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: I slept wonderfully last night. The clear skies caused the overnight temperatures to drop down into the mid-40s and the old house in which I was staying was the sort in which the upstairs rooms get quite chilly at night. That’s perfect for me, actually. I absolutely love to sleep in a warm bed in a cold room. Anticipating that I might have nights like this during the trip I brought with me a pair of warm pajama pants, some fuzzy wool socks (non-hiking variety), and a fleece pullover that I wear as much as possible in the winter. Rather than eat out at a restaurant last night I got a sandwich, some treats, and a pint bottle of ale from the shop down the road, took it back to my room, got into my warm, cozy clothes, got under the covers, and ate and drank while watching a movie. It was absolutely lovely. What I wouldn’t give to spend a whole winter in a house like this.
I knew two other people were staying in the house with me but I had not seen them last night. When I came down to breakfast, wouldn’t you know it, it was the cribbage guys. They looked extremely weary and not particularly happy. They had taken the long, hard route that I eschewed yesterday and it beat the hell out of them. The climb, they said, was brutal. The descent was even worse. It’s steep and precarious as it is, but with all of the rain many of the usual footholds were either wobbly or had given way entirely. The long walk following the descent was through extremely boggy terrain which was later replaced by rocky terrain. One of them described it as a “death march.” Their boots were completely soaked, their knees and hands scraped, and their backs and legs were in serious pain.
I didn’t mention this in the previous diary, but yesterday was to be the day that a subscriber of mine from Edinburgh, Pete, was to hike with me. The night before I had emailed him, telling him not to come down because I was having second thoughts about taking the tough route but he had missed it and arrived anyway. I had breakfast with him in Glenridding and explained where I was, mentally speaking. I apologized for bailing on a hike he was looking forward to but he was supremely gracious about it all. After some pleasant conversation Pete, an avid hiker and hill climber, said he was going to hang in the area and do some day hiking up on the high peaks before making his way back to Scotland in the evening. This morning when I woke up I opened an email from him:
I’ve just caught up on your diary for the last two days. My goodness, your photos from Wednesday look brutal! I can tell that one or two of these are definitely not meant to be proper rivers. Just little streams across a field, except that they turned into raging torrents especially for you. Yesterday must have been quite a contrast for you.
The “high” C2C route for yesterday ends up along Haweswater reservoir, crossing some streams that have a very large catchment area. So I am convinced that you made the right call in not trying that route. When it’s too far to go back and not safe to go forward, that’s a big problem.
Have a good day!
Between what the cribbage guys said and what Pete said I am even happier now that I made the choice I made than I was when I went to bed last night. And I was already pretty satisfied when I went to bed last night.
Today the cribbage guys, who are on a tighter schedule, took yet another long walk — over 20 miles — to get to Kirkby Stephen, which I won’t get to until tomorrow evening. They had seen Richard and Frances, the New Zealanders — who, despite my concern, seem to be doing alright — and Nina, the lawyer from Bristol, up on the peaks yesterday and they were pretty sure that group was also doing the long hike today. With Guy and Greg, the Canadians, already well ahead due to their aggressive itinerary, that pretty much means that this morning was the last I’ll see of any of my impromptu Lake District companions. That makes me a bit sad but it’s how these things go. I’m glad I had the chance to meet them and walk with them, all of whom helped and encouraged me at one time or another and all of whom, I am pretty sure, I helped and encouraged at one point or another as well.
Today’s walk was to the little village or Orton. Shap to Orton is an optional short walk for either (a) those who need to recover from that last massive fell I skipped yesterday; or (b) those who have no desire to do over 20 miles to Kirkby Stephen. I didn’t need the recovery but, after a pretty long, though mostly flat walk via Pooley Bridge on Thursday, I also didn’t feel much like walking over 20 miles. Big shoutout to my booking company for presenting this option when I booked last winter. Though all of my early-hike companions are going straight through, a lot of people take the same 16 days I do, go all the way to Kirkby Stephen today and build in a rest day someplace down the line. I think a “rest day” being a short walking day is a better option. Honestly, none of these villages in the middle of the trip, post-Lake District, justify a whole day in them so I’d probably get a bit bored. And honestly, a day of not walking is a day in which I’d be likely to stiffen up some and maybe lose some momentum.
Leaving Shap I crossed both the West Coast Mainline Railway and the M6 Motorway, which is like a U.S. Interstate. Being around that level of traffic and civilization is kind of jarring after nearly a week in the sticks. I soon left those behind, however, and spent most of the short, eight-mile walk in rolling fields which, on occasion, pass by big boulders, a cairn or six, and a couple of the dozens (hundreds?) of ancient stone circles scattered across England. These are definitely not Stonehenge quality, even if they may have served similar purposes for someone at some point in the past. Most of the rocks are barely bigger than three or four feet across and most have fallen over so from ground level they just look like a bunch of small boulders. They aren’t marked in any way and if anyone ever studied them they ceased doing so many, many years ago. I’ll pass an actually significant stone circle in a couple of days and make a note of that but these deals don’t really jazz me.
Orton itself is a pretty cute little Village. Its best feature is Kennedys, a small family-owned chocolate making company with an attached tea room. As the day’s short walk got me into town well before I could check into my hotel I made the wise decision to get a cup of coffee and a chocolate/peppermint crunch traybake, which is what I suppose we’d call bars. It was every bit as satisfying as some of the post walk beers I’ve enjoyed. Not that there won’t be a pint later. My hotel tonight is actually in the town’s pub. I’m one floor above the bar. It’s not the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in — it’s fairly run down actually — but (a) the water pressure was good and the water was nice and hot; and (b) you can’t beat the location.
Tomorrow I go a little under 13 miles to Kirkby Stephen, which is a bit of a bigger place. Then on Sunday it’s on to Keld, at which point I’ll be just beyond the halfway point of my walk.
Walking over the West Coast Mainline. That’s a Transpennine Express heading south from Penrith to Lancaster. I took this train, up in the other direction, last Saturday so, hey, I’ve been here before!
Attention Gen-Xers who were led to believe by cartoons, old sitcoms, and movies that quicksand was gonna be a bigger concern in your lives than it has been: I found the place for you.
This was the sort of terrain I covered today. This is looking east, where the Pennines loom. And for as foreboding as those skies look, I managed to avoid rain all day today. Huzzah.
Made it into my second national park of the walk. And yes, the Yorkshire Dales extend from Yorkshire into Cumbria. Weird, but it’s their country and they can do what they want with it.
In navigating for this walk I have almost exclusively used digital Ordinance Survey maps uploaded as GPX files into the AllTrails app, which can then be downloaded and used while offline while your phone, even without any cell signal at all, tracks your position via satellite. This method tells you where you need to go, your elevation, what elevations are ahead, how far you’ve gone, your pace, how long until you arrive. and it notifies you if you’re off the trail by anything more than a few dozen yards deviation. As a backup I have a paper Ordinance Survey map and a compass and I know how to use them so if something happens to my digital method I’ll be OK. In between those methods are the hand-drawn maps created by Wainwright himself and guidebook writers in the 50 years since that give you practical directions with sketches and things, saying stuff like “at the leaning boulder continue straight for a good while.”
I look at those sketches and read those colloquial directions in my hotel rooms in the evenings, but if for some reason I found myself having to use them I’m pretty sure that, when I reached the next village, I’d immediately get on a bus to a town with a train station and get my ass to London or Manchester for an early flight home. That kind of wayfinding just makes me want to bash my head into the wall.
A lot of hikers find this kind of country to be boring. At best they see it as a necessary place to get through between the mountain stages. I get that on some level but I think this landscape is beautiful. Peaceful. At times mesmerizing. A person can get a lot of deep thinking done while walking over land like this.
As I’ve written elsewhere, one of the best things about the UK is that, more often than not, and with a few pretty moderate restrictions, the public has the right to walk over private land, which has left the country crisscrossed with walking paths and bridleways and things. It’s pretty jarring, then, when you see signs like this, which are everywhere in America but are unusual here, especially up in the part of the country where I am. Maybe an American lives here.
At the edge of the Village of Orton is a bus shelter that doubles as a little library with donated books and DVDs and things. No one staffs it. There’s a charity donation box which people are encouraged to use if they take something, but there are no prices and it’s not required. I decided to eat my lunch on the bench inside. The last thing I want to do is carry another book around with me but I dropped a couple of pound coins into the box.
The inside of the bus shelter/library. The mural, painted by schoolchildren in the 1950s and freshened up every few years when the elements get to it, depicts the four seasons and surrounds the entire interior. It may be the most adorable bus shelter in the history of bus shelters.
My coffee and peppermint crunch traybake at Kennedys. They even give you a couple of chocolate wafers with the bill.
My hotel for the evening. My room is the one behind the two windows on far left of the second floor, right under the sign and right above the pub. As I’m writing this I’m gettin’ kind of hungry. Know what? I think it’s time to go get a pint and something to eat.
I’ll be checking in from Kirkby Stephen tomorrow.
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