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 26, 2023: I followed my transport company, Coast to Coast Packhorse, on Facebook a while back. They update their feed with a lot of hiking photos, primarily from groups that pay to have one of their guides lead them. This morning I woke up and saw this one:
When I saw that my first thought was “God, that looks hard, I hope —” and then I realized that that’s the route up Loft Beck, which I climbed eight days ago.
Part of the reason I keep this diary is because I am structurally incapable of not writing about my experiences. A much bigger part is that I expect that all of the experiences on this trip will overwhelm me in a lot of ways and will start to mash together in my mind. That’s certainly happening, so I’m glad I’ve written it all down so I can revisit it all in the future.
Also: I climbed up that fucking mountain. I’m pretty damn good, eh?
The King’s Arms in Reeth is . . . not one of the better places I’ve ever stayed. I don’t wanna put too fine a point on it or anything because people gotta make a living, but let’s just say that hotel rooms with toilets that actually flush are preferable to the alternative, as are hotels where someone is around to actually address that issue when it arises. I thankfully discovered this early and likewise discovered a common bathroom down in the pub that remained accessible to me even after the pub closed at 10 last night. Glad I did because, again, without putting too fine a point on it, a non-working toilet is not a thing you want to discover once things get more . . . serious. Whatever the case, I was happy wake up this morning, get on the trail, and put several miles between myself and the King’s Arms.
My haste to leave the place might’ve bitten me in the ass a bit. Given how sketchy the hotel was and how sketchy the dinner was — the fish and chips made me long for Long John Silver’s or Captain D’s — I was not at all looking forward to breakfast so I just settled my bill and left. For breakfast I had a protein bar and a banana and a cup of instant black coffee from the post office/corner shop on the way out of town. The bar and banana were enough to get me through, but even with my drastically reduced coffee intake since I’ve been over here — I usually have about two cups during breakfast compared to my zillion cups at home — that cup of instant joe was not enough. I was sluggish and at times even a little grumpy while out walking today.
It’s possible, of course, that today’s walk was just underwhelming. The first two miles were lovely as they continued to follow the Swale, but the trail soon deviated and tracked over farmland most of the rest of the way. And, unlike what I encountered in Cumbria, this wasn’t even quaint and picturesque farmland. It was like walking around in Madison County, Ohio or something. The one thing I was sorta looking forward to in this section — an old 12th century Benedictine priory — was not accessible. The final eight miles of the 10.5 mile walk were thus mostly just blah.
Things picked up early this afternoon, however, because today’s destination was pretty damn cool. I’m writing from Richmond, the largest town on the Coast to Coast. It only has about 8,500 people but after the one horse towns I’ve been in for the past ten days it felt like London. It has a castle, too, some nice pubs and shops and anything else you might need. It almost made me wish I had planned and packed worse, because today would’ve been a great day to re-supply or pick up something I’d been lacking. As it was I just had a better lunch, a change-of-pace dinner, and actually did some sightseeing.
Just before entering Richmond I officially left the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which makes me kinda sad because I rather like the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The next couple of days may be a bit boring as well, as I have to cover the stretch between here and the final of my three national parks, the North York Moors. Some people cover that whole stretch in one day so as to limit their time in nowheresville, but I have a rule about 25-mile walks, so I’ll arrive there on Thursday evening. And hey, maybe I’ll come across something in nowheresville anyway? Or maybe I’ll just get blown away in a storm.
Seriously, though: I’ll be in the best possible place to weather that storm tomorrow. I’m in a boring stretch of low, flat land tomorrow, I will not be in any sort of wilderness where rivers or terrain will affect me, and based on current forecasts, rain should not be hitting me until about 3pm, by which time I should be at my destination anyway.
Sunrise over the Swale as I skedaddled, under-caffinated, away from the King’s Arms. This view gave me hope of another lovely Swaleside walk, but it was not to be.
Last look at the Swale for several miles. Wish I could’ve just gotten in a kayak and booked it to Richmond.
Marrick Priory was a Benedictine nunnery established between 1140 and 1160. In the mid-16th century Henry VIII kicked all the nuns out as part of the English Reformation. He did not, to his credit, burn them at the stake or anything, even though his daughter Mary might’ve. Rather, he gave them all pensions and sent them away, converting the place to an Anglican church, which it remained until 1948. After some years of neglect it was converted into an outdoor education and residential center where teenagers can learn rock climbing, canoeing, zip lining and stuff like that. There have been many piecemeal stabs at renovation over the last several centuries, but there are apparently many 12th century elements still in existence.
All the Coast to Coast guides I’ve read say that, even though it’s now a youth activities center, you’re able to walk onto the priory grounds, take photos and look at what remains of its nearly 1,000 year-old history. Except there was a sign on the locked gate today explaining that there is a dispute about whether the grounds should be accessible to the public and, until it is settled, no one can come in unless they’re actually staying there. I found that kind of irksome because you couldn’t really get a good photo of the place from the road but I suppose it’s not my business, really. I did manage to get this kinda crappy photo from the hill you climb after passing it.
Not that the hill isn’t cool. These are the Nuns Steps, leading from the priory up over the hill and through the woods. They were used by the nuns for 400 years to travel to the nearby village of Marrick or on to Richmond. There are exactly 365 of them. Some people think that was intentional and they have some connection to daily penance or something. I would guess that there are 365 of them because that’s about how many steps it took to get up the hill, but I’ve been known to be something of a killjoy in this regard.
The next several miles were boring as hell but at least the sun was out. I will never not be grateful for a sunny day in England.
Passing a barn today I noticed this line of barbed wire with five rat corpses hanging from it. They were clearly intentionally hung there. Like they were a warning to the other rats or something. It was kinda freaky.
A lot of mobile homes on today’s route. Some occupied, some being taken over by nature. Between that, some rusty old cars, and some piles of tires, I felt like I was just wandering around rural Ohio or West Virginia or something. Oh, I also saw a house with a big Union Jack hanging from the side of it and a handmade sign that said “Warning: trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.” I didn’t take a photo because a guy was walking around the property and I didn’t wanna piss him off, but it was the most American thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Well, except for which flag it was, but you get the idea. In not surprising related news, this part of England voted nearly 60% “Leave” in the Brexit referendum.
Gonna miss you, Yorkshire Dales National Park.
After miles of nothing you walk through some woods and then, when you emerge, there’s Richmond and its castle, waiting for you.
Richmond Castle was built by Alan Rufus, a friend and companion of William the Conquerer with whom he fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The castle, built from 1071-onwards, was a product of William’s “Harrying of the North” in which he brutally put down rebellion to Norman rule throughout northern England and established fortresses to consolidate his rule. Rufus was named the first Lord of Richmond and made sure the north stayed under William’s thumb.
Over the centuries successive Earls of Richmond built on to the castle, adding the 100-foot tower and completing the keep which enclosed what is now most of the main town square of Richmond beyond the tower here. This shot is looking north at the tower from the walls near the edge of the hill upon which it sits above the Swale, which served as a formidable natural defense.
This is Scolland’s Hall, once the great hall of the castle, named after one of the castle’s stewards in the 13th or 14th century. While the tower and most of the walls have remained in good repair for the better part of 1,000 years, most of the interior of Richmond Castle looks like this.
The castle had fallen out of use as a fortress by the end of the 14th century and was basically in ruins by the early 16th century. The rise of tourism and an interest in antiquities led to a number of repairs being made to the keep in the early 19th century, after which the castle became the headquarters of the North Yorkshire Militia, with the great courtyard of the castle housing a military barracks.
During the First World War conscientious objectors who agreed to participate in non-combat support duties were based here while conscientious objectors who refused to undertake service of any kind — so-called “absolutists” –were imprisoned in a cell block that was built just off the main tower. Included in this group were The Richmond Sixteen, who were transported from the castle jail to British army headquarters in France where, pursuant to what can only be called sham proceedings, they were charged with treason by a military tribunal and sentenced to death. Thankfully those death sentences were commuted, but the Richmond Sixteen were still given ten years’ hard labor. You should totally read the Wikipedia entry for the Richmond Sixteen, dudes. It’s enraging. Fuck Lord Kitchener, always and forever.
Anyway, the lesson folks: don’t build castles. They’ll be used for tyrannical purposes for centuries. They just lend themselves to that kind of thing, ya know?
The view from the castle walls down to the River Swale. I’ll be walking out of Richmond on that bridge tomorrow.
The view from the back of the tower down onto Richmond’s main market square. The outline of the buildings adheres to the perimeter of the castle’s keep back in its heyday. Unlike now, however, they did not have a Gregg’s in the castle keep. Not sure what they did for sausage rolls and coffee. It wasn’t called the Dark Ages for nothing.
After being in the wilderness for days, being in an actual city — even a small one like Richmond — is giving me sensory overload.
My digs for the night. My room is the one above the door. It’s impossibly cute, well-appointed, and comfortable, which is everything I need after the King’s Arms in Reeth. I am getting laundry done and plan to go get some Italian food tonight because I need a day off of roasts and fish and chips and stuff. And yes, the toilet in my room is functional. Thank the lord for small mercies.
Tomorrow it’s on to the tiny village of Danby Wiske. On the one hand it’s a pretty lengthy walk for me compared to what I’ve been doing — about 14 miles — and there is absolutely nothing there except the house I’m staying in and a pub. On the other hand there are absolutely no hills between Richmond and Danby Wiske, which is the lowest point on the whole Coast to Coast. I’m not gonna complain, frankly.
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