Hiking in the Peak District, England
After attending a wedding in the Cotswolds, l wanted to go hiking. Peter returned to Berlin and l found a women’s only hiking company. Fortunately, they had a vacancy on the next hike; five days in the Peak District hiking the 30-mile Hope Pilgrimage. A pilgrimage from the town of Edale to the town of Eyam. Eyam became famous for its choice to go into isolation after the plague was discovered there in 1665, instead of spreading the plague to other villages. What a resourceful idea. I dragged my suitcase and hiking pack to the train station and boarded a train to Hathersage.
The pub in Hathersage was our meeting place and where we would stay for four nights. Daily we would return by bus to the location where we had finished hiking the day before and resume the hike. The pub looked like it had suffered from Covid closures; old and worn. There was a smell of mold and the biscuits in the room next to the kettle were stale.
The group met for the first time for dinner in the pub. The menu for that evening consisted of sausages, with a choice of meat or vegetarian sausage, potatoes and peas. Piles of pre-frozen peas and chips.
We were a group of ten women. Ten individuals who respected each other’s space and had come together with the sole purpose of walking the pilgrimage.
All of the women were from Great Britain with a mixture of Scottish, north country, Wales, and Yorkshire accents which I strained to understand at the beginning. But by the end of the hike when I had to pee I was saying:
‘Just need to pop off for a little weee.’
At breakfast every morning, the waiter, who was also the cook, sighed with disappointment when we all refused the British fry up of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausages, baked beans and fried bread and pointed us to the serve yourself cereal, fruit and coffee, that looked like thin brown water.
At breakfast, the weather was discussed in detail. It’s a serious British topic and when it does not go according to what was on the telly (television) report at breakfast, then the government was to be blamed. As one of the hikers said :
“The lying government can’t even get the weather report right. “
In fairness to the weatherman, the climate consisted of sun, rain, wind, and temperatures that ranged from the 50s to the 70s daily.
Regardless of the weather, this was summertime for the Brits and they dressed according to the calendar. On the day I thought about wearing shorts I commented to the guide,
“I think it’s going to rain and it’s a bit chilly I’m going to put my trousers on instead.”
“Oh no you don’t. It’s summer. We wear shorts in the summer.” she replied.
The hikes were divided into 9,11,10 mile hikes and a bonus 7-mile Friday hike. The terrain was hilly, and many hills were steep. The women at the front were marathon runners; this was their warm-up for a marathon the following week. That was not the case for me. I puffed and dripped in sweat as I marched up and down peaks and through villages. The scenery was wild and barren with clusters of green forest.
Unlike the native hikers, I was not skilled at jumping over the stiles between the fields. I seemed to lack stile climbing coordination.
“Pull your right leg up first. Then lift left. Then go down backward. No, no pet, not into the barbwire fence.” yelled the leader. I persevered.
We climbed up barren rocks and into caves at the top of peaks. One cave was apparently Robin Hood’s hideout. There were no signs indicating that. I wondered if the guide made it up, but I followed.
We packed lunch daily at the pub and paused for a lunch break at suitable locations. On the first day the guide found a dry grassy field for lunch. l placed myself down on the grass and opened up my foil-wrapped sandwich. We set in silence eating our lunch as the cows in the field started to move closer. They stared directly at us and stepped slowly in our direction.
“I don’t know much about cows so I’m just wondering if one of those is a bull?” I ask.
“Just the one standing by the tree in the distance,” said the group leader. I’ll give her credit she did not miss anything. We continued to munch in silence as the cows got closer.
“I’m not comfortable,” commented one of the women. Thank god someone else said what l was thinking. I was trying to be cool acting as if l lunched in a field with cows daily. We packed our bags and relocated to the riverside with a fence between us and the cows.
At the end of the first day, the middle toe in my left foot had gone numb. Something was not right. We got back to the village thirty minutes before the only shop selling outdoor gear in the one-street village was going to close.
“Something is wrong with my shoes,” I commented to the very charming, healthy-looking shop attendant.
“Let’s take them off and measure your foot.”
A stench of sweaty foot smell drifted into the air as I took my hiking boots off.
“I am so sorry! I’ve been hiking all day.” I began to sweep the air with my hand hoping that would cause the smell to go away.
“Let me take a look at the size of your shoe.” He was versed in international shoe sizes.
“Your shoes are an American seven and your feet are a size eight. “
“I only bought these shoes a year ago. Are you telling me I am still growing or that I am turning into a duck?” He smiled politely. I fear it was the later. But he politely explained how as we aged our arches drop and our feet become larger. I constantly learn something new about my aging body.
On Tuesday night the pub rocked with an elderly guitarist singing songs from the 60s, the only entertainment in town. There was no point trying to get sleep; our rooms were above the guitarist, so we sang along instead.