“Can I walk in front of you, Dad?”
“In a minute. First you can stand there and take a picture of my bum.”
“Do I have to?”
“Sorry. You have to suffer for my art.”
Twenty minutes earlier Ben and I had realised we were lost.
Day five of our Pennine Way expedition. We’d walked through rain, hail, gales, hill fog, low cloud, more ‘marshy ground’ than the Everglades and here we were. In the middle of a field.
75 miles behind us, 12 to go and for the first time we were lost. Somewhere between Pasture Foot and Cauldron Snout we’d gone wrong.
“Look,” I said in desperation. “We know the river’s down there.”
“And there’s a road up there.”
“I can’t walk up to the road. I can’t wade through any more long grass. And supposing someone offers us a lift? I’m too knackered to resist.”
“But we can’t stay here…”
Ben was right. Mainly because I was steadily sinking. Another damn bog…
I started marching downhill. Suddenly the frustration of being lost gave me new energy. Christ, this was boggy. Keep calm. Take longer strides. Supposing we have to wade across the river? Black, cold water. Sod it, we have to find the path.
“Careful, Dad,” I heard Ben shout behind me.
My right foot went straight through the grass. Suddenly I was trying to walk on water. It flooded into my boot. Momentum carried me forward. I twisted as I fell.
The top half of me landed on firm ground. From the waist down I was in a bog.
“Dad? Are you alright?”
“Your phone!” Ben suddenly shouted.
The impact had knocked it out of my pocket. I must have looked ridiculous. A middle aged bloke in a bog frantically searching for his iPhone. But it had all the photos. I sprawled over and grabbed it.
Twenty minutes later we were back on dry land. And back on track.
I sat on my jumper and ate a cheese sandwich. My shorts fluttered proudly in the breeze, hanging from a rusty gate.
“You’re going to put them back on before we start walking aren’t you?”
“No. They’re still soaking wet. My pants are wet, my bum’s wet. But if I walk a mile in my pants everything will dry out.”
See above. Not surprisingly my son wanted to walk in front.
“Supposing we pass someone?” he asked when he’d recorded the moment for posterity.
“We won’t. We haven’t seen anyone for five miles.”
Two minutes later a Land Rover pulled out of a farm. “Quick, Dad, put your shorts on.”
“Ben, we’ve got lost. I’ve fallen in a bog. We told Mum five o’clock and we won’t be there until seven. A farmer’s wife seeing me in my underpants is the least of my worries. Besides,” I added, “A good looking hunk striding towards her in his best pants. She’ll think it’s her birthday…”
“She didn’t bother looking,” Ben said as the Land Rover went past in a cloud of dust…
Five hours later we finally reached Dufton and the welcoming arms of my wife. 87½ miles: 39 hours of walking.
If I’d known how big the physical challenge was going to be I wouldn’t have started. One day I was so exhausted I couldn’t speak. But I’d carried on when I felt like quitting and staggered across the finishing line.
I couldn’t have done it without my son. Thanks, pal. Thanks for coming with me and thanks for getting me through it. And thanks for paying the ultimate price: watching your Dad march up a hill in his underpants…
A word of thanks to Hi-Tec, who supplied our boots for the walk. We both wore Altitude Pro RGS boots and they were brilliant. Despite never having done any serious walking before my blister count was nil. I couldn’t ask for more than that…