Day 33, Kirkby Malham to Cowling, 17 miles, 'The Annie Trilogy Part II'.
Having genuinely enjoyed yesterday's opening to the Annie Trilogy I could hardly wait to see the sequel and so instead of queuing at the concession stand to take out a loan for a small popcorn, I gathered up my increasingly tatty belongings and stumbled downstairs for breakfast where Annie was already waiting (she claims she's a 'morning person', but I refuse to believe such a thing exists). Unlimited juice, cereal and coffee was followed by a solid 8/10 serving. Bizarrely I was forced to eat 3 entire hash browns due to Annie's distaste for complex carbohydrates, but I wasn't complaining too loudly.
After being photographed by the Victoria Inn crew (trust me, you do get used to fame after a short while) we set off along the grassy tracks leaving the hamlet and I was pleasantly surprised by how flat it was. You see, every town on the PW is nestled in some damp nook or moist cranny so you end the day descending and are faced with an unwanted climb first thing in the morning, but today was a blessed relief. The paths were pleasant enough, but after the glory of Malham it was lacking a certain panache. Still they were easy miles and the morning wound its way through fields of cows (again) and sheep until we hit a small forest on the edge of an old Roman Fort / town, Gargrave.
Gargrave was yet another charming Yorkshire settlement (note to readers: I have no idea what county we were actually in, but as a Londoner if its south of Scotland and north of Oxford I just classify as Yorkshire and move swiftly on) and we dropped our packs and settled in for tea and cake in a lovely little shop for lunch. There was also a truly impressive array of sweets available in the shop so I filled my pockets with sour apples laces and blue bon bons before we left (everyone knows blue is the best flavour). After plodding up and down several hills we came across a first for the PW, a section of canal! I have no idea, what a canal was doing in the middle of the hills, but I was very relieved. Now I've moaned about canals before, my 60 mile jaunt from Glasgow to Edinburgh was just one continuous canal walk and it bored me to tears, but here it was a blessing. Canals are always good, quick walking and this one actually had boats in it, unlike its Scottish counterpart, so Annie and I had things to see other than endless sheep as we whittled down the miles to Cowling. Regrettably the canal lasted all of 5 minutes until we were back on the undulating farmland paths and were both in need of a sit down long before we came across a bench seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I've often thought on this hike how few benches there are on the great trails of the UK (and the PW). Every village and town has at least 1 bench, every proper pub has 1 too, but you don't really, truly need these benches - you need somewhere to sit when you're 10 miles from nowhere, stuck atop some nameless hill or moor with sweat dripping from your brow, not so much when you're 5 minutes from home. I think if I ever won the lottery I'd like to pick up enough carpentry to build a half decent bench and then travel to all those places that desperately require seating to be installed and solve the problem. That will obviously never happen, but it's a nice pipe dream I suppose.
Between our rest stop above and our airbnb in Cowling lay only a single place of interest, Lothersdale, however we simply could not see it anywhere. Our phones told us were we 2 miles away, then 1, then 450 yards, and still nothing surrounded us but wet grass and sheep, it was terribly confusing. Turns out Lothersdale is at the very bottom of an incredibly steep hill, surrounded by trees, and you don't see it until you're right in the village and so it appeared before us as a miraculous mirage, like an ancient sandstone plinth rising out of the shimmering desert heat, or more accurately like a small and squalidly grey collection of bungalows sat grumpily in the wet Yorkshire moors. The main pub in Lothersdale, the Hare and Hounds, was thankfully both open and largely empty, so we ducked in for a couple of pints and shared a fish finger sarnie even though dinner was barely an hour away. A pair of middle aged men entered at some point and sat at the bar, clearly locals from the way they chatted in a familiar manner with the barmaid. However, as one of them nipped to the loo, an ominous bag of white powder slipped from his back pocket and fell silently to the floor. He returned, oblivious that he was literally throwing Class A drugs all over the establishment and continued his chat. The barmaid did eventually try to tell him, surreptitiously, that he may have dropped something, upon which he morphed immediately into a paragon of knightly virtue. He loudly swore on his children's lives that he would never, NEVER, indulge in such fancies and jokingly berated the barmaid for her clear confusion in misrepresenting him in this manner. His eyes began madly searching the bar for allies in his righteous cause, it was all highly embarrassing - especially as I had literally witnessed his guilt - so we quickly engaged the barmaid with a question about Cowling and ignored the newfound pariah to our right.
Turns out the barmaid lived in Cowling and had a magical shortcut that would decrease our remaining 3 miles to just 1! Geographical impossibilities aside I'm always keen to get the local tips, but her directions left a hell of a lot to be desired. I'm sure in her mind it was very simple, but too much was lost in translation - we were told to go 'round the side', ignore an oddly large numbers of bridges, then there would be a 'wooden bit' that we would have to move, and it was as easy as that! We did actually find her route, but cutting 3 miles down to, well, 3 miles isn't a shortcut, it's a diversion - though she was right about the wooden bit you had to move so fair play. All the same, Annie and I entered Cowling both feeling pleased that another day's hiking was behind us.
The Airbnb was a fantastic loft / barn conversion, sadly painted red and black but otherwise so welcoming that I felt obliged to crack my skull on the ceiling beans not once, but twice. We wandered off in search of a meal and found the Harlequin bistro which offered up some very tasty fayre without breaking into anything truly exciting, which felt very representative of Cowling itself. All in all it was a solid 17 miles for Annie's second day, but regrettably just not as good as her first. Typical PW really, it seems to lure you in with a day of excellent hiking, then fob you off with 4 tawdry ones. Ah well, maybe tomorrow...