Don't Do A Fast Mile 'Til The Last Mile

I have ceased to have time for anything but the finish. Despite the outstanding clarity of the air, the magnificent distant views and the fascinating local variations in the texture of the landscape mean little to me. Feeling guilty, I promise myself I will return with a small-scale map and a compass on a bright day in autumn, when I can devote time to identifying distant landmarks.

The strolling couple hear my approach and give way. Then a young man with a large rucksack approaches and blocks my way.

‘Are you doing the Pennine Way?’ he asks.
‘Yes,’ I admit, adding, ‘North to south’ in case he thinks I need his guidance.
‘You’re nearly there, then,’ he says with condescending perspicacity, ‘and I’m just starting.’
‘You enjoy it,’ I say, edging past him, ‘and keep a diary. You’ll be able to read it when your memory goes. I kept one when I did it in 1963.’
‘There’s a chap over there,’ he tells me, pointing to a grey-haired man gazing into the northern distance, ‘says he did it in 1964.’
‘Fancy that,’ I reply, and I set off again, wishing I’d met them both over an evening pint but too obsessed now for trivial chitchat. I am into the equivalent of the last mile of a marathon, and I am chasing my Personal Best. I whip myself on, pushing hard with legs and poles.

Approaching Kinder Downfall, I catch the three hikers I’d seen from the end of the plateau. They hear me coming and stand aside. As I pass, one asks me if I’m doing the Pennine Way.

‘I am,’ I reply without slowing, ‘and to my amazement I’m doing it in twelve days.’
‘Well done,’ they say. ‘That’s a good walk.’
‘It’s been a great walk,’ I agree, by then well ahead of them, ‘and I’m nearly home.’

I hear their fading conversation about how they’d like to do the Pennine Way as I scamper across the weathered gritstone pillows towards the Kinder River.

The three cyclists are now in my sights as they manhandle their bikes over the bare rock. I roar towards them, leaping the gaps between the boulders, unencumbered by machinery, feeling only adrenalin and joy. One man stops to attend to his bike, bending over it with a worried frown. The second mounts his and pushes down hard on the right pedal. The chain makes a horrible grinding sound, and he gets off to inspect the damage. I soon overtake their leader by dint of my straight-line course up the broad and gritty bed of the Kinder River, splashing through the shallows at top speed on this unchanged and unique section of the Way. As I pass him, his bike gives an awful groan and he lurches off it, swearing as he staggers into the heather.

Having seen off all opposition, I ride my exuberant wave of energy, passing oncoming groups of day hikers, throwing myself over the peat hags towards Crowden Brook, racing across the wild and beautiful landscape, a demented cake-maker’s workshop of solidified dark-chocolate mousse topped with heather angelica and frosted by cotton-grass icing sugar.

Nothing can stop me.

I am heading for certain victory.

Where the brook cuts a vee in the edge of the plateau I see the familiar profile of Rushup Edge. A few peat hags later I am looking at Lose Hill and Win Hill, lesser peaks that make no claim for inclusion in the Pennine Way. None should doubt the pre-eminence of Kinder Scout: it is the perfect start and end to a major trail, a wild and challenging chapter to match the climb to The Cheviot, a fit and proper climax to the long walk between two points of the compass.

The top of Grindsbrook comes into view. I check my watch. I have time for a snack up here and a pint down there before catching the train. I eat some lunch and drain all but the last dregs of water before gingerly negotiating the rocky descent from the plateau.

It proves a nerve-racking closing number. It would be a terrible shame to add to the burden of the Edale Mountain Rescue Team by tumbling headfirst down this hazardous gully, not to mention the pain and the embarrassment of falling at the last fence. The perfect finish would be via Grindslow Knoll, from where you can gaze across the Vale of Edale and beyond to the pretty intricacies of the Derbyshire Dales, before making a measured descent to the Nag’s Head and the official start of the Pennine Way.

At 3.00pm I march up to the deserted bar. A young man is playing the fruit machine, and when it suits him he saunters round to serve me. As the hiker from Stoke on Trent said at Kirk Yetholm, it’s a bit of an anti-climax when you’ve done what you wanted to do; there’s no-one to take your photo, no brass band playing, no interviewing journalist.

I coax the demon of 1963 back inside his bottle and walk to the station.

‘Come on, Suzy,’ I say. ‘Let’s see if there’s anybody left in Sheffield.

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