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 27, 2023: First off, a correction. I was told by the innkeeper at my place in Richmond this morning that those dead animals on the barbed wire were moles, not rats. She said that there are professional mole killers who are paid by the kill and that they hang their victims on fences in order to justify payment to the land owner. Upon closer inspection of the photo, and comparing it to photos of live moles, I can now see it. In my defense they were fairly shriveled up so they looked more ratlike. As for the professional mole killer thing: I’m gonna take the innkeeper’s word for it and assume she wasn’t just pulling my leg. Which, honestly, you can do pretty damn easily when agricultural matters are concerned because I really don’t know anything about that stuff.
As I mentioned yesterday, today’s walk was the first of two in a row which do not take place in national parks. Rather, they’re connector walks to get me from the Yorkshire Dales to the North York Moors. As such it did not take me by anything particularly historic, notable, or particularly beautiful. It was nonetheless a lovely walk which took me down many a pretty country lane and through a couple of handsome little villages. Best of all it was flat as a damn pancake, which made today’s 13.3 miles feel like nothing at all. If I had to I probably could’ve carried on and made it to the next town but (a) that’s not how I booked it; and (b) I am sure that after a couple more miles even the flatlands would start to make my body ache. Why push it when you can just stroll into your village of the day feeling great?
I walked rather fast today in an effort to minimize my exposure to Storm Agnes, but it appeared to have slowed and perhaps tracked a bit farther north than first expected so I managed to beat the rain altogether. My pace, however, got me to my next village, Danby Wiske, two hours before the B&B’s check-in time. Often a place will let you in early but no one was home. The pub is next door but it didn’t open until 4. Knowing the rain was coming I scanned around for someplace to be where I could keep dry when Agnes finally hit. I saw a sign for a tuck shop around the corner. An Australian couple with whom I walked the final mile or so into town and I went there and discovered that it was basically just a little hut with a fridge of drinks and some snacks with a price list and an honor box for payment. I got a bottle of water and a candy bar and dropped a couple of pound coins into the box. A few minutes later a man came over from the RV park across the lane and invited us to stay in the park’s little clubhouse — a converted barn — that has a table with places to sit, a tea kettle and stuff like that. “The owner’s not here, but if he comes by just tell ‘im Derek said it was alright.”
Derek, whose wife Elaine soon came over and joined us for tea, are staying in the RV park. They live down near Birmingham but come up here in their motorhome often. They were truly lovely people and the hour and a half or so we still had to kill before our B&B opened flew by. Elaine and I talked about our shared interest in genealogy. I told her about how my great grandmother — the wife of one of the axe-murderer’s sons — was born and raised in West Bromwich, which is just outside of Birmingham. She told me where I should stay if I ever decide to visit there to look for relatives’ graves and stuff. Elaine and Derek then regaled us with stories about RV life, many of which tracked pretty damn closely with stuff my family and I experienced when we’d take RV vacations when I was a kid. Mom and Dad: I know you’re reading these, so I want you to know that you are not the only couple whose worst fights happened while attempting to level the motorhome after arriving at the campground. Derek and Elaine said that leveling the motorhome has almost ended their marriage on several occasions.
After a while one of the Australians called the B&B and found that the innkeeper was back so we bid Derek and Elaine adieu. Elaine gave me her number and asked that I text her so we can keep in touch, which I did a bit ago. She texted me back a photo of their cat Tommy, who travels with them. Such fun people.
Jean, the innkeeper, greeted the three of us with tea and freshly baked scones. A few minutes later the other two guests for the night arrived: the American couple who got picked up hitchhiking by Douglas Adams. I had figured I’d not see them again as I thought they were doing the long hike from Richmond, but apparently not. Later the five of us went to the pub for dinner and found that Nina, the patent attorney from Bristol with whom I braved the flooded fell between Grasmere and Glenridding last week, was there. She got into town a little after we left the campground where she has set up her tent for the night. She, the Australians, and I had dinner together. At another table were the Douglas Adams hitchhikers and a couple from Vienna with whom I have not talked much but who have been on the basically the same schedule as me. At a third table were four more hikers who all of us have seen on and off over the past 11 days.
The pub itself is small and, apart from our group of hikers, only one local was in there, which made it feel like a big family gathering. I’ve always been friendly with people but I don’t really make friends easily. As such I’ve been surprised at how quickly and easily I’ve been able to make personal connections since this hike began. I suppose shared and at often times intense experiences are better for that kind of thing than is happening to live in the same neighborhood.
What a fun and memorable day this has been. All on a day’s hike that, on paper, did not seem particularly promising at all.
Despite its size, Richmond has not had passenger train service since 1969. The closest station is Darlington, 13 miles to the northeast. Its old station was abandoned for years, but in 2007 it was repurposed. It now has two cinema screens, a restaurant, a café/bar, an art gallery, a heritage center, rooms for public use, and houses a local farmer’s market.
A lot of this today. It was sorta like hiking in MetroParks back home.
A lot of this too.
I was hoping for, like, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers to come storming through here but no dice. I did, however, see and hear a lot of military jets flying by as much of my day was spent in the takeoff pattern for RAF Leeming.
For the first time since I’ve been in England I’ve encountered actual cultivated farmland. I also saw the fewest sheep today out of any day since I’ve been here.
Speaking of farming, the one local at the pub tonight was a 70-something year-old man named Andrew, who was dressed in plaid and tweed from head to toe and who had a big David Lloyd-George-lookin’ mustache. Nina and I began talking to him for a bit when we went up to the bar to settle our bills. He asked me how many miles I had walked today. I said about 13. He said “I did as well. But then again, I’m a farmer, so I’ve done that every day of my life!” It turns out that he’s in charge of the farming operations at Kiplin Hall and Gardens, which is a few miles away from Danby Wiske. It was built by George Calvert, the founder of Maryland. Andrew then explained to me that Calvert failed at soldiering, at farming, and business, and at politics, “so he then moved to America where failure is far more readily accepted and expected.” He gave me a little wink when he said that. I feel like that’s part of his spiel for tourists who visit Kiplin Hall. If I get back to his part of England, I’m definitely gonna go visit. Andrew sold me.
I passed by this place at one point today. It had not occurred to me that I might call myself a “rambler.” That sounds so much more badass than “hiker” or “walker.” Based on all of the old folk and blues songs, however, I feel like being a rambler implies a far bigger badass or troublemaker quotient than I could ever hope to possess, so it’s probably a bit of a reach.
St. Mary’s Church in the cute little village of Bolton-on-Swale. There has been a church on this site since Saxon times. This one was built in the 14th century, and was restored in the 19th century, though it has some components from the original Saxon structure. It also has a grave in the graveyard — its most prominent grave, so it caught my eye — for a man named Henry Jenkins with the dates 1500–1670 on them. I looked up Henry Jenkins a few minutes ago because I was really wanting to learn about a 170 year-old man I had never heard of before. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that he was full of shit, but he does sound like an interesting dude all the same.
Not my B&B, though it’d be pretty cool if it was.
The trail actually crossed through a horse’s paddock. Here is where I met the Australian couple, who were stopped there, unsure if they should be walking through. They seemed a bit uneasy to be near this fella. Because I’ve been around horses a lot since I’ve been with Allison I walked right up to him and gave him some scritches on his snout and patted him on the neck. He was a pretty chill bro.
Elaine and Derek, the RVers in the campground clubhouse. They were so sweet.
Ashfield House in Dansby Wiske, my B&B for tonight.
I was a bit nervous about this place when I booked it because it does not have a website and, as the only real game in town, maybe it wasn’t that great? I was wrong about that. It’s nice and cozy and pleasant in every way you want a place like this to be. Jean, the innkeeper said she doesn’t have a website because she doesn’t take bookings from the general public. She only books Coast-to-Coasters and only takes bookings through the transport companies who serve them. That ensures quality clientele, she said, because “the riffraff doesn’t go hiking across the country, now, do they?” I suppose she has a point.
Jean’s cat. Jean told me that while the cat spends most of its time inside the private residence, it’s not supposed to be on the guest room side of the house. She said that someone who stayed in my room last week left their window open and woke up the next morning with the cat sleeping on her legs, so if I see him about, don’t leave my window open wide enough for him to get in. You guys: I plan to leave my window wide open tonight and see what happens. I miss my cats and wouldn’t mind having a snuggle with this dude.
Dinner and drinks were here tonight. As the sign says, only 60 more miles to go.
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