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"Will you bring me the map? The old tatty one. It's on the top of the book shelves somewhere."

The Webmaster disappears and returns a few minutes later with the map. "Why do you want it?"

"To look for a new route."

"Oh! You want to go down new paths, with the dogs?"

"Why not? It's light. I'd rather explore new routes when we can see where we are going."

 

I propose a route down into the valley on the opposite side of our ridge from our usual walks. Quite short, probably not more than four miles but new routes always take us longer, mile for mile, than our established routes.

"Your not proposing to carry the whole map surely. Why not photocopy that section."

We photocopy a small section of the map and mark on the route. I look for my varifocal glasses. I will need to see where I'm going and be able to read the map and I don't want to carry reading glasses.

The dogs are surprised when we turn left out of our drive way and head the few metres up to the top of the ridge and turn right onto the road. The footpath we have planned to take is off to the left about twenty five metres from the junction. It is the closest footpath to our house but I can't remember ever having walked it before.

The path continues to climb gently. On the left is a field of sheep, all of which suddenly begin to run in unison towards the centre. A mini stampeed. Neither of the dogs appears to notice. On the left is a band of trees, neatly planted in rows as if to separate the path from the field and the house on its far edge.

At the top of the hill we pass through a stone stile. The pillars of the stile are mounted with two semi-circular stones, obviously shaped, and on the far face one is inscribed 936 ASL and on the other LX ER II. 

"Is that related to the Queen's diamond jubillee?"

"I guess so. Is that 936 feet above sea level?

"Could be. I think that's about right. The contour through our top field is 269m and we have come up a bit."

From here the path slopes gently down through fields of thick, green, damp grass. In some there is evidence of recent occupation by cattle, but there are no cattle here now. 

"You can get a good view over the Roaches and Gun Hill from here."

"Well you would if the hedges weren't in the way."

"We did back there."

The path bends slighly to the right and away from the hedge and the view comes back into sight.

"Look, see the wind turbines. One of our races goes up past the one on Gun Hill. That one there." I point.

"No it isn't. It's that one much further to the left. See, the one in front of the Roaches."

"Oh yes. You're right. That one there. Look you can see one turbine on the hill."

We come to a stile, narrow and high. Mesh wire is firmly fixed to the fence on either side. Someone must keep sheep in one of the fields. The dogs are not keen on climbing the stile but despite their attempts to find one, there is no way through. It is over the stile or nowhere. The Webmaster climbs the stile first and attempts to entice the Young Dog to follow, but for several minutes it continues to nuzzle the fence and push its nose through the gaps in the mesh. Eventually it gives up and climbs over the stile. Once it has started, it makes it easily. The Old Dog does nothing. I lift her front legs up onto the step, but she doesn't take the hint.

"You'll have to lift her over" recommends the Webmaster, but as I start to lift her back legs up onto the step, she jumps, climbs the stile and jumps down the other side. She shakes herself and continues unscathed.

"There is a stile over there on the left. Do we go that way?"

"No we go straight down. There is only one turn in the path and that is to the right just before we come out onto the lane."

"Are you sure. Look at the map."

"Yes, I'm sure. We are here. That path goes across towards Blackwood, comes out near N's grandma's house. Look. We go straight on."

We reach the bottom of the field and find the stile, almost overgrown, through into the next field. This stile is a squeeze between two posts with no bar. The dogs like this type of stile.

The path crosses the next field rather than skirts its edge. Just to our right runs an electric fence dividing the field into the smaller section in which we are walking and a larger section rising off to the left. The grass in the field has been flattened and there are many, large cow pats dotted everywhere. It is like a game to avoid them. A game the dogs are not interested in playing. They walk straight through them.

"The cows must have gone for milking. It can't have been long since they were still in this field," guessed the Webmaster.

The stile out of the field is not obvious at first, but then we spot it next to a gate onto a track. It is slightly overgrown but not enough to hinder our passage through. This is where the path turns to the right and heads down, through a farm yard and out onto the lane.

"Where now?" asks the Webmaster.

"The path is almost straight across. Look, there's the sign post and the stile."

The stile is next to a gate into another farm yard. It is narrow and a climb up, but the there is no bar to jump and the dogs pass without difficulty.

"The path goes of at an angle, up the hill to the right. About 35 degrees angle to the road. Aim for those trees."

The Webmaster set off up the hill, but heads too far to the left. When he reaches the top he doesn't find the stile.

"I think it's that way" I say pointing right. "There is another path through this field that we cross. Be careful you don't get onto it and head down hill otherwise we will end up at Endon Bank."

The Webmaster continues to head down.

"We should be going up hill."

"I've found the stile" shouts the Webmaster from way down to the left. "Careful crossing there, it is very boggy. Look at the dog."

Hesitatingly, I follow. It doesn't look right, but the map is very old. Maybe we start to go up in the next field. I convince myself that this might be the right way, but I don't see how.

"Are you sure this is right? We should be going up and this looks as though it continues down."

We walk across the field, find another stile, confirming to the Webmaster that we are still on the path, but we enter a small wooded area, and that just isn't on our route. We pass a small building and then a farm and come out onto a track.

"This isn't on our route."

"Where are we on the map?"

"We should be here, but this doesn't look anything like it, and we are still heading slightly down hill. I think we are on this path. See here. This is where the path we want goes and here is the one that crossed it in the first field after the road. You turned left and joined this path when we should have kept right and gone straight over at the top of the field."

"But there was no way through."

"We didn't look along to the right. I think we should go back."

We retrace our steps. The Webmaster isn't convinced and starts moaning about taking new paths, the dogs getting muddy and covered in cow pats, and how will he get them clean, and then he remembers the boggy ground and moans again. He must be happy. He likes complaining and moaning.

We arrive back in the field next to the road and follow its top edge. It isn't long before we find the stile. It is about 2 metres to the right of where we had been but is set back in the hedge and a little overgrown with brambles and not easy to see from a distance. We carefully push our way through. The path on the other side is clear, dry and heading up. We follow it between two rows of bushes it until it abruptly arrives at a very neat, almost manicured lawn.

"It's someone's garden. We can't go through there." States the Webmaster. We need to go back and through the field.

"I'm sure this is the path. And look," pointing to the map, "It does go very close to the house, but yes you are right. It isn't clear which way. From the map it looks like the path skirts the left side of the house."

"We can do that through the field there without going into the garden."

We double back for about twently metres, make a U turn and walk back up on the outer edge of the bushes, parallel with the first path, but now skirting both the house and garden just to their left. But we cannot find a stile through to the next field. We can see the track we think we should be on, but no way through. It must be somewhere in the garden, but the Webmaster is reluctant to look. 

"We can go back and up the road."

"OK then, if you like."

We once again retrace our steps and for the third time arrive in the field we first entered about 30 minutes ago after crossing the lane.

"We can turn sharp left after the stile. It will bring us out a bit higher up the lane than where we went in."

"You mean there is another path there?"

"Yes, the path you went down when we went wrong, but in the opposite direction."

We reach the stile and there are three footpath signs. Straight on, the way we originally came, right, the way we went when going too far left as approached from the opposite direction, and left, the way we want to go now.

"Turn left." I am beginning to think the Webmaster has a defective sense of direction. I must chose men who can't tell left from right, East from West or which way to change the clock when travelling round the world. 

The Webmaster turns left and we follow the path to the edge of the field, easily find the stile into the next field and follow the path, parallel to the lane, but several feet higher. The land is raised on each side of the road. We reach the corner of the field where the path should join the road. The stile is not easy to see. It is very overgrown with brambles and holly, and there are steep steps down. The Webmaster pushes his way through very carefully. He hooks a bramble out of the way and calls the dogs through, first the Young Dog and then the Old Dog. At last we are down on the road.

A footpath sign points back the way we have just come. Another points left along an access track to the house whoes garden we arrived in. We decide to follow it. Maybe we will see where we went wrong.

"There," points the Webmaster. "The path does go right through their garden, but on the right hand side of the house. The map is misleading. We couldn't have been more than fifty yards from here, across there."

We continue along the track. It turns at almost 90 degrees to the right, slightly down into a farm yard. A farmer is driving along on his quad bike. 

"Is this the footpath?" asks the Webmaster, as we enter the farm yard even though we have passed a sign on the gatepost, barely two metres back.

"Yes. Where are you aiming for?"

"Marshes Hill."

"Yes, this is the path. Straight up. Follow the track and it takes you right to the top."

"Thank you."

The path is a wide track, it climbs steadily at first, bending to the left and then back to the right, as it rises up the hill it becomes steeper and steeper. The Old Dog starts to pant and slow down.

"This is a good alternative running route instead of going straight up the lane, but I'd have to walk this bit."

We come to a gate.

"We've been here before. When we tried to find the path across from Broad Lane to the bends. We carry on up here to the top and then straight on rather than to the right."

At the top there is another gate. As we are unhooking the rope which is holding it closed in addition to the spring loaded bolt fasten, we look across to Hill Top and the Webmaster points out the houses.

"That's B's house there, the one with the car. The path come out onto the road to the left of his house. Is that the new house? I think that one with the gable end facing is the one that has just been renovated. ... Look there's the pub."

The path dips down into a small valley and up the other side until it approaches the houses, it turns left and then right and eventually out onto the road.

"Come on dogs, this way." The Webmaster leads them left onto the road and then right past the pub. "The car park is very full."

"Sunday lunch." Cars are double parked in the pub car park and several are parked on the road. Judging by the cars the clientelle for Sunday lunch are not short of a penny or too. Or at least they wouldn't have been before they bought their cars.

We turn towards the car park at the end of the hill. One car is parked in the entrance, on the road side of the barrier.

"Someone doesn't want to get locked in."

"It isn't 1:30 yet. They must have gone for a long walk!"

A car turns in behind us and we pull the dogs to one side to let it pass. A minute or two later another pulls in.

"It's busy here today."

As we reach the path onto the hill a couple get out of the second car and release two large dogs. German shepherds. They chase and pounce at each other making low growling noises.

"It's OK", shouts the woman with them to us and the other people in the car park, "they won't hurt. They only play like this with each other."

After a few minutes the dogs calm down and set of on their walk, following us onto the hill. We stop and they catch up with us. The Young Dog greets them enthusiastically. The Old Dog ignores them.

The woman has some home made dog treats which she offers to her own dogs and to the Young and Old Dogs. The Young Dog puts on a spectacular show of behaving himself, the Old Dog is indifferent.

We chat a while to the woman and admire her dogs, then we continue and leave them to their walk. 

At the bottom of the hill we take the dogs for a paddle in the stream. The Webmaster is happy now that they have washed the mud and cowpats off their feet.