I had covered well over 20 miles in one day, something I had thought at the planning stage going over the maps might be tricky. But I had done it. I deserved a pint and some chips. The village pub came highly recommended but with a warning. The landlord could be a bit grumpy. I’d been forewarned by a couple of walkers heading in the other direction a couple of days earlier. He sounded like a character to me and I set off with interest to meet him.

 

I hadn’t expected another long walk, long if you are making very tiny footprints. I had put on my yachting shoes which helped. Having walked the length of the main street and feeling about to give up as I couldn’t see a pub anywhere, I spotted a light on outside what looked like an ordinary house. As I got nearer, I could hear the unmistakeable sounds of laughter and the delicious smells of food cooking. Here I was! I ordered a pint and examined the menu. ‘You can pay as you go or all at the end’ said the smiling barman. Could this be the same landlord mentioned previously? He seemed fine to me. My meal was brought to me, including my second pint of bitter. It was a huge plate of mushroom omelette and chips with just a slight salad garnish to keep me feeling healthy. Just as well as I couldn’t easily move. A trip to the loo took a lot out of me. Did it get any better than this? A long walk in fine weather, triumphing against the odds, good food and a quality pint of real ale, I was content and stretched out my legs, savouring the rich textures of my ale.

 

I had almost abandoned the idea of keeping a log of the journey each evening. I had so much to do anyway. I usually managed just a few notes. Key themes of endurance and self-discipline were emerging. Insect repellent featured regularly as did cracking jokes about climbing over fences ‘in style’. It felt that the long walk was giving me the chance to get to know and like myself better. And the tune ‘From May to September’ played around my head in a melancholy way.

 

In the pub, the map came out as well as the guide book as I started to read up on the next day’s route. But it’s good to have a chat too. I exchanged hellos with a young couple facing me. They were doing the Wolds Way but the ‘right’ way, not in reverse like me. This was fantastic. I could give them the benefit of my experience. And they had a problem. Even better. They were unsure if they would make the distance to Ganton in one day. Their average speed was a little over 2 miles an hour. With the air of a conqueror who has been there and done it, I advised them, ‘Get an early start and it’s definitely doable, albeit with 10-12 hours worth of walking.’ I said. ‘But what else would you be doing? Walking was the reason for coming here in the first place.’

 

This pub was one of the friendliest I’d ever been in. Much as I enjoyed the comfort of staying at the farmhouse, the pub was very appealing. Humorous drawings of village life, particularly cricket, adorned the walls. Later, I learned that the grumpy landlord exists but works alternate evenings. I’d been lucky in that the chap serving behind the bar this night was good natured and helpful. I left the pub reluctantly, the memory of big chips and tasty omelette, washed down with a draught of fine ale still fresh. Although tomorrow was my third and shortest walking day, I could not afford to over-indulge. I wanted a good start. Above all, I wanted to be horizontal and take the weight off my feet. Outside, it was dark. There were a few house lights throwing light across the pavement. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I gained my night vision, everything seemed just right. I was glad that I’d chosen Thixendale as one of my night’s stays, even gladder that it really did exist.

 

 

Day 3 – from Thixendale to Millington, 16 miles, if you’re lucky

 

I awoke to bright sunshine. So far, the weather had been great. Not bad with the breakfast either. With a lot of walking still to do, I had the full works of cereal, scrambled egg on toast and coffee again. I love coffee but I was only drinking it in the mornings. It was my shortest route today – about 16 miles. With any luck, I should complete it in seven or eight hours. A stroll! I was starting to regard myself with ever increasing confidence as quite a seasoned walker. The farmhouse was probably the most interesting place I had stayed in. It was certainly the most luxurious and I had allowed myself extra time to enjoy the fantasy of living in grandeur, if only for one night. I had the run of one floor along one side of the building. Peacocks, real and metal framed, adorned the lawn beneath my window. Family furniture from past generations filled the rooms. Above all, thick, inviting rugs and carpet soothed my aching toes back to life with each step. I’ll come back and spend a few days here, I told myself, as I always did when I found somewhere inviting. My boots beckoned.

 

There is a photograph of me posing outside the front door of the farmhouse. I am pointing to my map. This is where I am, I’m saying. But where was I heading? My toes felt OK, not brilliant but passable, journeyable. This had been my greatest worry. I didn’t want to cut short my journey. There were buses which would carry me to a train station but not yet. My toes wiggled inside my boot. The pain was tolerable. With the boots on, they were still ok. I slung the rucksack over my shoulder. My knees juddered but held up. After waving farewell to my hosts, I carried on my way, slowly. I had walked the length of the village the night before and could take more of it in during the day. I took slow, measured strides so as not to cause undue pain. I was talking about man pain, after all. After a couple of hundred metres, I was back into my stride. A quarter of a mile extra and I had entered one of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. I was completely alone walking along the footpath. It meandered like a river between low, undulating banks. Oaks lined my route, showing me the way forward. I felt happy. This was the Yorkshire Wolds at its best. The world was well or so it felt. I even passed to the side of a group of cows. They seemed to eye me with suspicion. I avoided all eye contact. Fifty yards on, I looked back. Not one cow was staring after me. I was honing my cow management (or avoidance) skills under bright, warm sunshine. All they seemed interested in was eating the grass.

 

I carried on until the head of the path. This proved to be a mistake, I now know. I should have turned off somewhere earlier but when you’re stepping out and all is well with the world, it’s easy to miss a turn. Again, my lack of experience at map reading had cost me. But I was not unduly perturbed. These things happen and sometimes for the best. I would never have met the kind tractor driver, who was ploughing the top field. He had just completed a run and, for some reason, had paused. Because I’d not seen a human being all morning, I pounced. ‘Morning, could you tell me if I’m on the right path for Fridaythorpe?’, I asked. ‘Yes’, he answered and we fell to talking. I spoke of my close encounter with cows on the paths. He laughed but then went on. ‘Most people who aren’t used to livestock do get into difficulty sometimes. It’s usually if they bother a calf or have a dog which goes after one of the cows. They can be quite dangerous then.’ He told me of an accident in which a man had been killed. An experience stockman, he had been the wrong side of a cow when it had been startled by something and had kicked out, catching the man fatally. I recalled reading at one time that agriculture has one of the highest rates of accidents at work and here was further evidence. Food for thought. We wished each other good day and carried on our way again.

 

Unfortunately for me, I was about to make the most calamitous mistake and all because I couldn’t read a map properly. I had come to a road at the end of the pasture. It marked a point about half way between the villages of Thixendale and Fridaythorpe. Get it right and I was flying. Make a mistake and the short walk I was looking forward to and more of a rest would be a forlorn dream.

 

I stuck my chin out and studied the map closely. After several minutes studying, I still wasn’t sure which way to go. I made up my mind and set off along the road. Almost an hour later, I finally sighted what I thought was Fridaythorpe. I felt so happy. My feet ached from stomping the hard tarmac. Within ten minutes, quiet satisfaction was replaced by crushing disappointment. I had, in fact, walked in a circle back to Thixendale. No wonder I thought the village looked familiar. It was the one I’d just left a couple of hours ago. I was back where I’d started and now was way behind schedule. How would I make Millington now? I just had to get to Fridaythorpe as soon as possible. Head down, reversing my steps and cursing my stupidity and bad luck in equal measure, I set off back the way I’d come.

 

The road was gruelling. Each step banged on the soles of my feet but at least I knew for certain that Fridaythorpe lay at the other end of it. Nevertheless, I was determined. I don’t know if my jaw was jutting out. I had made a simple mistake when I’d been ahead of the game. It had cost me and put me well behind time but I could still do it. I had to. The room was booked and I had nowhere else to stay. The distance between Thixendale and Millington looked enormous on the map. When an hour earlier, I wasn’t able to tell West from East, my map reading skills became crisp and sharp. How could I have got the overnight stay spots so badly wrong? I had to continue and, after about an hour, I arrived at the outskirts of Fridaythorpe. Was this it? Surely it must be but my attention was first attracted by another Norman bell tower, decorated with an ornate mechanical clock resembling a sundial. The grass in the church grounds looked so inviting I took my pack off and lay down. Sleep whispered in my ear and I could have slept there for a couple of hours, it felt so peaceful. Five minutes later, I forced myself to move on.

 

If my guide book was to be believed, Fridaythorpe marked the middle point of the walk and there ought to be a sign in the village. And here it was. Hessle was only 39 miles away. There it was in black and white. I had walked 40 miles, the furthest I had ever walked in my life in one go. And how do you feel about that?’ my feet groaned at me.

 

I was hungry and had by this time used up all my supplies from day one. Where could I get something nourishing, a little something to keep me going? There it was, opposite the village pond, a proud sign declared ‘The Pie Shop’. Inside, the pie man was talking to a customer. Both eyed me with interest as I struggled through the doorway. ‘Do you sell anything vegetarian?’ I asked, once I’d got through. I just caught the fleeting glance they gave each other as if to say, we’ve a right one here. I looked around me at the wares, displayed in the chill cabinet. Joints of beef and cuts of lamb took pride of place. Rashers of award-winning bacon invited a quick purchase. This was a prize winning butchers, one who took great pride in his trade to the point, I suspected, that he carried out his butchering on site, round the back, as they say. ‘We don’t get many vegetarians coming in here’ said the pie man. ‘Fair point’, I acknowledged, going on to explain I was walking the Wolds Way in reverse. His customer then had an idea. ‘What about a fruit pie?’ ‘Would I like a slice of cherry pie?’ ‘Absolutely, I would.’ The butcher cut me a slice and wrapped it in paper, oozing jam out of the sides. I thanked them both, paid for my pie and headed across the road to the bench by the pond. Just as I was biting into the juicy side, jam dribbling down my chin, it started to rain. To every problem, I was fast coming to learn, there is an answer. I was sitting next to a bus shelter. Quickly, I moved inside, eating my thick crust pastry and observing village life through my postage stamp vista. Could it get any better than this, I wondered? Amazing what a piece of pie can do, even when it does taste a bit suety.

 

The good news was that I was ‘back on the map’! I calculated that it was about nine squares to Millington or approximately 18km. I don’t know why but somehow the distances only seemed real if I could turn them into miles. I had great fun coming up with a rough conversion between miles to kilometres. The problem for me was that I had no idea how far 18km was, being more used to miles (apart from being an awful long way). After much painful trial and error and many failures, I settled on one kilometre being about two-thirds of a mile. Divide by three, times two. 18km divided by 3 is 6; 6 times 2 is twelve ie 12 miles. Definitely do-able, my new catch phrase. At 3 miles per hour, I would be there in four hours, if I was right. It was now quarter past two. However, my average pace was probably not much above two miles per hour, meaning I was more likely to get to Millington by 9.00pm and in the dark.

 

Time to move. My tail was up – again – and I was on my way. Just outside Fridaythorpe, I passed another of the few people I met during the walk that day. A young man walking, I recommended the pie shop to him, should he feel hungry. In return, he told not to pay any notice to the diversion signs further ahead. Stick to the track was his advice. I thanked him for the tip and, waving in the manner of fellow long distance footpath travellers, we took our leave, never to meet again. I was looking for the Wolds Way acorn sign, pointing me towards Huggate, the next village in my sights.

 

I cursed myself one more time for my stupidity in taking the wrong turn earlier. What should have been a relatively short and restful walking day had turned into another arduous journey. Still, the rest of the walk was picturesque, walking along the top of the wold. Fields and cloud seemed to dance in juxtaposition, giving the impression of part-walking, part-flying. Finally, my eyes espied a distant settlement nestling within woodland for protection. Surely it had to be Millington? I searched the map eagerly. And what’s this? I’d pulled up next to what looked like a park bench. These were dotted all along the route, often at the most convenient places. To rest or not to rest? Trouble was, if I sat down, would I be able to get up again? My bag dragged me down towards the firm seat, making my mind up for me. I was drinking some water and eating a snack bar when my mobile rang. It was my mum, wondering where I was. Quite a lot of my family and friends (not all, I have to say) were wondering where I’d got to, if I was still in the land of the living, that sort of thing. This was reassuring when you are walking your first long distance footpath ‘solo’. It is the wonder of technology that I was able to have a pleasant chat with my mum while taking in the panoramic view below on my first long distance footpath.

 

While the mobile was out, it occurred to me to ring my BnB in Millington to give them an estimated time of arrival. Lucky for me I did as my landlady explained that she and her husband would be out that evening, unexpectedly called out to aid a friend. However, they would leave me a key. How trusting! There was one more field with cows to walk through which I managed without incident. ‘Feet, don’t fail me now!’, I appealed to the Mothership. In no time, I reached my short term goal, Warram Farm, perched on the peak of the Wold. From here, I could look directly down on to Millington. A glance at the watch told me it was half-past seven. I was tired. My feet hurt. I just hoped that Laburnam Cottage was somewhere near this end of the village. What luck! I was able to greet my hosts just as they were leaving. I made it gingerly up the stairs to my room, took my boots offffffffff – oh, boy! – and made it into the shower.

 

A hot meal and a welcome pint were awaiting me just as soon as I could get to the pub. I could only walk slowly along the street. Fortunately, the pub was near. I found a table and ordered my meal. Fish and chips and a fine ale. I must say that I was very pleasantly pleased by the quality of the real ale I’d found along the way. It had always been a slight disappointment on family holidays that I’d be lucky to find somewhere which sold a decent pint. Here I was in yet another warm and friendly hostelry with good beer. But two pints and I was cream crackered. What a day! Yet I had made it. I was still on the map and kicking, metaphorically, at least.

 

Outside, it was so dark, the darkness you get when there is little or no street lighting. I paused for a moment, looking across the night’s starry sky. I was quite alone. Not a cat stirred yet I knew, the other side of the pub door, the room was thronging with noisy revellers. There was a feeling of peace and calm in the air. I knew my place in the night’s sky. I was one point of an endless series of twinkling, winking bright lights.

 

This put me at odds with the shooting pains from my feet. With much ‘ooing and ahhing’, I made my way back to the cottage, made my way as quietly as I could up the stairs and manoeuvred myself into bed. I applied more cream to my toes and hoped my feet would be up to the trip in the morning. Still, I had the bus timetable information filed away in the back of my mind if it came to the crunch but I didn’t want to use it, not yet.

 

 

Day 4 – Millington to South Cave, only another 20 miles

 

It was the middle of the night and I needed to go to the toilet again. How do you do this without waking everyone up? Impossible, I decided, so turned to Radio 3 on my sports radio instead. The music it plays through the night is relaxing, soothing and, I hoped, distracting. I dozed off but was awake from 6-ish. The knock on the door I’d arranged with my landlady the night before came at 7am. Thoughts of sleeping in looked foolish now and I was down for breakfast by 7.20 – orange juice, cereal and the most delicious scrambled egg, mushrooms and beans. I declined the offer of fried, red tomatoes. They just wouldn’t go down. I stuck to hot water. With a 20 mile walk ahead of me in hot conditions, I’d do best avoid coffee, especially after another two hugely satisfying pints the previous evening.

 

One last favour to ask, a photo in front of the Laburnum Cottage sign to show I’d stayed. The house name was partly covered by the roving cotoneaster. It was time to go. I thanked my landlady for her hospitality and set off. After only a few strides down the lane, I met an elderly lady in an electric wheelchair. We exchanged greetings, as you so often do when in the country. She looked at my rucksack and asked where I was heading. She expressed surprise at my answer, South Cave, surprise at the distance. ‘If I get there’, I proffered as a feeble joke. Her reply was affirming. ‘You will’, she said, ‘I think you will.’

 

I retraced my steps back up the slope, this time taking in a field holding half-a-dozen horses. I adopted the method of walking steadily, gaze averted, steer a path away from or at least equidistant from horses in a group, especially giving a wide berth to youngsters. I took slow but steady steps, map string held tight in case its swaying distracted the animal. I marched through, pausing to look back at the horses only when I reached the style. They were carrying on as if I’d never been there, without the least interest in me. There was a lesson here. Why should they be?

 

Back on the tops, the early bright sunshine had given way to overcast skies but it was still warm. Today, I was wearing my breathable teeshirt and could afford to sweat all I wanted. Arriving at Millington meant I was on my second map, itself an indication that the worst was over and I could look forward with eager anticipation to whatever the day might bring. My aim was to get to Market Weighton by lunchtime. Then, I’d be about half way or 10 miles for the day. My feet felt stiff and sore. I had applied cream to the dry areas that morning and stuck plasters over the toe grazes. These small precautions would be in vain when I learned in due course what ‘fish ponds’ meant at Nurnburnholme. But I was on top of the Wolds, on top of the world again and enjoying the panoramic view across the Vale of Pickering.

 

There are no less than three power stations including the impressively named Drax plant in the area. Drax is, apparently, the largest coal fired station in Europe. Off to the east, you could make out the outline of York Minster. What a contrast!

 

I recalled the words of the couple I’d met in Thixendale two evenings before. They had warned me of two Hereford bulls in a field just by Nurnburnholme. I hadn’t run into them yet but which field was it? Could they be in the next one? I climbed cautiously over the style, scanning the field. It was long and contoured. A section of it curved round to the right out of view near the bottom. A large, heavy branch, a cudgel really, lay on the ground before me. I picked it up, threw it down, then picked it up again, thinking it might have been left there for a purpose. Following the path, I headed straight through the middle of the field with as bold a step as I could muster when faced with the imminent onrush of a charging, two ton bull. It was a gorgeous morning. Bright sunshine warmed the air and birdsong provided musical accompaniment to my idle musings. Despite my foot problem, which was holding up well so far, I could look round and breathe in the warm, late summer air.

 

I passed through the field without incident, only noticing on climbing over the style the picture I feared most, ‘Bull in field’. This had to be the field the walkers had been speaking of. What a stroke of good fortune! Yet another advantage of walking the Wolds Way in reverse.

 

At Nurnburnholme, as I mentioned earlier, there are ‘fish ponds’ depicted on the map. I had laughed at this when I was planning my route. I had completely failed to register the blue which showed the course of a beck or stream. Was I taken aback to see a marker indicate a depth of 1 foot in the middle? Absolutely! There was no way around either. I could just wade through but something told me that wet, sore feet and wet socks and boots was not a good idea. I remembered my rambling friend telling how she had successfully crossed fast flowing rivers in Scotland. ‘Boots and socks off, boots back on and wade through; dry feet and put socks back on.’ I took my boots and socks off and waded through in bare feet. The cool, fast flowing water nulled the pain, creeping through my feet. At the other side, I dried my feet as best I could, put on my socks before setting off again. On leaving Nurnburnholme, I was heading upslope and making good time. I felt confident that I was on course and heading towards Londesborough. This was a place for the landed gentry, very like Croxteth Park in Liverpool, once owned by the noble Stanley family. It offered a manicured estate, making a change from the woodland and hills I’d become accustomed to. No sight of deer though that the guide book mentioned.

 

I met a very nice couple in Londesborough village. They were experienced walkers from Hull, on a 8-miler around Market Weighton. We exchanged pleasantries and I gleaned that Market Weighton was a mere hop, skip and a jump away. The news gladdened my heart. The route was so well signed, they said, that you couldn’t go wrong. We waved farewell to one another. The sun shone out brightly. It was tempting to halt and take in good weather and scenery but 21 miles wouldn’t do itself and at probably less than 2 miles per hour now, I still had an awfully long way to go.

 

My small difficulty which I was only now starting to appreciate came from walking the Way backwards. I do not mean this literally. That really would have been a challenge but in reverse. In practice, this meant that all the signs pointed in favour of the northerly bound walkers. Those taking the southerly route did not get as much help from the direction finders. And I rued again the lack of a compass. Never mind that I didn’t know how to use one. At least, it would have given me a crude north bearing, which would have been of some value if I lost my way.

 

As I entered the next field, the sign pointed diagonally across. I know from ramblers that sometimes the path does take you straight across a field but it is unusual, especially when it is cultivated as this one was. Mistake number one was to plough on. Number two was to ignore the map tagged to a gatepost at the end of the field. I took off in what I thought was the right direction, only to get to a dead end. A quiet voice was vying with an exasperated but slightly panicky one in trying to rescue the situation. I reversed my tracks, headed back to the original field and followed its boundary. It didn’t feel right. I stopped, took a swig of water and took in the lay of the land. Here I was on one of the most easily signed footpaths in the country but going round in circles. How easy it is to lose your bearings outdoors if you’re used to following the all too familiar landmarks in a town or city.

 

A still, quiet voice was telling me ‘look for the road on the map which is parallel to the track.’ This would surely help me in getting back on track. I was getting hungry too but had wasted 40 minutes walking in an exasperating loop. Through the trees, I caught sight of a van making its way along the road I was seeking out. Spying it from the far side of the field, that’s the road I want. I was in no mood to walk around another border so, apologies to the farmer, headed in as straight a line as possible across the diagonal. I found myself in yet another field but this looked more promising, especially when I identified the remains of a lost medieval village, as detailed on the map. O, what unconfined joy! There was the Wolds Way path again,clear as you like. However, a barbed wire fence now stood inbetween us.

 

It took me another 10 minutes to reccy the length of the fence, looking for the easiest way over. My explorations led me back to the lowest section. I hoisted my back pack over and down, taking care that its momentum did not take me with it. Holding a post with my right hand, I placed my left boot on top of the wire. I wasn’t sure it would carry my weight. The wire began to sway alarmingly beneath my foot. It wouldn’t take much for me for me to impale myself. I didn’t fancy the jump, landing on my poor soles.

 

A small, quiet voice provided an alternative. I didn’t have to jump. At this point, the fence was quite low. If I held the wire away from my sensitive parts, I might just be able to step over. And so it proved. I walked into the empty streets of the abandoned village. A few horses and ponies nibbled at the green grass. My welcome back onto the WW was complete when three of the friendliest, barking farm yard dogs came out to say hello. Could it get any better than this? I was back on the map.

 

It was time for a swift lunch break along the straight path which stretched to wards the town of Market Weighton. It would have been so nice just to snooze but I’d lost time. At this rate, I‘d be lucky to arrive in South Cave before 9.00pm. I waved hello to my guide, the remarkable cabbage white butterfly which had come out to meet me again. Soon, I was pounding the pavements of Market Weighton.

 

I’d come this way because I was looking for an outward bound shop advertised in the ‘little gems’ leaflet, supplied by the tourist office. Head down, I turned into the main street, passing the 3-star Londesborough Arms Hotel. Just keep straight on, a voice said. ‘Don’t’ think.’ ‘Think’, said another. ‘Look at the map.’ The route appeared to dart behind a church. What church? Where was it? Set slightly back from the road, I’d walked right past it. Remarkable how you can miss something as big as a church. And look, etched on the pavement was a large footprint, pointing up an entry. ‘This way’, it directed.

 

A few more steps saw me reunited with my favourite WW sign. This time I was walking along the remains of a railway line, which was now a woodland trail. Half way along, I met the couple from Hull againl. They had almost completed their circular walk and I was only just over half way. There is great pleasure in walking but I was making hard work of it. It must have showed on my face. The woman asked me if I was enjoying myself. Well, yes, of course, I am but enjoyment is not quite the word. Some day I’ll look back on this and say I did that. But I wouldn’t allow myself the luxury of thinking of completing anything yet. It was just the next step for me. One small step at a time, taking me a little bit further and then I would see where it led me. Of course, if I’d been wearing sensible boots which didn’t hurt my feet, then I’d be having a perfectly wonderful experience, sounded out my nagging voice.

 

I set my sights on my next destination, a little place called Arras. My host in Millington had suggested I break my journey there so it would be interesting to see what it was like. Before then, I had my last look of the Vale of Pickering

 

from the top of the Wolds. I picked my way over the hard, chalky, rutted surface, occasionally stopping to swig a drop of water and admire the views. You could see for miles. The port of Goole, the Doncaster power station and Big Drax were all visible. Everything looked small and compact. How different distance and time look when you are travelling on foot.

 

But poor Arras, what has happened to you? I hesitated, as I always do, when following a path through a farmyard which gave me the impression for all the world of being deserted. I passed gaping holes in the corrugated sides of the huge, decrepit barns. I listened for signs of anything. Where were the dogs? One foot in front of another, I turned the corner. Rusty, old farm machinery lay scattered. Yet the front end of the farm was altogether different. It looked lived in. A line of washing showed that there were human life forms somewhere nearby. The grass was freshly mown and children’s toys lay upturned on the ground as if the kids had just run off for their tea moments before. A large green hut under the trees attracted my attention. Was it the children’s’ play room or could it be the farmer’s refuge? Not quite of scout hut proportions but it wasn’t far off. The track, lined on ether side by tall trees, continued towards the main road. I enjoyed the sensation of shade, provided by its overhanging branches.

 

Impressive, detached large houses dotted the sides of the track way. My eyes took in the washing on the line of one house, an assortment of cars parked outside and a ‘For Sale’’ sign obscured by a ‘Sold sticker. I tried not to glance at the map too often. South Cave was clearly marked and tantalisingly close. It was like clockwatching when you are engaged in some extremely tedious pursuit. It was still a good 8 squares by my reckoning, each measuring a kilometre in length. My mental maths grappled with the conversion. I found this helped with my concentration, especially towards the end of the day’s walk. That must be about 5-6 miles before I could take off my boots. I checked the time. It was getting on for quarter to four. At two miles an hour or even less, I had 3-4 hours walking ahead of me. I tried to keep my spirits up. ‘Small steps’, I repeated my mantra. My feet felt very uncomfortable but I wanted to keep going as long as I could.

 

Still, it gave me hope. I had by now come on to a busy road. I was forced to spend a few hair-raising moments walking a hundred yards or so along the side of the road as cars pelted past. I was glad to reach my marker and, as if to greet my arrival at this new field boundary, my faithful guide, the cabbage white butterfly, flew up to greet me and I followed behind.

 

Around Newbold Wold, I came a cropper again. Just as I thought everything was going well, the path seemed to disappear without trace. It looked like another straight across the field job. It couldn’t be (but it was as it turned out). I decided to keep to the right of the field’s edge for many yards till even I realised it didn’t feel right. I ought to be making my way towards the communications mast I could plainly see over the treetops in the near distance. It was plainly marked on the map, right next to the path. I turned up the slope walking over the newly cut wheat stalks. It pained me to admit that I was lost again and off the path. I knew I couldn’t be too far wrong. After all, only fifteen minutes earlier, I had been flying along the clearly marked track. I was technically trespassing but, hey, what the heck, they can’t shoot you for it. Wrong, as it happens.

 

To my right over the next field boundary lay a strange collection of huts. For a moment, I considered trying to get over the wire and head towards the farm house and from there onto the road. Suddenly, shots rang out. I couldn’t believe it. Looking round, I couldn’t see anything. More shots were fired. Was someone shooting at me for being in the wrong field? Surely not! I started to bristle with anger. My feet were hurting terribly, I was parched. My pack was heavy and I was lost. I was ready for a fight, to make my last stand, determined that if anyone was going to shoot at me, it would be not be in the back. Nevertheless, I was aware that I’d lowered one knee slightly to move below the line of the hedgerow.

 

Then I spotted where the firing was coming from. At the top of the rise, there was a shooting gallery dug partially into the ground. From there, someone was firing pellets at the inhabitants of the field, rabbits. I had come close to a rabbit farm and someone was taking pot shots at the quick-moving, big eared mammals. At one and the same time, I was relieved, then annoyed. How could anyone shoot at these harmless creatures? But then young farmers have to learn how to shoot somewhere, I suppose.  I decided to put some distance between me and the shooting barrel and carried on up the slope. A gap in the hedge allowed me access onto the road, taking care not to pitch myself out onto the tarmac and onto the onrushing traffic. ‘Now, where was I?’ I checked the map and looked around me. A post at the edge of a field some way off looked strangely familiar. It couldn’t be. No, but, yes, it just might be. I started to walk towards it. Yes, it was. A Wolds Way signpost. It had never looked so good. ‘Hello, me beauty!’

 

I was now entering an area of natural Wolds woodland and railway embankments. I descended downwards along a very steep slope, meandering on and on without any sign of reaching the bottom. Suddenly, a runner ran past me on the way up. I thought this was a good sign. South Cave and a night’s rest were near. It was cool in the wood. I came to a locked gate and considered the options. Take the pack and push it over. Then climb over or under myself. Garnering my last shreds of energy for the effort of getting over the high gate, I glanced off to the side where the WW signpost greeted me. Walk this way, friend, pointing to the path continuing round to the right and along the path. Teenage voices rose out of the evening’s air. I was getting closer, had to be, to journey’s end. One step at a time. The path headed up a steep incline. I found it on my map with mounting excitement. More forest trail this time on the flat. The WW sign pointed me off to the left. I had a square and a bit to go. It was getting quite dark. I thought about my torch in the rucksack. Maybe I would get to test it after all.

 

Finally, I came to the crest of a hill, overlooking South Cave. The lights twinkled in the near distance and beyond. There was the Humber estuary. lying like a silver bracelet, glinting in the last rays of the setting sun. I took one more picture. You can’t see much of South Cave but if you look carefully you can make out the river amid the dark grain of the photograph. I knew in my heart that the Humber bridge, for so long my intended destination at the end of the WW, would stay just out of sight around the bluff.

 

Never mind, the mouth watering prospect of the Fox and Coney was beckoning. I paused to ask the way from an approaching couple, out for an evening’s stroll.

South Cave     Not far now

 

 

‘See where that car is turning’, it looked about a quarter of a mile away and my heart sank, ‘then down the road to the lights, another quarter of a square, then just on your right, no more than 100m up.’ His companion must have seen the sag of my shoulders and decided to take pity on me. ‘He’s joking. It’s only 50m’, she said laughing. I managed to laugh too but not during this last part of the journey. It was dark. I was walking on concrete. My poor feet were in a bad way, for sure.

 

Never have I been so happy to get to the pub. I pushed open the door to the bar. I don’t know why but I was surprised to be the only person there carrying a rucksack. Surely this would get me served in double quick time. I had phoned ahead earlier to let them know that I would be late but was definitely coming and to keep my room. In time, a member of staff looked my way. ‘I’ve come for my room. Can I have my room key, please? Quick as you can, I need a bath.’

 

Further exploration of the interconnecting corridors and stairwells led finally to my room. I prised off my boots. Oh,my poor feet! I ran a bath as best I could. Each step felt like pincers were being applied to my toes. I rubbed on more cream. I’d have to be quick or I’d miss the last orders for food at half-past nine. I ordered the vegetable lasagne. ‘With chips?’ ‘No, thanks.’ No more chips. Salad and garlic bread would do me fine. And the beer! What a choice! Abbot and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Perfect. I’m sure my feet started to warm. I toyed with the idea of one more pint. After all, it was my last night. But the pain made me want to get to bed.

 

 

Day 5 – South Cave to Liverpool

 

I had a better night’s sleep till 5am when I had to get up as I needed the loo. Facilities were ensuite but I still had to get there. My toes were discoloured, my feet swollen. Every step was agony. That was it then. There was no way I could carry on. I was going home but how was I going to get there. I’d have to sort that out later. I felt sad and disappointed that I wasn’t going to finish the walk and see the Humber Bridge. Only thirteen miles to go; a doddle. Yet my next decision was working out how to get dressed. It took me twice as long as usual. Then, I had to face the warren of corridors in the Fox and Coney. I ordered two fried eggs and beans on toast. I got one fried egg on toast but the staff made up for it later. For a moment, I thought, maybe I could complete the walk but when I stood up, I knew for definite, that was not going to be, not today. I had to find out what time the bus left.

 

I asked the breakfast crew where the bus stop was. No-one knew. Everyone travelled by car, everyone that is, except Tracey. The bus stop was 30 yards down the road. I don’t suppose she knew what time it left? ‘I’ll go and find out for you, back in a minute’. This certainly made amends for the missing egg yolk. Tracey wasn’t long. ‘The bus leaves at ten to ten.’ I looked at my watch. It was quarter to nine now. I had plenty of time, or did I? Everything was taking twice as long or more to do as normal. I started to feel self-conscious, trying to stifle grimaces of pain. What would people make of me hobbling home at slow speed? Indeed, would I get home? My major problem was that the ends of my feet felt like needles, pointing into all parts. I thought there might be something to reflexology after all. I was wearing my yachting shoes, which were much lighter than my walking boots. The laces were loosely tied. For now, I had to sort out immediate problem of getting to the bus stop all of 30 yards away, without wincing out loud, and with my rucksack.

 

No-one seemed to pay attention to me as I slowly made my way down the road to the stop. I hoped the bus would not come early. As I was waiting, an Asian man passed. We exchanged our ‘good mornings’. A teenage couple chatted, waiting for the same bus, I assumed. I wanted to ask them about bus fares but, no, young people know nothing. The couple were kissing, anyway. A car carrying friends of theirs hooted and they waved back. When the bus arrived more or less on time, they waited for me to get on, patiently and courteously. I felt rather bad that I had misjudged them. I wanted to get to Hessle so that I could catch the train to Hull and then back out to Liverpool. The driver though advised me to get off at Brough. It left a short 300 yard walk to the station. Just 300 yards! Every step was a good’un. I could only move very slowly. A five minute walk took more than twenty but I got there.

 

The ticket seller told me I had to change at Manchester Piccadilly. Just after the train departed, I enjoyed my last view of the estuary. ‘Could I see the Humber Bridge?’ I wondered excitedly. I had 3 photos left but the camera lay in a pocket of my rucksack. And that was on the luggage rack. In any case, there was no sign of the bridge. I’d have to save that for another day.

 

The train arrived at Piccadilly. Wouldn’t you know it, l had to get from one end of the station to the other. The shortest route was over the bridge but there was a moving walkway the other way. I headed off away from the bridge. O heaven! These moving walkways should be installed everywhere instead of pavements. I had no problem letting the belt carry me along at its own pace. It was quicker than mine. I was conscious of being watched and the excuse of walking on the Wolds was now less obvious. I had to share the train part way to Liverpool with an ear-piercing toddler. What I wanted most was sleep and rest. The toddler’s parents smiled benignly at the antics of their child. I remembered myself what seemed a long, long time ago doing the same with my own children but the time and distance made me feel a harsher, less tolerant person.

 

I got back to my local station. The long, upward-sloping ramp was a challenge and then down the hill. I realised I needed newspapers and fruit. Soon I was back at my front door, entering the flat. With pleasure, I dropped my boots at the bottom of the stairs. Was this symbolic? Clang…I didn’t put those boots on for another six weeks. I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘Had it been worth it?’ Wasn’t I a foolish, old bloke trying to re-find my youth, if that was what I was doing, trying to throw off old man with stooped shoulders demeanour and a pessimistic approach to life? Poor me! It has been very tough, separating from my wife. There had also been changes at work over the past eighteen months. And the legacy of my eldest son’s head injury two year’s earlier. This had had a massive affect on my outlook. I felt physically and mentally battered.

 

But walking had enabled me to listen to the voices inside my head. One had been the procrastinator. Another had been the censorious denigrator, the one which said I would never do it. But I had also heard a voice of the teacher, gently encouraging, quietly, an intelligent voice. The experience revealed how my character had been shaped over time and gave me an explanation of how I could appear to be both clever and wise on one occasion and preposterously daft at another. Was it possible to change my outlook? I thought back to the day on the walk between Thixendale and Millington. I had told my sarcastic, bombastic voice to get lost. I wanted to hear more from the quiet voice inside my head. If I hadn’t attempted this walk, I would have missed this. It had been the main, unexpected benefit of taking a long distance walk solo. You cannot hide from yourself. It is a surprise to find out what is going on inside your head. Usually, there are too many external distractions which demand your attention.

 

Through undertaking this challenge, I felt that I had gained a better understanding of how I worked. It might seem strange but, in simplifying my life so that I only had to think about one day at a time, I had come to understand myself more and, more importantly, to like myself better.

 

I took to my bed for the weekend, calling on my youngest son to help with some basic tasks, such as emptying the ‘bedpan’. He did this cheerfully and without complaint, I recall. It is now three months down the line and I am planning my next three rambles. I have even started thinking about walking part of the Cumbrian Way next summer, a triumph of hope over disappointment. Who knows where it will lead you! I probably won’t do it on my own though next time.