Articles

Two poles and a fat bloke

    A couple of years ago I saw an elderly couple walking sedately round the park. Each had a pair of walking poles. They were chatting away to a backbeat of their sticks clacking on the asphalt path. I thought to myself, uncharitably, ‘they look ridiculous.’ What help can those poles possibly be at negligible speed over the modest undulations of the park? Surely they’re just fashion accessories for people with a few quid to waste.

    In Paris they parade with designer dogs, here in Lancashire it’s a pair of clacking poles. Pah!

 

    Anyhow, I’ve bought some. Now it’s my turn to look like a plonker.

   Now I think back of course, those old folks in the park were ahead of their time, they actually had great style, everyone should have a pair of poles. Dead trendy!

    But there's more! Inadvertently I've upgraded. When mine arrive, turns out they're not walking poles at all, but trekking poles. Now that sounds much cooler! I can trek through the park, or down to the off licence. How's that sound eh??

   

    Back a step (being careful not to trip over my sticks!). Why do I need poles at all? Well, my hands have started losing some feeling (sensitivity) so I figured that exercising my arms might help increase circulation.

 

   My friend took me fly fishing last week; another first. Good fun too. But it took me about twenty minutes to thread line through the eyes of the rod. I kept losing grip of the line because I couldn’t feel it and it wriggled back through the eyes. Very frustrating. So, as a result of being an utterly incompetent fisherman, I bought some walking poles. £16 for one pole. Luckily there was a BOGOF deal on, so I got a pair. Bargain. Nasty gold colour they are with sprung shock-absorbers built in. Ideal for an ambling blob.

 

    You’ll be wondering if I caught any fish. Mind your own business.

 

    Arm exercising is something we do during every-day activities, like working in the garden or building things. I do all that, but more is needed. I walk about five miles a day so I may as well take advantage and waggle my arms about at the same time.

    (I had already tried testiculating, which is waving one’s arms about while talking bo**ocks, but that didn’t make any difference.)

 

    ‘You could do with taking those rubber protective things off the end,’ said an experienced pole walker I came across. I’d actually asked him if it was preferrable to use one or two poles.

    ‘Two,’ he said. ‘But I’ve snapped one so have only got one at the moment. One is better than nothing though.’

    ‘Oh good, that's a relief,’ I said. ‘I’ve got two and don’t want to look like a dickhead.’

    ‘Quite.’ He replied, with an appraising glance.

    That’s when he pointed out that most poles are built with tungsten tips so they’ll grip the ground properly. Hence his suggestion I get rid of the rubber bits. 'It's like using a compass without taking it out of the box,' he said, 'or having a shower in a dressing gown. Not cool.'

 

    This first outing was me and the dog. I normally cope quite well with the dog but by adding a couple of poles to the mix, the thing rather fell apart. I took me about a quarter of an hour to cross a road. And that’s without any traffic about! I got my poles tangles up with the lead, then the dog wouldn’t stand still, interested in some distant sheep. I took the rubber tips off and had to remove my ruck sack to put them in it. By the time I’d reassembled everything it was almost tea time, but I pressed on. A couple on a nearby bench watched with interest. Probably wondering why a supreme athlete was struggling to cross a road. Anyhow, in no time at all (after that initial fifteen minutes) we were off up the hill.

 

    To start with it’s a rocky, rutted track. For the first 200-metres not only had I to watch where I was putting my feet, but I also had the poles to contend with. They were a bit unruly to start with and I nearly tripped over them more than once. They were secured to my wrists with straps, became part of me if you will. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to push on the poles every step, every other step or randomly. It didn’t feel at all natural. I crested the rise in a state of some distress and came across a lady, a conservative ten years older than me, nearing the end of a thirty mile walk! I’d done 200-metres and was buggered. Mind you it was uphill. And steep. And uneven. (Isn’t that a Christmas carol?)

 

    At last, we’re on a flat bit. The dog (who is 13 years old) was waiting patiently for ‘dad’ to catch up. On the level, I settle into a rhythm, using the poles every other step. They are doing nothing to make the actual walking easier but I am certainly moving my arms more than normal. I felt a little self-conscious. I also felt old, like those rich people in the park.

 

    After half a mile on the level we turn left up the hill, onto an old Roman Road. Because my legs are a bit knackered (circulation), hills are my enemy. But today I have my new poles to help. Do they? Well, a bit I think. Now I walk slowly and pole every step. I curse my old dog. He’s leaping and skipping up the ancient track without a care in the world. ‘You’re supposed to be old,’ I yell at him.

 

    If nothing else I LOOK like a proper walker. After all, lumbering up the Pennines is what real walkers do. Now I’ve got poles, anybody looking on from a passing bus would be green with envy. They would presume I was stopping every few yards to admire the view. But that wasn't the case, I was just giving my new poles a breather. No buses of course, out here on this untamed veldt.

 

    This first walk was an undoubted success. In that I didn’t die. It was quite a warm day so the hound and I shared a drink of water at the high point. The breeze ruffled his fur and cooled me off a bit.

 

    The second walk, this morning, was without dog. He and I had already done our regular 3-mile early morning romp. (Actually, more trundle than romp). Up on the hills I take the same route. Today is 6th June, a couple of weeks off the longest day, high summer, and I’m wearing gloves. It’s 8 degrees, a light rain is falling and its windy and foggy. Like a perfectly respectable November day in fact. There is nobody else to be seen in this weather-wracked wilderness. Wimps.

 

    On this occasion, I think I’m slightly more familiar with the poles, they don’t feel quite as cumbersome. In fact, I don’t feel as self-conscious (there’s nobody here after all!). It’s fair to say that I feel at one with my tackle – possibly because my poles are frozen to my gloves!

 

    I take a selfie or two near the cairn and Aigin Stone at the crest of the Pennine Roman Road. To save me getting it wrong, here’s a link here to explain it. Save to say the standing stone is some sort of traveller’s waypoint, perhaps with religious significance. Important anyway for the folks who walked up here centuries ago. Most of them would have gone straight on (roughly south-east) into Yorkshire and probably an unfortunate encounter with an uncouth inhabitant thereof.

A perfect June day up on the Pennines!

    Now my heart has stopped hammering and I'm no linger dizzy, I enter that dream-like state achieved by the pure athlete. I can imagine Hannibal trekking over here, preparing the ground for those that follow, including me. I don’t head for Yorkshire, instead I turn left, and head for the White House Pub, where I’ve parked my elephant. The fog thins as I descend across a tufty, rock-strewn moonscape. It's both bleak and beautiful.


    You’ll note from the photograph the lack of healthy tan. Pallid is the word that immediately springs to mind. An appropriate phrase? English summer!

 

    So, walk number two in the company of my poles is complete. Not sure if I’ve improved my circulation or got any more feeling in my hands. I suspect I might have the technique slightly wrong. I’ve been griping the poles so tightly I get a vicious cramp in my fingers while driving home. I can certainly feel that! But no long-term problem, just a wrinkle. It's to be expected along the rocky road to becoming an elite sportsperson who can thread line up a fishing rod's eyes.

 

   I’d already eaten the trout I caught last week! Ha, see! I did catch one! So, I had my usual breakfast of sardines and mackerel, lightly seasoned and delicious.

    Perfect fuel for an idiot with a pair of poles.

Where did I go during the pandemic? It's all rather peculiar.


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