However, the peaceful harmony of our morning meal was shattered when Euan got over zealous with some coffee, and with what seemed like a mug’s worth in the cafetiere decided he could polish the lot off in one go. Even with the mug filled to the brim (I feared over-spill, but surface tension magically protected Euan’s dignity) there was still a dribble left. I watched with agonising restlessness as he added his customary mountain of sugar to a mug that had clearly reached capacity already. The first sip was terrifying, and Euan discovered the coffee was still too hot. The catastrophic spill came with his cooling blow; this destabilised the entire operation. His hands shook and a big tilt began. Fortunately his saucer collected a majority of the liquid, but the damage had already began; a stain had permeated the fine, perfectly white table cloth. My suggestion of soaking it up just led to a spreading of pale brown to the previously perfect napkin.
We packed and left; the owners bidding us farewell with friendly banter. We found the relevant map in town and after consulting the world’s walking expert we coerced Euan into shelling out £150 for hiking boots. Perhaps he wasn’t an aficionado, but a very good salesman. Straight roads and shortcuts through fields; I banged my knee hard off a wall not a mile out of Settle.
We sat on a chopping block and peered over the millimeters between paths on the map before us, before a farmer gave us directions through his land. In the UK one has the right to roam; time and again this is an invaluable right. Not only is this a great advantage for hikers, but not one farmer has begrudged us the right, rather they all cheerfully guide us onto the best routes. This might be because if they didn’t we might wander all over the place and into trouble (like a paddock containing a fierce bull), holding the farmer accountable.
We followed his instructions over a bog, through a dark, echoey tunnel and up a steep bank. On our slipper ascent we passed by a melted sheep, the mother of some doomed lamb, bleating as it waited for advice from the angular ribs and stream of wool, the only discernible features left. Sadly it wouldn’t follow us away from its site of hope and gruesome vigil.
We decided not to carry on with the shortcut; the ‘footpath’ had somehow emerged into the middle of a big field containing evidence of cows and we weren’t sure exactly how to progress. We reached the road and not sure of where the next section of the footpath began (other than possibly through a field densely populated by bovines) we followed the road along. It was a bit longer, round twisting country lanes and over fields, but eventually we reached a main road and after resisting the temptation of a local village’s book fair we rounded the brow of a hill and saw our destination in the distance. We crossed a field and were funneled down a skanky back-alley which emerged into Earby with a fanfare of fat turkeys. A brown bunny bopped about the road in front of us and a llama sat chewing air curiously. Obviously a local resident owned some sort of eclectic petting zoo.
After a lengthy walk we discovered the hostel hidden away at a back corner of Earby; past a tempting looking pub and on a steep hill in a completely residential area. The couple running it are some friendly volunteers in their retirement. As we checked out the local Co-Op I began to feel feint, so I ventured back to the hostel where I sat refilling a mug with warm water and ginger beer. Euan and Robert visited the “alternative Co-Op;” my term for the bins. Apparently Robert didn’t realise skipping was illegal (bin raking, not the aerobically beneficial exercise); a testament to his ignorance as almost all the tales Euan tells of his skipping misadventures imply its dubious legal status. Besides, if it was legal everyone would be doing it; the food’s almost as good as new, and free besides.
I felt quite sick before forcing some fried sweet peppers and noodles down my throat with a healthy dose of ginger beer. Feel fine now, I think, but this walk it taking its toll on me; I’m terrified of removing the layer of blister plasters that I’ve mummified my feet with, my hips sport worn, bruised and raw marks where the weight of my pack bears down on them and I’m nowhere near hungry enough to sustain this amount of walking.
Apparently there are a couple of german girls staying at the hostel too, but I’m not hopeful to make more than just their acquaintance; we said, “hi,” and asked if they were checking in, but since then they’ve been reclusive. I miss the Kirkby-Stephen level of community and warmth. Instead, Robert and I sat with the volunteer couple in the living room area reading; a strange experience, us all sitting there, engrossed in our individual texts. The old couple are clearly avid readers, I’m enjoying “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and Robert’s hiding behind a Penguin classic he unearthed in the corner. Robert is convinced the woman volunteer dislikes him, but Robert’s always paranoid about various things. We are briefly interrupted by Euan, who informs us that James might be coming back to join us somewhere in the peaks, around Greater Manchester. I hope he survives this time.