Northumberland part one

18May14

Home I have hobbled, like those marathon runners who probably decided around the 20-mile mark that this really isn’t for them, just as the lids have worn off their blisters and it suddenly feels as if they’re running on knives. Not that I have been running anywhere, just walking and walking and walking.

But what walking! In what weather! Even the factor 60 was not able to stop the Northumberland sun from drawing out the freckles. These were not the only parts of me to be relocated. In Alnwick, about 18 hours after I’d been crapped on by some sort of Great Auk, a quarter of a molar broke off and disappeared down the hatch with a mouthful of Fruit’n’Fibre. I can only speculate where it is now: west of Beadnell? North-west of Lindisfarne? Or perhaps still with me, anxious to make even more trouble and lodge in what has been up to now a trouble-free appendix.

See? There’s no point worrying because the thing that really floors you is so out of the blue, you simply cannot prepare for it. Last autumn, I fretted about map-reading, legs and a heavy cold turning into a chest infection. And instead, my boots got mauled by a dog. Not expecting that. This time I fretted about left knee, arches of feet and waterproofing on coat, and instead, my molar collapsed. Not expecting that. What next time? I hardly dare think.

The walk proper started last Sunday, with my cousin who offered to come with me for the first day and then catch a bus back. Which was very nice of him, especially since the second part of the walk, with Whitley Bay a pretty memory, was mostly mud, building sites, car parks and abandoned Asda trolleys in the middle of fields.

In fact, it wasn’t until lunchtime the next day that I got a friendly smile out of anyone who wasn’t related to me, although the smile in question disappeared fast when she heard the answer to the question, Where are you staying in Alnmouth? Turns out I had chosen ‘Britain’s most haunted hotel’ (according to Google), which has been certified twice by the British Poltergeist Society. Quite why the society felt they’d done such a ropey job the first time around that they’d had to have a second crack at it, history does not relate, but still, apparently there are 60 spirits vying for elbow room at The Schooner.

Fact No. 1: ghosts don’t exist. Luckily for them, because of Fact No. 2: I was in such a fury by the time I got to the Schooner that anything attempting to clank, moan, sigh or puckishly move stuff around the room ho-ho-ho would have been sent to HELL with TINNITUS. The day’s walk had been further than anticipated – walking along a Northumberland beach is very beautiful, but 16 miles of the stuff is hard going when you’ve already done eight miles cross country and you’ve got a disaster up ahead.

The disaster’s when you discover that the bridleway on the map across the river south of Alnmouth (the river Aln. Mouth into sea, yeah?) is not a bridge or sand bar or stepping stones or magic frigging carpet, but literally a bridleway because only a horse can cross it, not a human. Not a human with sense anyway. An empty-headed couple did manage it in fact, but barely, and even more stupidly, carrying a dog. ‘Will you call the coastguard if we get into difficulties?’ they asked me, both clambering into the water at the same time rather than waiting for one to make it safely across.

So there I stood, adding time to a long day, watching Dumb and Dumber lurch heart-stoppingly to right and left, jabbing sticks to gauge depth and up to their thighs in the swirling waters. Not a chance was I foolhardy enough to try that little caper, wearing a large rucksack, with no sticks and heavy boots, so I had to go round. Round the estuary, over the dunes, round the saltmarsh, punching the Follow Diversion, Path Closed for Resurfacing (‘Not any more, it fucking isn’t’) signs out of my way, over the bridge. Another hour, another three miles. Fortunately I had phoned ahead – several times, having been assured by the landlord that the remaining four-mile walk would take 45 minutes. Surprise! It didn’t. Even without the ford fiasco it took twice that. The kitchen was closing at 8.45. At 8.25 I burst through the doors of the hotel shouting ‘Burger and chips!’

So yeah, ghosts? Come on if you think you’re hard enough…

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