Day 35, Hebden Bridge to Standedge, 21 miles. The Pennine Chronicles Part III: 'Tales of Richard I'.
Firstly, it's not actually tales of Richard I King of England, that would be a very different blog entry - that said the newest addition to this blog (my friend and NOT the King of England, Richard) could potentially be described as lion-hearted, and today's walk was a total crusade so maybe there are more similarities than I thought. Well let's get on with the Richard lowdown shall we?
Profession: He's told me a million times but I have no idea what he actually does to earn currency. I'll go with Transponster.
Likes: Climbing like a beast, drinking coffee as his only beverage and existing solely on Huel (yeah, he's one of 'those'...).
Dislikes: Eating real, solid food, walking slower than 3 mph and walking faster than 3.1 mph. He also seems to have developed a very sensible dislike of cows.
Key hiking strength: Ability to plod on endlessly without food, water, light, a destination, encouragement or oxygen. Can walk over any terrain.
Key hiking weakness: Must maintain a pace of exactly 3.05 mph at all times. No one has ever seen Richard walk faster or slower than this, but I imagine the results are disastrous if it does ever occur. May become grumpy in long grass.
Richard is no novice to the hiking game, he joined me and some other friends on the 96 mile West Highland Way a few years back so he knows the score; I was once more looking forward to having a hiking partner, especially as I had Richard's company for 6 whole days. We spent a pleasant late afternoon in Hebden Bridge and witnessed some maypole dancing (weird but OK) complete with a score of large, old, grey haired Yorkshire men dressed as minstrels in full blackface (weird and almost certainly not OK). Is that really part of the tradition? I looked into it and no one knows why or how 'blackface' came to be associated with dancing around the maypole - I didn't even know they were associated.
I mean Maypole dancing (lame and 'WASP'-ish as it already is) surely pre-dates the arrival of people of different colour to the British Isles? Also, who was it who thought, 'Hey this ancient fertility tradition thing we've got going on is pretty nifty, but you know what it really needs? Everyone to black up.' And then everyone agreed that this would be a welcome addition to the pre-existing pagan cultural phenomenon?! I could not make heads nor tails of it - maybe Hebden Bridge wasn't quite as cosmopolitan as I had previously thought, or perhaps I'm missing something, but I certainly won't be trying it on the streets of London when I get back, there's different rules out in the countryside you see. Sorry, I'll get on with it now.
After a pleasant night's rest where Richard hardly groped me at all, we got underway in the glorious sunshine and strolled alongside a lovely canal and up the steep hills through a wooded area en route to our first monument of the day: Stoodley Pike. Built as a monument to peace in 1815 following Waterloo and the Napoleonic Wars, the original structure was hit by lightning and fell in 1854, bizarrely on the same day the Russian ambassador left London before the declaration of war with Russia - spooky.
As you can see, one side is pleasant grey stone, whereas the other is pitch black, scarred with the soot and coal smoke that betrays this area's industrial past. We chatted with a pair of elderly teachers and enjoyed some sun-warmed brie and crackers before getting on our way. As we approached midday the temperature began to creep, and with no pubs or rest stops apparent until our eventual wild camping destination it was a real effort not to greedily glug all my water. Especially as we were walking through reservoir country, the huge pools of sparkling blue liquid were almost cruel to look at as we carefully rationed our water. Amazingly, there was a pub - the White House, which I had somehow missed in my planning, we ducked in for a fairly average lunch and a couple of pints and filled our flasks.
We were so buoyed after leaving the White House that we somehow took the wrong path immediately and wandered south-west instead of south-east, not bothering to check our maps, for a solid 4 or 5 miles before realising we were miles away from where we needed to be. We crossed the M62 and cut across country, eventually finding the Pennine Bridleway - we had to walk right through a herd of cows with calves, climb about 5 unnecessary hills and finally found the path again having added at least 8 miles to Richard's first day. He looked far from thrilled, but I think he secretly loved getting lost in the beating sun with a strict water rationing regime on his first day.
The remaining 4 or 5 miles were fairly straightforward, especially as we knew we were finally going the right way. It speaks volumes about how tough the Pennine Bridleway is that I was genuinely pleased to see the PW again, or maybe I had simply become delirious with heatstroke. We came to Standedge around 7pm and found nothing but a steep rocky cliff, a trig point and a couple of grassy spots just begging to be camped on.
Once pitched it was a truly stunning place to bed down for the night. The views from the top of the ridge were fantastic and the sunset to the west, highlighting the path we had just walked, was breathtaking. We had technically just entered the peak district and the vistas had improved swiftly, barren moors giving way to a more rocky, rugged countryside with real character. We ate, drank, were bitterly disappointed by an episode of game of thrones, and went to bed knowing it was only a short 12 mile job tomorrow. Easy right? Right???