I have been walking for a long, long time. The past life I have has faded into oblivion. I have become a simple organism. All I do is walk. I no longer think, thought has become an inconvenience. I just move my legs and strike the ground with my trekking poles in a perpetual rhythm that drives me ever onwards. Martin and I have been walking for almost twelve hours now. Twenty miles lay behind us now since we set off just after 8.00 am from the paradise of our campsite in Crowden. Maybe this walk will never end. Perhaps, like some cursed ghost walkers, we are condemned to roam the Pennine moorland for ever.
That morning had been pleasant enough as we climbed up the path that winds its way gently out of Crowden. The breeze had been gentle and the sun warming as we left the little wooded valley behind us and headed out on to the rolling moorland. My legs were sleepy at first. They remembered our walk the previous day from Edale and had decided that they would just have a lay in and spend the day bumbling about and resting, like I usually do after a long walk. Today, however, there is to be no rest and it takes my legs a couple of miles to lose the ache of the previous day and realise they are supposed to keep moving.
At first we climb gently, through the heather and the sheep pastures, until the path begins to steepen and we head upwards towards Laddow Rocks. The rocks are really a short cliff perhaps a mile in length. The cliffs were popular amongst rock climbers in the early years of the sport but now stand deserted as we pass above them. Here the wind picks up and, as the mass of air is driven against the cliff wall it funnels up towards the path making it difficult to stand and, at times, threatening to hurl us over the precipice.
Then: It’s forty since Martin and I walked up past Laddow rocks and on towards the summit of Black Hill. Then we walked through a mist of rain and sank over and over again in saturated black oozing peat. Black Hill may be the least imaginative name give to any hill but it is, no doubt the most accurate. In 1974 the summit was a dreadful place. At just over 1,900 ft, in old money, it got the worst of the weather and the triangulation post, which marked the top, was defended on all sides by the blackest bog either of had ever seen. If our feet had not already become saturated the ordeal of reaching this high point would have been unbearable. As we were already wet we simply shrugged and headed away into the swirling mist hoping that, at some point, the ordeal of the peat would end.
Now: Martin and I walk to the top of the hill without even getting mud on our boots. By some Herculean feat a slabbed walk way has been built right across the bog and no one need suffer the indignity of wet feet on Black Hill again.
We head on across the vast empty moorlands crossing with relative ease the dreaded Whitemoss and Blackmoss, both of which featureless bogs have been tamed by paved paths rendering these beasts of the moors mere gentle lambs.
Then: From somewhere out in the mist we hear a voice calling. Neither of us can make out what is being said, the cries don’t sound like English, but they are clearly calls for help. We soon find their origin. A man is stuck in the peat. The bog has him up to his thighs and we watched, horrified as he slowly begins to sink. His companion stands a few yards away, watching helplessly. He is German or Dutch but his nationality does not matter, he is being devoured by the bog monster.
I try to get to him, but each time I approach the bog tries to suck me in too. Looking around I find a plank, it’s the remains of an old sign that once stood vertically but that has long since given up hope and resigned itself to the Black Death.
I stand on the sign, grab the unfortunate man by the armpits, and haul him unceremoniously from the jaws of the monster. Once out he complains I have stretched his back.
Now: Beyond Blackmoss we arrive at the house that was once a pub known as The Floating Light. 40 years ago, Martin and I had speculated that the name must come from the fact that, at night, with no other lights around in this lonely place, the lights of the pub must have appeared to float above the bog. Plausible as this explanation is it is in fact, totally inaccurate. The old pub was situated on Saddleworth Moor beneath which there was a canal tunnel. During construction of the tunnel, workmen would like their labours by floating a light on a small boat. Hence the origin of the name floating light.
The Pennines are cut by roads running from East to West in a number of places but no such crossing is as spectacular and surreal as the crossing of the M62 motorway which meets the Pennine Way at a remote junction. The Way crosses the Motorway on a thin pedestrian bridge. You walk across mile after mile of remote moorland where the only sounds are the singing of birds and the wind bustling through the heather. Places where the hand of man seems almost absent. Suddenly, great articulated lorries roar 30 metres beneath your feet, as the bridge swings alarmingly beneath you. The motorway is a disconcerting reminder that, for all the apparent remoteness of the moorland route of the Way, the bustle of modern life is never far away.
After climbing along the broken line of rocks that is Blackstone Edge which forms the boundary between west Yorkshire and Greater Manchester and offers commanding views over the patchwork of farmland below.
‘The next Five miles are the easiest on the Pennine Way,’ Martin had prophesied earlier. Now, as we limp past The Whitehouse pub on the windy edge of the moors it’s hard to conceive that any 5 miles could be easy.
The constant wind blows against us and the wide expanses of the three reservoirs, who’s dams we must cross, offer no resistance to the ceaseless east wind as it pushes against our every step. We have walked 19 miles across the high moorland and the remaining 5 bring aching knees as the wind blasts our faces. A little before 8.00 pm, after 12 hours of walking, we finally descend towards the village of Mankinholes. That night, sitting in the pub, sipping a well-earned pint I can only think of how far there is to go, and wonder how, 40 years ago, we fought our way through the rain and the bog to this very spot against odds that now seem impossible.