Ash brought good news. His parents had said they would meet us that night and we could all stay in their campervan. What was more, I could leave my kit in Ash’s car and they would drive via the campsite to pick it up. It was going to be a fun day of dull walking with good friends.
Rhodri told us in the morning that his booty call was “confirmed” (presumably it had only been pencilled in before), so he said goodbye to us in the morning, and the three of us set off. My friends deserve a bit of introduction. I had met them both at university, through the expeditions society, and I had been living with both of them when I had my fall. Duncan is a biologist, like me; he is highly intelligent, had been president of our university’s expeditions society, and had come equipped for a sodden day’s walking with just a pair of battered and holed trainers, which tells you most of what you need to know.
Ashley has been slowly coming out of what can only be considered a regrettable teenage grunge phase since I have known him, and hasn’t quite made it all the way yet. I have always made fun of his excess of piercings; the irony was not lost on me that, following my operations, I now have more metal lodged in me than he has ever had. We had first bonded by quoting The Simpsons and Family Guy to each other – little did I know at the time that that was more or less all he did. He took keenly to climbing and is ok at it. Together the three of us have been on trips to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the French Alps, and the Scottish Highlands, as well as lots of weekend hiking and climbing around England and Wales.
Our route took us northeast, initially along lanes and then striking along the margins of waterlogged cropfields criss-crossed with ditches. It was all so open. We passed by a point on the map marked as one metre below sea level. Whether there wasn’t any interesting scenery or I just didn’t notice it because I was too absorbed in whatever nonsense we were chatting, I couldn’t say for sure (although to be honest, I reckon there wasn’t). I was just happy to have their company. It was great of them to volunteer to join for one of the least interesting sections. I was also relishing in not having my backpack rubbing away at my shoulders and hips for once.
Since there’s not much happening here, we might as well go back that cliff, nearly three years before.
I had been on a rope, but since Ben and I couldn’t see or hear each other, we were communicating by pulling on it. He hadn’t registered my pulls to say I was starting to climb, and was still taking the rope in by hand instead of putting it through his belay device. I didn’t know this, and thought I was completely safe, taking a casual approach to the climbing. I was about twelve metres up the slanted edge of the buttress. I don’t know how the fall started; I’ve had a few conflicting memories. I do clearly remember expecting the rope to go tight, and the rope not doing that, and turning to see the ground below me, and my legs trying to keep up with the increasing speed of the fall in three big, heavy steps before I tumbled, and the series of distinct thoughts that punched into my head: “I’m falling. Damn. This is what it’s like. This is It. This could be It.” It was spelt with a capital I. It was death.
I had tumbled, but I landed on my feet. There was an almighty shock – a rushing sensation that felt like violently voiding my bowels, and a flicker of thought reminded me that that happens to dead people, so as I fell to my back, I thought that would be It. My vision blurred, and I expected that it would cloud over to darkness. There had been no time for any contemplations or memories, only the awareness of what was happening to me, and the panic. After a couple of seconds, though, it became clear nothing was happening, so I screamed and writhed for a while. When I had calmed down enough to think, I did a first aid check on myself. My hand came away from my forehead sticky with blood (I was wearing a helmet). My trousers were ripped and bloody. My feet were painful but also tingling strangely. My whole body quivered with adrenaline. I checked my pocket and found my phone undamaged. I had better tell someone before calling the ambulance. I called Ashley King.
It was harvest season, and several of the farm houses we passed had tables set up on the roadside with honesty boxes, and great piles of apples for sale, along with chicken and even duck eggs. After passing a few of these we could no longer resist and got an apple each. We couldn’t guess what variety they were, but they were crisp and sweet. Duncan declared his the most delicious apple he had ever eaten. Mine was very nice. Ash said his was fine. One of the small joys of going to a new area is scanning the map to find place names that make me giggle. Today’s area treated us to Mere Meanygate, Odd House, Wholesome Farm, and Much Hoole.
The night’s deluge had left its mark – everywhere the ground was sodden. At one point we went the wrong way around a ploughed field, and had to make our way across uneven clumps of clinging mud to get back on track. When the sun appeared, we had lunch next to a field that was still flooded, and watched the reflected clouds drift across its mirrored surface. Despite the water, I was still committed to avoiding roads wherever possible. This led to us walking into a garden centre where a path started on the map, and scouring around for it before someone came to ask what we were doing. We said we were trying to find the path. “There’s never been a path here,” he said. I persisted, showing him the green dotted line on my phone. He peered at it, then looked around him, measuring it up. “That’s where that is.” He pointed to a ditch that ran a short way before meeting a fence. He was right, there was nothing else. I remember being told in school that Ordnance Survey maps were the best, but they had sustained a blemish on their perfection here.
When we arrived at the campsite, we found that a puddle covered half of it, so we were incredibly glad to be able to stay in the campervan. I said hello again to Tina and Piper, and to Ashley’s dad, Adrian. Tina cooked us dinner while Adrian took Duncan to the station – he said he had really enjoyed the day, despite the lack of scenery and his dicing with trench foot.
I was into the easiest part of the walk now – the unhurried stroll up through Lancashire, supported by Tina and Adrian. They had offered to drive on each day to a campsite and give me somewhere warm and dry to sleep, until at least Tuesday (this post documents a Saturday). On this day, it turns out I had been too busy chatting to take any pictures, so instead, here is a map of my route for the section covered so far. Circles are where I spent the night – green for a good night (one where I had a bed, essentially), orange for an ok night, and red for a night where I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I’ve also produced my distances walked so far. They don’t look particularly impressive – I really was quite unfit at the start of this. I had to pick up my pace later on, but we’ll get to that.