Monday 31st July 2006, Pennine Way Day 7
We were in a regimented routine and getting better at it. Rucksacks, complete with water-filled bladder packs, were ready, as were we before breakfast. Our carry-on hold alls for the courier to collect were stationed by the front door. We could eat a three-course breakfast and then be held up only by waiting for the packed lunches to be issued. Malham issued monster-sized packed lunches which filled our rucksacks to capacity. The "Would you like an extra piece of fruit then, instead of crisps?" trick was still functioning perfectly, but on this occasion there was simply no further nook or cranny anywhere into which we could stuff the bonus oranges. I sheepishly handed them back and said my farewells.
Our route out of Malham began with a quarter of a mile of road walking, followed by level walk on a very good tourist path to Malham Cove. The full spectacle of Malham Cove never quite seemed fully available due to the amount of trees between all approaches and the cliff face. It was pleasant enough nonetheless, but we did not hang around to admire the view, keen to press on up the steep stairway to the left-hand side of the face. I managed to lead us slightly off course by not wanting to traverse the limestone pavement anywhere near the cliff edge. I was massively over-cautious, and Jimmy was less than impressed. Once we had picked our way across the limestone, we had a level walk through a very steep-sided dry valley known as Ing Scar. We were supposed to emerge at Water Sinks, where the run-off from Malham Tarn plunges beneath the ground only to emerge as the River Aire south of Malham. Some further poor navigation by yours truly meant that we took a slightly longer line following the bridleway up to the road and parking spot.
A short walk later, and we were upon Malham Tarn, a vast and tranquil expanse of water nestling between the rocks and hills. It was chilly, and threatening to rain, but we enjoyed the views and the relatively easy walking to be had here. Wandering around the shores of the tarn, the wind began to pick up, but its only effect on us at this stage was the increase of background noise as it rattled the leaves in the trees above. A slow and unchanging plod across increasingly soggy moorland led us up to a road, and the inevitability of the ensuing slog up Fountains Fell.
We met a family doing Pennine Way North to South, who confirmed that they had started from Horton-in-Ribblesdale that morning. I was stunned that they had already cleared both Pen-y-ghent and Fountains Fell before lunchtime. I chatted with them as much as I possibly could to slow them down, Don-style, but they were soon skipping away while Jimmy and I glanced ahead at the whaleback-shaped hill and darkening skies with matching gloom. We were both already very tired, but knew we still had two major Marilyn summits and many miles to walk. The walk was punctuated with many breaks to catch breath and take on a small energy-boosting snack or piece of fruit, but it seemed we would never get to the summit of Fountains Fell. And indeed we did not. We chose to give the true summit a miss and just remain on the Pennine Way which passes through a contour 18 metres vertically below it.
We set up the SOTA Beam by the cairn here, and then quickly squeezed ourselves and our rucksacks into our new 2-man bothy bag. We soon realised that these things were not designed to be spacious. After considerable pushing, pulling, cursing (me), whingeing (Jimmy) and moaning (Jimmy) the Yaesu FT-817 transceiver was out and connected to the "outdoor" SOTA Beam aerial with 3m of coaxial cable. All we had to do was press the PTT, put out a CQ call and the rest would take care of itself. Except that it wasn't that simple. We both worked well-known SOTA chaser and activator Mike G4BLH, who was actually parked down on the road between Fountains Fell and Pen-y-ghent, so that was a very easy contact. Ron M3VKR from Osmotherley was similarly easily worked, but then things went very quiet. After nearly five minutes of silence, Mike offered up a club callsign for which he is the licence holder to give us each a third contact. We then endured seven further minutes of silence before a couple of stations in South-West Cumbria wrapped up the points for us. The minutes of silence that we waited seemed like hours as we huddled uncomfortably together in the bothy bag as it was being battered by wind and rain. We packed up quickly, looking forward to descending on a familiar path and meeting a familiar face.
Thanks to the following stations all worked on 2m FM with 2.5 watts:
I chatted to Mike as I dropped off the shoulder of Fountains Fell, and he reported as to whether he thought he could see me or not. The encouragement was welcome, and we seemed to cover that mile fairly quickly. Down at the road, it was lashing down, so we hastily spread out our coats and bags in the back of Mike's car and dived in for a welcome sit down. Mike had the heater on full-blast to warm us up and offer a degree of drying to the coats. This was appreciated by us, even though it must have been somewhat uncomfortable for him! Drinks and snacks were also at the ready which meant a bit of body refuelling without having to rummage through the rucksacks.