Another early night resulted in another early rise, I was conscious by about 5am and snoozed until 7am. A quick look out the bedroom window revealed grey skies but I could see all the hills and it looked like it should be a perfect walking day.
As usual the first few steps out of the bed were very painful, the PF makes getting up a bit of a chore and I limped around for the first few minutes as I got used to it. Within 15 minutes it was back to a dull background ache, a bit stronger than usual, but surprisingly much better than I expected. I kept the I and P topped up all day yesterday and popped some more pills first thing, with the hope of keeping on top of the pain.
I can’t recommend Stoneleigh B&B highly enough, it’s probably one of the best places I’ve stayed at while I’ve been walking. Dave and Sheila really look after you and the house is lovely, clean and quiet. I would certainly stay there again in the future. I had an 8am breakfast, with a view to being out on the track by about 8.50 again.
My shoes were still sodden from the meadows of yesterday, but I put my spare pair of socks on, rather than reuse the damp ones. Dave had put my shoes and socks in their drying room, but it was a forlorn hope that any drying room would work on the shoes and socks I’d given him last night. I figured the socks would be wet again within a couple of miles, but you have to try don’t you? And there’s something subconsciously satisfying about putting clean socks on.
Today’s route was out of Muker up Kisdon gorge, walking beside the River Swale, then up the steep and narrow Swinner Gill onto the High level C2C track above Ivelet Moor, to the mine ruins at Blakethwaite, then down beside Gunnerside Gill, passing more old lead mining buildings to the village of Gunnerside. Then it’s up and over Satron Moor, along the narrow tarmac lane and down into Askrigg.
I said my farewells to my hosts and walked through the hay meadows outside Muker. This time of year the meadows are a riot of colour, with wild flowers growing in profusion amongst the grass. This mix of grass and flowers makes for fine winter food for the sheep and cattle. The meadows outside Muker have thin flagged paths running through them, which means my feet didn’t get any wetter as I passed through them. I was soon at the Swale and across Rampsholme Bridge to follow the gravel track on the east side of the Swale.
I passed loads of people coming down the valley from Keld. I guessed most were doing the Coast to Coast, using the low level alternative into Reeth. I must have passed 20 people by the time I turned up Swinner Gill. I was surprised that so many people were using the low route, rather than the usual route I was about to take. It was a perfect day so they shouldn’t be worried about the weather. Perhaps the draw of the hay meadows outweighed the bleak walk over the top?
There’s a very steep grassy bank to negotiate to gain the thin path into Swinner Gill proper and I was surprised how hard I found this. I was blowing like an old steam train after just a few minutes. It was warmish, but very humid again and there wasn’t a breath of wind. My bandana (glad I spotted the autocorrect of banana there!) wasn’t even close to soaking up the sweat I was generating and it kept running down into my eyes.
As I climbed higher the views up the gill improved, it really is a fantastic route and under normal circumstances I’d be chuffed to bits to be here. Unfortunately I was knackered, already. I had no energy at all. I crossed the gill and began another steep section and just had nothing in the tank! I sat on a rock and reviewed my options. My foot problem has discouraged any proper training recently and my lack of fitness was really telling at this point.
I decided on a tactical withdrawal, in an attempt to save some energy for the next big climb out of Swaledale. I retraced my steps back down the gill and back along the path beside the Swale. I didn’t mind too much, I’d walked the Swinner Gill route plenty of times before and it would still be there another day if I needed to do it.
The descent from the gill and the subsequent gravel track were hard on my feet and at some point my right heel began to throb quite strongly. It was a notch or two up from what it had been yesterday, perhaps a level 4 or 5 on my internal painometer. I also began to feel the little toes on my left foot complain, despite being taped quite heavily again this morning. The now wet socks and still wet shoes were really not helping.
I followed the Swale Way route back to Ivelet Bridge and then began the long climb up from the road. I stopped on a stile and checked my feet, I retaped my left little toes and applied tape to my right little toe too, which had begun to develop a blister from the wet socks. The climb from the road is brutally steep and I was glad I’d cut short the climb up Swinner, I doubt I’d have managed it otherwise.
I stopped for an early lunch on a handy boulder, taking a long break as I soaked up the peace and quiet on the hill. I took some more I and P, the PF in my right foot had become really quite painful and every time I moved it, pain would shoot through my foot. The first few minutes after I set off again were bad. I like to think that any moisture running down my cheeks was sweat from the continuing ascent, but I don’t think I could swear to that.
I reached the Muker to Askrigg road and followed it for the next 3 miles. Its all downhill so you’d expect it to be easy going, but there are some quite steep sections and I found these really tough on the toes. The right heel was becoming a 6 or 7 as I got closer to the village and I’d already gone beyond the max recommended dose for Ibuprofen today.
It seemed like the road would never end, but as with most things, it did and I walked into the first pub I came to, the Crown Inn. I think this is the least touristy of the three pubs in Askrigg, it had loads of locals in, all chatting about a local ned who’d slashed some guys tyres after stealing the keys to his van and failing in his attempts to ransom them back to him!
It was only 2.40 so way too early to turn up the B&B, so I had a couple of pints (for anaesthetic purposes you understand) and tried not to move my foot. I reviewed my situation.
I’m fairly sure I could continue the walk, the pain isn’t too bad when I’m moving, it’s worst when I stop, and start going again. But, although I could probably carry on, I’m not sure how much I’d enjoy it. The gambling adverts on TV keep telling us “when the fun stops, stop” and it’s not a bad philosophy to apply to other things. If I was to stop today I can catch a bus back to my car tomorrow. I’m back in Wensleydale now, so the Little White Bus service will take me back to Garsdale Head if I need it to. If I carry on it will be three days to reach Settle which is the next point at which I can use public transport to get back to the car, using the train this time. Beyond that it’s another three days back to the car on foot.
As daft as it sounds, the fact that I’ve walked all this route before is adding weight to the feeling that I’ll bin the walk. I know what’s coming, it’s all great scenery and the route is one of the best in the Dales, but none of it is new to me, there is no anticipation of the unknown or unexpected. This is the first time in 2 or 3 years where I’m not breaking new ground on a long distance walk and it’s just not doing it for me.
It would be simple to blame an abandonment on my feet and that is certainly the catalyst for the thought process I’m going through right now, but it’s actually more complex than that. There are motivational issues at play, as well as my generally poor level of fitness and of course the almost continual pain.
I’m now also becoming quite enamoured with the idea of spending a week at home, with the house to myself, just lounging. I could even get the bike out of the shed and do some exercise that doesn’t involve battering my feet into submission.
All these things are consolidating to bring me to a single conclusion, I’m going home tomorrow.
On a final note, it’s been really helpful chatting to someone else who’s suffering through PF, understanding the treatment they’ve been getting and seeing that there is a way out of this hole I find myself in.