Coasting along….

 20 Years & still going

2016 is Hope’s 20th year of helping those with nowhere to live.  I am sure that when we opened, no one expected that we’d still be around after two decades.  Unfortunately and yes, it is regrettable that we are and, that we are needed now more than ever – more people are knocking on our door wanting a bed for the night.  Is that how it should be in the world’s fifth largest economy?

So, to mark this momentous landmark, I challenged everyone, staff & volunteer alike, to do something that would help raise the awareness of homelessness.  We have had some inspiring take-up; Emma did a Skydive – incredible for someone who’s acrophobic and fears heights. Wayne & Ash did a 24 hour fishing marathon, and our Trustees did a Sleep-out (on one of the wettest & coldest nights of spring).  Incredible commitment which has so far raised over £2,500!

The Coast-to-Coast

If I expect others to rise to that challenge, I must surely do something myself.  So, I decided to take a little stroll across England – from the Irish Sea on the west, to the North Sea on the east, through the Lake District over the Pennines, the Dales & the Moors – the fabled Coast-to-Coast.

For those who enjoy walking, Alfred Wainwright’s inspiration is an iconic dream that is often discussed at the end of an 8 or 10 mile walk. Previously, I have done the Lyke Wake Walk (40 miles), and more recently the Yorkshire Three Peaks (24 miles), so I had an idea how tough the hills can be – but I never really thought I’d actually attempt the 192 mile C2C.

Well, I’d backed myself into a corner, and had to go through with it.  So, when I arrived at St Bees on 21st May, I did wonder whether I had bitten off more than I could chew….

What an incredible Journey!

It was tougher than I expected, but much more enjoyable.  I met some inspiring people as I walked along; Tom – a Yank who had survived cancer and it was on his “bucket list”, a group of 12 Canadian’s (one of which had never walked in the rain!) on a holiday, 8 Japanese ladies who were lost on the moors near Grosmont, June – an American on her 4thtraverse, a young Canadian who was training for leading tourists on the glaciers of New Zealand, and Les & Graham – 2 Liverpudlians who loved to dissect the day over a beer and with that cutting scouse wit.  Everyone had a reason for being there and a story to tell.

Incredibly, I did not get a single blister, which amazed me.  I did get fatigued, although my legs were tired and knees sore by the end of each stage – in the last couple of miles the brain tells the body to shut down.  But, by the next morning all was well and I was ready for the off once again.

The Glorious Lakes

Day 1, St Bees – Boots dipped in the Irish Sea at 10.27am, stone selected and placed in my Rucksack and with Julia & Andy for company, off I set.  A little breezy but not too bad then, the drizzle started which got heavier and heavier.  Before the 1st mile was out, we all had our wet-weather gear on, and started a 2 hour trudge in heavy rain.  As we headed inland for Cleater, we posed beside the statue of Wainwright and as if by magic, the rain slowly began to ease.  As we headed up Dent Hill (1,150 feet above sea level), the day brightened considerably and after 14 miles we arrived in a sunny Ennerdale Bridge, and a well-earned libation & meal in the Fox & Hounds.  Day one completed, we headed off to our digs for sleep and to rest the weary limbs.

 

Day 2, Ennerdale Bridge – a lovely sunny day dawned as Andy & I headed off at 9.15am, waving Julia off, for the delights of the peaks.  Plenty of suncream was required as we walked alongside Ennerdale Water and began to climb for Red Pike (2,500 ft), High Stile (2,650) High Crag (2,440) and finally Haystacks (1,958), to have a well-earned cuppa at Innominate Tarn (just as Alfred had many years before, and where his ashes are scattered).  We passed a Bothy near the Honister Slate Mine, somewhere the weary walker who’s been caught out on the mountain can sleep in safety, whatever the weather is outside – a little gem of a place.  We headed into Borrowdale just after 6.30pm after completing the 15 miles, and went straight to the Scafell Hotel for a foaming pint of Farmer’s Blonde and demolish a Steak Pie.

  

Day 3, Rosthwaite – Cracking weather; hot and virtually no breeze to keep us cool.  A longer 17.5 mile stage which had several alternative options.  With legs a little weary from the first two days, we decided to be a little less gung-ho after yesterday’s exertion, and to avoid Hellvelyn and Striding Edge (which we had previously climbed anyway) and take the “lower route” – Alfred must have been a joker, it was far from it!  It got hotter and hotter as we climbed the 2,000 feet to Greenup Edge – as we headed back down, we needed to call off in Grasmere to get more water, and an ice cream, obviously. The last few miles were a struggle, back up another 1,800 feet to Grisedale Tarn and over into Patterdale.  We were both ready for a sit-down at the Patterdale Hotel, a most welcome sight.

 

Day 4, Patterdale – Lovely sunshine and clear blue skies greeted us once again to bring down the curtain on our time in the Lakes.  Alex joined us to sample the delights of Angle Tarn & the climb to Kidsty Pike (2,550).  The walk along Haweswater was idyllic and we passed Shap Abbey and on into the village.  After 4 days accompanying me, Andy would be heading back home to tend his rather painful blisters.  It had been great to have shared the experience, and his SatMap was to be invaluable in the days to come!

 

The Rugged Pennines

Day 5, Shap – Another beautiful hot and dry day for a long stage – 20 miles of high moors and rolling Dales countryside. We had our 1st slight detour through being distracted whilst talking to other walkers, we missed the path and went into Orton by mistake.  A pleasant little village by-passed by most and, not a problem as we got back en-route quickly, passing Robin Hoods grave (although we know that has to be in Nottinghamshire!).  Early afternoon we met up with Frank, as he headed out of the heat haze at Sunbiggin Tarn. At Ravenstonedale Moor Hilltop Reservoir we met Lucy, who had everything on her back (all her kit & caboodle; tent, clothes & food), as she toughened her body up for leading walks on the glaciers of New Zealand’s south island – her Rucksack was almost as big as she was.  As we neared Kirby Stephen, the motley crew were tired and hot, Alex was really struggling with sore feet – another youngster worn out! But he would return…

Day 6, Kirby Stephen – Frank & I headed of at 9.30 from the charming market town into another lovely spring-like day.  A short-ish stage of around 13 miles, although going over the tops and via the Nine Standards Rig (climbing 1,700 feet) with some potentially boggy bits.  As we climbed, the weather deteriorated and rain began to fall, we took the advised “Green Route” for bad weather, thankfully.  Unfortunately, the low cloud made navigation difficult, only being able to see a matter of yards.  It was such a shame that pictures were impossible, we could only see 2 or 3 of the Rigs at a time through the mirk.  As we headed on, the path was nowhere to be seen, so along with a German couple who were equally off-piste, we searched for the next 30 minutes before getting our bearings and back on-track – the SatMap proved its worth!  We joined a group of Australians and a lone American on her 4th traverse, as we bog-hopped over the Grouse moors.  As we reached where the alternative routes join, we came upon Ravenseat Farm, recently made famous by TV, and enjoyed a dry barn & delicious hot cream scone – which I would highly recommend! The weather eased as we got to lower levels and the sight of the Bunk-barn on the way into Keld was most welcome, it was my stop for the night.  I waved Frank off as he headed home, but was grateful for his help in safely getting down off the tops. That evening I was in with the 2 Liverpudlian’s, who had kindly saved me from bunking in with 3 Ladies – they are a helpful lot!

The Beautiful Dales

Day 7, Keld – A high-level 11 miles through old Lead mining sites, demonstrating the incredibly industrial history of the area, and the tough life those miners must have had – very thought provoking.  It was yet another lovely days walking and quite a bit easier than many before, and to come.  We did meet a local builder who was very helpful and directed us the long way from Healaugh to Reeth – we did wonder why he was laughing so much as he waved us off!

Day 8, Reeth – a relatively easy 10.5 mile stage through rolling hills and beautiful woodland.  I was accompanied by some of my regular walking buddies; Martin, Kevin, Mick & Steve who had travelled up the previous evening, and with whom I had shared a long and pleasurable evening getting to know the various pubs of the village, not something I could have done before the more testing stages.  It was another cracking day as the weather got better as the day went along, which enabled some fantastic photo’s to be captured.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in Marske, before the glorious Whitecliffe Wood.  The walk into Richmond was one of the most picturesque of the whole trip, and looking over the castle and river an amazing panorama.  As we joined civilisation (and by far the biggest town on route), we enjoyed the delights of a cricket match, a few ales and a glorious couple of hours in the sunshine – surely summer had arrived. Mick & Steve headed home and a trip to watch Barnsley FC at Wembley, not something that usually goes together – sorry Mick, but it had to be said!

Day 9, Richmond – the longest leg ahead, but the flattest – 22.5 miles across the Vale of Mowbray.  We were a little apprehensive as we headed out although the sun greeted us once again.  The first half of the day was pleasant countryside, field after field of Rape Seed and Corn.  We even managed to pass the open door of the Hildyard Arms at Colburn, which was really most inviting on such a day.  Then, as we went over the A1 at Catterick, after stopping for a quick bite to eat at Danby Wiske, it became less picturesque with miles and miles of road and track walking which, although flat, is very hard on the feet and legs.  So, as we neared the end we were all struggling and looking forward to the rest.  After we had crossed the A19 at our fastest hobble, the hostelry in Ingleby Arncliffe was a most welcome sight for Kevin, Martin and I.  And, the 2 Liverpudlian’s were already imbibing, and asked what had taken us so long…

The Moors

Day 10, Ingleby Cross – I joined the 2 Liverpudlian trekkers, along with 4 others who we had met that evening, for another long 21.5 miler.  The C2C book is correct to suggests that; “you’ll need to be in good shape to arrive at Blakey Ridge without looking like an extra from a George Romero zombie movie.”  It would be the stage I found the most challenging; very long and with some really difficult climbs towards the end, when at my most tired – stiff and exhausted from the cumulative effect of the previous days. And, the good weather that we had largely enjoyed so far, had vanished.  It was wet and getting more so as the day went on, accompanied by a stiff breeze that was gaining in strength. We were now on the Moors and as we rose up Hasty Ridge to Clay Bank Top, it was into cloud to add to the rain and wind, which made navigation very testing.  Despite maps galore, 3 Satnav’s and the combined experience of many years, we managed to lose our way 6 or 7 times during the day.  Fortunately, none were long detours nor caused much of a problem.  But, despite all of this it was almost 7pm when Lucy and I arrived at the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge (the others had chosen a shorter route for their day).  Our last 8 miles had been through a real battering of wind and rain and not a pleasant experience!  And, not to be put off, Alex had come back to meet us for that last stretch, to walk us in, which was extremely helpful. The warmth and dry of the Lion Inn was fantastic.

Day 11, Blakey Ridge – Thankfully, the day started later than usual after the last two long and gruelling stages; 8.30 breakfast and off for 9.45am.  But, the weather was awful; strong winds and driving rain, so the advertised “easy and pleasant stroll with most picturesque views….” certainly never materialised.  As we set off from the Lion Inn, we had to lean hard into the gale to make any headway.  The first couple of hours were road walking, getting out of the way when vehicles came along, as the low cloud and rain made visibility extremely poor for everyone.  We went the wrong way at one intersection, as we could see so little and the terrain had few markings, which added an hour and 3/4 miles to the total.  The day did improve slightly, as the cloud lifted and showers become less heavy, but only relatively.  When we arrived in Great Fryup Dale, we knew we had only 5 miles or so to go, we were down off the moors and in good time.  So, we stopped at the Arncliffe Arms in Glasedale and had tea and hot soup, to get some warmth back into our bodies and to dry out a little.  The last few miles were through a lovely country park near Egton Bridge.  The wind had died down considerably and rain almost stopped, as we headed into Grosmont to the evocative sound of a steam train.

Day 12, Grosmont – The final stage had arrived, Julia joined us and off the 3 amigo’s went for a “stroll” towards Robin Hoods Bay, it would be far from that.  The day began with a savage climb up out of the village, rising almost 1,000 feet in less than a mile (it had been the longest and steepest climb on this year’s Tour de Yorkshire cycle route).  But, after the previous trials, it was easily defeated and the long steady down-hill to Littlebeck achieved in good time.  However, the weather decided to have a final hurrah, and cloud descended once again to make route finding tough, although we had no problem discovering the wettest of bogs (we emptied our boots shortly afterwards).  We came across a group of Japanese ladies who were struggling to navigate, and helped them to find their way across Sleights Moor.  As we neared Hawsker, we realised that any hope of views over the North Sea and the coast were hopeless, so we chose a route straight into the bay.  And, just after 2pm, I set my boots in the sea in Robin Hoods Bay and threw the stone from St Bees into the waves (although, I did pick it up again and it rests with pride on my desk, at Hope).

All 192 miles done (excluding the detours), tired and hungry but very pleased to have managed to get to the end in one piece and reasonably healthy. It was the 1st June and the first day of spring to celebrate with a pint of Wainwright’s at the Bay Hotel, and the rain had stopped!

 

I had enjoyed the C2C immensely, much more than I had expected to do.  It had been tough, probably more than I had anticipated, and that was despite knowing its reputation and being an experienced walker.  But, I had prepared well in the months running up to the start, walking regularly and pushing the miles up as it neared.

The most surprising thing for me was the inspiring people that I met on the way, who had come from far and wide.  Those who had decided to do it because it was there, those who had it to tick off on their bucket list, and those who did it to remember a loved one whom they had lost.  It was humbling and tremendously moving to share a little of their journey.

I was joined by some wonderful friends who have been so incredibly supportive and who made the experience much more manageable.  I have had the generous support of all those who have sponsored me, more than 75 people and organisations who gave money to help those who are homeless.  I cannot thank you enough, and when the going got tough it was you that gave me the strength to carry on.

If this has motivated any of you to do something similar, my advice would be; go for it – you will get far more out of it than you put in!