Palm Trees, Donkeys and 2013 365 Challenge #26

Crazy Geese - one of them tried to bite the donkey causing it to buck.

Crazy Geese – one of them tried to bite the donkey causing it to buck.

I took the children to the Farm today (Sacrewell Farm: a great place where you can feed rabbits and goats, play on the indoor and outdoor climbing frames, go on tractor rides, stroke the horses and see the pigs. We go at least once a week.)

Normally we are there for several hours and the kids have to be bribed away with cookies. Today only the youngest one had to be bribed. My daughter was cold and has decided she’s all done with snow.

We lasted less than an hour and some of that was spent getting hats and gloves on.

I'm not sure if she's nervous about the snow or the peacock

I’m not sure if she’s nervous about the snow or the peacock

(Have I mentioned I’m more of a Spring/Autumn girl? Summer is all suncream and chasing kids to put hats on. Winter is about layers, wet gloves and I’m cold… said over and over in a whiney voice.)

The forecast is for more snow 😦 and then heavy rain 🙂 Even though it will mean more flooding I’ve never been so happy to see a heavy rain prediction.

Poor donkey not too happy about sharing his paddock with the crazy geese!

Poor donkey not too happy sharing his paddock with the crazy geese!

Today has been spent making poster-paint palm trees, assembling party bags and putting together Musical Leaf (think Musical Chairs) / Musical Trees (think Musical Statues) prizes. It’s gone bedtime and I haven’t started today’s post yet. I’m enjoying all the party prep but I admit I’ll be glad when it’s over. Next year I think I’ll suggest we hire out the nearest swimming pool and buy in pizza.

I’ve enjoyed my research today. I decided Claire needed to get out in the snow and do some hiking in her Helly Hansens (I still need to Google whether they’re even waterproof! – They are, apparently they’re snow boots. Perfect).

For the first part of my info-gathering I took the dog for a walk and wrote down as much as I could of the experience with my numb fingers. Then I stumbled across this great website detailing the Pennine Way one photo at a time: Bynress to Kirk Yetholm. I’m currently scrolling through it experiencing the walk without getting off the sofa. I wonder how much Claire is going to enjoy it?


Claire looked around the dinner table at the flushed, shiny, faces of people who had spent too long out in a blizzard. The food was good but Claire couldn’t wait for the meal to be over. So much eager enthusiasm was putting her right off her spaghetti.

“So Claire, are you here to do the Pennine Way tomorrow? Rather unusual hiking by yourself at this time of year.”

Claire jerked her head up, so inured to the conversation wafting over her that she had ceased to pay attention.

“What, me? Hell, no.”

She laughed loudly but stopped when she realised no one else was smiling. She managed to swallow the next words waiting to spill out: Only sad freaks and single people go hiking. She wasn’t sure what category that put Michael and the darling Debbie in. She didn’t want to think about them. And after an hour of conversation she knew that these good folk certainly didn’t fit in either category. Jason and Fi were married and, when they weren’t hiking, spent their days working for a busy firm of solicitors. Jenny and Paul were engaged and both studied medicine. They’d all met at university and now went hiking together twice a year.

Claire had been conscious of a growing sense of unworthiness throughout the meal and was surprised that any of them had bothered to talk to her at all. She had introduced herself as a Marketing Exec and wondered afterwards whether they thought that meant she was at the bottom of the pecking order rather than the top.

“We’re out again tomorrow, why don’t you join us? It must be dull cooped up indoors by yourself all day.”

Jason’s grin had a spiky edge that Claire mistrusted. She wasn’t about to admit that the day had dragged like a Finance meeting. She had every intention of leaving in the morning for the next hostel, but something in Jason’s sardonic stare made her hackles rise. She looked back at him coolly and silently challenged him to continue.

“We’ll be walking out to Kirk Yetholm tomorrow to complete the Pennine Way. Well, we haven’t done all of it this time. Who has twenty days to spend travelling?” He raised an eyebrow at Claire and it was as if he knew everything about her.

Has he figured it out? Maybe he’s linked me with the Two-hundred Steps Home blog? Can’t imagine how, it’s only got three followers. Maybe he’s a friend of Carl’s sent to spy on me. After reading that Visitor Book yesterday anything is possible.

Thinking about the Visitor Book comment made Claire think of Debbie again. Before she was aware of it her mouth opened and she began to speak. “Okay, why not? I probably don’t have all the right gear with me but I should be able to manage a dozen miles.” Her traitorous brain seemed to have the wit not to add, how hard can it be?

Twenty-four hours later she was glad she was at least saved that humiliation.

Damn this streaming nose, when will it stop? Claire turned her head left and right so she could see if anyone was watching, then wiped her nose with her woollen gloves. Mental note to disinfect these when we get back to civilisation.

Claire’s hood was pulled up as high as it would go, and her coat was zipped to her chin, reducing her vision to the patch of snow directly in front of her. Her face was so numb her nose could be chopped off by a cosmetic surgeon and she wouldn’t notice. There may be something in that. Freezing as a form of anaesthetic. Why not?

She dug her hands deeper in her pockets and tried not to whimper. Her thighs burned from keeping her balance in the deep snow. The sound of her own sniffing was driving her nuts. Little other external noise made it through the hood; only the rustling of her clothing, the scrunch of snow and the wind whooshing past her hood. Her eyes ached from the brightness of snow. Funny, it didn’t occur to me that I might need my damn sunglasses in March. Claire mentally catalogued the pains: Hips sore, feet sore, skin dry, lips chapped, face frozen, knees creaking. This must be what it feels like to be ninety.

They crouched in the lee of a low stone wall to get some food. Claire perched on her rucksack and stared longingly at Jason’s flask of coffee and foil-wrapped warm pasty. She bit into the sandwiches provided by the hostel and tried not to expose more skin that necessary. They didn’t stop for long. Even the cheery Paul had fallen quiet as they neared their destination.

Claire dropped into a metronomic one-two one-two beat just to keep her feet moving. Jenny called out names like Black Hag and Old Halterburn. They sounded like insults but she guessed they were points on the map the others all carried.

Claire’s heart began to thud in her ears as something dark loomed out of the snow. She wondered whether she should alert the others, but they were a few paces ahead, leaving her to trudge at the rear. None of them seemed concerned by the hulking shape. Claire watched it nervously as they approached, before realising what it was. It’s a damn tree. I think that’s the first one I’ve seen. Where do the birds live up here? Maybe they don’t; maybe they have more sense.

Occasionally the ground beneath the snow was solid, like a path. Her legs were grateful for the respite from uneven terrain until she felt her boots slipping and realised it was even more treacherous than the unpaved earth. Paul had mentioned something at dinner about it being a shame about the snow because he’d bought his gaiters deliberately for some bog hopping, which was still possible in places between the boardwalks and the paving slabs. Claire had no idea what he meant, picturing bed-hopping with more dirt. Now she felt the snow might be a mercy.

On the ridge Claire’s entire world contracted to the focus point of Jason’s blue ski jacket in front of her. Ski jacket! It hurt to see it and think of the snow trousers, Degree 7 snow jacket, snood and gloves currently sitting in a storage facility somewhere near Manchester. The hiking jacket sold to her by the tasty man in Blacks, combined with her cashmere and as many t-shirts as she could fit on, was keeping her warm on top but it was not the weather for jeans. They clung like a blanket of thin-sliced liver to her legs and dragged her down with every step.

Jason had sniggered to Fi when Claire joined them in the hallway ready for departure. He had smoothed the smile from his face and suggested alternative trousers might be more comfortable. When Claire had explained she had nothing else he just shrugged. Fi looked troubled and said something to him in a low voice but he just shook his head. Feeling the numbness in her thighs, Claire wished Fi was the kind of woman who stood up to her man and helped the city girl. Not that I’d have accepted help then. I’m glad I went back and put tights on underneath. I might be sweatier than a clubber at 4am but I’m not getting frostbite. At least her Helly Hansen snow boots were coming into their own, even if the snow was over the tops most of the time.

They walked past some more trees and some pathetic-looking sheep huddled into the scanty shelter afforded by a wall and Claire felt the mood of the group lift. Her brain processed the information that they were reaching the end of the ordeal. Her steps became more brisk and she raised her chin for the first time in hours. There was a footbridge at the bottom of the valley and at last they were off the snow and onto a paved road. Claire swung her legs from the hip, trying to stretch out tired muscles. All she could think of was a hot shower and a cup of Earl Grey.

Her muscles tightened as she felt the road begin to climb. You bastard, I’m done. How could you just have one more hill?

And then it was over. They were all tucked into a warm car with steamed up windows heading back to the hostel. The two couples chattered excitedly about the walk, about having finally completed the Pennine Way, about getting some certificate or other. Claire rested her head against the vibrating freezing glass and dreamed of tea.