Day 18: Bordering on Misery

My first task for the day was to resupply myself with enough food to last until I reached Glasgow. As I made my way through Carlisle to a big Sainsbury’s, already I could tell that my night in a relatively comfy bed hadn’t been enough for me to recover from the previous day’s pains. There was nothing to be done about it, though. I was on a tight schedule.

I did a lot more walking than I needed to around the supermarket’s aisles as I haphazardly foraged for supplies. All that food was so tempting, but the fact that I would have to carry anything I bought for up to 120 miles kept me fairly strict. In the car park, I tore out any unnecessary packaging and binned it. I then hefted my pack onto my shoulders. It was abysmally heavy. Nothing to be done about it though. I crossed the River Eden, seeing no sign of paradise, and headed north.

Having reached the end of the Cumbria Way, I was now back to following the route I had put together by looking at a digital OS map and trying to link up any sections of footpath that vaguely headed in the right direction, as part of my aim to avoid walking on roads as much as possible. I left the built-up Carlisle area at the earliest possible juncture by following along a hedgerow out to fields where ponies grazed. I went through the town of Houghton, crossed the M6, and saw my first roadsign proclaiming that this was indeed the way to SCOTLAND.

My route was not a good one. I did not flow smoothly northwards. At one point the footpath on the map took me through the middle of a farm, but on the ground there seemed to be no sign of any path at all. I more or less guessed the direction to cross a field and found a style at the far end, impassably overgrown by hawthorn. I had to retrace and try the adjacent field. Here I found a narrow gap in the hawthorn over a barbed wire fence. Muttering dark curses, I heaved my pack through the gap first, hoping that nothing would break when I let it crash to the ground, then ungainly forced myself through the tearing thorns. Why is the farmer putting me through this, I thought. I’m a good person on a noble mission.

A little further on, I joined the line of a dismantled railway. There is one of these passing near my home, and I think I had built them up in my head as a kind of walkers’ superhighway, despite the fact that this one had no actual footpath on it. So I was trespassing again. Part of this one seemed to be being used as its own long, narrow field. There were a couple of horses ahead of me who kept spooking and galloping off further away every time I approached, despite my best efforts to keep to one side and encourage them past. I was worried they might give me away. The next point of interest along the line was a huge pile of abandoned furniture and rubbish – practically the contents of an entire house. A couple of old vans added to the sketchy feel of the thing.

I suppose somebody decided this would be somebody else’s problem now

The sky was reasonably bright but with grey clouds scudding across, and it became increasingly damp underfoot as I went north. At Longtown I crossed the River Esk and turned onto my next section of footpath that started behind a truck repair centre. I looked on it with dismay. Hemmed in between a couple of high fences, the path was completely overgrown with nettles and brambles. There didn’t seem to be any other footpaths for miles around. I sighed, shortened one walking pole into an efficient beating stick, and began to fight my way through. More scratches, more wear and tear on my weary body. I then followed the river for three or so kilometres, encountering cows, mud, and pornographic magazines wet and fading among some trees. It was getting on to late afternoon. I still hadn’t reached Scotland, and I was finding it tough.

Contender for the worst-maintained path in the UK

I turned up a lane, which turned into a track though some woods. Again, I don’t think I was meant to be there, but I was now within a couple of kilometres of the border. I just had to hold out for a bit longer, then I would break through into the land of freedom, specifically in terms of its access laws. The track I was on became less clear, and then disappeared altogether, but Scotland fever was on me and I couldn’t be stopped. My bashing pole found use again as I fought through bracken and holly, under a fallen tree, over fences, around the bend of a stream, up a steep bank, and out! into a sopping wet field. It may not have been much of an improvement, but the looming threat of being shouted at by a draconian landowner was gone for good. I breathed the free air. Here I was allowed to walk and wild camp just about anywhere.

Freedom!

Though I had come out of the trees, it seemed to have got darker. Looking at my map, I found I hadn’t made good progress, due to my rubbish route planning and to rubbish routes in general. I got onto a small road that wound between farms. It was some time before I saw a sign of anyone at all actually living there. I knocked on a door in Evertown to ask the man inside if he could fill my water, then pressed on. My legs were weak. As the land faded to greys pricked with sparse lights, I turned up a muddy farm lane. At the top of a rise, I decided it was time to look for a place to camp, and I investigated a small conifer plantation. It was dark and jagged under the trees. The ground was deeply rutted and covered with rotting fallen branches. I took some time to consider whether I could sleep here, then some rooks started a ruckus overhead. The place didn’t sit right with me, though I couldn’t say why. It all felt a bit haggish. I forced myself on.

Instead of taking pictures of the scenery, I started filming my own struggle

In the gloom I had to navigate that kind of deep, liquid mud caused by day-in-day-out trampling of cattle, then a pathless slope down through a felled plantation. I made it onto a road when it was full dark. A vehicle raked a nearby field with high-powered beams. I hoped I wouldn’t get shot. I decided I had to just pick a place to camp and make the best of it. I wasn’t going to feel welcome anywhere. Wearily, I hopped over a fence that may well have been electrified, but I took great care not to find out. I was on a narrow strip of long, wet grass between the fence and another dense plantation. This would not be pleasant, but it would do. I threw up my tent and got cooking. Yesterday had been the worst day so far. Had today been worse, I wondered? I had covered a paltry 32km – less than I had hoped – and I was tired, wet, filthy, and scratched to pieces. It was a close thing, but today had indeed been worse. This wasn’t working. What was I going to do?

Published by Alasdair Robertson

Hiker, birder, conservationist, and occasional comedian

2 thoughts on “Day 18: Bordering on Misery

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