I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Pen-Y-Ghent

I decided a while ago to challenge myself with something worthwhile that would reveal a great deal about my current fitness, and that I knew well enough to learn something from. I chose one of my favourite places… Pen-Y-Ghent, in Horton-In-Ribblesdale.

I’ve climbed the sleeping lion many times in varying degrees of fitness, and so I knew how it ought to feel and could compare how I was feeling at every stage of the hike. I started to get excited when I pencilled in Friday as a good day to go, and the weather was looking in my favour.

I barely slept on Thursday night in anticipation and found myself awake and preparing myself to go earlier than planned. I still needed every last minute to get sorted and to the train on time. I did though.

The journey up there was divine. The first train was delayed by ten minutes… enough to mean I didn’t miss it, but not enough to miss my connection. The scenery up to the Three Peaks is wonderful and I sat back, headphones in, and took it all in.

I got off the train and slowly heaved my belongings to the campsite. The owner was brilliant and had me sorted out straight away. The tent went up in ten minutes and by half past one I was sat drinking a strong coffee and eating a bacon sarnie at the Pen-Y-Ghent café, with the sleeping lion in full view in the roasting sunlight inviting me up from afar. This was going to be amazing.

I got prepared. I filled my smaller rucksack with liquids and foodstuffs and strapped my camera to my chest. I took a big glug of water and with my hiking stick in hand I began my 6 & ¾ mile trek.

I went the anti-clockwise route, where the descent is longer and has a calmer gradient and that was definitely the right way round for me to do it. I took my time, and stopped plenty along the way, but I refused to have any of my coffee flask until I’d got to the top.

I started bumping into a couple of people on their way up and back down and I gave a cheery hello to all who I met. I also extended this courtesy to the sheep and birds who approached me on my travels and this aided my trip in that I felt much more like Tom Bombadil than I ever have before, with a “How do?” and a “I’m fine, thanks for asking” to all creatures great and small. I ensured I kept a steady stream of Starburst on-the-go and didn’t care a hoot that people were over-taking me. I went at MY pace and I loved every second of it.

I took some photos, mostly on the way up when the view was nicest, but I also made sure I just listened to the air, and spent time with my own thoughts, and reflected about good times with my dad and old friends.

As I approached the final climb (the craggy bit) I spotted a gentleman who had over-taken me much earlier, sat getting his breath back. I said hello, and he seemed fine, so I continued. I’m still stunned now that I managed to get to the top before him. It was NOT a race, not in the slightest, I purely mean that it was strengthening to me to know that some stamina was at work and that I found I could still go on without dying any time soon.

I got cracking.

The climb was tough. I puffed and panted plenty but not at any stage did I feel like I couldn’t make it. I felt… Amazing! I was sweating, my shoulders were sunburned to high heaven, and my legs felt like anvils, but anvils that I had the strength to move. So I moved them.

A good twenty minutes later and I adorned the top.  There were maybe eight to ten people at the top already and some left straight away and others arrived, but within about 15 minutes I had the place to myself for about an hour.

I had a wee.

I’m not even sorry. I needed one, and some bright spark hasn’t plonked a WC on the top since I was last there so I got busy. I also cracked open my coffee flask and sat down to admire the view. It was still hot! I necked a sarnie whilst playing roulette with a family of wasps and then took to planking on the Way-Point that marks the top of the hill.

I didn’t want to leave. It’s the most beautiful I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve never been up in such clear and sunny conditions before and I could see for 60 miles in 360 degrees.

It was flabbergasting.

I tried taking some panoramic shots but none really did any justice. I decided to spend the bulk of my time just sitting alone on the top of a big hill, enjoying the sunshine, and contemplating the view. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I did feel a sense of achievement that I have never felt before, now that I’ve had a different journey to the one I expected. It meant that I appreciated every footstep, and every blade of grass.

Eventually I was revived enough to attempt the descent. I remember descents… They drain your legs like crazy as you try to stop yourself allowing gravity to make you slip on the rubble-covered pathway down, so that your legs shake.

Lots of breaks.

I just took my time. Eventually I realised that I was the last man coming down and that there wasn’t a person for miles and so I felt utterly amazing and smiled my way down the other side. In fact, it was only at around 5pm, when I was halfway down, that I started dreaming a little of the cooked meal I would have at the pub on my return.

I got back to my tent at 6pm and immediately went for water and a cold drink to The Crown pub.

A well-deserved pint!

I sat outside and a gentleman sat on the next shady table along. There was a quad-bike parked just in front of the tables. After a swig or two, both of us stared in disbelief as an old lady walked out of the pub, casually jumped on the quad-bike with a vapourizer hanging out of her mouth, fired her up and off she sped down the road like some teenager on the hunt for White Lightening. It was hilarious! It also got me and the chap on the next table chatting and he turned out to be a lovely gent who liked cricket and was from Liverpool. We put the world to rights for half an hour before I made my apologies and got sorted for ordering my din dins.

I went inside and checked the specials board.

Sirloin Steak.

It was brought out to me and it was absolutely perfect. Bob on. Another pint to wash it down and I was ready for ANOTHER WALK!

I was happier than ever and after a little lie down, I got up and went for a small walk to cool down my legs in an attempt to minimise how achey they would obviously be over the next few days. I think it worked a bit!

I went back up the final part of the walk to where I’d spotted a bit of phone signal and checked in, and then took my time in the dusk, strolling alone whilst rabbits grazed and dived here and there trying to get home before lights out, and whilst the sheep spoke loudly to each other as they do.

Here is how I interpret the sheep’s conversation…

“BAAAAAAAH!!!”

“BWAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

“BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”

 

Which loosely translated means…

 

“I’M OVER HERE!!!”

“I’M 3 FOOTSTEPS AWAY FROM WHERE I WAS LAST TIME!!”

“I’M STILL HERE!!”

Whatever they are saying, it seems appropriate in sheep culture to cause as much alarm through the surprising timing and volume of their “Baaah!” as possible. I suppose this is designed to keep them on their hoofs.

Time for bed.

I dawdle back to my tent and grab more fluids and sit back with my iPad to watch a film. I chose RUSH. It was an excellent choice. 2 hours later and it is pitch black outside my tent. I get my camera tripod out and point my camera to the stars, setting the shutter speed to slow to get as much light as possible. The results came out pretty well to be honest! Without light pollution there really is a HUGE difference when looking at the night sky. It’s one of the most beautiful things there is.

Eventually I tire myself out enough to attempt some sleep.

My sunburn was not my friend.

Every reposition was a painful reminder of the amazing weather of the day and overall I got about an hour’s sleep in about 42 sittings. I didn’t care in the least.

I got up at 6:30am and the campsite was already thriving. I sorted myself out and took down my tent (with some trouble) and eventually fitted the tent in its carry case. Time for coffee! Back to the amazing café and it’s another round of bacon sarnies with filtered coffee this time. I stayed there an hour and happily daydreamed my way to the station for the 9:21.

The journey back was full of sunshine and swifts and swallows darting about the place… Only in Leeds station did I feel anything like Ryan again, and not Tom Bombadil.

But that was the point.

I went because I needed to put a few things to bed, and to really look forward to what I can do now that I’m well enough to. I came back feeling more like myself than I have done for years.

Before this holiday is through, I’m going to Scotland to try a bigger one.

These feet are itching to go already!

Ryan xx

(The photos from this trek can be found on my Flickr page here>>)

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Making Plans For Nigel

I’m going to take you back to 1985. Back then I was 8 years old and still have extremely vivid memories of my childhood, which was an up and down one, but overall was blissfully happy.

In 1985 I lived with my Mum and Dad and Sister in a little village called Sherburn-In-Elmet. I was an outdoor adventure kid. It was rare to find me *not* in a tree or upside down somewhere to be honest. Making a “den” was my favourite activity and investigating came as second nature. The ideal scenario would see me reading my Secret Seven books at the top of a tree, with a harmonica stolen from my dad’s collection in my pocket, ready to experiment with once I’d finished my chapter. I was as happy playing alone as I was with other children, as my imagination filled all the gaps, but as luck would have it, back then I was to meet two people who would help me and change my life, forever.

A rare commodity when you are 8 years old, to have good friends who wouldn’t let you down.

Friend one was Claire Limbert. Claire lived next door but one to me and was in my year at primary school. She was a tom boy, who LOVED animals and so we got on famously well. We used to play pretend horses, galloping round a pretend jumping course on my old filly “Rose”. We had a few fights too, and Claire would miraculously win those, but we always became friends again and couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring. Me and my sister would stay over at Claire’s house now and again, and despite the obvious power struggles that go on when you’re 8, it was clear that I had found a friend who I never wanted to let go of. Claire was my best friend, and despite going through bullying at a similar age, she helped me to protect my sister where she could, and taught me how to fight.

Fighting was not in my blood. It was forced upon me. Andrew Smurfwaite was my first nemesis. He found that if he picked on my sister and hit her or threatened her, that he would guarantee a fight from me. Fight one saw a unique style. The Catherine wheel. You set your arms going in circles as fast and hard as you can and run at your target shouting as loud as you can. There is only one way to counter this, which Andrew duly deployed, which is to step to one side and lift me up onto one of the coat pegs, punch me in the gut and leave me there. My first fight was the last fight I ever lost.

Greeny was the big one. He was the school bully, known as “T’ Cock o’ t’ School”. We never fought, but he terrified me, and he made me learn all the ways back to my house without being spotted.

Sherburn Hungate Primary School was my first school, and after a term I started to spot that there was someone else who was about to walk into my life.

Nigel Lupton.

Nigel was in my form, but he lived on Wolsey Croft, which was at the other end of Sherburn-In-Elmet to me. My first memory of him was in Mr Latham’s class during break, Greeny had said something yet again about me being “smelly”. I wasn’t smelly of course, but kids pick on your insecurities and that was the big one for me. Nigel came in and stuck up for me. He didn’t cause a fight or anything, he just told Greeny to shove off like he wasn’t scared of him. Soon enough, I made it down to Nigel’s part of town, and before long we were ‘knocking about’ together.

Wolsey Croft was a long street and Nigel lived nearly half-way up on the far side. Behind his house was quite an expansive wasteland, which had thickets and puddles and allotments and places to hide which was any young boys dream. We used to get our least favourite trainers on and head out with a stick in hand, and would investigate for hours, wandering round climbing trees, just seeing what was there. I still remember one day, that a large muddy puddle had made itself known to us, and that we tried to jump it. I didn’t make it and I left a trainer behind, which did NOT impress my mum when I got home.

My strangest and most grotesque childhood memory enters at this point. During one long summer on another wasteland trek, we wandered further than normal with sticks in our hands. I was nonchalantly hitting the tall grass from side to side when I came across a black bin bag. I hit the top of the bin liner carefully to knock it off whatever it was covering. What I found was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.

I found half a dead dog. Not just any dead dog either. It was a shepherd-like mongrel which had been cut down the middle (that’s how it looked) and it resembled nothing but orange and yellow and red muscle with gangrenous furry edges so that the dog looked as though it had been perfectly lasered length-ways down the middle and then left to rot. In truth, it had simply decomposed for a long time but my 8 year old brain thought of lasers. You have never seen an 8 year old boy run as fast in your life. I loved animals and seeing a dead one in such a state so close to me freaked me out completely. Nigel kept me calm and put it down to just another adventure.

I’d get home from seeing Nigel always as dusk drew in and a chorus of barks would chime up as I entered our busy zoo of a house. At this time we had; 13 chickens, 16 rabbits, 2 cats, 2 German Shepherds, 8 German Shepherd puppies, 2 guinea pigs, 2 Hare’s, 3 fish (one called Billy) and a goat that used to come round to sample the curtains. Life at Springfield Avenue was pretty wild. Mum was a great Mum who seemed to be able to cope with anything.

For a long time we struggled with money. We were always against it financially, and I witnessed this as for a long time, we would get a new television, only to have someone come and take it away again a week later. Mum was working as a nurse and dad was jumping between jobs whilst maintaining the perfect equilibrium of living more happily ‘because’ we weren’t rich. My best toy as a boy was a cardboard box which was designed funny, which allowed me to cut it in a couple of places to turn it into a transformer. I played with that thing for months.

Now I’m 10. I’m in year 5 at school and I’ve been given a letter to take home. There is to be a school trip! I didn’t get too excited as we weren’t the sort who could afford to go on school trips, but this was a rare trip… it was to a place called Elslack. It was to go walking up the side of a river and stay in a youth hostel for a couple of nights and it wasn’t much money to go. Mum and Dad allowed me to go and I had a whale of a time.

My dad picked me up from school when I got back and took me home. When we got in, the mood at home was different. I unpacked and later that evening I was called downstairs with my sister.

It seems something was afoot.

Dad told us that we were in financial trouble, and that people called bailiffs were after us. He told us, that we therefore had to do something drastic, which was to move house. Now.

He told us that we didn’t have any choice (him and mum included) and that it also meant that we wouldn’t be able to stay in touch with anyone from Sherburn-In-Elmet in case the bailiffs found out where we were going to.

I was mortified. I was bewildered and remember being inconsolable at the thought of not being able to even tell my friends what was happening or that I was about to disappear. That moment has stayed with me my entire life.

I remember going to bed and being stirred again at 4am to be put into the car whilst still snoozing. We woke the next morning in a new house in Pontefract. Mum had a new job, Dad started a new band and within a couple of weeks me and my sister were at a new school, with new bullies.

I cannot begin to put into words how gut wrenching it was to be torn from a happy little village with two amazing friends to be dropped into a strange town and not being allowed to even tell my friends where I had gone. I felt guilty, and responsible for creating a hole in their lives… surely they would wonder what became of me? Surely they would worry? I hated that, and I have held onto that sense of loss for 26 years ever since.

26 years.

That is a LONG time. I have daydreamed about what might’ve been and remembered my two friends vividly and often ever since. When Facebook came along, I longed for them to join so that I might get lucky when hopefully typing their names into the search window… would they appear? Might I get chance to explain?

About 3 years ago I got a hit. It was Claire!

Claire had finally taken the Facebook plunge and a random search brought her up and I instantly got in touch. It was a happy meeting. I got the chance to explain what had happened, and that I’d randomly remembered her birthday was 17th April, and I apologised for having to leave in the way that I did. The relief I felt was enormous. A loose end I had kept tabs on for so long was finally sewn up.

Then there was one remaining. The search for Nigel continued… and went on.. and on… until I got a hit.. of sorts.

I found a chap called Nigel Lupton 2 years ago on Twitter. I explained my situation and he freely admitted to *not* being the Nigel who I was searching for, but turned out to be a top chap all the same and we ended up following each other anyway.

The search went on again…

On Saturday night I ran another random search. I got a hit, AND it was backed up with the phrase “Sherburn High School”… Surely…

I sent the message.

I can’t tell you how delighted I was when I got a reply from my old friend. He spoke as though we’d never parted, even though there was stuff to learn about each other again, he was a gentleman, and I recognised him even in his turn of phrase through a chat window on Facebook. I apologised and finally explained after 26 years what had happened, and why I had vanished, which likewise, he’d wondered about for that same time. The circle was complete and Nigel told me he still walks his dog near where that wasteland used to be.

I’ve told Nigel I might join him one night to take his dog for a walk… maybe grab a pint. Whenever it happens (which it most certainly will) doesn’t matter, but I can’t wait.