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DAY 5. Wednesday 21st June 2006 - Shap to Kirkby Stephen
"It can be smugly assumed that one-third of the distance ( as the crow flies ) has been covered and rather more in actual mileage because of the indirect passage through Lakeland"
There was a rather sombre mood over breakfast this morning as everybody considered what to do, catch the bus or set off on today's 19.5 mile (32 km) walk to Kirkby Stephen, one of the longest days of the whole route. Lizzie spent the whole breakfast looking out seeing the rain splatter against the window and was wondering whether she would regret her decision of continuing the walk - or at least not getting on the bus for one day - the thought of 19.5 miles suddenly seemed a very long way!
Margaret, the owner of the guest house had not only gone to great lengths to get Gluten Free bread and cake for Lizzie but also made sure that all of yesterday's wet gear had been dried, but with severe weather warnings for gales and rain in the area today it was difficult to think how long it would stay dry for, on top of this some of the guests were starting to suffer injuries.
Lizzie's ankle was badly bruised but seemed to have responded to an ice pack however there was no way of knowing how she would feel walking in her boots. Two girls (Janet and Caroline) who we had noticed on one of the other days were also staying here and one of them was beginning to have knee problems.
In the end everybody decided to make a start except for a German couple who bizarrely we discovered lived just around the corner from us in Lewisham! As they were not doing the whole walk they chose to catch a bus to Orton and then walk the rest, reducing the mileage to a manageable 11.5 miles.
The wind was still strong but at least it was a dry start to the day.
Lizzie's foot appeared to be coping well and we soon caught and passed the Dutch group and before long we were walking by ourselves, except for a few walkers coming the opposite way including one of the Dutch group, which we thought was quite odd until we discovered their big secret.
At a point where the footpath crossed a minor road we passed a mini-bus - with Dutch number plates - a bit of a coincidence we thought especially as the back was crammed full of walking gear and food. No wonder they were a bit laid back yesterday!
They have got a full scale back up van following them around!
Many of the guidebooks mention that after Lakeland this stage is a little long and too flat, with quite a bit of road walking, but to us it was like walking on the South and North Downs, so we felt at home, just the views back to the Lakes and ahead to the Pennines were slightly more scenic than the M25!
The rain finally arrived in the middle of the day, the first wave a sheet of hailstones whipped up by the strong winds blowing straight at us. The second and third waves of showers were less severe and luckily blowing into our backs but it still made us question what we were doing! After all we had trained in hot weather, today is the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, and it has been more like October. Later we would meet up again with Naomi and Duncan at Kirkby Stephen and they told us how they had been having their lunch a few miles away from us watching wave after wave of rain pass by, just our luck to be in the middle of it!
I kept looking back at Lizzie with the rain dripping off the rim of my hood and she kept smiling back so we just carried on, there was nowhere to stop anyway, no shelter just open moorland. By the end of the second wave of showers Lizzie had adopted a Rambo, commando, style making a head band out of a balaclava, complete with all her waterproofs just her windblown tanned face peering out at me from under the hood. She appeared to have forgotten all about the swollen ankle! (She hadn't!!!!)
All the sheep were taking shelter behind stone walls, there were times when we wanted to join them!
At the moment I don't think that Lizzie is going to let anything get in her way and stop her from getting to the end!
After 18 miles we were both beginning to tire and just wanted to get the last 1.5 out of the way (Lizzie's feet by this stage were burning really badly and thoughts of a nice hot bath were running through her mind), the rain had stopped. We came down a hill to a road and could see a car waiting with 2 people inside - obviously some one's back up car - shame it wasn't for us.... With Kirkby Stephen ahead of us we passed through a farm, like runners in a marathon we were cheered on towards the finish, by a rather enthusiastic bunch of noisy sheep! Making one last effort we hobbled into Kirkby Stephen.
Fortunately we found our B&B very easily and were able to hobble inside. By this stage Lizzie was hardly able to walk and visibly groaned when told that the restaurant we were booked into for that night's dinner was on the other side of the town, fortunately it wasn't too far to walk.
We were the only people booked into the B&B so it was a bit different from our previous night stay in Shap, no guest lounge or sharing experiences with others, we did see Duncan and Naomi tucking into their dinner at a local pub though. They were staying at a great B&B which even had a foot massage spa in their bedroom.
What would Lizzie have given to have had one of those???
Kev raised a few eyebrows, standing in the middle of Kirkby Stephen High Street pointing his mobile skywards, no it wasn't some form of summer solstice anti rain dance but the only place he could get a signal to send today's diary entry back to Lone Walker.