Yay! Hooray! Whoopee! This is me laughing and being giddy which is exactly what happened when I stepped on the beach of the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay today. I did it—walked across the whole of northern England- 192 miles. What a great feeling of accomplishment!
But it was a long day and quite a work out to finally get there. It seemed that this last stage, a 16.5 mile trek to the coast, was a bit of a walk down memory lane as it offered up a little piece of all of the different terrain and challenges that I had faced up to this point. I had an easy 1.5 mile hike to the next village, Grosmont, but at that point the path went straight up, with a slope that could have easily been recognized by any San Fransisco native. I felt like I was back in the Lake District, except I was walking on a country lane and not a rock bed. Finally reaching the top after a breath stealing climb I looked to my left and saw the North Sea in the distance, my goal for the day. That view did a lot to restore my energy after the never ending “up” I had just experienced. Looking straight ahead along the road I likened the landscape to the English version of a high desert. I was clearly on some kind of plateau and the terrain around me was desolate. It had a moorish feel to it but was not as colorful or vibrant, almost like the vegetation was not sure whether it wanted to be there or not. It looked like it was struggling to survive. I walked along this road for what seemed a long time, but in reality could not have been more than 45 minutes, before starting to descend down the other side of the plateau, losing my view of the North Sea in the process. But I was not worried, I would see it later in the day!
The lane eventually led me into the village of Littlebeck and from there quickly into the forest that stands adjacent. It was beautiful, but extremely muddy, almost dangerously so, and brought to mind some of the slogging I did on the way to Richmond in the rain. I deployed one of my poles to help me navigate the numerous areas on the path that were total mud puddles, slop, trampled and churned up dirt. It was slow going and at this point I ended up in a middle of a group of Australians (a new group, they were from Melbourne) who were also slowly trying to pick their way through the muck. It was necessary to really pay attention to where you put your feet and especially how you shifted your weight. A misstep was easy and the result would be a complete and total mud bath! It seemed that my boots got about two pounds (each) heavier along this trail. But the forest was incredible and reminded me of spots here and there earlier during the walk in the Lake District walking through other incredible green and peaceful spaces like this. England does not have huge stands of forest any more and the Littlebeck woods were very popular. Despite the trail conditions and it being a weekday, there were a lot of people out. (I passed someone with sandals on and I felt bad for them- that was not going to end well!)
Emerging from the woods alone, having lost the Australians at the cute tea room right in the middle of the traverse through the wood, I stopped for a minute to take a drink and check my maps. My next challenge was to navigate through different stretches of moor that were reputed to have some incredibly healthy boggy areas in them. Now I was reminded of my exhilarating and challenging day over the Yorkshire Dale moor with its tricky footing and poor path definition. Even though the areas I were about to cross were not as isolated, they promised a repeat of the “find the path and avoid that bog” game that I had already played once. Looking at my book, my map, and getting my compass ready, I waded in (almost literally!). Fortunately, as I had experienced earlier in the trip, the landscape was fairly dry and the “boggy” was not too bad, even though the “very boggy”, as it was marked on the map, created some opportunities for wet boots and tricky navigation. What was confusing, in the second moor I crossed, was that there were all kinds of paths gong this way and that and I really had to pay attention to ensure I was on the right one; especially when having to deviate to get around a huge bog in the middle of the path. It was fun and I still love the moorlands the best (although I am grateful that they were not full on wet because that would have been a VERY interesting experience!)
Clearing the moors I was back on country lanes and wondered through a few pastures before reaching a lane that led directly to the coast line, intersecting about 2.5 miles north of Robin Hood’s Bay. Like in St. Bees at the beginning of the Coast to Coast, the final part of the trail hugs the coast line before dipping into the village. When emerging from the lane and standing on the path at the cliff on the coast, my mind was telling me I was done- I had reached the North Sea, but my book and map told me otherwise. I still had to meander down to Robin Hood’s Bay. So close, but not there yet! It was a nice day and the walk was pleasant but at every turn I was anticipating the finish and the hike, while beautiful, seemed to go on forever. After nearly seven hours of tramping through ups, downs, mud, pasture, moors and bogs, rocky paths, and country lanes, I was done, but the path was not. Bummer!
Finally I arrived at Robin Hood’s Bay, which is a small cozy village right on the bay. There is an upper town and an older lower town, which is where the walk officially ends, right at the beach. Of course the descent to the lower town was very steep, not so much of a problem going down, but my B&B was at the top, so I would have to climb up again. Nonetheless I wanted to go all the way to the end so I strolled down to the ocean and just sat there for a minute, amazed I actually got to that point. Yay!
Tradition has it that you have to go to Wainright’s Bar, in the Bayview Hotel right at the end of the walk. Not being one to buck tradition, I headed into the pub for a drink. Of course entering, I was greeted with a loud “Hello” as I knew some of the people already gathered there- they were some of the people that I had been walking with for the last week, off and on. We celebrated with a beer, shared stories, and then started splitting up to go our different ways. That, more than anything else, signaled to me the end of the adventure.
Not having eaten anything since breakfast, my priority shifted to getting cleaned up and finding a place to plant myself to write this blog, eat and watch tonight’s soccer game (Wales vs Portugal). Tomorrow on to Edinburg to spend a few days there before returning home and back to reality.
The Coast to Coast is not easy, but it is doable and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see some spectacular landscape, meet some wonderful people, both the walkers and the locals, and challenge themselves. (You have to do active navigation and cannot just plod along blindly!) Even though it became a bit of a blur as I trudged my way across the coast, the experiences I had and the people I met stand out. I may not remember, exactly, which day I was in Reeth, but I do remember being at the Buck Inn (there is a Buck Inn in almost every village!) having a wonderful meal and talking with several other tables of acquaintances and friends that I made. As a matter of fact it is where I said good-bye to my friends from Sydney. I will not remember a particular view, but the incredible scenery in general, the picturesque views from the Lake District, the wildness of the Yorkshire Dales, the manicured pastures (and the sheep) and the dramatic cliffs and high moors of east Yorkshire. What a wonderful trip!!!!
Be careful what you ask for! I have mentioned several times how much I enjoyed the isolated freedom of being alone on the moors. Well nature arranged that for me today in a not so pleasant way, at least at first. First I have to start with the weather, because, well, this is England, and the weather is central to everything. It rained all night pretty steadily (I felt really bad for Arnie and Gary who were camping out in the pasture behind the hotel!). The forecast predicted that the clouds would clear up in the late morning and the rest of the day would be more or less pleasant, with part sun. Looking out the window before breakfast I could see it was gray and foggy and my immediate thought was “full rain gear”. I bumped into Gary at breakfast, he had come in to talk to someone, and he mentioned that it was raining and windy and foggy- generally miserable outside. I stepped outside and he was correct. It was horrible! It was still early, about 8am and I was already done with breakfast and ready to get on the road while most were just sitting down to eat. I thought about delaying for a few hours to see if the weather would improve but decided my plan for the day was to get out, start descending and try to quickly emerge from the thick batch of clouds that had clearly enveloped the pass. Who knows how long the stubborn clouds were going to linger?
After poking my nose out the door to check the weather, I pulled out a new piece of equipment I had not needed up to this point, my fleece neck gaiter. I have found that if I can keep my neck warm I can keep my whole body warm. This morning I was going to need all of the help I could muster. I was in full rain gear- jacket, pants, and poncho- and with the neck gaiter in place I was ready to tackle the elements. They were more than ready to tackle me, too! I stepped out of the hotel, a lonely figure that early in the morning, especially in that kind of weather, and turned left on the road. And ran full into a horrible headwind blowing through the pass bringing with it a driving, determined unpleasant drizzle. In addition I could barely see 20 feet in front of me. It was absolutely miserable. I had both hoods up, my jacket and rain poncho, but had to hold them closed with one of my hands as the wind simply wanted to blow them off my head. I alternated hands so I could warm them up occasionally, as they soon became cold from the wind and rain hitting them. My poncho was flapping all over the place in the stiff breeze but still managed to keep my upper torso dry. My glasses spotted quickly with rain and I was soon looking at the world through a dot matrix of water. I walked with my head down, slightly bowed over, to try to minimize the impact of the wind, but it did not work too well. I had to walk north into the wind for about 30-40 minutes. A few cars went by, probably wondering what that crazy person was doing out walking in such weather, but I never even acknowledged them as they passed me in the fog. I was in my own fog- a fog of misery. I was really hoping that when I made the turn east, things would get better. I was thinking that as the morning advanced things would get better. I was sure that once I dropped lower and out of the pass, things would get better. I did not want to consider the possibility that things could get worse….
After what seemed like hours I finally reached the point to turn east. It did get better-marginally. With the wind no longer in my face I did not have to hold my hoods in place and additionally I got a bit of shielding from the rain. My boots were getting wet but the water had not yet penetrated through to my socks so things were OK there. I walked along the road paying attention to what was in front of me- when I spotted headlights I stepped off the road because I was not sure if they could see me well or not. The fog was shrouding everything. After a little over an hour the driving drizzle turned into a constant spitting type of rain. I was more out of the wind now, and things were bearable. Thanks to my neck gaiter I was not cold, which meant I was in a good frame of mind. Also the fog was starting to lift and I was starting to see 50, 100, 150 feet in front of me. Finally I was also off the road and on the track through the park which was much more comfortable walking.
As I dropped lower and time passed the conditions got better and better, enough so that I got my camera out to take some pictures. (When I walked out of the Lion’s Inn I was thinking to myself that there would be no photography today!) What was really spectacular was walking along and watching the fog move around in small waves and slowly lift. As it shifted, piece by piece, the moorish landscape came into view, the fog parting like a curtain to reveal the depth and color of the terrain. And even though it was gloomy the colors were still brilliant and vivid, having that extra sharp look that the environment picks up after a cleansing rain. I no longer noticed the rain, what was left of it was minimal and it was only by the sound of the drops hitting the back of my hood that I knew there was some precipitation still around. Looking all around me, there was no one anywhere (of course not, who else would be nuts enough to be out?). It was thoroughly enjoyable to walk along, warm, if not quite dry, in a slowly unfolding beautiful landscape. I felt like Mother Nature was putting on a show just for me. I paused a moment to look back towards the ridge where I had just climbed down and could see the cloud still engulfing the area. I suspected the other walkers had not started yet and they were missing a great performance!
As the morning went on, more and more of the world came back into focus. After about two hours, looking off to the left I could see the cultivated valley that met up with the borders of the park. I could also see the across the valley that was to my right. Theoretically I should have been able to see the North Sea, but that never appeared. The route was clear so I had no navigation issues- I simply had to follow a well defined dirt track all the way to the first village, Glaisdale, so the walking was easy and I made good time. While I was savoring the experience nevertheless I was striding along at my normal 20 minute mile pace, not meandering as I had done yesterday. It did look like the day was clearing but there were still a lot of dark clouds to my rear and I wanted them well behind me. I did make good time, roaming into Glaisdale, about nine miles into the trek after three hours.
I decided I had earned a reward and was going to stop at the local tea room for a sweet and hot drink. As I approached the entrance I big sign said “closed on Tuesday and Wednesday”. Bummer! Knowing that there was also a pub in the village (and those were the only two options) I headed for it, easy enough since it was directly on the route. Arriving there I saw a sign “open at noon” – I was early. They had some benches out front so I sat down and looked ahead at my day. Discovering that my destination was only a 45 minute walk from where I was I decided to sit and wait for the pub to open and get something to eat and linger for a while. Promptly at noon they opened and another couple who had wondered up from the train station and I went in. I ordered some soup, declined a beer, and sat down to wait while chatting with the other patrons, who were also doing the Coast to Coast, although they had taken the train in for this particular leg.
As I sat there eating my soup, Kim, Clare, and Helen arrived, ordered beers and joined me. We spent a nice hour and a half chatting. They were actually staying at that hotel so were done for the day. Also during the course of our conversation Gary and Arnie, the guys camping had showed up. When I asked, they told me most people waited until around 10am to leave the Lion’s Inn. It had stopped raining but remained windy and foggy when they departed. Finally I decided to move on to my B&B about a mile and a half further along the trail. Clare and Helen decided to hike three miles forward and take the bus back so that in the morning they could shorten their route. So the three of us headed off down the trail while Kim held down the fort in the pub. Now clean and dry I am looking out my window to still blue sky with some clouds and relaxing after an exhilarating day. One more to go.
My goal for today was to walk slow- no more than two miles per hour. My next stop was only 8.5 miles away and so there was plenty of time to make my way there. In addition, of all the various landscapes I have walked through on this trip, I like the moors the best and today the whole route meandered gently through the North Yorkshire National Park. The weather was looking favorable. As it had for the past few days the rain was not expected until late in the afternoon long past when I expected to be at the Lion’s Inn, my hotel for the evening. The Lion’s Inn stands alone at a pass through the park and is popular for walkers and motorists traversing the park. It has the distinction of being the fourth highest hotel/pub in England as well as a building that is several hundred years old.
The hotel in Great Broughton dropped me off at the trail head where they picked me up yesterday at 8:30am and I was on my way. For the first hour or so I had the trail to myself which was spectacular. I suspected and hoped this would happen as the relatively short distance would encourage people doing the coast to coast to start late and it being Monday, the locals would not be out in force they way they were yesterday. The moor was quite and peaceful and I enjoyed the solitude. It was a bit windy but not too cold and I lingered in various places enjoying the view. After about an hour, though, other people showed up on the trail. An older British couple passed me. They were going to lunch at the Lion Inn and then walk another nine miles beyond that before stopping for the day, so they set a fast pace. Shortly after a woman ran by and I later found out that she is running the whole coast to coast route in ten days! My new Australian acquaintances, Kim, Clare, and Helen caught up with me and we chatted a bit but did not walk together- they fell behind me by about 30 minutes. That really was as crowded as it got for the day, however, and I was happy to have the landscape more or less to myself.
The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds and as the lighting changed the landscape changed character. Because the path was smooth, basically a well defined lane, I was able to look around a lot and enjoy the colors and textures of the moor. It was incredible- a rainbow of color of green, reds and purples, the occasional white flowers, and the blue sky covering it all. I took a ton of pictures, trying to capture the magic of it and will share some in this post. I am not sure that words can do it justice! Despite my best efforts I reached the Lion Inn after about four hours which turned out OK since I was actually hungry.
The Australians reached the Inn just as I was sitting down with a beer to wait for my lunch, as well as my luggage which had not yet been delivered. They were staying a few miles off and lingered at the Lion’s Inn for a late lunch so we sat outside and chatted for a while. It was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Finally my luggage arrived and I said good-bye to them to go get cleaned up and warm. They were ready to get on the road to hike the two miles to their stop for the evening, too. After cleaning up I wandered back down to the pub/common room to log on to wi-fi and ran into a table consisting of the Canadian couple and Marie from the B&B at Ingleby Cross and a few other people that I knew, so I sat down to chat with them for a few hours. Finally everyone went to clean up and I have a chance to get this posted.
What has been pretty fun and amazing about this whole trip is that there is, for all practical purposes, a community that has formed and is moving together across the country. Because of the different paces that people move at it seems that if someone is moving a day or two ahead or behind you, it is likely you know each other or of each other. It is rare that I have gone into a pub, hotel, inn, or B&B and I not known someone or at least recognized them from the trail, even if I had not talked to them yet. To a person, everyone is friendly and welcoming and interested in meeting others. This goes for all of the local people I have encountered as well. When I was planning to do this trip alone, I had a lot of people question the fact that I was going solo. I told them, and it has been proven true, that “I am not going to be alone”!
What is really fascinating and would be a great social experiment is to study the gossip and communication lines that form around such an amorphous group. It seems that, despite everyone not knowing each other well, everyone knows of everyone else, so I would hazard a guess that there is pretty effective transmission of information. Humans build communities no matter what the form, it seems. It has been a lot of fun.
Since I tend to be a goal-oriented, focussed person I caught myself yesterday thinking about the end of the hike and the importance of finishing at Robin’s Hood Bay. I had to stop and remind myself to enjoy the last portion of the trip and realize I’ll get there when I get there. That was another motivation for moving slowly today- to focus on the “now”. Two more days to go and I am going to concentrate on enjoying my last hikes through the English countryside and not focus on the goal of reaching the North Sea. I will arrive when I arrive.
Well I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I did not have to trek 20 miles today as I originally thought. Taking a look a bit closer at my itinerary I realized that the plan splits the long trek into two smaller segments. Brilliant! That meant that I only had about a 14 mile walk facing me when I got up this morning. The bad news is that the dinner I had the night before had to have contained 4000 calories, minimum! Diane, the cook at the B&B I stayed at, treated us (there were six of us) to a typical Yorkshire Sunday dinner, even though it was only Saturday night. When I had arrived at the B&B after visiting the priory I remembered entering to a wonderful aroma. I totally understood why when she set the plate down in front of me. My first thought was “this could feed a family of four”! My second thought was “vegetables”! I felt like it should be a holiday as I took inventory of what was in front of me: mashed potatoes, sausage stuffing, cauliflower with cheese sauce, green beans, carrots, roasted potatoes (yes, two kinds of potatoes!), roasted chicken and Yorkshire pudding- all smothered in gravy. It looked and smelled great while also being very daunting. It was all delicious and it turns out that Diane had been a cook for the school, the fire house and police and a few other communities and excels at home cooking. For desert she encouraged us to try the “Eton Mess”. So most of us did. Oh, my goodness, it might have been 2000 calories all by itself. Eton Mess is a desert of cream, fruit and meringue, all mixed together. When I say “cream” what I mean is whipped cream that has been whipped stiff enough to sculpt something out of and a lot of it. The desert came in a tea cup but was piled twice as high as the rim of the cup itself. Also very daunting and very delicious. It somehow disappeared; I still am not sure how. At the time I consoled myself with the fact that I would be walking 20 miles today- hah! After dinner last night a few of us sat together in the family room and attempted to watch the Germany-Italy soccer game on a TV that kept losing the signal. I gave up and went to bed.
Even though I was not too hungry in the morning (how could anyone be?) I had a bit of cereal to kick the day off and then headed out the door around my usual time of 8:30am. The plan for the day was to get to Clay Bank parking lot and call the hotel to come and pick me up. The village where I was staying that evening was not easily accessible from the trail (like day 2) and the hotel routinely picks up and drops off people at the car park. I anticipated it would take some time today though, before I was finished, not because of the distance but because of the constant up and down. There were at least three hills that the trail climbed and then wound down, each one reaching a higher altitude until the peak, just before Clay Bank. I was looking forward to the views, however, and the scenery. After visiting two national parks and meandering through farmland, the route was now entering the third, and final, park on the east coast of Yorkshire.
The day was sunny and expected to stay that way, more or less, which translates into no rain forecast. Immediately at the door of the B&B the climb started, up a winding lane and into a forest. I was alone on the trail for about an hour and then started seeing others out and about. As time went on more and more people were on the trails until it was a veritable highway of people up on the moors. Unlike my traverse of the Yorkshire Dales moorland, where I was in glorious isolation, instead the theme of this traverse was meeting and chatting with people. Since it was Sunday and a nice day there were a lot of locals out just wandering about the trails in the park. Young, old, families, individuals, random groups, with dogs or without, they were there in force and it was great to see so many people enjoying the day.
The first half of the morning I walked along with an American couple , Bob and Edie, I caught up with on the trail. We were in the same inn a couple of nights back even though I had not had a chance to get to know them there. As we started talking I discovered that they live in Virginia, not too far from me. They were traveling with another couple but had set out at different times this morning with the understanding they would meet at the cafe located about half way through the walk. We walked through the forest together and then stepped out onto the moor. The change of scenery was dramatic as we entered the national park. Gone was the well manicured pastures and forest and before us was the low profile, wide open spaces of the moorland. It was absolutely beautiful! The walk was not too challenging at first, after having climbed up through the forest to get to the moor. There were small ascents and descents but short and not too steep. As we reached the ridge the wind picked up and it felt a little chilly but the views were great! There already were a few people up there sitting, snacking and resting. While we paused to enjoy the view and take some pictures we were overtaken by a large group of British, moving fast. One of the ladies mentioned to Bob and Edie that their friends had asked her to convey the request that they wait for them to catch up. So I said good-bye and traveled on while they lingered at the ridge.
The big stop on the trail was shortly ahead of me- a small roadside cafe (the trail descended to cross the road before continuing across the park) that turned out to be a popular stop for hikers, cyclists and motorists. I stopped to check it out and use the restroom and the outdoor patio was crowded with people. I was not hungry (how could I be?) so I did not linger but if I could have convinced myself to eat, it would have been a pleasant place to spend some time.
Moving on I could see in the near distance the beginning of the three main challenging climbs. There was a small stream of people ahead of me and by the scale I got an impression of the steepness of the path and the extent of the climb I was about to embark on. On a good note the path is paved with stones, a decision made by the park to conserve and protect the environment from the multitude of trampling feet. Starting my climb I just went into “put one foot in front of the other” mode and went up. I find going up easier than going down anyway so it was hard work but not terribly difficult or mind consuming. The top was windy, of course. Again there was a small crowd enjoying the view; two women who were doing the Coast to Coast and planned to jump into the North Sea when they got there (for the record: I am not!), and a young man from Arizona who was actually hiking the Cleveland Way, another trail that happens to overlie the Coat to Coast through the park. We chatted a bit and the women moved on. I followed shortly.
The next phase was a steep descent off that peak into a small dip in the landscape and then another steep climb to the next. I moved slowly on the downhill, paying close attention to my footing, and the young man soon passed me by even though he had spent extra time at the peak. The three of us met again at the next peak as I tended to catch up with everyone on the uphill. That was pretty much the theme of the afternoon from then on out. At different times I would either get passed by or pass going the other way various other local walkers. The only tricky area, besides watching my footing on the downhills, was an area called the Wainwright Stones, which were a huge pile of stones and boulders strewn in the path on a ridge. Luckily, as I approached them the large group that I had seen earlier when I was with Bob and Edie happened by – they had stopped at the cafe and now caught up with me, again- and I followed them through the boulders as they seemed to know the path. (it was not obvious and there was some climbing on rocks involved). This area served as a bit of a bottleneck as there were people coming from the other direction but the passage was a one-way at one time only kind of construction.
Shortly after passing through the stones I reached the car park and called the hotel for a pick up. Now rested and clean I am writing this before going out seeking food, because I am finally hungry. All along the route today there were great views, but I think one of the most exciting was a great view of the North Sea in the distance. The destination is in sight and it was thrilling to think that in just a few more days I would be standing right at the shore!
Breakfast was served at 8am sharp for all the guests so even though I was ready earlier I loitered in the common room waiting for our hosts to invite us to sit. Heather was gone, having left at 7:30. I am not sure either the Australians or I would catch up to her again. Because we all sat down to breakfast at the same time it was a slow process but since the day in front of me was relatively short, somewhere in the neighborhood of ten miles, I was not impatient. Weather forecast was a bit like yesterday— clouds, with some sun, and rain likely later in the afternoon. I suspect I have become accustomed (or resigned) to the weather variations here because it did not even give me pause that at some point along the way I might be in some precipitation. Because of the organization (or lack thereof) of breakfast I did not get on the road until 8:45am or so. Again I was one of the first to set out and had the road to myself. It was easy to pick up the route, all I had to do was go out of the hotel and turn right along the road.
Like yesterday, today was mainly flat and mainly fields, pastures and lanes. My destination was Ingleby Cross which I expected to hit around lunch time. Shortly down the lane from the hotel I turned into the first field. I immediately felt like I was in the middle of a Stephen King novel. The path, barely discernible, went straight thorough the middle of a field of what looked like beans. The plants were chest and shoulder high on me and as I was walking I kept expecting something to swim out of the greenery and grab my legs and take me under. In addition, the footing was tricky as it was really muddy and I could not see the ground. It was a little surreal and I was really amused; I felt like I was swimming. But I plowed through it (literally!). After that I was generally walking along the sides of the fields and never again through the center of an active area. I passed corn, more beans, another plant I could not identify, more sheep, cows, and horses. I also spent a lot of time on the lanes, luckily with not too many cars.
It was Saturday and like last weekend, it seemed that the cyclists were out in force. When walking down the lanes I did not have to worry about autos but two wheeled vehicles were tearing by frequently. Overall, though, I had the countryside to myself and it was very peaceful. Most of the time there was no indication of another human anywhere. I could not see any buildings nor hear any man made noises. The English countryside is an amazing environment- it creates the impression that you are alone, isolated, and remote but yet civilization is just around the next hedge. Couple that with the fact, because of the incredible numbers of public paths and rights of way all over the country, it is hard to believe that anyone who lives here can resist being out and about.
I was just outside of my destination, about 1/2 mile or so, when I ran into civilization again. I reached the motorway that I had to cross. It lies directly on the Coast to Coast route. Beside the motorway on the west side, the side I approached from, was a gas station and a small cafe. Being hungry I decided to see what the cafe had to offer. Walking in I got the immediate impression of a British version of a truck stop and greasy spoon. So I did what anyone would do when confronted with such a place, I ordered “chips with cheese” and snacked. It was actually quite busy with many ordering breakfast. (After being here for nearly two weeks I still do not get “beans on toast” for breakfast, or for any meal, really.)
Finishing my snack I stood by the motorway looking for my chance to dart across to the other side. Eventually it came and I went. It looked like it might start raining so I stopped at a bus stop, where there was a bench, and put on my rain jacket and poncho, then walked towards Ingleby Cross. Having the afternoon free, now that I had more or less reached my destination, I decided to go and check out the Mount Grace Priory, an old Carthusian monastery founded in the early 1400s. The order was founded in the 1000’s as an ascetic group of monks, living a life of prayer and contemplation in cells with no engagement with the outside world. At Mount Grace one of the cells had been restored and it was possible to see how the monks lived. In addition, this order and, in particular, this priory was famous in its time for its running water and indoor plumbing. Being curious about the way of life of an ascetic monk I headed towards the Priory. It was only about a 40 minute walk but the downside was that I had to walk along another motorway, which was really uncomfortable. But I persevered and finally got there, intact.
The priory had been bought a few hundred years ago by a family who had renovated and lived in the main house (where the abbot had lived) and so I looked around the house before heading out to the priory grounds. The church is a ruin now, but with clear demarcation of where the different parts of it stood. They had a nice diagram showing the layout of the whole compound, which was quite large, actually. I wandered over to see the cell that had been restored to get an idea of what kind of place a monk was more or less voluntarily imprisoned in for his life. Well, I do not know if the cells at this priory are typical cells but to my mind it was quite a luxurious set up. There were three rooms on a ground floor, and one large room on the second floor. In addition each cell had a large garden out back. And, of course, the running water latrine. These guys may not have interacted with anyone but the lived a cushy life compared to many in their time!
After absorbing everything I could at the priory I started looking at my maps to see if there was an alternate route, via the ever present footpaths, to get back up to Ingleby Cross and my B&B for the night. My topo map was quite useful for this and verifying some data with the nice young lady who was selling tickets I took off for the hills and a little exploring. Luckily my map was good and I soon found myself connecting up with the Coast to Coast going west back towards Ingleby Cross. This evening’s accommodation was easy to find- right off the route. I have not yet checked the weather for tomorrow but I am keeping my fingers crossed because it will be a long day, nearly a 20 miler- with lots of up and down. One of the more challenging days of the hike, I believe.
Well I must have set a new land speed record today, although not intentionally (and that does not count the 45 minutes or so I could not find the path- but more on that later). Today I managed to accomplish 13 miles in a little over five hours. But first, the weather report! Before beginning this adventure across England I was amazed at how much the topic of the weather fascinated the British. But now, having to deal on a practical level with it every day, I understand their preoccupation with it. The English weather has also become an important concern and topic of conversation to me (and most of the people I have met). So, having said that, let me present the day’s weather report. When I checked Friday’s forecast yesterday morning, as a sneak preview, the weather looked clear and well-behaved. Checking again in the evening before going to bed I found that the forecast had changed and there was a likelihood of rain around mid-day. Consequently when I set out at 8am, a little earlier than usual, I was not sure how the day was going to turn out. I chose to be optimistic but was prepared to don the rain gear a little later in the morning.
Today’s trek was pretty straightforward and very flat, mainly crossing fields and pastures along with a lot of time spent on narrow country lanes. Wainwright, the gentleman who created the Coast to Coast, called this particular stretch the “most boring” of the whole walk. He originally mapped out a 23ish mile stage but many, including myself, break that down to a 13 mile trek with a stopover in Danby Wiske, followed by an 8-9 mile trek to Inglesby Cross (which I will do tomorrow). So I was facing 13 flat miles with uncertain weather.
Some of the trickiest navigation, besides getting through the hills of the Lake District, is negotiating through some of the larger cities to rejoin the path. I had scouted out Richmond the day before while I was exploring the city and located where I needed to join the route out of the city. So in the morning as I headed I knew exactly where to go. No one else was in sight and I set a pretty good pace, only slowing for the muddy areas where footing was tricky. After about an hour and half I came upon Mike and Nancy, the couple from Alaska. We had run into each other casually for a few days but I had not yet had a chance to get to know them. They were stopped at a point on the trail, in front of a gate, which had a big sign that said “Path Closed”. Great. I joined them and we stared at the sign as if magically that would make it go away. After a few minutes when that did not happen we compared notes on the suggested detour. It basically directed us along the cycle route which ran along a major motorway and then across another major motorway to rejoin the original path. It looked straightforward so I set off. It looked like Mike and Nancy were going to linger a bit so I did not wait on them. Mistake!
I easily found the first motorway, found the detour to get to the farm where I hoped to join the path, and then tried to join the path at that point. This involved passing the farm in the reverse direction to make sure I was on the path, then following it forward where supposedly it went down a hill to go under the second motorway. I climbed down this obnoxiously steep grassy (and slippery hill) only to find out that the path there was still closed at this point. Drats! I was really annoyed because that hill was really annoying to get down (and up). Sighing, and climbing back up, I went out to the road in front of the farm and headed back to the motorway to find the detour. I finally found a person at that point who pointed out a “new makeshift bridge” back down at the end of the road I had just come down. The bridge went over the second motorway and only after that traverse was it possible to rejoin the path. So 45 minutes later and with three back and forths on this small stretch of road, I finally found the path. Technically, I did not get lost, the path got lost, but the end result was the same— I lost 45 minutes. (but gained a good story!)
So moving quickly now and back on the right route I was determined not to lose more time. I was still worried about the rain although the sky was Ok for the moment- typical England, clouds with some sun poking through. I was striding along and was suddenly passed by two women running in wet suits with small orange inflatable life preserver looking things on their backs. I said “hello” to them as they passed by, while wondering “what the heck?”. I cannot imagine running in a wet suit; talk about hot (even for me). I passed them later and they had detoured to do something in the river, it was still the River Swale, that we were following, but soon they passed me again. I was mystified about what they were doing but as long as they were having fun….
Continuing along I eventually caught up with Mike and Nancy. They had stopped to have a snack on a bench right at a small village called Brampton-on-Swale. They were surprised to see me behind them but I explained, ruefully, my adventure with the motorway. They were ready to press forward so the three of us walked together. And that is where the land speed record effort began. Mike and Nancy are experienced hikers and they set a good pace! It helped that it was flat and we were on country lanes most of the time. I consider myself a fast walker and I needed every bit of that pace to keep up with them. We moved steadily through the countryside, most of the time on lanes, but occasionally having to negotiate through muddy fields and passages, which slowed us all down to what could be considered a normal pace. They were motivated because they were going to go ten miles further than I and I was motivated because I was still not sure which forecast was going to be accurate. So far the sky was alternatively cloudy and sunny so it was hard to tell.
In any event we raced into Danby Wiske around 1:30pm-ish and I was done for the day. It was easy to find the hotel I was staying at because there were only about six buildings in the village and only one of those was a hotel. There were a few people already there but most would show up about two hours later. I went in and had a light lunch of soup while Mike and Nancy snacked a bit and headed out. While eating I sat at a table with a young English woman, who I had seen in Richmond, Heather, who was backpacking the Coast to Coast and camping along the way. We started chatting, exchanging stories, and just sat there relaxing. I had actually arrived earlier than my luggage, for the first time, so I could not go and get cleaned up yet. As I sat there talking with Heather a group of three Australians arrived, who Heather had met a few towns back. She had actually stayed with them on the really rainy day two days ago (they had an extra bed and it was a really bad night for camping). Heather introduced me to them as well.
My bag arrived, finally, and I went up to my room to get cleaned up and stretch. Coming back down about an hour later, Heather was still around, and I invited her to stay in the extra bed that I had in my room. She clearly wanted to stay and socialize and it was getting kind of late to get to Inglsby Cross. In addition it also looked like it was going to rain. So she agreed and we had a pleasant dinner with Kim, Clare, and Helen, my three new Australian acquaintances. It was an early night though- Kim and I retired to our respective rooms to watch the Euro cup match (Wales vs Belgium- Wales won!) at 8pm. (Unfortunately the hotel/pub did not have a TV for central viewing.) Helen, Clare and Heather stayed in the dining area and talked a bit longer before Heather came up. I had warned her ahead of time that I was going to be watching the match.
It was a pleasant evening and a relaxing day, in the end, even though the morning was “vigorous”!
Today was the second of my two planned rest days. After slogging through the rain yesterday I was ready for a bit of rest! Richmond is a popular stop as it is a town full of history, lots of hotels and B&Bs, and restaurants. For the first time since Grasmere I did not set an alarm even though I woke up fairly early anyway, around 7:30am. After an hour or so of stretching I went downstairs for breakfast. The other four guests, an American and a British couple, had already come down and were planning their day. They were also doing the coast to coast and I had met them briefly during my stay at the Keld Lodge. They, like me, were taking a rest day. Arriving in Richmond marked a bit of a milestone in that half of the crowd that had been more or less traveling together for the past week was stopping for a day and half continued on. For example, my Australian friends kept going and thus I doubt I will run into them again; they will always be a stage in front of me now.
Our hostess, Liz, recommended several sites to see. She mentioned Richmond castle, which was definitely on my list. The castle was built just around 1100 before falling to ruin some time in the 1500’s. The town of Richmond more or less grew up around the castle and continued to thrive past the demise of the edifice that gave it birth. The city center still has a medieval feel to it although part of it has been turned into a parking lot. The streets are cobblestone and narrow, only allowing one way traffic in the areas where cars are permitted. They still have a town market although it sells more tourist and basic goods, not food. There are numerous hotels and pubs around the town square as well. Also located on the square are a grocers, a bakery, and two butcher shops reflecting a way of life that cannot easily be found anywhere else. I had explored a few of the side streets last night when I was hunting dinner but was looking forward to spending the day wondering around.
The sky was fairly clear although there were clouds in the distance. A quick check at the weather indicated no rain, however I took my rain jacket (now dry, thankfully), because, well, this is England. First stop of the day was the castle so I made my way to the city center, only a few short blocks from my B&B. Crossing the square towards the alley leading to the castle entrance I heard music playing loudly nearby. Detouring to the church, set in the center of the square where the music seemed to be coming from, I found a small band of what looked like students setting up instruments. Some were playing violin and others were dancing. There was a teacher/producer/marketer (I am not sure what he was) strolling through the gathering crowd to promote a musical that was going to be playing at the local Georgian Theater in a week. The students were performing parts of the play. I never did figure out if they were also part of the acting troupe as well. A small crowd was gathering and a few people were handing out hand bills to encourage people to attend.
Moving on I found the alley I needed and headed up to the castle entrance. After purchasing my ticket I went to examine the small castle museum to learn more about its history before strolling onto the grounds. The castle apparently changed hands quite a bit over the years as the owners backed this king or that one and depending on how well they chose, ether they kept the castle and surrounding acreage or not. Apparently the current title of “Duke of Richmond” has been with the same family since the mid-1600s. That either reflects good choices or a lack of necessity to chose, not sure. In any event, they don’t live in the castle! Not much of it still stands but the keep tower, built in the 1200s, which is about 100 feet high, is in good shape and offers great views of the countryside. Since I did not get to see much of the surrounding area yesterday on the walk in, I climbed up to take a look around. There has been a lot of traffic up the tower steps over the years, the stone steps were well eroded. When I see stone that has actually been shaped by footprints like that over time I try to imagine how long and how many people had to pass through – and I simply can’t. The mind boggles….
The views were great, including a straight down clear picture of the complete town center- basically what would have been right out the original castle gates. It is apparent that the layout of the town has not changed much over the centuries. Climbing down the steps (carefully) I noticed that the walls were incredibly thick, about 15 feet or so. Hard to imagine constructing such a sturdy, hefty building with, basically, brute force hand labor. There was a private garden, restored, off the corner of the compound where the lord and lady would have lived. Amazingly the flowers were also growing right out of the castle walls. I suppose over the years enough dirt had embedded in between the stones and mortar that seeds could take root. Nature probably would have taken over the whole pile of rocks if the National Heritage Society was not taking care of it!
After spending about an hour and a half wandering around I went to find my next destination, the local city museum. Located slightly off the city square it apparently was a good place to gather more information of the history of the community from the 1100s up to modern times. My book indicated the museum had a random collection of information but was interesting. There was a very nice, friendly lady working at the museum (who later gave me a good tip on where to get tasty pastries) who explained the set up. Then I plunged in. It certainly was a hodge podge of information! I learned about dairy farming over the years including milking and cheese making, saw an original frame for a cottage (they used wooden pins to hold the beams together), mining and ore, making lace (which looks intricate and time consuming), women’s fashion in the 1800s, the construction of the local train station, and the archeological activities nearby where they are digging up a roman outpost. Clearly the area has a lot going on. I rather enjoyed it and spent another nearly two hours just roaming around reading everything. Hunger, eventually, drove me out. Taking the advice of the kind museum attendant I went to the bakery and selected a cheese and onion pasty for lunch. Yum!
There are several walks around town to historic locales and I decided to amble along the one that eventually would take me down to the River Swale that flowed by at the bottom of the town. It was actually quite wide and fast flowing (apparently “swale” means “swift” in some language, but I forget which). At the bottom along the river, was a wide trail occupied by all kinds of people and their dogs. From my observation over the past twelve days I have concluded that the British are dog lovers and they take their dogs everywhere- in stores, in pubs, in hotels, on walks- despite rain. The river trail eventually led to the train station, the one mentioned in the museum that was built in the late 1800s, which today is a cinema, a collection of shops, and the location of another great bakery. Since it was time for desert, I bought a “yorkshire scoundrel”, mainly because I had no idea what it was and it looked interesting. Biting into it I determined it is something between a scone and shortbread. In any event it was very good!
My next destination was the Georgian Theater. Tours are available on the top of the hour and I headed in that direction as the top of the hour was approaching. The theater is the last original Georgian era theater in the country. Richmond was a fashionable spot for a long time due to the horse races that took place just outside the village and the town would become “the place to be” in September. The theater was a critical part of that social scene. It apparently was never torn down although it fell into disrepair and was renovated in the 1960s and again in the early 2000s. Of everything I saw today I have to say that the Georgian theater was the best. It was small, holding today only slightly more than 200 people (in its time, without health and safety rules it fit around 400). Sitting in the gallery, looking down to the stage, the pit, and the boxes I could just imagine the scene 200 years ago or so as Dorothy, our tour guide, described it; the wealthy in the boxes, the merchants in the pits, the common folk in the gallery. Since an evening event lasted five to six hours people brought food and drink (some of which got thrown at the stage!). The only lighting was chandeliers with tallow candles so the smell and smoke accumulation would add to the atmosphere. The actors were practically part of the audience due to the size and the construction of the theater. The dressing rooms were simple and the two fireplaces, one in each dressing room, the source of heat for the whole building. They still do performances in it today and if you are ever in Richmond and have a chance to see something there, I highly recommend it. (I’ll have to come back….). It was a great tour.
On my way back to the B&B I passed the cricket ground, which is actually just across the street from the house. Two military teams were having a match and I stopped to watch, not that I had any idea of what I was watching. An elderly English couple was nearby and I asked about the rules. Consequently I now know what an “over” is and some of the rudiments of the game. I spent about 15 minutes watching and chatting with them and said good-bye. I am now in my room contemplating dinner, but it is raining, at least for the moment, so I have not yet reached a conclusion about how hungry I am. Looking out my window, though, I see another cricket match going on even though they are likely getting wet.
Back on the road tomorrow.
Well the big question for the day was not whether or not I was going to get wet but rather how wet was I going to get. The forecast indicated “light rain” starting in Reeth around 11am with “heavy rain” an hour later and almost the same was forecast for Richmond, the day’s destination. The walk was approximately 11 miles so there was no doubt that “rain” was going to feature in the day’s adventure for everyone. Knowing what to expect I was resigned to the inevitable, that I was going to have an uncomfortable, soggy day, but still was optimistic that I could get to Richmond quickly and minimize my exposure to “heavy rain”. Really I had no idea what “heavy rain” meant in terms of an English forecast. When I lived in Houston, it meant “torrential, and raining horizontally” and even in DC, where I know live, I picture a healthy deluge when the forecast says “heavy rain”. I was hoping that the definition of “heavy rain” in England was different. Maybe they had fifty different descriptions for “rain” in the same manner that the Eskimos have reputedly fifty different names for “ice”. Hence the source of my optimism.
I had hoped to get off early, maybe around 8am but it did not work out that way. Cambridge House, the B&B in Reeth I stayed at, was having “American night” as all the guests were from the US. We ended up eating breakfast together and chatted with our hosts a bit before getting started. Today was not an ambling, meandering kind of day, but one of those days where my goal was to get as fast as possible from point A to point B. By 8:30 am I was moving quickly out of Reeth, with not another soul on the path. The day was overcast, which was no surprise, but no rain yet. Even though it was gray and bleary the scenery was beautiful, if a bit subdued. Part of the path was along a stream (the rock walls would come later!) and it was very peaceful, even though I was not stopping to take it all in as I might have in better weather.
About 45 minutes out of Reeth is an old abbey converted to some sort of a school. While it is not possible to go in they don’t mind people coming on the grounds to take pictures so I did pause to take a look. Then I was climbing up and away from the abbey on the “nun’s steps” which the nuns who inhabited the structure in the 1700’s constructed to get up and down the hill easily. The path was overgrown with trees and the dark, gloomy day only seemed gloomier as they blocked out what little light there was. Crossing a few more pastures I came to a ruin of a barn where I stopped to put on my rain gear because after 75 minutes on the trail (and lots more to go!) the rain was starting. At this point it was more of a light mist – trying to turn into a drizzle – but looking at the sky I could see the clouds promised more, and soon.
It was not really all the unpleasant walking through the pastures in full rain gear accompanied by a determined continuous drizzle, which the list mist developed into shortly. The intensity was not enough to really be annoying expect for the occasional splash that ended up on my glasses. About this time Peter and Annette, from Germany, caught up to me. I had met them two days ago in Keld and they were also at the pub last night with the whole gang at dinner. The three of us ended up walking together, more or less, for the rest of the day. In actuality we formed a bit of a human slinky as we made our way towards Richmond. They would get 50-75 yards in front of me, come to a gate or a stile that would slow them down, and I would catch up. At that point Peter and I would compare notes about the map and the three of us would start out again, with them slowly getting ahead of me again. Repeat at the next obstacle. Since we were constantly going through pastures, which meant lots of gates, stiles, and obstacles we ended up staying more or less together.
We chatted a little but it is hard to carry on a conversation when you are shrouded in rain gear, including ponchos, walking single file, and looking at the ground. Also my walk today was rather noisy. The swish-swish of my rain pants as I walked, the constant pitter-patter of rain hitting my hoods (I had both my rain jacket and poncho hoods up), and the flapping of my poncho in the occasionally breeze was a constant symphony that drowned out anything else. I could hear Peter and Annette talking from time to time (in German) but not loud enough to make out any words. It was actually a companionable walk, I think, because we were sharing the almost- but-not-quite misery of trudging along in the rain. The rain, by the way, kept changing from a determined drizzle to a steady stream of what I would call medium downpour. What the English forecasters would call it, I am not sure. I was hoping, however, that this was their “heavy rain” and it would not get worse.
After a couple of hours we arrived in Marske, a small village along the route with an old church from the 1200’s. I was hoping to see it and indicated to Peter and Annette that I was stopping to look; they decided to stop as well. The church had signs up advertising refreshments for sale, seven days a week, with the proceeds going to the parish. It seemed like a nice place to rest for a minute and get out of the rain. We walked through the churchyard to the door only to find it locked and no one around. I don’t know if they assumed that because of the rain no one would be out or if we wandered by too early in the day. In any event we had shelter and spent a moment there checking gear, having a snack-we all had some in our backpacks, and getting a drink of water before venturing forth.
We trudged forward and I was resigned but not unhappy- I think “content” is a good description of my mood. I had expected to get wet and there I was, getting wet. My boots managed to keep a lot of the water out up until the last 45 minutes of the walk. My rain gear, not as “water proof” was claimed, nevertheless kept, for the most part, my upper body dry- the poncho probably helped with that. My rain jacketed arms, sticking out of the poncho, got wet. My rain pants kept me fairly dry but my thighs were wet. Luckily the wind was not horrible for most of the day so even though my arms and hands were cold, I was not. My glasses were spotted with water, despite the hoods, and that was probably the most annoying thing. I was seeing the world through spots the whole morning. When I started noticing that my feet were squishing inside of my boots, I was ready to be done and at that point we almost were, thank goodness. Also at that time the wind was picking up and it was starting to get chilly, so I think walking too much longer would have tripped me over past content into miserable and maybe- even a bit crabby. But we saw the Richmond sign right at that moment and that mean we were on the outskirts of the town. Yay!!
I am sure there was some great scenery along the way, but I really cannot describe it. The clouds were low, the day was gray and with my hoods up I really could not see much of anything unless I turned my body to do it. In addition, even though it was flat and grassy (and really quite comfortable to walk on- like hiking on a carpet all day) it was getting muddy and slick and therefore necessary to pay attention to foot placement. I tried to look around from time to time but was usually rewarded with more rain on my glasses or a gust of wind in my face. I did turn and look behind occasionally too, but I could not see any other walkers behind us, even when it was possible to see back aways along the trail. I knew there were people back there somewhere though…..but we were moving fast. When we arrived in Richmond I checked my watch and it was just over 4.5 hours from the time I left Reeth. Not bad for 11 miles in the rain!
Peter and Annette headed off to their lodging and I stopped to dig the directions to mine out of my backpack. As it was just past 1:00pm I was a little worried I had gotten there too early. I went and located the B&B and then decided, even as soaking wet as I was, that I was hungry and going to go find something to eat. I suspected that once I got dry and warm I would be reluctant to go out again. Consequently I meandered towards the city center where I had lots of choices to eat. I passed a guy out on the street corner, some kind of news crier trying to sell something, and he said to me “you did not pick a good day for walking”. I laughed and told him I had no choice but that now here, I was hungry and asked him for a recommendation. He pointed to a cafe across the town square and said it was fairly popular. So off I went. It looked like a nice place and I was a bit hesitant to go inside due to my dripping wet state, but hunger won over politeness. To their credit the waitress did not bat an eye when I stepped over the threshold looking like a drowned rat. She pointed me to an open table, but before sitting I carefully took off my poncho and rain jacket near the door so I would not drip on people as I passed by. The top of my rain pants were fairly dry and I was not worried about the bottom so they stayed on. I spent about an hour eating and warming up a bit (not drying out) and treated myself to desert, too, since I decided I had earned it. I tried a treacle tart. I had heard of them but had no idea what it was- turns out it is sugar and butter and not much else! I had been watching the weather while I sat there and once the rain had degenerated to a “mist” level, I decided it was time to go check in and get dry.
The B&B, Coderillas House, is close to the city center so I was there in no time, peeling off wet gear and getting settled in my room. Now I am sitting in my large room (largest one yet) dry and writing this. The rain is supposed to stop within the hour but I am still not motivated to go outside. It will be a toss up whether or not I go get dinner tonight, I am so comfy at the moment.
Richmond is the largest “town” on the route and has a lot of things to see and do, including a ruin of a castle, and thus a recommended stop over for those who want to take a break from the hiking. Consequently I had planned a rest day and after the trek today, I am very excited to be stationary tomorrow! I’ll check the weather and hopefully be able to do some local exploring.
The Keld Lodge was completely full last night and I found that when I came down for breakfast this morning at 8:00am I was the last one down. The breakfast room was full to overcrowding. It seemed everyone was eager to get started early in order to avoid the late afternoon rain that the forecast promised. The walk today was a short one, only eleven or so miles on to Reeth the next stop on the Coast to Coast trek. Although not everyone at the hotel was doing the Coast to Coast. It turns out that Keld is also situated on a north-south route along the Pennines and about half of the layovers were trekking that route. While waiting to get seated for dinner the previous evening (which took way longer than one would have hoped!) I chatted with two gentlemen who were trekking south along the Pennines. taking about six weeks or so to do it. One of them recently retired and this was his method of figuring out what to do next- reflection along the trail.
Like previous days I set out at about 8:30am. walking with my new friends from Australia, Mark and Sue and Mal and Idris. There were two possible routes to Reeth, a low route that paralleled a stream through the valley and a high route that ran along a ridge where old mines were located. Having no interest in old mines and preferring the scenery of the valley the five of us decided to do the low route even though it was about half a mile longer.
Finding the beginning of the route was not difficult, a signpost marked the path out of the village to the next village, Muker, which lie adjacent to our route. The path literally did follow a stream for about half the way so it was difficult to get lost. We were not in a hurry and slowly wandered our way east. Most of the path wended through meadow or pastures with some small stands of trees making an appearance from time to time. The meadows were especially beautiful as the wild flowers, still in bloom, colorfully carpeted both sides of the path from stream to rock wall. Occasionally sheep were amongst the flowers nibbling away indiscriminately. The stream looked low but nonetheless there was plenty of water for ducks to play and we saw plenty of those as we passed by too. Rabbits appeared and disappear as we walked along. One impression I have of northern England is that they are not only rich in sheep but also in rabbits. The morning passed by quickly- at one point I glanced at my watch and was surprised that nearly two hours had gone by.
Idris and Mark were looking forward to having tea in one of the villages along the trail and around 11:00am we arrived at Gunnerside, which boasted both a pub and a cafe, looking forward to lingering for while. Unfortunately both were closed! Not being a tea drinker I was not too disappointed but I felt bad for Mark and Idris because they wanted to stop and rest for a while. But having no option we pressed on. The sky was starting to look a bit more threatening and I suspected rain was in our future. We still had about two hours or so to go; our pace was not that hurried so I was resigned to getting wet at some point. It was fun to walk along with company though, so I decided it was worth it for today.
We climbed out of Gunnerside finally moving away from the stream that we had been following to instead walk along the high pastures. In the meantime we had overtaken another guest from the lodge the night before, an American woman, and she joined our group. In all we had about three different maps, a GPS, and an iPad with a map on it. None of that stopped us from taking a wrong turn down a road about three miles out of Reeth. It was not a disaster as we ended up on the main road into Reeth, coming out of the hills to intersect right where a pub was located. Mark and Idris had their chance for tea at last. So we stopped for about 30 minutes and while resting inside the cozy pub the rain came. Luckily it was not a serious downpour but rather the usual constant light drizzle that seems to be common in England. The hostess at the pub helped us find our location on our multiple maps and made a few suggestions on the best way to get to Reeth, the small village that was our destination for the evening. Mal and I consulted, he on his iPad and me on the topo map, and we decided to continue along the road to pick up a footpath through the woods which leads into the village. Donning rain gear (for me that means rain pants, jacket and poncho) we headed down the road knowing that we had about an hour or so to go. None of us wanted to dawdle anymore since the rain had started so we picked up the pace. Along the way we joined in with the German couple from the lodge the night before and as a group we entered Reeth, only to split up again as we all headed to our various different evening accommodations.
My B&B, Cambridge House, was yet another 400 meters north of town so I still had about 5-10 minutes of walking. But first, I spotted the village bakery and it was still open so I went exploring. I had some tuna on the road but was a bit hungry and hopeful that I could find a savory pastry of some kind at the bakery. I was in luck! I bought a spinach and feta filled pastry and since I could not resist, an oatcake of some kind – that the young lady recommended (mainly because I had no idea what it was and wanted to taste it). Hiking up the road I easily found the B&B and after getting cleaned up am sitting in their “parlour”. It is lined with windows so I can sit here and watch the rain continue to come down, but while dry. There are two American couples staying here as well. One is the couple from Alaska I mentioned a few days ago and the other is a couple from Seattle who is biking as well as walking. We decided to have dinner together so I will learn more about them tonight. My Australian friends are in the village at another hotel and I may see them tonight, or not, but likely will run into them on the trail tomorrow. (Back from dinner and everyone was there- the Australians, the Germans, and some other couples from the Keld Lodge- it was like a mini-reunion. The restaurant was full of people who knew each other from the trail.)
It was cloudy and overcast when I woke up but I was prepared as the forecast had predicted “cloudy with occasional sun” but no rain. Katie, my hostess at the Castle View B&B in Kirkby Stephens, provided a great breakfast and some good advice on navigating bogs which started my day off well. Her advice was simple- go around them no matter how far out of the way you need to go! She told me it had been quite dry lately and thus the path should not be too bad and, in general, it was fairly well marked. Feeling confident and looking forward to the day I headed out at my usual time, around 8:30am. The day’s hike called for a 13 mile march over the top of the moors of the Pennines, across the English “continental divide” and dropping down into the next valley over where Keld, my stop for the night and the half way point of the Coast to Coast, was situated. Many people use Kirby Stephen as a half way point as it is a larger town and convenient to start and end at if only part of the Coast to Coast is being attempted, but Keld is the actual mileage divider.
The first five miles of the day I was climbing but it was a gentle climb compared to the relatively steep ascents of the Lake District. As I ascended out of Kirby Stephen I passed a quarry scarring the beauty of the countryside, even though it seemed as if an attempt had been made to discretely place it in the midst of the landscape. Climbing past the quarry I entered the wide open spaces of the moorland. The path was well defined and I easily followed it up. In the distance I could see the nine “riggs” on the ridge, the highest point I would reach before descending on the other side of the hills. But distances in the moors are deceiving. As I walked on and on they did not seem to get any bigger or closer. The landscape was also very deceiving as there are many rolling hills and folds in the slope which play tricks with measurements and perspective. I had passed some young people at the top of the quarry and looking back I could tell how far I had come by how small in the distance they were. That was really my only reference point!
As I climbed it was getting windier and windier as I become more exposed, emerging from the relative protection of the valley. All around me was barren, rugged, yet beautiful terrain. It was a stark change from the usual manicured, picturesque, well-ordered English countryside I had been traversing through for the past week. This area was untamed, wild, and unforgiving. I could easily imagine, on a foggy day when the peak was shrouded with a cloud, people getting lost and disoriented- the landscape was that unremarkable and barren of reference points. Luckily, the one set of reference points that were available, the nine “riggs” on the ridge, were visible today when not hidden by a dip or a curve in the path. My map continued to indicate passing cairns and that helped me remain confident in my path (although I had my compass on stand by ready to deploy!). One cairn mentioned in my book was “useful for blocking the wind”, and I found that to be so when I stopped there (it was more like a small wall than the typical pyramidal cairn). It was a handy place to take shelter for a moment while putting on my rain gear, mainly for wind protection since it was not raining. I ended up sitting there for about 20 minutes simply admiring the peacefulness of the area.
Moving forward I steadily climbed towards the ridge and the large nine stone edifices called the “riggs”. Later, as I descended, when I passed two English gentlemen coming up the slope, I asked them about the story of the structures on the ridge. They informed me that no one knows their history but their construction is fairly recent, 18th century. So their purpose remains a mystery. After spending the day on the terrain I would not be surprised if someone had hauled all of those stones up there and built those sculptures to provide a reference point for navigation (although I am not sure why you need nine of them)! It was really, really windy at the top, with a strong wind blowing in from the west. I had my hood up in an attempt to keep my head warm and my hair from blowing everywhere. My map indicated that the path went off the ridge to the south but it was hard to discern. The general advice was “if you don’t see the path, just head south anyway”, so I headed south.
The sense of isolation on the moor was incredible. From the top, and even for some time while I descended, looking in every direction I only saw more wild, desolate, landscape. I saw no people and even the ever present sheep were no where in sight. I felt like I was the only person on the planet- it was incredibly exhilarating and liberating although I am not sure I can explain why. Occasionally the sun would peek through the clouds and the change in lighting would completely transform the landscape. There were small white flowers dotting the field and the sun would glint off them, almost making them glisten. As I mentioned earlier, it was beautiful in a remote, untouched way. I took my time coming down because it was just so pleasant, despite the wind, to enjoy the peace I experienced up there.
Continuing to rely on cairns, distant posts, and my compass I was rewarded with some positive feedback that I was going in the right direction when I came across a signpost indicating the different routes down the hill. Because of the fragile nature of the bogs and the landscape, in general, the park managers devised different routes to use at different times of the year to minimize the churn and destruction of the terrain. Heading down the stipulated “red” route for this time of year I could see easily, because of the dryness of the soil, the many wide-spread and deep impressions made by hundreds and hundreds of booted feet. Because it was so dry I did not have a too challenging of task of navigating the bogs. Even though it was not “wet’ by English standards there were still several places I had to skirt quite a ways around in order to keep my boots from sinking in over their tops. Noticing the patterns of footprints and mud as I passed by I realized how easy I had it! Still care was needed.
I kept heading south and found the waypoints and reference points that the map described along the way. The wind was a bit less strong as I came down but still chilly so I kept my rain gear on. It really did not get better until I started walking east and the wind was at my back. But at this point I was down near the bottom of the valley, along a well established foot path, and back amongst the sheep. Keld was about four miles ahead situated somewhere amongst the rolling hills. Another couple of hours, meandering through the pastures and along farm lanes and I arrived at my destination for the evening, the Keld Lodge. My Australian friends showed up about an hour and a half later and we are all meeting up for dinner. The lodge is small enough that they don’t have a common room so I am typing this in my room while watching the Italy vs Spain game. England plays later tonight!
It was a great day with some wild and wonderful landscape and to top all off—- I am halfway done!!