It’s genuinely difficult to know where to start with this blog. Firstly it’s long overdue. And secondly, it was just such a mammoth and emotional adventure, that it’s tricky to know how to describe it in a short piece of writing. Suffice it to say, this blog is about Maddy’s journey from my perspective. The tale of my return southbound to Edale will have to wait for another blog…
For those who didn’t follow us, my 16 year-old daughter, Maddy and I walked north along the Pennine Way in July 2018. With 268 miles and 39,000 feet of climb, it’s a big ask for a 16 year-old.
Maddy had just finished her GCSEs. Her friends were out having breakfast together, hanging out in summery parks, going to the cinema and having parties. Social media meant Maddy was all too aware of the life that was going on back home as she was trudging miles up a slim strip of hilly English countryside with a pack on her back and a distinct feeling of missing out. As soon as she stepped foot on the trail, she realised what she had taken on. Agreeing to a challenge is easy; there is a romanticism to it somehow. The reality is often very different. And so it was for her.
But never, not once, did she moan. She stayed silent at times, she frequently blocked out the world with her music (I can’t quite explain why, but she listened to the same Beach Boys album on repeat for 268 miles) and she sang her way over the hills. But she never complained and she always tackled the days with the kind of determination that makes me tearful to think about even now. She held onto a most wicked sense of fun (it’s one of the things I really love about her), she made sandwiches the size of bunk beds, stopped to fuss every single animal we encountered (including frogs), and played the fool on a daily basis.
As with any trail, our first days were hard. On the descent off Bleaklow to Torside we had legs that felt like they would refuse another day. But by the following foggy, damp morning, we were back on it, stomping our way up to Laddow Rocks and on to Black Hill. By day three, we were into a rhythm and there was room for enjoyment.
Maddy’s best day was the Malham to Horton day. It included the wonderful Malham Cove, the fun little scramble up Pen Y Ghent, a cheeky play on the out-of-tune piano at the Horton campsite and most importantly, the addition of friends to keep our morale up.
We were absolutely blessed on that front along this trail. Because we were carrying a tracker, people were able to see where we were with alarming accuracy. Friends from home and athletes from the Spine race (Google it if you don’t know it. Your mind will be boggled) popped up at what felt like every turn. On hot days they appeared with ice-cream and cold drinks. On cooler days, they brought hot drinks and a welcome seat to rest in. And on more than one occasion they brought the welcome offer of a place of luxury to rest our heads for the night with a home-cooked meal. The support they all offered was beyond our wildest imagination and we genuinely can’t thank them all enough.
And so, with this generous support, we inched our way up to Scotland. Maddy experienced the 360° views from Great Shunner Fell, she got to see the thirst-quenching beauty of the Yorkshire Dales; she truly soaked up the awe-inspiring magnitude of High Cup Nick and she experienced the hideously relentless climb up to Cross Fell, where she typically saw no view, but was at least also spared the Helm Wind.
She reassuringly hated the section to Greenhead (who doesn’t dislike Blenkinsopp?), she took on the thigh-burning Hadrian’s Wall with relative gusto, including a short celebratory photo stop at Sycamore Gap, and enjoyed a snack and rest stop at the iconic Horneystead Farm. She loved the wonderful hospitality offered by Colin & Joyce at Byrness and, as a parting shot before reaching Kirk, she endured a hailing, gale-force hell day and night on the majestic Cheviots. It’s safe to say she really did experience the Pennine Way in all its glory.
After a sleepless stormy night in the Auchope hut (hut 2 to many of you) she made it to Kirk in time for breakfast with more than a hint of relief and gratitude that it was over. As she keeps telling me, she tried my thing and gave it her all. But for now, at least, she quite reasonably declares it just isn’t her thing.
Despite Maddy’s relative reluctance, we did have fun on this journey (although someone may need to tell her that. This whole thing for her is currently a type 2.5 fun). She made me laugh; frequently. She engaged whole-heartedly with passersby and worked hard to promote the charity for which she was walking.
Maddy understands the driver behind all our charity challenges. She has huge empathy for children with Duchenne and what they and their families are going through, both physically and emotionally. She has the capacity to feel that sadness but also to get up and do something to facilitate change. This walk was the hardest thing Maddy has ever done. And I could cry with the memory of seeing her reach Kirk Yetholm. But what touches me more than anything, is her determination to do her bit to help. She wants a cure for this disease as much as I do and she isn’t afraid to turn that desire into productive action, however hard it is. I watched her really struggle at times on this walk. But not for one second did either of us doubt she would complete it, because she has more emotional strength and determination than I have ever had. Like the strongest winds on the Cheviots, this girl truly blows me away.
One day, perhaps if she has children of her own, she will understand the magnitude of my pride in her.