Walking the Spine

Walking the Spine

Call-out member, Karrie, has recently returned from a trip walking the Peninne Way. Read the account of her trek below:

I have never considered myself a walker. However, I am no stranger to endurance events having completed triathlon, swimming, running and cycling challenges. Including riding End to End (JOGLE against the wind), London to Paris and the London revolution to name but a few. Swimming up to 5k, running a couple of marathons, you get the idea. But walking or trekking was never on my radar. That is until I joined WCSAR. 

The nearly five years of training with them has given me enough confidence in my navigation skills, and my ability to carry a reasonable sized back pack for hours, to say YES when a friend asked me to join her on one of her ‘bucket list’ treks.

As I have no other walks to compare it with I can only report that walking/hiking/trekking whatever you decide to call it can be hard, very hard. 

It can also be astonishingly and unexpectedly therapeutic. There you are in the middle of nowhere with nothing to rely on other than your own senses and strength. With nothing to do other than to put one foot in front of the other. For days, for weeks.

That wasn’t always as easy as it sounds. Some of the terrain was steep, rocky, uneven, wet and slippery and needed every ounce of concentration to stay upright. I personally found going down far more strenuous than any ascent.

When it was open and flattish, with a desire line to follow, I had the opportunity to switch off, to just be. Wonderful. At those times I had to to remind myself to stop, take in the view and just breath it all in. There was a lot to breath in.  

Going through nine counties means the Pennine Way is particularly varied. (successively from south to north Derbyshire; Cheshire; Yorkshire; Lancashire; back to Yorkshire; County Durham; Westmorland; Cumberland).

Some parts are well kept and sign posted. Others not so much. Even desire lines were non existent on occasion. This is a ‘Way’ not a ‘path’. 

I was blessed with ideal weather for most of the 20 days taken for the trip. A couple of hot days, a few days with blustery showers, two VERY windy days. There were some places I would not have relished being caught out in bad weather. Both from a comfort/survival and a navigation point of view. For the latter I can highly recommend off-line OS mapping. I used these with my iPhone on flight mode to conserve the battery. 

My screen did go blank and knowing I was able see to take bearings was a reassurance while waiting for the 40 minutes or so it took to come back to life. 

Another tip I will give is to take a screen shot of the google map of any future accommodation while you have wifi. The villages do not always have data and finding the particular B&B without a signal can be tricky.

Same goes for bus timetables and routes. Good to have ‘just in case’.

My friend spent several months organising the walk. This was her gig after all. She booked the limited accommodation en route, a Sherpa van to transport the bulk of our luggage and even pre booked evening meals. Me being a Coeliac complicated all of these issues as I have to be strictly gluten free, the slightest cross contamination would be a disaster. I have to carry enough emergency food with me to cover every eventuality.

Still, despite all her efforts the walk did not go to plan. I was the first casualty. On our second day I tripped and fell forward downhill and landing hard.  Rolling my ankle in the process. A physio in Hebden Bridge gave me a 48 hour plan which included RICE (local cafes were wonderful, supplying the ice and allowing me to stay at a table long after I really should have moved on) no pain killers or anti inflammatories, wearing a compression sock and to keep very moderately mobile. After 48 hours I did a few easy miles of day 5 and by day 6 I was back on it.

My friend was not so lucky. Despite being incredibly fit and well trained by day eight she developed a painful knee. By the end of day ten she could not take another step. Literally. The kindness of strangers, one stranger in particular, saw her transported in a car from a fairly remote location to our accommodation in Bowness.

She had not given up lightly, by the time she flew home she had to have wheelchair assistance and could not take one step without the support of crutches. 

For me this meant half of our planned walk, the final ten days, were completed solo. Not something I had anticipated. 

During WCSAR searches I am one of a team of four, at the very least three, and in contact by radio to our control.

But we are trained to go it alone. Part of the assessment to qualify to become a Call-Out Member is a long day navigating to various grid references and Points Of Interests on the moor. No GPS allowed.

Of course the candidates progress is monitored from our control vehicle and various team members are out patrolling and keeping a watchful eye too. None of which I had on those solo days. But I did have GPS, a map and a compass (and knew how to use them), and if I kept my wits about me I could follow the signing and desire lines that were available. Going off course is where you can get into real trouble.

Would I walk the Spine again? Well I have to go back to walk the two days I missed but other than that, no. I’ve been there and done that. Offa Dyke looks interesting though…