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 25, 2023: What a difference a day makes.
Today was not the most spectacular day on the Coast to Coast — it’s impossible to beat the Lake District for views and for sheer exhilaration — but it may have been my most enjoyable day of the hike so far. But before I get to that, a story from last night.
An American couple and I had dinner together at Keld Lodge. They’re probably in their late 60s. They’re avid hikers and have done these sorts of trips often over the last 30 years.
I mentioned to them yesterday that at one point before I got onto the fell heading up to Nine Standards a car drove by me and stopped, probably because I was stopped, I was looking at my map, and I may have appeared confused. The driver rolled down his window and asked me if I needed a lift. As it had not yet begun raining and I was still optimistic about the day ahead, I said thanks but no. He nodded and drove away. At dinner we all laughed about how all of us would’ve killed for a ride on those last six miles and what a missed opportunity it was for me not to accept the one offered.
We then started talking about how, while no one in America hitchhikes anymore, it used to be a lot more common. The woman said that she used to hitchhike all the time in the 1970s but hadn’t for years. That changed when she and her husband began hiking in Europe in the 1990s. Hitchhiking, at least in rural areas, is still fairly common in France and Spain, for example.
Then she told me that once, in the mid-90s, they were in the south of France. It had been a hard day and it was hot, so they decided to stick out their thumbs to get to the next village. A car pulls up and the driver offers them a lift. He’s an English guy. They chat for a bit about what they’re doing in France, what they all do for a living and that sort of thing. The driver says he’s a writer.
“Have you written anything I would know?” the woman asked.
“Um, yeah . . . ironically, I wrote some books called The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”
Yes, the couple I had dinner with last night were actually picked up fucking hitchhiking by Douglas Fucking Adams.
As the story was way too perfect I sort of playfully pressed them on it but I am confident they are telling the truth. I asked them if they got starstruck or geeked out about it but the woman said that while she was aware of the books, she had not read them. She had only heard the radio shows which her local NPR station had re-broadcast in the 1980s and that she didn’t much care for them. She didn’t share that with Adams. My guess, though, is that if she had he would’ve thought that was wonderful and would’ve laughed his ass off.
All of that has me wondering if, like Rob McKenna, I am a Quasi Supernormal Incremental Precipitation Inducer (i.e. a Rain God), but I probably should’t dwell on that lest I depress myself.
A couple of more things from Keld before I talk about my Monday:
- After posting yesterday’s diary entry someone messaged me the link to the Wikipedia entry for “Bog Bodies,” which are human cadavers that have been found, naturally mummified, in peat bogs. There but for the grace of my Keen Targhee boots, a pair of good hiking poles, and a GPS go I;
- After I settled in last night I looked at my map and realized that I really missed out when it came to lodgings. Yes, Keld Lodge was nice, but I feel like the inn across the road would’ve been a much more happenin’ place:
Oh well. Maybe next time.
There are two options for the hike from Keld to Reeth, my next stop on the Coast to Coast. Wainwright favored the high level route which takes you up the surrounding mountains and across the desolate moors and through areas where lead mining prospered in the 19th century and where the ruins of those operations can still be seen today. Basically every non-masochistic hiker, however — and almost all of the more recent guides to the Coast to Coast — favor the low level route that follows the River Swale through the valley below the high ridge. I’ll give you one guess as to which route I took. And, oh boy, am I glad I took it, as it was positively lovely.
The Swale rushed in some places and meandered in others. The hillsides were gorgeous and the meadows and fields between the two were postcard-perfect. In some places it reminded me of part of the New River Gorge in West Virginia. The valley was wider and the ridges were not as high, but there was a similar vibe in places. I felt the same way when I was in another part of Yorkshire — Calderdale — five years ago. Maybe growing up in West Virginia hardwired something into me that makes me love this sort of terrain.
I passed through a couple of quaint little villages along the way to Reeth. I had hoped to get a little snack or maybe even some lunch in one called Gunnerside, but its little tea room was closed, presumably for the season. Eating my packed lunch beside the river in sparking sunshine was a wonderful fallback option, of course.
From Gunnerside you make your only truly big climb of the day, up the roughly 1,300 foot hill — is it a fell? I’m not sure if it’s technically a fell — to the northeast of the village and you follow the ridge line above the valley for a couple of miles before dipping back down to river level at which point you follow the Swale into the lovely village of Reeth, where I’m staying tonight.
The route, which is just under 12 miles, was something of a recovery day for me. If you would’ve told me that walking 12 miles was “recovery” this time last year I would’ve said you were crazy but I suppose it’s all relative. Either way, between the wonderful weather, the flatter-than-most-days terrain, and the beautiful scenery, I felt better entering Reeth a few hours ago than I did when I left Keld this morning.
I had taken a selfie in front of this when I got to Keld yesterday afternoon but I was so wet, weary, haggard, and unhappy-looking that I decided to take another one when I set off this morning. Much better.
By light of day — a dry day, thankfully — I was able to get a better look at Keld as I headed for the trail. In his original Coast to Coast account Alfred Wainwright wrote, “A sundial records the hours, but time is measured in centuries at Keld.” He nailed that vibe. Keld is a beautiful place.
I am going to choose to believe that these are the boots of hikers who died in the bogs at Nine Standards the day before.
Missed opportunities, man.
I got my first look at the Swale before reaching Keld yesterday. Today I crossed it just outside of the village and walked on its north bank, only straying periodically, for the next 12 miles. It slowly grew wider as I followed it. Eventually it will merge with the River Ure and finally, the River Ouse, after which its waters flow out into the Humber Estuary near Hull and into the North Sea.
I have, for the purposes of this hike, become a sun-worshipper. All Hail to my god, The Mighty Sun!
When this is your view the miles come easy.
I bet I ate lunch at a prettier place than you did today.
That ridge to the north is the high route, through the old lead mining land. I get that some Coast-to-Coasters are purists who will only do what Alfred Wainwright told them to do back in 1973, but I just cannot imagine that’s a better walk than the one I had today. Always go for the better walk.
As I began walking up the hill from the Village of Gunnerside, I witnessed a crime. APB for a sheep suspected in a brazen garden invasion.
Craigy of the Valley. And no, those clouds did not produce any rain, at least where I was. They disappeared as soon as they appeared. It was a glorious day.
One last look at the Swaledale Valley before it begins to get spotted with little villages and some minor industrial sections.
A Hillman Minx in front of some abandoned buildings in the tiny, kinda shabby roadside hamlet of Low Row. The Minx was a British car produced between 1931 and 1970. This one is from near the end of the run, likely between 1967 and 1970. Right across from it in this little parking area was a late model Bentley in gleaming condition. I’d really like to know what the hell is going on in Low Row.
Back down next to the Swale, about a mile outside of Reeth.
Reeth. It’s a cute little place. There are three our four inns, a couple of pubs, a tea room/cafe/ice cream parlor, a couple of little stores selling candy and basic foodstuffs, and some nice houses, probably belonging to people who work in Richmond, an actual city 12 miles to the east, which is where I’m going tomorrow. I took this photo from the village green. God save Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety.
I got into town before I could check into my room so I stopped at the tea room. I got a cup of Yorkshire Gold and a piece of lemon cake that was to die for. I sat at the counter and talked to the woman who runs the place. She’s from Sheffield. I told her that all I know about Sheffield is that that’s where the band Pulp came from. She then told me that when she was in her early 20s she dated one of Jarvis Cocker’s friends. She’d see Jarvis around a good bit — this was before Pulp really broke — and she said that everyone knew that he was bound for big things. She said his friend ended up being a dickhead, though. Alas.
I’m staying here. It’s open during its facelift. Thankfully my room faces the back, so while my view is nothing special it’s at least not of scaffolding. As far as inns above pubs go it’s . . . an inn above a pub. The two I’ve stayed in so far have been nothing to write home about but they have been functional and clean and have had nice hot showers and that’s all you really need on this kind of a trip.
The best part is that my room faces west, on a day with a strong westerly wind. That’s helping to dry the socks and the buff I wore up to Nine Standards on Sunday, which even the drying room at the Keld Lodge could not remedy. My boots were actually pretty good when I put them on this morning but after over 100 miles, every little bit of fresh air helps.
Tomorrow it’s on to Richmond. With a population of over 8,400 people, it’s the biggest town I’ll go through on the whole trip. I hope I don’t freak out from being in actual civilization.
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