C2C: day 8, Keswick to below Blencathra

Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. – Walt Whitman

Knocking out another big peak.

Today the alicoop was carried to a spot along the Cumbrian Way right next to the river. Lonely and far from everything, it’s the first real “wild camping” experience so far. Even so, as I sat down to muse on the day with a spot of tea and my shoes off, another single woman slowly lumbered passed, the first person I’ve seen on the trip with a backpack.

Keswick was a fine stop for food and civilization. I skipped the Pencil Museum and instead hung out in town. Moot Hall with its high clock tower stands at the center of the pedestrian shopping zone and marks the start – and end – of the Bob Graham rounds. I was lucky enough to see a finisher just arriving for his picture and congratulations from about twenty-five pacers, supporters, friends and family. He was dressed only in flappy short shorts, fell runners and a light raincoat for the 24-hour slog of 28,000 feet over 40-something peaks.

Shy sun in the Lakeland Fells.

The forecast called for 40% chance of rain, but began clear, the sun going in and out of cloud, dancing on the far fells I climbed yesterday, giving them a velvety cast over Derwent Water.

The real issue was how to get out of town and on the trail to Skiddaw. I am always amazed at my luck on walks as just when I was wondering which road to take, a young man kitted out for hiking came striding down the sidewalk sending me on the right route.

Church bells pealed in the town as I got closer to the fell. A sign pointed towards the public footpath, but appeared to be bent. Confused I marched up a trail that gave way to bracken, thick stemmed ferns standing three feet high with long grabby tendrils setting up a tripping hazard and hiding holes.

Helpful signs for once.

Turning around, I ended up heaving myself gingerly over a barb wire fence only to find the way closed by the owner. The only option was to get down to the road and start my search all over again.

Eventually the path came into view, and a farmer was even kind enough to ensure hikers didn’t accidentally venture into his fields. The going was steep, but to my surprise, signs had been erected to keep people from charging straight up the mountain, which had eroded away a good bit of it. Instead, the path zigzagged on a short series of switchbacks. I am betting these will be the only ones I use the entire walk.

Miss Smiley goes up.

Higher and higher as all of Cat Bells ridge came into view above the water, but so did mist blowing right over the peak I intended to climb. I met a couple who told me England’s third highest peak, Skiddaw, tends to “trap the cloud.” It makes me a bit tense to get into the mist. I’m blinded, for one, and the cool air feels like chilled silk against my cheek. But it’s also a lonely feeling. I find it hard to relax and feel sure being here is the right thing for me to do. It’s more than loneliness. More like an out-of-sorts.

But that all blew away as hikers suddenly appeared at the ridge, most in shorts and tank tops. Someone told me, “If we waited for good weather to go into hills, we’d never go.” I felt instantly better.

Backpackers appear on Skiddaw’s misty summit.

After the summit it was down and down towards a wide, well used track called the Cumbrian Way. On the way was one little Wainwright at 673 meters called Bakestall. I was certain I was on it at a cairn until one lonely cairn appeared out of the mist about 50 yards away and only slightly higher. Of course, I took off the pack, marched over, and touched it. One more for the record books.

My goal was to reach a flat spot by water and set myself up to tick off England’s second highest peak tomorrow, Helvellyn with a side trip up Blencathra. On the way is a youth hostel high on a bench looking out on the hills. No one was around when I arrived, and no beds were available anyway should the rain come. So I had my lunch on their bench, then pressed on.

Alicoop at “campsite spooky.”

And here I am, right next to an almost cliche bubbling brook, wide views and soft grass. The English describe carrying a tent and pitching outdoors, “wild”camping. I find it such an apt description of how I’m blending in with all that’s here, the birds, the grass, the changing weather and the continuity of the natural world. I am its guest here and my memories of this moment embraced in its wildness will go on the rest of my life. Will this place remember me?

Above England’s second highest, Skiddaw.

C2C: day 7, Seatollar to Keswick

Walking: the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise. – Carrie Latet

Descending below cloud on Cat Bells.

There are five good reasons to hike in mist:

1. You get the fell all to yourself
2. It’s cooler (well that’s debatable; the day actually started out humid)
3. The birds sing louder
4. It’s intimate with every footstep a surprise
5. You get to test your navigation skills

On the steep path out of Seatollar, the stillness of the mist was magical. I only ran into one older walker striding at a good trot and obviously pleased with the day having just finished his final Wainwright, at least from one particular book, Castle Crag. This was Alfred Wainwright’s plan all along, to organize the hills so people could organize their walking. Most people I met proudly ticked off the fells on their list before they asked where I was from.

Lonely stile in the Lakes.

In the mist, the Lakeland Fells look as they usually look, poetic, hidden, mysterious. At the junction, I pushed up a steep section littered with slate. The low fog added atmosphere to ruins of walls, buildings and mines along the hillside.

Soon I reached the ridge completely hidden in cloud. My plan was to do a circular route that would find me eventually in the bustling village of Keswick, a tourist destination filled with shops and pubs. But with the weather, I decided to shoot across the moor towards High Spy, Cat Bells and eventually work my way around Derwent Water.

What is a fell, you might be wondering. It’s likely from old English or perhaps Norse, another word for hill. In the Lake District, fell and hill are interchangeable, even though Sca Fell is over 3000 feet high. The term mountain is reserved for Scotland, higher – by 1000 feet or more – and craggier.

And a peak? That’s reserved for a completely different district, unless you’re referring to just one particular top. And the term for the fells in North Yorkshire that I’ll hit next week? Those are called moors, high tussocky and wet flat areas on top of fells. It’s really all quite confusing with the most important thing of all knowing where I am when I’m there.

Stairs built and walked by thousands of slate miners’ feet.

As I approached the pointy lookout of Cat Fell, the number of hikers increased 100-fold. Lots of “hiya”s and “allright, mate”s as we passed. I loved the speed I was getting even with my home on my back, so flew up to find a little rest stop for lunch. It didn’t take long before my overconfidence was deflated coming down on rock stacked like bread slices, and needing to slither slowly, inch by inch on my bum.

Once I reached the lake, it was only a few miles to town and I was overjoyed that a public foot path was organized through the forest and gardens. You really can walk anywhere in this country and people do.

Damp selfie in Keswick.

By this time, it was raining full on, but no one seemed to mind too much including me, the temperature is so lovely and the air fragrant. Today is market day in Keswick and I arrived just in time for half price on fruit and vegetables, the stall minders loudly selling their wares like carnival barkers.

Tomorrow proves to be better weather and I hope to find a little tarn near Blencathra for the alicoop whose seen only campgounds for the last few days. But for now, it’s window shopping and pub crawling. Cheers!

Large cairns for low visibility.

C2C: day 3, St. Bees to Ennerdale Water

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list – Susan Sontag

The Irish Sea at St. Bee’s where I pick up a stone to drop into the North Sea at the end.

The morning began with the sound of birds and breakfast being made for a decent-sized group of hikers, their luggage piled high in the sitting room. Their luggage would be ferried to the next B&B. But not for this intrepid one. With food, water and fuel, my rucksack – backpack – weighed in at 25 pounds and I was all my own.

After some small talk and “see you on the trail” betwixt us, I was off. The path heads west first, straight to the beach. I promised my friend Kate I’d wade in at least to my knees in the bracing Irish Sea, which I did, before – true to tradition – I selected a pebble to make the journey across England with me.

St. Bees Head in unusually spectacular weather.

Up and up St. Bees Head towards its lighthouse past unimaginably beautiful vistas, the path sometimes within the animal fence, sometimes without, right at the cliff’s edge. It was full on sun all day, unusual for this part of the world, making the wild flowers sparkle in pinks, purples and yellows.

After a little over three miles, it was time to say goodbye to the sea and push west through Sandwith, Demesne and Moor Row, crossing under the railway line that brought me to the start and striding through fields of sheep and sheep poo. My water was getting low, so I stopped into a garage to top up. The eager proprietor had lots of advice in his accent of rolled R’s.

“Crrrrrikey , you’rrrre crrrrracking along. The sun will be on yourrrr back. Make surrrre to pick up all you need in Cleitorrrrr. Therrrre’ll be no otherrrr place to stock up forrrr days.”

Shops along the way make resupply – and rehydrating – easy.

Then he sent me up the hill reminding me at the top of the rise to turn left and “crash through the hedge” for the shortcut to the next village, where that proprietor happily disagreed with my comment about too much heat saying “it’s a nice change from the rrrrain.”

What a lark to have such a glorious day as I strode up and up through forest then out onto Dent Fell, the panorama of the lakes opening in front of me, the sea just behind.

The going was steep now, straight down the slope. And it’s here I’d like to sing an ode – in the form a haiku – to my trekking poles.

Walking Coast to Coast,
Up, down, views, flowers, wind, stiles.
Nil wobblies with poles.

First big pull up Dent Fell with big views.

The lovely people of Ennerrdale made a footpath next to the road for safety, but by now, my feet had had just about enough for the day. It was a walk past town towards the man-made lake and I felt sure I’d find a spot for the alicoop somewhere as the C2C follows the shoreline. But after a hard, tiring 20 minutes of scree-filled walking, I had to give up and turn around. Not one flat place showed up, just the grassy area next to to the overflow.

The spot appeared made for camping, its little locked fence unable to keep this tired hiker out. It even had a rock wall to block the whitecap-inducing wind.

Alicoop in her element next ti Ennerdale Water in the Lake District.

Up went the tent, dinner soon made – mashed potatoes, broccoli and squash with beef jerky, apple chips for “pudding.” The sky is crystal clear promising another glorious day tomorrow as I scramble up some of Wainwright’s favorite peaks, one of them delaying the view of tonight’s full moon.

Not to worry. I’m crawling in now and will await her glow under the canvas.

Queen of the Stiles.

C2C: day 1, getting to the start

Everywhere is within walking distance, if you have the time. – Steven Wright

It begins.
So ready.

And so, it begins.

But not so fast. It takes about a day-and-a-half just to get to the town where the trail starts, the ancient city of St. Bees on England’s westernmost coast. I am flying from Minneapolis to Atlanta, then on to Manchester. Here at the gate, I’m inundated with northern England accents. A little pre-trip immersion.

Presumably, we are all on the same flight. I always scan the crowd for fellow hikers. Sometimes, secretly pleased to see none as I hang onto the misguided belief I’ll have the trail all to myself.

Beautiful art in the bowels of Atlanta airport.
Beautiful art in the bowels of Atlanta airport.

When I arrive in the green and pleasant land, l’ll catch a train – two actually – and arrive a bit staggering from jet lag with a few tasks ahead, to buy fuel and lighters.

But for now, I remain state-side still humming from quite the send off. Last night, Cameron Wiley, Andrea Blain and I put on air our last-for-the-season of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra broadcasts, with loads of help from Mike Pengra. I do so love my walks and getting away, but every day, I count my lucky stars to have such great colleagues, not to mention world-class music just a 30-minute walk down the Hill stairs.

My life is not bad, really. This morning, I biked to the market for eggs and fresh vegetables including six morels at two bucks for a departing feast. I packed enough of my dehydrated ingredients to last through day five when I hope to resupply in Keswick, but one never knows if customs will confiscate my healthy meals leaving me with bangers and mash for the next 20 days.

I love my life in front of the mic, especially hosting live concerts.
I love my life in front of the mic, especially hosting live concerts.

When I walked the spine of the Alps two summers ago, I wore an outfit ready for Goodwill and packed most of my gear in a lightweight bag lined with cardboard. The board got dumped – as did the clothes after a stormy first night, tossed out the tent to be colonized by French slugs. The bag, I kept for the return. This time, the entire lot will find a home at some charity in St. Bees. A good plan, as within hour one, I spilled an entire can of tomato juice in my lap.

Richard asked me last night as we sat out on the porch in the finally cooling air what I was looking forward to most. Sure, I’m ready for a vacation and a break from the day-to-day demands of work and home. But what I most savor is the feeling of walking, that glorious feeling of just putting one foot in front of the other, moving along and settling into my rhythm. I really don’t go all that fast, I just walk far. One friend said I saunter. There is a bit of a lilt to my gait.

Throw-away clothes and bag make backpack traveling a snap.
Throw-away clothes and bag make backpack traveling a snap.

That’s because I look around. I love to take in the grand and glorious, the views I work so hard to get to, both during and before the walk in setting up the opportunity itself. But there’s always something to see even below the climbs in out of the way places of the special unexpected moments. I’ll have the camera and microphone at the ready to find those and promise to share.

Richard and I celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary yesterday. Many years ago he made an observation about me. He said, “My wife is always smiling when she’s moving here body.” Ain’t that the truth. Lots of moving – twenty days worth – and lots of discovery.

I can’t wait.

Awesome friends see me off.
Awesome friends see me off.

 

And the winner is…

alicoop!

Christening #alicoop before her maiden voyage.

Congratulations to Eileen Ho of Ann Arbor, MI for coming up with the most popular name for my new Tarptent, all ready for her first thru-hike on England’s Coast-to-Coast in ten days!

A big round of applause to all who entered. I loved all the names on offer and who knows, she may get a nickname along the way.

Stay tuned for ‘adventures in the alicoop’ by following the blog.

alicoop, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

My tent doesn’t look like much but, as an estate agent might say, ‘It is air-conditioned and has exceptional location.” – Fennel Hudson

 

sweet dreams

Which mattress do I take for the 192 miles of England’s Coast-to-Coast in June? There’s only one way to find out and that’s to sleep on both – one night after the other. Continue reading sweet dreams