Monday, 21 February 2011

Relay from the Lakes.

The weekend hasn't really gone very well. We headed in chill winds up to Crosby beach on Friday night to see the Anthony Gormley statues stock still, watching the shipping entering the Mersey channel, before motoring onwards up to Borrowdale for overnight accommodation. We were met by a rather haughty and laconic receptionist who tossed his head back informed us we'd missed supper and led us to our room.

'It looks as though the weather's changing,' he sneered, before bowing '...and not for the better.'

We were up early on Saturday morning, and after a full breakfast and a warning to 'stay off the high ground' from our host headed along Stonethwaite Beck and began the slow climb up towards Lining Crag. To begin with everything was fresh and beautiful. Snow had fallen overnight and quickly we found ourselves losing our feet and occasionally the path as we continued our adventure. Towards the summit it became almost impossible to see the path forward and with no compass and all discernible landmarks hidden beneath a white carpet we abandoned our attempt to reach Grasmere and turned back.

A little disappointed we picked up the car and instead drove to the village for a cup of tea and a look round the church before heading, as evening fell, towards Patterdale. A hundred metres from the summit of the Kirkstone Pass disaster struck as the clutch failed leaving us stranded, hand break on, in the darkness. The AA took a couple of hours to reach us, but we weren't short of company as every motorist stopped to offer help, a lift, a blanket. The concern was all rather heart warming.

We were towed into Patterdale and an overnight stop in a gorgeous guest house at the foot of Ullswater where Ian, our host, seemed very surprised that we should be trying to do the Coast to Coast so early in the season. Enthusiasm and ambition had clearly got the better of us.

Sunday morning was spent trying to work out a way home - eventually after realising that with the parts having to be trundled over from Carlisle there wasn't much chance of getting the car fixed until Tuesday at the earliest - we phoned the AA again and began the long relay journey home on the back of a truck.

Our first mechanic was an impressively tall, bearded, almost old testament figure who took us in near silence to Tebay services where we were unhooked and made to wait for Craig who arrived from Skipton to take us on the next leg.

'The rules are simple,' he explained. 'We each have a 64 mile circular radius from our home which we can cover. I'm from Burnley so this is as far north as I go. Officially I could take you down to Keele - but I'm ending my shift. So I'll drop you off in Preston.'

When we got to Lancashire we were met by Geoff, from Runcorn, who reiterated the rules and explained he'd get us as far as Hilton Park, do a couple of jobs in Wolverhampton and head for home.

Geoff clearly enjoys his job and once he'd established that we were fairly friendly stuck his ipod on and shuffled through a selection of nineties rave anthems.

'If you get through the first winter when you're lying under a car in the hard shoulder with lorries zooming past at 70 miles an hour throwing up petrol polluted slush in your face then you'll probably stick it out.'

The mood changed at Hilton Park. The mechanic who met us was as nervous and conspiratorial as Geoff had been open and chatty. He'd recently given up smoking and was clearly struggling. Best not reveal his name. Best not reveal his football allegiance. Best not say how far he'd take us. Night had fallen and we ghosted along the M6, through the centre of Birmingham, whilst our host whispered an impressively detailed nostalgic account of the old industries whose factories and warehouses have now been transformed into hotels and shopping centres.

'Dunlop, Spitfire, almost everything we think of as important was once made here.'

He dropped us at Coventry, wished us luck, and slipped away into the night.

Finally we were given a full ride home by chirpy Phil, who fortunately lived in Luton, and could therefore comfortably carry us down the M1 and back home. We got in fourteen hours after we set off.

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