I’m back at home, and smiling as I re-read my last post where I was speculating about how it would be to walk the Cumbria Way. What’s the phrase I’m groping for – how misguided could I have been? in your dreams Ruthie! you must be kidding? Any of those would do. Walking about 14 miles a day with a heavy rucksack, day after day, regardless of the weather, your mood or your state of health, hips and feet is tough. I came to the conclusion before very long that ten miles is probably enough, not for endurance but for pleasure. The quality of my new rucksack was such that the carrying load was bearable, and my boots and lightweight Gortex jacket defied the downpours spendidly, but after about six hours walking I just wanted to stop. ‘Are we there yet?’ was thought if not said, and every upwards incline, however benign, felt like a mountain.

That’s enough grumbling. There were some great bits: Langstrath is a splendid valley and worth a re-visit in better weather. Whoever built the path from there over the Stake Pass is a genius and the gradient melted away under your boots. A sunny morning in Langdale is peerless. The Old Vicarage in Caldbeck and The Old Rectory in Torver are divine: thank you to the Church of England for selling them both, so that I could stay in them and eat delicious food. Suffice to say that when Saturday’s forecast warned of torrential rain, thunder and lightning for the last 14 miles from Torver to Ulverston, I hatched a plan, and it worked. I rode home in my daughter’s car with most of the bags I and my companions had been  carrying and arrived back in Ulverston about six hours ahead of them. Bliss, and eternal thanks to my daughter for her cheerful agreement to rescue me.

Did I think about Book Four while plodding through Cumbria? Not at a conscious level, but maybe there was something going on in my head beyond the immediate priorities of the next hill or the next meal. When I got back to my little house yesterday I found a large sheet of paper and spread it out on the kitchen table, and now I’m trying to plan in a non-linear way, scribbling mini-portraits of characters, connecting them with lines and arrows and watching the web of relationships develop. Events and turning points are creeping into the picture too, and a list of the necessary research. Maybe all this was actually percolating during the walk as it seems to be tumbling onto the paper with impressive speed. There are yawning gaps of course, but already a denouement is taking shape. This might be the occasion for starting at the end and planning backwards, a process I’ve used many times in my professional life but never yet in my writing. Who knows; it’s very early days, but already I feel that something interesting will emerge.