What do you call it when the age you are turning is the same as the day of the month your birthday is on? Whatever it is, I just had the best one of those I could ask for. I got off work early last Friday and rented a car. Straightaway Katie and I went to the Leek Wootton (yes I spelled that right) pumpkin patch, which is nothing compared to Pack's Pumpkin Patchof Farmington fame but a HUGE deal compared to our other options. It was a barn full of pumpkins and hay bale and Halloween paraphernalia and it was so festive and Fall-y that we hung around for like half an hour before we finally each picked a pumpkin. Mine is big and classic-looking. Katie's is totally awesome—a cantaloupe-sized pumpkin with a stalk that's twice the hight of the pumpkin and half the girth. Brilliant!
Saturday we drove to the Peak district, an area of preserved natural beauty East of Manchester with caves, mountains (more like very large hills) and more green and sheep than you'd think one place could have in it at once. The quaint towns that peppered the region were autumn-colored heavens. Our timing was perfect. October really is the best month. Full stop.
What with it being close to halloween, on Saturday we dared to venture into The Devil's Arse! It's a limestone cave that's been famous four hundreds of years as the place where you can descend into hell. It sports such formations as the devils fireplace, the Devil's kitchen, and the river Styx (really!). Lord Byron said it was unforgettable and terrifying!
Later on we walked around a gorgeous tree-trimmed lake at dusk when the rest of the tourists had gone back to town. God, in the most universal sense of the term, was there with us.
In the swaying pines and the rattling leaves, on the dark water and in the grey, imposing clouds. In the occasional rain and the toadstools growing next to where I sat on a mossy stump. Every once in a while mountain bikers would pass somewhere near us and for the first time in a year I wasn't jealous of them. I was happy to be with Katie, traveling by my own feet at the rambling pace of the rest of life around me.
Dinner that night took place at the single most cozy pub I've been in, which is saying something. Real log fires in every little cottage-style room. Just the right architecture with the old worn
beams protruding out of white-washed walls. Perfect lighting, good service, good prices, and excellent food--the kind where you feel guilty if you don't savor every last bite. We even splurged on one of their famous mulled wines which besides being the best mulled wine by far that I've ever tasted, added significantly to the whole Christmas-warmth-and-love gemutlichkeit feeling of the night.
After dinner we retired to our hotel room, namely, our rental car. Having found a spot to pull over just off one the country roads of Castleton
(the innermost town of the Peak District, like a tiny Moab or the Jackson Hole of the English high country) we slept a refreshing-if-sporadically-interrupted-by-sore-joints-and-the-sound-of-rain eight hours. This is how, on my birthday, I woke up facing one of the most beautiful panoramas in the world, in my bohemian camper, with my joyful wife, to the sounds of bleating sheep and sheep
herders calling at their sheep dogs. I thought I had died and gone to Wales. Eventually, despite my having a band new Warwick Uni hoody from my thoughtful Katie, the chili morning inspired a full English breakfast and a hot chocolate at Castleton's Ye Old Hog's Head.
Warm, refreshed, equipped, and happy, we hiked the trek from Castleton up Cave Dale,
past Peverel Castle,
through the highland farms of the ridgetops, and over to Mam Tor, or "Mother Mountain", the highest point in the District.
The trail was a mere four miles but the wind and the rain that blew at you horizontally were the beasts at the door to conquering our peak. But my family and friends were with me. Katie’s hoody kept me warm, a rain-proof jacket from her parents kept me dry. Candy from my parents kept me energized and I sported a new watch from Grandma and Grandpa Henderson. I wanted the hike to last forever, it was my first major one in a year, but eventually we surmounted our goal.
Leaning sideways into the gale-
force winds at the top, trousers soaked, nose and ears numb and fingers inoperable, I could hardly move my face muscles, but that was just as well—a smile was plastered to my face. Best birthday ever.