WHEN you walk 24 miles (39km) in one day the soles of your feet sting and your socks feel like Brillo pads. Your legs don’t bend easily at the knees, your body aches all over, and your skin feels tight beneath a microscopic shell of sweat, dust and grime. You crave food and beer, but you also crave sleep. The desire for a hot shower passes long before the 20-mile mark. Food and beer are all that matter – and sleep . . .
This is a retro post for Because They’re There. It’s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .
The Three Peaks is a walk many outdoor people undertake at some point in their lives. Traditionally, the Pennine peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough are tackled in an anti-clockwise direction. For some reason lost in the clefts of memory I set out from the campsite in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, climb Pen-y-Ghent (694m), then double back to the village and proceed in a clockwise direction.
Ingleborough comes and goes in a flash of limestone clints and wide horizons. It’s extremely cold and windy on the summit (724m), a hint of autumn in the air. Not a place to hang about on a dull day wearing little more than a thin shirt from Asda.
On neighbouring Whernside (736m), I experience unassisted flight for the first time. A terrific and constant wind roars up Wherside’s steep south-east flank from Ribblehead. I take the direct route to the valley in great bounds, the wind lifting me into the air and holding me suspended for seconds at a time.
Good job I’m not wearing my windproof jacket because I’d probably end up on the Isle of Man. Mind you, that would save me waiting for my mate Harry to take me there on his boat. I’ve been waiting five years already.
The exhilaration of unassisted flight is short-lived. Beneath the spectacular Ribblehead viaduct I collapse and devour my last few crumbs of food. My legs feel like lumps of railway sleeper, knees like rusty points. Every solitary step hurts the soles of my feet. When I rest they throb painfully in my boots. Is this fun? No, but it will be great when it stops.
I limp into Horton in the late afternoon and crash down in my tent. When I lie still the pain stops. Ah, the joys of walking. I can’t remember anything else. How did Joe Gormley get on?
The Three Peaks, September 1979