One of the articles in my wish-list box was about a wonderful long-distance walk in England.
In 1973 Alfred Wainwright, a famous author and fell walker planned a walk across England using Ordnance Survey maps to devise a route following rights of way and open access paths through farm lands. The route starts at the historic seaside hamlet of St Bees in Cumbria, passes through three National Parks – the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors and finishes at Robin Hoods Bay about half way between Whitby and Scarborough. His reason for walking from west to east was mainly to have the prevailing weather, including wind and rain, on the back and not in the face. The tradition is that you put your toes in the Irish Sea before you start and dip them again into the North Sea when you reach the end.
For two years I dreamed about it and managed to persuade a group of ama-walkers to join me in 2001 to walk the Wainwright's Coast-to-Coast.
The whole trip was almost scuttled by the outbreak of Foot & Mouth but we opted for alternative paths and ended up walking about 50kms further than the normal route. One day we had to walk around the Lake District National park and ended up doing 40kms instead of 23kms. But, we kept to the official stops overs in little B&B's along the way.
340km+ in 13 days. WONDERFUL!!
We even had a group song:
It’s a long way to Robin Hoods Bay
It’s a long way to go
It’s a long way to Ennerdale
Buttermere and Borrowdale
It’s a long way to Patterdale
Shap and Orton too
It’s a long, long way to Robin Hoods Bay
But I’ll do it, with you.
Day One: (16km plus 9km). After watching our luggage being collected by the White Knights taxi service we met the others at their B & B in the village. We had a short distance to walk today so we were able to explore the Priory Church with it’s Norman doorway and the beautiful St Bees School before making our way to the shores of the Irish Sea. What a sight we must have been! There we were, ten not-so-young women, screeching as we ran from the waves whilst we dipped our toes in the Irish Sea! Our average age was 53 years, ranging from 40 something to 66 years. We carried one large South African flag on a dowel stick and two smaller flags that protruded from the pockets of backpacks. We collected pebbles to carry with us which we would throw into the North Sea at the end of our journey. Photographs were taken and the route map scrutinized. Marion, our leader for the day, read out her research of the town and the area and then we set off in a single file, heading east past the old Albert Hotel, up High House road, on towards Moor Row and Cleator. It was day one of our walk across England.
The weather was kind to us on the first day, if not a little too warm. The first thing I noticed about the area we were walking through was the wild flowers. Tall, slender foxgloves grew next to walls, along webstraw and willowherb hedgerows and under trees all along the route. White Queen Ann’s lace was interspersed with wild roses and thistles. We stopped for lunch next to a hedge on the side of the road. We became adept at finding convenient hedges and walls for our lunch and loo stops. Yvonne and Terry went behind the hedge to relieve themselves. We heard a loud yelp! Lying in wait amongst all the gentle wild flowers were the stinging nettles with their viciously spiked leaves and bristling flowers. After Yvonne was stung we soon learned not to expose any bare flesh to this vindictive weed! As we moved on we came to a sign which read, “Take care – free-range children playing”. We were soon walking through farmland and we were surprised to see that there were sheep in the fields. Every field was dotted with rooks, jackdaws and crows and they cawed their raucous cry each time they rose up and swooped down again. Upon nearing a farm gate, we heard the drone of mechanical shears and stopped to watch a farmer and his daughter shearing their sheep. One sheep lay dead to the side of the enclosure. The farmer told us that it had died of a heart attack.
The approach to Ennerdale Bridge passes through large expanses of forests and Ennerdale Water lies nestled between fells and forests. We were delighted to find our luggage waiting for us at the Shepherds Arms Hotel when we arrived there at about 15h30. We had our first of many excellent English pub dinners that night. It was still daylight after supper and we took a slow walk to Ennerdale Water. The car parks and footpaths were closed and we were the only visitors there on a beautiful, sunny, summer evening.
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
-Up-Hill: C.G. Rossetti
Day Two: (37km) My well worn in hiking boots had bruised my ankles. I thought I would give them one more day, not being too sure of the terrain we would cover. The roads seemed to be constructed of stone and metal and the leather boots were unyielding on this surface. We knew that today was going to be a long, hard day. Lilian warned us about the impending Honnister Pass that we would have to cross on our way to Rosthwaite. From Ennerdale we wound our way along narrow roads passing by Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere. All the footpaths and bridelways were closed and on numerous occasions we would walk gingerly across soaked matting at Foot & Mouth disinfecting sites. The day had started misty and damp and by the time we reached Buttermere it was raining and cold, with a blustery wind whipping our flags. We stopped at Buttermere to have our lunch and just as we sat ourselves down and opened our backpacks, the heavens opened and we were sitting in a deluge, crouching under our ponchos like one man tents. Yvonne had developed dreadful blisters and decided it would be best to catch one of the available buses going over the pass to Rosthwaite. (This was the only day that we saw daytrippers and buses on our route). After lunch, the rest of us trudged on knowing that the only way we could reach our nice warm beds waiting for us in Rosthwaite, would be to tackle the Honnister Pass. We walked along the road which cut through between towering peaks, crossing over the river, which snakes it’s way between the bracken and bilberry, which covers the lower reaches. Higher up, stone and slate balances precariously on the slopes. For most of the way we walked in mist and it wasn’t until there was a break in the clouds ahead that we saw the black tarred road, winding it’s way on hairpin bends up to the Honnister Slate factory at the top of the pass. The gradient is mostly 1 in 4 and climbs 255m in 2km. We could hear the engines of the odd cars that passed us on the way up groaning in first gear. We rested halfway up to admire the view. It was even more stunning at the top. Nearer the top, the wind howled and tugged at our ponchos, whipping them into billowing, snapping frenzies. Yvonne told us later that she had thought of us as the bus inched up the pass with the winds rocking the bus and tugging at the doors. My ankles felt as though they were in a vice and I could feel blisters developing under the big toe on each foot. I started taking more weight on the right leg to avoid aggravating the left ankle. Going up wasn’t as sore as going down. Wainwright would have been delighted to find that the Honnister Slate Quarry is back in business after being closed for a few years. After a brief sojourn at Honnister Slate we continued, this time down an equally steep decline through Seatoller and on to Rosthwaite and Stonethwaite in the Borrowdale Fells where we were to spend our third night. The first sign of an approaching village is a lonely red postbox, often attached to a farm wall or fence. Then come the telephone box and lastly the Post Office. Yvonne was waiting for us outside the B & B “Gillercombe” in Rosthwaite where half of our group would stay whilst the rest of us went on another 500 yards to the Langstrath Country Inn in Stonethwaite. After a 37km slog in rain and mist, Stonethwaite with its hanging flower baskets and quaint stone houses with beautiful gardens and magnificent views was a sight for sore eyes. We all met for a lovely meal at the Langstrath but we were too tired to do any after dinner walking tonight.
Day Three: (47.48km) We all met outside Gillercombe where Mrs Dunkley tried to persuade us to take the fell paths over to Grassmere. (She was very bossy and the girls told us that she had been the “landlady from hell!”) There was some hope that local footpaths might have reopened but we found closed signs at all the bridleways and the Coast to Coast footpath. If we thought yesterday was hard, we had a surprise in store today! Lilian took the lead today and we all trooped off down the road, heading north to Keswick. The route that Instep had given us followed a very busy A road and the locals recommended that we follow minor secondary roads instead. We took their advice but his added about 10km to the route. After leaving Stonethwaite we followed the Instep route north as far as Keswick. This giant leap-frog around the National Park was necessary because the paths through the Park were all closed. When we reached Keswick we decided to go shopping for better rainwear. The ponchos were like tents in a storm, ballooning up in the slightest wind. Some of us had plastic ponchos and these had started tearing. Lilian had a waterproof, sweatproof rain suit which she had bought in Glossop and we decided that this was the better option. Once we had all changed into our newly acquired suits and backpack covers, we had tea and cake at George Fishers outdoor centre. Then we set off on our way to Patterdale via Threlkeld, Dockray, Ullswater and Glenridding – the approach to each village being heralded by the ever-present post box, telephone box, post office and pub. Val telephoned ahead to the Patterdale Hotel to assure them that we were on our way but that we would be later than expected. About 6km from Patterdale, as we circuited Ullswater, Yvonne & Terry passed us having accepted a lift from a very kind local who took pity on them. Yvonne’s blistered feet were still bothering her and Terry had a dreadful cold. She very kindly took Clare’s and my backpacks as well. Ten hours and 47km later we arrived in Patterdale weary, aching, tired and hungry. I went to my room and climbed straight into a hot bath. I missed dinner by 10 minutes (the kitchen closes at 20h00) and there was no way the Patterdale Hotel was going let me have anything to eat. That’s country hospitality for you! It was Yvonne’s birthday and Marion had made her a lovely card. We gave her a little slate gift for her home and a bottle of champagne.
Day Four: (33km) We awoke to a grey drizzle with the surrounding peaks shrouded in thick white cloaks. The views of the lake were stunning! As I got out of bed, my right knee conked in! “Oh dear!” I thought, “Will I ever be able to finish this walk?” My ankle felt much better though so I strapped an anti-inflammatory plaster to my knee and bandaged it up. At breakfast, our leader Liz Reed, suggested a boat ride on the Ullswater steamer to Pooley Bridge. The group was exhausted from the day before, this detour would take about 17km off today’s walk and a steam boat ride was too hard to resist. Even though my blisters and my knee were fairly painful, I declined the offer as I had promised myself that I would walk the whole way across England and not use transport of any description. The others caught the steamboat at Glenriding and after dipping my feet into troughs of disinfectant in Patterdale, I set off up the only open fell path on the eastern side of Ullswater. This was different to walking on the roads. The path had not been used since the year before and it was wet, overgrown, indistinct and rocky. I found a lovely, gnarled old stick with a perfect thumb rest at the top that I could lean on which helped on the steep descent to Howtown. I named it my “Stokkie” which is diminutive for the Afrikaans word “stok” meaning stick. At the highest point I could see the steamer passing through from the southern part of the lake. I took a photograph of it just before I had to climb down to Howtown and walk on the road from there to Pooley Bridge. The day had started misty and with rainsqualls on the fells. By the time I reached Pooley Bridge the sun had come out and there was blue sky.
The roads through to Askham and Bampton were quiet and the scenery was gentle and rural. I telephoned Fell House in Shap to let the others know that I was fine and that I would be in Shap by 16h00. I sat in a bus shelter to have my lunch and treat my blisters. Once the knee warmed up I set a good pace to Shap, reaching the outskirts of the village just before 16h00. As I walked down the main road, looking out for the teashop which would herald Fell House, I saw the New Balance Factory shop. I was tired and sore but couldn’t resist buying a new pair of All Terrain trainers. I received a warm welcome from the others when I arrived at Fell House shortly after 4pm. We were offered tea and biscuits and shown to our rooms. That evening, Val made a toast to the group. “How many people would do what we are doing?” She asked. Then answered loudly, “Damn few!”. This became our regular toast at evening meals thereafter. After dinner the owner of Fell House opened his little shop to sell us a few badges and memorabilia. He told us that because of the drop in the numbers of walkers, shop owners had not stocked Coast to Coast items this year. He told us that he usually has 15 walkers per night during the season that runs from April to September. This season he hadn’t had 15 all year. The drop in tourism due to the Foot and Mouth disease had affected everyone. We were able to buy our Coast to Coast certificates from him as well as cloth and metal badges.
It’s a long way to Robin Hoods Bay
It’s a long way to go
It’s a long way to Kirkby Stephen
Nateby and to Keld
It’s a long way to Reeth and Richmond
Ingleby and Glaisdale too
It’s a long, long way to Robin Hoods Bay
But I’ll do it, with you.
Day Five: (31.62km) Today was to be a magical day in more ways than one! We handed the flag over to Clare outside Fell house and made an early start. For a short distance we had to walk on the very busy A66 on the route from Shap to Kirkby Stephen. This road follows an ancient route across the Pennines once used by the Romans, Danes and Saxons. In the distance of the Smardale valley we could see the arches of the railway viaduct. We soon branched off onto a quieter road through the lovely town of Orton, the village of Raisbeck and on to Little Asbey and Soulby. However, we took a wrong turn before reaching Little Asbey and didn’t realise it until we had gone about 5km down the wrong road to our first “magical moment”. On the side of the road, outside a stone house, was a sign “Toy Makers Workshop”. We could hear the sounds of hammering coming from a stone outbuilding and we walked into the yard and knocked on the door of the workshop. A man came out of the workshop who looked just like “Guiseppe” from the story of Pinocchio. Tall with rosy cheeks, twinkling blue eyes, whispy, white hair and wearing a white work apron. He let us into his workshop to look at his exquisite wooden trains, buses and cars he made for the local market. When we told him that we were walking to Kirkby Stephen he told us that we had taken the wrong turn and his wife offered to drive us back to the cross roads. As we watched her drive off after leaving us at the crossroads, Yvonne summed up our feelings about that meeting. ”I bet you that if we went back there now” she said, “He and his workshop wouldn’t be real. They will have vanished!”
Just after a sign saying, “Tek care, lambs ont rod”, we stopped at a to watch a farmer shearing his sheep. Yvonne asked him if we would let us have some wool to put inside our shoes. He tore off large chunks of freshly shorn wool and gave them to us. “I can’t sell it” he told us “The sheep have to be shorn but I will have to burn the wool. Even the bags that the wool is packed into comes from another district and I can’t take a chance on spreading Foot and Mouth”. Some the girls lined the soles of their shoes with the wool and put wads of wool under the straps of their back packs. The farmer pointed out the right of way footpath of the Coast to Coast walk that passes through his farm. “I usually have about 200 walkers a day walking through that field,” he said. “You are the first Coast to Coast walkers I’ve seen this year.” We looked at the path overgrown with bramble, wild rose and willowherb and felt grateful that we would be continuing on this quiet village road and not fighting our way through head high brambles, nettles, weeds and boggy ground.
From the outset of our walk, we had taken to replying to the cries and calls of the farm animals. As we passed black faced sheep we would “maaa” and “baaa” in response to their calling. The cattle seemed especially responsive to human voices. In one field there was quite a large grazing herd. As I passed I did my best imitation of a deep-throated “Mmm..ooo!” A cream coloured ox ambled over to the fence and stood looking at me expectantly. “Mmm..ooo!” I called again. One by one all the cows and oxen moved over to the fence, jostling and shoving to get their heads over the fence. By the time the rest of our group had arrived, there was a long row of cattle standing, munching, and staring at us with large liquid eyes. “I’m very pleased to see that you have avoided the slaughterman,” I said to them, walking up and down the line. “I sincerely hope that you will not fraternize with any sheep so that you can escape the foot and mouth disease”. As I walked up and down their heads turned in unison, listening intently to my voice. “They know that you are a vegetarian,” Terry said. We were quite sad to leave them, wondering about their fate.
Our next “magical moment” occurred as we approached a cattle-crossing leading to the moors. We saw a white horse standing at the gate watching us climb up the path. Soon there were others - large footed Clydesdales, small Shetland ponies and other wild horses left there to graze undisturbed on the cotton grasses and heather. They did not seem to be at all afraid of our approach. As we crossed the cattle grids, we were amongst them. They seemed curious and excited to see us. One little brown pony ate a sugar sweet off the palm of my hand. We tried giving them bits of banana but they were not too impressed with that! It was misty and cold but we were reluctant to leave these beautiful friends. As we moved off, so they too moved off over the moor and had soon disappeared. Were they also a figment of our imagination? Crossing the fells, we were not aware that only two days before a large cull of sheep had been necessary. We saw one dead sheep in a gully but presumed that it had fallen and died there. The fells were desolate and empty with only the occasional hare to be seen. I leaned heavily on my “stokkie” coming down the twisting road into Kirkby Stephen. What a magical day it had been. For a change we were all housed together, in the Jolly Farmers guesthouse, in Kirkby Stephen. We discussed our magical day while eating our meal at the Kings Arms Hotel. It had been a long, eventful day and we were looking forward to a sleep in the next day.
Day Six: (19.5km) Wonderful! We could sleep in today and then do a bit of restocking of essentials and explore the fairly large market town of Kirkby Stephen before leaving at mid-day. The swelling around my ankles had gone down, the blisters were shrinking under a second skin plaster and my knee felt easier after Lilian lent me her knee guard. Yvonne and I visited the ancient parish church of St Stephen where we touched the Loki Stone. The Church is built on the site of an old Saxon church and contains many relics including the 8th century Loki Stone. Loki was a Norse God representing a devil in chains. There are only two such stones in Europe. Whilst I was in the Information Centre someone telephoned to ask if the moor road between Ravenstonedale and Kirkby Stephen was open. The information office asked us if we had come via this road the day before. She was able to confirm with the caller that they would be able to travel on that road. The situation seemed to change daily and even locals weren’t sure which roads were open and which were closed.
I chatter, chatter as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go
But I go on forever.
-The Brook – Lord Tennyson.
After shopping for Lilian’s birthday present, we met at the Jolly Farmers and set off for Keld. It was only 16km to Keld and we looked forward to a shorter walking day. I was the leader today and set off confidently out of Kirkby Stephen. We walked a few kilometers in the wrong direction before one of the Jolly Farmers owners stopped his car and directed us to the correct route! The route looked a little hilly on the map but a woman in the tourist information office assured us that it was not hilly at all. She had obviously never walked from Kirkby Stephen to Keld! From this point on you leave the Lakeland behind you and all the rivers now run east. One starts climbing almost immediately and once you pass into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, it’s a roller coaster climb up and down steep gradients through bleak moorlands and remote, deserted dales. We passed the sign to Nine Standards Rigg but it was closed with the ever present MAFF Foot and Mouth sign. The only creatures we saw were the sweeping curlews and a few waterbirds at a distant water bog on the Birkdale Common. It was here that I realised with regret that I had left my “Stokkie” at the Jolly Farmers in Kirkby Stephen. In the valley below we followed the River Swale it as it cut its way through limestone cliffs and forests. As you approach Keld you pass the spectacular Wain Wath Force waterfalls. Keld is approximately the half waypoint of the Coast to Coast walk. Keld has no pub and no shop. It is an ancient Scandavian settlement meaning Spring or Place of Water – the river Swale always visible and audible and where, as Wainwright says, time is measured in centuries.
Seven of us were lucky enough to be booked into Butt House with the legendary Doreen and Ernest Whitehead. Doreen Whitehead is famous on the Coast to Coast as an ample, no-nonsense landlady who is also a gourmet cook with a store of amusing tales about the Coast to Coast. After welcoming us at the door with a cheerful “ So you are my lot, then!” we were instructed to leave our wet outer clothing, backpacks and boots in the entrance. We were then instructed to go to our rooms, remember our room numbers and come back to the living room where tea, coffee and cake would be waiting for us. We did exactly as we were told and were soon drinking hot tea in the living room, waiting in anticipation for our host to return. “I won’t remember your names” she said “But I will remember your face and your room number. So, as I go around the room, please tell me what your room number is”. One by one, like schoolgirls at our first day at school, we raised our hands and repeated our names and room numbers as she wrote them down in a little book. Once she had us all sorted, she introduced us to Ernest a slender, quiet man who seemed to be on constant duty as baggage carrier, barman, waiter and dishwasher! They worked as a team with no other help and Doreen told us that they usually have about 1000 walkers between April and September. They’d had about a dozen all year and we were their first large group. We had the most delicious three-course meal, entertained with amusing anecdotes of other walkers and about her career as a caterer, shop owner and politician. (She is an ardent Conservative and has pictures of William Haig and Maggie Thatcher on her diningroom wall.)
Day Seven: (19km) It was Terry’s turn to lead today. We all met outside Butt House in the morning, had a group photograph taken with Doreen and Ernest and after going through the formalities of “handing over the flag”, we climbed out of Keld. It seemed we had been climbing since Kirkby Stephen. Walking alongside dry stone walls with shepherds bothies and the odd limestone kiln the only sign that there was any other life in the valley besides us. This is Herriot country and every view was like a picture postcard. We would roughly follow the river Swale as it bubbled and flowed on its way to Richmond and beyond, almost 50 miles to the sea. The fields were a patchwork blaze of colour with clover and buttercups creating huge yellow squares in the surrounding hills. We could hear the sounds of an occasional tractor and see the neat rows of bales of hay as we passed through hay meadows. A century ago, mining was still an active business in the hills but only the kilns are left as evidence. We passed through Thwaite and Muker (home of the Muker Silver Band), Gunnerside (stopping there for tea) and Low Row with a darkening sky threatening behind us all the way. We stopped at the outskirts of Reeth to shop at a ceramics shop that sold ornaments of animals. As we left the shop, the rains came down in torrents. Lilian and I were booked into Springfield House. We made arrangements to meet in the square for supper and parted ways in the pouring rain. As we approached Springfield House we saw our host waving at us from the windows. “There you are!” they exclaimed, as we arrived wet and sodden at their front door. “We thought you’d never get here”. We felt like eagerly awaited, long lost relatives. Then they told us that the taxi driver who had brought our luggage to them that morning was Bob’s cousin. He had reported seeing us, “sittin on side of t’rod”, near Gunnerside while we were having lunch. They had been on the look out for us ever since. Bob Guy was by far the funniest man I’ve ever met. He had us roaring with laughter with stories of the antics of previous lodgers.
Day Eight: (20km) By this time we had all become adept at hoisting on our backpacks with the greatest of ease. No awkward fumbling and appealing for assistance as we had the first few days. After handing over the flag to Val we set off briskly without any fuss. The scenery today was quite different from the last few days with broad-leaved woods clinging to the limestone cliffs. We were looking forward to reaching Richmond, the only town of any size along the entire route from St Bees (besides Keswick). We reached Richmond by lunchtime to find that our accommodations were widespread. Some of us were in the west of the town on Frenchgate and some in the east. After visiting the tourist information centre, we split up to book into our B & B’s. I continued through the town, walking around the Castle Wall and making my way down to the Swale. Richmond is steeped in history with an impressive Norman Keep and an exceptionally well preserved castle built on a cliff overlooking the Swale River. We found a fish and chip shop for supper – the only time we didn’t have pub food – where the young waitress let us all have the “Senior Citizens” menu. We didn’t feel quite that old and we had all become much fitter over the past few days.
Day Nine: (38km) Yvonne was our leader today. She made us all line up in military formation in the Richmond market square, and inspected our nails, clothing and boots before giving the order to start walking! According to all the guide books, the 23 miles (±37km) from Richmond to Ingleby Cross was going to be a long, flat, boring walk through the Vale of Mowbray. The road is almost straight, hemmed in by hedgerows. I was grateful for the flatness of the route as any downhill walking put extra strain on my knee. I found that it was worst when I put weight on it in the morning. It would feel as though it was going to conk in! After warming up with a few kilometers walking, it would settle down to a dull ache. If I stopped (for a toilet stop, to look in a shop, for lunch) it would have to warm up all over again. I found myself walking on ahead of the group, trying not to stop every time someone needed a break. By this time Clare had sustained a shin splint injury to her lower shin and she needed frequent stops to relieve the pain.
Just outside of Richmond, a little red car pulled up on the other side of the road. An elderly man crossed the road, smiling and waving. “Gooie morè!” he shouted (Afrikaans for “Good Morning”.) “Hello” we replied in unison. “Where are you all from?” he asked, “What is this in aid of?” he asked, gesticulating at our flags. “We are walking across England” we told him. He told us that he had lived and worked in South Africa for many years and that his son had recently moved to Kloof in KwaZulu Natal. Five of us belonged to a club called “Highway Athletic Club, which was based in Kloof. After much hand shaking and promises to contact wives and sons, we moved on. After a long, hard walk on a windswept road, the group decided to stop at a strawberry farm. The employees were mostly “intellectually challenged” people from a nearby institution. They very kindly allowed us to use their staff room to have our lunch. Before we left we all had our photographs taken with some of the staff. Looming ahead was the notorious A19 motorway – the scourge of Coast to Coast walkers. According to all reports you took your life in your hands trying to cross it to reach Ingleby Cross. The local traffic wardens in Brompton tried to dissuade us from taking the direct route across the A19 and we wasted quite a bit of time negotiating with them over our options. In the end, we took a secondary road through miles and miles of fields that led to the A19 just before Ingleby Cross. Lilian and I held hands as we darted across the dreaded highway, agreeing afterward that it wasn’t nearly as frightening as we thought it would be!
When we reached Ingleby Cross we found that the Blue Bell Inn had given our rooms away, thinking that we, like other walkers, would cancel. In addition, the B & B Lilian and I were booked into had closed to do damp proofing. She very kindly walked us around the corner to Ingleby House where Pat Garthwaite took us in. We soon found that Yvonne and Liz were going to join us, as there was no room for them at the Blue Bell. Our landlady bemoaned the fact the new postman kept putting the wrong mail in her box. She explained that the houses all had a name but no street numbers. No wonder it was confusing for the new postman! Lilian and I walked down the hill to the Blue Bell for dinner but found that the other girls had already gone to bed. It had been a long day!
Day Ten: (20km) Ingleby Cross and Ingleby Arncliff lie below the Cleveland Hills. Once you have reached them, you enter the North York Moors National Park. Fifty miles of unspoiled wilderness, heather clad moors and at the end of it, the North Sea. We would have to take roads quite far off the traditional Coast to Coast route to avoid unfenced moorland and grazing land. In comparison to the flatness of the day before, we would be climbing onto the moors plateau to Great Broughton. This was a shorter day and with Glynis our leader for the day, we followed the A172, diverting to Swainby, Facesby and on to Great Broughton. As we walked down the main street of the little village of Swainby, a car pulled up alongside us and the driver asked, “Where did you steal those flags?” A charming young man told us that he was a South African who had moved with his family to England two years previously. He was working in the hospital at Northallerton and had bought a house in Swainby. He and his wife had decided to escape the crime and uncertainty in South Africa to give their children a better start in life in England. He was born in Nelspruit, educated at Hilton and did his medical training at the University of Witwatersrand. Lilian was on the verge of asking him he could look at our blisters when he told us that he was a gynaecologist! He was extremely homesick and looked on the verge of tears when I gave him the little beaded South African flag off my hat. We all felt very touched by his emotion and realised how hard it was for South African families that immigrated to far off countries to settle.
A beautiful fairy garden awaited us at Ingle Hill. Two meter high luminous blue delphiniums grouped alongside bright yellow and orange “Tina Turner” rose bushes; columbine, dahlia, larkspur and lupins, heather, foxgloves, lilies and every other type of flower you could wish for. This garden was the pride and joy of 81 year old Len Sutcliffe, who together with his wife Margaret, run the Ingle Hill B & B. We had a lovely tea in their sun lounge and I was given a guided tour of the garden. Marion, Liz Reed and Val shared a large sunny room overlooking the garden. We could hear hoots of laughter coming from their room as Val unpacked her enormous, colour coordinated wardrobe for the other two. (No-one else besides me knew that she also had 10 T-shirts in the case that her husband had sponsored for each walker.) We had dinner in the Jet Miners’ Inn in Great Broughton. It is a free house selling local beers and has not changed much in over a hundred years. It was Lilian’s birthday the next day and Margaret found a candle that was lit and we all sang “Happy birthday” at breakfast. When we asked her to sign our “passports” she wrote, “What a jolly party”.
Welcome, wild North-Easter!
Shame it is to see
Odes to every zephyr;
Ne’er a verse to thee.
-Ode to the North-East Wind: C. Kingsley
North York Moors:
Day 11: (39km) There were ten walkers in our group but twelve days of walking so we had no leader today. This was another longish walking day to Glaisdale. We made it a lit longer than necessary by taking the wrong road, up into the Cleveland Hills above Great Broughton. English friends had said to me, “You don’t know what cold is until you have walked on the North York Moors into the face of sleet, rain and the North-Easter wind.” Now I can say, “Yes I do know.” The wind tore at the flag I was carrying and it flew directly in front of me. The moors were bleak and deserted. You could barely see a few feet ahead and the rain slanted down like bullets. At one time I thought it was hail but Val told us later that it was sleet. On the crest of a ridge I asked Lilian to take a photograph of our group, head down, trudging into the wind. Lilan took off her waterproof mitten and raised the camera to her eye. “I can’t see you at all”, she said. “Don’t worry, its just the mist”, I replied, “Just aim and shoot!” Then I noticed that Lilian was left-handed. She had the camera back to front and was clicking with her left finger. I think she took a photograph of her left eye! We all had to get back into line and pretend to be walking up the hill again.
By the time we reached the village of Castleton, we were frozen, drenched and hungry. We asked at the Castleton Tea House if they would accept 10 wet, bedraggled tourists into their small teahouse. Thankfully, they allowed us inside where we dumped our heavy, wet packs, took off our raincoats and ordered a really delicious morning tea. By the time we reached Glaisdale we were all weather-weary. Half of us were booked into Red House Farm that was way on the other side of the village. Red House Farm is a beautiful, old, typical Yorkshire stone farmhouse with low beams, steep staircases and heavy shutter windows. To our surprise, a cheerful American lady met us. We all met at the local pub where Val presented each one of us with a T-shirt. On the back is printed the map of the Coast to Coast and the words, “I did the Coast to Coast Walk”. We would wear these on our last night. I was also given a beautiful thank you card, which all the girls had written in as well as an ankle pouch, which they had bought for me in Shap. Marion and Terry had arranged to have a medal made for me with the words “Coast to Coast – July 2001” engraved on it. I was really touched.
Day 12: (31km) Our last day. We all had mixed emotions about today. We were looking forward to seeing the North Sea and Robin Hoods Bay but we were also sad that our walk was coming to an end. We had about 30km of moorland walking to do today and we set off directly after breakfast. The number of hills we had to climb surprised us. We went up one hill and down the next reaching Grosmont in time to see the steam train pull out of the station. From the train crossing in Grosmont, the road rises straight up for miles onto the moors plateau. Then it was on and on across the moors where we caught our first glimpse of the North Sea in the distance. “Yahoo!” we all shouted. We had made it! Lilian and I stopped to take our photographs at the Coast to Coast sign on the moor pointing to Littlebeck. Then it was on and on again over miles of heather clad moorland until we reached the A171 and the first sign to Robin Hoods Bay.
I reached the main road quite a long way ahead of the others so I sat on the side of the road with my flag planted in the ground. Cars and trucks whizzed pass. Then an approaching car slowed down, pulled over onto the verge and stopped a way ahead of me. Two black men got out of the car and started walking towards me. “We just came to see what you are doing here with our flag?” the one asked. “This is my flag,” I said, “I’m from South Africa”. “So are we” he said, “We are vets, working here with the Ministry of Agriculture on the Foot and Mouth problem.” We were so surprised to find each other on that windswept highway that we hugged and laughed and when the rest of the group crossed the road with querying looks on their faces, they too hugged and shook hands, everyone talking at once. When we found that one of the vets was from Pietermaritzburg, there was more amazement and he and Yvonne and Liz exchanged addresses so that they could send a photograph that we took of us all standing in front of the flag.
After a short walk along the A171 we turned eastward towards Fyling Thorpe (more hills) and ever eastward to Robin Hoods Bay. We stopped at Littlebeck for lunch. Littlebeck has no shop, no pub and no post office. It does have a charming beck running through it and we sat there having our lunch, feeding the ducks. We reached the red-roofed buildings of Robin Hoods Bay in the late afternoon. We wanted to arrive together, take photographs and reach the North Sea as a group. Liz Reed showed us the way down the twisting road to the North Sea. The tide was in and waves were crashing on the slipway. I gave my camera to a stranger and asked him to take a picture of me dipping my toes in the North Sea. I turned to smile at him and a wave caught me and soaked me from the waist down! Then it was Glynis’ turn to get showered. One after the other our group threw their pebbles, collected at St Bees, into the North Sea and dipped their toes into the icy waters. We then went to the Baytown Hotel to celebrate. “I feel that I could carry on walking,” I said. “If we could get a ferry across to France, we could just carry on walking for ever”. “No way!” they all shouted. “You’ll be on your own.” I was really sad that our walk had come to an end. I thought that I might like to come back one day with my husband and family and drive over the route we had walked along.
As travelers oft look back at eve
When eastward darkly going,
To gaze upon that light they leave
Still faint behind them glowing
So, when the close of pleasure’s day
To gloom hath near consigned us,
We turn to catch one fading ray
Of joy that’s left behind us.
-The Journey Onwards: T Moore.
A taxi came for us and took us to our last overnight stop at High Hawsker about 2 miles away. Marion’s son was sending a taxi to collect her at 22h00 and take her to York so that she could get the overnight sleeper to London. She would be going to Paris directly after this holiday. We had a “last supper” together at the local pub. I presented each one in the group with an “award” of two Mars Bars. Lilian, for inspiring us to be as fit as she is when we are her age. Yvonne, for bravery. For continuing when her feet looked as though she had walked through hot coals. Liz Bruce – the glamour award. No matter what the weather or how steep the hills, she always walked upright and looked perfectly groomed. She also had the smallest suitcase! Liz Reed – an award for always pointing out the best scenery and for showing us the way down to the sea at Robin Hoods Bay. Marion – for teaching us constraint. She never overindulged, always having “just a touch” of this or that! Terry – the stoic award. Even when her cold was at its worst and we walked through rain and wind, if you asked how she was, she always replied, “I’m fine! Thank you”. Val – a tourist in her own country who gave told us so much inside information on the different foods in England and the way the pubs worked. She had the largest suitcase! Clare – our time and money master. She kept us on time and saved enough extra “tipping” money to buy a decent bottle of wine at the end of our journey. Glynis – our cheerleader whose infectious laugh cheered us endlessly on long, lonely hills. I gave myself the award as flag bearer for carrying the flag right across England. We sang a couple of verses of our Coast to Coast song, shouted out our toast, said our goodnights and went back to the York House Hotel.
We were a somewhat subdued group in the morning. After breakfast we piled our luggage onto the lawn and waited for the taxi to come and collect us. It was strange not swinging on the backpack and waiting in line to start the day’s walk. Glynis had carried the new gas cylinder they had bought all the way from Keswick. We couldn’t take it with us on the airplane so she opened the valve, set it down on the lawn and we watched as the gas hissed out. We all seemed to be locked in our own thoughts. Was it really only 13 days ago that we had held a similar ceremony on the West Coast of England, almost 360kms away? Then Val stood up and said, “Hey, girls. How many people can say that they have done what we have done?” “TOO DAMN FEW!” we all cried, “Too damn few!”
“What’s next, Syl?” someone asked me on the coach back to London. I was already planning to do a one thousand year old, 800km pilgrimage across the north of Spain. The Camino to Santiago de Compostela had taken my fancy and if I planned well, I could walk that for a month in 2004. Then there are the walks in Tuscany, Italy. Or perhaps a walk in Greece? Who knows?
The road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the road has gone
And I must follow if I can.
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it meets some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet,
And wither then? I cannot say.
-Tolkien: Lord of the Rings.
Note: We started walking from West to East on Monday 9th July and reached Robin Hoods Bay on Saturday 21st July. We walked through parts of three National Parks, seven lakes, crossed a dozen rivers, through forests, dales and moors and passed through 69 villages along the way. By July 2001, the outbreak and spread of Foot & Mouth disease resulted in the closure of all footpaths, bridleways and roads through unfenced grazing and farmlands. Nearly all the car parks at nature sites were closed. There was very little traffic on the many roads we walked on and the fells, North York Dales and North York moors were often deserted and desolate. Many of the B & B’s, guesthouses and youth hostels were closed. There were no tourists and we did not see one other walker on the entire route across England. We felt unique, as we were the only Coast to Coast group locals had seen that year. It was as though that whole part of Northern England was deserted and we had it all to ourselves. It was a very unique experience, undertaken during unique circumstances. We still think of the farmers and their animals and wonder how many will be left by the end of winter.
In August I walked the 50km Dolphins Ultra again but I was ready to hang up my racing vest and don hiking gear instead. I found that I preferred long slow distances rather than race walking or running. The wonderful walk across England made me realise that one didn't get more and more tired walking day after day - in fact one gets fitter and fitter. And so I began to plan my next long distance walk!