Day 8 was to be an easy last day on the trail, ending up at a posh B&B on Lake Windermere. However, once again our map reading skills proved less than perfect . . . .
Janet, our hostess, drove us into Sedbergh, where we took a bus into Kendal, feeling a little guilty for the detour. Not used to all the hustle and bustle in town. We stopped in a sporting goods shop to replace a knife that Silke had lost. Lo and behold, inside, we met the young man from yesterday with the battered face. He had met disaster a few days back, south of Grassington, when he slipped on some rocks and crashed head first into the River Wharfe, breaking his nose, blacking both eyes, and putting a deep gash in his head. Yikes, that could have been one of us.
A ten minute train ride took us to Stavely. After stopping in a tea/antique shop for a latte and flapjack, we set off for the last leg of our journey. First things first, where was the Dales Way? Two men passed us carrying a big Ordinance Survey map. They were also looking for the Dales Way. Two women came up as we were talking. They were with the men, which they made quite clear. “We saw you in Dent,” continued one of the women. “Yes,” I said, “We were in Dent a few days ago.” She nodded. “We saw you walking down along the river. We took the upper route. It had a much better view.”
I said we were going to Brigg Flatts Quaker Meeting House, not Sedbergh. The woman was not impressed. Silke stopped and took off her backpack. “Oh wait, Lyn, I want some water,” she said. We told the two couples to go on, and as they disappeared over the hill, we agreed to steer clear of them if possible.
Once on the trail, we settled into the rhythm of our steady pace. Vast sky, green pastures, with occasional rock outcroppings, stone walls that had to be climbed, and always the ubiquitous sheep. Janet had said the path would be level. Yes, in relation to the Howgills, but after the first few hills, I can’t say I would have called the walk “level.” Nor was the path always clearly marked, but the walking was fine, and easy to navigate.
At about 1:00 we saw a cone-shaped hill way off in the distance with tiny figures standing at the top. “Do we want to climb that?” We came upon some hikers who said the climb to School Knott was well worth it. Up the hill we labored, and what a view. Below us stretched Lake Windermere, with the the town of Bowness our destination on the left. Finding our way there was the challenge. “Follow the path between heather, bracken, and rock outcrops,” my map instructed. But, there was heather everywhere, and we didn’t know what bracken looked like. Down we went, heading toward the left, in the direction of Bowness. We came out of the woods at the bottom and found ourselves in a housing development. Totally disoriented, we spotted a woman hanging out clothes in her yard. She said we were in Windemere, two miles from Bowness! She gave us directions into the center of Windemere, a bustling, touristy town of fine old stone buildings, high-end shops and enticing cafes. By that time my feet were sizzling from the hard pavement, and my right toe was screaming at every step. I hobbled down the hill. Two miles seemed like forever. It was close to 4:00 by the time we got to Bowness. Directed by kindly passersby, we soldiered on, up a steep, cobblestones street, huffing and puffing, and our tempers fraying. Just as I was about to give up and sit down on the curb, there it was, The Fairview, our B&B, a stately white manor house. My spirits lifted immediately, and we stopped at the nearest pub, the Royal Oak, the official end-of- the- Dales Way- pub. Waves of exhaustion, relief, gratitude; we were giddy with delight. After one beer, we were giddy with drink. Our boots were caked with mud and shit, our pants were filthy, and we both needed baths, but the restaurant, just a few steps away, was cool and dark, and nobody seemed to notice. We gobbled down a burger and chips and regained our equilibrium, managing to navigate the hill back to our B&B. Tony, our host, met us at the door. We left our boots outside. Our bags had arrived. Our room was elegant, our bathroom sparkled with gleaming, white tiles, and a full-size bath tub. The best possible reward after seven days on the trail. Heaven!