I took quite a bit of video on the Coast to Coast walk. This is the result:
I’m on a train speeding towards London. This is not the train I booked. This morning, my second of three trains was just late enough that I watched my third train pull out of the station as we pulled in. A few conversations and two trains later, I’m back on track, albeit a few hours behind schedule. I’m not too upset about it.
But here I am, just now starting to reflect on the whole of my Coast to Coast walk. It seems like months ago that I stepped off another high-speed train in Carlisle. While I knew then that my walk would be a challenge, I was not yet aware of the extent and shape of those challenges.
It was certainly tougher than I thought it would be. I think much of that extra effort was self-imposed by choosing to add an extremely demanding alternative route very early on. I don’t think I had the time to recover from that endeavor.
I never imagined I would face the long and nearly impossible ascents and descents. And I certainly never thought I would be scrambling up and down rock faces. One South African walker later exclaimed with annoyance, “this is not walking, it’s mountaineering!” I’ve never had knee issues in my life, so it came as an alarming development when I found myself limping and cursing with every step.
I certainly never imagined that there would be a physical issue that would cause me to consider quitting. And yet, there was a brief hour at the beginning of day 5 that I started working out contingency plans in my mind due to the knee pain.
And then there was the day up and over Kidsty Pike. No visibility, completely drenched with gale force winds blowing me off the path, my gps disabled, alone not having seen a soul in over an hour and a half, there was a period when I realized that it was probably wiser to turn back.
But I just kept moving forward and eventually my knees hurt less and the fog dissipated.
It’s easy to dismiss those issues in hindsight as being ultimately inconsequential but I later found out they were anything but.
While eating breakfast the day after I finished, I struck up a conversation with a Canadian couple (late 50s) who had finished the day before me and took quite a few more days to cover the distance. They were with a party of 16. They told me about all their mishaps. Illness and injury abounded. A doctor broke three ribs, another younger guy dislocated his shoulder, and a few other managed to seriously bloody and bruise themselves. But there was also a death. Not in their group but a much older American woman walking a few days ahead of them, all alone, carrying all her own gear for camping, fell and hit her head and died on the trail. I haven’t been able to verify the story.
Two people I started with had to bow out as well. There was another American woman, mid-50s, attempting to walk the whole trail and back (she did the same thing four years ago) but she injured her knees early on and was cabbing between each of the accommodations (she prepaid for her entire trip). Then there was a fortysomething English beast of a man with a dog who quit with 3 days left because his feet were injured and his dog became lame.
It certainly was a challenge and I’m fortunate I was able to overcome all my obstacles. And I learned an important lesson about walking tours, a lesson I thought I already knew. The first few days of the walk were more or less the same as a grand canyon trip. Tough hikes where the payoff was the experience of the local natural beauty. Going somewhere completely untamed by man.
While I was impressed by the fells in the Lake District and the beauty was regionally unique, this is simply not the type of walking I enjoy. I do not get a thrill out of conquering a peak. I walk in England because I want a historical and cultural experience. Nature is very much a part of that equation but the larger part is experiencing the history and continuity of tradition. These qualities, as I want to experience them, are unique to walking a well-worn path through environments long tamed and inhabited by men. It’s the approach to the ruins of an abbey thinking about all the long forgotten devote that made the same approach. It’s standing in a Norman church built from the rubble of an Anglo-Saxon church that itself was built from the rubble of a Roman fort. It’s the drinking in an old pub where the same conversations have been on repeat for centuries. It’s connecting to the past in a way that is simply impossible in America. It’s tangible history.
In the future, I intend to pick my walks with more attention to the quality of villages and historical areas. If I want pure natural beauty, it exists in abundance just a couple hours north of home.
One other lesson: In the future, I will limit my walking daily miles to around 15 or less when feasible. There were too many 20-mile plus nights where I was just too tired to go out and explore the places I was visiting. I don’t want my vacations to turn into an endurance challenge.
Obstacles and lessons learned aside, this was a fantastic trip, one I will look fondly back on for the rest of my life. The accomplishment of walking the entire trail is only that much sweeter because I had to work hard for it. When I look back this trip, it won’t be the sore knees and soggy socks I recall. It will be the quiet, secret, lonely moments, which are “the bliss of solitude.” Bushwhacking my way to the George & Dragon, strolling through narrow alleys of postcard perfect Mucker in the long shadows of the morning sun, chasing the miscalculated sunset in St. Bees, a wild hedgehog sniffing at my toes, the first hard fought glimpse of Innominate Tarn, the enveloping steam cloud of a train leaving Grosmont Station, the conflicted shuffle into Robin Hood’s Bay, a single draught pint of Wainwright at the end.
Here’s the low down:
Miles Walked: 199.5 to the beach at Robin Hood’s Bay
Days Walked: 12
Accumulated Ascent: 19,500 feet
Pints Consumed: 62.5
Variety of Beer Consumed: 43
Pubs Visited: 26
Blisters: At least 8. I think there was a blister with a blister.
Bugs In Mouth: 7
Bugs Swallowed: 1
Items Lost: One trekking pole, one glove, one mini bottle of mouthwash
I’m laying comfortably in my B&B bed, belly full of breakfast with nowhere to walk. I have plans today but I am in no hurry to start them. I’ve walked the breadth of England, now it’s time to power down for a few hours. I’ll write a final wrap-up post in the next few days as I travel homeward. For now, days 11 and 12:
Day 11: Clay Bank Top to Glaisdale
There isn’t much to write about the 19-mile walk between Clay Bank Top and Glaisdale. I’m sure the scenery is usually beautiful, but I didn’t see any of it. It was pure fog. All day long, fog.
The morning started with a climb up a steep hill to heather-clad moorlands. Nice wide track to walk on, so with nothing to see, I walked fast. There were quite a few sections of the trail that followed the highway, which added a small level of excitement as the narrow shoulder and lack of visibility meant that I had to be proactive about dodging the occasional oncoming traffic.
After a grey eternity, I dropped into the hilly and charming village of Gaisdale. I was instantly reminded of the hilly town I grew up in. I had a quick beer, checked into my B&B, and enjoyed yet another power nap before showering and heading back to the pub for dinner. Fueled up for my last walking day, I feel asleep in the first bed in about a week where my feet didn’t hang off the edge.
If there was one silver lining to this bleak cloud of a day, it was that my first real views of the North Sea were forestalled for one more day.
Day 12: Glaisdale to Robin Hood’s Bay
Sunshine and partially cloudy. Cool breeze and not too hot. Great viability. Guidebook: “For those who enjoy cosy English villages hidden among the gentlest, most bucolic scenery this fine country has to offer… this may be the best section of the walk.” My last day was shaping up to be perfect.
I headed out of Glaisdale through a mile of old growth forest, which gave way to the perfectly bucolic village of Egton Bridge. Trees with deep purple hues dappled the undulating horizon. Old aristocratic houses and their satellite ivy-covered cottages at every turn. This is exactly the type of walking I love, where you can lose a sense of modernity and easily imagine ambling down the same avenues a couple hundred years ago.
As soon as Egton Bridge disappeared from my rear view, I was transported to another point in history as I entered the time warp village of Grosmont. Like many English villages, especially in the north, Grosmont was once a thriving thoroughfare as a stop along a now defunct train line. Before cars became a feasible mode of transport, England had a love affair with the train. It was a romantic era, full of top hats, luxurious travel, and bellowing steam engines.
As the old train lines became disused with the efficiency of the car, the train infrastructure was dismantled. Many villages became isolated and economically depressed. The good people of Grosmont, at some point in that post train history, decided that the stream train and the station were too much part of their identity to let it slip away. So they banded together and renovated the station and bought the old train.
Walking on the platform at Grosmont station is very much like walking around the train station at Disneyland. The uniforms and trappings are all period appropriate but unlike Disneyland, there’s a level of authenticity in Grosmont that simply can’t be mimicked. It was a real treat to see that train build up steam, whistles blaring, and chug away. If there is one place I’ve visited on this walk that I want to come back to, it’s Grosmont.
From Grosmont, it was a climb for a mile up to another moor. Past a few curious bronze age standing stones and down through the charming hamlet of Little Beck and into more waterfall laden woods. There were two very cool features in the woods, not including the waterfalls. One: the Hermitage, a small dwelling carved out of a huge boulder, and two: an artisan bakery/restaurant fully isolated in the woods converted from an old stone gamekeeper’s cottage. It was strange to walk through the quiet woods and come upon a busy business, no cars in sight. As far as I could tell, everyone, employees and customers alike, must walk about a mile through the woods to get to the bakery.
Out of the woods and up through more moorland, I caught my first glimpse of the North Sea 6 miles away. It’s at this point on most walking days that I start counting down miles, anxious to sit down and eat and have a beer. But today, I found myself slowing down. Finding distractions. Feeling a little bit sadder with every mile (I have an app that alerts me to my progress).
On my past walks, I was always ready for my adventure to end, but on this walk, the walk that’s been the most demanding and exhausting, I really didn’t want to stop. I’d gladly keep walking for another few days.
It’s with that conflicted emotion that I reached the coast, three miles north of Robin Hood’s Bay. I shuffled along the coastline, the trail sending me off with a final hilly reminder that my knees, like the rest of me, are getting older.
I reached the top of the village of Robin Hood’s Bay. Descended the steep streets among throngs of vacationers unaware and disinterested in my achievement. Surrounded by more people than I’d seen in a week and feeling more isolated than ever. Stepped out onto the beach, caught the receding tide, and dipped my toe into the North Sea. I reached into my pocket and took hold of the smooth stone I’ve carried from the beach at St. Bees and threw it as far as I could into the sea.
As tradition dictates, I went for a drink at the Wainwright Bar. Ordered a pint of real ale also named after the man. Drank it in one draught and ordered another, then another.
I spent the remainder of my rest day on the wonderful patio of the George & Dragon in Hudswell. It was a lazy hazy day. Perfect for sitting still and watching a northern latitude slow motion sunset.
Day 9: Richmond to InglebyArncliffe
Feeling invigorated after a rest day, I left Richmond and headed east. My guide claimed that the walk would take 22 miles but according to my gps (and mostly because I chose an older path), I arrived in the village right over 24 miles.
There’s not much to say about the walk. It was very boring. Wainwright joked that he could walk 5 miles an hour on this stretch. I tried walking that fast but the closest I could get was just under 4 miles an hour. The one notable point about this stretch of the walk is that I encountered the first of many crop fields.
There was a detour due to a footpath closure but I decided to temp fate and jump a few fences in a bid not to extend my already long day. Luckily, it being Saturday, I didn’t run into anyone who would have scolded me.
About midday a quick shower rolled through. Lightning must have hit very close by because the flash and jarring thunder was instantaneous. It scared the bejeebus out of me. I peeked around at my trekking pole sticking out of my backpack like a lightning rod to make sure it wasn’t smoking.
About mile 19, I began to lose focus. By boots were wet due to walking through dense wet grass. Heavy wet boots coupled with the still hot damp air (and maybe a very quick pint at lunch) made me very tired. I just wanted to sit down and sleep for a few.
But I soldiered on. About a mile outside of my B&B’s village, a storm started to roll in. I picked up the pace as best I could and tried to outrun the rain. Hail started to fall as I reached my destination. I took my boots off and listened to the pounding rain and distant thunderstorms, triumphant.
I made my way up to my room and lay in the peaceful clamor dozing in and out of twilight sleep for about two hours. Got up, took a shower, and had a great curry dinner at the local pub. Came back to the room and laid back down on my small bed, feet hanging off the very the short edges. Turned on the TV to Jaws and had dreams that sharks were nibbling at my dangling feet.
Day 10: Ingleby Arncliffe to Clay Bank Top
Best night’s sleep I’ve had all trip. Today was going to be a challenge. Although there were relatively few miles to cover, there was a significant amount of verticality. I had to get up and over three peaks.
My knees still hurt but they seem to be bearable after a few miles of either flat walking or accent. But descents are a whole different animal. I’m taking descents at a snail’s pace. It hurts and every step feels like it’s potentially a cussing opportunity.
Today began with a moderate climb and moderate descent through the first real forests I’ve encountered on this walk. To be honest, I thought I left the best parts of the trail in the Yorkshire Dales, but as I passed into the North York Moors this morning, I was greeted with some of the most stunning views of the trip. I found myself gazing, squinting, at the clear distant eastern horizon wondering if I was looking at the North Sea. But weirdly, I hoped it wasn’t the North Sea. I’m not ready to see the sea. I’m having too much fun. The sea means the end of this little adventure and I’m not ready to think about it being over. I chose to believe that I not yet close enough to see the North Sea.
I cleared three minor peaks today, each followed by a painfully slow cuss-laden descent. The famous Wain Stones are located on the last peak of the day. I sat and watched people climb up the sheer face of the stones. I watched a man, very boldly, chip his name in a stone with a screwdriver and hammer, while no one raised a word (least of all foreign-me).
I’m now in an odd and popular half German half English inn a few miles off the trail (they came to pick me up), sipping on a very welcome clean and crisp German lager.
Two more long days to go. Easy peasy, achy kneesy.
I’m in the North Yorkshire town of Richmond. By far the largest settlement on the route, Richmond is humming with zippy tiny cars and there’s even a roving carnival in town. It’s my only rest day, so I plan to walk as little as possible.
By my count, I’ve walked 128 miles so far and I’m just over 60% done with the Coast to Coast. Luckily for my knees, the remaining 40% is much flatter. Tomorrow I have a whopping 22-mile walk (which looks like it will be closer to 25) but it’s all flat.
Day 7: Keld to Reeth
It’s warming up! I walked the 13 miles between Keld and Reeth with a smile the whole way. My knees were not any better but I was in the Yorkshire Dales and the weather was glorious.
Today was the first day of walking without some sort of challenge, no huge hills, no bogs, no long distances, just a pure light-hearted amble. It was by far my most enjoyable walking day to date.
There were two paths from which to choose, one over a high route on the tops of the Dales and one down along the banks of the River Swale. I chose the river route because there were two small villages on the way.
Around 10 am I strolled into the fantastically charming village of Muker, just a half mile off the route. Postcard perfect North Yorkshire village. It took the smallest effort to imagine strolling the same narrow cobblestone roads 200 years ago.
On the way of out Muker I thought I would use my navigational skills to get me back on the trail without backtracking to the bridge I walked in on. My navigational skills sorely lacking, I soon found myself hopping and slipping on moss covered rocks trying to get through stream tributaries of the River Swale. At some point, well beyond the point of turning back, I realized I would just have to take my shoes off and wade through the river to get back the trail. The water wasn’t all that deep but the floor was covered with slimy rounded rocks that made balance impossible. It’s a wonder I didn’t twist an ankle.
My unnecessary risk accomplished for the day, I breezed through the tiny village of Gunnerside and checked into my comfortable B&B in the large village of Reeth. Had a few beers, a big plate of meat, and called it a night.
Day 8: Reeth to Richmond
My walk to Richmond was to be the easiest day of the route. Less than 11 miles and no huge obstacles.
It was another sunny day, even sweltering at times. I walked through meadows in bloom punctuated by the occasional sleepy hamlet. To my relief, my knees dropped from about a 7.5 on the pain scale to a 3 or 4.
Not long after I booked my trip, CAMRA (the campaign for real ale) announced their prestigious National Pub of the Year award. I use to the CAMRA guide for all my UK traveling to find the best pubs. When I learned that the 2016 pub of the year was a mere mile off the Coast to Coast, I was delighted.
It took a bit of planning to work out the route, but I plotted a course to reach the George and Dragon in the one street village of Hudswell. I found a network of lesser known footpaths to get me close to a bridge over the river, hopped a few walls and headed toward the village. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the steep ridge I encountered that separated me from Hudswell.
The path over the ridge started straightforward enough, it even had a staircase. But I soon found myself bushwacking up yet another steep hill. At the top, I was greeted by a barbed wire fence. I knew there would be a turnstile somewhere close but the path was overgrown and I couldn’t see anything. And then I heard voices. I followed the voices and came upon a group of 5 retirement-aged men sitting in front of a half constructed turnstile. They were members of a volunteer group that maintains the footpaths in the Yorkshire Dales. We had some good natured banter and they pointed me in the direction of the pub.
A few minutes later I found myself sitting in one of the most comfortable laid back pubs I’ve ever been. Stunning views of the Dales, perfectly conditioned beers, music via vinyl, and friendly folks everywhere.
They seemed to be pushing the barbecue angle so I went for a rack of baby backs. Just to be sure I had the waitress ask how they were cooked because in the UK I wouldn’t put it past a country pub to boil their ribs. While not smoked, the ribs were just fine. I had three pints and would have gladly stayed for a few more if the pub wasn’t closing to prepare for dinner and I still had a couple miles to walk.
I entered Richmond in the best possible mood. The view of Richmond from my path was glorious. Something out of Game of Thrones: a picturesque medieval town complete with an intact castle keep, an arched cobblestone bridge, and the occasional church spire stroking the horizon with exclamation points.
I wanted to go to a museum about 10 miles away today but the cab fares are egregious. Whatever I do, I have little doubt that I will end up back at the George and Dragon.
Yes, I’m still alive! It’s been an exhausting last few days but I’m still at it.
Day 3: Rosthwaite to Patterdale
I was spent at the start of day three. My trip up and over the fells on the alternative route on day two left me with very little in the gas tank.
Nevertheless, I started out Saturday morning in drizzly rain that never quite dissipated. Right out of Rosthwaite, I started to climb, gradually at first but ending with a scramble up a short rock face. Up and over, I was headed down the secluded rocky valley toward Grasmere.
I visited Grasmere in September during my Dales Way walk. The village is known for three things: 1) the burial place of William Wordsworth, 2) awesome Victorian style gingerbread, and 3) ungodly amounts of tourists.
It was the last village feature I had in mind when I decided skirt Grasmere and just head directly to my next fell, thereby skipping any chance of lunch. I managed to lose one of my trekking poles near Grasmere. Up, up, up in the rain. On the top of the fell was another tarn but as soon as I arrived, the wind pick up and the temperature dropped, so I decided to get off the mountain ASAP.
After a rocky but relatively gradual descent down, I trudged into Patterdale, very tired and very hungry. Total daily mileage: just over 16.
Patterdale is a tiny village but a jumping off point for a number of popular Lake District fell hikes. I stayed at a pub full of walkers. Unfortunately, I was so spent I ended up back in my room and asleep before 7:30.
Day 4: Patterdale to Shap
Not surprisingly, I woke up early on Sunday morning, 5:30 am, but I had to wait until 8am to get breakfast, pick up my packed lunch (there was no place to stop that day), and settle my bill. I discovered shortly after I woke up that the entrance to the pub was locked until breakfast, thereby effectively confining me to my room with no internet.
After the long awaited breakfast, I headed out of Patterdale to tackle a, you guessed it, another big ol’ fell. At this point, I was very much tired of going over peaks every day. It’s just not the kind of walking I enjoy and it’s something I could easily do at home in Arizona if I wanted. But I knew it was the last fell, so I approached it with a good attitude. The good attitude was rapidly diminished to self-doubt and a little bit of fear when I almost reached the top.
It had started to rain. So much rain that I was drenched through, despite decent rain gear. Then the wind kicked in, literally blowing me off the path at times. With 20 feet or so of viability, I wasn’t able to distinguish landmarks making my maps next to useless. Worst of all, my GPS system became unusable when my phone became drenched.
I struggled for about an hour and a half, not being sure if I was on the path, not seeing anyone else. I was considering turning back. But just as I was at my worst point, when I had lost the path completely, the fog floated away like a lost balloon in the wind. All of a sudden, I found myself at the very peak of the fell I was aiming for and I could see the reservoir I needed to get to.
Feeling better, I sat down behind some meager cover and ate a bit and wrung out my soaked socks.
The path down was rocky and steep. It was a feet and hands descent. Without both trekking poles, my knees were taking a beating. By the bottom, I was in pain and walking awkwardly but as the trail flattened out the pain dissipated.
After a long hike around the reservoir, I found myself in a delightful mossy and stream-laden forest that graduated to wonderful pastoral grasslands. My days on sole slamming rocky paths were finally over.
I strode into the village of Shap, passing the ruins of an Abbey on the way. Had lunch with a guy who passed me on the way down to the reservoir (commenting on my gimpy gait). Smoked a cigar, went to bed. Total mileage: 17.5.
Day 5: Shap to Kirkby Stephen
I was looking forward to Monday’s walk, despite it being my longest distance yet on the trip: 21 miles of flat grassy trail.
The weather was forecasted to be cloudy but rainless so I left the inn in high spirits but didn’t make it a mile until I was in distress. I assumed the flat trail would mean no more knee pain. I was wrong. My knees, particularly my left knee was worse. Much worse.
Insult to injury, I managed to get lost in the first couple of miles, adding at least 1.5 miles to an already long day.
Every step was wincing pain; balled fist, white knuckled pain. Took some ibuprofen and trudged on trying to get my mind off of it. I started to wonder if I would be able to finish, I decided music might help, and it did. After 8 miles the sharp pain was merely a dull ache and after 18, I was barely thinking about it.
At a total of 22 miles, I strode into the town of Kirby Stephen, checked in and headed to the launderette to do some laundry.
Kirkby Stephen is a wonderful town. It’s the type of place I loved to stay at on these walks. History and tradition are everywhere. Morris dancers, Norman churches, I love it all. Unfortunately, Monday evenings in Kirkby Stephen mean few open restaurants. I ended up eating a terrible doner kabob and paid the price with a fitful night’s sleep.
Day 6: Kirkby Stephen to Keld
Weather forecast: mostly sunny and mid-60s. Perfect.
I was very worried about today’s walk. While, at 13 miles it was considerably shorter than my previous days, it consisted of a moderate ascent and worse yet miles of muddy bog covered trail which require a lot of jumping, both stressful for my knee.
Or I should say knees because they both hurt like hell now. Nevertheless, I made it up the hill to the Nine Standards and was delighted to discover that the moorland was not as boggy as described. It hurt but it was manageable and best of all, I managed to get to beautiful Keld in 12 miles and by 1pm, thereby giving my knees the rest they need.
I’m officially out of the Cumbria and in Yorkshire. It’s beautiful gentle country. Half way done.
Tomorrow is supposed to be an easy day. I honestly don’t know how far I will get with my knees. But I’ll take it mile by mile and do what I can. I’m optimistic, and despite the pain, I’m happy and loving life. The restaurant downstairs is about to start serving food. Two flights of stairs here I come!
Today was hard, very hard. I’m sore and exhausted. I estimate that burned about 6,000 calories over 18 difficult miles.
It started pleasantly at 8 am in Ennerdale Bridge. The first mile was easy. Then I arrived at Ennerdale Water, a moderate sized lake that was the scene of Bill Clinton’s first (of many) marriage proposals to Hillary. Not unlike that first handful of those proposals, the trail on the edge of Ennerdale is rocky. For four miles, I stared at little else than my feet, trying not to get tripped up or roll an ankle. It was slow going,
The lake trail gave way to a half mile of gloriously flat and grassy pastoral path. It would be the last bit of pleasant path I would walk for the remainder of the 18-mile day.
Shortly after the pastoral path, I opted to take an alternative route over the fells. I had one mission: get to Haystacks and visit Innominate Tarn, a small tranquil incongruent pond hidden at the top of rocky fell. Arthur Wainwright, the trailblazer of the Coast to Coast path was so fond of the tarn that he requested his ashes be spread there.
The alternative route started with a very steep ascent, which only got steeper as it went on. About a mile long and 2,100 feet of ascent, it took me an hour or huffing and puffing dripping sweat climb, so steep that if were any steeper, it would be unclimbable.
I underestimated how much extra work the fell route would become but once I was at the top of the first peak, there was no way to turn back. There’s no way I could safely get back down that hill. I quickly realized that not only was the second peak higher than the first but that there was a bit of a valley between the two. Down, knees knees knees. Up, quads quads quads.
The following two peaks were a blur of setting small goals and trying not to stop moving for fear that pain and fatigue would set in. After two hours, Haystacks was in view.
Scaling Haystacks required a few minor rock climbing scrambles and quite a few bad words. The top of Haystacks was unlike the previous peaks. There was a plateau with the occasional small pond. The largest of the small ponds, Innominate Tarn, defies description. Peaceful and pristine. A fitting resting place for a soft-spoken nature lover.
Unfortunately, if began to rain once I finally reached the tarn. I became worried about my descent so I left sooner than I would have liked. Thankfully, the descent, while no walk in the park (still very rocky), was much more manageable that previous ascents and descents.
The last few hours of the trail consisted of focused determination to get to by B&B, and more importantly, the pub next to the B&B.
And then, like that, I was sitting at a wonderful village pub sipping on a delicious beer staring blankly at the wall. Went back to the B&B, took a shower, and went right back to the pub for an enormous meal and a few pints.
My plan was to go up another, even more challenging, alternative route tomorrow. Regardless of the fact that I don’t think I’ll be up for it, it’s not feasible. Wind will be too strong it will be far too dangerous. I’m a little disappointed but mostly relieved.
The Sun. That double-edged celestial force. In winter, it bathes Phoenix in warm, glorious light. In summer, it beats us down, soaking into the cement only to radiate back upwards after it retreats. The Sun: it can make or break your day, depending on where you are, and when you are.
In St. Bees on a Thursday in May, the Sun shone in all it’s glorious splendor. Radiant, shadow throwing, Sun. Helios, worked some magic today. 17 miles of pure golden bliss.The day began on the beach at St. Bees. I started with enthusiasm and vigor as I walked north along the first few miles of the trail. By far the most congested part of the trail, I talked to people from Ottawa, Oregon, and even a guy from England.
As I turned East, the scenery quickly shifted to rolling farmland punctuated by the occasional bucolic village. The locals, true to English form, were out in cheerful force, celebrating the outstanding weather.
About 8 miles in, I caught up with a couple from Atlanta, stopped for a warm meat pie and potato pie in rundown Cleator and started up the steep 340 meter Dent fell. The descent from the fell was the steepest trail I’ve ever encountered. If I didn’t have my trekking poles, I think I would have had to sit and scooch all the way down. It was Westley screaming “AS YOU WISH” steep.The bottom of the hill gave way to an otherworldly valley with a babbling brook soundtrack. Soon, I found myself bouncing into the small and charming village of Ennerdale Bridge. I stopped at the local CAMRA recognized pub for a quick pint and am now simmering in cask IPA-induced contentment at the bar in my wonderful hotel.
The next two days are my most ambitious. I could fret about it but tomorrow is hours away. I have a feeling tonight is going to be great. The beer garden beckons, the shadows grow, tonight I shall drink steady but talk very slow.
The trip from Phoenix to the tiny coastal village of St. Bees was long but blessedly uneventful, even relaxing.
After the redeye into Heathrow, I made my way to Paddington via the Heathrow Express, then the underground to Euston Station. I had an hour to kill, so I had a few beers at a wonderful pub called Bree Louise. After a 3 hour or so train ride to Carlisle, I checked into my hotel, hunted down some dinner and called it a night.
I awoke after a restful night’s sleep, made my way to the Carlisle Cathedral, and had a lovely time learning about the beautiful church. I tried to sneak into the local castle a few minutes before it opened but was promptly and politely asked to leave, so I checked out of my hotel and headed back to the train station.
A couple from Oregon bound for the Coast to Coast was boarding the train at the same time. I have a feeling this trail will not be as solitary I’m used to. At noon, I rolled into St. Bees, had a quiet lunch, and watched the silent paragliders softly corkscrew over the shear Irish Sea cliffs.
St. Bees has a wonderful Norman church with a very unique history. I spent a half an hour just sitting and listening to the birds in the ancient courtyard.
For dinner, I stopped at the local pub. Some delightfully foul-mouthed guys from Cornwall and I shared a few pints before I made my way back down to the coast to take and take some sunset shots. I miscalculated the orientation of the sunset, which meant I had to jump a fence and head out onto a very rocky and slippery peninsula. About, 3/4 (and after a few jarring slips) of the way out I realized that I was putting the rest of my walk at risk, so I settled for a spot and managed to get a few lackluster shots before carefully scrambling back to the beach. Stumbled back to the hotel with a few more bruises and went to bed.
I’m about an hour away from starting my walk. Sleep has been adequate. Weather looks promising. HERE WE GO!
My 40th birthday feels like it’s been looming for 3 years, advancing like a crawling freight train of melodramatic midlife mediocrity. I’ve never been excited about my birthdays. To the contrary, I’ve spent most of them downplaying any significance and, more often than not, simply not enjoying the time. Despite being surrounded by my best friends, my 30th, as I remember it, was a particularly morose affair. I just don’t enjoy celebrating my birthday.
40 though. It seems different and significant but I can’t explain why. The first of my parents’ birthdays I can recall is my father’s 40th. I was 5. There was a cake shaped like a woman’s chest. Maybe there’s something there (the memory of the birthday, not the boob cake); that time in your life when you begin to identify parallels in your own and your parents’ life; when memory of your parents’ life and your own begin to overlap.Whatever the deep-seated psychology, I’ve made a decision to celebrate my 40th with intention; to chase enchantment in a bid to banish those useless feelings of self-pity that I usually allow to cloud my attitude this time of year. To that end, I will be taking another walk across England. Quite literally this time. Wainright’s Coast to Coast Walk, the most popular long-distance footpath in England, is a 192 mile long trail that begins on the coast of the Irish Sea in St. Bees, up the steep tarn-dotted fells of the Lake District, through the tranquil hidden valleys of the Yorkshire Dales, and over the heathered-moorlands of the North York Moors, terminating at the coast of the North Sea in Robin Hood’s Bay.
I plan to walk for 12 days, with a rest day in the middle. At nearly 200 miles, the path is almost twice as far as my longest previous walk. The hike through the Lake District is particularly grueling with abrupt elevation ascents and descents.It’s going to be a challenge. As my guidebook puts it:
I’m not helping matters by attempting to walk in two fewer days than the minimum recommended days. Despite training for the walk, I’m concerned that I’ve bitten off a little more than I can comfortably chew. But hey, is there really a better excuse to prove my vigor than a midlife milestone? It beats buying a Harley.
…the most common complaint we’ve received about this book, particularly from North American readers, is that it doesn’t emphasize how tough it can be. So let us be clear: the Coast to Coast is a tough trek, particularly if taken in one go.
Alfred Wainwright, celebrated fell walking artist, author, and trailblazer of the Coast to Coast walk, has a lot to say about the trail. A notorious introvert, Wainwright proffered this bit of advice on traveling with companions:
“Preferably go alone and do it off your own bat, for it is the solitary walker, always, who most closely identifies himself with his surroundings, who observes as he goes along, who really feels the satisfaction of achievement “
Who am I to argue with a legendary walker? This will be another solitary adventure.If your May is slow, come stroll sea to foggy sea with me. Thank you for all your comments on Facebook, they continue to be a source of encouragement when solitude crosses the threshold into loneliness.
I’ll leave you with the words of another legendary pipe-lipped walker:
I shall not keep you long. I have called you all together for a Purpose… Indeed, for Three Purposes! First of all, to tell you that I am immensely fond of you all, and that [forty] years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable [poeple].
I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve….
Secondly, to celebrate my birthday…
Thirdly and finally, I wish to make an announcement: I regret to announce that — though, as I said, [forty] years is far too short a time to spend among you — this is the end. I am going. I am leaving now. Good-bye!