Walking is man’s best medicine.
I woke to a beautiful Spring morning last Saturday. The sun was shining and birds were tweeting in the remaining available trees on my street.
It was time again to make our annual pilgrimage to Grassington from the start of the Dalesway in Posh Bradford; we were Ilkley bound.
Big Al was waiting at the bottom of the street all ashen faced at the prospect. For the first time in living memory he would be partaking without the benefit of an advanced starting position, the Bolton Abbey hopper bus or long-suffering Luckless Linda’s car.
Last year he set a new record having drunk more pints than miles walked; beating that would be some achievement but few were betting against him. Stainless steel stick in hand, this would be a long day. What men will do for a simple beer!
Shipley To Ilkley – Sitting On A Railway Station.
The rest of our diminished gang this year – resulting in another hike in the average age – were already waiting at Shipley. Molly looked as if he had slept the night for fear of a wifely recall though he’s never exactly been catwalk material.
Our two tour “virgins” sat apprehensively as Winky inspected his numerous hip-flasks; you can’t beat rum and cornflakes. As the Ilkley train rumbled in, the urgent topics of the day were sorted in a flash.
It was confirmed by a snap referendum that Abbie Dewhirst had now toppled Keeley Donovan as our favourite Look North weather girl, the little Welsh twat should be sold to CBBC and Harry Gration knighted.
We were meeting up with JB in Ilkley but not for our traditional fine breakfast courtesy of partner Sally’s wonderful guesthouse .
Sadly she actually had some real guests staying and strangely did not want another six scruffy men in her kitchen having had to cope with JB for longer than any woman should. How she is omitted from the annual honours’ lists who knows.
Big Al was aghast having factored in this stop as his only fuelling station before Bolton Abbey. We reassured him that the polar bears survived the tundra winter with far less blubber. Off he went…blubbering.
He skulked off in a hissy fit refusing the generous offer of a Gregg’s cheese & onion.
Ilkley To Bolton Abbey – Call The Air Ambulance
We set off from the newly refurbished tennis club gym. It was good to see Sport England pumping money into such a deprived area as we dodged the Range Rovers and Porsches.
Shepherding Molly away from the windows and demisting his glasses, Winky offered him a steadying “nip”: we’d never seen him so interested in a gym.
The old sage then began to regale us of Jenny Agutter’s career highlights, setting the bar for the level of intellectual debate that would drown out Big Al’s wheezing and cries for a nurse for the next seventeen miles.
From The Railway Children to American Werewolf In London to Sunday nights with the wife watching Call The Midwife, it seemed that the fine line between fan and stalker may have been breached again.
Several nervous locals looked on as we passed them by in heated debate once more.
We swept through Addingham and onwards towards our first pit-stop setting a fearsome pace. Relief was called for observing tradition as the horizon was scanned for oncoming walkers. Content we were not under observance, the waters flowed to “oohs” and “aahs”.
Soon the magnificent Bolton Abbey was in sight as the waft of bacon drifted down the valley and Big Al took the highroad at a lick with Molly.
There we were meeting Cryptic Chris and Patch amongst the hordes of cyclists that descend here weekly for a feed; just like the birds.
A little friend landed on my table so I offered some home-made flapjack as a gesture of urban goodwill. It gulped a piece down and then promptly fell of the edge of the table to flap no more.
Bolton Abbey To Burnsall – Dead Man Walking
To add a bit of spice to the next few hours slog a sweepstake was agreed based on the number of female walkers to pass us en route. Don’t try to reason with this logic simply go with it. Off we marched leaving one dead sparrow and seeking women as never before.
Patch and Cryptic – so named as he manages a hostel for down and outs where Big Al and I have reservations – took up the rear to watch Big Al so we could at least mark his body where it fell.
This stretch, albeit with a pint at The Red Lion in Burnsall at the end of it, is the toughest. We were reassured, even if the wheezing was intermittent, by the clack, clack of the big man’s walking stick.
As the £8 jackpot began to elude most of us – the paths awash with women – heads bowed and efforts were concentrated. Finally, we could see the pub over the crest of the hill and I swear we heard the big man cry gently.
Burnsall To Grassington – Knock, Knock, Knocking On Heaven’s Door.
As he gratefully gulped his third pint of lemonade of the day, salvation appeared to roll into the village in the form of the local postman. If only we could get him into the back of the van all would be well? Either that or steal the van.
We considered this as Big Al the fact that the next bus was three hours away. The postman must have sensed trouble as he jumped in his van and sped off in the opposite direction, Amazon parcels scattering everywhere.
As we left the pub a couple were sat with their great Dane. They were unimpressed with our offer to rent the dog if Big Al could only saddle up for a few miles.
Molly informed us that chaffing had set in and there would be no pleasures on offer for the wife later on. JB and Patch also began to complain of shared rashes and Sudocrem was distributed minus any assisting fingers.
A mile to go and now the conversation ebbed away as heads bowed again. We split again for high and low roads.
Time was ticking on and kick-off – England v Scotland – was approaching fast. Suddenly we hit a group of OAPs at the last stile. JB, not known for his diplomatic skills, took control, knocked a few to the ground, climbed over the rest and charged up the hill.
“It will come to you lad!” came the angry cries. By the time we landed at The Foresters Arms I swear I thought it already had.
The trays of sandwiches and bowls of chips were devoured like a last meal, pretty much as ruthlessly as England demolished the Scots.
JB mused on forthcoming retirement and considered a voluntary role repairing walls in the country starting with a little one called Hadrian’s. Molly once again announced his bedroom schedule.
“I won’t be having sex tonight lads” he smiled “not tonight, not tomorrow night and most likely not this year!” He sat back content with oral via a pint of Black Sheep.
In a surreal moment my old pal Gasman wandered in with his family seeking a quiet rural afternoon. Having escaped Bradford almost twenty years ago what joy to find you really never can escape.
At the bar, Big Al was sat holding court, living proof that only beer possesses such magical powers.
Grassington To Idle – “We’ve Just Set Off Chloe!”
All the way from Idle came the local cab to return us to our beds, shared or, hopefully, not. Although beer had now turned the remaining seven of us into the most desirable men on the planet, sleep was definitely the order of the day.
Molly’s tracking device – his phone – was seeking his GPS position. We helpfully added a few farmyard noises as we approached The Scruffy to buy time and a few more beers, by now so stupid we actually harboured hope his daughter Chloe would fall for such a ruse.
We vowed whatever happened we would be back on the starting line next year. And so we took our aching bodies off to smile at another truly wonderful day.
One Hundred Years Ago
More tales of those who walked before us. See page 2 for an interesting letter re local league cricket; how times have changed…not!
Have a nice weekend.