Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
Click for Southbound hike
The Typhoon fighter is built just west of Preston.  This photo is by elsie esq. and is published per http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
DN27 Typhoon Wikipedia
Days N25 -N33                                                                   North of England
Day N27 - Charnock Richard to Bilsborrow
Day N26                          In reflective mood                                Day N28
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Southbound Home
Monday, April 16, 2007

Time of departure: 8.00 am
Time of arrival: 3.30 pm
Place departed: Charnock Richard, Lancashire
Place arrived: Bilsborrow (north of Preston), Lancashire)

Miles: 18.4
Cum miles: 444.0
Percent complete: 47.9

Bed sign Olde Duncombe House B&B, Bilsborrow  *
Cost for bed and breakfast: 45 ($90)
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The weather was so good that I'd been postponing a rest day, and had walked 15 days without a break.

Today the forecast was for a cooling trend with some isolated showers. The day started foggy and cool, and ended up semi-cloudy and warmer, and the rain never quite arrived. So I made comfortable-enough progress on good footpaths up the A49, then through Preston on urban side roads, and on the A6 beyond Preston.

I was now through the north of England industrial belt to which I referred earlier, and could look forward to countryside for a long while.  As it was, my two-to-three day route through the industrial belt was only sporadically urban, with most stretches a kind of countryside peppered with villages, car dealerships, commercial parks, and light industry. Very little of it was repulsive. Yes, it's possible to thread one's way between Manchester and Liverpool pleasantly enough, and I could have chosen an even more rural route than I did.  Warrington, Wigan and Preston were the only real cities I had to deal with, and each took less than half a day.

True local knowledge can be very helpful.  As I was leaving Preston, I did not know which town would have accommodation: Fulwood, Broughton, Barton, Bilsborrow, or . . .?  But a helpful young man in Preston pointed me to Bilsborrow, where there was a choice of three places, and so I did the extra distance and found he was right. The Olde Duncombe House is a superior B&B, with in-room telephones and good soundproofing against the nearby A6.  Jayne Bolton gave me a choice of two rooms, and I took the one with a bath, and washed my coat that had taken the brunt of road dust.  If the place had been less expensive, it would have earned more stars.

My boot’s heels were getting thinner and thinner, but the wear seemed to be slowing for some reason, and I was now hoping they'd last some appreciable further miles without my foot actually touching the ground. As I approached the Lake District, it shouldn't be too hard to find hiking outfitters, and I didn't want to replace these boots until I really, really had to.  I also needed to find some reflective tape to make myself more visible on roads, which were playing a larger role in the hike than I had planned.

In the toils of hiking this far, one couldn't help focusing on the hardships. There was the landlady who didn't provide heat, so I couldn't get my clothes to dry overnight, and had to pack them wet. There were liquid needs, which meant buying drinks enroute to reduce the need to carry a lot, since it's heavy. There was the constant monitoring and treatment of body ailments - blisters, knees, digestion, sunburn, and various unmentionables.

Among the hardship unmentionables: hemorrhoids.  For the first 20 years of my marriage, I enjoyed a dinner party joke at the expense of my mother-in-law, when she wasn’t with us of course.  I told people that when I heard she had hemorrhoids, I knew there really was a God. The good Lord duly noted each of my sinful remarks, and tallied them up. But he bided his time in exacting his punishment until now that I was hiking in the wilds. These days I prayed each night for a rapid cure to my mother-in-law's hemorrhoids, and hoped that God wouldn't overlook her son-in-law's at the same time.

One thing was always clear. There was no one to blame for the hardships except me. There was also no one to whine to. If the hiking was too hard, then stop hiking. But since it had been entered into voluntarily, it wasn’t hard to see the glass as half full, and to press on in the right spirit.

My wife, who knows me well after 40 years, says I am a "maximizer". It's easy to describe this in the context of distance-per-day.  First off, I set a challenging goal (for an oldie with various ailments) of 15 miles per day. Many would have chosen ten.  So I typically ended the day pretty exhausted.

Now let's consider what should happen when I walk 18 miles because accommodation isn't available earlier. Do I now give up my hike ("minimizer")?  Do I do twelve miles next day to maintain my average?  Do I just do 15 again? Do I decide that 18 should be the norm now that I've shown myself I can do it? Moreover, do I wonder if I can now do "three more each day", and set next day’s goal at 21 miles, and 24 the day after (ultimate "maximizer")?

Jennifer put me at the latter end of this scale, but I was trying to resist this propensity, ingrained over a lifetime.  I needed to stop and smell the roses.  There was no over-riding need to get to my destination fast, or even at all.  Fifteen miles would do just fine.  “But,” said the maximizer, still present, “aim for a bit more than 15, just to be sure!”

Sometimes, I visualized myself on a map – a speck too small to see on any single image of Britain end-to-end. On such a map, my progress seemed infinitesimally slow, and along with this image, I had a corresponding, personal insignificance. Yet, at other times, I saw myself walking through a seemingly endless series of vistas, each different and exciting.  Now my map was only what I could see around me, and it moved as I moved.  It felt as if my hike was the only thing in the world.

A fellow-hiker, Linda Cracknell, draws attention to the hike as a line:

"On a long walk it is surprising how quickly life becomes simplified into a line. It stretches behind from where you have come, and ahead, marking your intention. Life turns on decisions about where to stop for the night, what to eat and when, and slight variations on the route. The packing and unpacking of the rucksack takes on its own systematic ritual. The rhythms of the line give the walk its resonance and pleasure."

Without having read this at the time, I instinctively took that comparison a stage further by relating the hiking line to the continuum of one's life. In this macabre metaphor, my life had restarted at Land’s End, and would now end in some undefined way at John o’Groats!  Like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit by Tolkien,

“The road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."

This is a theme that I pick up later on day N41.

Yet my feelings were not at all gloomy.  I felt my life becoming fuller.  This was, indeed, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The word “lifetime” evoked the reason.  With few health concerns now, and often a spring in my step, the future seemed to be opening up. Even so, with each step closer to the end, I also recaptured the past in my thoughts, often making peace with it, and at least reflecting on it with the equanimity that comes with age. As Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his much-quoted end to The Great Gatsby, “We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.
Day N26                                2007 and 2008 Daryl May                              Day N28