Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
Today, the hike came to an end.
But what a finish! There was no way my extended-C2C was going to let me go without some work and a deeply memorable wow of an ending.
Rain fell on the alicoop in the night and I was a bit buzzy thinking of the weather report and what I’d walk into. Storm Hector was bashing the west coast of the British Isles, while in the east, the rain was falling in that way it does when the wind is high, in fits and spurts, the gusts shaking the trees and whipping up a frothy sky of fast moving clouds.
I happily made a shorter day yesterday into Grosmont to experience train culture and save one more giant climb for the morning when I would most likely still be fresh. Working my way up past stacked row houses on a 33% grade, I felt elated by how fit I’d gotten, even if knackered from 16 days hiking with no real rest day. But let’s face it, road walking is pretty straight forward. No two steps up, one step back on scree like Sca Fell, or rock hopping on precipitous edges like Helvellyn, or boggy way finding like the Dodds. This was a piece of cake even as the road wound around, up and up to the top one last high moor, Sleights, where the wind found me.
And what a wind! Richard and I were slammed with something similar in Chile’s Torres del Paine, but these were 55 mph straight line winds with gusts of 70. I didn’t fall over, but certainly had a drunken look to my meandering walk bracing myself on my sticks over a totally exposed couple of miles. As if to add an exclamation point to the wild ride, a mini squall pressed in of sharp sleet. It was a bugger to try and manhandle the waterproof. Fortunately, it was short lived.
In all that noise and excitement, I was mostly squealing with delight never feeling in any real danger. Soon I cut off the trail down into one more charming town, the views of the North Sea tantalizingly close, but still another 12 miles away. The trail moved deep into Little Beck Wood, where the birdsong competed with wind high up in the trees. A little oasis of calm, the nature preserve boasts a closed alum mine and a hermits cave. I was mostly taken with the stand of oak on the sharply angled ravine.
Back into the open and out on one last moor, this time a low moor called Sneaton, the path obvious from the crushed swamp grass and deep boot prints in the boggy moss. Here a sign warned about adder. Poisonous snakes in England?!? The moor gave way to the Graystone Hills and finally back on tarmac, where the wind whipped the telephone lines, creating an eerie moan.
Here I began to experience that ambivalence one gets in the final day of a thru-hike. It doesn’t matter if it’s 70 miles or 700, there’s a transition made from the routine of backpacking to finally stopping and re-entering. I find it hard to get into the right pace. Do I push along quickly and get this done, or do I linger longer and savor the moments even more, as soon they will only be memories. It’s not without some sadness that I approach final days and I carried this with me for the few miles past the final villages – Low Hawsker, Hawsker, High Hawsker and Hawsker Bottom – before reaching a holiday park of row upon row of minty green aluminum-sided track homes marching straight down to the sea, my final goodbye to charming English villages.
Now, as if bookended with my start, the finale was a three mile coastal walk high up on cliffs where the fields poured down the hill towards me on my right, the North Sea in a frenzy of white caps to my left. The day was truly extraordinary, the full brunt of the gusts tempered by the hills, the views striking and the walk tender on the feet.
You begin to see the bay tucking in before you see any town, a smugglers site with a long history. And suddenly, there it is, perhaps one of the most lovely towns on the walk, a cluster of buildings clinging to the side of the gully all the way down to the sea. And it’s the grand walk, on road and on stairs that takes the C2C finisher past shops and restaurants right down to the water where she plunges in up to her knees – as requested by her friend Kate – and tosses in the pebble she’s been carrying across the country from the Irish Sea.
Now it’s time to clean up, fatten up, take stock and organize pictures. In a few days time, I will post my GPS coordinates should you be interested in walking the Coast-to-Coast extended walk. But for now, the biggest walk today is down the road for a celebratory meal and a pint of Wainwright.