Monday, 24 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 24


December 24th

Welcome to Day 24 of my Advent Calendar, where I have been reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Afterthoughts

People walk for all sorts of reasons. Some because they have to, it’s their only mode of transport; others for exercise; some do it as a challenge; while for many it’s just a nice social thing to do with friends.
            Hannah and I walked the from one side of England to the other, a journey of fourteen days, for a holiday, strange I know, although we also did it for the challenge. We chose the Coast to Coast path, because it has a definite beginning and end. It has a place to start from and a goal to reach, and this is different to mere rambling, a stroll with the possibility of a pub at the end. This is a determined decision to see something, to reach the destination.
           
A long time ago, some wise men made a journey, beginning, unlike Hannah and I, in the East. They were travelling to a destination, although they weren’t certain where that destination was. They did, however, know what they were looking for; a baby; a king.
            We don’t know how long their journey took, whether they had bad weather, tough hills, heavy bags or waterproof shoes, but I’m sure that it wasn’t easy. Undoubtedly they’d have met people along the way and I like to think that they gave them names, like Hannah and I did, and I like to think that they passed through some ‘nice little places’. All that would have counted for nothing, however, when they arrived in Bethlehem, led there by a star (something I’m glad we didn’t have to rely on). They found the baby and delivered gifts, which they had brought along. Not pebbles or simple keepsakes, not last minute buys, like when you’ve forgotten to get something for your mum, but meaningful presents that hinted at the life the baby would have.
            Gold, for a King; Frankincense, for a Priest; Myrrh, for a body to be buried. The wise men probably had little idea what their gifts really meant, but they were perfect.
            What is the perfect gift now? And I don’t mean as a stocking filler. What can we give to Jesus, the King, the Priest, the Saviour who died, and defeated death. The only thing he wants, is ourselves.
 

Have a very Happy Christmas!

 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 23


December 23rd

Welcome to Day 23 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 14 – Part 2

~ To the coast, We are passed by Superman, Scattered showers, Treacherous cliffs, Familiar faces, Final miles, Down the hill, Robin Hood’s Bay ~

As we gazed out at the endless ocean we realised that we still seemed to be heading towards Whitby. We checked the map and discovered that we would start to turn right soon as we headed due east towards the coast.
            The road was beginning to get a little tedious and we noticed that we were actually quite tired. We had no excuse however when we were caught up by a new walker. He was about our age, carrying all his gear (which we were pleased to see) and alone. He was also doing a terrific pace. As he came along side we chatted with him and soon found out that he was walking the Coast to Coast in seven days, half what we’d done it in. In fact he eventually finished in 163 hours (including rests). That morning he’d got up at 3:30am, from The Lion Inn, where we’d been the day before! We realised we were in the presence of Superman (although he was a bit shorter than I expected him to be). He didn’t stay with us for long, clearly we were holding him up and he sped away.
            The rain returned in patches, which was annoying but, aside from a brief stop for some lunch, we kept going and soon saw a sign post for the cliff top path. Bizarrely this meant walking through a caravan park but sure enough, on the other side, were the cliffs and the sea.
            We hadn’t finished yet, though. The cliff path runs to Robin Hood’s Bay, the final destination, and that was still more than three miles away. So, like the very start of the walk the journey ends with some treacherous cliffs. The wind was blowing and the rain made the surface slippery, and our aching legs seemed to drag. Slowly we inched along, creeping nearer to our goal.
            Then, just as we were making progress we were accosted by three badly dressed people (for walking in the rain) and a dog; namely, our family. Together we marched to the finish, which included a steep descent through the town of Robin Hood’s Bay. The rocky beach greeted us, as did the two guys ‘doing it in 12 days’ and we dipped our toes in the water, before throwing the pebbles from St Bees into the North Sea, a memorable moment from a very memorable adventure.


Please return tomorrow for the final instalment of this Advent Calendar!


 
The camp site, where we joined the cliff top path

 
Dipping our toes in the North Sea

Saturday, 22 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 22


December 22nd

Welcome to Day 22 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 14 – Part 1

~ Final morning, We get lost, Falling Foss, Woods, Rain again, We can see the sea! ~

The last day is designed, like the Tour de France, as a victory parade; a nice stroll through woodland and fields to the cliffs on the east coast, before arriving at Robin Hood’s Bay. The sea was only about four miles (in a straight line) from the Bed and Breakfast we’d stayed in, and we were hoping for a pleasant end to our mammoth walk.
            For the last time then we donned our smelly clothes and damp boots and heaved our bags onto our backs. We bid a fond farewell to the farmer and his wife and set off in a rough easterly direction. We left the farm and passed another before crossing a stream and followed a sign post pointing us to Falling Foss. However we soon found ourselves in a field with no apparent exit. I looked at the map and decided we’d missed our turning, so we headed back. The turning I wanted, though, seemed to go through the second farm and Hannah wasn’t keen on trespassing, so we tried a second time crossing the stream, but still to no avail. Bar going right back to the start and taking a different route altogether we were a bit stuck and definitely lost but we knew where we wanted to get to, so we looked at the map, drew a straight line, crossed a few fences and got there. Hey, we’d been walking for 14 days, I think we had the right to make a short cut.
            We found a track and shortly after entered a wood where we stumbled across Falling Foss. This is a beautiful waterfall and we stopped for a while and watched it. We were also keen to press on though, and so we headed on into the woods. Somehow we ended up on the wrong side of the stream, but I found a handily fallen tree which we could shuffle across, just to be really adventurous!
            A while later the woods ran out and we emerged into rain. We quickly ducked back under the shelter and donned rain coats before moving on. We’d hoped for our last day that the rain would hold off, but sadly not. We followed the road, heads bowed and then cut across a stretch of moorland. Hannah got to use her GPS again when we lost the path and got bogged down, but aside from that we made it across safely.
            We carried on along the road for a while and eventually the rain eased off. We cut into a field and disturbed some nearby cows, who were obviously hungry. Leaving them behind, we then crested the hill and beyond us lay the final stretch of England, before the blue North Sea began.

 
Falling Foss

 
In the woods with Hannah in front

 
The sea!

Friday, 21 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 21


December 21st

Welcome to Day 21 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 13 – Part 2

~ Leaving Glaisdale, Muddy path, It gets hot, Grosmont, We spot Whitby Abbey, We rescue a sheep, Farmhouse B&B, Our nicest night ~

By the time we had finished lunch the sun was fully out and we packed away our raincoats before setting off. The motorbikes were still racing through the village and we nearly got run over several times (well, not really, but we could have been). We quickly left the road, however, and entered a wood. Inside the path was almost a river of mud in places and we went slowly as we tried to avoid getting completely bogged down. Eventually though we made it out of the other side and into the hot sunshine.
            We walked on, mostly along the road, until we reached Grosmont. This village is famous for its railway line and sadly we missed the steam train, which left just as we approached (we heard it all right) but the diesel engine was still there and we stopped to admire the carriages. The town was busy and we spotted a few fellow walkers, including the two men ‘doing it in 12 days’ who seemed to have stuck with us during the second week. They were still admiring us for having ditched our bags yet.
            Leaving Grosmont the road climbed steeply as the moors provided one final hurdle. All the time we expected the sea to come into view but it was just over the horizon. We did, however, spot Whitby Abbey, standing clear against the sky.
            Before we reached the top we spotted a lamb stuck in a fence. The other sheep were further up the road and clearly didn’t want anything to do with such a stupid animal. They were probably bleating things like, ‘the grass is always greener, isn’t it!’ We decided to rescue it.
            Hannah left her bag at the side of the road and tried to help it wiggle it’s head back though the wire, but the sheep didn’t like her and just cried out. We tried my penknife but the wire was too thick and we were afraid of cutting the lamb. Eventually though with both of us pulling the wire and pushing the sheep it got it’s head free and bolted back up the hill to it’s mum. With pride in our hearts we went on to conquer the hill and crossed the A169 before dropping back down to our final overnight stop: a farmhouse B&B.
            We were welcomed warmly by the farmer and his wife who showed us our gorgeous room and then laid on easily the best dinner we’d had in the two weeks. After a while pub food gets tedious and a home cooked feast was just what we wanted. Staying there were two other couples who happened to come from South Africa and we shared stories of our walks as we ate.
            After dinner Hannah and I sat in the lounge and played Rummikub and felt like we really were on holiday. This, we decided, was easily our best night.

 
The train in Grosmont

 
 Whitby in the distance

Thursday, 20 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 20


December 20th

Welcome to Day 20 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 13 – Part 1

~ Damp morning, We find out what the inside of a cloud looks like, Ugly Betty, Walking with people again, Australians, Glaisdale ~

Sadly the sunshine of the night before had been replaced by rain when we woke on the penultimate morning of our two week adventure. A cloud had descended over the moors and when we looked out of the tent we couldn’t even see the pub 100 metres away. As we packed up the cloud slowly lifted and by the time we set off we could at least see the road and moorland ahead.
            It drizzled on and off and we decided to stick to the road as it curved around the hill, rather than cut across the moor. We stopped to say hi to Ugly Betty, another Coast to Coast tradition. Basically it’s a couple of rocks that look vaguely like a fat woman (but don’t tell any of the Coast to Coast die hards I said that) and you leave a piece of food for her. I can’t remember why.
            After a while we left the road and joined a path headed towards Glaisdale. We found ourselves in a large group, most of whom we didn’t know, and together we huddled from the rain and trudged on. A little later we met a couple from Australia who explained the great usefulness of bubble wrap. Apparently it makes an excellent waterproof seat when you want to rest, and of course it weighs barely anything. They were taking the route steadily, 19 days in fact, but then, as they’d come from the other side of the world, we didn’t blame them.
            Glaisdale lies just to the north of the moors, literally on the side of a hill and we descended the steep road into the village just on lunch time. The rain had just about stopped and we found a small cafĂ© for a bite to eat. Outside some kind of motorbike rally was passing through, which made it very noisy, but we didn’t mind, Glaisdale was still (of course) a ‘nice little place’.
 

Looking East from The Lion Inn


Sadly, we weren’t going this way

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 19


December 19th

Welcome to Day 19 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 12

~ More up and down, The Wainstones, Return of the rain, Disused railway line, We stay at another pub, Our last night of camping ~

We wasted little time in the morning and quickly got back to the path. The rolling moorland stretched on and we seemed to spend half an hour going up and then another half hour going back down again.
            We had been warned of the potential difficulty of the Wainstones in the guide book and we did indeed struggle. The Wainstones are a group of large rocks scattered over an patch of hillside. The path is non-existent and so you have to find your own way. Of course this is a lot easier without heavy bags, and we took ours off until we made it to the top.
            Eventually the land flattened out as we joined the route of an old mountain railway line. This snaked around the hills in wide bends, which made it feel like we weren’t making much progress. The rain had returned too and the afternoon was fairly dull, but we sang songs to ourselves to keep our spirits up and pressed on.
            Eventually our destination came into view as we rounded yet another bend and saw, up the hill to our left, a pub. At 1,320 feet The Lion Inn is one of the highest pubs in England and has spectacular views of the moors. They also do some nice food and after pitching the tent in the overflow car park, we went inside for dinner. By the time we’d finished the sun was fully out and the sky clear. This, we reckoned, was our first dry night of camping, it also happened to be our last night of camping. No bad thing either, the tent was showing wear. One of the poles had a crack, but it seemed to be holding.
            We watched the sun go down and then tucked down for our penultimate night. There were just two more days of walking to go. We could do this! We were going to do this! Nothing could stop us now!
 

 
The Wainstones

 

 The view from the tent

 

Watching the sunset

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 18


December 18th

Welcome to Day 18 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 11

~ Onto the moors, A good path, Lots of ‘up and down’, We camp on a farm and are ignored ~

We got our first solid breakfast for days, which gave us a good boost ahead of our first morning on the moors. This was our final section, we were only just over 30 miles from the coast (as the crow flies) but we were wary. We knew we could conquer the hills, but we were unsure as to what the surface of the moors would be.
            For starters though we climbed up through some woods on a wide track. The sun was up and by the time we emerged at the top we were very warm. There were plenty of other people around, but we were surprised when we came across a large and noisy group of women, all over forty, and most over sixty. We stopped too and let them go on ahead taking their chatter with them.
            When we carried on we were pleased to see signs for the Cleveland Way, which meant a good path, and it was. Nicely laid stones, and well managed earth made walking very easy and pleasant. The hills rolled on into the distance and so we set about getting over them. These were the first real hills in several days and they brought back happy memories of the Lake District. We felt fresh again and even the clouds that blew in later on didn’t bother us.
            Occasionally we saw people we knew; Mr and Mrs ‘we have two different guide books’ were still going strong, as were the two men ‘doing the walk in 12 days’. Our favourite moment, however, was seeing our old friend from Shap: ‘Martin Wainwright is useless’. If you’ve only just found this Advent Calendar, Martin has written one of the guide books on the Coast to Coast path, and happened to be the one that Hannah and I had chosen. This man and his friend, were also using him, but having rather more trouble having got lost on the fifth day. We hadn’t seen them for some time, but they passed us as we were resting in the early afternoon, said hello and then told us how they’d got lost again. To be fair they didn’t mention the guide book this time, but how they got lost is a mystery. The Cleveland Way is well signposted, the path is clear and the direction obvious. Hannah and I laughed for some time after they’d gone.
            We also met four ladies, the most talkative of whom was called Carol. Apparently they’d been discussing how old we were, and when we told them their guesses weren’t far off they shook their heads sadly, saying, ‘that makes us fifty years older.’ They were on the final stage of their Coast to Coast walk, which they’d been on for over a year. Not continuously of course; they’d started and stopped several times. They had interesting stories about people they’d met too, including a mole catcher and we enjoyed listening to them, but after a while we moved on ahead.
            After yet another up and back down we neared the farm where we would be camping. The trouble was, how to get to it. The map showed a couple of paths, but having tried one and got stuck we had to turn back. A bit further along we found a better way and eventually strolled up to the small farmhouse. No one seemed to be around so we set up our tent and got out some cooking equipment. Later Hannah did find someone to pay, but that was all we saw of them. They were looking after sheep, and walkers were of little interest I suppose.
 

Traffic on the Cleveland Way.

 
Up onto the moors.


 
Looking North East, with Roseberry Topping in the distance.

Monday, 17 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 17


December 17th

Welcome to Day 17 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 10

~ A long day ahead, Tiredness begins to kick in, Flat land and fields, ‘Campers’ has his just reward, Hannah needs tea, We are followed by a dog and told off by its owner, Crossing the A19, A pleasant pub B&B to end the day ~

In most guide books this day is billed as a 23 miler, although you can split it with a stop in the middle. We had pressed on the night before and reduced the distance to about 21 miles, still a considerable distance. The reason why it is so long is because the land is flat and fairly dull. The path passes through field after field and not much else.
            Our bags seemed heavier again, although we were through the pain barrier by now, instead tiredness was beginning to kick in as the number of days of walking entered double figures. There was still plenty of mud around, and despite our two mile head start we were soon being overtaken again. We also met two girls, about our age, who were walking the wrong way. They decided to walk East to West and we shared stories for a while. We were pleased to see that they were also carrying their gear, and camping.
            There were more ‘nice little places’ scattered between the fields and in one we stopped for lunch. We saw several other people including Mr and Mrs ‘we have two different guide books’ who had enlisted the help of their (adult) sons. ‘Campers’ was also back, still wearing the same red t-shirt. He told us that he had blisters and we were silently pleased, seeing it as retribution for his abusiveness to anyone Coast to Coasting the hard way (or the real way as Hannah and I like to call it).
            The day dragged on as did the miles and Hannah began to crave a cup of tea, having not had one in days. There was nothing for it, however, than to press on, knowing we had a nice stop ahead of us.
            Other notable incidents from the day included a close brush with some cows as we crossed their field. The problem was, beyond it was a railway line, which you can’t exactly just run across. We made it though. Later we walking through a farm when a small dog started following us and refused to be sent back. We decided to ignore it and carried on down the lane. Eventually a woman came running after us declaring that it was our fault her dog had pursued us down the drive.
            Eventually we heard the sound of heavy traffic ahead and new the end of our day was near, before that though we had to dodge the heavy traffic. We had tried to avoid rush hour but failed and had to wait a considerable time before the A19 cleared enough for us to cross. Having made it across we were then nearly run over by a car coming out of a lane!
            We polished off the final half mile to Ingleby Cross and The Blue Bell, where Hannah had booked us a night inside. We dumped our bags, showered and went into dinner. Hannah had some tea and the world was back to rights. More people showed up, including the young couple from our very first night. We were shattered though and soon kicked off to bed, knowing the final stage of our journey was now just outside the door. The next day we would set off onto the moors.
 

This could be just about anywhere between Richmond and Ingleby Cross.

 
The Blue Bell.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 16


December 16th

Welcome to Day 16 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 9

~ Yorkshire is muddy, Last of the hills (for a while), Richmond, England lose on penalties ~

After the wet, craziness of the previous few days we were very glad to get back to simple walking again. We began on the road but then left it for the path to Richmond. The weather was dry with some blue sky peeking between the clouds and we made good progress for a while. The rain, though, had taken its toll on the countryside. The fields and woods were very muddy and the path horribly sticky, which slowed us down considerably.
            We were approaching the Vale of York now and the land was flattening out, although there was the odd difficult climb up slippery slopes. At the top of one particularly muddy ascent we stopped for a while and were caught up by two men who we’d not met before. They, like most people, commented on our large bags and claimed that they had also done the Coast to Coast carrying all their gear (‘doing it the hard way’ as they called it), but this time were walking it in 12 days for a different challenge, which explained why we hadn’t seen them yet.
            We walked on and soon got good views of Richmond ahead as we slowly came off what would be the last hill for many miles (although we could just pick out the moors in the distance). Suddenly, as we entered Richmond in the late afternoon, we felt like we were back in civilisation with lots of people and cars and a Co-op where we stocked up on food. Richmond is easily the biggest place the walk passes through and we saw several people we hadn’t met for a while. Nikka was one, she was back by herself again but still enjoying the walk.
            Most people stop in Richmond, some even take a day out of walking and stay for two nights, but we pressed on for a couple more miles. The next day was to be the longest and we planned to eat up a few miles that night.
            We eventually stopped at a pub, called The Hilyard Arms, in Colburn and waited for someone to open up. Not long later the owner’s son arrived and told us to pitch anywhere and feel free to join them. The tent was beginning to smell and so we left it and went inside. The pub filled quickly because of the England game, which we half watched from the other room. You may remember that England made a predictable exit on penalties. It wasn’t a problem though, there were much bigger sporting contests to come!
 

A pleasant morning.

 

Looking down to Richmond

My Advent Calendar - Day 15


December 15th

Welcome to Day 15 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 8 – Part 2

~ We take to the road, A slow afternoon, Sunshine, Reeth, A pleasant surprise ~

It was still cloudy and damp as we exited the pub and I suggested keeping to the road to avoid getting bogged down. At first this was just a track but after a mile and a half became firm tarmac and wound through several small villages (all ‘nice little places’).
            The afternoon simply became a case of pounding out the miles, dodging cars and keeping our legs moving. There were a few scattered showers but I think we had almost become immune to them. We didn’t realise at the time but I think that afternoon we passed some kind of barrier. The weather no longer affected us (at least not in the same way) and would never again cause us to consider taking a bus. In the rain we’d also forgotten about our heavy bags (a feature in the Lake District) and now we barely noticed them. There were of course other barriers to come.

Muker to Reeth is more than 8 miles and, as in the early days of our walk, we were basically alone. The Swaledale is a picturesque valley, probably why Wainwright chose it when he first planned a Coast to Coast walk. Slowly it slipped by and in the late afternoon we neared Reeth.
            Then, to our joy, the clouds began to clear and bright sunshine beamed down making the final half mile very enjoyable. Reeth is a delightful place and it’s open ‘square’ (which is actually more of a triangle) lit up beautifully. We sat on a bench and enjoyed the view, occasionally spotting other walkers.
            I popped into the newsagents and bought us a newspaper, for two reasons: firstly, to find out what was going on in the world – we felt very cut off – and secondly, to use as stuffing for our wet boots overnight. Newspaper has a wonderful way of collecting all the water inside a shoe; there’s another good tip if you’re planning a long walk soon.

After our stop we wandered down through the village and located the camp site where we would be staying that night. We knocked on the door of the owners’ house and were met by a lovely woman who immediately asked, ‘Are you on the Coast to Coast?’
            We confirmed that we were and she replied, ‘Just a minute. You can have our caravan.’
            We looked at each other, lost for words. Then Hannah said, ‘Are you sure?’
            ‘Yes,’ said the woman, ‘we let Coast to Coasters use it all the time. I’ll just get my husband to come and let you in.’

The husband turned out to be at a pub but jumped straight in his car when his wife phoned and raced down to meet us. We thanked them again and again, it was the perfect end to a tough few days and prepared us well for the ones to come.
            We spread out our gear and tried to dry it all as best as possible and then put the TV on. Hannah had received a text from Dad earlier checking we hadn’t been washed away and the footage we now saw helped us to understand. The flooding in Yorkshire was incredible and had all come because of the rain that we had been walking in for the past three days. We replied that we were fine, and being well looked after and were now ready for the next part of the journey.


The caravan!

Friday, 14 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 14


December 14th

Welcome to Day 14 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 8 – Part 1

~ Morning, We commiserate with an old man who has an amazing story, and a group of DofEers, Is it dry? We are in rural Yorkshire by lunch time ~

Morning came and we were still in the same place; the wind had failed to move us, in fact our tent had survived well. Sadly the same could not be said for our neighbour, a man, walking alone, who must have been over 70. We’d seen him the night before and had wondered how he was even still on his feet. Over breakfast though he told us an incredible story.
            A few years before he’d been backpacking in the Alps (again by himself) when he slipped and fell down a crevice. His bag cushioned him and certainly saved his life. He climbed into his sleeping bag and waited to be found. It took a day or two, by which time he finished his food, but he was found and it didn’t stop him walking!
            That night in Keld, however, had proven too much for his tent, which had ripped beyond repair in the wind. He did seem somewhat relieved to be going home and was pleased that he had a real reason.
            We also spent the early morning commiserating with a group of teenagers doing their silver Duke of Edinburgh. Half of them had spent the night in the minibus and all of them were pretty miserable.

The wind had dropped, and although it was still raining the fog cleared and we could see more of the valley ahead. Our gear, though was sodden and we hung around undecided on what to do. A bus timetable pinned in the shed revealed that there were buses from Keld to Reeth (our next stop).
            By eleven we had packed all our kit and with the rain almost gone we pulled our feet into wet boots again and headed out the door. As we reached the road a few rays of sunshine crept through the clouds and that made up our minds; we would stick it out and see how far we got.
            We expected the river to be swollen from the days before so we took the high route for a while, which gave us good views of the Swaledale Valley. After an hour or so, though, we began to drop back down as we approached the village of Muker. We wandered through it and found what we were looking for: a good pub. We entered and ordered two solid Yorkshire meals. It was warm inside and we began to steam. Around us was plenty of good rural chat and for the first time in days we were enjoying ourselves again.

 
 Coming into the Swaledale Valley.
 

 Looking back towards Nine Standards, the hill that nearly defeated us.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 13


December 13th

Welcome to Day 13 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 7 – Part 2

~ GPS, We find a road, People, Keld ~

When we planned to walk the Coast to Coast we knew it would rain. Even with the amazing sunshine for the first five days we knew we could not spend 14 days outdoors, in England, without meeting some precipitation. What we didn’t expect was to have about a month's worth of rain 24 hours. Cast your mind back to the third week of June and you will remember that Yorkshire experienced some fairly horrendous floods, it was the beginning of the wet summer, and we happened to get caught right in the middle of it.
            The rain was almost horizontal and hammering down. Using the map was impossible, but without the path we were lost. Our last chance was Hannah’s GPS, which so far we hadn’t used. GPS’s work best with no cloud cover, and lose their accuracy, or don’t work at all in the kind of conditions that we were in, which kind of defeats the object of them, I think. So it was by some miracle that it picked up a signal and pointed us towards the next marker.
            Hannah went in front, myself tucked behind her, and together we tramped across the hill, trying to avoid sinking into the sodden earth. I don’t entirely trust technology at the best of times and in a rain storm, not at all, but it was the only thing we’d got.
            After a while it picked up a second point and we walked on. Visibility was barely more than thirty metres and really we had no idea where we were going. The GPS could have been leading us completely wrong for all we knew. Roughly half an hour later, though, we saw something that almost made me want to cry with joy. A road. Firm tarmac, with a direct route to our destination.

Now don’t misunderstand me. We were still on top of the hill. The rain was still battering us and the wind still blowing a gale. But at least now I knew we could get off the mountain before it got too dark to see, which tells you how dim the light was, given that it was about 2pm on the 22nd of June!
            ‘We’re not leaving the road,’ I told Hannah. Tarmac may not be great for walking, but I had done enough wandering in the wild for the day and had no desire to go back to it. Hannah agreed and we set off down the road, which clung to the hill side in wide sweeping bends that descended agonizingly slowly.
            The worst thing was that the wind was blowing from that side of the hill, so there was no shelter and to describe how strong the wind was I’ll tell you something I saw.
            At one point a stream (which was more of a river) flowed down the hill on our left, passed under the road and then dropped almost vertically on the other side. Except that when the water gushed out of the pipe on our right the wind caught it a blew it back up, onto the road. It was an incredible sight.
            Looking to our right was difficult because all we could see was rain driving straight into us and mostly we kept our heads bowed and trudged on. Our legs ached and our feet were soaked. My boots had collected two lakes of their own and I was a little bit worried about the effect all this water would have on us. So far we’d been relatively injury free. Neither of us had blisters. But we weren’t even half way yet and I didn’t know how much longer I could go in wet boots.
            Finally the road descended more steeply as we entered the Swaledale Valley and finally a car stopped and asked us if we wanted a lift. However, with only half a mile to go, I decided that I did not want to give in and with some new found courage we pressed on to Keld. Just before we reached our campsite however we saw a large group of walkers coming off the hillside by a different route. We caught up with the back and heard how they had found a path and gone higher up the mountain. They had started earlier but for once had gone even slower than us because they had encountered streams above their knees, which made us very glad we’d stuck to the lower route (of sorts).

We reached the camp site. A rough, back garden of a camp site, with a drafty barn to put things in for a while. It was still raining and the wind blew straight down the site, which meant walking one way was easy and the other a battle. The wind practically put up our tent for us, but then spent the whole evening trying to blow it back down. We were very cold, the temperature had dropped so low we could see our breath and although it was only just after 4pm we both got into our sleeping bags and huddled up to keep warm. Later we came out for some food, cooked by the kind owners, but then it was straight back to the tent.
            This had been our toughest day and our lowest point on the walk so far. That night we both agreed that if the weather hadn’t improved by morning we would have to catch a bus.

 

Looking east from the barn, with the wind behind me. This was taken the following morning, when we could actually see beyond the house.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 12


December 12th

Welcome to Day 12 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 7 – Part 1

~ More rain, Late start, Wet boots, Hill climbing again, Streams have become rivers, We get lost ~

We slept a bit later on the morning of Day 7 and seeing as we were making breakfast ourselves for once we made a slow start. When we did look out of the tent, however, we discovered that the clouds were even heavier than the day before. The camp site was fairly quiet and no one seemed to mind if we moved all our gear into the drying room, which we did.
            When it became clear that the mist and drizzle wasn’t leaving we lifted the tent into a shelter in one corner of the site and packed it away, as best we could, before returning the drying room, which now smelt quite strongly of wet socks.
            We only had about eleven miles to go that day and so we delayed setting off as long as possible, thinking that after all the rain the day before it must blow over soon. We also didn’t like facing the idea of putting on wet boots. By 11.00 though we had to make a move and so we gritted our teeth, wrapped ourselves up, and set off for another day.
            We stopped in Kirkby Stephen (it was going to be the last major town for a few days) to get some food and also a roll of bin bags as extra waterproofing for our gear. Then we wound our way out of the town along a road leading up a hill. The road curves around an opencast mine, climbing all the time, and after passing some trees turns into a track.
            The higher we got the more exposed we became and far from relenting the elements seemed determined to better their efforts of the day before. The top of the hill, ahead of us, was completely lost in the cloud and the wind was picking up. The rain, of course, continued to fall. The track became a stream and we were constantly having to find ways to get around the increasingly large puddles. The ground was completely saturated from all the rain the day before and now the moor land was turning into a quagmire.

The hill is known as Nine Standards Rigg, because of the nine large cairns at the top, however, due to erosion, there are three paths, only one of which goes to the peak. In the morning we had decided not to attempt the ‘summer’ route, but to stick to the lower ones. Having reached the end of the track, though, it was difficult to see where any of the paths went.
            Another huge puddle sent us on a hunt to find a dry way through the boggy grass, a task that was getting harder every minute. Streams were turning into rivers and the path was becoming the main route for the water to get off the mountain. Hannah had found an abandoned, but fully functional, walking pole, which proved invaluable, not only in keeping her upright, but also testing the depth of the water. In one place we were forced to jump where the water would have been up to our shins.

Now we were completely exposed on the open hillside and using the map was difficult. The wind was very strong and the rain battered down harder than ever. The temperature had dropped too, although at the time I don’t think we really noticed. The low cloud made it dim and visibility was very poor. It’s hardly surprising therefore, that we struggled to find the path.
            We trudged around for about half an hour, going forwards and backwards, up rises to see if there was any sign of where to go, but without success. Of course having set off late everyone else was ahead of us, or had abandoned walking for the day, which right then sounded like a great idea.
            We were getting tired, although it was still early in the afternoon and we’d only done about 4 miles from the campsite. I was also getting nervous. We were on top of a mountain, in a rain storm, with no clear direction. We were tired, cold and very wet and I remember saying to Hannah, ‘just get me off this mountain.’

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 11


December 11th

Welcome to Day 11 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 6 – Part 2

~ No buses, We soldier on, Road walking, Wild horses, Hannah struggles to get over styles, The rain relents briefly, Kirkby Stephen, I try to make some dinner ~

I re-entered the bus shelter with the news that the timetable was vague about buses to Kirkby Stephen but that there certainly wasn’t one for at least five hours. We decided that Orton was nice, and probably a lot nicer when it wasn’t raining but we would rather keep moving. We looked at the map again and plotted a route of road walking, which might help us to move a bit faster for the next few miles. We donned our bags again and set off into the rain.
            The road was predictably dull although I don’t suppose the fields were much to look at in the rain either. We kept our heads bowed and our shoulders hunched and ploughed on. For a while we did well and started to feel more confident. Three miles slipped by but then the road ran out and we were back to the fields and scrub land. The path was nearby and all we had to do was find it and we would be back on course. However, as we crossed a cattle grid we saw a pack of wild horses standing in our way and decided to try and work our way around them.
            The horses were nervous and began shifting and walking, causing us to go further out of our way. Somehow though we ended up almost walking though them, probably the worst thing to do. They didn’t touch us and having made it past them we walked quickly on, heading in the direction I thought was roughly right. After five minutes though it became clear I had misjudged how much the horses had taken us off course.
            The land made walking difficult and with the rain still hammering down I was getting angry and marched on till I reached a wall. From there we tried to work out which way to go next. Then Hannah spotted some people in the distance and without hesitation we made towards them. After another ten minutes we were back on the path and finally heading towards Kirkby Stephen again.

We trudged on but the long day and the weather were taking their toll and the miles crawled by. Hannah’s legs were beginning to ache and getting over styles was getting tougher, especially the high ones. Meanwhile my boots had given up being waterproof and I was walking with an ocean in each one. We passed The Fabulous Three who had sadly become Two for the day because one of them (I forget which now) had bad blisters. Shortly after they caught us up when Hannah had got stuck at the top of a style over a high wall. We both de-bagged and I climbed up to help her.
            Eventually the rain eased and we were able to enjoy the magnificence of the Smardale Aqueduct. About an hour later we neared Kirkby Stephen and The Fabulous Two left us as they headed into the centre of town, while Hannah and I found our way to the camp site.
            There were a lot of Caravans and a few tents. The facilities were amazing, the toilet and shower block was huge, and even better they had a drying room, with a tumble dryer which we made full use of. Sadly though the nearest eatery was a mile away in town and neither of us felt like walking two more miles that evening. So I unpacked my Kelly Kettle for the first time.
            Typically, on a day that had not gone particularly well for us, it began to rain again, but I got the fire lit and the water was soon boiling. The heat then attracted midges and I felt like I was back at Blacksail. Once the water had boiled we made up some cup soups and instant pasta things and made do, retreating to the safety and comfort of the tent. Tomorrow could only get better… surely?

Monday, 10 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 10


December 10th

Welcome to Day 10 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 6 – Part 1

~ Rain, Over the motorway, A bleak landscape, We are drenched, We deliberate catching a bus ~

On Thursday, 21st June, we woke to rain. The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere was also soon to become our longest day of walking so far. The rain was not the light drizzle or mist we’d experienced most mornings either, and we left the tent up while we went for breakfast in the farmhouse, hoping that it might have stopped by the time we came out.
            At breakfast there were several more Coast to Coasters who had been staying in the B&B and we got chatting with them. Most memorable were two men walking together. One was fairly quiet, the other a little more vocal. As each new person entered the room the latter would tell his story of the previous day.
            Basically he had got lost, somehow. He’d taken several wrong turnings, gone back a few times and eventually given up and found a pub where his friend had called up the B&B and asked to be rescued! The worst thing about this (as far as Hannah and I were concerned) was that he blamed all of it on his guide book, which happened to be the same one we had used with complete success. The man began loudly abusing Martin Wainwright (see December 2nd post for our early loyalty to his fantastic work) and claimed that he was “useless”. We decided not to point out that we had managed fine, and Martin, if you’re reading this, please ignore him, the guide book is excellent.

After breakfast it was still raining and we dragged the tent into the barn to put it down. Having done that we wrapped ourselves in every piece of waterproof clothing we had and set off. Getting out of Shap proved harder than we anticipated and having made it over the railway line we fought our way along a path buried beneath undergrowth and by the time we came out the other end we were soaked.
            We met other people, including a father and son combination who’d also been at the B&B but had found a better route, and shortly after climbed up the bridge over the motorway (M6). On the other side the landscape looked very different, flat and featureless (at least in comparison to the Lake District) and the map became more important. As usual we moved slower than everyone else but with 20 miles to complete we knew we had to keep a decent pace.
            The path turns south for about four miles, which were fairly unmemorable. Very quickly we got tired; tired of walking, tired of the rain and the tiredness turned to grumpiness. We had planned to take the short cut past Orton as there wasn’t really a reason to go there, but we were so wet and desperate to find some shelter that we headed in.
            We found a brick bus stop and opposite a public toilet block with hand dryers. We had some lunch and discussed our options. There was still a long way to go and the rain didn’t look like relenting. We called our mum for some encouragement and checked the map to see if we could find any short cuts.
            We were very demoralised and were struggling to bring ourselves to go back out into the rain. Eventually I went out to look at the bus timetable.
 

A view inside our tent at Shap.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 9


December 9th

Welcome to Day 9 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 5 – Part 2

~ Mr & Mrs ‘we have two different guide books’, Shap Abbey, Cycle race, Fish and Chips, A bad forecast ~

As we donned rain coats we spotted a Coast to Coast signpost, something you won’t find in the Lake District because it is not an official footpath. Then we heaved up our bags once more and marched on. The hills were largely behind us and we were soon crossing fields and styles, still heading east.
            By this time most people had overtaken us but when we stopped at one style to check the map an older couple we hadn’t met before arrived. We heard them coming as we deliberated the correct route. They were doing the same thing but with a little less discussion and a little more argument. Their problem soon became clear.
            Man: My guide book says we go right at the style.
            Woman: Well my guide book doesn’t say anything about that.
            Man: Your guide book doesn’t even mention the style, so I think we should follow mine.
            Woman: But it doesn’t say whether we should turn right before the style or after it.
            Man: I’m pretty sure he means afterwards.
            Woman: But I can see a path going up the hill.
            Man: I think my guide book is telling us to go around the field so that we don’t disturb the sheep.
            Woman: My guide book doesn’t say anything about sheep.

            …etc.

In the end the four of us took our own path somewhere between turning right and going straight on. Once we reached the top of the small rise it became clear which way to go and we made better progress. Hannah and I let Mr & Mrs ‘we have two different guide books’ go on in front so that we could have a good laugh.
            Not long later, however, we caught up with them again and at the same time met the two old men who never stop (see yesterday’s post) and another old couple. Guide books were now in abundance and there were a good many opinions about which way to go. Hannah and I opted not to join in but to sit down and watch the chaos. If you ever get the chance to watch six old people with four guide books try to walk through a field you will see how entertaining this can be.

After a while the ruins of Shap Abbey came into sight and we knew we weren’t far from our destination. The rain had stopped and the sun re-emerged as we came into Shap itself and found the bed & breakfast where we were camping. Sadly the rain returned briefly just as we set the tent up, but it didn’t stop the chickens in the garden inspecting our skills.
            Once free of our bags we walked the short way into town, practically bouncing without the extra weight. We found a fish and chip shop and later a pub. There was a cycle race going on so I watched people whizz by every twenty seconds hoping to spot our friends from the day before.

Having seen none of our fellow walkers in either the chippy or the pub we decided to get to bed, knowing that the next day we had our first 20 miler, and that seemed even more daunting when we heard the forecast. Rain, all day.

 

A last look back at the Lake District.

 

Shap Abbey.

My Advent Calendar - Day 8


December 8th

Welcome to Day 8 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 5 – Part 1
 
~ Group walking, We are overtaken a lot, Americans and their Tour Guide, We take photographs, Departing the lake district ~

Another good breakfast gave us plenty of energy for the day ahead (that’s a helpful hint if you’re planning on doing a long walk yourself) but did delay us once again. This time when we set off, however, we found ourselves amongst a large group of walkers and together we kept a good pace. Seeing as we were carrying about three times more than anyone else though, we soon began slipping back as more people came up and overtook us.
            From Patterdale the path climbs and turns south for about three miles before swinging back to the east as it rises to the last really high peak of the whole walk (in fact it can be the highest you ever get if you choose not to make diversions like Hannah and I did). The peak is called Kidsty Pike and amazingly, if the weather is clear, you can see all the way to the coast, more than 25 miles away.
 
Looking west for a last view of the sea.

Helen, Nikki and Sarah, who we had by now nick-named The Fabulous Three, caught up with us several times throughout the morning as did a group of Americans being led by a Tour Guide. The first time they marched past they were sprawled out across the hill (i.e. not on the path) and the Tour Guide muttered, ‘I’ve lost one off the front, it’s like herding cattle this,’ as he passed us.
            When we rejoined them at the top of Kidsty Pike he was a lot happier, as were they, and when one of them asked us to take a picture we agreed. Then I did something stupid. I asked, ‘does anyone else want us to take one?’ Whereupon we received something in the region of twenty cameras and by the time we’d finished The Fabulous Three had also arrived.
            After a stop for lunch we descended to the shore of Haweswater Reservoir where we had the misfortune to run into ‘Campers,’ our bald, abusive, motivator, who gave us another barrage of scorn for still not having abandoned our oversized bags. After his group had moved on we agreed that he was wearing the same red top he’d had on the day before.

The path was now a proper track that skirted the edge of the reservoir from one end to the other (some three and half miles) and now that we were by ourselves again our pace dropped. We found ourselves stopping more often, and there was still some way to go. Two older men were also on the path and for a while we played leap-frog with them. We walked faster but they never seemed to stop and so we passed each other four or five times that afternoon.
            Eventually we reached the end of Haweswater and just beyond passed the boundary of the Lake District, and the end of Section 1. Immediately it began to rain.

 
Kidsty Pike (looking South East)
 
Haweswater Reservoir

Friday, 7 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 7


December 7th

Welcome to Day 7 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 4 – Part 2

~ Patterdale Youth Hostel, Dinner, We meet three ladies, Nikka and a keen Aussie (now there’s a surprise) ~

Patterdale is a nice little place at the south-eastern end of Ulleswater, and when bathed in sunshine, like it was when Hannah and I arrived, it looks beautiful. We sat on a bench outside the village store, which is run by a cheery American, and enjoyed not doing anything for a while. We bought postcards and some food to replenish the stuff we’d already eaten and then, still making full use of the gorgeous weather, strolled to our fourth stop. The day had been the easiest so far and was about to get even easier, because we’d booked a night in Patterdale Youth Hostel, which had beds and showers and even a wash/dry room so we were able to clean a few of our clothes.

Ullswater

We arrived for dinner at a similar time to a few other people and we were soon chatting with them. There was a group of three ladies sat at one table and at another a younger woman, by herself. All four of them were doing the Coast to Coast and yet this was the first time we’d met any of them.
            We began telling stories of our walk so far with the three ladies (Helen, Nikki and Sarah) regaling us with amusing stories of their difficulties with navigation and toilet stops; a problem when there are so many other walkers around. They were impressed with Hannah’s planning skills and our use of the Ordinance Survey maps, and even more impressed with our ability to put up with each other (as brother and sister) when they realised we weren’t a couple.
            The young woman (Nikka, not to be confused with Nikki), who turned out to be Belgian, then wowed us with a heroic tale. She had climbed Helvellyn and then come along Striding Edge (Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about), which had scared her considerably, especially because she’d seen someone in front of her practically crawling. She hadn’t been informed what the path entailed and she was still getting over what she’d done.
            We asked her if she was travelling alone. She nodded and then shared with us that she had just broken up with her boyfriend, who had been planning to come too. However, instead of giving up, she came over anyway and seemed to be doing rather well without him. The next morning she left early with a man who, up to that point, had also been walking by himself.

Later on we were sat in the lounge and got chatting with another woman, older this time and quite plainly from Australia. She also had a few stories to tell. Firstly she amazed us by mentioning that she had climbed 35 Wainwright peaks (that is 35 of the mountains that Alfred Wainwright wrote about) in just 4 days! Then she went on to explain that she used to be a fell runner, but was a bit slower now.
            She seemed to spend almost all her time walking up mountains having just come from the Alps where she’d taken some beautiful photographs, which she showed us. Finally she also dropped into the conversation that the last time she and her husband had been in the UK they had decided to cycle home (to Australia) but that they probably wouldn’t do it this time.
            I think her stories tried us out more than anything and not long later we were in bed.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

My Advent Calendar - Day 6


December 6th

Welcome to Day 6 of my Advent Calendar, where I am reliving my Coast to Coast adventure!

Day 4 – Part 1

~ Chris Evans, a damp morning, only 7 miles to go, breezy at the top, people! we meet some cyclists, Patterdale ~

Tuesday morning we woke up early and discovered we had enough signal to tune in to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on my mobile. One quick text later and Chris welcomed us into the ‘Good Morning Chris Club’, a goal of mine before we set off. Having achieved one target we then set about the main task for the day: getting to Patterdale.
            We packed the tent down (in a light drizzle) and then headed up Tongue Gill, the hill on which we had camped. The early start meant there was no one about and we still felt very much alone on this walk. The hill wasn’t particularly steep but we went slowly. It wasn’t a problem, however, because there was only about seven miles to go, on what was easily our shortest day.
            The sun emerged, but as we neared the top of the hill the wind prevented us from removing our coats. After we had passed a small lake and begun our descent, however, we began to warm up. Walking in the rain is of course much worse than in the sun, but that afternoon turned hot and we slowed considerably. This, though, allowed people to catch up with us.
            Firstly there were just a few walkers enjoying what is quite a popular area. Helvellyn is nearby and Patterdale is a beautiful place to spend a few days. Then came other Coast to Coasters who had begun the day later than us. We quickly realised that the number of people who carry all their gear was considerably less than we thought. In fact no one passed us carrying anything like what we had, although that would have been difficult, laden down as we were. Mostly we received sympathetic looks and comments as the streams of people who came up behind us, and then swept by, made it look as though we were walking through treacle. One man, however, decided that what we needed was to be mocked, and loudly proclaimed to his friends, ‘Hey look at these two campers!’ We just stood by and watched him pass.
            We weren’t too bothered. It was a gorgeous day and there wasn’t far to go, and then we received a gift. A moment to cherish.
            I looked down the hill, ahead of us, and saw two men, apparently in lycra and carrying expensive, road bicycles. As we approached them we found that we were not mistaken, unbelievable as the situation was.
            ‘Are you doing that for a bet?’ I asked, when they were only a few metres away.
            They replied with an out of breath laugh and stopped for a moment. ‘Is this the way to Grasmere?’ one of them asked.
            Hannah and I looked at each other. ‘Well, it’s a way to Grasmere,’ I said, ‘but you’ve got to go over the mountain in front of you.’
            ‘Oh, is it far?’
            Again we were slightly incredulous. ‘Well it’s taken us more than two and a half hours,’ Hannah said, ‘and we’re not carrying bikes.’
            The two guys conferred. ‘Yeah, I think we’ll go back. Thanks for letting us know.’
            ‘No problem,’ we replied as they turned back the way they’d come.

Looking back, that was definitely a special moment on our walk and one that I will remember for a long time.

After a while the path turned into a track and then eventually a road as we came into Patterdale in mid-afternoon sunshine. There to meet us sadly was the man from earlier.
            ‘Ah, you made it then, campers,’ he said in a cheery and yet thoroughly dismissive voice. From that moment on he became known as ‘Campers’, and if you, our happy tormentor, are reading this, you will know why, whenever we saw you we nodded and smiled and waved you on your way. Thank you for giving us a reason to battle on.

 
The lake at the top of the hill.

The lake at the bottom of the hill (Ullswater).