Apologies for not posting the third and final installment sooner, I was recovering from a sheep bite that went septic. Actually thats a lie, but also rather more exciting than the truth, which involves exams. Do read parts 1 and 2 of my tale also.
We woke before dawn, and assessed the damage done by the sheep. The tent porch was collapsed and a packet of sugar cubes stolen, but other than that all was in order. Then we sat there as the sun gently climbed above a distant ridge and began to melt the light frosting of ice on the ground, until dew droplets hung like jewels in the morning sun.
Our path was taking us ever further north, seemingly away from any civilization at all. There were no human settlements to be seen, and even the paths we had been following disappeared, so that we had to follow the game trails which weaved between the bracken.
We were circumnavigating a bog when we found our path blocked by several somewhat shaggy cows, with formidable horns and rather groovy fringes. We quickly nicknamed them “Emoo’s”, and made them run away by shouting mean things about their hairstyles.
By midday we had reached the highest point of the moors, traversing the treacherous White Ridge, great slabs of stone like altars overlooking the plateau below. We scrambled from peak to peak as the wind picked up and drove dark storm clouds above us. Rain was imminent.
In the final valley before our destination we came across a river, swollen by the recent rainfall and scattered with huge boulders. The map indicated a bridge, but there was non to be found. And so we were left with no choice but to jump from rock to rock, perilously balancing on each one above the roaring torrent as our heavy bags attempted to drag us down. This photograph of the river upstream doesn’t really do it justice.
The first Joe skips across like a sure footed mountain goat. I followed more carefully, concerned for the safety of my camera, and had to crouch to steady myself in the middle, but arrived at the bank safely. Second Joe also crossed without a problem. But then third Joe fell and slid sidewards on the largest of the boulders, his feet dipping into the water as he arrested his fall with one arm. My heart stopped momentarily, but he staggered upright again and finished the crossing. The final ascent awaited us.
Perhaps it was boredom from the relentless pacing onwards, onwards, towards the horizon. Perhaps it was a mixture of sleep deprivation, lactic acid, and too many sugar cubes in the morning porridge. Whatever it was, the fact is that for those last few miles I was quite convinced I was Frodo. Please do not judge me.
The straps of my monstrous rucksack bit mercilessly into my shoulder. My vision swam, my breath came in ragged gasps. Not far to the summit now, but every pace seems to take thousands of minutes. I collapse heavily, and fumble for my water bottle, pour the last of it into my mouth, spilling precious drops onto the cruel rocks.
Another monumental effort, each metre crawls by, the wind whipping dust into my eyes as tiny hailstones begin to fall; stinging my hand and face. A hand, bloodied and torn, gripped the top of the plateau. My hand. Thighs screaming one final protest, my bag pulling downwards and trying to throw me back, I pull myself up, and there it is. It is beautiful.
An icecream van. A drizzle soaked carpark with an icecream van and a bench. It was El Dorado, it was Mecca. I very barely resisted the temptation to fling myself to the ground and kiss the asphalt of utopia. No, there was one last thing to do. From my pocket I pulled out a small metal object. Some loose change. A ring.
Yes. There was a reason I came to this place. I hurl the ring as far as I can into the flaming crater before me, and it hangs in the air for a second, before dropping into the waiting hand of the icecream van man.