Days 29,30&31. Middleton in Teesdale to Horton in Ribbesdale via the Tan Hill Inn & Hawes. 55 miles.
'The revenge of the Pennine Way'
Once again, just like the dull 3 day slog along the Scottish canals, I have decided to consolidate these 3 days of walking into 1 entry because they were so dreadful, so cripplingly boring and so incessantly wet that there were few photos and far fewer good memories. But I suppose I can't just write 'it was very wet' and slap a picture of a dripping sock on the blog so I guess I'll try to articulate just how unpleasant it was.
So my breakfast in Middleton would have been perfectly adequate, pleasant even, if not for the fact that I was forced to sit 3 feet away from an asthmatic Jabba the Hut impersonator who slurped and mouth-breathed so heavily through his morning meal I feared he would suck his fillings down with his mouthfuls of well masticated scrambled egg. It genuinely put me off my food, so I poked and prodded my sausage around the plate until I grew so tired of the sounds loudly emanating from the chair beside mine, picked up my pack and strode outside. Into the rain.
There hadn't been any rain forecast today, so I presumed the gentle shower that steadily soaked me would pass by shortly. Little did I know that water would not stop falling from the sky for the next 72 hours. The morning and early afternoon consisted of trudging up wet farmland slopes only to slide back down the other side again and again. I took shelter in a barn for a full 30 minutes when the rain became laughably bad and soon found myself on the moors around 8 miles away from my bunkhouse at the Tan Hill Inn. The moors were particularly offensive today for several reasons: they offered absolutely zero protection from the wind and rain, the sponge-like mosses on the ground oozed murky water with every step and the views were painfully bleak in every direction. The rain stopped for all of 5 minutes, during which time the earth literally steamed with moisture despite the relatively cold temperature, this would be destined to fall again as rain almost immediately, somewhat souring the unusual vista in front of me. It might have been beautiful if not for the fact that somewhere in the last 5 miles my boots had filled to the brims with water, so my mood was dark.
The only thing worth mentioning about the rest of the day was the final 3 miles to the Tan Hill Inn (Britain's highest pub), as they were genuinely the worst 3 miles of my life. The path literally dissolved into a boggy quagmire, every step took me ankle deep into cold, peaty water and the 3 miles took the best part of 2 hours. I cannot accurately convey how awful those miles were, so I'll move onto the Tan Hill Inn, which was fantastic. The pub sits completely alone atop the moors, purpose built for PW walkers as the nearest town is around 12 miles away, and as a result it caters deliberately to hungry, unhappy hikers with water in their shoes and tears of desperation in their eyes. I was sharing a bunk room built for 6 with just one other fellow, Carl, as we traded drinks and stories of the trail as we ordered our food. I also met Lisa, who was taking on the entire PW in one hit and wild camping almost the entire way. She delivered the crushing news; somehow, in some way, my Guess Who man was now miles ahead of me! Lisa had met him earlier in the day to the south near Keld - I have no idea how he had overtaken me, but I now feared I would never catch him with some smaller days coming up on the horizon. Carl tucked into a tasty looking meat pie, but I was truly famished having only consumed a few soggy crackers on the long road - I ordered an entire chicken and a large portion of chips, washed it down with 3 or 4 delightful pints of Landlord and slept like a log.
The middle day of this moist trilogy was another 20 mile slog in the rain which was even more forgettable than the previous one. Hawes was my destination, a very pretty town which is the home of Wensleydale cheese, but I would have to thrash blindly through the saturated moorland to get there because the fog that had rolled in overnight was truly biblical.
There were no photos to be taken, no views to be seen, and no joy to be taken on this morning, it was all I could do to keep my head down and not lose the path in the thick fog. There were 2 minor highlights however, the first being a milestone in the hamlet of Angram with the inscription AD807, referring to the Celtic origins of the settlement. Sure the stone itself didn't date from 807, but it was still an impressive and unique monument to find in such a small and sleepy place.
The second milestone was far more engaging. After Angram I wound down into the pretty town of Keld, but couldn't stop due to the incessant rain and sleet and instead began my first significant hill climb of the day. I briefly quizzed some walkers coming the other way, but they hadn't seen my mystery man that morning, I was concerned he could be skipping out hills he may have climbed back in 2017 further decreasing the chances of us meeting. A second, even more arduous climb followed the first hill, and at the top lay a large stone shelter in the shape of an X, which was just as well because pea-sized hailstones had suddenly begun to cascade to the ground, settling like snow on the mountaintop. I hastily scrambled behind the corner that faced away from the wind only to find a very tall man eating a Tunnocks caramel wafer bar and trying to stay out of the fierce weather. His name was Marcel and it turned out he was also walking the end to end, but heading North from Cornwall. It was a strange meeting, between us at that moment we had walked the entire path, and here we sat, huddled together on top of a mountain with hail, snow and sleet spraying at us from all directions. Marcel graciously gave me a Tunnocks, and we eventually parted ways - Marcel if somehow you're reading this, I hope you made it to John O'Groats, good luck.
And that was it for the day really - it was all rain after that. I arrived in Hawes soaking wet, ordered a steak at the pub when the pie looked a far better call, and then missed Liverpool's absurd 4-0 comeback against Barcelona, because tomorrow it was very heavy rain forecast all day and so I wanted to leave at 6am to avoid the worst of it - a very disappointing end to a damp and dreary day, but that's the pennine way for you.
The conclusion of this soggy set of entries is far, far shorter. I left at 630 and arrived in Horton in Ribbesdale just before 12 as it was only around 15 miles. The rain was truly torrential from the moment I stepped out to the second I arrived, and I only had time for one picture when the deluge paused for a second.
My lodgings at the Crown were fairly small given the price, and there were an abundance of laminated signs telling you not to put your shoes in the toaster or not to drink the water in the radiators, it made me feel quite unwelcome in truth. But I had several hours to kill, so I cosied up the chef at the bar and as a result received a far larger beef bourguignon than the other patrons, including slivers of parsnip crisps that were mysteriously absent from the plates of others. The meal was delicious and I felt happier than I had in days, the rain would be easing off tomorrow, and my sister Annie would be arriving in the morning to join for 3 days of hiking so I would finally have some company after many days alone in the wild. I was dry, I had a belly full of beef and beer, and tomorrow the Annie trilogy would begin, given the last few days on the PW, the only way was up.