We set off on Saturday lunchtime from St Bees in the drizzle, and I had nothing to give, I was mentally exhausted and had been consuming cake and wine most of the week so physically I wasn’t great either. That day was really tough, it was in fact the toughest day of the trip for me. And it started with 1. a hill and 2. walking north along the coast for quite a few miles, so I knew I wasn’t even getting any closer to the end. And my bag was really heavy. No matter how many times you are advised to pack light, the only way to do that is to experience what you think is light packing, then realise it isn’t, and remove/post home/chuck away some stuff. Of course no one wants to take more than they need to, it just happens. Over the two weeks I streamlined down nicely and by the end my bag was merely a comfortable hug that provided me with water, snacks and layers to protect me from the sun, the wind or the rain.
Of those elements, we had them all. I feel for the people that we met along the way who’d previously walked the C2C and it had rained every single day. We were lucky, as we only had one non-stop day of varying degrees of rain, otherwise it was changeable, sunny spells, clouds, breezy, showers, warm, pleasant, sometimes overcast, sometimes not. We also had blazing sun in the Lake District. I know you shouldn’t complain about nice weather, but I’m going to. It just makes it harder to walk up big hills - you have to carry loads of (heavy) water, there’s so much sweat, sunburn happens (just on the right hand side of your body when walking west to east), heat rash happens, I kept breaking my sunglasses by accident too. But it was always, always, worth the climb to the top. The views and the sense of achievement are just rewards. I suppose it’s better than doing it in the rain and fog really.
There are many highlights of the C2C. Staying at the remote Black Sail Youth Hostel in Ennerdale. Climbing the third highest peak in England, Helvellyn, then negotiating the knife edge ridge of Striding Edge is a classic. I was really scared of that knife edge. One day I’ll go back, with a smaller backpack, and not be as scared I hope. The other beautiful peaks of the Lakes such as Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Cragg above Grasmere. Climbing up to Kidsty Pike then dropping down to the shore of the picturesque Haweswater. The annual scarecrow festival in the village of Orton, plus their chocolate shop. The eerie shapes of Nine Standards Rigg in the mist. Camping in Keld. Lemon cheesecake ice cream in Richmond. The ups and downs of Clay Top Bank and the first views of the North Sea. The endless expanses of beautiful moorland. Whitby Abbey in the distance. Littlebeck Woods and Falling Foss. The coastal path to Robin Hood’s Bay.
Walking from A to B is essentially the most simple thing you can do, and it’s so satisfying. Sometimes it’s trudging or wincing from blister pain, but you know that every step is getting you there, and I found it surprisingly easy to just keep going. Although saying that, I was lucky enough to not suffer from blisters which might be why. It’s freeing to just spend your days focussing on walking and just thinking about the route, the distances, timings, stop offs and snacks and meals and aches and pains and your body and its immediate surroundings. Life is simple. Then occasionally I’d remember that I had to pack up my life and move to Scotland, find somewhere to live and start a new job when I finished the walk, but that was all a bit surreal and I couldn’t do anything about any of it anyway, so mainly I didn’t bother thinking about it. The present was the focus and the future could wait.
The UK is fantastically beautiful and the Coast to Coast takes you through the best of it – glorious countryside, national parks, towns and villages with their charming English quirks. It’s not an adrenaline pumped, life threatening, danger studded expedition in a hostile environment (unless you find yourself in a field of unfriendly cows), but it’s the most enjoyable journey I’ve ever been on and a reminder of what we’ve got on our doorstep and how important it is to look after, and to just go and experience. The record for covering the 196 miles is 37 hours (admirable madness). But what you gain there in records you miss out on in soaking it up. We certainly broke no records, we had 14 days of walking, with 2 rest days along the way, our longest day was about 22 miles, our shortest a mere 6 miles. It’s certainly not always amazing, lots of it is just the dull reality of walking. Especially after the thrill of the Lakes, the middling days between the Dales and the Moors can be mentally testing and physically tiring, but it’s all part of the journey.
The walk provides it all. Sea, hill, fell, peak, valley, field, moor, crag, ridge, bog, marsh, tarn, lake, water, river, stream, beck, fall, sea. The wildlife, the birds, the livestock that defines British agriculture, the fellow walkers, the lovely people that provide food and accommodation for the walker along the way. The views, and the increasing ease of climbing those hills as time goes on and muscles get stronger. The feeling of being able to tackle anything once you’ve walked across the country.
Finishing the Coast to Coast and walking into Robin Hoods Bay was a very nostalgic end to the journey for me. It had once been my home, and has never really left me; it’s a very special place. We stayed our last night at Boggle Hole Youth Hostel, of course. I caught up with the manager of the hostel, told her about my plans to move to Scotland. She told me, to my surprise, that someone that I’d worked with at the hostel in 2009 now lived in the closest town to the Highlands museum where I’d accepted a job.
So, four weeks after finishing the walk, I’m two weeks into my new job and am writing this update from my Boggle colleague’s house, one mile away from my new place of work. He’s very kindly putting me up here until I find somewhere more fixed. Funny how things work out sometimes and how one part of your life can link to another. Tomorrow I’ll go on a walk to explore my surroundings, but just a circular walk then I’ll come home. I cannot wait to do more long distance walks up here to see what Scotland has to offer and to challenge me with, though will any compare to my first? We’ll see.
Words and photos by Helen Pickles
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