Sunday, September 02, 2012

I am in the wrong

I would like to emphasise that it was all my own fault. No-one else can be blamed. I knowingly did what was wrong and got caught out.

We've been so good all week. We've done our best to keep to the official paths, carefully consulting both the map and guide regularly. We scrupulously opened and closed every gate. We dutifully climbed every stile, helping  others if need be with walking poles or other bits and pieces.

And yet ... And yet ...

Today we had a wonderful walk. We set off about nine from The Old Store in Bampton.

As an aside, let me recommend the outstanding tea room at the Old Store House. It is decorated with deft finesse and you feel you are dining in a tiny palace. It is quite unostentatious from the outside and a serendipitous delight for the eye when you enter. We had a lovely breakfast and then headed off south west on our route through Shap to Orton.

Crossing fields in gently rolling countryside, we dodged killer sheep and a somnolent bull. Shap appeared just before midday. Well, it didn't appear, we walked there across five or so miles, but you get the gist.  We would have dropped into the coffee shop, but it had closed down two days earlier. We met Simon, the solo C2C walker and the Australian  group we had met at breakfast. The big activity of the day in Shap was at the bowling club.

Heading out of the village, we crossed the railway line and, not long after, the M6 motorway. With a little sadness Colleen noted that we hadn't seen any red squigs (squirrels), which have been reintroduced to the area after being displaced by grey ones. The countryside consisted of gentle hills and slopes, alternating between moor and farmland. For as far as one could see, there were miles and miles of drystone walls, constructed over decades by hand, consuming unimaginable effort.

It moved to the end of our walk.  We could see our destination ahead, nestling in a valley.  The guide book pointed us to the footpath down a steep hill of about half a mile through a farm and through to the village. We walked down the hill, lush with soft green grass. The farmer was herding his sheep using a quad bike.  At the bottom of the hill was a gate.  Surrounded by a pond of vile-looking mud.

Now I guess that quad bikes and livestock laugh at mud.  Perhaps sheep sneer; they have been saying "Bah" at me all week. But I looked at the quagmire and, especially after such a lovely day, my heart sank. There was no way around it. There was no stile over the wall.

And then I thought, entirely wrongly, "Perhaps we could just climb over the gate". It was a bad idea. I suggested it to Colleen, like the serpent in the garden of Eden, and she succumbed to temptation.

Or she would have.

However as she put her hands on the gate there was a voice the echoed across the valley "GET OFF THAT GATE!"

So she did, to the extent that she was on it.

We were baffled. We didn't want to end up ankle deep in mud so eventually we gave up. We walked half a mile back up the steep hill and walked the long way around by road, dodging articulated farm lorries.

In the pub this evening we ran into our Australian friends. They had walked through the mud to open the gate. The farmer had told them about catching us out.  The previous day he had caught out some other hikers who had been trying to lay some stones through the mud.

Now I know I was in the wrong. 

But I couldn't help wondering if the farmer preferred to spend his days shouting at walkers rather than building a stile  or laying a few stones across the mud.

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