To my son’s intense relief I’d put my shorts back on.
“So you’ve finally dried out?”
“Yep. Told you it would work. Dry as a bone. Let’s have a look at the map. What’s up next?”
Cauldron Snout was up next. A 200 yard climb up the longest waterfall in England. And then 8 0r 9 miles to the end of our Pennine Way journey and the loving embrace of my wife. Unless five days without me had given her a new perspective on the marriage…
We strolled along the banks of the Tees. Malhamdale, Ribblesdale, every other ‘dale’ we’d been through. But Teesdale was my favourite. The countryside was softer, gentler, more welcoming. I felt the sun on my face and knew we were nearly home. Nothing could go wrong now…
“Look out, Dad, there’s some rocks up ahead.”
“For goodness sake, Ben, I’ve lived most of my life at the seaside. Walking on rocks is second nature.”
“Just take care. You’re not the mountain goat you think you are.”
I scoffed at my son’s caution. What was there? 500 yards? Ten minutes’ work. But they were awkward. Sharp rocks, worn smooth – and slippery – by years of walkers. Angling sharply down to the black water of the river.
“You alright, Dad?”
“I’m fine. Only 50 yards to go. Then we’ll have a cup of tea…”
And that’s when I fell. For the second time that day. Only this time it wasn’t a bog. Suddenly I was on my back, sliding head first towards the river. I flung my left hand out to stop myself. Just in time.
“Help me up, Ben.”
“No. Stay there. Get your breath back.”
“What? Your back?”
“My hand…” My left hand had stopped me going into the river. But it had taken all my weight.
I clambered slowly to my feet. I sat on a rock and rinsed my hand while Ben poured tea. Then I had an idea.
“What are you doing, Dad?”
“I’m holding my hand in the river. It’s obvious. We’ve no ice so I’m holding it in cold water. It’s what Bear Grylls would do.”
Ben looked at me sadly. “Dad, Bear Grylls wouldn’t have fallen over…”
“They wouldn’t have shown it on TV, you mean. Anyway, come on. We’ve a waterfall to climb.”
Injured or not the adrenalin was still flowing. And we had to reach Dufton. Kneeling by the Tees with my hand in the water wouldn’t get us home…
I didn’t go to the hospital until a week later. A no-nonsense nurse delivered the verdict. “Good work, young man. Broken two fingers. We’ll see you at the fracture clinic on Tuesday morning.”
But let’s look on the bright side. I was sliding down the rocks head first on my back. I could easily have hit my head. A couple of broken fingers is a small price to pay.
In fact, let’s really look on the bright side. There’s nothing a writer likes more than being a hero. And artistic licence. And time…
Twenty years from now I’ll have one of Ben’s children on my knee. “Tell me a story, Grandad.”
“I will, sweetheart. I’ll tell you my favourite story. The one about how I saved your Daddy as we tumbled down a mountain towards a raging torrent. And then – you’re not frightened are you, peanut – with my arm completely hanging off, how I carried your Daddy through the wilderness to safety. Bears? Of course there were bears. Giant, ferocious, County Durham bears…”
And then a grown-up, adult voice will break in. “That’s enough now. Time for bed. And time for Grandad’s medication…”
I’m now working on a 20,000 word e-book about the walk, which will be out before Xmas. In the meantime if you’d like a copy of the ‘laugh out loud’ Best Dad featuring 27 of my favourite columns from all the years I’ve been writing, it’s available here for 99p on your Kindle.