Musings From The Padded Cell

The Dalesway Guide

“I’d rather be facing 15 miles of mud, wind, rain, blistered feet and Big Al whining for his Mum!”

So said a morose Patch last weekend as we sat at The Scruffy, contemplating a return to our various forms of what we each class as normality.

Having spent a week considering offers for the movie rights for our adventure, here’s an exclusive preview of the forthcoming book, sure never to be nominated for a Booker prize.

Enjoy.

The Dalesway

Introduction

Through the weekly ramblings here, those who rely on this for a different slant on life will be familiar with the characters in this short book.

We meet – save for Leapy who was hauled off to marital camp several years ago – at varying times in our wonderful local, affectionately known as The Scruffy aka the White Bear, Idle. And then we chew and muse on life as we know it.

As long as we have known each other though, rarely have we been on “holiday” together. Perhaps it was our advancing years that prompted us to resolve this? However, rather than head off to Benidorm, we decided to take on the challenge of walking The Dalesway.

To many this would not represent much of a challenge; after all it’s hardly Everest or a Polar Trek. But for a fat lad whose exercise regime is a 100 yard trudge to The Scruffy and a lad whose feet blister in slippers, challenge this was.

My other companion – guess who – simply walked on air for eighty-five miles, free of responsibilities for at least a week. But why write this book simply to reference a short walking holiday with your mates?

Perhaps there is a degree of sentimentality; perhaps I want to convince myself we survived; perhaps it was only because my Mum refuses to acknowledge the existence of the internet and this was the best way I could tell her where I had been for a week?

In its simplest form though the real reason was to have something we might all pick up in years to come, stick on the kettle, open the pages and have a bloody good laugh.

I hope that this is not the last time I write about a bunch of daft middle-aged lads on some potty week away; I’d even risk sharing a room with Big Al again, though I would invest in some heavyweight ear-defenders.

Above all I hope that my Mum reads this and continues her long held belief that her eldest son remains a “daft bugger!”

1. The Night Before.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”
J.K. Rowling

Essential

I blamed my old pal Patch for the pain that was about to be suffered by five daft lads as we walked the Dalesway over a planned six days. Ahead lay eighty-odd miles of slog, non-stop whining from Big Al, sore feet and nappy rash.

“Let’s walk the Dalesway” he said “otherwise Our Lass will have me lying by a pool in Lanzarote sunning myself. You know I’d rather be with you boys!”

The ale must have been less watered down than usual at our local, The Scruffy. Rather than instantly doubt his sanity, we all agreed in unison though I am sure Big Al thought he was just being asked if he wanted another pint. This was the beginnings of madness.

And so we began to draw up a list of similarly repressed men, desperate for a week away from wife, girlfriend or someone they’d yet to confess to.

Invitations were duly dispatched and soon we had six although this was to be a moving feast.

The road to redemption?

Swearing his allegiance to the cause instantly, having never walked farther than Baildon golf course, Binns The Curator, was enthusiastic, promising to get into training as spring arrived. Guffaws were silenced politely and Bet Fred offered 2/1 on for a non-completion.

Spring duly arrived but there was to be no spring in The Curator’s step and he duly ditched us as departure day arrived. The Olympics would have to wait.

Captain Chaos – JB – had also bailed out several months earlier despite also accepting the invitation with enthusiasm. This, however, was a massive relief for us, willing to suffer most the walk would throw at us but share a room for a week with the scruffiest man on the planet.

Having roomed with Chaos on a previous trip, I could testify that Hurricane Irma would not devastate a hotel room quicker.

Luckily we had Whispering Chris in reserve, a voice of reason and Christianity; it would be good to have God along for the ride as long as he liked a pint or two and could read a map.

The pre-tour rehearsals

Completing the party was serial exercise avoider, Leapy Lee, who, by dint of only having seen us once a year since his marriage to Lady Stephanie, had allegedly amassed enough “bonus” points to spend a week on the piss.

Rumour to the contrary had it that he had actually told Lady Stephanie that he was at a compliance conference. As 12 year-old son Jack is an avid reader of my blog – where daily reports would be issued – she still had time to assert her authority or at least demand a new Range Rover for his compliance.

Luckily, as I still have the topless shots from Lanzarote 1998 (sorry Jack) this was unlikely, although the proceeds from Reader’s Wives were unlikely to cover a barrister. A Mini would be fine.

We met at Shipley station praying for good weather. A prayer was said for absent friends unable to negotiate respective releases – Molly, Lynton, Pete and Winky – we would miss them more than their wives would have if largely for secreted hip flasks and endless tall tales.

Big Al was taking enough medication to warrant plastering a red cross on his back; he might as well have been sponsored by Boots.

Personally, having a rucksack the hiker’s equivalent of a carrier-bag, I faced some tough choices. To enable room for my age-defying night cream and Raymond Town Menswear collection, Go Outdoors came and saved the day. Now I could pack properly.

Child carrier included

There would be daily updates as we made our way to the soothing waters of Bowness; little did we know what a following we would achieve.

There would be stalkers too and worried womenfolk clung to the internet for news of their daft menfolk.

Into the valley we would stride.

2. Day One – Greetings From Grassington.

“When I see lads like you lot I’m glad they invented Range Rovers.”

Ilkley

Although we’d all attempted to travel light Big Al had taken it to extremes borrowing Luckless Linda’s favourite shoulder bag.

Reality had dawned as Mrs Patch collected us like a sheep dog does a docile and dopey flock. There really was no turning back as heads cleared from a later than planned send-off.

Big Al dresses for the Boy Scout convention

Dressed as if it was his first day in primary school, the big man confessed that he had only packed two pairs of undies – rumoured to be Luckless’s – for the week; one would be floating in the sink nightly. Suddenly rooming with him would be akin to being on Death Row.

We arrived at Shipley station with free copies of the Dalesway Bus Guide available; perhaps this was an omen? Dinner was 16 miles and several hours away and Lady Stephanie was rumoured to be joining us later, ignoring Leapy’s attempts to dissuade her.

At the start we met a party headed the same way – at least the first leg – with a Madonna lookalike in charge. Dressed in a vest and hot pants we sensed walking was not her weekend pursuit. Chaos had also turned up to see us off but we left him before he changed his mind.

Attacking the first stretch to the cafe at Bolton Abbey, Whispering Chris was left to keep the big man company having experience of the Salvation Army and deemed best placed to talk him out of any suicidal thoughts.

Cake was taken as if we were disciples as Madonna and crew tucked into several Peronis.As we left Big Al cried: “F*** me I’ve seized up!” This was good to know with 78 miles to go. The girls banged their beer bottles and shouted encouragement: “F***ing Pansies!!”

Reaching a tearoom in Burnsall after a few more hours slog we were greeted with suspicious eyes by the owner as if we had intentions of running off to avoid the bill. The rain started to close in as Big Al devoured two cans of coke in an instant. Only 3 miles were left as bodies began to protest.

I caught up with Whispering who was unusually quiet.

“Just savouring no wife mate!” he said “But you won’t print that will you.”

Grassington Welcomes Oldies

Grassington loomed into view. We arrived at The Black Horse like survivors from a plane crash. It was only then that tour organiser Patch confessed that we were sharing one room, one toilet and that I had the top ****ing bunk. It was looking like a long week.

3. Day Two – Greetings From Hubberholme.

“The beauty about being out in the wild is there are no knobheads…well, apart from the ones you’re with.”

Months of extensive planning and now we knew why The Curator and Captain Chaos had bailed out. I faced my first experience of bunk beds since I was 15 and it would be conclusive proof that I would not do well if incarcerated.

We had been allocated our Home Office digs to ease our aching bodies by Patch. I had a top berth largely due to a combination of the infirmity and obesity of my fellow travellers.

Whispering took one look at his perch and promptly decamped to the floor as the three fat lads took the bottom berths. I climbed my rigging to inspect; it would be a long night up and down unless I could find a bottle with a reliable cap.

From arriving shivering and worn out at The Black Horse, Big Al had recovered remarkably, testament to the healing properties of a gallon of beer. That he survived the night though was only down to the humanity of Whispering and myself for we had never heard snoring like it.

Patch was bad enough being directly underneath me and offering a good impression of a wheezing pig but the big one was at a different level.

I can only say it was like a Tsunami; giant gulps of air akin to a beached whale and then the unbelievable aircraft boom of the expulsion causing the rickety bed to creak and groan.

To add to our woes, the fire alarm went off at 6am – oh what a night this was – and the only possible explanation had to be the building shaking.

As for the mustard gas smell, well I can only say that the top deck was far from first class. There was no option but to abandon ship and try to eke out some sleep on the landing.

A broken man

Day two arrived and, with rumours of stormy weather a good night’s sleep would have been a positive. I fingered my breakfast knife, looked across at Big Al and remembered the previous night’s sleep.

And then there were four…

Sadly Whispering could not continue, his chronic back allied to a newly acquired sleep deprivation, meant it was the end of the road. It was getting like a Take That reunion tour.

Off we went up Bank Lane, spirits slightly down, the portents not good. We would have made a quicker trot had Big Al not stopped to text Luckless every five minutes.

“Love you lots” he would coo “course I’ve washed your knickers.”

It was grey and grim but also the shortest day; where there’s hope we thought as we marched on. Eventually, Kettlewell came into view and Zarina’s tea shop looked like heaven. The cakes were fluffy, the tea Yorkshire…bliss.

As we reluctantly left Kettlewell a car screeched to a halt with several people hanging out of the windows.

“We love the blog…keep going boys…Bradford loves you! Can we have a selfie?”

Autograph books were thrust in our faces, it was fame at last. We shook off the groupies and headed off.

Highlight of the afternoon under the teaming skies was Patch taking a mile detour to avoid some cows. As Leapy drily offered:

“F*** me Patch they’re vegetarian!”

Big Al was sweating faster than the river seemed to be flowing and losing his water bottle looked a critical blow. Where could we leave the body?

Finally, we viewed the Promised Land – The George at Hubberholme – and would you believe it when we arrived we found a lovely Bradford exile behind the bar.

Big Al informed us it would be a good idea for an early night; somehow we all knew that may be a complete load of bollocks as beers were savoured with the afternoon not done.

Survival

4. Day Three – Greetings From Ribblehead.

“We’ll either get there or we’ll die.”

Ignoring our need to shower and smell like live human beings, barmaid Donna from Buttershaw (who could ever escape Bradford) had tethered us to the bar as we swapped stories of our shared birth place.

She displayed a sales technique that ignored the reality that Big Al, Leapy and I were going nowhere. Patch was the only casualty, his feet looking like a leper’s. We may have stunk like skunks but Donna seemed grateful for the company and there was no doubting we were grateful for the beers.

Great advert for no-blister socks?

Nostalgic conversation began as we mused that in a breath we had graduated from Men Behaving Badly to Last Of The Summer Wine. Leapy wondered if he could get away with calling Lady Stephanie Norah? We agreed that may be closer to One Foot In The Grave.

The pub loos were labelled “Tupps” and “Ewes” but it was safe to say there would be no tupping later on

“Those days are over for me” said Anon “give me a cup of tea and Match Of The Day anytime.”

A local wandered in resembling the village idiot only for us to discover he was the owner. Ed was a top bloke and what a place this was; would we ever leave?

Quietly, Patch confessed it was back to Home Office bunks the following day. I resolved to slip a hammer in my bag just in case.

After a magnificent meal we retired leaving Big Al for “just one more!”

We woke to leaden skies and the forecast of 50 mile an hour winds. Patch came limping in making Big Al look almost Olympian.

Leapy tries the studious look

The local chimney sweep enquired about how much our trip was costing. To our shame, Leapy and I confessed we had no idea but it seemed that a fortnight in Barbados would work out cheaper, drier and warmer.

Our host had generously offered fruit and the air ambulance number as day three began in earnest. We set out in torrential rain, the river up, our heads down.

After a couple of hour’s slog, Patch’s GPS gadget told us we had endured only 5.64 miles before we reached Nethergill Farm. This sanctuary ran on an honesty box and was so tempting that we could have stayed all night.

Eventually we got moving again although the speed Big Al kitted up caused a dry remark from Leapy.

“Don’t think about applying for the RNLI!”

GPS told us it was 6 more miles to Ribblehead, leaving out the bit about the 4 miles uphill through a bog. GPS was getting on my tits…seriously.

Several hours later we crested the hill to see the magnificent Ribblehead viaduct, only for it to disappear from view like a mirage. We felt like desert survivors and we were certainly thirsty.

Eventually, we reached The Station which was like escaping from Butlins only to end up in Colditz. Our accommodation was a dilapidated damp garage with 6 bunk beds; I wanted my Mum.

The en-suite was a 20 yard hop across the yard. Stinking like a corpse seemed quite possible. It was not even time for Neighbours and we were in the bar, broken men, Leapy considering a train to Carlisle and The Holiday inn.

It would be my second night in a bunk bed and my spirit doubted it could cope with the guttural sounds that would torture me all night. I took the fire extinguisher up the ladder, resolving to plea diminished responsibility.

For the next 8 hours, several middle-aged men took turns to bravely face out of the door, praying for no spray back and happy to have avoided the curry.

Only in the morning did we notice the young family in the camper van across the car park.

Room with a view

5. Day Four – Greetings From Sedbergh.

“That’s the last time I’m letting Patch book my summer holiday.”

And then there were two. The previous day’s exertions plus the mental disintegration inflicted by a night in Colditz and frostbite of the penis had broken Patch and Big Al.

“We’re having a day off” they said in unison “we’re off shopping!”

It had been a tortured night for me, not least from laying on a well-worn mattress – fifty shades of semen – covered in thick, sweat inducing industrial plastic. The fact that it would have been easier to sleep at Heathrow airport just added to my lack of good humour.

The only man who could sleep on the Ribblehead Viaduct and not wake up.

It was Patch’s birthday and he woke up to begin it in a damp and musty smelling room. How the modern day entrepreneur lives I mused.

Fearing bodily contamination, I decided to risk the dash to the showers. All seemed bearable till it became clear that hot water was rationed and the block was a flood plain.

Leapy braved it but someone stole his towels leaving him shivering naked behind the door.

Leapy preparing to make a dash

So we made our separate plans as Take That became a duet and Patch and Big Al hobbled off with barely one good leg between them and both stinking like tramps.

We decided, having been tortured by it the previous day, to ride the Ribblehead Viaduct. I’d always envisaged this as a trip with romantic potential, so ending up with three knackered, smelly old drunks was a bit of a let-down.

Typical of these parts, our destination Dent station was 5 miles from Dent but Leapy, having forgiveness in his soul, led the way down a sunny valley. It was strange not to hear the click-clack of the big man’s walking sticks nor the wheezing from birthday boy.

The first tea of the day was received and on we marched although it was naive to expect us to avoid calamity, brazen as we had been in dismissing the offer of the GPS thingy.

Perhaps it was a positive that we added an hour of walking, lost as we were in the woods. Leapy remarked that it was a lovely setting for a romantic walk; I skipped on.

Eventually we met the rebels as Patch eyed a useful device for the remaining two days.

Get me one

We arrived in Sedbergh a place as far removed from Bradford as you could imagine.

The historic Sedbergh School dominates and our accommodation began to erase the previous night’s trauma.

A double bed and Big Al 200 yards up the road!

Our cottage overlooked the school’s main cricket pitch. Indeed it probably has more school pitches than Bradford in total.

We had gone from a cow-shed to a beautiful cottage in just under a day; the Gods had begun to smile on us once more.

Just gone four in the afternoon, Leapy was snorting and snoring deliriously, safe in the knowledge that there was no sign the mattresses here had ever needed a plastic sheet.

The trauma of a naked dash the other evening had long been forgotten and at least nobody had any pictures…or had they?

Name that streaker?

6. Day Five – Greetings From Kendal.

“Have we been over that viaduct yet?”

Our stay at The Dalesman in Sedbergh had truly revived spirits after the horrors of the previous day.

The Cow Shed

A fine setting, wonderful beers and high quality food had combined to provide healing powers. That and the fact that Big Al and Patch had been tossing it off all day riding the pensioner buses. We were refreshed and raring to go again.

Uncle – “when I was in the fire brigade” – Andy had generously driven up to swap Luckless’s knickers and bring some more plasters for Patch’s feet. We warned him that a swarm of flies would follow him back to Bradford and offered him Big Al into the bargain.

Patch was giving us a motivational talk ahead of the next day’s exertions.

“I’ve checked the mileage and we’re all going to die” he said cheerfully “and then our bodies will be washed away by the monsoon coming down the valley. Say your goodbyes tonight!”

Happy birthday indeed.

I retired early desperate to reclaim some of the lost hours sleep and put my night cream on before Leapy took the piss. As it was Leapy decided to stay out on the piss

Morning came and the magnificence of the school across the way illuminated the early gloom. We were reunited once again but would it be back for good?

Patch had lost the snore-off against Big Al and had crumbled, resorting to throwing biscuits at the big man all night hoping to abate the noise.

Estimates varied as to the scale of our challenge ahead from 18 miles and near death to zero miles and the pub all day.

The rain began to fall almost inevitably. It turned into the most brutal day so far. Field after field of moody, miserable cows each scaring the pants off Patch.

Of course we had GPS: we also had a guide book; but we were bloody clueless. The calamities came as surely as the rain.

Muddy bottom

I went tits up better than any Premier League forward and Leapy discovered that attempting the Dalesway in a pair of slippers was always going to end in tears.

Big Al nearly sank at one point and then ripped his shirt to bits as he de-robed under a tree trying to imitate the Incredible Hulk. Half naked, soaked to the skin, thoroughly pissed off I sensed this was far from his happiest day as I left the incredible bulk.

There was one moment of sheer pathos as we, once again, consulted GPS and the guide. Patch took a look at the guide, pointed to a character printed on the map and said.

“Look, that’s where we are! Where that man is!”

And he was guiding us.

At what we guessed/hoped/prayed was somewhere around the halfway mark a decision to follow the road was made based on a road sign promising Kendal in 5 miles. Whoever measured the distance claimed wants shooting.

After an eternity we hobbled into Kendal possibly marking the longest walk any of us had ever endured just to find a pub.

Big Al summed it up as he shivered in the corner.

“I want to cry!”

The Gateway, Kendal.

So imagine our joy when we arrived at the beautiful surroundings of The Gateway at Kendal. Was it only 48 hours since we were in a cow shed?

Only ten more miles were left to go, subject to several fitness tests in the morning as Big Al made Brexit like attempts to reduce the mileage further.

I also had a room to myself and the prospect of my first night’s sleep at last! Meanwhile, Patch has just discovered an app how to plan a Dalesway walk…I rest my case.

7. Day Six – Greetings From Bowness.

“I don’t want this to end…well the walking bit yes but not the nights!”

The comparison could not have been more obvious; after the cowshed, a place where you would hesitate to take your dog we’d ended up somewhere that simply beckoned you back.

We had spent the evening by the fire with Patch taking the lead as chief fire maker; we prayed he was better at this than outward bound. He was sharing with Leapy and they’d had a bath though nobody dared ask who got the taps.

They’d had an hour on the bed watching an afternoon show that Leapy is a fan of. It seems home working has its guilty pleasures but don’t tell Lady Stephanie.

The food was simply magnificent, the wine smooth and luxurious.

Patch admitted that if he lived up here he would volunteer for the local rescue service; if he did I made a note never to get lost up here.

The fire began to die and, not wishing to go to bed anytime soon, Big Al began to stoke the embers like a demented caveman. As the fire spluttered and spat we said a silent thanks for natural gas and hoped he was a bit gentler with Luckless.

The place truly had healing powers; Big Al could walk again, Patch’s blisters had healed and Leapy’s capacity for denial had been restored.

“I could do a hundred miles tomorrow if need be” he announced assisted by another giant glass of wine.

We also met up again with three octogenarian walkers who looked far fresher than us and far less dependent on alcohol.

Earlier in the day we’d met about halfway through the torment, just after we’d convinced Big Al not to leap off the bridge over the M6. We didn’t want to tell Luckless the body could be in Stoke.

The difference of approach was clear as they sat eating Kendal mint cake; we had set off without a Mars Bar between us.

They said their goodnights, staying someplace else, still in pristine walking gear looking nothing like the four stinking tramps we had several hours earlier.

Even though we had the smallest leg of the ordeal left, sense attempted to gain a foothold. Several announcements of “just one more” were duly made and ignored, vanishing up the chimney.

Who needs a viaduct?

Morning came and with it beautiful sunshine at last. This was truly a place for miracles. Surely its healing propensity would ensure we finished the tour as a band of four.

The breakfast was magnificent apart from the James Blunt background music. Having had my first uninterrupted night’s sleep in a week, not even he could spoil this day.

Enough said

And then there were three.

Big Al waved us off as we headed out in bright sunshine. We got a cheerful wave from a lady in Burneside as she warned us to get our sunscreen on; was I dreaming?

We followed the River Kent and the day had a surreal beauty about it. Gorgeous green fields, fluffy sheep and the sounds of the countryside free from a cussing and wheezing old man.

Patch further trashed his chances of ever making Countryfile, taking forever to work out a gate latch, in the process missing the open stile adjacent. Back to city living.

Farmer?

We passed some stunningly beautiful apartments that one could only guess the asking price for overlooking the river.

Thinking we’d gone wrong again – we had but only by trusting an aged guide – somehow we were on the wrong side of the river.

It was only when we found the wonderful Mr Duffin’s coffee shop in Staveley that we found out the bridge we missed had not been missed by the floods a few years ago.

Arty coffee

Big Al was waiting for the final 6 miles of torment for his broken body. The owners were pleased we shepherded him out.

Onwards and upwards.

Up we climbed amidst stunning scenery. We met up with our octogenarian friends going their own steady pace as we ploughed on courtesy of GPS and Ghurka Patch.

Eventually our destination, so far away mentally and physically for most of the last week, came into view revealing herself slowly and seductively; I had been in male company too long.

What a week we’d had. To anybody considering anything like this I would recommend it as one of the best weeks you will ever have.

It will hurt, you will smell like a tramp and there may be days you just want to sit down and stop. But when you get there it’s a beautiful feeling.

Made it!

8. Day Seven – Homeward Bound.

“I’m sitting on a railway station, got a ticket for my destination…”
Paul Simon

As much as I’d thought we’d reached the end of this mad, mad week, our entry into Bowness failed to disappoint. Nobody at our guest house seemed to know we were coming and the best we could get was a fat Evertonian in flip-flops.

We’d booked rooms 3, 5 and 8; trouble was there were only 7! Patch had wangled a lakeside view from a room that didn’t exist hoping to get a good night’s sleep ahead of the arrival of Mrs P. If not he still had a few of Leapy’s little blue pills.

I was stuck with our senior citizen for one more night before the torment became Lady Stephanie’s again. It would be another long night. As I wrote this my old mate was slumbering away with the snoreathon volume gradually rising like a jumbo jet departing.

Asleep in ten.

The facilities were basic with Patch describing the shower gel as “like five day old bull’s semen.” Given his fear of cows this knowledge baffled us.

Leapy described our kettle as “f*cked” – a technical term I believe – and the batteries in the TV remote unlikely “to give a nun a tingle.”

Our towels had more holes than the mattresses at Ribblehead although thankfully they were not wrapped in industrial plastic. The only available option was – in keeping with tour policy observed to date – to go get blatherered. So we did…again.

As we had travelled further up the road, we may have lacked certain things. Broadband vanished, buses seemed as rare as the wildlife and the sun can be sporadic. On the other hand the warmth of the people was magnificent and the scenery breathtakingly gorgeous.

So I decided to award my personal choices as a reflection of a week that cheered not just us but many of those following our antics.

BEST BREAKFAST – by a whisker and for the most flawless poached egg I have ever enjoyed – plus no James Blunt background music: The Dalesman.

BEST DINNER – Our first option for real pasta and a sauce to die for: The Gateway.

BEST VENUE – Sedbergh was fascinating, as much for seeing a place dominated by the magnificent historic school. Hubberholme was off-track and beautiful for its isolation. But for somewhere you would go back to in a flash – as long as Big Al was not staying – and not only if the seats by the fire were free: The Gateway.

BEST HOSTS – Although I thought he was the local village idiot on first sight, Ed at The George, Hubberholme, was a magnificent host aided by the delightfully wacky Bradford exile Donna: Ed and Donna thank you.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK – “I don’t mind fish pie but why do they spoil it with seafood?”Patch

Thanks boys!

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