Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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C2C Day 11 - The Gratuitous Ones
Osmotherley -> Clay Bank Top

     And so morning arrived at the gloriously well-appointed camp site that was somehow wildly inferior to all the pub back yards we'd camped in. Note to self, I thought: Four pints is one pint too many. It was that last pint, while waiting to get seated for dinner, that had done me in. Oh well, no one to blame but myself. (And those bastards in that over-priced, over-booked restaurant! Bastards!)

After digging out analgesics, I sat down with the others to pow-wow about one of our favourite topics (since the early hungry days of the walk): where and when we were likely next to find food. Consensus: not very close nor very soon. Accordingly, we made a bee-line for the walk-in-closet-sized general store (more or less on our way out of town, but who cared) where we massively encumbered ourselves with food stocks. Darby bought them out of bread products. Mark hit the flapjacks. I got a bunch more of those locally-produced animal-product-free oat crumbles. Holy yum, Batman.

And, okay, so yesterday I had said we wouldn't mind retracing our path out because it would be so pretty again. Wrong. It was actually much, much prettier this time. Including those stunning skies and hills (even Mark's presence couldn't sully that frame ;^).

We stopped briefly along there for me to stretch, Darby to slather herself with sun goop – and both of us to remove layers. Then we woke Mark up and got going again. When we hooked back up with the C2C proper, it was right at a starkly sleep upward grade.

Mark: You know how I can tell we're back on the path?
     It had sort of become a running joke that whenever we weren't sure which way to go, it was always up.

Once we topped this climb, it levelled out (check out Darby's buns from behind) into a scenic high-level meander by a stone wall. For most of the rest of the path, the C2C merged with another, shorter, wussier path called the Cleveland Way.

It was somewhere along here that we came up behind two middle-aged men with packs. We made friendly conversation as one does with people one encounters on the trail. It turned out they were American. Darby brightened.

Darby: It's the Cowboy and the Preacher!
     Yes, that was them, they admitted. These turned out to be slight misnomers, but they were very sticky. The Cowboy occasionally played in a Western band; and the Preacher was an ex-minister of some sort. But the hominid Englishwoman we had met thought the Cowboy and the Preacher were just the right playing-to-stereotype monikers for these conspicuous Americans. After chatting a bit – and conveying the hominids' best regards – we told them we hoped/expected to see them again, and took off.

We paused at a nice overlook for a photo opp. We passed through another lovely bit of forest with bluebells. This was followed by a bit of, well:

Mark: Well, we know we're still going the right way.
Me: Yes – shit, rocks, and uphill. The triptych.
     We then climbed out into what were, briefly, beautiful blue skies.

Moreover, we decided to take lunch at Lord Stone's Cafe. Not only was it highly regarded, not only was it the only place anywhere in the area . . . but it was so cleverly hidden as to provide a nifty puzzling challenge to find the damned place! (Off the trail, off the road, seemingly off the maps, and mostly buried underneath a hillside). Presumably since they were the only establishment going, they'd decided to corner all available markets: they were an espresso-type cafe, a full-service restaurant, a bar (with bottles and taps), and an ice creamerie (with a cooler). They were small, and smashingly popular. We squeezed in and recharged with tea, scones, hot soup, and jacket potatoes.

Mainly to free up our table, after eating we went outside to check the maps. There we hung out with some guinea fowl. I was amused to see some of these for the first time since Tanzania. But Mark eyed them warily, fingering his sheathed blade ("Guinea Fowl Slayer").

Next: climbing! As we began to mount the great hulk of Kirby Bank, storm clouds menaced us from the left. Still, nice views. We paused a bit to admire them. We then got on with walking the path that topped this bad boy.

The skies started to blow clear. Darby began to disrobe. I went to immortalise the moment. And she stuck her tongue out at me! Beyotch! Actually, I was archly amused when I realised what I'd gotten on film. Looking down at my EVF, I was like, "Did you just stick your tongue out at me? I got that! I got it!"

We still had a bit of a walk out to the end of the ridge that marked the high point. I spent a bit of team goodwill to get a vanity shot. Shortly after that, I wanted another shot of myself, but didn't want to bring down the bank anymore. So I went to do it myself. Check out this somewhat amusing timing error.

At the top was the Alex Falconer Memorial Chair. I can't help but wonder if climbers and fell walkers often die gruesome deaths, as there seem to be a lot of memorials to them. In any case: What a view! I mean, wow!

And so we carried on, soon reaching the beginning of the descent down the other side. We worried about Darby scraping her buns, as this was another insanely steep descent. (Actually, as usual, we were more worried about Mark and me and our old knees.)

Okay, I'm going to ask you to go back to a previous picture briefly. From the edge of that first peak, you can see a couple of things: 1) the next peak, with the path straight up to its highest point; and 2) the path that goes around it to the left, beside the forest. Check it out (ignoring Darby's buns). We didn't notice this at the time, but it quickly became significant.

So when we got back down to ground level, we met a very neat guy with two dogs – who had done the C2C twice (in 92 and 94). He explained to us that people looked at this as a short, easy leg – but there were actually 2700 feet of climbing in about 12 miles. ! As we approached the second of the three peaks, Mark started to grow skeptical.

First of all, he'd noted how we had gone straight up that first peak – and straight back down the other side. This offended his sense of economy and unnecessary effort. Shortly after that he noticed what appeared to be a path that just went around the second peak – instead of up and over it. The guy with the dogs was going on about how these three peaks were tough climbs, but we'd be well-rewarded by the views. Mark responded that:

Mark: Or we could just go around it.
GwDs: Oh, you can't just go around.
Mark: Why not? Is there a rule?
GwDs: Uh . . .
     So we pow-wowed and agreed that Darby and Mark had, by this point, had about all the steep climbing they were ever going to need in their lives. However, I was kind of feeling ambitious. I liked the look of this one. I felt good. I wanted to eat it. We agreed to meet around on the other side. I took off!

Yeah! Legs pistoning, lungs pumping, pack cinched up high so I could lean forward with it. Going my own pace! Just for the sheer joy of it! I didn't have to do this climb at all! I also, admittedly, wanted to make good time so M & D wouldn't be waiting around too long on the other side. I turned around to check my progress so far: steep path! I was working hard – but it felt great.

I reached the top, and took a few photos, but they weren't as good as the ones I would subsequently take from – you guessed it – the third peak in the series, so I'm not putting them here. All except one: when I came out over the top, I spotted the ground-creepers: Hahahaha! What little crawling specks they were! Muahahaha!.

I picked my way down the steep descent, sweating and smiling; and caught them up on the approach to the third peak. They asked how the climb was:

Me: Freakin' great! How was your bypass?
Them: Nice, but muddy.
Me: . . . You know, I think I enjoy these gratuitous climbs rather more than the obligatory ones. Something about doing it just for the pure physical enjoyment of it. Plus, come to consider, I also don't have to suffer the guilt of dragging you guys up a climb you're maybe not so thrilled about.
     We agreed that we liked this dividing and conquering and letting everyone do what they really wanted business so much that we should do it again. Okay! See you on the other side (again)!

This one started off even more promisingly: with proper bouldering, a good old clamber. And once I made the top, up there so high and all alone: I truly felt like the King of all Creation. (You'll intuit my shaving strategy for this trip: I shaved once right before we left.) Here's that same vista without me mucking it up. I believed I could see the sea! The next sea since the last sea!

I followed the ridge-topping path to a truly imposing cliff edge. I sat dangling my legs off the precipice – and picked out D & M again on the forest floor! We all waved. (It was too far even to shout.)

Another delightfully harrowing descent, and I found the other two camped out on a bench below. Having successfully hooked up again, we set off, all in a fine giggly humour, to do the last mile to Urra (the closest camping to Clay Bank Top).

I belatedly got Darby to look up the elevations of the three peaks: 401m, 402m, and 398m, respectively. I was secretly pleased that my solo climb had taken me higher than I otherwise would have gone. By one meter.

    We passed more bluebells. The sun sarted to get low. Finally, we reached Maltkiln House – a lovely, secluded ranch-style place – just as the rains began blowing back in. A truly lovely older woman greeted us at the door, asking if we were her guests for the night. We admitted that we didn't have a reservation and wanted only to camp. She apologised that A) she didn't do camping there and B) she had no room vacancies. D'oh! Somehow we had misread the guidebook. "But why don't you come in for a cup of tea?" she asked us, obviously both totally sincere and utterly nice.

And so we went inside and had the nicest tea of the trip (and the only one we didn't have to pay for). She told us about her son who went to Sandhurst and now worked in IT in the City; and her other son who hooked back up with his sweetheart from age seven on Friends Reunited and they got married and both gave up their jobs, and moved to the south of France where they were caretakers of an abbey, and just had a baby. She told us about some of their guests who'd had mishaps on the rough terrain: the woman who broke her arm in Ingleby Cross; another who had to be fetched from a moor – she had broken her leg in multiple places and gone into shock.

She was totally, totally lovely. Her name, I belatedly found out, was Wendy.

She excused herself briefly to check in some new guests – who turned out to be the Cowboy and the Preacher. When she came back, we told her why they were called the Cowboy and the Preacher.

Wendy: Well, then I shall call them that.
     She then offered to drive us down the road a mile or so, where there was camping (in Chap Gate). We couldn't possibly accept. Also, our tea had perfectly coincided with the rain – and it was lovely out again. So we poured thanks and praise upon her before setting off again.
Darby: That was brilliant. This whole country rocks.
     So we walked another mile, past a nice church, and some stately houses that put Darby in mind of where and how she'd like to retire. Finally, onto the Chap Gate main drag. We knew the Buck Inn Hotel was the right place, as they clearly advertised acc-mmodation.

We were relieved to be back in another pub yard, where we set up shop in the last light. Unfortunately, we discovered we were sharing the yard with a dog, who had left his mark near the head of Darby's tent. I couldn't abide this, so started scavenging tools to relocate the crap. Of course, upon being disturbed, it immediately started smelling wildly, prompting Darby to thank me very little for the help. Still, I couldn't abide camping in crap, and so found a better implement (a shovel) and relocated the whole section of ground.

Me: Ist Scheisse-frei!
Darby: Thanks . . .
Me: Kein problem. Ich bin . . . der Scheisse Mann!
     It had been a great day, and we were all in a fine humour.

Last on order, naturally, was drinks and dinner. Then back in the yard, just before bed, we went over the next day's game plan. I read from the guidebook that the camp site on Blakey Ridge was supposed to be extremely windy – basically sitting out on an exposed hill-top moor. Mark suddenly got very interested in B&B'ing it that night.

Me: Aw, come on! What kind of trip would it be without ever camping on a wind-swept moor? Where's your sense of romance?
Mark: Taking a back seat to my sense of stupidity.
Me: C'mon, it was good enough for Cathy.
Mark: Nowhere in Wuthering Heights does it say, 'Then Cathy broke out the tent . . .'
Me: After she was dead! She was outside then.
Mark: Yes, and she was still trying to get back into the house.
Me: . . . Okay. You win.

Tomorrow: Day 12 - Clay Bank Top to Blakey Ridge (10 miles)

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close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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