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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.