21 Days to the Pennine Way

Not quite that far: not this morning...

17 miles to Whitby: maybe not this morning…

It was the end of February. Can you come downstairs I texted to Ben. I want to put an idea to you. The idea was a walk in the Dales. Five days, 80 miles on the Pennine Way.

“Sure,” he said. “Why not?” And the die was cast.

…For the beginning of August. Five months to get fit. Five months of planning and preparation. A deadline which – like Christmas to a six year old – would never arrive.

Except it has.

My appointment with hills, more hills and my seven league boots is less than three weeks away. I’ve been training since March. I’d like to tell you that I’m as brown as the proverbial nut. But where our athletes have been for warming up for Rio by sloping off to the Pyrenees, I’ve been on the Cleveland Way. In the fog.

And yes, perilously close to the edge a few times…

Anyway, here’s the progress report since my youngest son said ‘yes’ and started my love affair with Kendal Mint Cake.

I’ve lost 10.5kg. I’ve walked 913 miles. That’s from Scarborough to Berlin. Another five months and I’ll be in Latvia.

And I’ve discovered something about myself. I know you’ll keep it to yourself so I’ll ’fess up.

I’m frightened of walking downhill.

More specifically, I’m frightened of walking flights of steps: old, weathered stone ones. Of which there are plenty on my stretch of the Cleveland Way. As I’ve managed to put my back out and spend three days in bed through the simple act of sneezing, the damage I could do to myself walking down 200 uneven and slippery steps doesn’t bear thinking about.

Naturally I assumed I’d be alone in this. Another furtive little secret I’d carry to my grave.

But pop that little phobia into Google and it appears that the whole world is frightened of walking downhill. Disappointingly it doesn’t have a sexy Latin name, but I am emphatically not alone. At home, however, I am entirely without sympathy…

“You’re frightened of walking down steps? You’d better stick to the downstairs toilet, Dad.”

“…And sleep on the sofa.”

“Look, I’m pushing myself to the limits. Boldly going where no man has gone before. Well, at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, anyway. All while you lot are rotting in bed.”

‘Rotting in bed…’ Where on earth did that come from? My Dad, sadly. When I was a teenager.

My children remained resolutely unimpressed. But come the next morning there I was. Five miles from home. And, sadly, all intelligent conversation with the dog exhausted.

Time to contact my lovely wife. Not that she’d be awake yet but a quick text: a) to wake her up and b) to let her know I was still alive.

Clearly I couldn’t stop to text. Scarborough man walks over edge of cliff while texting. At least I’d make it into the Darwin Awards.

So I dictated into my phone. I can’t remember the exact words. Something about where I was, how far I’d gone, what time I expected to be home. A simple, loving message.

This is what my phone sent:

Good morning. Stop wobbling down about 10 to come home. In the long sleeve top restaurant restaurant for about 10 you slept well

Clearly when my wife received that message there were only three possible explanations:

  • I’d joined a secret Saturday morning drinking club
  • I’d plunged off the cliff top to the rocks below and – delirious with pain – had tried to send one, final message
  • The phone reception on a foggy, desolate cliff top wasn’t all it might be

Her reply was short and to the point. Doesn’t make much sense, but assume you’re alive

Looks like she plumped for option 3, decided not to bother air/sea rescue and went back to sleep…

Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and “very, very funny” to read – you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 99p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here


  1. Always one for a laugh Mark, although I know that I probably shouldn’t laugh. Ah well! Wifey sounds like a girl after my own heart. Our son once got stuck in a bog in Wales. It was hilarious until he started to sink and began to whimper. In the end, we had to pull him out because he lost his shoe and his socks, and I ended up carrying him on my back and sneaking into a pub so that we could wash him….!

    We still talk about it and we still try not to laugh!

    • No, no, the whole point is to give you some moderate amusement. And yes, timeline, comments, Twitter are 100% in favour of wife’s decision not to call out the emergency services. Hope your son was about three when he went into the bog: wouldn’t like to think of you having to carry a teenager…

  2. Mrsnige says:

    Tip for walking down steps, either go down backwards or one step at a time both feet on one step before the next one rather than as you would normally one foot on a step then the next if you follow my drift. Backwards means you will fall forwards if you do slip.

    • Thanks for the advice, Hilary. But I had another plan. That was to tell my wife about the joys of walking and then let her go down first. That way if I fell…

  3. sarahmo3w says:

    That made me laugh! I’ve never tried dictating to my phone and I don’t think I will now! I’m impressed with how far you’ve walked and how much weight you’ve lost in training. Good luck for the real thing! I look forward to reading.

    • Quite addicted to dictating to the phone now, Sarah. Except you feel remarkably stupid saying “full stop” or “question mark.” But it works – well, 99% of the time. Thanks for the good wishes: yes, I’m ready for the real thing now. Enough training…

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