We took a footpath into the hills, trying to follow it to the Maiden way. We followed it for several miles, until we reached a river that raced between massive, square boulders. Realising this was not the Maiden way we had to back track several miles; I should have been able to tell we weren’t on an old Roman road at the first bend. We split off the path onto a bog, the only way to tell it was the Maiden way was by irregular wooden posts marking the way, and the odd rock strategically positioned to look like road remains.
As we walked the road got steeper, the rocks more frequent and several other hikers appeared to confirm this was a popular thoroughfare. I stopped at a fleet of rocks surrounding a standing stone to admire the view; a dry stone wall ran along to my right, the last hurdle before the Eden valley, and ahead I could just make out the peak of Cross Fell, shrouded in a thick, black cloud. Holy cow, I thought, Nat and Bryde are probably being tossed about by a thunderstorm as I watch from a safe distance.
Robert and Euan caught up and soon it was time to descend into the valley. It was very steep and, carrying heavy packs, we were propelled down at a gross rate, Robert’s knees throwing up protests at every leap and bound. We stopped by a small vale shaped like something from a skatepark to evaluate our route. Apparently the rapid descent had pushed us off course slightly; our only choice was to go through some farms.
We emerged in the heart of the first farm, cornered by curious goats. One was quite disgusting in appearance, as if the decomposition process had somehow already began. We escaped into further fields, hopping over fences and trying to avoid gorse bushes and bulls. Somehow we ended up in a field containing a large herd of cows; Robert’s greatest fear. We trod softly, trying not to make eye contact with the beasts, skirting the herd and walking briskly for a road we could see just a few hundred meters away. This turned into a bit of a chase, the cows had started to move out of our way, but like giant, semi-conscious magnets they collected into a thunderous stampede, flanking us and moving into a tactical position at our rear. We started to run, and so did the herd. We barely made it over the wall in time; we could feel the herd’s breath on the back of our necks. Catching our breath we found ourselves in Ousby.
We followed the hedgerows along, looking for a pub; Robert’s ulcer was bothering him. The string of villages we encountered disappointed us by failing to have any shops or pubs. Eventually we got desperate; Robert was in a lot of pain, we needed to find food imminently. There seemed to be no-one about to ask where the nearest establishment was. We trod on, heads hung as low as our expectations, until we saw the vague lights of a car. Stopping just near us, two people emerged; they had arrived home. Excuse me, ventured Robert, you don’t know where a pub is? He explained his medical predicament, and they invited him into their house, he returned a few minutes later with a half full bottle of milk. Artists, he remarked, as we walked off towards Dufton.
We continued along our way, looking for a footpath, but ended up in an old couple’s garden. They looked a little surprised to see us as we passed by their conservatory, but I gave them a friendly wave and they seemed appeased. They called us through the glass, to show us the proper way, and after an extensive tour of the newly refurbished holiday home (which the lady was very proud of, despite having no claim to ownership; they just rented it each year) they offered us tea and coffee. They did refill our water, kindly, but the tea/ coffee offer is still bamboozling to me; who tries to provide hikers with diuretics? Luckily I have a natural approach to toilets; they’re everywhere outside.
We continued on our way, following their slightly confusing directions. Is it just me, or does everyone give me obscure instructions? I’m beginning to think I’m just not very good at understanding what people mean by left and right. Once again we encountered a field of cows, but our tactical approach led to little bother and we hopped a fence back onto the road to Dufton.
Arriving at the hostel we were welcomed with Roots, Rock, Reggae. We crossed the road to get some dinner at the local pub, in which we met Nat and Bryde, who had been waiting a while for us, despite being caught in a manic storm at the top of Cross Fell.