(190 miles to go)
Eight hardy souls set off from Halifax on 17th June with the aim of walking from the West Coast (Irish Sea) to the East Coast (North Sea). What were we thinking?
The journey to our starting point, St Bees in Cumbria, was uneventful apart from finding the only petrol station in England with antique pumps. It would have taken less time to fill up if we had drilled for our own crude oil and refined it. Nevertheless we arrived at our destination for about 11ish, dipped our toes in the sea, picked up our pebbles and did one. It is a custom for coast to coast walkers to take a pebble from one coast and throw it in the sea when they arrive at the other.
The first part of the walk took us up and across St Bees Head and onward to Cleator. We made good time and before we knew it we were having a civilised cup of tea and our sandwiches in a place so memorable that I cannot remember the name of it.
This Coast to Coast walking was proving to be a piece of cake. We passed through Cleator and set off through the woods on a clearly marked path, what could go wrong? Well . . . Somewhere in the woods we took a wrong turn, which led to another wrong turn and before we could say “we are not lost we just don’t know where we are” we found ourselves in the biggest swamp in Europe. Swamp, swamp and more swamp. Swampy swamp with swamplike swampness. Swampsville, tennessee. You get the picture?
We had been advised before we set off to always turn around and go back if we lost our way. After a lot of bog-trotting we finally took this advice on board and returned whence we came.
With boots full of swamp we then had to climb what seemed like an endless hill, then climb down the other side which also seemed endless. The magnitude of our situation was now sinking in, if you excuse the pun. We finally arrived at our first destination, Ennerdale Bridge, much later than we had originally planned and somewhat dazed. We had a hearty dinner in the only place that served food at nine o clock at night and then were driven back to St Bees. No, we hadn’t given up already, we were staying at a B & B there; originally we were going to walk from St Bees to Honister in one day but were advised that this would be too much so we split it over two days. The accommodation had already been booked so we decided to walk to Ennerdale Bridge, get a lift back to St Bees and then get dropped off in the morning back at Ennerdale Bridge to continue. Confused? Of course you are.
The accommodation was fantastic and some people were fortunate enough to bag a bath. I wasn’t one of them. Enough said.
The lessons for today were read maps, don’t be complacent and always turn around if you go off track.
With a condemned man’s breakfast inside us we made our way back to Ennerdale Bridge for the second day. A short walk later we were on the banks of Ennerdale Water and embarking on a flat but testing 3-4 miles along it’s shore. A lot of pebbles, rocks and uneven terrain which continued until we arrived at Black Sail Youth Hostel a few miles after that. A few of our group had been looking forward to, nay desperate for, a cup of tea there but bizarrely it was closed for a wedding?????? Deserted, but closed for a wedding. Resentful and tea-less packed lunch at Black Sail for some.
We had met a lady from New York City who was doing C2C for the fifth time. She was a great source of information and was impressed that we were doing it in ten days (she probably thought we were unhinged but kept that to herself). She gave us directions through what could have been a tricky passage from there to Honister. We had a running joke that she was really from Gateshead and talked in a strong Geordie accent when we weren’t around. You had to be there.
Tricky it wasn’t but strenuous it was. We had a long steep ascent up Loft Beck and then swung around the flanks of Brandeth and Grey Knotts. From the top we could see how far we had come from Ennerdale as well as having great views of Pillar, Great Gable and Kirk Fell to the south and Buttermere and Crummock Water to the west. Weather was good, no swamps and the usual good humour.
There was a steep and long descent to Honister Hause and the the earlier poor terrain had taken it’s toll on the feet leaving us most grateful to arrive at the youth hostel. We were there by four, the earliest finish of the trip.
Honister boasts the only working slate mine in England so we had a nosey before tea. Youth Hostels have changed a great deal since the last time I visited one and I was surprised that we got an evening meal, breakfast and packed lunch. The guy serving us bore an uncanny resemblance to Gerard Depardieu. Acting roles dried up? Summer job maybe?
We knew this was going to be a hard day. Two category ‘A’ hills in one day and 20 miles to cover. A few of us had gone over the route on our maps the previous night so we could crack on as quickly and effectively as possible.
There was a phoney war as we had a gentle saunter through Seatoller and Rosthwaite, enjoying the calm beauty and undemanding landscape. That soon became a memory though as we started the long climb up to Lining Crag and Greenup Edge. The steep final approach to Lining Crag, which involved a little scrambling, took it’s toll on a few members of the party and we had to take a little time to recuperate. The weather had closed in as well which added to people’s discomfort and demanded that we stick together and progress carefully. We had some help in terms of directions from a couple of other C2Cers and managed to avoid any disasters.
The descent into Grasmere was longer and more taxing than most of the group expected and coupled with the steep climb to Lining Crag left a few of the group struggling physically and mentally. We had a brew and snacks in Grasmere and took stock of the situation. Two of the group decided they had had enough for the day and were to get a bus on to Patterdale.
The remaining six set off to complete the walk and were met with sweeping rain and wind as we climbed the steep slopes of Little Tongue Gill up to Grisedale Hause and Grisedale Tarn. Within touching distance of the tarn a couple of the group felt the conditions were too treacherous and so a decision, sensible in light of things, was made to turn back to Grasmere. This was disappointing but probably the right thing to do. By the time we got back to Grasmere we were all completely drenched and I had water in places I didn’t think possible.
A taxi drive with a highly amusing foreign gentleman later and we were at Patterdale YH awaiting our tea. It had been a hard day, we knew it was going to be, but it had affected some of the group quite badly. A good night’s sleep was essential and we could assess the situation in the morning.
Breakfast down and an early start. We left Patterdale and, after a bit of a detour due to my map reading error and a slight delay due to me snapping with someone, we started the long climb to the highest point we would reach on the trip. Kidsty Pike at 2560ft represents “it’s all downhill from here” as far as C2C is concerned. Apart from a couple of short steep inclines it is a fairly steady climb albeit a long one.
I think that because it was the highest point, and because we had such a testing time yesterday, people were expecting a terrible ordeal. It was a pleasant surprise for some when we arrived at the top as some didn’t realise we were there. One commented “right , is this where we start the climb?” The views on this stretch were stunning, The High Street Range and Rough Crag, and apart from a brief shower the weather was glorious.
After having our dinner at Kidsty Pike we started the descent to Hawes Resevoir. This is a lengthy trek and one that takes its toll on the knees. The walk around Hawes was a different matter altogether. It was pretty much flat and it was great to get a good pace on as the sun shone down and a gentle breeze kept us cool.
As we left Hawes and started the final stretch to Shap we had a wonderful surprise when we discovered an honesty box set up by a 14 year old boy. The cold drinks and snacks were just what the doctor ordered.
We then had a 4 or 5 mile gently undulating walk to our destination which took us along river banks, through buttercup meadows and along country lanes. As easy and beautiful as the terrain was the day had caught up with us and the last couple of miles were laboured.
Our accommodation was fantastic, a large house with beautiful features, and the delicious home cooking really hit the spot. Again, some people got a bath. Again, I wasn’t one of them.
This was the first of five days all of which were 20 miles or more, the business end of the challenge. We left Shap, headed over the M6 and towards The Yorkshire Dales. There was a pronounced change in landscape as we left the hills of Cumbria and moved on to the gentle undulations of The Dales.
We passed ‘Robin Hood’s Grave’ and some huge boulders left from glaciers as we made our way to picturesque Orton where we stopped for our dinner. After the struggles in The Lakes it seemed like a walk in the park and I think everyone thought we had cracked it.
The second half of the day was much the same as we navigated the countryside passing through Sunbiggin and across Ravenstonedale Moor. A much less demanding but beautiful passage meant that many more conversations were struck up and the countryside could be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
We crossed The Settle to Carlisle Line and ambled over Smardale fell as Kirkby Stephen got nearer. Despite the fact it was less challenging in terms of terrain we all started to feel the strain as we approached our destination and the last few miles were testing for everyone.
Our accommodation was a converted, loosely speaking, church. We recognised some other walkers from Patterdale and got talking to some guys who were cycling the route, lightweights. No evening meal so we hit town for a curry at The Mango Tree and a little down time.
The last few days had taken their toll on some of our group and three were unable to manage the day’s walk, they got a taxi to Reeth and took some of the bags so that others had less to carry.
The rest of us set off from Kirkby Stephen and started the long climb up to Nine Standards Riggs. The route was challenging but not too steep and the payoff was the beauty and abundance of wildlife. We encountered rabbits, curlews, pheasants, grouse, the ubiquitous sheep and some other birds that we couldn’t identify.
The nine cairns at the peak reputedly marked the old county line between Westmorland and The North Riding of Yorkshire. They are incredibly well built and at 1690ft you have a wonderful panoramic view of Northern Britain.
From there we engaged in what can only be described as a long trudge through bogs and swamps. Damn near got trench-foot. We eventually got to Keld and had dinner outside the cafe/shop/post office/call centre/departure lounge. I am sure you know the type of place I mean. It was a glorious day and it was great to soak up a few rays and chat.
After dinner we set off down the stunning Swale valley and passed through Muker and Gunnerside. We were never far from the river and found ourselves crossing the most beautiful meadows and woodland.
We had seen a sign saying three and a half miles to Reeth and had then walked for what seemed like an eternity. Our feet were killing by this time and we were running on fumes. We then came to another sign which said two and a half miles. I got that feeling in the back of my throat, like when you are going to cry. We were convinced someone was having a sick joke at our expense, tormenting us. Those next two and a half miles were the longest ever, it felt like time was going in reverse. Colin and I were dribbling and babbling nonsense. What?
It was only when we got to Reeth that we discovered we had walked 26 miles.
We had a well-deserved meal in The Buck Inn and to be honest I don’t remember much after that, I think I was asleep on my feet.
Set off from Reeth feeling a little tender and knowing we had another 20 plus miles. Full group again today and although yesterday had been hard the spirits were good. Fortunately the countryside was very walker friendly as we made our way along the Swale to Marrick route and then a gentle climb up to Marske.
From there we rose again and found ourselves wandering through the trees below Applegarth Scar. It was a hot day so the tree cover was really welcome. We then passed through Whitcliffe wood and before we could say “Is that Richmond?” we were in Richmond.
A beautiful town but unfortunately we didn’t get to explore it. Had our lunch in the centre and a quick rest. It was hard work getting an ice cream, the assistant had to call Barry, of Barry’s Ice Creams, to determine the price of two scoops and after a lengthy discussion was furnished with that information. This all seemed so unnecessary as there were actually price lists in the kiosk. Some people have trust issues.
Set off again feeling a little energised and made good time through Catterick after a diversion around roadworks on the A1. There was an archaeological dig in progress as a Roman Town was being unearthed.
I have to admit that the terrain was very flat but it still took its toll as we passed through Brompton and Bolton on Swale on the way to Danby Wiske. Again the last few miles were difficult on the feet and we were mighty relieved to reach our destination. A quick lime and soda in a pub run by a greying Bobby Ball lookalike. Must be call for it in those parts.
A taxi ride later and we were at our accommodation where we were met by an alcoholic who didn’t know what a duvet was. Most relieved when his wife returned from her night off and sorted the bedding out.
Lots, and I mean lots, of pizza for tea.
Still full of Pizza and a hearty breakfast we embarked on another mighty trek. Three of our group took the bags and travelled to Clay Bank as they had struggled with yesterday’s walk. The weather was good and we seemed to do the eight and a half miles to Ingleby Cross without any problems. It was a flat walk through pleasant terrain although we did have to cross the A19 which was quite a hairy experience.
We then had a lengthy climb through Arncliffe Wood to get on The Cleveland way and engage in a series of ups and downs as we experienced The Cleveland Hills. I had never heard of them before so it was fantastic to discover and walk them. We found an oasis along the way and stopped for a welcome break and some refreshments.
We seemed to get a good pace on and finished the twelve and a half miles from Ingleby Cross by five thirty. Our host for the night came and picked us up at Clay Bank top and drove us to Dromonby Bridge.
The house was lovely and it was full of antique rugs, paintings and object d’art. Again, there was a bath. Again, I didn’t get one.
Our host, David, was a great guy and he took us into Kirkby so we could get some dinner at The Black Bull. It was only the second night we had with a bit of time to relax and socialise. The food was most welcome and tasty and we had some proper belly laughs in the pub.
This was the last twenty mile day and we were all on the road. It stated in the guide book that it was “a surprisingly effortless day”. It turned out to be one of the hardest. A steep climb to 1050 ft to start with and then a long trek along the top of moorland for ten or so miles. A couple of wrong turns didn’t help and we were glad to get to The Lion Inn at Blakey and stop for some lunch.
The second half of the day just seemed to go on forever and everybody was flagging a little by the time we got to Glaisdale. We found out some friends had come up for the evening and we were to meet them in Grosmont. We were also told that we had to get there by eight as they stopped serving food then. Cue a speed march and a little jogging to cover the last three and a half miles in time.
During this final push we met with the surreal sight of a 40 strong pink clad Geordie hen party on the path to Grosmont. Most bizarre.
We got to Grosmont to meet everyone only to find out we had another half hour and hadn’t needed to rush. It was amazing though how we managed to pull the effort out of nowhere. Lovely dinner and the comfort of knowing we only had a short final walk the next day. (If you can call 14 miles short).
We all set off from Grosmont knowing we were only fourteen miles from Robin Hood’s Bay. We had a long climb, first by road and then track, to 1500ft where we reached the peak of Black Brow. We got our first sight of Whitby at this point and realised how close we were.
We still had ten miles to go however and found ourselves trekking over more moorland and the occasional swamp. We didn’t seem to mind the quagmires so much now we were in touching distance.
We covered more moorland and eventually, after a final trot through swamp (be rude not to), got to the village of Hawkser. From here it was only a couple of miles to the sea and then a short cliff top walk to our final destination. It was incredible to hit the coast and catch sight of The North Sea and The East Coast cliffs.
One final push now and we were home and dry; metaphorically speaking as it kept trying it’s best to rain. The last few miles seemed to pass quite quickly, although at times I suffered from a sudden panic that we were farther away than we really were. It really was an amazing feeling of relief and achievement to head down the main street and into Robin Hood’s Bay.
All we had to do now was drop our pebbles in the sea and the job was done. Unfortunately the sea was quite a way out so we had one final walk to reach it and complete the task. Nothing straight forward on this trip.
Summing up, what an adventure! 190 miles of every type of terrain you can find in Northern England. Hills, dales, swamps, dirt tracks, roads, paths, river banks, forests, fields of barley, buttercup meadows. It wasn’t easy and we had tears, tantrums, joy, laughter, doubt, pain and relief. On top of that we raised over £900 which is going to Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice.
The experience is something I will never forget, as I am sure none of my fellow travellers will. Thanks all of you for a memorable 10 days.