…in which even porridge, a pub and a pie fail to perk me up and I pontificate misanthropically.
Ickornshaw Moor to May’s Shop, 13 miles.
The Old Silent Inn just 15 minutes walk from The Way at the east end of Ponden was obviously not open first thing in the morning. The shelter at Top Withins was locked – don’t rely on it. The slight detour along the road to the Pack Horse Inn (about 951 316, NTG p.60) was well worth it, the lamb shank here was the best I’ve ever had, slow-baked and falling off the bone into fabulous gravy. Lovely puds too, and a heart-warming display of homemade cakes and biscuits for sale in the porch.
Although the pub was busy the owners didn’t bat an eyelid when I dried my sodden sleeping bag by the fire and kindly charged my phone as well. The Thwaites Wainwright ale was perfect. This friendly place was voted Britain’s most scenic pub in 2004. From the Pennine Way in either direction there’s no visible clue that there’s a pub here at all, from a distance the buildings just look like a farm. Don’t miss it!
May’s Shop, also known and signposted as ‘Aladdins’s Cave’, is at High Gate Farm along Edge Lane five minutes’ walk west of The Way, at around 964 288 (NTG p. 59), postcode HX7 7PF. She aims to open betwen seven and nine, seven days a week. This is some commitment so occasionally it’s a matter of ring the bell and wait patiently. Her tiny campsite is basic (cold spring water, simple loo, no shower) and for bona fide Pennine Wayfarers only. I got there early and could have pushed on down into Hebden Bridge, but hot coffee, hot pies, a stool by a gas heater, a friendly chat, a remarkable selection of bottled ales and free camping were more than enough reasons to stay put.
This was a short day distancewise and a good thing too as I was a bit frazzled from the previous day’s 21 miles and the nights were getting longer, colder and damper. Had I not been able to dry my sleeping bag in the pub I’d have considered the Hebden Bridge Loop for an indoor stay. The Hebden Bridge Walkers’ Action Group have put thought and effort into their Loop and it does sound an interesting option. Maybe next time.
The west end of Ponden is more straightforward in this direction. At Green Hill I missed the right fork south-southeast at about 962 298 (NTG p. 59) and carried on southeast by mistake. Luckily I realised and turned right just before Mount Pleasant, otherwise I’d have ended up in Heptonstall.
Ickornshaw Moor is a ropey campsite in October, if I’m honest. I slept reasonably well thanks to the good bathtub groundsheet in my Trekkertent Stealth, but I woke before dawn with everything dripping wet from condensation and general miasma. The stiff breeze was surprisingly failing to budge the thick, cold fog. It was getting cooler each night as October passed its midpoint and I was getting a bit fed up of sleeping wetly in a succession of England’s highest bogs with nothing to show for the effort in terms of dusk or dawn views. I stomped down to Old Bess Hill and cooked up some hot porridge with nuts and the last of the Lidl dried fruit, out of the wind in the very welcome shelter of the wall. This would have been a much better campsite, but would have added an extra mile in darkness onto what had already been a long 21-mile day. Funnily enough I’d been cold and miserable in a grey dawn at this very same place back in June as well. Then it had been only day four, at least this was day fourteen.
By the time I got to Withins sleet was lashing across the moor, in fact it was distinctly wuthering up there. I hoped no latter-day Cathys would hope to find the shelter open – it was locked. A loud voice announced the pounding passage of two fell runners, the chap in front regaling his silent companion with a continuous monologue. As I can’t run for a bus I was impressed on many levels, not least by his unlimited surplus wind. The only unimpressive aspect was the content of his speech, which seemed a tedious recitation of his everyday life. I wondered if his friend was deaf or had simply learnt to filter this constant flow of dull verbiage.
I was reminded of this again in the pub after chatting with a nice, quiet woman who was awaiting a walking group she was hoping to join. On arriving, they simply maintained their ongoing loud conversations. A lone Wayfarer was of no interest and it was only with some effort that their hopeful new recruit gained their attention. Much of their talk seemed to be about other walks elsewhere. It beats me why people head into the hills ostensibly in search of great moments, then perversely refuse to live in the moments they’ve made so much effort to create. Maybe it’s an issue of familiarity. Perhaps if I lived in hill country instead of in Norfolk I’d be blathering on about beaches or the Broads while jogging along Striding Edge.
In fact the trouble with walking in a group is that there’s always a few members who not only have loud voices but just won’t ever shut the heck up – The Ramblers are just as bad, they ramble on continuously. Such people seem determined to hog your attention, leaving you no space to experience the landscape even visually, let alone emotionally or via its own endogenous soundscape. I’m no misanthrope, I like company and get lonely walking by myself. I’m glad of conversation in the hills as long as it’s meaningful, restrained in volume and sporadic. The continuous barrage of loud, pointless verbalisation some people seem to need to generate to fill the scary emptiness of a wild and otherwise quiet place is to me a rudeness verging on assault, and about as welcome.
I left the pub reluctantly nonetheless, full of food and beer and with a bag of deliciously syrupy oat crumble cookies from the lovely display of homemade goodies in the porch. Above Graining Water the sun finally came out and I was able to air my tent on a gate – it had seemed rude to air it in the pub as well as my sleeping bag.
Despite the great lunch I couldn’t shake off cold and fatigue. The young woman on duty at May’s was charming and sympathetic, finding me a little stool to sit on by the gas fire as I ate the pie she’d kindly (but rather unevenly) microwaved for me and explaining (interestingly and quietly) what a nice place to live Hebden Bridge is, despite the floods. A beer from May’s extraordinary selection and the effort of pitching the tent generated a bit of warmth. To conserve it I got into my sleeping bag, and promptly fell into a deep sleep.