About aquavista

Age 45.

Coast to Coast Day 5 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen.

Day 5 was our longest day yet, a 21 mile stretch from Shap to Kirkby Stephen.

Although not huge in terms of altitude gains, we’d had three really tough days before this, culminating in yesterday’s 18 mile, 3,500 feet day over Kidsty Pike to Shap. Mel got really tired at the end of yesterday and when you have a longer day ahead you just want to make sure that it goes to plan. Managing time therefore became a concern for me, and I didn’t want us to end up trudging into Kirkby Stephen really late, and after all the rain we’d had I had no idea how the ground conditions would affect us today, even if it was a much flatter day than before.

Today we also left the forever memorable Brookfield B&B behind too. Run by a lady named Margaret, very much in the old-fashioned style, it was a veritable home from home. Despite the fact that we were probably in the B&B for only about an hour in waking terms, Margaret couldn’t do enough for us, including all of our dirty laundry. She also completely dried out Mel’s very wet boots which looked almost beyond rescue post Lake District soakings. We actually hypothesised that she was up all night with a hairdryer on them, and hopefully that isn’t true.

Brookfield House in Shap. A treasure.

I must finally mention Margaret’s packed lunch. We’d had a packed lunch every day from wherever we stayed, as simply there isn’t anywhere en route to buy anything at all. The lunch we got from Margaret, as well as doorstep sandwiches and crisps, contained an apple, a banana, a bottle of lucozade, some buttered tea loaf, cheese, an almond tart, and a chunky piece of the best fruit cake I have ever had the privilege to eat. In fact it might be the best example of anything I’ve eaten ever. Margaret gets a mention in the C2C books as being a bit of a star, but that undersells her. I’ll remember her, and the visit there until I die, it’s as simple as that.

The walk from Shap climbs straight out of the long town over fields to a footbridge over the M6 Motorway. From here on, you definitely know you’ve left the Lake District well behind, even if you haven’t quite left Cumbria yet. The landscape changes dramatically to be much more rolling and overall gentle, and even if the the ups and downs don’t stop, they come at you less severely and less frequently too.

The (only) way you (can) cross the M6 as you leave Shap!

No idea why I have a photo of the M6 from the bridge, but I do!
And leaving Shap behind you are not left with the best of views……

The walk to Kirkby Stephen is effectively split into two, with a neat and well positioned stop at Orton after about 8 miles. Some people make Orton a stop for the night too. It is a pretty little village, and it earns a stop for most people (including us) because of Kennedy’s chocolate factory and shop. Although tiny, the place has some very famous and very delicious chocolate, and we duly obliged with some of their delicacies. I wished we could have picked up more, but I made a mental note to check if I can get some more online at a later date.

The start of the heathery moors which would dominate eventually most of the second half of the c2C.
Strange coloured sheep they have around these parts – maybe that plant was a nuclear one? :O

Kennedy’s Chocolate Factory in Orton – delicious stuff!

From Orton the walk continues over heather and part forested moorland and it is a really lovely walk. It was nice too to have another sunny (mainly, although it did start to rain lightly part way through the afternoon, reminding us that we were still in Cumbria) day after the horrors of the Lakes.

Bridge over Scandale Beck towards Kirkby Stephen, a lovely spot.
Smardale Viaduct towards Kirkby Stephen.

Approaching Kirkby you come down a fairly steep hill and through an old railway tunnel until you finally hit the town. Our B&B, Lockholme, presented us with a somewhat over-protective host who demanded that Mel took off not just her boots but also her trousers before he would let her in the house! He did give her a towel to wrap around herself so she could get upstairs with a modicum of dignity intact, but that is surely well over the top. Sure there was a bit of dried mud on the bottom of them, but why run a B&B for mainly Coast to Coasters if you can’t cope with a bit of grime on people’s clothes?

Oh and another thing – they refused to give us a room key for our bedroom when we went out in the evening, saying that ‘people run off with them’. I do understand the concern of course, but why even have them then? They were lovely in other ways and very friendly it has to be said, and there were some lovely touches like giving me some jelly babies the next morning for the climb to Nine Standards Rigg. But live and let live I say, especially when it is your livelihood.

I’ll say one more thing, and then I’ll shut up…….it really bugs me when people plead for Tripadvisor reviews, and especially when they say “please say nice things about us as we know where you live”, even if it is in jest. I actually write quite a few Tripadvisor reviews, and the jury is more than out as to whether I’ll actually do so here, but maybe a ‘constructive’ critique is in order.

Finishing off then, we had a really lovely curry in town that evening. I actually walked down there in my bare feet as I had two whopping blisters from my wet boots two days ago, and my flip flops really aren’t good for walking long distance in (it was about a mile and a half return), The Indian restaurant, The Mango Tree, was great, and deserves, and didn’t ask for, so will get, a Tripadvisor review. Give them a shout if you’re in Kirkby Stephen, which is a lovely little town with what looks like some nice pubs too.

This was on the wall of our B&B.

So 21 miles done, and 89 in total now for 5 days. The following day would see us go over the Pennines to Nine Standards Rigg and into the Yorkshire Dales, hit many a bog, and see the start of the very beautiful River Swale. It would be a great and very memorable day, as indeed every day of this trip was….

Coast to Coast Day 4 – Patterdale to Shap.

We woke at the very lovely Old Water View in Patterdale to something we hadn’t seen for a few days – the sun! Patterdale is such a lovely setting, and like most places in the Lakes and elsewhere, a bit of sun certainly magnifies its beauty.

We set out just before 9 on our trip to Shap which would see us sadly leave the Lake District behind, but on the way we would reach the highest point of the whole Coast to Coast, that of Kidsty Pike. And it was a stunning day. That was a good thing as I had tied my still wet boots onto the back of my rucksack (I’d brought a spare pair with me for this very reason) and they got to air well and get dry before the day was out.

The day started with a fairly steep climb up Place Fell, and it was a majestic walk.

About to leave Patterdale with a distinct lack of rain in the air!
The view back towards Patterdale and towards Helvellyn with the southern shores of Ullswater on the right – a truly beautiful place.
Looking up towards Brotherswater from the side of Place Fell and looking towards Sheffield Pike.

The views back over to Patterdale and the Lake and Helvellyn were mesmerising. I didn’t want to leave. Just as they were looking up to Brotherswater and Sheffield Pike too. We even saw other people (!) – something that the miserable rain and wind of the last few days had been bereft of.

Angle Tarn, which is a popular wild camping spot on the C2C for those hardier souls than ourselves.

We passed Angle Tarn after about 45 minutes and then onto Kidsty Pike after two hours or so. Kidsty Pike is officially the highest point on the C2C at around 2,600 feet, and the views are wonderful in every direction. It was the first time I’d seen Haweswater too, which would be our focus for the next several hours as we were to do a steep descent towards it and then a long undulating walk along its whole length.

I did a short daily video every day, intending it for YouTube – this was today’s brief offering.
Nearing the top of Kidsty Pike…..
And made it – the view down to Haweswater ahead.
I made it too!

Haweswater is a man made reservoir, having originally been a smaller lake, and today serves about 25% of the North West of England’s water supply. Although only 4 miles long it never seems short of water due to where it is, although there is apparently a sunken village (Mardale) somewhere in its depths which every few barren years a few people get a rare glimpse of. The trek around we thought would be flat, but it turned out to be very undulating and pretty wet in parts too from yesterday’s rain. It’s a very pretty spot though.

The start of the walk around Haweswater.

As Haweswater ends the Lake District is behind us, and almost immediately the landscape changes to be much flatter and more agricultural, but still very much rolling. Shap would be about 6 or 7 miles further on, and just before we got there we reached the very lovely ruins of Shap Abbey. Shap Abbey is a 12th century monastic house on the edge of the river Lowther in the Eden Valley, and very nice it looked. On another day we’d have stopped for a proper look, but we were by now 17 miles in and ready to get finished for the day, so on we went.

Shap Abbey, or what is left of it.

Leaving the valley we headed to Shap itself. Shap definitely (and apologies to anyone from Shap who is reading this) has none of the charm that the Lakes has, and I’m being kind. It also only has three places to eat, and two of them were closed due to Covid. The third, The Crown, was ‘fine’, and actually did the job. It will win neither a Michelin star nor a 5 star rating on Tripadvisor, but it served us very well after a 19 mile walk that’s for sure. The folk who run it are super friendly and so do stop in if you are passing – the outside isn’t too inviting (and actually neither is the inside come to think of it), but we left very content and that’s all you want.

The highlight of the day turned out to be (apart from those views of Patterdale naturally!) the B&B we stayed in – Brookfield House, of which more tomorrow. Suffice to say it is ‘old school’, and run by surely the best B&B host in B&B history, Margaret. We got all of our dirty clothes washed and folded, and nothing was too much trouble for her. A veritable oasis in an otherwise unpretty little town. I’ll remember it forever, so good was Margaret’s fruit cake!

So after another 3,400 feet of ascent and 18 miles, we’d done 68 miles in four days. Tomorrow would see us do 21 more, and leave Cumbria behind and enter the fringes of the Yorkshire Dales. Bring them on, that’s what I say………:)

Coast to Coast Day 3 – Borrowdale to Patterdale

You know when you wake up and look out the window and just think “ugh”? This was one of those days.

Regardless, today was always going to be a really big day. It was one of those earmarked as being big as it was 19 miles in distance, but also because it involved (or should have done) going past, or up, Helvellyn on our way to Patterdale. Those who know me know that I have been up Helvellyn more than any other mountain (maybe Pen y Fan excepted), and that I also love it with a passion. So walking past it, even after about 16 of 19 miles was going to be tough. And we are doing the Coast to Coast, so you can’t just walk past Helvellyn and not go up can you? It’s like going into town and walking past your favourite pub when you are going for a drink – it doesn’t happen in my world!

Waking up as we did in the Glaramara Hotel in Seatoller though, I knew however that the day was going to be ridiculously tough to even reach Patterdale at all. The weather was unrelenting since yesterday. Worse in fact if anything. The rain beat upon the windows and the wind was howling. The forecast (and it proved to be right) said it wouldn’t stop all day, and that the rain would get heavier. And we were in the rainiest part of the whole country, with many a hill to get over before we even got close to Helvellyn, which would come at about mile 15 or so.

We even skipped breakfast in the hope that we would get the day completed, and grabbing our things from the drying room of the Glaramara (the stuff we had left there was still damp at best, it wasn’t a good drying room), we set out at around 7:30am.

After an hour or less, despite being well protected, most things were wet already. Rain at this velocity just finds its way in eventually. What was worse though was the wind. We’d (or I’d, mainly courtesy of the Macs Adventures app) selected a route up a pass that I hadn’t been up before (Greenup Edge, via Lining Crag).

The main trouble however wasn’t what what coming down from the sky. It was what was coming along the ground by way of streams and running water. The paths themselves were like streams. The streams themselves were simply in torrents. Where there had been stepping stones they were covered, and not just covered but totally submerged with very fast flowing water over them. Fast enough to sweep you off your feet for sure. Mel was scared, and I was scared for her. It’s one thing to get wet feet. It’s altogether a different thing to get knocked over and hurt yourself. I know she was worried for me too – it was after all only three weeks ago that I was in hospital with a bleed on the brain following a crash on my bike.

This probably gives you a good idea of the paths that we were walking on, but not of the streams we had to cross, they were much worse!
The one bright spot on the way up to Greenup Edge – a rainbow!

Now what happened to those stepping stones again?
Still smiling, near the top of Lining Crag.

We passed about 7 or 8 of these fast flowing streams on the way up to Lining Crag and Greenup Edge, and negotiated most of them with just wet feet. The climb itself wasn’t too bad in the end. Coming down the other side to Grasmere however the fun started. At one fast flowing stream, it was very apparent that the water was moving so fast that it could be dangerous. And worse we couldn’t really even see the bottom of the stream so we didn’t even know how far we’d get into and thus how hard to would be to wade through – it was probably about 10 feet wide too.

I looked up and down stream in vain for possible other crossing points. All however were more perilous, and after about half an hour of looking, Mel decided that she didn’t want to try, so I had to respect her wish. There was no way round, and so we had to backtrack. I looked on the map and saw that we could retrace our steps for about an hour, and then take another route over higher ground to Grasmere, which would hopefully see us safe. I was worried already about time though, and figured that this was probably a two hour diversion at best on a day when we would already be out for 11 or so hours.

So back up towards Greenup Edge we went, it was the only thing to do. Just then, after about 5 minutes of going back, something strange happened, in that someone was coming down towards us! This was strange in that we had not since we left Borrowdale (some probably 3 and half hours earlier) seen a single soul anywhere. It was a guy on his own, and although he was soaked through, he clearly wasn’t going to let a fast flowing stream (I told him about it to warn him) put him off. He also showed us that inside what seemed to be a strangely bulging jacket that he had a small dog in there in a baby sling! The poor thing was shaking, cold and wet, and presumably he wanted to get her down too.

This turned out to be the inspiration that Mel needed. She asked him if he would mind helping her across, and he said he’d be very happy to, so we retraced our steps back down again. Upon getting into the water, he stood there in the fast flowing waters and took Mel’s hand as she waded through and got her safely to the other side, despite getting in to above his calves. He did the same for me too, before getting out and then almost dancing down the path towards Grasmere.

We talked afterwards about how this was clearly ‘meant to be’, given that we saw apart from him actually only one other person on the path after that the whole day. He was there at just the right time. It also made all of our progress after that much easier. Once you have wet feet then they are wet, and although I did actually wring my socks out, that was a bit pointless as everything was soaked up to my knees anyway and would stay so for the rest of the day, and this was about 11am.

We then made reasonable progress into Grasmere which we got to at about 2pm, and got some lunch from a shop there. We would have missed out Grasmere but had no packed lunch and had intended to come here anyway. We also tried to get some Grasmere Gingerbread (if Helvellyn is my favourite mountain then Grasmere Gingerbread is undoubtedly my favourite food substance) but there was a big queue at the shop, and very conscious (as I always am) of time, I decided we shouldn’t wait. We did after all have another 9 or more miles to get through in the rain, and had to ascend up to Grizedale Tarn, even if Helvellyn was definitely way way out of reach for this trip by now, as was any other side turning or distraction.

This was the view at Grizedale Tarn – not even sure why I got my phone out really!

The walk up to Grizedale Tarn thankfully passed without further incident, although we did have a further few streams to dip our soggy feet and boots into. In fact we even had to wade through the tarn itself to get across to the path down Grizedale valley. Having been there a lot of times before I’ve never seen it like that, but at least it didn’t pose any danger.

So down we went, heads down, straight down the Grizedale Valley. No Helvellyn and no St Sunday Crag (that was my alternative for the day origninally). There was no point as it was too wet and too windy, and we didn’t have time by then anyway. We eventually got into Patterdale just before 7pm, with feet as wet as wet can be, but good and safe in the end.

We found a great drying room too at our lovely B&B, The Old Water View, which was in a great location and on another day would have been an idyllic place to stay. As it was we were glad to put stuff on radiators and turn them up, and head straight out the local pub (The White Lion). Thankfully, despite a short wait outside in the rain (we couldn’t book in there as they weren’t taking bookings, and there is no other pub in Patterdale so that was it)

It has to be said that The White Lion does a fantastic Cumberland Sausage, and also (as Mel will attest) a damn good chilli, and we were very grateful of the food and the beer (Wainwright’s, what else?) after a really tough day. We’d done nearly 4,000 feet of ascent, and 19 miles of walking, in horrendous conditions. The forecast for tomorrow wasn’t for rain! That would be a very pleasant and welcome surprise and we’d at least get to see some (and some might say the best) of the Lakes before we actually left it. Tomorrow is after all, always another day :).

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast – Day Two, Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale.

Starting from the very lovely Thorntrees B&B in Ennerdale Bridge for our walk to the Borrowdale Valley, we knew that the weather just wasn’t going to be anywhere near good. In fact, it was downright miserable (at best), all day long. We had continuous, and I mean it didn’t stop for a single second the whole day, rain, and 40-50mph winds. Oh and it was pretty cold at times too. I had two or three layers on top and bottom, plus a mountain hat. I wished I’d had my gloves on at times. Welcome to August in the Lake District.

The walk to Borrowdale was around 14 or 15 miles only – but in these conditions, and with a proposed ascent of three high peaks (Red Pike, High Stile and Haystacks), this was not going to be easy at all.

I’d looked forward to this day on the C2C probably most of all in fact. That’s because it is the one most synonymous with Wainwright himself. Haystacks was his favourite mountain and his final resting place Innominate Tarn beside it. He put in his books before he died that “should you, dear reader, find a piece of grit in your shoe when walking by, then it might be me”

Getting to Haystacks however was going to involve scaling Red Pike and High Stile, and it was sadly obvious from before we even set off that that just wasn’t going to happen. In fact just walking around Ennerdale was hard enough. This was head down, get out of here weather. We couldn’t even see across Ennerdale in fact, and it is supposed to be very pretty. Haystacks and the rest of them would have to just wait for another day.

The ‘low route’ was thus chosen, and we splashed and sploshed our way around Ennerdale Water. From there we tried to eat a packed lunch under the cover of a few trees (we couldn’t get much wetter, but it was a brave attempt to keep the worst of the deluge out of our sandwiches.

Ennerdale Water – apparently a very pretty spot when you can see it properly!

Things got interesting however (despite this being the low route, we still had to climb up to over 2,000 feet) when we passed up past Black Sail YHA (closed due to Covid), and Brandreth and Grey Knotts and over towards the Honister Pass. The paths were becoming rivers, and the route then not always obvious. Mel was a bit scared on more than one occasion as we climbed up and the wind almost knocked her off her feet. I felt guilty that she was in that predicament but there was nothing I could do other than guide her and help her get up and down safely. I don’t think we passed anyone on the path at all the whole day, which given this as a day in August in the Lakes towards one of the most popular passes, will tell you just how shocking a day it was. If you had any choice at all in what you were doing this day you would simply have not even have got out of bed!

This’ll give you a brief idea of the wind, and this was at the foot of the fell – I didn’t dare get my phone out anywhere near the top!
Trying to just cross some of the streams was a pretty hairy experience at times.

Thankfully by the time we came down past Honister Slate Mine, heads down and just tramping through bogs and puddles, the wind had eased somewhat, although the rain was still pelting down.

This would sadly be the nearest I got to Haystacks all day.

Thankfully the Glaramara Hotel in Seatoller provided a lot of welcome relief. A veritable oasis, the Glaramara is a lovely country hotel with open fires (they were on, and we sat right in front, again welcome to August in the Lake District!) and which also does a fixed three course dinner for all of its guests. We also deposited all of our wet kit in the drying room, which sadly was so full of kit and so humid that it would have taken a month to dry most things, and so we elected to turn all of the radiators on in the room instead and hang stuff on there.

Relief at last!!

Having chomped down very happily on all three courses (I think I could have eaten five) before retiring to the nice bar again, we chatted there to a DofE leader who had come in from the nearby campsite to shelter from the rain, and talked primarily about how bad the weather was going to be the next day. The debate was that we had an 18 or 19 mile day to Patterdale to get to, and the forecast was even worse than for today. He advised us that Lining Crag and Greenup Edge were the way to go, and so we settled on that. In this weather it was just a case of getting from place A to place B as efficiently and safely as possible. Views of the Lake District even were all but out of the window, which is such a shame.

Having looked at a number of options on the map for tomorrow, I knew that Greenup Edge was at least the shortest route, and didn’t look too testing in terms of contours, but the strength of the wind and rain would be the determining factor. Still, day two was over, and we were warm and well fed and watered, half way through the Lake District and already one sixth of our way to Robin Hood’s Bay. Day three though would be the most testing of the lot…..

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast – Day One.

As we all know, some days turn out better than others, and some days are really great. Some days are also surprising and turn up unexpected things that you don’t want to end. This day turned out to be all of those things.

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast starts in the little seaside town of St Bees, nestled on a peninsula at the westernmost tip of Cumbria and sat on the Irish Sea coast, overlooking (if you are lucky enough to get a clear day) the Isle of Man.

Starting our journey at Stonehouse Farm B&B at around 8:30, and with just 15 miles to do for our first day, we’d expected a fairly easy (and perhaps fairly nondescript one too if I’m honest, despite how excited I was about the whole thing) day.

Ready for the off!
And this is the famous start sign – nearly ready for the start proper…
Toes duly dipped by me…..
…..and by Mel.
And these pebbles would come with me the whole way. One was for keepsakes, and one would be given back to the sea at Robin Hood’s Bay.

We were blessed with fine, if slightly cool, weather to start with, at around 14 degrees. We thus collected our pebbles, dipped our feet in the sea and took our obligatory photos by The Alfred Wainwright sign. Duly set, we were on our way.

Looking back to St Bees from the headland.
The coastal path went on for about four miles and was really lovely.
Our first C2C signpost, and ready to leave the sea behind us.

And the first views of the Lakeland fells come into view.

The walk (circular at first along the coast) was simply stunning. What do you want in a walk? Clifftops with great views of the sea and beach, with Isle of Man, Scotland and Northern Ireland thrown in? Check. Undulating terrain with woodland, great views, and more wildlife in terms of seabirds, cattle, sheep than you can imagine? Check. Hills and valleys, streams, ascents, descents that test your legs and lungs and fitness? Well Dent Hill gives you most of the latter, and the cliff top walk all of the former.

Good to see Mr Wainwright’s name appearing!
On our way up Dent Hill – it is only little, but perfectly formed with beautiful views.
And you have to celebrate your first summit don’t you?

Following Dent Hill there were also some testy descents and then a very long and beautiful wander through a rolling valley which reminded me very much of Dovedale in the Peak District. We were now effectively entering the Lake District proper. The day had been stunning, and I spent most of it in shorts and T shirt. Mel wished that she had packed shorts or cut off walking trousers and was basically too hot in the afternoon, not something that either of us would suffer from for the next two days though!

One of the few signs that pointed the way.

Reaching eventually Ennerdale Bridge on the edge of the Lake District (as opposed to just Cumbria) was an equally beautiful moment. It is such a lovely village, and the first time either of us had been there.

We stopped for a drink on arrival at the very lovely Fox and Hounds, and also booked in there for dinner later. We would follow a pattern from now of always booking dinner a day before we arrived at a particular location, to make sure we got a table. This was a very significant aspect of the Covid pandemic, and with restricted availability/tables in some pubs, and sometimes only one pub in the village we were in, this represented our only way of getting fed in the evenings.

Time to relax – day one done!

As we sat in the evening and tried to book (actually unsuccessfully as it turned out) for the following evening in Patterdale, I perused the weather forecast for the next day. It was going to a wet one with very high winds, and may well scupper my wish to see Haystacks and Innominate Tarn. But tomorrow would be another day.

For now we’d done our first 16 miles and around 2,400 feet of ascent – the Coast to Coast had started with a great and very memorable day.

The Coast To Coast – Prelude

Never of course in the now 11 year history of my blog have I commenced a post in the midst of the biggest global pandemic that any of us have ever witnessed. Moreover, in the context of the year for me, it’s been very challenging from the start. I began the year with a bad cartilage injury in my knee which threatened to stop me from running or even exercising again, then had what was going to be an amazing trip for Melanie and I to Everest Base Camp cancelled 9 days before we went (due to the aforesaid pandemic of course), and just two weeks ago found myself very unwittingly following a bike accident in a hospital in Cumbria with a(n albeit mild) brain haemorrhage.

Hopefully the year gets a lot less challenging from now on!

And so much more happily, as I write this, Melanie And I are on the third of four trains for the day, this one from Newcastle to Carlisle, as part of us getting to the start of a new and very real adventure – this one the Coast to Coast. I am, or we are should I say, very excited about that to say the least.

The Coast to Coast Walk – The Trails Shop
The Coast to Coast route and elevation profile from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bayin North Yorkshire.

The Coast to Coast walk, which takes several forms of both walking and cycling, is traditionally done from The English Lake District, and finishes at the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors near Whitby. We are doing the route the most traditional way of all, that ascribed to Alfred Wainwright himself. We will start therefore in St Bees in Cumbria, and end in Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire, some 197 miles away, at the end of a 13 day stretch.

I will not wax lyrically about Mr Alfred Wainwright here – plenty far more eloquent scribes than myself have given him all the accolades he deserves. Save to say Though that I have possessed his brilliantly illustrated books since I was a teenager; that one of them “Fellwalking with Wainwright” is singularly responsible for my having ascended Helvellyn (to the point of boredom of anyone who I was with at the time) around 25 times; and that I revere with awe the fact that he still inspires generation after generation of aspiring walkers and climbers today.

In fact on the second day of the walk, despite what appears to be a terrible weather forecast, we will hopefully walk over Haystacks, his final resting place on this earth. I will definitely do more than doff my cap – it will be a teary, very emotional and extremely respectful eye that I turn to the skies and the ground in commemoration and gratitude for all that he continues to bring to fellwalkers far and wide, many years after his passing.

Alfred Wainwright’s memorial in Buttermere Parish Church.

Our trip was ultimately born out of my time in lockdown, when I was very frustratedly perusing long distance trails to do once ‘all this’ was over. I watched many thru-hike (defined as a a multi-day hike which starts in one location and ends in another) videos on You Tube. The Pacific Crest Trail (inspired of course by Cheryl Strayed’ of Wild fame) is up there on my bucket list, as is the Appalachian Trail, and also the Camino.

‘The Way of St James’ as the Camino is often referred, is the most accessible of these, at 835km long, and being in Northern Spain, it can be done in around 33-35 days. However, with travel restrictions still being practically insurmountable currently, I set my sights a little closer to home. Of those closer to home, I’d still love to do The West Highland Way, and the Pennine Way, and then there’s the Jurassic Coast and the Cornwall Coastal Path to name but a few, but the Coast to Coast is the one for me that in the UK has the most appeal. It has Mr Wainwright’s name attached to it for a start!

Having thus persuaded once lockdown restrictions were eased (I don’t think it took much) Melanie to join me, it was then all about finding dates and sorting out logistics. The former was easy, given an abundance of time still to take of my annual holiday allowance, but the latter was not. The C2C has resting places in villages or hamlets by and large, and so trying to book these at a point when everyone and his dog was scrabbling around for the same thing proved at best very frustrating.

It was then that I came across a travel firm called Mac’s Adventures, who do the hard part for you and arrange all of the accommodation. Sold! They’ve been brilliant so far, and they also arrange for transport of your luggage each day in case you don’t want to carry your hairdryer etc with you – a must for me!!! We also have their seemingly very useful turn by turn app giving maps and the like. The accommodation they’ve booked looks great, but we will of course see how that turns out in due course. 

Staying in 14 different places over 14 days (mainly B&Bs but some pubs too) is going to be very interesting. The first four days are in the Lakes, then the next seven through the Dales and the Pennines, and the last few through the North York Moors. We will apparently ascend more than the height of Mount Everest over the thirteen days, and the longest day is around 24 miles, so I’m sure (especially with some interesting weather to come, I’ve brought two pairs of boots so there’s always one pair trying to dry out) it will be challenging at times. I do also (alongside aforesaid mild brain haemorrhage, suffered just 15 days ago) have a sprained sacroiliac joint, which is causing my back a lot of pain. It’s easing though, and I’ve been cleared by my chiropractor to do this, so it’s happening!

The walk has quite a few traditions attached to it. One is to dip your feet in the Sea (the Irish at the start, the North at the other) at each end. Another is to take a pebble from one side and carry with you and throw into the sea at the other. Another is to give and take a sweet from ‘Fat Betty’ a stone monolith somewhere out in the Moors. I’m a traditionalist, and so of course I’ll do all three, and any others we come across. I’m sure there will be ups and downs and (hopefully minor!) struggles and the like along the way, but mainly I’m sure there will be lots of fun. 

Hiking for me is part of being at one with nature, of seeing the best of the British countryside, of being able to clear one’s thoughts, and to challenge yourself on new adventures, to name but a few. And then of being fit, and of feeling alive – we all need that in these recent times, and you have to make the most of the opportunities that you have. That’s my philosophy and it’ll never leave me while I still have the ability to be able to do it – the subtitle of my blog after all is and always will be the mantra of Sherpa Tenzing Norway – ‘to travel, to adventure and learn, that is to live’, which is about as fitting as it gets. 

I’ll close here though on another quote which I came across the other day, very fitting for two reasons. One it is written by Christopher McCandless, he who is the poignant subject of Jon Krakauer’s most excellent book (and subsequent film) ‘Into The Wild’. And second he wrote it about thru-hiking: “The very basic Core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun”. 

I’m going to record the whole trip for the blog and will do a post covering each day’s journey.

Let the Coast to Coast begin……..

The Road To Recuperation…..

Not running sucks. I’ve learned that lesson big style over the last month or so. In the four weeks and five days since I last pulled on a pair of trainers it has been difficult for so many reasons, and sometimes it is the visible and often daily reminders of that which make it all the more palpable.

Firstly I’ve spent so much time running over the last few years it has just become a way of life. It is part of me in fact. From the Great North Run to the New York Marathon to the local parkrun to just getting out on my local streets, it is all great. even in the rain. Up until a year or so ago, when I introduced myself to people for the first time, I used to say that I was a bit of a pretend runner, but that’s just not true any more. I run because I enjoy it, pure and simple. I’m a runner and I’m proud of it.

Secondly is the missing out part. For example I’m lucky to work for a great company which has a wonderful sense of fun, and also a very active group of runners. There isn’t a single day that I can recall, in all weathers, that someone isn’t going out for a run at lunchtime. We even have our own Strava group where much encouragement is given to people’s activities in and out of work. And worse for me it is all so visible – Russ who works for me sits within five feet of me, literally across the table, and Esther is about six feet further away in my direct line of sight. Esther runs every day, and is one of the many people who have helped me on the big and eventful journey to be the runner I am now. So for the past month or so, whilst I have been inactive, to watch them (and others) getting kitted up and all excited for their jaunt as I sit and feel sorry for myself has been hard.

Then there is the competitive element and the runs we had booked up. Melanie and I had set out to do the London Winter 10k, an event I’d done for the last three years and loved, then the Cambridge Half Marathon in March, and then the Edinburgh Marathon in May. I’ve cancelled all of my places and so that is hard too. It is so exciting to have events to look forward to, and when you have none, and no prospect of when the next one might be, then it is a bit demoralising. Melanie is still running of course, and so I keep on encouraging her and she’s been great at supporting me too.

And then also it is the not knowing. As things stand I have no end in sight as far as resolution to the cartilage injury is concerned, and thus when or even whether I can actually get back running again. To some extent it would be better if I knew that I had say six months off and then it would be all right again. But I of course know it won’t. Degenerative osteoarthritis and a torn cartilage that isn’t ever going to get better are what they are, and I have to just accept that and make the most of it.

Despite all of this, (and believe me I’m not complaining about my lot, far from it) I’m on a mission. The recuperation part I am taking as seriously as the running was in the first place. I have to, because I want to get back there in whatever capacity my body will let me. And not just that, we have a trip booked to Everest Base Camp at the end of next month. Nepal being my favourite country, and the trek to Base Camp the best music for the mind, body and soul imaginable, then I can’t miss out on that too. It’s unthinkable, so I have to be the best I can be.

I’ve thus taken on board (in fact I’ve hauled it up, wrapped it in my arms and am almost quite literally never letting go) of what my orthopaedic surgeon has said to me. Instead of surgery, due basically to my age and the advanced risk of introducing extra arthritis to my already permanently damaged joints, he told me to cycle for 30 minutes a day, every day. Having decided that that was hard (as I basically can’t stand being on stationary bikes or turbo trainers) I did two things:

Firstly I bought a bloody good stationary bike, a JTX Cyclo Studio, after much research. I did consider Wattbike and Peloton, but the prices they ask are pretty astronomical, and so I reckoned that getting a good solid bike was enough. Coupled to this though, I knew I needed some visual stimuli, and as Claudia Schaffer wasn’t available for hire (:)) I bought myself a new TV to sit on the wall in front of the bike. I also signed up to the Peloton app, which you can do without having to buy the Peloton bike, and although you don’t get all of the interactive features with the other members, you still get the classes, which is good enough for me. 

Thus a regime has begun which I’ve stuck to every day, practically without fail since early January. I’ve also found a new love for Netflix, and watched all manner of things that I normally wouldn’t have the patience to watch, but know that an episode of The Stranger, lasting 45 minutes will get me more than my required daily dose of what amounts to my medicine. When the shows are entertaining and keep me engaged, like most of The Stranger did, it means I can watch a whole episode at a time and do more than the doctor ordered. Little steps and all that.

Better still, on a follow up visit to the surgeon since my cortisone injection in January, he also said I could ride outside. Bliss! Now the only issue with being outside and getting some miles in my legs and air in my lungs (instead of sweating profusely in my study on the aforementioned new indoor toy) is the weather. In the last three weeks in the UK we’ve basically had fire and brimstone, except without the fire. It has been desperate, and a succession of winter storms, Ciara, Dennis and now Jorge, although Ellen still threatens out in the Atlantic somewhere, have battered the UK. I’ve frankly always been a bit of a fair weather cyclist, but in these conditions it is not just unenjoyable but also borderline dangerous to be outside. Frost, ice and winds just aren’t my bag I’m afraid.

I have managed to get outside a few times though, and a couple of times when at Melanie’s while she is running I’ve gone out on her bike while she trains for the Cambridge Half. It’s ok, but lets call it less than ideal, especially as her bike is massively too small for me, but every little helps.

So the answer to the weather issue, is that if I couldn’t get the mountain to come to Mohammed, was to take Mohammed to the mountain! I am thus, as I write this, en route to Majorca, for a short cycling weekend. I get the benefit of some (hopefully, albeit brief) winter sunshine, some of the best cycling roads and routes that Europe has to offer, and an opportunity to properly stretch the legs out. I did when speaking to the surgeon check with him whether I could do this, and he basically said it was the best thing I could do. He told me that a friend of his, with him 200 miles to Devon last week, through the storms and all. So storms I neither need nor like, but sunshine and Majorca (medicinal purposes only you understand!) I do!

I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes……………


This last week has been quite hard for at least four reasons, and then news on Monday got harder still. I could think of more than four probably, but that’s all that come to mind right now. And so in no particular order…

  1. I’ve done a lot of driving, and more than I’d like. Over a thousand miles in fact. Three times to Cambridge and once up to the North East (see below…) and that’s all tiring. I spent about 14 hours behind the wheel over the weekend and that is painful with the current state of my knee…..
  2. My much discussed cartilage tear has been causing me a lot more pain. The most ever yet in fact. At the end of runs on both Thursday (six miles in Cambridge) and more so on Saturday (Parkrun in South Shields) it was agony. I’m taking painkillers every day and they don’t really touch the pain.
  3. On my mind was the hospital appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon. I was pretty sure he was going to tell me (at the very least) to stop running, and maybe also that I need surgery. It was playing on my mind a lot, not least of which because I so very much hope it doesn’t stop me/us from going to Nepal in 8 weeks time.
  4. Saturday 25th January was the anniversary of my Dad’s death. Although it is six years ago now it is still very fresh, particularly because of where I spent the weekend, which was up in my native North East for a school reunion, and therefore very much a trip down memory lane. Trips to my old schools, past the house where my parents lived for nearly fifty years, and to places that bring a lifetime of memories. Very nostalgic and poignant to say the least.

So the two runs I did last week were a test as much as anything. I should be on Week 3 of marathon training (for the Edinburgh Marathon), but also to get ready for next weekend’s London Winter 10k (an event I dearly love and have done for the last three years) and also the Cambridge Half in March. The week would normally have consisted of 5 runs in terms of the plan, but I knew that would be too painful.

After the Parkrun on Saturday (which I ran fairly hard and managed a very respectable 23 mins 50 seconds, despite it being fairly hilly) I felt the effects afterwards pretty badly. I was sat in the car and literally wincing with spasms and waves of surging pain, and it was almost overwhelming at times. It’s not sustainable, and I know that.

On the plus side I absolutely loved doing the run, even if Melanie unfortunately couldn’t do it as she wasn’t feeling well. She did however come along and support me which was lovely. It’s the first time I’ve done South Shields Parkrun, and being my home town (although I’ve been exiled for well over 30 years now) it was just a delight to be there. The route also takes you from the beach and along the cliff tops overlooking the wonderful North east coastline, and then finishes on the last mile of the Great North Run course. What’s not to love? If Carlsberg did Parkruns….

Start of the parkrun down next to the beach in South Shields.
After the parkrun – I wasn’t quite as fresh as this immediately afterwards I should say!

The school reunion on Saturday evening was wonderful too. Seeing people whom I first met over 50 years ago (it was a primary and junior school for most of us) was fantastic, and something to relish and treasure. I’m so grateful to get the opportunity to do things like that.

So onto the appointment on Monday. I was very frank with the consultant (why wouldn’t I be you might say, but I did wonder if he’d tell me off for running as much as I have!) and waited for the prognosis. He told me after some poking and prodding and listening that he still would like (for now) to avoid surgery. This is because the body of evidence for people (my age!) is inconclusive as regards the relative success of it as against physical therapy, and especially balanced against the risk of further complications/conditions such as arthritis.

What he also said then was a bit of a downer emotionally for me. Firstly he told me that my knew would basically never get ‘better’ from here. The meniscus tear is permanent and all I can do is to manage the pain. Strike one! Secondly he told me that I had early onset degenerative osteoarthritis in my knee. That means essentially that I have bone rubbing on bone, that pounding of the joints will clearly not help/be painful, and again it is irreversible. Strike two! And then he said that It’d be best to STOP running, at least for now, while the rest of the surrounding knee muscles strengthen. Strike three 😦

The word STOP hit hard, I have to say. The words “at least for now” I hardly even heard. Over the last few years I’ve discovered such pleasure in running, and it has brought me so many adventures and great and exciting moments like the Great North run and the New York Marathon, so to stop is not something I want to do. It has also been part of the glue for Melanie and I, and something that we love to do together.

I asked him after I’d digested the news as to whether I’d be able to subsequently return to running, and of course he said it depends. He said that maybe in a year’s time I could run a marathon again, but that would depend upon progress, my tolerance for managing/dealing with the pain etc. A year is a lifetime for me, as frankly I’m impatient, and the time for living for me is firmly in the moment. This one here, right now.

The appointment finished with him giving me a cortisone injection in my knee which ‘may’ (in about 70% of his cases apparently) help with the pain. It was one of those big (read colossal :O) needles, and was inserted just below my kneecap, and went in what seemed to be a long way, but as I was already reeling from the ‘stop’ message it didn’t really phase me. I have to come back in four weeks time and he’ll assess how I’m feeling then, which will (probably) be surgery if the pain is getting worse.

He has recommended that I spend lots of time on the exercise bike in the meantime. I’ve been doing it for at least half an hour every day so far, and so I’ll ramp that up further now. I’m very determined to get back as far as I can to being able to do the things I want to do and enjoy doing, even if I do (I have no choice after all) accept that things will never be quite the same.

I left the hospital a bit deflated, but I knew that he’d only really affirmed what I already knew (other than mentioning degenerative osteoarthritis, which was a bit of a shock) in my own mind. I’ve been hurting now after all for at least three months, and it has got worse not better. Something was going to have to give.

I’ve meantime cancelled my participation in the London Winter 10k, the Cambridge Half Marathon and also the Edinburgh Marathon. I had also harboured (very strong) desires until a week or so ago to do the Berlin marathon later in the year too. Those thoughts have to be banished for now, and it’s a shame, and frustrating to say the least. I did however on the back of this make someone’s day today – I contacted the organisers of the Cambridge Half Marathon to find if anyone would like my place, and they said they had someone who was desperately keen to get in and couldn’t. I thus contacted her, and she was absolutely delighted. So that’s a good thing at least.

All this happened just yesterday and it is a bit raw for now. I am feeling philosophical about it I suppose, and trying not to feel upset. Let’s face it, far worse things could have happened to me, and this is just a setback, even if the fatalistic part of my brain knows that the words ‘degenerative osteoarthritis’ aren’t a portent for me ever being able to do as many things as I have in my dreams.

However, as C.S. Lewis once said “you are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream”.

Whilst on the subject of being philosophical I’ll leave you with the following…..I always loved Mark Twain as a kid, and the books containing the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn I count as my childhood inspiration for life. I found this quote therefore, and it is very true – if you read this and are a dreamer like me, then book that trip, run that race, and get out there and live your life to the full. You owe it to yourself, you really do.

“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain

Here We Go Again…….(hopefully!!)

As I write this the date is 17th January 2020, and it dawned upon me the other day that my blog is over 10 years old! In that time it has covered climbing/trekking trips to Kilimanjaro, Russia, Bolivia, Argentina, Nepal, and several in Europe, cycling in Thailand and the UK, and very recently running the New York Marathon, to name a few. It’s been a blast! And so with the dawn of a brand new decade I am very much not hanging up my shoes (any of them!!) just yet.

The above statement I should say is not quite as straightforward as it may appear: If you followed my New York Marathon blog you may recall that I was carrying what I thought was a calf muscle sprain late in the programme. Well, this turned out to be a bit worse than I thought, as over the Christmas period I’ve been diagnosed with a torn cartilage in my right knee. Bummer!

Basically, following the New York Marathon (actually during the run my calf wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be) I decided to rest for a while. My knee was then starting to seize when just sat at my desk at work, and I was in considerably more pain just lying in bed at night than I had been even doing exercise previously, so something wasn’t right. A trip back to my physio wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I ultimately got referred to an orthopaedic surgeon via my GP for an MRI scan. I’m lucky to have private healthcare and so I got fast-tracked, otherwise this process would still be ongoing and I’d be none the wiser here still.

So the official prognosis post MRI scan is as follows, in all its gory detail – for posterity as it were:

– A significant multidirectional tear of the junction of the body and posterior horn of the medial meniscus.

– A para meniscal cyst situated posteriorly

– A popliteal cyst

– A (tiny) knee joint effusion

– A grade 1 sprain of the medial collateral ligament

Joy! I discovered all of this a day before Christmas. But what does it all mean?

Well, I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks googling all of the above, and as with most things you google on medical forums, most of it isn’t very pretty, and very sobering. At worst, I shouldn’t/can’t use my knee for much at all and am at risk of a knee replacement in the not too distant future. My orthopaedic surgeon however, who (would you believe!) turns out to be a 3hr 20min marathon runner, is ( a bit) more hopeful.

He has said that he hopes that the effects of the meniscal tear can be initially treated by means of physiotherapy. Time will tell, as on the 27th January, a mere 10 days away, if it isn’t improved in terms of the pain I am suffering (and that is a lot), then it is surgery time. The operation involves shaving off part of the remaining cartilage and removing the part that is basically floating somewhere in my knee cavity and contributing to the pain I get. I currently can’t even tie my shoelaces, or put my socks on, or squat or extend my knee through 90 degrees currently without it being excruciatingly painful. In theory the physiotherapy (which is essentially half an hour every day on an exercise bike at low resistance to stimulate blood flow to the knee area) will help my body adapt in the meantime. Fingers crossed and all that!

So, despite the digesting all of that news, I remain hopeful. There was a chance (and I suppose there still is) that when I went to see the surgeon that he told me that my knee issue was degenerative/arthritic (he told me this might be a possibility before we both saw the MRI scan results in fact) and that I shouldn’t run any more. He could also have told me that I needed surgery straight away and that would be the end of running for probably this year at the very least. I’m not, after all, getting any younger!

But he hasn’t. He’s told me that resting it is the last thing I should do right now in fact. And although he’s told me to stick to cycling for now, I’m not doing that, as he’s also told me that by running I won’t actually be making it worse.

So, over Christmas, I’ve done about five runs, most short, and including a double Park Run with Melanie on New Year’s Day in the Lake District. That in particular was great fun, even if getting up at 7am on New Year’s Day to dash across the Lake District (we were staying in Ambleside and the runs were in Keswick and Penrith) wasn’t! We’d also climbed Helvellyn (my favourite mountain!) the day before and my leg was hurting because of that too, but enough of that!

Keswick Park Run at 9am on New Year’s Day……
……followed by a dash to Penrith for their Park Run at 10:30am!

So, where is this leading? Well, until (or unless!) the Surgeon on the 27th January tells me he’s not happy with things and he’s chopping it off (or something almost but equally as unpalatable) then I’m running, simple as that. Life is here to be enjoyed, and I’m on a roll!

I (and in fact we, Melanie and I) are currently signed up for the London Winter 10k in Feb, the Cambridge Half Marathon in March, are going trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal in April, and have signed up for the Edinburgh (full) Marathon in May. That should keep me out of mischief!

Watch this space………………:)

New York – concrete jungle where dreams are made of…..

Sunday 3rd November 2019 will go down in my life as an incredibly momentous occasion. It was the day I became a marathoner! It is said that less than 1% of the population of the UK will run a marathon in their lifetimes, and I think I can only now truly understand why. So hereafter follows the story of the final week, and the ultimate accolade of the medal to prove it all wasn’t a dream…

After 15 weeks of training, I’m not sure either of us could believe that the day had finally arrived. It was certainly a week of countdowns! The trip to New York was on the Thursday, allowing two days for post-flight acclimatisation and hopefully not catching sniffles or worse along the way! I’d done my Tuesday and Wednesday runs of 4 miles and 3 miles respectively, and they were fine, if a bit unlike how I’d expected. I thought perhaps that at this point in tapering I’d feel ready to fly, but almost the reverse was true. My Tuesday run felt a bit like I was running for the first time!

Flying and travelling all day on Thursday (a total trip door to door of around 15 hours from Cambridge to our hotel in Manhattan, The Warwick) meant I skipped my scheduled Thursday run, but of course by then it didn’t really matter. It was by then all about just being rested and ready for the big day on the Sunday. Melanie chose to not run all week in fact, deciding that she needed the rest a lot more than what any training plan said, and also she went very much non-caffeine (inducing some initial headaches for her, unfortunately), non-alcohol, and carb loading to the tune of eat-pasta-for-every-meal. Good discipline!

I wasn’t quite so rigorous it has to be said, and just restricted myself to one glass of wine a day throughout (aren’t I good!), and I did eat a lot of pasta as well. A good thing too, as I love it, and we found a great restaurant in Manhattan called Pazza Note, which is highly recommended if you’re ever out that way (it’s on 6th and between 55th/56th for reference).

On the Friday we hit the expo at the Javits Center, a 3/4 million square foot convention centre in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan. All of the runners are required to go there to collect their bib/timing chip etc. We went early in the day to try to beat the crowds, but it was an absolute zoo! All together it took about 30 minutes of queuing (never my favourite pastime!) just to get into the doors of the event, and then it was like being in a rugby scrum to get close to any of the merchandise on display.

Bib numbers collected and it’s all getting very real!

The crowds were a real shame as we’d looked forward to the expo with some excitement (and some impatience for me, I can’t help myself!!), but it was just too busy to really stop and take a meaningful look at anything. I still managed to spend $300 on ‘stuff’ though, some of I will wear, and also a mock cowbell (which can only be described as tat at best) which will only gather dust on a shelf somewhere, so they saw me (and many others like me, the queues at the tills were extreme too) coming!

The expo was massive, and definitely inspiring 🙂

Massive wallboards had all 55,000 runners names written on there!

There was one highlight at the expo however, and that was bumping into Paula Ratcliffe (as you do!) whom we both got a photo with. She was there to promote something or other, and seemed very obliging with the selfies for anyone who asked. Oh and I meant to say we also met David Weir, the multiple Paralympic champion, on the flight over, so it was a week of celebrities for us! Melanie also got his autograph in our New York Marathon book (he came third too in New York), so that’s a nice keepsake.

Spot the runner, and guess what, it’s not me!!!

On the Saturday morning, before a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon sat relaxing watching the stage show of The Jersey Boys on Broadway ( a ‘must do’ in my book if you are ever in those parts!) we went for a little jog around Central Park to have a look at the last two miles or so of the course. We were both surprised just how undulating (I hesitate to use the word hilly, which it isn’t, but it certainly isn’t flat by a long stretch) it was, and made a mental note to be fearful of that factor when arriving at mile 26. The actual finish is uphill too – oh no! Being at the finish line though was great, with the rows of photos of past winners, and the finish line gantry and grandstands certainly all served to build up the excitement and magnitude of just how big this event is, the biggest marathon in the world. All of a sudden this thing seemed very real indeed!

Melanie having found ‘the blue line’ in Central Park, so we thought we should try it out…

And this is the Mile 26 marker – I wondered if I would actually get to see this the next day!

And the finish line itself – this was definitely the calm before the storm!

After what can only be described as a fitful night’s sleep (in fact I was awake at 2am and never got back to sleep) it was time for the final leg of the journey to begin, and a pretty convoluted one it is too! The start of the marathon is on Staten Island, some 15 miles or so from Manhattan, and also reachable only by ferry for all 55,000 or so runners.

To do this involved a minibus ride to the ferry terminal, then the 30 minute ferry crossing, and then another coach on the Staten Island side to reach Fort Wadsworth, and the start of the enormous (two mile long) Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which forms the very first two miles of the course. The ferry ride was really cold, caused entirely by the fact that we chose to spend it on the open upper deck of the ferry to take in all of the sights of Manhattan and the Statue Of Liberty. Well you have to make the most of these things don’t you?

Down at the midtown ferry at about 7:30am – our water taxi awaits!

And out onto The East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
And now out into Lower New York Bay, Manhattan disappearing in the background – it would be about 6 hours until we got back there again!

Passing the good old Statue of Liberty en route to Staten Island, the furthest away of New York City’s five boroughs.

The journey to the start took probably two hours altogether, and then we waited until our ‘corral’ opened. In New York they start you in 4 Waves over a period of about two hours. I’d been put in Wave 2 and Melanie Wave 3, so I waited and went into Wave 3 as anyone can move back but not forwards as is often the way with these things. The whole area of the ‘start village’ looked like a scene from a refugee camp, as we were bedecked in charity shop clothing and multiple bin bags, all ready to throw away. We had hand warmers and gloves too, and needed them – it was bitingly cold in the wind, although it was to warm up to around 8 or 9 degrees C by the time we set out to actually run.

In the start village and trying to keep warm while waiting for the loo!

And Melanie keeping warm too, with our very patriotic mats that she made for us to rest on 🙂

By the time the starting gun (actually a massive cannon) went off, there was almost a surreal hiatus when it didn’t even seem real at all. I’m sure tiredness and some not inconsiderable trepidation sunk in on my part, as I was about to after all step out into very much unchartered territory for me. No such first night nerves for Melanie of course as she’d been in this very position four times before.

But then, all of a sudden, the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra singing New York New York came over the PA system, and it is definitely real now! We were shuffling (for not too long) to the start of a solid one mile long uphill on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and this thing is happening! It really is time to focus as there is no going back now in every sense!!

At the start – and very exciting it was too – Albert (whoever he is!) certainly thought so as well!!

I had to record Frank Sinatra playing somehow – hope this plays, it gave us goosebumps at the time!

Without describing every detail of the route of the marathon, which I could, as I literally feel like I can recount every turn, the whole thing was sensational. Amongst the standout features are not just the crowds (estimated at over 1 million people lining the route alone), but the diversity of the crowds. Passing through 5 boroughs, you see so much, and that’s even when like me you are trying desperately to only look in front of you and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

After Staten Island, there was then Brooklyn with its now hipster communities (but loud!!) and also the gospel churches spilling out onto the roadside, all happy clappy and emotional. Into Williamsburg with its Hasidic Jewish community and a much more reverential feel. Then into once very gritty Queens, now ‘the new Brooklyn’, and affording probably the best views of all of Manhattan over the East River. Into Manhattan itself for a few miles over the fabled (and pretty tough) Queensboro Bridge on 59th Street, about which Simon & Garfunkel’s song (‘Feeling Groovy”) is named.

I stole this picture from someone else’s Facebook page – definitely Queens all over!

This photo was taken by Sadi, my son’s girlfriend, as I was about to turn on to First Avenue – priceless!!

As I came down off the Queensboro Bridge I was fortunate enough to see my son Dan, who was standing with Sadi in a position they’d let me know about beforehand. I was so happy and emotional to see them, and they managed to capture the moment above. I had to regain my composure afterwards as I got such an incredible headrush from it, and had to remind myself that I had still 10 miles to run. This was such a fabulous moment though and was the highlight of the run :).

Then up First Avenue in Manhattan proper with a wall of tourists, before you get to The Bronx over another bridge, and you realise that you aren’t in Kansas anymore. The Bronx is nothing but full on, and gritty, and I consciously quickened my pace as I didn’t want to stop there for any reason whatsoever! Then the steel bands and music really started crossing from The Bronx into East Harlem, which was almost downright scary even if everyone was having a ball! There was also on one corner the biggest stage band you’ve ever seen, also playing New York New York, which made me very emotional indeed. Concentrate now, you’ve only got 5 miles to go! Then back over what is called ‘The last damn bridge’ after which followed a long long drag up a steady incline at the top of Fifth Avenue before heading into Central Park, and an absolute wall of people lining (a bit too close at times) the whole (damn!) park.

Central Park houses the last three miles of the run, and by now I was pretty sure I’d make it to the end at least! I definitely owed a lot of that to my shiny pink Vaporfly Next% shoes, which I have to say were an absolute revelation. They are so cushioned and gave my legs the ability to still have some gumption in them at the end. When the last mile came I was lucky enough to be able to just go for it, and ran my fastest mile of the whole day. When the finish line came I was totally exhilarated and emotional. It had been a long day, and long journey, and a bloody amazing four or five months of such intense effort all building up to it.

And this is what a red in the face, somewhat exhilarated marathon runner looks like, 26.2 miles later!
And celebrating together just after the finish line 🙂
And with medals awarded, we could begin the trek back into central Manhattan.
Medal on and recovery drink in hand, we could finally relax and make our way back to central Manhattan…….
Where Dan and Sadi, and some much more exciting recovery drinks were in store!

Proudly displaying our medals, this was such a wonderful moment too, amongst so many 🙂
And the next day we both got our names……….
in The New York Times! How about that?

After the run the time it takes to get your medal and goody bag and post-race poncho (lovely and warm by the way, even if it never sees light of day again!) are seemingly interminable, and getting back into uptown Manhattan to meet Dan and Sadi took forever too. The beer afterwards was so enjoyable though!

I could go on forever about highlights and memories of the day, but one thing matters more than anything else, and that is that we did it! Being a marathoner is something that no-one can ever take away from me, and Melanie has now become a five time marathoner, and that is nothing short of incredible!

I owe everything about this run and this whole wonderful experience to Melanie, and it is completely dedicated to her. I would not have been there in the first place without her, and the inspiration (and a heck of a lot of perspiration!) along the way is all down to her too. We have run collectively around 1,200 miles over the last four months, put a huge amount of effort in, and had most importantly some amazing adventures and fun along the way. Marathons take dedication, willpower, sacrifices, and a huge amount of physical and mental fortitude in equal measure. Oh yes, and pasta, and digestive issues, and money, and lots of pairs of trainers, and vaseline!!

It’s now as I write this 10 days post-race, and the question I think I’ve been asked most following the marathon (other than “how was New York” and “did you enjoy it?”) is “have you signed up for the next one yet?”. Well Melanie reminded me just yesterday that in the immediate aftermath of the run (when she asked me the same question) I apparently said “never again” or words to that effect. I’ll say now though that I have the right to change my mind…..:)

I’ve loved doing my blog again during this adventure, and it’s been now nearly 10 years since I started it. There are lots more adventures to come, they are what life is about and what makes me me. The subtitle of my blog is “to travel, to experience and learn – that is to live”, the mantra of Sherpa Tenzing following his becoming the first human to stand on the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Well I, and we, have lots more travel and experiences and learning to do. Watch this space…..