In early August 2022 I decided that, as a 50th birthday present to myself, I was going to walk across the whole of England, from the Cumbrian Village of Saint Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire, following the path of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast. I began a journal of the preparation and, hopefully, completion of that trip at around the same time. As it’s getting very long I decided to start posting individual entries, but all entires will still be available in the massive, original post as well.
September 21, 2023: When I wrote my diary entry yesterday I was still coming down from the adrenaline rush of the day’s hike. After it was gone, I realized that I was more mentally exhausted than physically exhausted. Absolutely drained, in fact. Then I slept poorly, waking up due to hyper-realistic dreams in which I was crossing rushing rivers and clinging to rocks while trying not to fall on flooded trails. Which is to say: I was reliving Wednesday’s hike with some mild post-traumatic sprinkles on top. I gave up on sleep at 4am and looked at what the day ahead of me had in store.
It was not inviting. Another fell but larger and steeper and with more water crossings than yesterday. Perhaps they had calmed down but not necessarily, as it still rained overnight. Oh, and after the descent there would still be another 11 miles worth of walking. It sounded like absolutely nothing I wanted to do, so I called an audible and took a roundabout route that Wainwright himself advised people to take in poor weather. I did this despite the fact that today’s weather was absolutely lovely, because (a) who knows how long those becks will surge; and (b) I was kinda over it.
There was a time in my life when I would’ve been disappointed in myself for making this decision, but I don’t have any regrets. The Coast to Coast, like all long walks, is more of a mental challenge than a physical one and, even though I was exhilarated after getting through yesterday, and even though I felt strong enough physically to get over the mountain, I was in no mental state to do it again. I still have a lot of miles ahead of me and I have to listen to what both my body and my mind are telling me. Ultimately, the point is to get across the country and enjoy myself, not count off mountain peaks and spend a fifth straight day in extremis.
The roundabout way takes you northeast up the lake to the village of Pooley Bridge followed by a southeast turn that takes you around the back of the mountain. It still takes you up a fell — Askham Fell — but it’s a very modest one of about 1,000 feet compared to the 2,700 or so feet the standard route takes. It’s a true leisurely hill walk, not a scramble or a climb and there are no becks to be found. After the small fell you descend through a bracken-filled moor which puts me in mind of the kind of terrain I’ll be covering for many, many miles later in the trip. The route crosses High Street, the old Roman road that, extending south, ends up climbing and crossing the high fell route I skipped today, and where the name “High Street” is more famously applied. It then takes you along an absolutely charming road through the countryside, going through a couple of tiny villages, then more countryside, and then deposits you in the village of Shap, where I am staying tonight.
With the exception of some light rain when I woke up in Glenridding but which subsided before I set out, it was sunny all day. There was no complicated navigation so for the first time I could listen to some music and put myself in that mindspace that best lends itself to miles and miles of walking. I painstakingly studied the Coast to Coast for the past year so I knew full well how rugged and difficult the Lake Country portion of the walk was going to be, but today’s walk was like what most people imagine I’m doing over here as far as scenery and terrain are concerned. Indeed, based on conversations I’ve had over the past several days, there are no small number of fellow walkers who believed the whole walk would be like this too. The Lake District smacked me in the face a bit, but I imagine it really smacks you in the face if you’re not ready for it.
It’ll be an early bedtime for me tonight. I’ll sleep well, knowing that I made the smart choice today, even if it wasn’t the boldest one. To thine own self be true, ya know?
Before I get to the day’s hike, I absolutely HAVE to share this from last night at the Fairlight back in Glenridding. This may just look like a utility closet with a water heater and random cleaning supplies, but it’s also what passes for the Fairlight’s drying room. When the proprietor showed it to me I had to try hard not to show my dubiousness, especially considering how fully soaked my clothes were, following my day of fording raging becks. Particularly my boots, as it’s really, really hard to get your boots fully dry once they’ve been drenched. But friends: my boots, which I balanced upside down on the top copper pipes, with my socks and other clothes below them, came out a dry as a bone and pleasingly warm. This sad looking closet is the absolute best drying room in England, of this I am certain.
The scene as I left Glenridding this morning. The Lake District is ridiculous in all the best ways.
Just east of Pooley Bridge, looking south toward the route I was supposed to take today. Yeah, no. Not today. Maybe another time.
The gentle rises of a walk in the countryside agreed with me.
The scenery of the Lake District is the obvious draw, but the second most impressive thing is just how damn many stone walls there are and just how damn long they are. Some of them go straight up the mountains for thousands of feet. Others stretch for miles and miles. I get that people have lived around here for thousands of years and they’ve had plenty of time to build walls, but I cannot stop thinking how much labor and how much time it must’ve taken to do it. I’m sure this is obtainable information but I’m enjoying myself much more not knowing but simply marveling.
A lot of stone barns too.
Not gonna lie: I’d watch a Superman/Batman/Kylo Ren crossover
Bampton has almost nothing in it but a few houses, a little store, and a lot of sheep, but its church, St. Patrick, is pretty cool. This building dates to 1726 but there have been churches of various stripes on this site or over 800 years. Its graveyard is pretty trippy. A whole lotta extremely descriptive headstones, like “Jane Cartwright, died in childbirth, aged 28, along with two daughters, Rose and Mara, newly born, 1820.” Death, particularly young death, was a much more day-to-day fact of life back then.
I was so happy to be in the sunshine that I did what you’re not supposed to do and took a photo of it.
The village of Shap. Just beyond it, though it’s hard to see, is the M6 motorway and the West Coast Mainline Railway I took on the way up from Manchester to Carlisle and then down to St. Bees on Saturday. Shap is still, technically, in the Lake District, and Orton, where I’m going tomorrow, is still Cumbria. But the M6, which I’ll cross and track south with tomorrow, unofficially marks the end of the Lake District section of the Coast to Coast, and puts me just past the 1/3 mark for the walk overall.
The Hermitage, in Shap, where I’m staying tonight. It was built in 1691 and contains a LOT of late 17th and early 18th century furnishing and antiques and things. It’s truly impressive. Though I’ll admit, I’m a bit intimidated by the lady who owns and runs the place. She’s nice in that way that certain sorts of English people can be nice but in which they’re really being kinda mean. Check-in is listed at 4PM. Everywhere else on my trip is 3PM. Every place I’ve been to so far lets you in early, even if your room is not quite ready, so you can take a load off. I got here at about 3:45. Jean, though clearly inside, kept the front door locked until 4pm and I had to sit on those chairs out front. When she let me in she immediately made me take my boots off, which was totally understandable, but she did it in away that made me feel like a six year-old boy being given a talking-to by his mother. Also: I was told that if I got takeaway from the chip shop down the road I was NOT allowed to eat it in my room, I was to eat it in the kitchen, because she will NOT have crumbs and grease on her antique furniture.
I’m not gonna complain beyond that, though, as my room is big and nice and cozy and, as I write this, Jean is doing my laundry. I really, really, needed my laundry to be done, you guys.
Tomorrow is a short, easy and pretty flat hike, mostly because the trip anticipates that you just killed yourself doing the hike I peaced out on. Oh well, guess I get two relatively chill days in a row. I’m still hiking about 24 miles between those two chill days, but after the Lake District, folks, that’s easy.
Other Coast to Coast Diary entries:
- Preparation: Coast to Coast planning, training, and general farting around
- Preparation: September 14, 2023: Hanging around Manchester
- Preparation: September 15, 2023: Another day hanging around Manchester
- Preparation: September 16, 2023: Traveling to St. Bees
- Walking Day 1: September 17, 2023: St. Bees to Ennerdale
- Walking Day 2: September 18, 2023: Ennerdale to Seatoller
- Walking Day 3: September 19, 2023: Seatoller to Grasmere
- Walking Day 4: September 20, 2023: Grasmere to Glenridding
- Walking Day 5: September 21, 2023: Glenridding to Shap
- Walking Day 6: September 22, 2023: Shap to Orton
- Walking Day 7: September 23, 2023: Orton to Kirkby Stephen
- Walking Day 8: September 24, 2023: Kirkby Stephen to Keld
- Walking Day 9: September 25, 2023: Keld to Reeth
- Walking Day 10: September 26, 2023: Reeth to Richmond
- Walking Day 11: September 27, 2023: Richmond to Danby Wiske
- Walking Day 12: September 28, 2023: Danby Wiske to Osmotherly
- Injury and The End: September 29, 2023: Back to Manchester and a visit to the NHS
- Finally: The entire Coast to Coast Diary — all 55,000 words of it — if you’re not into the whole brevity thing