The first part of what was undoubtably the hardest day of the walk entailed climbing a massive set of stone steps to the top of a ridge. We mounted the hill and at its peak we could see for miles around. To the North were a herd of wind turbines and to the West we could see the sprawling mass of a city in the distance.
We turned Westward and jogged (I now regret that expenditure of energy) along a reservoir, where we bumped into the last Roman legion; still searching for their outpost. They weren’t really Italian (too active), but there seemed to be hundreds of these ancient people marching bravely forward.
It wasn’t until the first A-road (sporting a tempting pub) that things turned sour. Robert and I bounded along, whilst Euan trailed with the maps. Now I should probably defend myself right now, since you are almost certainly asking why we made such a terrible tactical decision; who gives the slowest member of the party a map? Euan had (perhaps rightly) questioned my ability to read the maps accurately, and so I thought it was only fair to give him a trial, and I thought it might encourage him to stay with the group.
After I reached a cairn, resting up against it as I waited for the others, Robert phoned me from an adjacent ridge to ask if we were going the correct way. I was quite certain it was, but Robert decided to go back and find Euan to check. Unfortunately he couldn’t find Euan, so he called me back to a spot that seemed to be a vague crossroads. We tried in vain to call Euan’s mobile, giving up when it seemed to be turned off, and resorted to shouting his name. I was beginning to get rather annoyed.
At this point we decided it was necessary to find Euan (not that we were worried, we just wanted the maps), so Robert left his pack with me and ran back to the pub; he thought Euan might have wandered back there, not that he was desperate for a drink. After a while I gave my long distance correspondent (Nat) a call to check which way to continue, sans map and compass. I managed to ascertain that I would need to cross the M62 at some point, followed by an A-road or two.
Finally Robert got back to me, not literally, but by phone. He’d called the police and mountain rescue as Euan wasn’t at the pub. He said that since then Euan had somehow made contact and he would wait to talk to the police, going with them to meet Euan at junction 22 where he apparently was. Robert was not in a good mood, as he’d been ignored by the bar staff despite his bedraggled look (possibly because of his bedraggled look) and his insistence that he urgently needed help. I asked Robert what to do with his pack, and he told me to just leave it. Robert couldn’t hear the face I pulled over the phone, so I told him I doubted it would just be there when he got round to getting back to it. Right, said Robert, you better take it with you then. I suppose I’d asked for it, and this was the biggest challenge so far.
I put Robert’s pack on my front and somehow managed to hoist my own pack on my back. It was an incredibly fragile maneuver, I nearly tipped over from the delicate balance required and struggled back to the cairn. It turned out I had been going the correct way previously, which was fortunately since now I could barely see over the 75 litre pack on my front and I was swaying dangerously from side to side, swearing loudly and thanking God that I still had the feel of the path in my memory.
I went beyond the cairn, treading carefully, using my feet to feel out the path below me. I struggled to a dirt path a mile down the track and crossed over towards some woods (I thought I could remember someone mentioning some woods at some point). After five minutes of this trail I noticed an old couple in a horse-drawn cart coming up the track towards me, a Dalmatian following behind. I said hello, then thought to check I was on the right track. Apparently I wasn’t, corrected the couple, chewing on some hay leisurely. I thanked them, and huffed and puffed my way back along the trail, secretly hoping they’d offer to take at least one of my 18 kilogram plus packs on their plush cart for maybe a few minutes. They didn’t, and as I got to the top of a ridge I started to hear the hum of the motorway. I walked on, past a small house and over a bridge, at which point Robert rang. I gave him a vague description of my whereabouts, precariously positioned over the M62, but the strain of the packs came through in my voice as I said, “there are a lot of cars below, aaaaaaaah…” and eventually my tone flatlined into a blood curdling scream, trailing off as I dropped my phone. I dumped the packs and picked up the phone, but Robert had obviously hung up on me.
I reached the other side of the bridge and left the packs as I rang him back and started to jog in his general direction. He had just reached the track I had accidentally crossed, and soon we were reunited. As I called Nat for some directions (getting increasingly angry with Euan for having the map), Robert gets chatting to a guy driving into the farm this side of the motorway. He recommended to us that we walk through the field adjacent to the motorway, towards a TV tower where junction 22 was approximately situated.
We set off, and I felt much lighter having returned Robert his pack. As we hike through the field, shimmying under electric fences and avoiding angry looking cows, I ask Robert what’s been going on, why isn’t he with the police? Apparently they never turned up, and so Robert decided to reunite with me after hearing of Euan’s movements from the man himself [for a full account of Euan’s adventures see the Appendices]. We powered up a steep and sketchy ridge to the TV tower and saw Euan across a road, lounging on a large boulder. My hands twitched to strangle him.
We meet up with Euan, he gives me the map and I decide that murder might be a slight over reaction. Oh, exclaims Robert, I need to phone the Greater Manchester Police. He does, to tell them that we have been reunited with our friend, “the young Scottish male, with glasses, wild ginger hair and goatee,” they were apparently relieved.
As we leave the car park to embark on a trail leading over the moors, Euan tells us that he’d found himself on the motorway, before being picked up by highway patrol and dropped at the car park at junction 22. He considerately adds that apparently we’re walking over the very spot where Ian Brady buried the moors murders victims in the 1960’s. I cock my eyebrow and restrain myself from adding to the body count under my feet.
We walked on, up and down moorland trails that led around a reservoir and across another road. The moors go on for a while, starting with a dirt trail that develops into a comforting path constructed out of large white slabs of stone. I have my suspicions that the elaborate walkway was being created to unearth a few secrets still hidden by the moors. Perhaps, since the path was incomplete, the builders had discovered something gruesome and had delved no deeper, fleeing in terror. Regardless, we pressed on unaware of any negativity for a while. The moor sprouted delicate, white flowers that dotted the landscape like elysian dandruff. In the distance a saddle shaped hill was rained on and slowly we marched on into the wilderness. The path petered out, and was replaced by ridges and ditches that we struggled along, looking for an A-road which was supposed to mark the final stage of the day’s walking.
Eventually we reached it, but not before I met with a gigantic slug (the biggest I’ve seen in my life; Robert and Euan were not as impressed when they caught up with me). Euan’s enthusiasm was wavering like the sun light, and he felt he could not go on. Instead of holding us back, Euan vouched to stay behind and get a taxi to Crowden (little did we know that at this point we were situated on the border between two counties (West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester), leading to the cab company assuming Euan was a hoax call, until he described the sparse landmarks, a sign and a parking bay, which one driver in the office happened to recognise).
At this point the storm clouds were gathering, and as we started on what we assumed to be the final stretch the heavens opened and spat hail on us without mercy. To make things worse we were traversing the worst terrain yet; bogs, marshes and grassland, somehow rolled into one inconvenient area. The boggy soil required substantial energy to walk over, and the small hillocks of grass (about a foot or two in diameter) were awkward to tread, often threatening to twist our ankles. There was no definitive foot path, and after about 500 meters the wooden posts marking the way abruptly stopped. Luckily the hail had stopped by this point.
We scrambled over the land, meeting with deep furrows in the land where streams cut through the bog. We jumped, packs still on our backs, over these rifts, clinging to the other side to not slip down. My hands were covered in peat and mud, my nails crammed with dirt, but I didn’t care, we had to reach our goal. Now I think about it, I don’t know why we didn’t leave our huge packs with Euan to take in the taxi, but for whatever reason they were still with us. We eventually hit upon the Pennine way (our old enemy) and stopped to drink stream water (our bottles empty) and eat our final two cereal bars. This was a disastrous day, and at no point had we encountered a place to get lunch; we were starving.
We followed the Pennine way down, hoping to see the faint glimmer of Crowden any moment, but instead the path begun to elevate. We continued along for quite some time until we noticed we’d reached a plateau. Down below, several hundred meters, was a river, and across from us we saw more hills. The valley described by the river was surprisingly wide considering that even a small deviation from the footpath would land us in the vale (after a painful descent of uncontrollable velocity and orientation).
As the sun finally set completely the path began to descend sharply. We rounded some boulders, pressing ourselves tight against them lest we fell from the path. As the path dropped more boulders made themselves apparent on the path. The sudden and sharp decline was not good for Robert’s knees, which he stoically put up with.
It didn’t get properly dark until we’d reached a level path leading through some trees. We breathed a sigh of relief; we were going through some farmer’s gates, an indicator of civilization at long last. Getting through the barriers we picked up on a small road leading to an A-road. We didn’t notice the pavement in the dark until a huge lorry lit it up for us, moments before it almost ran us over.
We reached a dam and crossed over, turning right into a long avenue of trees. In the pale light of the stars we could just about make out that this used to be a railway, but now it had a sinister feel to it, as if anything could leap out at us from the shadows. Perhaps it was the hungry exhaustion that led me to hallucinate a ghostly train moving along the forgotten line in our direction, but no, it was just the B&B owner guiding is to safety with a torch. We hopped a dry stone wall clumsily and limped up a field to our final resting place (I thought it would be, but luckily I survived).
As we were getting changed into non-sweat drenched clothes Euan busted into the room announcing he’d got the pizzas; hurrah for Euan! We sat, eating our 16” pizzas and guzzling coke, in our socks waiting for a well deserved sleep. I glanced at the clock on the wall, eleven forty-five; we managed it all in one day, and not a moment too soon, the walk of over thirty miles had really taken its toll.