Day 36, Standedge to Crowden, 13 miles, 'Tales of Richard Part II: Mind Games'.
Yes, mind games. Because there is no other reasonable explanation for why the shortest day of the hike came to be one of the hardest. I've come to realise that hiking is actually only about 20% physical fitness and knowing what you're doing - the remaining 80% is all in the mind - and Richard and I realised this in earnest today as we stupidly presumed 13 miles was nothing and so approached the trail with a misplaced recklessness not seen since the misinformed Great British public took to the voting booths and, much like every time Arsenal get past the group stages, summarily dumped us out of Europe.
Rich and I awoke early, sleepily packed up our tents in the chill morning air and slowly made our way south knowing that today was the shortest day of the entire walk. Given that I've been averaging about 20 a day, and that yesterday's mission took around 21 miles in the blasting heat we were confident today would be a cakewalk. There are a few reasons for why we were horribly mistaken in this assumption. Firstly, the remoteness of our location combined with wild camping last night meant our resources were already spread quite thin. I had become accustomed to filling up my water and buying food at shops and pubs as I went, but due to a planning error on my part I hadn't realised that there was to be absolutely no sign of civilisation until our destination at Crowden campsite that afternoon. We still had plenty of dry crackers, some cured sausage and a rather sorry misshapen hunk of brie with us, but water was proving to be an issue (though the brie in Richard's bag would soon technically be classified as a liquid). Secondly the forecast for today had changed overnight, the promised cloud cover had already been burned away leaving us with another day of blue skies and beating sunshine. Finally, the mind games. Its easy enough to tackle 25 miles when you know you have to pace yourself and take the day seriously, but when faced with a short day like today it's far too easy to become complacent, which is exactly what happened.
The first leg once more had us climbing steadily through a barren and desolate landscape fringed with small reservoirs, rocky scrub and not a lot else. The temperature climbed swiftly, soon reaching the early 20s and our water supplies thinned as we slowly ground out the first miles. The Way took in every slight rise and fall in vintage PW fashion, we found brief refuge in the shade by an unexpected waterfall and loudly ignored our thinning reserves of H2O.
Historic blog entries of this section all speak of a van selling ice cold cans of pop and fried egg cobs but we soon realised this was to be nothing more than a mirage, the trail was devoid of anything resembling shelter or refreshment so we limped on. We soon crossed a road and were forced to climb a formidable and bleak hill, the ascent alone took a full hour and by the time we reached the top our spirits were flagging considerably. The descent was hardly better - the path was all flagstone so no time was wasted having to find the route but the hard stone was tough on the feet, and the insipid scenery draining on the mind. After this section, however, everything suddenly became far more interesting as we traversed the ridge of a gaping ravine with scrambling over rocks replacing the monotony of plodding along the flagstones. Whilst this was an enjoyable challenge we were now running critically low on water and took shelter in the shade under a rocky outcrop somehow still a full 5 miles from the campsite - we knew we weren't in any real danger, this is England after all - but the prospect of 5 more miles in the beating sun with only a few warm sips of water left each was a demoralising one.
We met an older couple from London walking the PW and I discovered many days later than they had donated £50 to my fundraising page even though I don't recall giving them my name or details - fair play to them, I hope they made it to the end of this dreadful trail. Somehow the path continued to climb inexorably, Rich and I finished off the last of our water (Rich kindly shared the last of his as he was carrying extra) and prayed we would have an easy descent down to the campsite. We began to fantasise about what might be up for sale at the camp shop. I had my mind fixated firmly on a cold can of R-Whites lemonade (one of the old school ones with exotic e-numbers and more sugar than liquid) and a tropical Solero whereas Rich was soon foaming at the mouth and raving nonsensically about Magnums and Snickers bars. We made our final climb of the day and slowly snaked our way down the other side, silently praying that the campsite had some kind of shade.
The last few miles took approximately the entire age of the universe and then an extra 15 minutes just for good measure. By the time we arrived at Crowden campsite we were dangerously dehydrated and a little frayed mentally as an odd form of cabin fever seemed to have set in - I recall laughing for a solid mile about nothing at all until I realised I was laughing at nothing and then stopped abruptly which Rich found intensely amusing, and so the cycle repeated itself, I suppose hundreds of miles and too much sun does funny things to the mind.
Amazingly, the tiny camp shop had every single item we had dreamed of and tables with parasols to boot: I bought both a Solero and a Calippo in a feat of mad spending not witnessed since Qatar bribed FIFA officials for the 2022 World Cup, much to my chagrin Rich went for a slice of cake and a cup of tea - hardly the most refreshing items in my mind but he seemed to enjoy them. We must have returned to the shop at least 3 times each, and by the time we settled down for the night we were, if anything, too hydrated but we were ready to go again; tomorrow had been routinely noted by other hikers as one of the toughest days on the trail and at 18 miles I was a little apprehensive after the solid beating today's 13 had given us. However that would be the final leg on the Pennine Way, forever. I was thrilled to finally be saying farewell to this bloated, sadistic slog of a trail. Bring it on.