Adrian volunteered to join me for at least some of the day’s walk. We were starting the day more or less level with the southern tip of the Forest of Bowland, a western outcrop of the Pennine Hills consisting of rolling fells, peat moorland, and not much forest. The “forest” in the name is used in the old-fashioned sense of a royal hunting ground. When I had been in the planning stage, I had thought I might like to take a route that would lead me into the hills and let me see the views. Now the idea of diverting from the lowlands for fun was laughable. I tutted at my naïve former self.
We first passed through the town of Garstang. Adrian stopped for a brief chat with a police officer we passed, himself being a retired police inspector. We then picked up the Wyre Way, a footpath roughly following the course of the River Wyre, that rises in the Forest and flows west out of it before running south for several miles. The river then turns west again to meet the Irish Sea at Fleetwood, but we followed it upstream along the edge of the hills. We passed more dog walkers than I had seen in several days, out to enjoy the mild, overcast weather that was a huge improvement on what we had been putting up with. Alongside the path, the long grass was flattened as if someone had been at it with a giant, damp comb. The river must have burst its banks; where we were walking had probably been underwater the day before.
We were also closely tracking the line of the M6, crossing over it three times in one six-kilometre stretch. I must have passed through this area just about every other time I had ever been north, mostly when whizzing up to the Lake District on a Friday evening for a weekend of hiking. Well, that was where I was going this time too, only it would take me another couple of days to get there. I don’t think it is said enough that cars are unbelievably fast.
I would recommend the Wyre Way for a pleasant country walk, if you are in the area. It took us alongside paddocks, through leafy little woods and small villages, and past fishing lakes. We arrived in Dolphinholme, the village where the river curves south at the mouth of the valley that brings it out of the fells. We turned on to a steep path from Lower Dolphinholme, down on the riverside, to Upper Dolphinholme, and stopped for a chat with a lady tending to her front garden. Whenever we spoke to anyone that day, Adrian was quick to tell them what I was up to, thereby acting as a herald/hype man. We told her we were aiming for Halton, and she gave us advice on which way to go; she said her son used to walk back from Halton after a night of drinking, which is impressive, given that we were still over 15 km away. She advised us to go some way up the valley to find a path that arced across the shoulder of Hare Appletree Fell. This sounded suspiciously like unnecessary height gain, so I was sceptical, but she assured us it was the best way. She gave me a donation, we thanked her, and went back to continue along the Wyre Way.
We crossed sloping fields on the south side of the valley, descended into some woods, crossed a footbridge, and began climbing up the other side. Adrian had originally said he would go as far as Dolphinholme, but seemed to have made up his mind to see the day through; he later admitted his pride wouldn’t let him stop. When he was about the age I had my accident, he suffered a horrendous injury of his own. When seeing a car backwards at night, he stepped blindly into a cattle grid, snapping his shin in two. I can’t imagine it without wincing. The injury wasn’t set properly, and ever since, he has had a slightly crooked leg, less than ideal for a full day’s walking.
We stood aside to let a flock of sheep pass us as we climbed up to the point where the hill turned from green fields to brown grouse moors. From our high point we could see all the way to the coast, to the mouth of the Wyre, to Blackpool tower, and, most excitingly, to the distant, cloudy fells of Cumbria. This milestone made the ascent worth it. Adrian told me grim police stories of murder and deceit as we made our way down through hillside farms.
We got to within three kilometres of the campsite as the crow flies, but there was no permissible direct way to get there; the only road would take us in an annoyingly wide loop, easily doubling the distance. There was, however, a decent-sized wood with tracks through it, seeming to form part of a private estate. I was hesitant to propose this, Adrian being an upstanding former enforcer of the law, but then he proposed it, so we went for it. We nonchalantly cut across a field and climbed over a couple of drystone walls, picking our moment between the passing of cars to slip into the shelter of the trees. We carefully avoided the tracks that looked like they led towards buildings. I made up my mind that I would let Adrian do the talking if we were confronted. We lost the track and had to bash through the undergrowth for a while before coming out to a pleasant woodland pond. We almost let our guard down and walked out to a farmyard with people in it, before veering back into cover. A couple more fields, woods, and barbed-wire fence-hops, and we were strolling down to the campsite just as the rain picked up.
“You’ve broken me,” Adrian sighed. He said that if he told his doctor that his leg was hurting after ten hours of walking, his doctor would tell him not to walk for ten hours. Tina reprimanded him for overdoing it. They kindly offered to host me for one more night after this one, but the next day I would be back to walking on my own.