Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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C2C Day 9 - Fields of Gold
Applegarth -> Danby Wiske

"You'll remember me when the west wind moves
  Among the fields of barley
  You'll forget the sun, in his jealous sky
  When we walk in fields of gold
             - Sting

Morning finds Applegarth Camping Barn – and our heroes snug in bed:
Mark: I can't tell if that's wind or rain.
Me: It's not rain. Go back to sleep.
Mark: That's definitely rain.
Me: No, you're dreaming . . . I had the most awful vivid dream last night.
Mark: Were you trapped three quarters of the way across England with two freaks?
Me: That's no dream, that's your reality.
     Mark pointed out – somewhat less caustically – that we had dodged yet another bullet. Not only did we have indoor lodging for a very rainy night; but we'd gotten our tents dried out, and put away, in the window before the rain started. We began, dangerously, to think we were quite smart.

All things considered, I decided to treat myself to a breakfast in bed of cashews and dried apricots. I lay huddled eating greedily while the other two began packing up. However, I found I was able to get another data point in support of my thesis that no matter how much sooner than me Darby started packing up, she was never ready to go before I was. Not that I'm being critical. Just an observation. Like those stretches of hill that due to optical illusion appear to rise when they really descend: Darby looks like she's nearly all packed up . . .

In fact, we took it so easy getting going this morning that the Packhorse guy actually beat us! Luckily, Mark had the big bag packed up by the time he arrived. But it did seem subtly to detract from the air of mystery to see an old guy in a van pick up the bag and drive it off. Prior to this, it could plausibly have been faeries. Elves. Quantum teleportation. But, nope, just an old guy with a truck.

The day's walk began through great fields of flowering gorse. As we set off, someone pointed out that "At least it's not raining." We would use that formulation quite often. That one, or "At least it's not rocks". Or "At least it's not sheep shit." As those were the three great abiding features of this walk, anytime at least one was missing we figured we could count it as a blessing. Mark and Darby agreed that when people back home asked what England's like, they would respond by flashing a photo of sheep and rocks; squirting them with a water gun; and stomping on their feet.

Speaking of sheep, we passed an enclosure – one with a heavily-vegitated fence, so we couldn't see in – from behind which came the lowest, rumblingest sheep baa we'd ever heard. We weren't sure we wanted to meet the sheep who had produced it. But it did prompt a highly amusing (to us) couple of rounds of adapted rapping. With apologies to Chuck D:

Me: Bass! How low can you go?
Mark: Sheep pen? What a brother know?
Me: Once again, back it's the incredible-
Mark: Rhyme animal, the incredible
Me: Sheep! Public enemy number one
     We were so tickled by this, we had another go at it:
Me: Sheep! How low can you go?
Mark: Death row? What a shepherd know?
Me: Once again, back it's the incredible-
Mark: Rhyme animal, the incredible-
Me: Sheep! Public enemy number one
      5-0 said 'Sheep!' And I got numb
Mark: Can I tell 'em that I really never had a nun.
      And it's the wool that Terminator X spun
     And if you can still read this sentence through the tears of laughter right now . . . well, you're a bigger man than we were. (Or else you've never listened to Public Enemy's "Bring Tha Noize".)

Much to Darby's relief, we soon entered the Richmond city limits. As I may or may not have mentioned, Richmond competes with Kirkby Stephen for title of least dinky tiny little town along the C2C. As it came into view, we were able to make out their famous castle.

Once in town, we made a beeline for the Studio 5 camera shop. I had to get my photos off of my cards and onto CD again. (Yes, I'd shot myself well into another hole – and was counting on Richmond to bail me out.) And Darby needed to try and either get her camera battery charged – or, just conceivably, buy a new one. She'd made what turned out to be the fairly catastrophic decision to leave her charger behind – due to her (entirely justified) pack weight fascism.

The camera shop proprietor came out and tried to "assist" me with the digital photo kiosk. I was initially quite annoyed as I was pretty sure I knew a lot more about the process than he did. As so often happens, though, there I was superciliously trying to brush off a guy who turned out to be worthy of quite a lot more respect than I had showed him. We ended up talking for awhile, and I learned that he was widely traveled, has bicycled all across Vietnam (his home away from home), owns three houses in Vietnam, has a Vietnamese wife, served in the army where he was a bomb disposal expert, and was a professional photographer in his spare time. You do meet the neatest people out in the world.

We then ducked into the famous and quite old Richmond market square. Darby needed to bank, we all needed provisions – which we secured from a proper grocery store! However, Mark was starting to get antsy about being back in civilisation (complete with crowds and commerce), so we made a beeline out of town, crossing the river in the shadow of the castle.

We picked up the trail again, which started in a municipal park/sports field. We decided to take our lunch there – given that there was an actual picnic table on offer. We were able to see the firing slits in the walls of the castle looking down on us.

Mark: Hope no one starts shooting arrows at us.
Me: Yes, I left my trebuchet at home. Too heavy. I do, however, have my pocket ballista.
Mark: Is that what you're calling it now.
     As we savoured our food and the lovely late morning, I began to realise that this routine really suited me:
Me: Yes, I think this is the life for me. Get up every morning and roam the gorgeous English countryside. Maybe I'll become a wandering minstrel . . .
     Wrapping up the meal, we carried on – the path leading off into a very lovely forest. The track itself, however, did soon put one in the mind of World's Muddiest Walking Paths – Caught on Home Video!

Leaving the forest, and crossing green fields, we found that the weather had turned very interesting – all these little micro-storms kept blowing by us. We didn't quite know what we should be wearing.

It was also today that I realised I'd been woefully negligent in photo-documenting the stiles and gates along the path. So a really big thing about England is that almost all of the land is owned by somebody (whose family has usually owned it for centuries) and also quite a lot of farming goes on in the north and so most of the land is fenced or walled off in one way or another. And the thing about the C2C is that much of it passes over private land which is nonetheless part of a "permissive path", or "right of way". Really, I should have written more about how in Britain there's a huge tradition of rambling and land owners are expected – and in many cases, required by law – to allow it. Anyway, we'd spent what seemed like half the walk so far opening and closing one of about a dozen different styles of gates, and crossing over cattle barriers, and – mainly – climbing over stiles in fences and walls. There were wooden stiles – the single steppers, the double side-by-side steppers, the X-configurations (our favourite). There were stiles in stone walls, consisting of protruding stone steps up to a cut in the top. There were all manner. But I'd never photographed any of them, so today I started trying to redress the imbalance.

Here's a wooden single stepper to get you started. Here's the X-configuration. Unfortunately, I'd blown it by waiting too long, and it turned out all the stone wall stiles were behind us. Blimey.

As we walked, Mark and I talked Sting albums – particularly debating the merits of The Soul Cages, which we agreed was probably the downward turning point of the Sting oeuvre. I'm a huge fan of the song "Mad About You" from that album, so I proceeded to sing most of it aloud – twice. "They say a city in the desert lies / The vanity of an ancient king / But the city lies in broken pieces / Where the winds howl and the vultures sing / These are the works of man / This is the sum of our ambition / It would make a prison of my life / If you became another's wife / With every prison blown to dust, my enemies walk free / I'm mad about you" Not a bad rendition, if I do say. It's right in my range (such as that is).

And then we came across the most stunning field of yellow flowers. (Though we never did actually figure out exactly what was flowering.) I hoisted myself up onto a barbwire-festooned pole to get a shot over the field. Anything for art. Shortly after, around the other side, I got another better shot without having to climb anything.

Fields of Gold, indeed.

The rain began to catch us up. We tried to race it to Brompton-on-Swale. The skies were wild and characterful.

We made it to Brompton-on-Swale, where their one pub had just stopped serving lunch. However, they kindly agreed to do us tea (with biscuits). I felt really intent that we needed this break. I'd decided these things were critical to morale. On the wall of the pub was a map of the north of England. Checking it, I saw we were about two thirds of the way across the country. I was very glad that there was a fair bit of walk left – now that we were in a groove. We geared up and carried on.

Me: See how much cheerier we are after a nice sit-down and a cuppa?
     We passed houses with lovely gardens, then got out of town – following a nice beck through pretty fields. Here's another stile for you. Don't climb it all in one place.

Soon, we passed an actual shining, rippling field of barley. Wasn't Sting from the north? I walked by with my hand out, Maximus-like, tracing the tops of the plants. "Who am I?" I asked Darby. I was a bit crestfallen when she didn't know and admitted she hadn't seen Gladiator . . .

We came to an awfully neat-o old brick bridge. We decided to make a stop upon it. In the adjacent field were cows. One of them and I approached the fence to check each other out. I found she liked having her head rubbed, which was sweet. On the other hand, she also really liked licking my hand. And my wrist. And my arm up to the elbow, with great wide scratchy slurpy licks of her breadbox-sized tongue. I confess I'd never seen (or felt) anything like that tongue. I could only guess she was shy of salt in her diet. I tried to feed her and her friend some apples, but they weren't that keen.

I was really beginning to see what Danielle is on about with maintaining that non-human animals are so cool and whatnot. (After my chicken dispatch, by the way, she wrote to wrote to tell me, "We're related after all!"

Walking on, sunniness, breeziness, and general loveliness returned. As we walked down a pretty lane, we took up the alphabet game to amuse ourselves. We thought we'd ease Darby in with a good easy starter – novels we would recommend. But she wasn't getting the hang of it. We tried to go one easier: band names. No go. Finally, we had a pretty good round on mythical creatures. Matter of finding the right topic, I suppose.

And then we tackled . . . The Prosthesis. (Or maybe it was The Apparatus that was the canonical name . . . I forget.) We laughed so hard we were literally rolling around on the side of the road. Mark came up with almost all of them. He was a machine. He was in the zone. He was shameless and merciless. Darby and I couldn't really contribute anyway because we were laughing too hard. Unfortunately for you, as I promised at the time, I'm keeping this one just for us. Well, okay, here's one tiny little taste: M was Mechanical Micturating Member. Yes, a triple. (And hardly the only one on the day.) We discussed whether we could come up with suitable synonyms when we'd never even seen the thing. Mark confessed that he had this personal vision of it as being "this Chthulic device with knobs and levers and a bellows and a PSI indicator . . ." Goddamn it took us a long time to stop laughing.

I feel like my photography hasn't been up to the standard of some other trips. But, here's a pretty nice one for you.

And at long last we rolled into Danby Wiske! And you must admit, as we agreed, that "Danby Wiske" was the winning cutesy place name along the C2C. (In another crowded and competitive field.) We checked into the White Swan, which was under lovely new ownership, and was also one of only two places to stay, and the only place to eat – and the only place to camp. We pitched our tents in the back, got much-needed showers, put our laundry on the line – and lay around resting and warming ourselves in the last sun.

After a while, we went inside and got on with the serious business of drinking – and waiting for dinner, which we didn't have a booking but they squeezed us in. (When you have the only restaurant in town I suppose you can suit yourself.) Mark decreed it the best meal he's had in England. Darby found it to be the second best curry of her life. I had nut roast. Yum, nut roast.

It was a lovely evening and a lovely dusk.

Tomorrow: Day 10 - Danby Wiske to Osmotherly (12 miles)

  coast-to-coast walk     camping     dargbles     humour     people     pitely     walking     wildlife  
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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