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.
Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. – Henry David Thoreau
Rain fell in the alicoop last night and by morning – which begins here at 4am – the fret moved in and I thought my day would be lost to poor views and claggy conditions underfoot.
It was just the opposite and why I have been blessed with such fabulous conditions, I have no idea. I have certainly paid my dues, hiking the Colorado Trail in an almost constant state of monsoon and last fall’s Border Route nothing dried for five days. Praise the hiker guides this time around.
My feet are much better today, the blister beginning to harden. The walk starts straight up out of Ingelby Cross through verdant green forest. Stiles and gates disappeared for a firm track that I was told had only recently been patched up with stone. The views opened out onto a series of fells into the distance as I happily – and surprisinfgly quickly – puffed up the first big climb.
As I entered the North York Moors National Park, a sign told me this is the largest continuous stretch of heather in England. Friends, my breath was taken away, not by the climbing, but the stunning view from this height. The moor has been carefully maintained with a series of rock slabs blending right in with the wildness, your feet feel as if walking a church floor, smooth, gentle – even going down.
It was here I met up once again with the men from Mississippi who gave me a long stare and asked, “Now before you won the lottery, what did you do??” Taxidermy, I said…these guys were persistent! I banged their sticks for luck and pushed on by. Thank goodness we had different destinations for the day. Nice guys, but c’mon already.
I was reminded of the Dodds from so many days ago, up and down different humps – Near Moor, Live Moor, Holey Moor, Cryngle Moor, Urra Moor – but all the time, I was high above the Yorkshire Plain, close to the clouds, the wind keeping me cool.
I would now like to say something about my hat. It’s goofy, I know. Made by Kavu it’s the best hat I have ever owned. The strap tightens from the brim, so the hat is never against the head in such a way as to induce a headache, but it always stays on even in the fiercest wind. I have gotten some sun, but nothing direct and the wide brim has worked beautifully in light rain too. Yay for the hat!
I’m now at the the Lion Inn after a long seven mile stretch smack dab in the middle of the moor. I may have this puppy over and done with in two days. Excited, happy and strong. Praise the goddess.
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.
Travel far enough, you meet yourself. ― David Mitchell
Another stunningly beautiful, bright, sunny day completely out of the norm for this region of the world. I met two women also backpacking and coming the opposite direction, dressed in full-on rain gear, gators and sun protection. They were in such shock about this unusual weather, they seemed unable to change their clothing – or attitude.
The day opened on Reeth at 4 am, but I was absolutely knackered from my trudge across the moors, I slept late. By the time I suited up, sent the “I’m starting my hike” and tracking message to Richard, it was well past 10. But I knew the walking was only getting easier and the sunsets later, so I had literally all day to find my way past Richmond.
Out into the countryside, the land was changing noticeably into more rolling green pastureland and deciduous trees. The path forward was still a bit of a puzzle as to finding which way any sort of “trail” went through the fields and if they indeed led to a stile or fence, but I was improving in my way-finding, and only had to backtrack a few times.
The sun was hot and the cumulus clouds grew above the verdant path, one so delightful to walk on as if someone had spread an Oriental carpet in front of my feet. Soon, I reached the priory ahead of Merrick. Closed now to the public, I was only able to make out its graceful ruins from a distance. But what remains for public consumption are the stairs hand-built by the nuns leading through a wood for almost half a mile to the town center. The cool of the dense shade was welcome this morning, and I could almost hear singing through the ages as I ascended.
The village is just a collection of farm buildings and homes all made of local stone. I looked longingly at the homes with their stunning view atop a hill. Could I live here? Experiencing sunrise in June at 4, it doesn’t take much calculating to figure that by December, sunset would be early, and darkness – combined with a damp cold – might make the living less desirable. I do know if I lived in a stone house, I would paint my doors a bright purple or maybe even orange.
Opening gate after gate, some with a tuning fork-like melody, I entered into a new kind of field, no longer moor, but meadow, with a gentle reminder to walk in single file. This is because the seemingly useless meadow is in actuality winter feed for livestock and the farmers prefer giving up only so much right-of-way.
Upon entering any village, I pop out of my pocket two rubber tips for the trekking poles, a brilliant last-minute idea I had right before leaving Minnesota. And I would like to say something here about my trousers and their most excellent pockets. In the last several long distance hikes I have walked, I have worn long pants. It was my husband – a professional disc golfer – who convinced me that it was worth being protected in keeping the sun, poison ivy and all that scratches and clings off my skin. It’s actually cooler to stay covered than to wear sunblock, so I am pleased to have these long pants from REI.
At first I thought the stretchy material was just to hide bulges and contour to my curves, but the purpose is also to make real pockets that actually hold things like left side: map; right side: pole tips; zip pocket: wallet and the little stone I’m carrying from one coast to the next. I can also make them tighter with a kind of internal belt as I slim down over the hike. These pants rock.
In Marske, a little sign invited me to take a pause at St. Edmunds Church. They had an honesty box of candy bars, potato chips and drinks. I hadtoI partake of the peaceful surroundings, sipping an OJ in their graveyard.
As I approached Richmond, I came upon a bench and small sign with words from one of Alfred Wainwright’s books extolling the wonder of this high level view of an ancient Norman city. Sadly no one took the time to trim the branches and the view was directly at a hedge.
But Richmond did not disappoint, a lovely small city of stone and cobbled streets looked upon by castle ruins directly on the River Swale. I had a snack at a pub in the center of town with techno pumping and an early drinker throwing darts.
It’s never easy finding the trail that leads out of towns, and I missed my turn at one point, fortunately without too much damage. I have never been so happy to find the sewage treatment plant that I needed to pass before heading back up into meadows and farmland for the village of Coburn.
You can’t imagine how odd it is for an American to come upon a village just emerging out from the fields. We’ve become accustomed to strip malls and urban sprawl. England protects its open spaces, which are havens for wildlife and all that goes with a natural setting like fresh air. I wish I could bottle the smell and bring it with me back on the plane.
My plan was to reach a farm where camping is allowed on the lawn, just about a mile out of town. But as I passed the pub, people looked out the windows and beckoned me indoors. Finally a waitress came out and suggested I not pass but come in for a pint. At first I was reluctant, but then relented and was swept into the magic of trail walking, that you make friends from all over the world. Two men from Mississippi were particularly eager to talk and find out all about me. Though it did seem their primary interest was to talk about themselves as how this was the second time they’d walked the trail, they loved it so much.
I tend to get shy around such gregarious behavior, so when they asked me what I do, I told them I was lucky enough to win the lottery and was able to spend the rest of my life traveling.
Would it were so. But life is pretty darn good as I get to spend my night in this glorious location up on a hill looking out on some of the most delicious scenery on the entire trail , with tomorrow a long day’s walk all on flat ground.
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.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. – Edward Abbey
I just might be at the most beautiful wild campsite yet, and the last of the wild sites. Tomorrow, when I hit Shap and cross the M6 motorway, the lakes will be just a memory – and most camping will happen next to pubs.
Last night was cold and damp. The sky was clear and some very bright planet peaked into the alicoop from the south across the Tarn. I shivered when I emerged into the wind and before I could make tea, a chilling mist sneaked up the dale “on tiny cat’s paws” covering the sun, causing me to shiver. The hardest chore camping is to take down in the rain. But taking down in the cold is right up there in challenge, when your frozen fingers can barely work as they touch metal and you try to roll up the tent and carefully stuff it in the bag. I sang to myself to move faster and stay warm as I left that lovely place, down and down to Patterdale.
I always worry the impression I make when I enter town and need to buy things. I see myself as strong and intrepid, having added ten major peaks to the trail plus a day’s climbing. But the impression I must give is a bit raggedy, my hair squashed into a buff and held tightly off my burned face, my hands dry as crocodile leather, and my body smelling like a barnyard, and that’s an insult to barnyards everywhere.
But what a delight to discover that haggard hikers is the norm and I fit right in. All the action is at the local post office – part store, part cafe, part charging the electronics pit stop. Apparently it was the favorite of Alfred Wainwright himself, and the first to carry his beautifully illustrated trail books. BBC broadcaster Julia Bradbury hosts a special on her top Wrainwright walks and raves about the bacon baps at this very spot, so I was found mid-morning enjoying one myself.
A thru-hike never really feels like a thru-hike until it’s time to resupply. On the Colorado Trail and the John Muir Trail, I sent my food ahead, but here, like France, I knew I’d drop into towns and could pick things up as I went along. Of course, you’re at the mercy of what’s available, like potted soup, random bars and “smash.” The tea selection was good and I was surprised the tiny store carried isobutane for the Jetboil.
It was hard to leave, but I needed to make some miles today, so crossed the beck and looked for the trail headed straight up the next set of hills. As I moved up, a few RAF jets came careening down the dale, the sound sudden and terrific.
Up the trail, I finally saw trail workers laying the stone paths, young people I asked might show me how strong they are for a photo, and replying “but we are strong!” Now on the official C2C, more people shared the trail. Many a “hiya!” and “awright” as I meandered up the path.
If a walker sticks to the classic route, this one will be the hardest they hit. After so many peaks tackled, I was feeling pretty cocky. This is gonna be a breeze as one false summit after another was crossed. The map was clear, I’d walk nearly four miles before hitting the highest point at Kidsty Pike, but I obstinately believed each rise was my destination, even after passing the shapely Angle Tarn, only half-way up.
I only took a few wrong turns, quickly corrected, before seeing the obvious pointy brow of the pike and the long gulley leading to Haweswater. It was a lovely perch of jagged rocks framing the high peaks of the lakes I had only recently climbed. But as I admired the view, the wind dropped and the midges rose, as if one amorphous organism setting down on my face and hands. Think African Queen, no swatting would keep this evil cloud away, so it was out of there as fast as I could. It seems it’s not just water that attracts these buggers.
The next stage made me a bit nervous as my official guide warned of a steep, rocky descent where hands would need to be used. The first part was velvety grass, the type fell runners crack straight down. I’ve gotten pretty good at that myself, even with a pack. Sticks help the technique of placing your feet facing down, bending your knees, leaning back and running in smallish steps. You really move. No more zigzagging for this #blissfulhiker!
But the fun was over when the stones appeared. Wainwright himself suggests your best defense is to use your bum. There’s certainly no shame in it, and I have the snagged trousers to prove it. So I was fully prepared to get down in whatever undignified way necessary. It was a bit of challenge; a wee bit. I guess if this was your very first big pull, a fair warning might be useful, but I’ve been hiking now nine days, so just flew right down.
Haweswater is a reservoir, one that completely buried a village. In drought it’s said the ghost town comes into view. Right now, all that can be seen are crumbling rock walls and overgrown trees. My site is next to a small stand of tamarack next to a burbling creek. Idyllic and absolutely at peace. Hoping for Shap and Orten tomorrow, and on to the Pennines!
It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent. – Dave Barry
An ode to the alicoop:
Oh, alicoop, you are so long and shapely with your twin peaks and proud double mastheads.
You are my chrysalis and my haven.
Light and lithe, you cradle me when darkness falls at half-eleven, and as the eastern sky lights at 4 am.
Thank goodness I haven’t broken a trekking pole.
I’ve been sleeping so well on this walk, probably because my floors have been grassy. But last night I was awakened by flashing light. A thunderstorm?! I lay there cozied in and heard the rumbling approach up the dale. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…kaboom-boom-boom, it rattled and echoed the surrounding fells, as I wracked my brain, does five seconds mean five miles away or one? KaBOOOOOM-boom-boom!
I breathe very shallow in lightning storms, feeling vulnerable and completely at their mercy in the wild. I was surprised to here that the English are not too worried about a little crashing in the heavens. I was told the storms are never all that severe, but this one sounded close.
Soon the flashes stopped and the rain came, pitter patter at first followed by a downpour. The alicoop stood up to the shower, and I slowly drifted back to sleep.
Thankfully, the morning came with no rain. There’s nothing worse then packing up in damp. Well, maybe walking in rain is worse. It was dry and the midgets had given up for now, so it turned out to be nice for a spot of tea next to the beck.
First order of business was to get up in Mungrisdale Common, and that would require walking across the rushing water. I did so by wading straight in as I wisely chose trainers for this walk. Sometimes I long for ankle support when I’m contouring the side of a hill, but mostly they are perfect, strong, comfortable, light and quick drying in these marshy, boggy conditions.
Where I made my mistake was in my sock choice. I have a slight allergy to elastic, so I thought I’d nip it in the bud with low socks. But within just a few days the promised perfectly fitted heel failed completely and the socks spend more time under my feet then around them. I hope to find a suitable replacement in two days when I hit Patterdale.
I pushed up the tussocky – pronounced toossookey – hill, straight into disorienting mist. Blencathra, just shy of 3000 feet, was my goal but finding my way took extra time. This peak was one of Alfred Wainwright’s favorites. It’s more a mountain of ridges than a peak with multiple gullies and sharp edges to be explored. But on a wet day like today with a backpack, I took the easy way up and down. Still a slog and for what? No view whatsoever.
As I sit here now I’m looking back on the peak and fog spreads a tablecloth hiding her beauty. Perhaps tomorrow will see clearer skies as I cross the Dodds. You could say a hike like this is a test of one’s attitude and spirit. Can you still feel joy if the weather is not in your favor? The people I met at the top seemed to take it in stride. If not today, there’s always tomorrow.
I chose the least direct route down to avoid a slippy descent on rock. Still, one area was closed by farmers and I found the free-to-roam public footpath going back up before finally heading down into Threlkeld. I was delighted to find a cafe open and serving a bit of lunch, before I heaved the pack back on and headed up the next sheep field towards a blue line in the map where I might wild camp.
Who knew there would be a perfectly flat grassy area right at the bridge, and close to the junction for tomorrow morning’s walk with just enough wind to dry the alicoop and my freshly rinsed clothes, and keep the midges at bay. Perhaps it’s a wind persistent enough to blow away the mist? Let’s hope, but no matter the weather, count on me out in it.