A rainy day

Prevouisly, this weblog might have given the impression of a cavalier attitude toward preparation. This is probably the dregs of teenage suspicion against anything looking too much like ‘effort’. And, you know, the fact there are no pictures of Lou Reed, David Bowie or Kanye West in waterproofs.

Which is fine until you’re dealing with the rain. Throughout Saturday’s walk on the Pennine way we dodged the showers. Yesterday, the downpour started as we stopped for lunch and pretty much continued until the day’s end.

The rain soaked my trousers as I’d not had chance to put on waterproofs. Slowly my boots became sodden, every footstep squelchy and gross. And my poncho kept getting whipped away by the wind. 

I’m more of a fan of rain in theory than practise. Take Madonna’s song, which compares rain to love; this couldn’t be further from my experience of continual showers and drizzle. Listening back to Rain, I can tell Madonna hasn’t faced a wet day on the Pennine way. She is not someone who owns waterproof trousers.

As we approached Pen-y-ghent, the mountain was invisible. We never saw more than about 50-100 metres in front of us. We had no idea how far we had to climb until we reached the path at the summit. I have no idea what this mountain looks like.

The ascent was more challenging than we’d expected, with a little scrambling over rocks while high up. As there was a break in the rain I took off the poncho to stop it blowing about. We kept going, excited about the summit, and what the guidebook described as a “sublime shelter”. This turned out to be two sets of benches, well designed so that one set would always be out of the wind. It gave us somewhere to rest and eat, but to be called sublime, a shelter really needs a roof.

The views from the top of Pen-y-ghent were disappointing.

During the first day walking the Pennine way, David and I met two women who’d done it done years back. They told us they had seen only one afternoon of rain the whole time. An enviable experience, but it gives them little to talk about when the conversation turns to the Pennine Way’s reputation for bad weather.

The experience of waterlogged boots and clothing was unpleasant. But it was never dangerous, since we had a warm place to stay at the end. The weather could well have been worse – it was warm, at least. And I found myself enjoying the challenge, knowing that I could endure everything that the rain was throwing at me. I was content, maybe even happy. There were few places I would have rather been.

Lying in bed now, a little after 6, I can hear rain lashing the windows. My car is a little way off in Hawes. I’m not looking forward to setting out, but I’ll make the best of it.

Walkerpunk

My approach to walking can probably be summed up by my boots and how inappropriate they are.

My first long walk was in August/September last year. I’d done some epic day walks, but nothing longer. I’d been meaning to walk the South Downs Way for a long time – probably twenty years or more. Finally, I picked a date and committed to it.

I walked the route in my DMs. By the end of the fourth day, standing in bare feet was agony. I hobbled and limped my way through the last two days, aching but undefeated. And a lot of people asked me what I thought I was doing by walking in DMs. I figured it was better to walk in the wrong footwear than not at all.

The thing is, if I’d had to get the right boots, I wouldn’t have gone. Organising the walk, packing, and so on was enough trouble. If I’d had to invest in a expensive footwear, with all the doubt and uncertainty over that… the walk would not have happened. So I set out and dealt with the consequences. It wasn’t a great decision, but it was the right one. And, actually, a lot of people make hiking sound far too difficult.


Many years ago, the punk fanzine Sideburns printed a famous picture (later reprinted in Sniffin’ Glue). It showed three guitar chords and declared: “here’s one chord, here’s another, and another: now form a band”. The great thing about punk was that it made it seem easy to form a band and play music. And while punk spawned hundreds of terrible single-gig bands, it also produced raw and exciting bands that would never have existed otherwise. That punk spirit is an amazing thing.

And that’s the approach I have to hiking. It’s supposed to be simple, something anyone can do. You can make it as difficult as you like, or straightforward. You don’t even need to get to a trail: like Will Self, you can set out from your own door, and walk as far as you can. It doesn’t require exotic expeditions: Alastair Humphreys has written a lot about microadventures. You don’t even need to go anywhere new – the situationists came up with strategies for defamiliarising well-known neighbourhoods.

And I’m not the only person to have taken a slipshod approach to footwear. Even proper walkers like Tristan Gooley get this wrong. In the introduction to his Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs, Gooley describes a walk made in his twenties, from Scotland to London. Three weeks in, crossing the peak district, Gooley encountered some proper walkers, with all the right gear. They warned that he probably didn’t want to continue in his “£19 trainers”, then asked where he came from. Gooley took pride in shocking the walkers by saying he had come from Scotland.

I’ve got the boots now, but I still take pride in looking nothing like a proper walker.  In my heart, I’m not walking because I’m boring or middle-aged. In my heart, walking is subversive and thrilling. I’m not a walker. I’m…