Halfway Across England – Seven Days in to the Wainwright Walk

Mom navigating a lot of mud. ;)

Seven Days ago, my parents and I started walking across England. We’ve walked and we’ve walked and for the last week it feels like all we’ve done is walk. And walk. And walk, with brief interludes of local pints and napping.

We’re in Keld now. Which is exactly half-way across the country. And we’ve managed to get here using only our feet. It’s kind of amazing, in a way. Kind of stupid too, in a lot of other ways.

It has been an unseasonably windy and rainy September, according to all the Brits we’ve met on this trip. They blame the Americans for the hurricane that swept past New York and subsequently traveled across the Atlantic to smash the UK with these intense winds. I’ve managed to aggravate my achilles tendon somehow. Don’t ask me how, because I haven’t the foggiest. But it’s swollen and it hurts and every 4 hours I thank god for drugs. Because drugging myself up on ibuprofin is the only way I’ve been able to keep going.

Here’s how we got here:

Day One (Thurs Sept 8): The Day of the Perfect Picnic Lunch We walked from St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge. We covered 23.5km, along the Irish Sea and inwards to Dent Mountain. We saw sunshine at lunch and had a perfect picnic with a view to the Isle of Man before carrying on to Cockermouth to rest our heads. We didn’t know it then, but it was the last time we’d see the sun for four days. It took us 36,143 steps to get to Cockermouth – read about it here!

Mom & Dad on one of the many stiles crisscrossing the countryside.

Day Two (Fri Sept 9): The Day of Rain Soggy. Wet and grey and rainy. We hiked from Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale, covering 26.5km in seven hours. We crossed high ground and rougher terrain, calling for more awkward navigation than I’d expected. But we made it to Borrowdale, and we stayed at the lovely Knotts View House in Stonethwaite after pinting ourselves with local bitters at the Langstrath Hotel. Remote town in the middle of nowhere.

Dad finds a piece of twine to tie up my muddy pants with ;)

Approaching a mountain lake in the midst of sideways rain.

Day Three (Sat Sept 10): The Day of Peat Today is the day Peat revealed himself to me. Under the guise of more sog, more wet, and more rain, we hiked from Borrowdale to Grasmere. It was only 20km, but it felt like quite a long day because it was rough underfoot and a bit strenuous (we took the upper route – the Helm Crag detour). Might I mention that it was also extraordinarily boggy. My good friend the Peat Bog made it impossible for us to pass without acquainting ourselves fully with him and, in turn, getting ourselves very wet. He made me really, very wet. All the way up to my knickers. In fact, I fell so deep into peat that my poles got stuck and I was laughing so hard as I was sinking that I had some serious trouble pulling myself out. I nearly fell back in! The rest of the day involved more peat and more peat and more and more peat. And rain. Oh, and wind. Winds of 80 miles/hour today.

Moments after I went thigh-deep in the peat to the left. Ahh. Ha.

Dad's map & compass proves superior to a GPS. ;)

Day Four (Sun Sept 11): The Day of 100 mile/hr Winds Grasmere to Patterdale and St. Sunday’s Crag. In our guidebook, it reads “If you plan to go over St Sunday’s Crag, it should be emphasized that it should be attempted unless the tops are clear of cloud and that you are competent with map and compass.” Well guess what. The tops were most definitely not clear of cloud. And I’m not exactly versed in the ways of compass reading (though my dad has been teaching me!^^). I think we’re the only traveling group that isn’t using a GPS device. Go us! Anyway, we met 100 mile/hour winds at the top of St. Sunday’s Crag. Add to that sleet and hail and a fog thick enough to make my fingers disappear from my body, and you’ve got a good image of what we dealt with on Sunday. Just ridiculous. Really frightening at times. We contemplated retracing our steps and heading back at one point. And to be honest, I’m surprised we didn’t all get blown off the top.

Mom and wind. And a bit of a view. :)

Day Five (Mon Sept 12): The Longest Walk Ever I don’t think I could have walked an additional inch today. Under rain and more turbulent skies, we walked over the most diverse types of terrain yet, all the way from Patterdale to Shap. We’re walking out of the Lake District, so everything is still hilly and flooded (the lake we walked alongside this morning was completely overflowing – trees and fences at the lower levels totally submerged in the surging waters of the lake). We covered nearly 30km in 8.5 hours. I’ve never been happier to be wearing rainproof gear. And I’ve never been happier to arrive at a bed before. We walked longer than we slept today. I’m not used to that. And I think I pulled my achilles. Because it hurts. And when we finally arrived at our place of rest (the marvelous Brookfield House, run by the very sweet Margaret), I about collapsed in the shower. And then we had to go on another walk to find dinner. Because that’s just exactly what we all felt like doing after we’d arrived – going for another walk.

Crossing a river. I didn't see the bridge ;)

Day Six (Tues Sept 13): The Day of the Achilles Out of the Lake district now (which was surprisingly very lumpy!), walking from Shap to Kirkby Stephen. We covered 33km in a little over 8 hours, starting out after a delicious fruit salad breakfast at the Brookfield House (it’s been an entire week since I had any fruit!!), and innocently duplicating a certain amount of initial walking the moment we stepped out of the door. Having covered 2 miles we didn’t need to cover, we started putting actual mileage behind us as we walked towards Oddendale. We hiked among the hills, searching for Robin Hood’s grave, which was as inconspicuous as I had imagined it would be. We skirted the bottom of Orton Scar, passing Sunbiggin and Friarbiggins (I love the names in this country!). My achilles started to really hurt, so I drugged myself up on ibuprofin. Profusely. Through to Ravenstonedale Moor and onwards to Kirkby Stephen, where I drugged myself up again.

Public footpath, for real.

Day Seven (Wed Sept 14): The Day I followed the Road To start the day off on the right foot, I wandered for 1.5 miles in the wrong direction. ;) After backtracking and turning down an offer from a friendly couple to drive me all the way to Keld (I figured I’m not allowed to take cars on this coast-to-coast walk), and finally navigating myself to the correct road,  I wandered unimpressively along the tarmac road all the way from Kirkby Stephen to Keld. I walked 19km in 4 hours. Go me. (it was easy walking) And maybe it saved my achillies? And then I ate curried banana soup because the pub owner here told us to eat it or get out. And it’s a good thing we listened to him, because it was the tastiest soup I’ve ever tasted.

Keld Lodge, home of the famous Curried Banana Soup - also where I'm currently seated! :)

And so we’ve made it half way. Now, it’s one thing to say you’re going to walk across England, but believe it or not, it’s an entirely different thing to actually do it. It’s not really all that easy. I mean, it’s not incredibly difficult, but it involves a lot of vertical climbs and steep descents and navigations across rivers and over peat bogs. It means tending to injuries and navigating maps in whiteout conditions at the top of crags battered with 100 mile/hour winds, getting to know the elements of nature and becoming very familiar with sheep poop. It’s a good thing we have rain gear, and it’s a good thing we have gortex and a compass. We’ve met 3 people so far who started the hike the same time as us and have already had to give it up. And this is supposed to be a holiday! ;)


Sign on Day 7: We've made it half way!!