Coast to Coast and back again: nearly 400 miles in 29 days (days 15 – 29)
By Cindy West
The East to West crossing: Day 15 to 29
We were joined by four new companions at Robin Hoods Bay for the journey back to St Bees and were stocked up with lovely cakes made by them and our families to keep us fortified along our way.
Our route back almost mirrored our outward journey. There were just a couple of days when we did slightly more or less mileage dependent on our accommodation or terrain. We had more rain than sunshine over these two weeks but still enjoyed it all. Footpaths that were dry on our way west to east were muddier, streams fuller with stepping stones sometimes only just visible, waterfalls more spectacular as greater amounts of water flowed off the hillsides and rocks and stone pathways more slippery. We needed all our awareness to be on placing our feet firmly and following each others footsteps closely as we picked our way onto tussocks and stones through the, now even more, boggy bits. Helping hands were required as we jumped from stone to stone across streams that now seemed much wider and deeper.
“But you’re going the wrong way” was the very common comment we got from walkers we passed enroute. We came across many more walking this way than we did on our outward trip, not surprising as most people walk the route as described by Wainwright. We seemed to be the only ones walking into the prevailing winds, up the hills most come down and down the ones usually climbed up. There were no built in passing bays so care was needed when we met folks on the sometimes narrow rocky pathways as we were all encumbered with back packs and poles, that is apart from those amazing people who were actually running up and down the fellsides. We had lots of opportunity to cement Anglo – Canadian and Anglo- Antipodean relationships as our paths crossed.
The Lion Inn
It was great to walk down the long steep hill into Grosmont this time around but I had forgotten that there was another one the other side that we had breezed down two days earlier. The Lion Inn once more gave us lunchtime warmth on a cold and overcast day halfway through our twenty one mile stint from Glaisdale to Clay Bank Top on day seventeen.
Having enjoyed the rock scrambling through the Wainstones I looked forward to tackling them from the other direction. The climb up to them was shorter and steeper this time around and they didn’t disappoint me when I got there. They were perhaps a little harder to negotiate this way as my legs just didn’t seem long enough to reach the ground as I clamboured down from the rocks. There were times that it was easier to sit on the rock and dangle a leg over to slide to the ground below. It reminded me that, that’s how my neighbour’s children come down my stairs, it was good fun to be a child again.
The stiles through the stone walls separating the fields in Swaledale were interesting obstacles that lent themselves more easily to walkers of a different stature to me. They were narrower at the bottom than the top and I seemed to have trouble getting me and my back pack through the openings that just didn’t seem wide enough at the height I went through them. I often ended up with my hands on the top of the wall to lift myself up to swing through the gap as if exercising on parallel bars. Some had steps in the side of the walls up to and over the top that seemed like ledges only wide enough to put feet on sideways. Poles had to be dispensed with as I hauled myself up and over but used to steady my descent on the other side. It was tricky sometimes but lots of fun.
The Swale and Richmond Castle
The route alongside the Swale, near to Gunnerside gave us an interesting walk along a stone wall about three feet wide and about ten feet high, a bit of a vertiginous challenge for some if you looked down to the field below.
Our climb up to Nine Standards Rigg on day twenty two, from Keld to Kirkby Stephen seemed easier than the opposite way, perhaps it was just that it was earlier in the day this time around and we had fresher legs, or were we just that bit fitter having walked around three hundred miles now or around a hundred for our east to westers? The challenges of Lake District, soon to come would be the test.
Coffee and lunch stops were always welcome respites and to find a shepherds hut on the way was a bonus. On just such an occasion we met the minibus for lunch which was parked up off the road close to the shepherd hut. Lunch eaten we continued on our way to Kirkby Stephen expecting to meet our driver with the bus again at journeys end. But there was no bus when we got there, where was it? Yes it was stuck in the mud back at the hut, no phone signal and not a soul in sight. We will be forever indebted to our driver, Dave, who walked 6 miles along the road to call for help, flagged down passing motorists to pass on messages when the breakdown truck hadn’t arrived 3 hours later, tried digging the bus out whilst waiting for a tow and eventually arriving at Kirkby Stephen muddy from head to toe, cut and bruised but piloting our much treasured transporter and vowing never to park off road again.
Day twenty four was a long, sixteen and a half mile, haul from Shap to Patterdale. A grey, overcast day greeted us as we set out to once again master Kidsty Pike, everyone hoping that we would make it to the top this time around. Fields and pastures led us towards the tower of Shap Abbey draped in plastic sheeting and scaffolding as work is carried out to preserve this ancient monument now owned by English Heritage. On through fields and up passed Haweswater Dam and beyond into Lakeland proper. Walking on, the visa opens up as we ascend the fellside and reveals our biggest challenge of the day. This ascent to Kidsty Pike is shorter and steeper than the west to east approach, and, whilst still tough on lungs and legs, it seemed much easier this way round. The summit reached, we took advantage of a quick photo opportunity as it was too cold to hang around and lots of cloud unfortunately hid some of the undoubtedly magnificent views, and we started our long descent of open fellside. Although this part of the walk is an overall descent there were still some ups and downs to negotiate as we passed Angle Tarn, now for our third time, having seen it, disappointingly, twice on our first crossing. Our path continued down and into Patterdale at the end of a long day of walking that started at 8.15 am and finished at 6.35pm.
Ups and downs along fells and through valleys on a very damp day, took us through from Patterdale to Grasmere a mere hop of nine and a half miles with an early finish that allowed us a bit of retail therapy time in the lovely village.
Our route from Grasmere to Honister took us up and over Greenup Edge, a high pass, around 2000ft, linking two valleys. The day was wet and dismal, great care was needed underfoot particularly down the rocky path from the pass which was harder going down than it was up on our previous leg. This was one of the very few places that one of our companions fell, spread-eagled, face down, along a narrow rocky decent almost knocking over several others. Fortunately no one was injured. Day twenty six finished and three hundred and sixty miles completed.
Honister youth hostel, our overnight accommodation, is next to the only slate mine still operating in England. With only a short walk of six miles to Ennerdale planned some of our group took the opportunity to do a very interesting tour of the slate mine in the morning. A wise decision for us all as it happened, because the heavy rain slowed to a drizzle later in the morning and the sun pierced the clouds as we started our trek up from the mine and down some steep valley sides towards the lonely, isolated Black Sail Hut, now a sought after youth hostel. Surrounded by the magnificent peaks of Great Gable, High Crag and Haystacks, names that many of us know, this tiny haven for walkers and hill climbers, has been carefully restored and slightly extended but retains much of the charm and appearance of it’s original use as a shepherd’s bothy. An easy walk down to Ennerdale youth hostel at the eastern end of Ennerdale Water completed our days walk.
I woke the following morning excited at the prospect of once again skirting the edge of Ennerdale Water with its challenging rock scrambles, however not all my companions shared my enthusiasm for this quite tough twelve miles. It didn’t disappoint, it was, I think, more difficult on this leg as we clambered down slippery rocks trying to find firm footholds and using our hands to steady us on our descent. Still to come was an ascent up and down Dent Hill, our first real challenge twenty eight days ago. We took it in our stride, fitter now than we were, with much higher peaks successfully bagged over the last month.
Our last day dawned bright and sunny, like our first had been. Just six and a half miles to our journeys end and a lovely coastal section down to St. Bees awaited us. The sight of the beach at St Bees as we descended from the high cliff coastal path was a joy tinted with sadness as soon our journey would be complete.
St Bees start or end of Wainwrights Coast to Coast walk 183 miles
Poles and rucksacks discarded in the minivan, we gleefully headed for the beach with our treasured stones to once more, and finally, dip our boots in the Irish Sea at the end of our wonderful journey. Laughter, hugs and kisses were joyously exchanged as we hurled our stones back from whence they came. Sparklers were lit and champagne was drunk to mark the end of our journey.
A journey of nearly four hundred miles up fells, through valleys, across streams and verdant pastures. A journey that had taken us through the peaks and troughs of landscape and emotion as we faced and met the challenges presented by our lovely country and our own psyche and fitness.
So? Was I mad? …….. Absolutely not!!
I spent twenty nine days with wonderful people who will always be special to me. Their courage, commitment and tenacity was inspiring and their friendship precious. Thank you all.
Friends and family: For the lovely cakes, your support, travelling up to Yorkshire to spur us on, your patience especially when you didn’t hear from us when phone signals were non existent. Your love.
Adrian: For your leadership, organisation, photographer, story teller roles
Tony : For your leadership, guide and guardian, pacemaker, Helping Hands, coffee maker, photographer roles
Dave: For your skills as a driver, comedian, mender of all things broken from rucksacks to minibus.
LFA friends who sponsored me and gave donations: I raised around £1,670.00
The whole team raised around £15, 000
Go to start of Coast to Coast report Coast to Coast days 1-7