Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. – Mark Twain
Today, my boss gave me the green light to take a personal leave of five months to take care of a little something that has been on my mind for the past several years: to walk one of the biggies.
While it would seem to make more sense to start with something close to home like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest, my chunk of time away will be in the winter, and it’s only logical to track down summer – and prime backpacking season – where it happens during our cold months, on the other side of the earth.
I must have been playing a long song on Classical MPR when I stumbled upon this long trail. I was surfing the web looking up top hikes of the world and this newish hike – or tramp, as the Kiwis call it – popped up, piquing my curiosity.
Te Araroa means “the long pathway” in Maori. Completed in 2011, it’s a 3000 kilometer trail extending from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the south. It traverses the entire country; beaches, forests, mountains, volcanoes and cities and should likely take all the time I have planned to finish it.
Thus far the furthest I’ve walked all at one time was the GR5, 450 miles over the spine of the Alps. While taking on that challenge I wondered if I was made of the right stuff to sustain a thru-hike of not just weeks, but months. Aside from the logistical nightmare and the risk that I might not be missed at my place of employment, I hadn’t the faintest idea if I possessed the grit, the fortitude and determination, and the sheer pig-headedness to stick with a walk of 1,864 miles.
Over the ensuing years, I decided there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to go and do it. Keeping in mind the fact that I’m not getting any younger and my arthritic toes are continuing to protest, I made the decision to request a leave of absence, and put myself directly on the path of enormous change. Sure, it will be a change in scenery and routine, but also in how my life looks and feels because I am going alone. Don’t worry. Richard will be following my every step through the magic of GPS tracking – and I’ll stay connected by blog. I certainly hope you’ll follow me. I might need emotional support along the way.
So right now I’m absolutely tingling with excitement for this rare opportunity even as I make lists of all that has to get done, including applying for a visitors visa on an extremely thorough application which requires proof I not only have the financial means to return home, and plan to do so!
Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits. – Cindy Ross
Working my way back to Manchester airport from another seaside town, Scarborough. Gritty, charmless, yet full of people on a Saturday afternoon shopping in the pedestrian street, families pushing prams, tattooed singles with dogs, eating, vaping and all ignoring the cross signals, as I do too, ensuring I look right before pressing into traffic.
It’s maybe a fitting way to end this walk. It somehow seems more real than striding out on moors and atop fells, looking for a good place to pitch the alicoop, avoiding midges and cooking a meal in the Jetboil. Oddly enough I feel less sad and more satisfied than I often do at the end of these things. Maybe it’s the fact that within just minutes the train hurtled me out of the throng of humanity and right back into the green and pleasant land my feet trod, wide open and far less foreign to me now after three weeks. Or perhaps it’s that I was able to find a charity shop right around the corner from the station. The woman in charge saying yes she did have suitcases but they weren’t “modern.” Yes! just what I was looking for! A behemoth to hold my backpacking kit safely for the journey home, at just £5 and it even has wheels.
Also fitting might be that the day is cloudy with some rain. Was I ever lucky, even copping rays in sun-filled Northern England. As one after another Coast-to-Coaster threw a pebble into the sea, we all commented on our good fortune, avoiding clag in the Pennines, no need for mincing footsteps in the non-existent boggy moorland, fabulous views in the Lakes.
What captures my imagination now is the variety of all I saw – fell, dale, moor and plain. Of course anyone walking the C2C would enjoy this gradual shifting of terrain as they walked west to east, but I upped the ante by adding another 60 miles and cracking up all the highest peaks plus some.
I would recommend adding the Ali-loop to the traditional trail. It’s a longer walk and once you rejoin the classic trail at Hellvellyn, the mileage remaining might feel daunting, but it’s a hell of a ride. And I would most definitely suggest backpacking. I only saw a few people carrying gear – and that’s only on the classic walk, there was not a soul backpacking in the Lakes. “Wild camping” is tolerated in the Lakes, and I was absolutely alone in every spot I chose. And when it was not convenient to be up in the hills, there was always a place to pitch at a farm or next to a pub. I found it exhilarating to have that freedom.
That being said, I mostly saw older people walking the classic trail in shorter stages with all their gear sherpa-ed to the next B&B. School is still in session in England, so it’s possible only retirees are free to walk now. It is the most lovely time with all the flowers blooming and the lambs frolicking in the fields, but it made me feel a bit out of place. It’s not to say the hike isn’t challenging, but even the French Alps with all the refuges and villages charmants, did not feel packed with weekend walkers. I’m eager for a solo hike in wilderness where the next pub is days rather than hours away by foot. Though, snob that I am, I still learned a thing or two from a few rambling retirees, like purchasing anti-blister sock liners next time and not having to tape every piece of skin on my foot after developing one nasty hot spot. No hiker knows it all, that’s for sure.
So what about the kit, how did it go, you ask. Aside from my hairband – which turned up inside my sleeping bag when i got home, nothing was lost or broken. Even the ancient Jetboil, its starter replaced and busted, the innards falling apart in my hands at Ennerdale Water on day one, held up and worked brilliantly. I’ll be looking for a lighter weight alternative to my most favorite MSR pump, which I did not bring this time and instead used pills. They worked just fine, but I was more remote than I expected and relied on them for all the days and nights in the lakes. The 4-liter dromedary was perfect, as were two fizzy water bottles, that never leaked or cracked. I always forget how much I crave a sweet energy additive for the water and this time packed a ziplock with a few weeks worth.
The alicoop, the sleep set up, my clothing – except for the terribly fitting Fits socks, the heel sliding under my foot, and my lack of full sun protection for my hands – all worked well. I kept my hair in a ponytail with a buff as a hairband. It was that hot! But also, the curls stayed under control when the wind picked up.
I am in need of a new backpack. I love this Granite Gear style, basically just a big bag with two pockets and a few straps, but I wear a men’s and after a week, I lose so much weight, I simply can’t tighten the straps. I’ve actually known this for some time, but have gotten too busy – or too cheap – to do anything about it. But the time has come to find a better fitting pack for the next adventure.
I did so love wearing quick drying, light weight, but rugged, fell runners. North Face even managed to patent a shoelace that never had to be retied. As one walker commented, “Brilliant! Superb!” My only concern was how my arthritis made itself known after a long day’s walk. Am I just getting older or do I need a boot next time, or maybe a more robust inner support?
Two small things I brought turned out to be quite useful. At the last minute Richard gave me a cleaning cloth for the iPhone. It’s stuffed into a little water resist pouch and hangs off the waist belt. It got a bit wet, but dried quickly and lost none of its cleaning ability. I used it in the sunglasses, the screen and the camera lens with great results. I also packed a Sea-to-Summit mini backpack that closes into a tiny ball. I used it when buying groceries, and will use it now on the plane for the items I don’t want checked.
The compass got a workout, and everyone should carry one and know how to use it. Following a bearing can keep you from walking in circles when the mist comes down, and the C2C is not the best signed trail to say he least. I used the gps to send a bread crumb home, but a quick look at my location came in handy when everything disappeared in fog.
Food was a bit of a problem. I was determined to stay on the Whole30 diet and managed to do so for the first several days, but it was far too difficult to resupply. The best meals were dehydrated eggs and tomato, potato bark with broccoli and pepper, beef jerky and larabars. In the past, I’ve dehydrated a complete stir fry meals of veggies, vegan sausage and brown rice. I think I’ll be heading back in that direction for the next hike to ensure I get enough calories. Indeed, pubs were frequented and some were better than others, but I found steak pie with mushy peas and a side of chips got a little repetitive and I longed for more variety, especially with vegetables. Though I’m not complaining at all about the selection of hand-pulled ales. Early on, I was convinced I needed the carbohydrates.
I used my headlamp once the entire walk, attempting to read just before sleeping on the first night. The sun set around 9 or so, but the sky was light til almost 11. By 4, the birds were in full song. I awoke, but usually drifted back to sleep. Every day was hours of walking, but I always felt like I had enough time and never rushed.
Would I suggest this walk to friends? Of course. It can be taken on in any fashion that suits, guided and planned with a pint and a shower awaiting your every stage, gritty and come-what-may in my style, and every way in between. As an American it particularly fascinated me to hear the accents, see how people live and go on holiday, and discover how family-oriented this country is, even when it comes to the pubs. I never once felt in danger and it’s safe to say, I fell in love with this lovely place, as I learned on my walk to speak a bit more “English.”
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. ― Terry Pratchett
Today, the hike came to an end.
But what a finish! There was no way my extended-C2C was going to let me go without some work and a deeply memorable wow of an ending.
Rain fell on the alicoop in the night and I was a bit buzzy thinking of the weather report and what I’d walk into. Storm Hector was bashing the west coast of the British Isles, while in the east, the rain was falling in that way it does when the wind is high, in fits and spurts, the gusts shaking the trees and whipping up a frothy sky of fast moving clouds.
I happily made a shorter day yesterday into Grosmont to experience train culture and save one more giant climb for the morning when I would most likely still be fresh. Working my way up past stacked row houses on a 33% grade, I felt elated by how fit I’d gotten, even if knackered from 16 days hiking with no real rest day. But let’s face it, road walking is pretty straight forward. No two steps up, one step back on scree like Sca Fell, or rock hopping on precipitous edges like Helvellyn, or boggy way finding like the Dodds. This was a piece of cake even as the road wound around, up and up to the top one last high moor, Sleights, where the wind found me.
And what a wind! Richard and I were slammed with something similar in Chile’s Torres del Paine, but these were 55 mph straight line winds with gusts of 70. I didn’t fall over, but certainly had a drunken look to my meandering walk bracing myself on my sticks over a totally exposed couple of miles. As if to add an exclamation point to the wild ride, a mini squall pressed in of sharp sleet. It was a bugger to try and manhandle the waterproof. Fortunately, it was short lived.
In all that noise and excitement, I was mostly squealing with delight never feeling in any real danger. Soon I cut off the trail down into one more charming town, the views of the North Sea tantalizingly close, but still another 12 miles away. The trail moved deep into Little Beck Wood, where the birdsong competed with wind high up in the trees. A little oasis of calm, the nature preserve boasts a closed alum mine and a hermits cave. I was mostly taken with the stand of oak on the sharply angled ravine.
Back into the open and out on one last moor, this time a low moor called Sneaton, the path obvious from the crushed swamp grass and deep boot prints in the boggy moss. Here a sign warned about adder. Poisonous snakes in England?!? The moor gave way to the Graystone Hills and finally back on tarmac, where the wind whipped the telephone lines, creating an eerie moan.
Here I began to experience that ambivalence one gets in the final day of a thru-hike. It doesn’t matter if it’s 70 miles or 700, there’s a transition made from the routine of backpacking to finally stopping and re-entering. I find it hard to get into the right pace. Do I push along quickly and get this done, or do I linger longer and savor the moments even more, as soon they will only be memories. It’s not without some sadness that I approach final days and I carried this with me for the few miles past the final villages – Low Hawsker, Hawsker, High Hawsker and Hawsker Bottom – before reaching a holiday park of row upon row of minty green aluminum-sided track homes marching straight down to the sea, my final goodbye to charming English villages.
Now, as if bookended with my start, the finale was a three mile coastal walk high up on cliffs where the fields poured down the hill towards me on my right, the North Sea in a frenzy of white caps to my left. The day was truly extraordinary, the full brunt of the gusts tempered by the hills, the views striking and the walk tender on the feet.
You begin to see the bay tucking in before you see any town, a smugglers site with a long history. And suddenly, there it is, perhaps one of the most lovely towns on the walk, a cluster of buildings clinging to the side of the gully all the way down to the sea. And it’s the grand walk, on road and on stairs that takes the C2C finisher past shops and restaurants right down to the water where she plunges in up to her knees – as requested by her friend Kate – and tosses in the pebble she’s been carrying across the country from the Irish Sea.
Now it’s time to clean up, fatten up, take stock and organize pictures. In a few days time, I will post my GPS coordinates should you be interested in walking the Coast-to-Coast extended walk. But for now, the biggest walk today is down the road for a celebratory meal and a pint of Wainwright.
Desert, jungle, mountains or coast; I don’t have a preference. If I’m out in the wilderness with everything I need in the world on my back, chances are my smile is wide and my thoughts are clear. – Cam Honan
What is it about trains that always make us smile? Especially if it’s an antique one with wooden carriages and a coal-fired steam locomotive. The North York Moors Railway belched acrid black smoke leaving the Grosmont station spot on 4:30, the platform was full of tourists like me snapping pictures and waving, the various volunteer masters and foreman keeping everyone safe as she huffed and puffed and gathered speed, peaking at 25 mph.
Grosmont – silent S – is the alicoop’s stop for the night as the next few miles is another straight up hill towards the remaining 15 miles to the end. It’s a gritty little town, but filled with character and pride, signs pointing the way through a grand tunnel to see the locomotives barn and pick up some train-themed souvenirs. This spot has a good vibe.
The day started windy with the alicoop rattling, but standing up to them. Once I started on the mostly downhill 13 1/2 mile day, I was broad-sided by the cool fingers, happy to have it compete with so much direct sun. How can a person complain about such bright weather in England?!
I moved down the rigg of moorland, on and off tarmac switching the poles from rubber tipped to metal along the way. One particularly lovely stretch had me singing some Sweet Baby James Taylor in time to my footsteps. It was that kind of lazy walk. Though once on a track with small stones, my feet grew weary and I looked for any strip of grass to cool them.
Past grouse butts and protective nesting birds screeching overhead, I finally came upon the terraced houses of Glaisdale. Promised one of the most charming towns on the trail, I pushed down and down the 25% grade and somehow blew past it straight to the Beggar’s Bridge, built by a poor man who found his fortune and returned to marry the squire’s daughter – and finally improve passage for the town over the River Esk.
I must have missed the charm and there was no way I was heading back up to find out, so I pushed on into a wood that looked as if the perfect scouted location for a Monty Python flick. I expected the black night at any moment to tell me “None shall pass.” Indeed many had on the lovingly laid stones, worn smooth in the middle by thousands of feet.
Egton Bridge appeared after a bend with its famous stepping stones to a public island. Here I contemplated how far I’ve come – the Coast-to-Coast and then some. It’s always hard to manage your pace as the end draws near. Do you race to the end and finish or savor each moment a bit longer? I feel elated to have done all of this in the time I set for myself, but, of course a bit sad too having it come to an end. Just making a small mental note of how things went. Nothing broke, nothing was lost – except my favorite hairband – and I still feel reasonably good overall.
In another few miles I arrived in Grosmont and am ready for one last wander around in my crocks and a taste of local food. The place is jammed with walkers and there’s a collegial vibe that we’ve just about done it.
Of course, tomorrow begins with one more big uphill, then a long walk on the coast, marching into Robin Hoods Bay. The Beeb says the winds are going to be high and rain is expected. Should be some way to finish, so off to bed soon enough.
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. – Frank Lloyd Wright
Today was the day I was warned about – long, flat and a lot of road walking. It’s to be expected on any real thru-hike that you’ll have some days less exciting than others, but what surprised me was that the road walking turned out to be blissfully relaxing with some of the fields, less so.
I was told by a local that Yorkshire people have short hands and long pockets. This soon became evident in the state of the way-marking and stiles, as if no one could be bothered to keep the right of way in good repair. Sometimes this included crashing through a hedge barely trimmed for clearance, or busted steps, flimsy poles or barbed wire surrounding the exact placement for your hand. It felt a bit like I wasn’t totally welcome here. And topped off by a wildly dangerous mad dash across a dual carriage way, lorry upon lorry upon young man in an Audi bearing down on your sad hobbled run.
The excuse for no bridge? The road was here first.
But maybe my own attitude needs adjustment. When I told a few folks in Danby Wiske that I had added six days in the Lakes to the walk to bag all the big mountains, they said “As if this isn’t hard enough?” I am thrilled I did, and proud I moved well, but today I’m paying with a big fat blister right on my heel, like stepping on a sharp tack with every footfall.
It’s dressed with everything in the arsenal, but endless pounding through fields and road – even if flat – started to deflate my spirits. And that’s when something needed to be done, to get into noticing mode. I ask myself what is around me to see, whether beautiful or ugly, what sticks out?
Bolton-on-Swale has an interesting church, the leaning gravestones taking up the entire front yard. The houses here are no longer stone, but made of brick and the land is greener with the thick vegetation everywhere. In fact, at one point, the trail veered right into a tunnel of hedge between two fields. It was about a half mile in the shade.
Moors have given way to meadows, the wind gently blowing the grass like waves on a sea. Yellow Jammers float frozen in the air, singing their complicated song as skylarks whistle, competing with the wind.
One farm warned me to beware of the witch, a skull and rubber rats nailed to the stile. Once I stepped up a recording was tripped, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” Had this family gotten fed up with people letting their pooches loose on their lambs? Or is watching walkers negotiate the zigzagged trail, losing their way and traipsing on the lawn enough to make them want to poke fun?
I must admit, at this stage, I feel kind of ridiculous carrying a backpack stuffed with gear, the GPS strapped to my left shoulder, dressed in my goofy hat and walking on all fours with trekking poles. I deserve to be poked fun at. One farmer did so when he built a stile to nowhere ending in tramped down grass above a beck and no way out. He had the last laugh as I – and all who went before me – backtracked to the correct crossing.
But it’s been well worth it to carry the kit because here I am all set up in another field, the weather clement and a plate of lamb rump coming to me – lamb rump, I might add here, I saw in great abundance alive and bleating all along the route. In France, campsites have a bar and took my order for the morning’s croissant. In England, the tea service is available for campers right next to the toilet.
Though not the most memorable day of this walk, it did turn out to be just right.
I like being near the top of a mountain. One can’t get lost here. – Wislawa Szymborska
I broke two cardinal rules today: I didn’t check the map as I came around a difficult section of the trail and I followed two people I thought were going my way. Never do these things. Why? Because you get yourself good and lost.
I’m in the lovely village of Reeth tonight. A reasonable pull of 14 miles or so, if I hadn’t made a long and arduous detour. The day started at Ravenseat Farm, right at the end of the trail coming off the moors. The farmer’s wife greeted me with scones and jam and had me set the alicoop right at the foot of the stone bridge, the bubbling beck singing me to sleep. When I awoke, it was all in mist and chilly, though the sun peaked out promising a good days walk.
Soon the children came out one by one to see who was camping in their yard. This is a big family of nine children spanning a few decades. First it was the second oldest riding over in a motorbike he was fixing up himself. He was dressed to kill in real biker duds, though likely his dad’s or older brothers as the pants were rolled up. He showed off a little, waiting for me to ask more about the bike.
Then the farmer himself sauntered to my the picnic table where I was organizing breakfast. He gave me the facts about sheep farming, then plunged right into politics. Brexit – bad; Trump – not so much.
Later the little ones came by. “What’s this for-uh?”asked the littlest one, Clemmy, about all my gear. “What’s this for-uh?” This is a compass. “What’s this for-uh?” My gps…”What’s this for-uh?” These are my trekking poles…The smallest of the brood has no guile whatsoever and I could have stayed the day playing and explaining.
But it was time to push off, out on the moor high above gulleys rushing with water and “forces” or waterfalls. This area is called Swaledale and rolls along in gentle curves dotted with laithes or stone barns standing solitary in million-dollar views.
Soon, I approached Keld, more of a bend in the road than a village of stone houses. I picked up a bacon bap at the camping store, but was a bit put out by the notices filled with rules, regulations and a cost for everything including charging the phone.
Perhaps it was the funk I got into leaving a lovely green in Keld with massive signs saying no camping, so by the time I neared the high route leading to Reeth, I was distracted and enervated by the increasing heat and lost my way. The book warned that the trail was not easy to find, and of course, I landed myself directly on the wrong trail, only two boots wide and hanging right over the cliff above the river. But I found it an adventure and soldiered on towards Crackpot Hall, crackpot simply referring to the depth of the chasm, one only a crow could love.
Two intrepid women marched ahead of me and I circled around the old lead mining ruins with them, snapping a few pix then following them up the other side of the chasm. A big mistake. From here, the trail came right back out, onto the edge of the moor, essentially in the opposite direction I needed to go. Once I realized my mistake, I discovered an easy exit straight down to the lower route to Reeth, where most hikers were slowly meandering along in bunches.
But that kind of walking was not for me. I was up for a challenge and thought I might simply take a beating and meet the main high route trail by making a kind of triangle. Theoretically, it’s doable. But it required crossing over two miles of open moor, much of it uphill.
And that’s what I did, ignoring all of my English lit classes warning of the dangers on the open moor, how one can get thoroughly lost, disoriented, or sucked into the mire. Luckily the mire was well in hand with so little rain. It was the heather that nearly did me in, sharp, scratchy, grabby, clumpy, tussocky heather for miles on end.
But once I got going, there was no stopping me and I plodded onwards and upwards, finally following a stone wall that eventually led to a stile. A stile meant only one thing: people walked here. And just as I felt completely idiotic adding many miles to what was supposed be a reasonably easy day, two other women hikers appeared. We shared the map and advice and I found a way down and down, backtracking to a bridal path and finally to the C2C.
And this just as the thunder started rumbling. It was quite a sight at that junction, ruins from one of the smelters built during the Industrial Revolution, a lovely brook falling over mossy stones. But at this point I needed to go up to go down, right into the path of the storm.
In a previous post, I mentioned the English seem less panicky about thunderstorms which tend to be less catastrophic. None-the-less, loud booms echoing in the hills had me moving as fast as I could up onto Melbecks Moor as the rain began lashing down. The site at the top seemed fitting, an industrial wasteland of tailings and moved earth, a few ruins scattered about for dramatic effect.
The hike from here, had I not made such a costly error, was mostly boring. But I was knackered through and through, it seems an endless six miles or so. I missed yet another turn and ended up in a tiny group of houses on the road a mile from Reeth. A sign promised a walk through the fields, but came to nothing and I cursed as I made my way back to the road and walked all the way into this lovely town, wide open to the fells and wide open in embracing my tired self.
Now I must go and study up carefully for tomorrow’s hike which I hope will prove uneventful. Though to be honest looking back, what an adventure to have such a stunning view up the Swale Dale over Gunnerside and Mucker and to experience for myself the first – and hopefully only – time crashing straight through moorland, no trail, no path, just me an the compass. I’ve had my share of thunderstorms in the hills, but this time I really was out in it and far from comfortable. So I just put on the raincoat and kept moving. Not so bad an adventure after all, and certainly different from the masses.
You need special shoes for hiking — and a bit of a special soul as well. – Terri Guillemets
The alicoop is up, the midges are out on cue, dinner is cooking on one of the myriad picnic tables at Ravenseat Farm and the sunset is giving the swell of the Pennines an orange hue. It was quite the day. To get myself a few miles more ahead of where I thought I should be camping last night in order to finish this thing, I set my sights on Keld, about a 25 mile walk from Orton. It was along the way that I noticed a more pleasurable stop at a farm with camping on the lawn next to a stone bridge marking the exact halfway point of the walk.
The day began much cooler than yesterday, which proved to be absolutely enervating, so I was thrilled to get underway, the trail leaving the charming village by road at first, then straight onto the heather-clad moor. Birdsong followed me everywhere, complex and foreign to my ears from yellow wagtail and linnet as well as one of my favs, the lapwing with its dog-toy squeak. Coming over the rise, birds filled the spare trees reminding me briefly of the Drakensberg in South Africa and it’s haunting long views.
Likewise most days, I passed through gates and over stiles, each having its own distinct character. Sometimes I’d come across a spiffy affair with a long, easy-to-reach metal latch that was equally easy to move and a gate evenly hung on its hinges would simply open wide for me to pass through. Even better would be a spring in the gate so I can simply let the door close with a pleasing slam on my way past. But more often than not, the gates hang askew in their hinges, have awkward to open latches or have one extra little clip that seems totally unnecessary. Then there’s the gate in a kind of pass through, where you push it open, put your body into the space and squeeze the gate in front of you. All well and good, unless you’re carrying a backpack, and then things get a little tight. I often stood up on the edges of the fence to hoist myself beyond the gate. Not pretty, but sufficed. Stiles can be ladders or strategically placed rocks, some built right into the wall a bit like the Incas. I got up, over, and through all of them, and was sure to close the gate once past.
The moors are wonderful places, high, mysterious, full of life, even if seemingly monochromatic. Once in the middle, all that surround – fell and dale – disappear, as if being far out on the ocean. It’s no wonder that this area is full of prehistoric sites, rock cairns, circles and settlements. One in particular is said to be the most important in Britain, but its remains are mostly seen from outer space, so I moved right on by.
It was in this place of big sky that I saw my first backpacker, another woman on her own from Holland. She sauntered in the way backpackers do, but I was hoofing on past where she planned to stop for the night, so moved right on by again. That is one thing that has surprised me on this walk, that I have not run into many walkers. I am wild camping for one, so not doing the usual stages and meeting up with the groups who have their bags carried between B&B’s, and I also added dozens of miles in the Lakes and missed Coast-to-Coasters while off on my own, but still, this may not be as populated a walk as it ought to be.
Soon, the final pull on the moors reached its apex and Kirkby (with a silent k) Stephen opened below. It’s one of one larger towns on the hike, and greeted walkers with a little town theme of worn out boots filled with flowers. Densely spaced row houses lined the main thoroughfare as I marched along looking for a place to get water before the big push into the Pennines. The Black Bull has an inviting seat right on the sidewalk, and within earshot of the local color, already working on their second or even third pints at 2 in the afternoon.
I took a look at the 13th century church built of sandstone from the local quarry I’d pass up the hill, crossed Frank’s Bridge over Eden Beck and I was off. Five miles winding up and up, past Fell House with guanaco in their yard, past bleating sheep and their soft wooly white lambs in black face and long silky black legs, onto the peat bog of this new range of hills in beautiful Swaledale.
At the top is Nine Standards Rigg, a series of huge carefully stacked rock cairns guarding the summit. I didn’t quite ascertain why they are there or who built them, but I found the place in the late afternoon particularly special, imagining my own stories of the peoples who went before.
The standards mark the beginning of the infamous bogs, ones that can steal a boot, a trekking pole and one’s dignity. I am incredibly lucky in that the rains have stayed away for months since a very wet spring, so mostly the walking was spongy dirt, and where it wasn’t, the park service has placed huge rock slabs, I barely got a toe wet.
Though I did manage to miss my turn and found myself taking a long and circuitous route to the farm. Wondering if I was on the right trail and having just about enough after 20 odd miles, a nice couple came around the bend in the nick of time and drove me the last 1/4 mile to the farm where I’m sleeping tonight.
Nothing is as close to magic as nature. – Anastasia Bolinder
It’s happened again. I’ve found myself in a pub, talked into trying the local liquor, a Lakes vodka. Hit the spot after a long, satisfying day.
The alicoop has been carried to Wasdale, a village not on the official C2C, but full of history with a reputation as the most photographed town in the district. It’s luscious green valley is sectioned into intricate squares and rectangles of sturdy rock enclosures for the local sheep. A sign warns us that every ewe is pregnant, though some must have birthed recently as countless lambs in black and white bounce around, testing out their balance, looking for the good grass outside the fence and mewling non-stop. I know this, because my tent is set up in one of the enclosures reserved for people with tents. It’s likely the most bucolic place I have ever slept.
The very best fell runners come from Wasdale, and right here where I write, Wasdale Head Inn, is the preferred meeting place for climbers headed up Sca Fell, Napes or Pillar, a peak I summited today gazing longingly at the rocky cliffs, their sharply defined crags seemingly pulled straight out of one of Wainwright’s pen and ink drawings.
Why did I come this way? To bag a few peaks and linger longer in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The morning began with heavy winds slapping the alicoop. Breakfast was a challenge as I hunkered behind the rock wall. Though Ms. Wind was in the starring role all night, she finally exited the stage to make room for the midges waiting in the wings. Fortunately, I was packed, so suffered only briefly before leaping the fence and heading up Ennerdale Water.
It’s the Lakes, so it’s rocky and slippy, but soon I arrived in an enchanted forest of oak, gnarled and covered in moss with the smallest leaves I’ve ever seen. The birds kept up a chorus of morning song egging me towards the faint path up the mountain – or hill, as they’re deprecatingly called here. So, by logic, if they’re a hill, then why bother with switchbacks. Just go up, straight up. My pack is still fairly full this early in the hike, so I chuffed up happy to have my poles.
I want to say one thing about my pace. It’s not fast, but it is steady. One guide, long ago, told me to walk ‘under my breath.’ He meant to never get out of breath, even if breathing hard and to stay in that perfect zone that allows you to keep going. I usually pick a spot and simply head for it, one step at a time without taking many breaks. It’s rhythmic, meditative and moves me along at a surprising clip.
That’s not to say that after I’d gotten about 1000 feet above the lake, I happily found a spot to contemplate the beauty, breathe in my solitude and marvel that the wettest place in the UK was bone dry and sunny. I found several special spots all on my own, rising higher and higher towards the ridge, the ridge that would take me towards some of the highest spots in the Lakes. It was made famous by a challenge called the Bob Graham Rounds, a physical endurance test requiring a runner to hit over 40 mountain tops under 24 hours. That’s an elevation gain the size of Everest, in case you were wondering. As I took in the view at the rock cairn atop airy Steeple, a young man in training heaved himself up, touched the same rock pile, and flew back down.
Next was to figure out how to get down to Wasdale to get into position to summit Sca Fell and Mickeldore. I had my heart set on following a series of ridges, but the loss and gain of altitude felt a bit much and I would come out on a road south of town. So instead, I pushed towards Windy Gap, discovering my descent and subsequent ascent likely added up to just about the same in the end.
And there it was, the direct route off the tops of the peaks down to Wasdale. But it was straight down, eroded and with a pack seemed foolhardy. So I did the logical thing. I headed up another mountain top, straight up this time on a steep and eroded, rocky, hand over hand path up Pillar.
And what a spectacular spot! As I looked back at what I’d done, seeing the peaks I had in mind next, the mist came down. Fast and unrelenting. And that meant my trip down was fast and unrelenting. As fast as one can go on rocky trip hazards of ball bearing rocks giving way to one of the miraculous things in the Lakes, the paving stones. Large stones brought to the area by helicopter in big black bags and left to be placed by hand. There was something loving and touching about stepping on these, making the footfall calm and even and safer and taking me to the picture-perfect village and lamb for dinner.
I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list – Susan Sontag
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Everywhere is within walking distance, if you have the time. – Steven Wright
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.
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.
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.
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.