The curlews at Garsdale Station welcomed us with real razzmatazz, presumably well aware of the impending downpour that hit the station just as soon as the train had dropped us on the platform and disappeared around the bend towards Kirkby Stephen.
We hadn’t expected to use the built-in raincovers on our rucksacks quite so soon, at least not until the next morning when we were due to start walking. But Mother Nature was determined to give us a taste of things to come…
It’s year three of a five year plan to conquer the Pennine Way with my Dad, breaking the twenty day trek into five stages of four days each. And stood in the rain we reflected on how glad we were to not be able to take twenty days off work to walk The Way in one sitting.
We’re heading for Hawes, the small Yorkshire market town where we finished last years leg: Garsdale is the nearest stop by rail, six miles down the winding A664 that links Cumbria with Wensleydale.
It’s here we meet Raymond, a lifelong railwayman from the heart of the Dales. He turned out to be a lucky charm – we waited an hour for one of the two scheduled bus services before a clocking-off signalman took pity on Raymond, and by association us, and dropped us into town on his way home.
Hair dried and spirits warmed with hot tea, we head out into Hawes for the evening. We cross the Ure, hidden between thin stone houses and the narrow one way loop that bridges the fast moving water.
First stop is the the Crown. Dripping pints of Old Peculier come straight from a fresh cask brimming with rich plum tart and apple fudge. An olfactory flashback to the places we’ve visited along the way so far, windswept trails, muddy boots and welcoming pubs.
We avoid Raymond’s local, partly from choice but mostly because the run down White Hart is shut down and for sale, and I felt a pang of guilt for not being too surprised.
Next stop is Chaste, a small ever-evolving bistro in the heart of the town. Since last years visit (when we ended leg 2) Belgian beers have made their way onto the inventive menu and Pilsner Urquell adorns the bar. And so it was that Chimay Red accompanied our grilled chicken dishes.
7% beers were unsustainable the night before attacking Great Shunner Fell, the highest part of The Way above sea level so far. So Pilsner Urquell – lacking some of its usual herbaceous aroma – helped fill the hole that abstinence from desserts left.
Two pints later and we’re talking to the only simultaneous winner of both the J. Sleightholme Trophy For Largest Cod and the Dr King Cup For Other Fish, a feat not rivalled since 1984/5. The Fountain is a drinking pub compared to the pastel-coloured gentrification of The Crown, but fishing hasn’t been on the cards since the turn of the millennium.
It’s Black Sheep not Theakston’s now, a “which-one-will-it-be” lottery that you have to get used to pretty quickly in the Dales. But for our sins we drink very cloudy and poorly poured Blue Moon followed by crisp pints of Copper Dragon Conqueror – freshly nosed and quenching.
The crowd gets younger and the bottles of Becks are starting to dominate the empties on the bar. Luckily the juke box hasn’t come to life yet, though by the looks of its age it’s more comfortable with rock and roll than the dub step that the youngsters are reciting in the corner. Seconds from announcing retirement to the B&B Dad throws the gauntlet down with the proposition a last gasp round. Two pints of something else hit the beer-drenched bar towel; was it Black Sheep bitter, or perhaps an Old Peculier nightcap?
Bending down to tie our laces the next morning we both groan, mimicking the way that my grandfather – dad’s dad – has perfected over the years.
“Shouldn’t have had that last beer last night, should we?”
And with that we head for the high road and start the long slog up Great Shunner Fell.
Six pints down.
Just four evenings, sixty odd miles and god knows how many gradient lines to go…