I thought this country was supposed to be flat.
Why we would decide to walk across a country is in itself very questionable, isn’t it? Why we would decide to do it in 13 days is an even more questionably questionable question. There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that if not for my Mom and Dad, I would have given up at the half-way point (okay fine, way earlier).
But! We went all the way across the country without paying a cent on transportation. And you know what? Not only did we save money on transportation (we all know how expensive Britain is ^.~), it was an absolutely incredible adventure. Sure, some days sucked. Our feet hurt, our backs ached, we had blisters in weird places and we came to find the simple act of standing upto be so grueling that we gave up on it completely when at all possible. But in thirteen days, by hook or by crook, we managed to walk, one foot in front of the other, all the way across this damn country. And we had some good fun along the way, too!
If you haven’t already, you can check out the first half of our walk here. Days 1 through 7 saw us ramble our way east from St. Bees to Keld, which is almost exactly in the middle of the country. And, as far as we knew, we’d put the hardest part behind us. The hills of the lake district had been conquered. The crazy winds and rains blowing in from the Irish Sea were behind us. And we were pretty certain it would be smooth sailing from here on in. I wish I could go back and slap some sense into myself. The final six days of our hike were as grueling as the first seven, arguably even more so. So much walking, in fact, that we started to wish there were other ways to walk. We’d walk backwards, simply because the muscles in our legs liked the change. Cartwheels happened when my feet were screaming for a break. I even rolled down grassy hills because I’m a child and I wanted to. I started to wish I knew how to walk on my hands.
Here’s how the second half of our Coast-to-Coast hobble turned out:
Day Eight (Thurs Sept 15): The Day we Walked Right off the Map Today’s plan was to stick to the low route because my achilles was still swollen like a balloon. But without much time at all, we wandered right off the map completely. We wandered so far off the map that we were forced to use our compass to determine our basic direction. Mercifully, it was warm and sunny, and we only had 19.5km to cover. We passed long-abandoned lead mines and plodded through wild moorland, and after a lengthy picnic lunch in the sunshine on a bench just outside of beautiful Gunnerside (where Mom and I sampled Bulmers No17 for the first time – verdict: delicious), we wandered to the top of a hill that was completely swarming with fluffy rabbits. We walked from Keld to Reeth, an attractive village that flourished at the height of the mining age and is packed tight with pubs and tea shops. We covered about 19.5km in 7 lazy hours.
Day Nine (Fri Sept 16): The Day of the Delicious Italian Dinner We walked from Reeth to Richmond today, covering 20km in something like 6 hours. We started late and were sad to leave Reeth, which I will definitely go back to if I’m ever lucky enough to be in the area again. The walk was pretty through Swaledale and was lined with limestone crags on either side. Since we started late, we didn’t arrive in Richmond with enough time to explore the city, but I did explore the bottom of my bathtub for a good hour. I’ve never appreciated sitting in water so much. And I only got out because the woman at the Bed and Breakfast had made the three of us a reservation at “the best Italian restaurant in Richmond”. Turns out, it was worth getting out of the bath after all. Mom, Dad & I shared a bottle of wine and feasted on delicious (non-pub, for a change!) food. I had the lobster ravioli. And I ate like 17 pieces of bread with it, too. And then we shared the cheese plate. Yup. And we finished that, too.
Day Ten (Sat Sept 17): The Day we Nearly Lost Morale Bruised, beaten, and exhausted before we even walked out the door, Day Ten will go down as the longest, most grueling day of our entire hike. Our guidebook states that “this is the longest and flattest day of the tour, bridging the gap between the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors National Parks.” It also goes on to call it a “gentle rural day”. Let me tell you something that I’ve learned through brutal experience. There is nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing!) gentle about this day. The walk is 39km. THIRTY NINE kilometers (24 miles, for you imperial people). And the weather wasn’t nice, either. In fact, it was rainy. It was yucky. And aside from a brief bit of sunshine at lunch, it was windy and it was also gross. We plodded through mud and potato fields and pulled ourselves over stile upon stile upon miserable stinkin’ stile. After huffing it for 5 hours and putting 22.5km behind us, we stopped for lunch in Danby Wiske. We said goodbye to most of our hiking pals here, because smart as they are, they’d decided 22.5km was far enough to walk in one day, thank you very much.
The three of us, on the other hand… were continuing on for a further 17km AFTER LUNCH. Reasonable, right? And as if that alone weren’t enough to endure, the rain moved in an hour into our afternoon walk and soaked us all to the bone, completely draining our energy before we had a chance to rainproof ourselves. And then, smart as we are, we tried to take a shortcut and wound up hopping random farmer’s fences and literally bushwhacking between fields while we tried to orient ourselves in the general direction of east. To be fair, today was the first day in my life I actually walked through a bonafide clover field, so that was pretty neat I guess. It was also the only day I’ve ever crawled between trees to escape a field and reach a highway while smacking my head on the underside of a road sign. Oh, and the climb to Osmotherly was vertical. So the last, backbreaking finale of today’s hike was a combination of weary legs on an uphill climb; not something I’d generally recommend at this point in the hike (or ever, for that matter!). We walked from Richmond to Osmotherlyand covered 39km in 9 hours. And then we had the pleasure of meeting the Sandwich Man from Hell.
Day Eleven (Sun Sept 18): The Day of the Sandwich Man from Hell and the Sleep Battles of Blakey Ridge After our long, hellish march from Richmond, we arrived at Vane House in Osmotherly to an incredibly impolite pompous thing of a man who not only refused to turn on the heat in his house but also refused to give us more than three sheets of newspaper to stuff into our dripping wet hiking boots. When we asked if we could have sandwiches for the following morning (a common request made by most hikers that he should have anticipated), the impolite pompous thing snapped at us, “Well it’s a bit late for that, isn’t it!?” We were mangled by every definition of the word and could barely stand when we arrived at his doorstep, let alone find a grocery store to buy a lunch for the following day. He grunted and groaned and asked us what kind of bread we’d like. “Brown, please,” and we retired to our rooms (I had to wear all my dry clothes to bed because the heat was off and I was frozen). We awoke on Day Eleven to a dripping array of hiking clothes, still drenched from the previous day because impolite pompous thing had refused to turn on the heat. Our boots were full of puddles and our pockets were full of mud. And then pompous thing brought us three giant packed lunches, including chocolate bars, packets of crisps, snack bars, juice boxes, pieces of fruit. All we’d asked for was a damn sandwich. Mom took out all the unnecessary bits (everything but the sandwiches and three pieces of fruit), and told him we didn’t have room for it in our bags. So the impolite pompous sandwich man from hell told my Mom it was £20 for three stinking sandwiches and three pieces of bruised fruit. My mom asked politely, “How much is it for one sandwich, then?” to which he snapped, “Fine. £15 for the lot.” I’m sorry, but twenty-five bucks for three sandwiches?! We were so annoyed with him that we paid and left, vowing that we would give Vane House bad reviews anywhere we could. (it should be mentioned here that, when it came time for lunch, we discovered that our “brown bread sandwiches” which cost nearly 10 bucks apiece, were made on gross white bread with chunks of butter and fatty hunks of ham. In short, the most disappointing and overpriced sandwiches of all time).
Walking from Osmotherly to Blakey was a rollercoaster, starting with steep, repeated ascents and descents in the Cleveland Hills, then across heather moors to Rosedale. Already weary from yesterday’s 39km trek, we were a bit surprised to discover we had another 34km to walk today! Thankfully, the morning was clear and we had great views from the top of Roseberry Topping and the North York moors, covered in sandy heather hills and funny-sounding grouse. After coming off Scarth Wood Moor, there was a long ascent (408m) before descending and ascending, in succession, Cringle Moor, Broughton Bank, and White Hill (all at or over 400 meters). We lost and then reascended 100-200m between each one. We threaded through a jungle of sandstone boulders at the top of White Hill, and after we followed a moorland ridge up another 454m, we maintained our height and followed the dismantled Rosedale railway line all the way to Blakey Ridge. We covered 34km in something like 8 hours, and finding the Lion Inn, an ancient oasis standing alone in the middle of the vast heather moors, was a great relief. Delicious cask conditioned ales greeted us and I may or may not have worn my socks to the pub for dinner.
A word on the sleeping conditions of Blakey Ridge: three people packed into one tiny room, where I was thrown into the nocturnal sleeping warzone of my two sleep-deprived parents. One with snores loud enough to shake the windows, the other with a noise machine to drown out the snores turned up so loud that it was impossible to ascertain what was worse: the shaking windows or the “drip drip drop” of the loudest fake rain shower I’ve ever heard. Aiii yi yi.
Day Twelve (Mon Sept 19): The Day that was Mercifully Short We were the last people to set off this morning, sleeping as late as we could and enjoying a lazy breakfast. When we finally left the Lion Inn, we spent the majority of the morning strolling through the moors with nothing but heather and the calls of grouse around us. From Blakey Ridge to Egton Bridge, we only had to walk 16km, and much of it was level or downhill. The trail meandered through the moors, we passed a strange Fat Betty (a large white landmark rising tall in the stunted heather), we followed blue skies to Eskdale and walked through pretty woodlands on the banks of the River Esk before flopping down in Glaisdale for a pint in the sunshine (where we met another couple from Vancouver, also doing the Coast-to-Coast walk). After lunch we plodded lazily to Egton Bridge, where we stayed at the delightful Postgate Inn which I am convinced serves the best pub food in all of the world. The menu was uniquely displayed on an array of little chalkboards around the fireplace. A little more expensive than regular pub food, but then again, this wasn’t pub food. This was the best food any of us had had in a very, very long time.
Day Thirteen (Tues Sept 20): The Day We Actually Made It! Sometime over the last twelve days, the motions required to propel oneself across a country had become an act of habit – wake up, walk, sleep, repeat. But until today it never really set in that we were actually doing it. From Egton Bridge, we followed a delightful private road to Grosmont and arrived in time to see a steam engine preparing for departure. From there, we headed back up to heather moors with views to the Whitby Abbey. Whitby itself is steeped in folklore and legend, which, along with the abbey’s foreboding ruins are said to have provided inspiration for Bram Stoker’s gothic masterpiece Dracula. A last area of high moor brought us to the coast, where we followed the final 3 miles along the coastal cliff paths to Robin Hood’s Bay. My dad and I were both hobbling at this point – so much so, in fact, that our substantially older comrades from the walk (Dave & Leslie) actually overtook us on the final leg. Nevertheless! We made it. :) From Egton Bridge to Robin Hood’s Baywe covered 25km in 7 hours on our final day crossing the country, arriving in the beautiful coastal town with red roofed houses clustered around the harbour on the North Sea about an hour before sunset. Just enough time to head to the ocean and toss the rocks we’d carried with us all the way from the Irish Sea into the water. Dad and I took off our hiking boots, wiggled our toes in the water, and then the three of us went for a celebratory drink, of course!
Looking Back: The Wainswright Walk is an incredible way to see England. The small villages it winds through, the interesting landscapes it introduces you to, the comradery it encourages. But if you’re going to do it, make sure you do it with people you love, or you’ll probably kill them before you reach the end. ;) The time I got to spend with my Mom and Dad was wonderful. I never get to spend this much time with my parents. And you know what? They’re pretty rad. Walking and talking, or walking and not talking… just being with them was amazing. And sharing this experience with them is something I will never forget. I would recommend this hike to anyone with a sense of adventure and an affinity for peeing in strange places. You should probably be able to deal with a bit of walking, too. ;)
If I were to do this trip again: I’d do it in 17 days. I consider myself pretty active and in somewhat decent shape. But that was tough. We had inclement weather which of course added to the level of difficulty, but giving yourself an extra few days to break up the walking and perhaps add a rest day or two would alleviate some of the stress and allow you to actually enjoy your destinations a bit more.
I’m going to go right ahead and cross this off my bucket list:
Walk across a country:Check!