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