“So how did you Aussies hear about our walk?”
“I guess it was Jill.” I answered, “She wanted to do it the year she turned 50.”
Truth is, that didn’t happen. Jill married Parry and that was the end of that year. However we never gave up on the idea. Frances plotted and planned. It took months of e-mails to arrange all of the accommodation. “Jill are you coming?” “Sure” and so it was on. We arranged to depart for the United Kingdom in 2015 to do the “Coast to Coast” walk. Kathy my sister also joined us, so that made five.
The “Coast to Coast” was the brain child of Alfred Wainwright. I think he hated his job as an accountant, and spent his time walking the Lakeland fells as a form of escape. I wonder what his wife thought. His seminal work, the “coast to coast walk”, joined walks in the Lakes district, Yorkshire Dales and Yorkshire Moors to create a journey that spanned the British isles from West to East in 192 miles (just short of 300 km).
We climbed out of the minibus to start our walk at St Bees, a small seaside town overlooking the Irish Sea. We walked down the pebble beach to immerse a foot in the water and to collect a pebble to carry across to the North Sea on the “other side”. The green hills were festooned with white sheep.
As we left the coast, we started climbing. Each day we were up another mountain. The climbs got higher and steeper. After a few days we found ourselves walking at the same pace as a Western Australian group of 5. One of their members, Anthony had a GPS, that would later prove helpful to find our way in the thick mist in the Fells. I don’t know why the mountains in this part of the world are called “Fells”. My guess is because you could so easily get lost, and fall down a precipice. The thick fog and the chilling wind didn’t help. And this was mid summer! Sheltering behind a stone wall we sipped a cup of tea and ate eccles cakes before descending down the precipitous Kidsy Pike with absolutely no vision beyond 2-3 meters.
Struggling over a saddle between peaks, we encountered a valley that opened out to reveal highland lakes and Tarns. Small birds flitted from one rocky outcrop to the next. Stone walls wound their way up impossible slopes. Who had built them? On top of another mountain we met a British Canadian couple with their 12 year old daughter, Zara, a mountain climbing prodigy who we nicknamed Heidi. Without complaining Zara chose incredible slopes that we elected to bypass.
Leaving the Lakes district we headed into the Dales. This area while not as tall as the fells had a feeling of solitude and remoteness. Curlews called plaintively across the highland bogs. Little streams tinkled and there was always a small band of grazing sheep. A line of ancient cairns, the “Nine standard Rigs” stood defiant on a lonely mountain top. Who had built them? The Romans, a Celtic king perhaps. Were they built for religious reasons, or just to ward off raiders? We will never know.
Each Evening we arrived exhausted at our Bed and Breakfast. Sometimes we were greeted with jam and scones and hot tea. We would refresh and then go into the township to find a pub for a meal. At Richmond we had a rest day. The small door on the street front opened into an enormous house that overlooked a rambling but award winning garden. The rooms were enormous and littered with antiques. Sitting in the garden reading a book among the hosters and roses and hydrangeas we discovered bumble bees and butterflies. It was a welcome interlude in the trek. As Frances read I wandered down to the river Swayle to walk in the forest and try and spot birds.
We bid farewell to Jill and Parry at Richmond. Our party was reduced to just three now. We crossed the fertile plains from Richmond to enter the Yorkshire moors.
In the moors we discovered the moor keepers, the grouse, and the grouse hunters. We heard two versions of the story. One versions was a cynical tale of a needless blood sport. The other story was about ancient traditions and wilderness preservation and aiding local economies. I guess the truth is a blend of the two tales.
Finally we arrived at Robin Hood bay, the end of our walk. This delightful seaside town built on a cliff overlooks a tidal mudflat. The whole town takes on a different mood as the sea waxes and wanes with the rising moon. Seagulls call loudly from the chimney pots or wheel overhead as we made our way down the windy streets. We stayed at the “Smugglers Inn” just meters from the seawall that protects the town from storms. Kathy found ammonite fossils in the sand of the beach.
Nearby was the town of Whitby, with its ruined Abbey overlooking the harbour. The Abbey inspired the Irish writer Bram Stoker to write the book Dracula. In fact we met a number of people dressed as Vampires while we were there. Whitby was also famous for its fish and chips and in particular their kippers.
Leaving the Northumberland coast we finished our holiday with a week in the Shetland Islands. I do not recall seeing a single tree while were there. The small stone houses sit amongst the green rolling pastures lit by exquisite light coming off the North Atlantic. The shimmering bursts of light off the water fascinated us the whole time we were there. The island are home to seabirds. We saw large colonies of gannets and at the very south of the island, Puffins nested in the cliffs. The islands are also home to a wonderful textile and cottage craft industry. We could easily have stayed another month. Sadly however our holiday had come to an end and we headed for home and work.