A Soleful Day

After catching the bus to Lincoln, it was official that I was no longer a thru-hiker. But I couldn’t let the walk between Woodhall Spa and Lincoln go, well, unwalked. I may not be a thru-hiker, but I’m still insane. So after a few days sight-seeing, it was time to strap on my inherited boots and knock out some kms.

I caught the bus into Lincoln bus station (a place I would come to know well) and had just enough time to stop for a cup of tea before the bus to Woodhall Spa. The cafe at Morrison’s wasn’t yet open, and I guess I must have been looking forlorn because a woman in the ladies clothing section came over to me with some urgency.

“Do you want a cafe, love?”

“Oh. Yes, yes, I do,” I said.

“If you go up out here and up past the market…” She took me to the exit and showed me the way up through the market where she said I could find a cafe that was open.

I thanked her, but by this time I had just exactly not quite enough time to sit down for a cup of tea, and no cup of tea worth having is ever to be had from a takeaway cup. Still, I felt compelled to follow her directions. I found the cafe, ordered a tea, and scalded my oesophagus in my haste to get it down before my bus arrived.

I got into Woodhall Spa before 9am. This was to be my first ‘easy’ walk on this trip and I was looking forward to it. I had very little gear in my backpack, I only had 15kms to do (really, truly, only 15kms) and a beautiful sunny day to do it in. My boots were comfortable enough and I was well rested.

Dammit. I was ready.

The walking was good, if not very interesting. Fields and fields, but I beat my previous record and had cleared 5.5 kilometres by 10am. I was doing so well, in fact, that when I saw a detour to the ruins of Tupholme Abbey I decided to take it. Wow, I thought. Not lugging 15kilos of stuff really means you can take your time on the stuff that matters and not be anxious about getting to the campsite before sunset. It was fucking great.

The detour to the Abbey ruins was about 30 minutes in total, and was well worth it. Tupholme means “island of sheep” as the abbey was sited on a slight hill in the plain. The order and its buildings were destroyed during the dissolution, as so many monasteries and abbeys were, but lived briefly as a farm house before falling completely into disrepair. I carefully circumnavigated it, taking dozens of photos, and making sure I didn’t fall in any holes left by crumbling ruins.

When I got back on the trail I was feeling fab. I only had 5 kilometres to go until Bardney where a pub awaited me, followed by a bus back to Lincoln. It was the perfect day.

I’ve had to cross a lot of fields on this walk. At this time of year, in this part of the country, these fields are in large part sugar beet. There’s always a path through the vegetation so you don’t need to trip over beets, which is nice. Sometimes the way can be a bit muddy, but after a few dry days the mud is usually tolerable. I was crossing through one of these fields and I could feel a sucking on my feet, the way it does when you collect too much mud on your shoes. A kind of shucking, like the earth is trying to take your shoes off. It must be pretty muddy, I thought. I looked down. It was kind of muddy. The sucking feeling was coming from my left shoe, and I paused in my epic stride to take a quick look.

The sole had come away from the boot.

No, no, no, I thought, plunging on. I’ve imagined it. The sole is not coming away from the shoe. The boot is fine. No, no, no. It must be something to do with the shoe. It’s the style. It has a removable sole for easier cleaning.

A removable sole.

Sometimes when something so stupendous is happening, you invent outrageous lies to help you through it. And you even kind of believe them.

On the other side of the field was a road, a perfectly normal road with houses on it and everything. I sat in the gutter and inspected my shoe.

It wasn’t good.

The sole had come completely away from the heel and the middle was starting to give. The toe was still firm. I looked at the right shoe. The heel and toe were in place, but the middle was gaping.

No, no, no, I thought. I can still walk in this. No problem.

At that moment, a lady walked past walking her dogs. We exchanged our hellos, and then, because I desperately needed to share this disaster with someone, I showed her my feet.

“I’ve broken my boots,” I said. “Look at this.”

“Oh dear,” she said, carrying on past me. “That’s not good, is it?”

I won’t lie. I had some fantasy of her coming to my rescue, offering me a lift somewhere. But no. That’s not good. No fucking shit, lady.

And so I kept walking. I only had 5 kilometres until Bardney. At my current pace I could do that in an hour.

All thoughts of taking in the scenery, taking detours, enjoying the walk went promptly out of my head. It was time to put my head down and get cracking.

Step, thuk-thuk, step, thuk-thuk, step, thuk-thuk, said my shoes.

Okay, I had to put my head down, kind of drag my feet along the ground to stop the soles from slapping too much, and get cracking.

I managed this for the first kilometre, but then the tempo changed.

Thukity-thuk, thuk-thuk, thukity-thuk, thuk-thuk, went my shoes.

The right sole had come completely away, and I could feel, on each step, as the soles bounced into my foot.

“Argh!” I yelled at the stupid hiking gods, to whom I occasionally pray but without any luck.

I threw my bag down. I sat on the turf. I glared at my boots. They looked despondently back at me, their soles hanging from their bodies in a most pitiable way. I sighed.

Channelling my inner MacGuyver, I tied my soles on with my shoelaces.

(There’s a mug in that. “I tied my soul on with my shoelaces.”)

I made it to Bardney with this arrangement. I even had time to walk around the church taking photos of the graveyard. By the time I turned up to the Nag’s Head, I felt that I really deserved a pint, and so I had one.

I got talking to the landlady and showed her the sad state of my shoes. It’s a credit to British people that she didn’t think for a moment that I was weird, or that my shoes were an embarrassment. “Oh dear,” she said. “That’s not good, is it?”

Moving outside to the beer garden, I met the local handyman and gardener, a man who used to be a keen walker himself before a stroke left him mostly paralysed down one side. Shortly afterwards, the landlord came out for a cigarette. He glanced at me feet and said, “you waiting for the bus to Lincoln?” I said I was. He said he could give me a lift, if I wanted to leave right now. I sure did, and so I grabbed my backpack and got into the landlord’s car.

He and his wife are one of those couples who are serial pub owners, moving around the country and trying to make these little village pubs work. They’ve been at Bardney for a while now, and proudly support local motor sport rider Ivan Lintin. As we drove along, he pointed out to me Lincoln Cathedral in the distance.

“You can see it from ages away, hey?” I said.

“Yeah. It’s big sky country here.”

“I’ve heard that before,” I said. “What does it mean?”

“Lincolnshire is the flattest county in the country. Lots of sky here.”

I silently congratulated myself on my choice of flat walking terrain. Win!

On the radio, Elton John was singing “Saturday night’s all right for fighting”, and after it finished the DJ back announced it saying it was about Market Rasen.

“Oh!” I said. “Market Rasen. I’ve been there!”

“Yeah,” said the landlord. “That’s where Bernie Taupin’s from.”

“I stayed there!” I said. “I camped there just last week.”

This did not impress my driver nearly so much as it impressed me. As my dad said to me on the phone just yesterday, you can’t walk 5 metres in England without running into someone famous or something historic.

May the hiking gods bless and protect him, but the landlord actually dropped me off within 50 metres of a camping store. I went in, tried on every shoe in the place, and finally bought a pair. Hopefully they last me the next week or two. I don’t even know anymore how far I have to go. I guess we’ll all find out together.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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