Footsore in Carlisle: We complete the Cumbria Way

Keswick (pronounced “kezzick”) must surely be the walking capital of the world. As you pass through the old, cobbled market place in the centre of town, you float in a current of people wearing boots, stooping under backpacks and brandishing hi-tech walking poles. They sit sipping coffee in cafés, they huddle around maps, they stand in queues at the bus terminal.

The centre of Keswick in mid summer. Note the two walkers right of centre.

They also ebb and flow through the town’s innumerable outdoors shops. Keswick is a small town but it must have more outdoors shops than any comparable place in the world. Mountain Warehouse, George Fisher, Ultimate Outdoors, Rathbones, Sports Temple… they jostle along the main street and squeeze into side alleys.

At this time of year business is booming. At 10.30 am on the morning of Sunday August 7th – yes, Sunday – a crowd of around 20 people were standing outside the front door of George Fisher’s (“The UK’s best outdoors store”) waiting for it to open. I know because I was one of them. I was on the hunt for a new pair of hiking socks, snared by the headline “The Joy of Socks” in the shop’s newsletter. On the opposite side of the street the bell of the old Anglican Church clanged in forlorn entreaty as a few elderly parishioners toiled up the steps for the morning service.

The irresistable page 1 story in an advertising newsletter of the George Fisher outdoors shop in Keswick.

Keswick must also be the B-and-B capital of the UK. In most of the streets around the town centre every second house – almost literally – seems to be a bed-and-breakfast establishment, or a guest house, or a small hotel. As Emmy and I walked to our accommodation at the Latrigg Guest House we noticed only one or two “Vacancies” signs in the streetside bay windows. Mostly it was “No Vacancies”.

In times past Keswick used to be famous as the pencil manufacturing capital of the world. There were abundant supplies of plumbago lead and wood in the surrounding hills. Today this industry has virtually disappeared leaving behind a lonely and slightly desperate Pencil Museum paddling hard against the tsunami of modern communications technology.

“Be amazed at the world’s longest colour pencil, marvel at the James Bond style World War II pencil, follow the history of pencil making, find out exactly how we get lead into a pencil…”

We had scheduled a rest day in Keswick and we decided to fill it with a bus trip to nearby Grasmere. At the bus terminal I bent to peer at a timetable on the pole of a bus stop. An intense voice spoke into my ear.

“There’s a queue ’ere, y’know.”

I straightened and saw beside me a smallish woman, about 40 years old with short blond hair, a pale complexion and pinched, lined features. I apologised and moved to the other side of the woman standing beside her.
“It makes me so ANGRY,” she said to no-one in particular. “Why do people INSIST on queuing to the right when they should queue to the left.”
I made myself as inconspicuous as possible on the left hand side.
“And another thing that makes me REALLY angry,” she said working the muscles of her jaw, “it’s people who get on the bus and put their bags on empty seats. I mean… they are paying for one seat, aren’t they!? They’ve got no right to fill up the other seats!”

The bus, a double-decker, lumbered into sight. The woman pulled her lips inside her mouth, clenched her fists, and stomped aboard. I saw her again sitting in the front seat on the top deck of the bus. An American couple – both walkers – were sitting across the aisle. They had placed their backpacks on the seat behind them. Emmy and I took the seat behind the backpacks. The angry woman half rose in her seat, turned and looked fiercely at me, jabbing her forefinger in the direction of the backpacks. When I failed to respond with anything better than a smile, she snapped around and sat glaring out the front window, her body clenched rigid. Angry.

Lush summer growth on roadside trees scratched the bus as it wriggled along the country road. In the impossibly picturesque village of Grasmere we sought out Dove Cottage, one of the iconic attractions of the region where William Wordsworth – poet and long-distance walker – lived for some twelve years. We took a guided tour through the cottage and were joined by visitors from Africa, India, Germany and China (one or two Britons too, not to mention Emmy from Indonesia). Our group bore witness to the impact that the study of English and English Literature has had in even the remotest corners of the globe. In Trivandrum, Bulawayo, Kowloon, Hamburg and Salatiga generations of students have bent over their textbooks and dutifully intoned the lines:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of golden daffodils.

Just between you and me, dear reader, (I have to whisper here) this is pretty undistinguished poetry. But the “golden daffodils” industry will not brook any quibbling about aesthetics. There is an image to be promoted and money to be made.

The transformation of William Wordsworth

The gift shop at Dove Cottage was stuffed with tea towels, fridge magnets, special editions of the poet’s works, thimbles (thimbles? …for thimble collectors, of course), mugs, umbrellas, stickers, illuminated pictures, soap, CDs, tea cups, vases, coasters, place mats, postcards, key rings, note books, sachets of perfume, aprons, oven mitts, tea pot cosies, pot holders, book marks, pen and pencil sets, condoms (sorry… cross out that last item), all with golden daffodil motifs. Daffodils have become a mythologised tag super-glued to the name of Wordsworth.

But despite my ungenerous thoughts about daffodils, I did enjoy the visit to Dove Cottage. The cramped rooms with their low ceilings, rough wooden beams, dark wainscoting and small windows have been carefully preserved more-or-less as they were 200 years ago. The floorboards creak as they did 200 years ago, an ancient clock ticks loudly and chimes as it did 200 years ago, the garden still produces vegetables as it did 200 years ago. The house is still “alive” despite falling into the hands of conservationists.

We returned to Keswick refreshed and looking forward to the challenge of the next day’s walk. But when we awoke at six o’clock the following morning a strange darkness filled our room and there was a scratching noise at the window. I pulled aside the curtains. Heavy rain was washing over the stone houses of Keswick. Visibility was down to 100 metres. The temperature was 14 degrees and struggling to get higher.

Emmy and I looked at each other and experienced one of those all-too-rare moments in a marriage when there is instant silent understanding and instant silent agreement. We would not be walking over the lunar scrabble of High Pike (658 metres) that day, or any other day.

Curious horses interrupt Emmy as she takes a break on the walk to Carlisle.

For us, the last leg of the Cumbria Way began the next day in the hamlet of Caldbeck, a taxi ride past High Pike. The weather was clear and warm, but the path sodden and slippery with rainwater from the previous day. In places it was ankle-deep in mud. We pressed on through sparkling woods and fields, shooing away curious horses and leaning aside to avoid drenching ourselves in the dew of tall purple wildflowers. A grey heron-like bird jumped from a stream and flapped slowly into the long grass of a neighbouring field. Rabbits and squirrels played across our path.

The muddy path left behind by the previous day’s heavy rain.

Mid afternoon the outer ranks of Carlisle’s estate houses came into view and, with 23 kilometres behind us for the day, we walked into town past the low grey walls of Carlisle Castle. We had done it! We had walked the Cumbria Way (well… most of it).

Woods and water along the Cumbria Way north of Caldbeck

Our accommodation was at the Langleigh Guest House. Footsore and exhausted we tapped at the front door. There was no response, but a note stuck to the door said “If nobody is at home go four doors down the street to the Derwentlea Guest House.” Tip-toeing on my burning feet I went to the Derwentlea Guest House and rang the doorbell. No response, but a note stuck to the door said “If nobody is at home go four doors down the street to the Langleigh Guest House.”

Back at the Langleigh Guest House I noticed a button hidden in the ivy beside the door. I pressed it. It triggered a frenzied outbreak of barking inside the house. The door opened and a middle-aged gentleman appeared momentarily before being knocked aside by two knee-high spaniel dogs.

“I hope you’re all right with dogs,” he said cheerily, trying to stay on his feet while the dogs hammered at his legs.
“No problem at all.” I had a sudden memory of the delicious meal of dog-meat gulai stew I had enjoyed in Solo, Central Java. “I just love dogs,” I said truthfully.
“Great. Let me introduce them. This is Daniel…. Daniel the spaniel, ha ha ha! And this is Jack… Jack the ripper – ha ha ha… he had a few behaviour problems when he was a puppy but we’ve managed to repair most of the damage.”
The two dogs sat on their haunches and looked up at their master with mournful spaniel eyes. They had heard these jokes before.

The following morning we went down to the breakfast room, weaving around the dogs as they raced up and down the stairs, sticking their heads through the banisters and yapping in our ears. In the breakfast room our host was clinging to the mantelpiece as he tried to keep our bacon and sausages away from the dogs.
“They’re such wonderful company, don’t you think?”
Under the table the dogs snuffled around our legs.
I looked up at our host. “In Australia,” I thought grimly, “you’d be sent to prison for this. And I for one would be happy to convict you.”

But I smiled back. “Yes, they are indeed wonderful company.”

[Written in Stratford-upon-Avon and Painswick. Next up: The Shakespeare Industry]

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Coniston to Keswick: Scenic drama, beauty beyond description

Dr Fisher of Coniston is in fact two people, a husband and wife. According to the proprietor of the Lakelands Guest House, when you make an appointment to see “Dr Fisher” you never know which one you’re going to get.

I limped into Dr Fisher’s rooms on the morning of Thursday, August 5th to be greeted by the female partner, an attractive young lady who spoke English with a gentle German burr. She sat me down and lifted my bare feet on to a neighbouring chair. She examined each toe close-up, then checked the balls of my feet and the heels.
“Basically your feet are okay,” was her judgement. “There is no infection in your little toe.”
She recommended I buy gel-padded inner soles for my boots and she prescribed an ointment that would lessen the burning sensation in my feet and soften the skin. Then she spoke the words I had secretly been hoping to hear.
“Perhaps it might be a good idea if you gave your feet a rest for a day.”

The ointment was dispensed through a small pharmacy in the doctor’s reception area, and when I reached for my credit card I was halted by a vigorous shake of the head.
“No charge for the medicine.”
“Eh? What about the consultation?”
“No charge for that either. The UK has a reciprocal agreement with Australia. UK citizens in Australia get free treatment, so you get the same privileges here.”

I didn’t dare reveal the reality… that in Canberra no more than a handful of the hundreds of doctors and specialists in the city were prepared to provide free “bulk-billed” treatment. Whenever I visited my GP I had to pay the full cost of the consultation on the spot then claim a partial refund from a Medicare office. And free medicines in Australia? What a laugh!

Dazed at my unexpected escape from financial punishment I joined Emmy in the waiting room. I reported Dr Fisher’s advice, translating it into my own words.
“The doctor strictly forbids me from walking even one step today.”
Emmy struggled hard but unsuccessfully to paste a look of disappointment over her face. It was quickly decided… we would be heading for our next stopping point by taxi.

A haven for walkers: the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel at the entrance to Langdale Valley

That is how, around 1.00 pm that day, after a comfortable taxi ride, we found ourselves sitting in the bar of the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel enjoying a drink and smiling condescendingly at the stream of walkers who came stumbling through the door to slump over the bar and gasp for the consolation of alcohol.

The New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel stands in naked isolation at the entrance to the Langdale Valley, one of the iconic features of the Lake District National Park. The treeless sides of the valley form an enormous letter U with its upper points prised apart. Early the following morning we were walking strongly into the valley over a rough scree path, heading for what looked like a cul-de-sac at the far end. My feet were pain-free and I felt a sudden rush of enjoyment.

At the end of the valley we headed up a steep zig-zag path that cut through rough bracken. We made strenuous use of our walking poles and had to stop often to draw breath and drink. Looking behind us we saw a shining thread of water snaking away down the great moss-green trough of the valley. Hundreds of metres below, another group of walkers – as tiny as microbes – seemed frozen in the immense splendour of the landscape.

Looking south down Langdale Valley from the heights of its northern cul-de-sac

It was a struggle of more than an hour for us to cover the couple of kilometres up to Stake Pass, at 478 metres the high point of the path out of the valley. We were far above the tree line, even above the bracken. In the still, high, empty air we could hear the voices of other walkers coming towards us from a kilometre away. Only boulders and wiry grass covered the worn ridges around us.

We conquer the heights of Stake Pass. Now for the descent…

Then we were moving precipitously downwards. We hobbled along a rough belt of loose rocks and stones. It fell away from us in a long series of hairpin bends. Again our walking poles were essential. With each downward step we tested the ground with our poles, braced ourselves against them and used them to maintain balance.

The zig-zag path down from Stake Pass

The path was, frankly, dangerous. One slip, one stumble, one moment of inattention and we might have been pitched down a slope that in a couple of places was close to vertical. A mountain stream roared and whispered beside us all the way down. Our eyes were focussed on the immediacy of the path but again and again we stopped to take in the splendour of the vista that stretched bare and wild down the new valley before us. In the floor of the valley we hobbled and clambered over kilometres of uneven, rocky pathway. Whenever we found a few metres of flat ground that we could traverse at normal gait we savoured it like a luxury. But it never lasted long.

The austere and beautiful drama of the day’s walk was still playing in our mind’s eye as we walked into the hamlet of Rosthwaite late that afternoon. Our accommodation was at the Royal Oak Hotel, a modest establishment run with the precision of a SWAT operation. When we checked in our hostess explained the rules.
“Breakfast is any time between 8.30 and 9.00 in the morning. Any time.”
“And dinner?”
“Dinner is at 7.00 pm sharp. Tonight we are having steak and mushroom pie.” She eyed us with a fierce frown. “Is that all right with you?”
“Excellent. Wonderful.”

The only item on the menu: steak and mushroom pie and boiled vegetables

At exactly 7.00 pm an ear-shattering clamour rang through the hotel. It was our hostess thrashing the dinner gong. The guests came creeping from their rooms and lined up at the dining room door. Inside the door a waitress stood with a clipboard in her hand.
“Room number?”
“Fourteen.”
“Table eight. NEXT!!”

We filed meekly to our tables. When everyone was seated the room was invaded by a mini-squad of two waitresses carrying plates of thin vegetable gruel. They distributed these rapidly and were followed by a third waitress carrying a wooden board with bread on it.
“White or brown?”
“Brown, please.”
A thick slice of brown bread dropped on to my plate.

We supped in stunned silence. As soon as the last spoonful of gruel had been scooped up, the plate was snatched away and replaced by another filled with a soggy slice of steak and mushroom pie. A dish of vegetables also arrived: a ration of carrot, cauliflower and cabbage boiled and (I guessed) boiled again just to make sure it really was boiled right through.

Eating what they’re given in silent gratitude: the cowed diners in the Royal Oak Hotel, Rosthwaite

Every time we looked up a waitress would hurry to our table with a tray eager to grab our plates and cutlery. So we ate with our heads down. Dessert was a poached pear in sugary sauce. It was quite nice but we scarcely had time to enjoy it before the head waitress – her eye glancing nervously at the dining room clock – announced that tea and coffee would be served in the hotel lounge.

By eight o’clock the dining room was empty and had been made ready for the next day’s breakfast.

I pose in my wet weather gear in the hamlet of Grange. Scarves of dank mist lie over the hills and smoke rises into the chilly air from the chimney of a nearby cottage.

The next day dawned overcast and cool. We had walked scarcely one kilometre out of Rosthwaite when light rain began to fall. For the first time in our travels we broke out our wet weather gear: rainproof leggings, rain jackets and a waterproof cover for our backpacks. The rain intensified and the track became boggy, but we walked with exhilaration. We were passing through woodland along the banks of a stream. A dense mosaic of foliage formed a ceiling over quietly flowing water and feathery, dripping undergrowth. Every twist in the path seemed to open a new page of bright greenery, lustrous with water.

In the hamlet of Grange we stopped at the one-and-only shop to sit under the verandah and enjoy tea and scones. The instant we sat down the rain stopped, and as we stood up to resume our walk the rain rejoined us too. It stayed with us – never intense but steady and friendly – until, through arches of trees we saw the muted gleam of Derwent Water. Across the lake, half hidden among trees, there were stone houses and mansions. We had wandered into an Arcadia of woods and water and forest lodges. It was beautiful beyond description.

Walking through woodland near Derwent Water

Derwent Water with its dramatic mountain backdrop

An English Arcadia: homes amid the forest on the shores of Derwent Water

As we walked along the western shore of the lake we passed several jetties. At one of them a small ferry had puttered up to stop for a few moments and discharge several passengers. Emmy and I did not need to consult each other. We hurried along the jetty and clambered aboard.

I recalled the cry-from-the-heart of Xenaphon’s soldier Leon of Thurii as he arrived on the shores of the Black Sea after his column’s long trek from the hinterland of Persia 2500 years ago (mentioned in a previous post).

“What I want is to have a rest now from all this [walking], and since we have now got to the sea, to sail for the rest of the way, and so get back to Greece stretched out at my ease on deck, like Odysseus.”

I leaned back on my varnished wooden bench and watched the lake ripple out from the bow of the boat as it headed towards Keswick.

[Written in Carlisle and Lichfield, August 11-13. Next up: Footsore in Carlisle.]

I misjudge the Cumbria Way and pay a painful price

Ulverston is a small town on the west coast of northern England just inland from the Irish Sea. Seagulls nag the town with incessant complaining, resentful caws.

In Enid Blyton country. The centre of Ulverston.

After arriving by train from Manchester Emmy and I hauled our suitcases up two steep and slot-narrow staircases to a garret under the roof of a traditional guesthouse, then went out in search of lunch. Ulverston’s narrow streets are flanked by picturesque, close-packed ranks of old two- and three-storey townhouses. The compact town centre seems dedicated to eating. Everywhere there are tearooms, cafes, snack bars, restaurants, pubs. We found a small tearoom in a side street and sat down to some delicious home-made cream of chicken soup.

At the next table a very elderly and very dishevelled gentleman sat labouring through a bowl of potato chips and slurping into a cup of tea. A grimy plastic bag sat at his feet and he appeared to be writing on a postcard as he ate. Eventually he struggled to his feet. He turned to us and said, in a heavy north-country accent:
“We ‘aven’t ‘ad enoof ren.”
He looked gloomily out the window at the relentless sunshine.
“It rained yesterday, and this morning, and last week. But it’s not enough.”
Then his face brightened and he made a surprising follow-up statement.
“I’m a postcard collector.”

This non-sequitur caught me off guard and I didn’t know how to respond, but luckily he didn’t wait for a response. Leaning unsteadily over our table he delivered a rambling lecture on the joys of postcard collecting.
“Did you know,” he said pinning us down with a bright glare, “photographs didn’t appear on postcards until 1894. Unbelievable, isn’t it? And yet by 1904 thousands – literally thousands – of postcards were being produced every year with photographs on them.”
He looked disdainfully around the tearoom.
“I live in Barrow-in-Furness. I wouldn’t come to a place like Ulverston if it wasn’t for postcards. There’s a dealer in the market here.”
His gloom returned and he looked into his plastic bag.
“But all I got today were modern postcards.”
He said the word “modern” with distaste.
“But that’s life, I suppose,” and he shuffled out the door.

It hadn’t occurred to me that collecting postcards was a metaphor for life. But as we paid our modest bill I thought maybe it was as good a metaphor as any. Certainly as good as “The Camino”. The prefabricated, stereotyped images on postcards and their scrawled messages from distant times and places, not to mention the ephemeral life of postcards and their secret existence in dusty albums captured much of the public and private worlds we all experience. Yes, postcards were like us.

We left the café and stood entranced in the street. Ulverston was our first experience of a small English town and we liked what we saw. A fish and chip shop exuded its oily aroma from behind prim lace curtains, red begonias burst from window boxes, fat chimney pots squatted in threes and fours atop slate roofs. Truly this was Enid Blyton territory. At any moment the Famous Five – with their dog Timmy – would race down one of the cobbled streets in pursuit of smugglers.

A Tibetan monk strolled past.

I blinked. No, it was not an hallucination. It was a monk. He had close-cropped black hair and sandals on his feet. He was wearing a claret-red robe with yellow trimmings. He paused and looked with curiosity into the display window of a cured meat shop. More red caught my eye. There was another Tibetan monk… and another. In a kind of panic I looked up and down the street. There were Tibetan monks everywhere.

Clearly something had changed in Ulverston. The Famous Five would never have stumbled into a ripping adventure that involved Tibetan monks. Later that night I learned why. Conishead Priory near Ulverston – a monastery for Augustinian monks founded in 1160 – had become derelict and had been taken over recently by the Kadampa Buddhist community. They had restored the monastery and built a spectacular Buddhist temple in its grounds. On the day we visited Ulverston an international Buddhist festival was taking place at the temple attended by 4,000 delegates from all over the world.

As we dined that night in an Indian restaurant we were surrounded by Buddhists munching on the vegetarian menu. Most of them had American accents. Behind us two of them in the garb of Tibetan monks debated the best combination of flights for their return to the United States. Their close-cropped heads of black hair touched as they pored over airline timetables through an app on an iPhone.

At the start of the Cumbria Way. Little did we know…

At 8.30 the following morning Emmy and I strode to the small monument on the edge of Ulverston that marks the beginning of the Cumbria Way. Conditions were good for walking: warm, overcast, a little humid. We were in high spirits. Our first day on the Cumbria Way would be a good day. I could feel it.

But I should have called a taxi, or gone back to bed. A bad day was about to happen.

At first the Cumbria Way greeted us with a friendly face. We walked along a rocky path under the thick foliage of overhanging trees following lines of rough stone walls. The path ran out and we graduated to unmarked trajectories across open fields. The long wet grass squeaked under our boots and soaked the ends of our trousers. We clambered over stiles and picked up a path again. It rose steeply into pasture-clad hills, taking us through farm gates, across the muddy compounds of farmsteads, through fields of calmly grazing sheep, and over yet more stiles. Some of the stiles were made of wood, but most consisted of stony steps jutting from slate-rock walls. Two or three times we had to strip off our backpacks and pass them over the wall, then negotiate the steps of the stile like it was a mini rock-climbing exercise.

Across fields…

… through farmyards …

… and over stiles (lots of them).

Ahead of us lay a series of reassuringly cosy place names: Old Hall Farm, Beck Side, Hollowmire, Nettleslack, High Stennerley, Tottlebank, Appletree Holme. But as we climbed higher and the vistas panned out to rugged distant horizons the cosiness vanished and the Cumbria Way turned nasty. The pasture ran out and menacing, crouching bracken crowded around us. The path became boggy, then tangled, then indistinct. High on the heath there were no farmhouses and we were utterly alone.

Bracken closes in, and we’re in trouble.

We trudged on, stopping often to consult our map. I cursed my foolishness for not bringing my eTrex GPS device which had a compass in it. I had assumed that the Cumbria Way would be as intensively sign-posted as the Camino. But there were no wayside markers here, and I recognised none of the landmarks on the map. Slowly I had to admit to myself that we had strayed from the track and were lost.

It was around two o’clock in the afternoon. We had been walking for five hours and fatigue was starting to slow us. We had to find a farmhouse and get help. Below, in the far distance, I saw a strip of greenery. It looked like farmland so we headed downhill, pushing through bracken until we met a stream and crossed a barbed wire fence into some fields. We came across a slate-stone farmhouse, but it was derelict. We pressed on and walked into the back yard of another slate-stone farmhouse. There was no-one at home, but a narrow asphalt road led away from it and we were grateful to tread its smooth surface. We walked for around two kilometres through deserted countryside. Then, around a corner, we came upon a miracle. It was a white two-storey house – bright chintz curtains in the windows – standing amid fruit trees and roses behind a neatly trimmed lawn. A middle-aged lady was sitting in the sunshine on a garden bench with a young man beside her.

I called out over the garden wall.
“Excuse me! Sorry to intrude. We’re two hikers. We seem to have strayed off the Cumbria Way. Could you tell us where we are?”
Instant consternation. The lady sprinted across the lawn and opened the garden gate. Shooing away her big, glossy black dog, she ushered us into the house. She was a model of brisk, very English, hospitality.
“I’m Lucy. This is my son Rob. Please, do sit down. The WC is just over there.”

Two big glasses of water appeared before us and a map was spread out on the table. It was at once clear where we had gone wrong. We had walked along a high flat ridge and descended on the wrong side. We were at least ten miles from the Cumbria Way.
Lucy issued orders to her son (he was on holiday with her), a car was backed cautiously into the narrow lane in front of the house, and we were driven back to our path. It was a surprisingly long drive – almost half an hour squeezing along impossibly narrow roads to the southern end of Coniston Lake. But we were back on track. Our very warmest thanks to you, Lucy and Rob!

It was now mid afternoon and we still faced a lakeside walk of nine kilometres north to the village of Coniston. My feet were hurting and Emmy was drooping with fatigue. We walked with our heads down, doggedly, oblivious to the tree-lined beauty of the lake. Around five thirty we made it into Coniston. We had been on the road for nine hours and I estimate we had walked almost thirty kilometres.

In our room at the Lakelands Guesthouse I removed my boots. The anti-blister plaster on my left little toe had come loose. I peeled it off and the toenail came away with it. Fortunately my toe was still attached to my foot, a fleshy, swollen, nail-free appendix.

I flopped back on the bed and took stock of the day’s events. The glitzy advertising of the Cumbria Way and our relatively straightforward experience of walking the Camino had lulled me into carelessness. The Cumbria Way was a true hiking challenge. It was not, perhaps, a true wilderness experience (there were sheep grazing everywhere, even in the remotest parts of the Cumbria Way) but nevertheless it was a challenge that demanded good physical condition, the right equipment and the right mental outlook. I had the first two (although I had forgotten to carry my compass) but the third component was missing. For my shortcomings of mind – my unthinking overconfidence – I had been punished by the law of karma that governs the fate of all long-distance hikers. In retrospect I should have stayed in Ulverston and headed for the Buddhist festival. Maybe there I could have got some insurance against my karmic shortcomings.

I sat up and looked at my toe. In the morning I would have to visit a doctor.

[Written in Keswick, Cumbria. Up next: “Back on track: From Dungeon Ghyll to Keswick.”]