“Let’s stop here and eat”, Steve panted as we trudged through the gate of a Linton churchyard like the soldiers from Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. I was a mountain sloughing off an avalanche as I dropped my pack and collapsed onto the dandelion-seed-ridden grass.
It was to be our final lunch break.
Within the hour, Steve made the call for our return journey – we were beaten, breathless and blistered. The most convenient pick-up point was a pub three miles away. Three miles, I thought. That had become a reliable number for me; we’d been walking three miles an hour for the past three days.
The day before, we’d set off from a thatched whitewashed cottage, The Old Farmhouse, in Cheveley, Cambridgeshire. The conditions, initially presenting themselves as God-awful, had transformed into golden sunbeams – the wheat fields through which we wandered were a silent crowd urging us on, waving in the half-breeze.
We happened upon The Affleck Arms in Dalham, Newmarket, which sat like a Christmas present under the tree, waiting for us to rip up the wrapping and devour its contents. We were newspapers too big for the mail slot as we squeezed through the pub’s narrow doorway. Immediately we ducked our heads to avoid the ceiling. Our packs stayed outside. Sweating from the incessant midsummer sun, we slunk onto rickety wooden chairs which rocked on the crooked flagstone floor and, in simultaneous rhythm, we breathed.
“Cheers.” Our ale jugs clunked heavily.
It was here that I felt most confident about completing the journey. Steve’s father, an experienced walker, had warned, “It’ll be the third day that kills you.” It’s a shame he was right. I was suffering from the misguided assumption that we could complete it. People walk everywhere nowadays, I’d thought.
I should’ve read the signs on the first day. After stopping to talk to a woman who’d nearly come into contact with an out-of-control van, we plodded on into weather more suited to the tropics. I was a sponge absorbing every raindrop – stupidly, I thought my buff would serve as good as a hood, so my raincoat stayed folded in my pack.
Had we managed a further 20 miles, we’d have walked the narrowest width of the UK; when we were dropped off at the start of the Icknield Way with 110 miles of rutted farmyard tracks, forest paths and silent lanes with only our boots and bags, home never seemed further away.
It’s no surprise we didn’t finish. Of those 110 miles, we managed 50. Two training walks didn’t prepare us for the onslaught we faced. We didn’t blister our feet and let them callous like we should’ve done. We weren’t used to the weight of our packs like we should’ve been. The routine of consistent walking was not familiar like it should’ve been.
For a fortnight following my premature return I was a bubbling, feverish child laid up in bed every day with mugs of hot chocolate that I couldn’t taste. Hardly a deterrent, though. One day, we’ll return to the point at which we fell, just so we can say that we finished it.
My view for most of the walk…
I think it’s that way…
Two intrepid adventurers: Steve and Guy
Share and Enjoy