Coast to Coast

more deets on aliloop-of-the-lakes, Northern England

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

My Garmin inReach Explorer guided me away from the C2C for some spectacular must-see peaks.

When I set out to walk Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast, I had an idea to pick up more of the big peaks in the Lake District. So – with the help of map, compass and my Garmin GPS – I left the C2C at the end of Ennerdale Water and headed south, cracking straight up a steep ascent towards Steeple and Pillar.

It was here I saw the mist flying up over the cliffs in fingers of white, fell runners barely dressed in floppy shorts, a thin mac and camelback, as well as sheep parked in meadows leaving me wondering how they managed to get there at all – isn’t the grass good enough at more reasonable elevations?

Ticking off my first Waingrights of the trip, I worked my way down to the famous climbing Mecca of Wasdale, camping in a field and treating myself to another first; a splendid serving of lamb rump – sorry, friends, but you taste so good and this tired and damp hiker could not resist.

The next morning saw me contouring up towards Sca Fell relying on my Garmin to allow me to cut off some zigzags and march straight to my destination just like the runners do. And it was a good thing I had the Garnin as the mist came right down to only a few inches visibility. Fickle as can be, the sky cleared up at Sca Fell Pike and the lovely ridge descent to Seathwaite.

Summit of Pillar with Great Gable and Sca Fell looming in the misty distance.

Though it was intended as a “rest day” I was out early for some rock climbing with guide Tom who leads trips in the Himalaya – and England. Many of my climbing pals would have winced at the two-hour approach right back up the track to the base of Great Gable. It was a day of both personal and physical discovery and we got off the face just as the thunderstorm approached.

Tom left me at another camp spot in Seatollar where I headed back into the hills, walking along a high ridge towards Cat Bells and the lovely tourist town of Keswick. Decisions had to be made at the misty top to forgo a long day in white-out conditions and rather drop down towards Derwent Water. My timing was spot on as I was there when a Bob Graham Rounds finisher arrived at Moot Hall after running up and down 42 Lakeland Fells in under 24 hours. That’s more elevation gain – and loss – than Everest. Big smiles from this hugely impressed hiker.

My Garmin inReach Explorer is a necessity, not a luxury when solo backpacking.

Clear skies all around when I set off for Skiddaw, but the peak “tends to attract cloud” and the day was socked in all the way to one of my favorite spots I named Camp Spooky. Again, my Garmin kept me on track hiking overland towards Blencathra, which remained in mist and dampened my spirits. She only showed herself at sunset from my tent far across the dale.

Waking up in a damp tent and overcast sky nearly broke me before I decided to give the weather one more chance and pushed up again without a clear trail towards the rolling peaks of the Dodds. By the time I reached the ridgeline, I could see where I was going and my Garmin lived up to its other very useful purpose of tracking my course and pinging Richard every half hour with my location.

The map above is what he could see as I crossed Northern England. He followed my every step as I circled England’s second highest peak, Helvellyn, by walking down one knife edge and back up another – wisely leaving my backpack behind and picking it up before heading down towards Grisedale Tarn (lake) and setting up camp high above her banks for my final day before meeting up the C2C again in Patterdale and following the “proper” route to the North Sea, 120 miles away.

Belaying Tom on the flanks of Great Gable, Wasdale far below.

If you want more details on my route and/or the Garmin breadcrumb, don’t hesitate to contact me. This extra 40 miles or so really made this an unforgettable hike and quite unique to the mostly plodding course in the valleys. With some alteration, it would be possible to plan your stops at B&B’s or huts and not wild camp as I did.

And remember, Not all those who wander are lost – J. R. R. Tolkien

Grateful for a clear day at the summit of the bloody big hill, Helvellyn.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 20, epilogue

Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.
– Cindy Ross

#blissfulhiker upon Kidsty Pike about to leave the Lakes.

Working my way back to Manchester airport from another seaside town, Scarborough. Gritty, charmless, yet full of people on a Saturday afternoon shopping in the pedestrian street, families pushing prams, tattooed singles with dogs, eating, vaping and all ignoring the cross signals, as I do too, ensuring I look right before pressing into traffic.

It’s maybe a fitting way to end this walk. It somehow seems more real than striding out on moors and atop fells, looking for a good place to pitch the alicoop, avoiding midges and cooking a meal in the Jetboil. Oddly enough I feel less sad and more satisfied than I often do at the end of these things. Maybe it’s the fact that within just minutes the train hurtled me out of the throng of humanity and right back into the green and pleasant land my feet trod, wide open and far less foreign to me now after three weeks. Or perhaps it’s that I was able to find a charity shop right around the corner from the station. The woman in charge saying yes she did have suitcases but they weren’t “modern.” Yes! just what I was looking for! A behemoth to hold my backpacking kit safely for the journey home, at just £5 and it even has wheels.

Coming out of the cloud.

Also fitting might be that the day is cloudy with some rain. Was I ever lucky, even copping rays in sun-filled Northern England. As one after another Coast-to-Coaster threw a pebble into the sea, we all commented on our good fortune, avoiding clag in the Pennines, no need for mincing footsteps in the non-existent boggy moorland, fabulous views in the Lakes.

What captures my imagination now is the variety of all I saw – fell, dale, moor and plain. Of course anyone walking the C2C would enjoy this gradual shifting of terrain as they walked west to east, but I upped the ante by adding another 60 miles and cracking up all the highest peaks plus some.

Strider on Striding Edge.

I would recommend adding the Ali-loop to the traditional trail. It’s a longer walk and once you rejoin the classic trail at Hellvellyn, the mileage remaining might feel daunting, but it’s a hell of a ride. And I would most definitely suggest backpacking. I only saw a few people carrying gear – and that’s only on the classic walk, there was not a soul backpacking in the Lakes. “Wild camping” is tolerated in the Lakes, and I was absolutely alone in every spot I chose. And when it was not convenient to be up in the hills, there was always a place to pitch at a farm or next to a pub. I found it exhilarating to have that freedom.

That being said, I mostly saw older people walking the classic trail in shorter stages with all their gear sherpa-ed to the next B&B. School is still in session in England, so it’s possible only retirees are free to walk now. It is the most lovely time with all the flowers blooming and the lambs frolicking in the fields, but it made me feel a bit out of place. It’s not to say the hike isn’t challenging, but even the French Alps with all the refuges and villages charmants, did not feel packed with weekend walkers. I’m eager for a solo hike in wilderness where the next pub is days rather than hours away by foot. Though, snob that I am, I still learned a thing or two from a few rambling retirees, like purchasing anti-blister sock liners next time and not having to tape every piece of skin on my foot after developing one nasty hot spot. No hiker knows it all, that’s for sure.

The first big pull above Ennerdale Water.

So what about the kit, how did it go, you ask. Aside from my hairband – which turned up inside my sleeping bag when i got home, nothing was lost or broken. Even the ancient Jetboil, its starter replaced and busted, the innards falling apart in my hands at Ennerdale Water on day one, held up and worked brilliantly. I’ll be looking for a lighter weight alternative to my most favorite MSR pump, which I did not bring this time and instead used pills. They worked just fine, but I was more remote than I expected and relied on them for all the days and nights in the lakes. The 4-liter dromedary was perfect, as were two fizzy water bottles, that never leaked or cracked. I always forget how much I crave a sweet energy additive for the water and this time packed a ziplock with a few weeks worth.

The alicoop, the sleep set up, my clothing – except for the terribly fitting Fits socks, the heel sliding under my foot, and my lack of full sun protection for my hands – all worked well. I kept my hair in a ponytail with a buff as a hairband. It was that hot! But also, the curls stayed under control when the wind picked up.

Slippy scree below Sca Fell Pike.

I am in need of a new backpack. I love this Granite Gear style, basically just a big bag with two pockets and a few straps, but I wear a men’s and after a week, I lose so much weight, I simply can’t tighten the straps. I’ve actually known this for some time, but have gotten too busy – or too cheap – to do anything about it. But the time has come to find a better fitting pack for the next adventure.

I did so love wearing quick drying, light weight, but rugged, fell runners. North Face even managed to patent a shoelace that never had to be retied. As one walker commented, “Brilliant! Superb!” My only concern was how my arthritis made itself known after a long day’s walk. Am I just getting older or do I need a boot next time, or maybe a more robust inner support?

Boats at low tide, Robin Hood’s Bay.

Two small things I brought turned out to be quite useful. At the last minute Richard gave me a cleaning cloth for the iPhone. It’s stuffed into a little water resist pouch and hangs off the waist belt. It got a bit wet, but dried quickly and lost none of its cleaning ability. I used it in the sunglasses, the screen and the camera lens with great results. I also packed a Sea-to-Summit mini backpack that closes into a tiny ball. I used it when buying groceries, and will use it now on the plane for the items I don’t want checked.

The compass got a workout, and everyone should carry one and know how to use it. Following a bearing can keep you from walking in circles when the mist comes down, and the C2C is not the best signed trail to say he least. I used the gps to send a bread crumb home, but a quick look at my location came in handy when everything disappeared in fog.

Resupply options.

Food was a bit of a problem. I was determined to stay on the Whole30 diet and managed to do so for the first several days, but it was far too difficult to resupply. The best meals were dehydrated eggs and tomato, potato bark with broccoli and pepper, beef jerky and larabars. In the past, I’ve dehydrated a complete stir fry meals of veggies, vegan sausage and brown rice. I think I’ll be heading back in that direction for the next hike to ensure I get enough calories. Indeed, pubs were frequented and some were better than others, but I found steak pie with mushy peas and a side of chips got a little repetitive and I longed for more variety, especially with vegetables. Though I’m not complaining at all about the selection of hand-pulled ales. Early on, I was convinced I needed the carbohydrates.

I used my headlamp once the entire walk, attempting to read just before sleeping on the first night. The sun set around 9 or so, but the sky was light til almost 11. By 4, the birds were in full song. I awoke, but usually drifted back to sleep. Every day was hours of walking, but I always felt like I had enough time and never rushed.

Lamb rumps.

Would I suggest this walk to friends? Of course. It can be taken on in any fashion that suits, guided and planned with a pint and a shower awaiting your every stage, gritty and come-what-may in my style, and every way in between. As an American it particularly fascinated me to hear the accents, see how people live and go on holiday, and discover how family-oriented this country is, even when it comes to the pubs. I never once felt in danger and it’s safe to say, I fell in love with this lovely place, as I learned on my walk to speak a bit more “English.”

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 19, Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay

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.
– Terry Pratchett

One more steep climb, but easily done on road.

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.

Mystical Little Beck Wood.

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.

70 mph gusts from Storm Hector made walking difficult, but made me ecstatic.

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.

The last moor in high wind, the sea finally appearing in the distance.

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.

Tract homes with million dollar views on the final walk to the North Sea.

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.

The C2C – and the road – finish in the water.

The End.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 18, Blakey Ridge to Grosmont

Desert, jungle, mountains or coast; I don’t have a preference. If I’m out in the wilderness with everything I need in the world on my back, chances are my smile is wide and my thoughts are clear.
– Cam Honan

Volunteer rail men clowning around for this enthusiast.

What is it about trains that always make us smile? Especially if it’s an antique one with wooden carriages and a coal-fired steam locomotive. The North York Moors Railway belched acrid black smoke leaving the Grosmont station spot on 4:30, the platform was full of tourists like me snapping pictures and waving, the various volunteer masters and foreman keeping everyone safe as she huffed and puffed and gathered speed, peaking at 25 mph.

Grosmont – silent S – is the alicoop’s stop for the night as the next few miles is another straight up hill towards the remaining 15 miles to the end. It’s a gritty little town, but filled with character and pride, signs pointing the way through a grand tunnel to see the locomotives barn and pick up some train-themed souvenirs. This spot has a good vibe.

Great Fryup Dale.

The day started windy with the alicoop rattling, but standing up to them. Once I started on the mostly downhill 13 1/2 mile day, I was broad-sided by the cool fingers, happy to have it compete with so much direct sun. How can a person complain about such bright weather in England?!

I moved down the rigg of moorland, on and off tarmac switching the poles from rubber tipped to metal along the way. One particularly lovely stretch had me singing some Sweet Baby James Taylor in time to my footsteps. It was that kind of lazy walk. Though once on a track with small stones, my feet grew weary and I looked for any strip of grass to cool them.

Drinking “pink” – instant energy water – on the Beggars Bridge,

Past grouse butts and protective nesting birds screeching overhead, I finally came upon the terraced houses of Glaisdale. Promised one of the most charming towns on the trail, I pushed down and down the 25% grade and somehow blew past it straight to the Beggar’s Bridge, built by a poor man who found his fortune and returned to marry the squire’s daughter – and finally improve passage for the town over the River Esk.

I must have missed the charm and there was no way I was heading back up to find out, so I pushed on into a wood that looked as if the perfect scouted location for a Monty Python flick. I expected the black night at any moment to tell me “None shall pass.” Indeed many had on the lovingly laid stones, worn smooth in the middle by thousands of feet.

Skipping on the stepping stones at Egton Bridge.

Egton Bridge appeared after a bend with its famous stepping stones to a public island. Here I contemplated how far I’ve come – the Coast-to-Coast and then some. It’s always hard to manage your pace as the end draws near. Do you race to the end and finish or savor each moment a bit longer? I feel elated to have done all of this in the time I set for myself, but, of course a bit sad too having it come to an end. Just making a small mental note of how things went. Nothing broke, nothing was lost – except my favorite hairband – and I still feel reasonably good overall.

In another few miles I arrived in Grosmont and am ready for one last wander around in my crocks and a taste of local food. The place is jammed with walkers and there’s a collegial vibe that we’ve just about done it.

NYMR or “Hogwarts Express”

Of course, tomorrow begins with one more big uphill, then a long walk on the coast, marching into Robin Hoods Bay. The Beeb says the winds are going to be high and rain is expected. Should be some way to finish, so off to bed soon enough.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 17, Ingelby Arncliffe to Blakey Ridge

Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.
– Henry David Thoreau

Urra, highest point in North York Moors.

Rain fell in the alicoop last night and by morning – which begins here at 4am – the fret moved in and I thought my day would be lost to poor views and claggy conditions underfoot.

It was just the opposite and why I have been blessed with such fabulous conditions, I have no idea. I have certainly paid my dues, hiking the Colorado Trail in an almost constant state of monsoon and last fall’s Border Route nothing dried for five days. Praise the hiker guides this time around.

Absolute bliss.

My feet are much better today, the blister beginning to harden. The walk starts straight up out of Ingelby Cross through verdant green forest. Stiles and gates disappeared for a firm track that I was told had only recently been patched up with stone. The views opened out onto a series of fells into the distance as I happily – and surprisinfgly quickly – puffed up the first big climb.

As I entered the North York Moors National Park, a sign told me this is the largest continuous stretch of heather in England. Friends, my breath was taken away, not by the climbing, but the stunning view from this height. The moor has been carefully maintained with a series of rock slabs blending right in with the wildness, your feet feel as if walking a church floor, smooth, gentle – even going down.

Soft walking without the clag.

It was here I met up once again with the men from Mississippi who gave me a long stare and asked, “Now before you won the lottery, what did you do??” Taxidermy, I said…these guys were persistent! I banged their sticks for luck and pushed on by. Thank goodness we had different destinations for the day. Nice guys, but c’mon already.

I was reminded of the Dodds from so many days ago, up and down different humps – Near Moor, Live Moor, Holey Moor, Cryngle Moor, Urra Moor – but all the time, I was high above the Yorkshire Plain, close to the clouds, the wind keeping me cool.

A good day of 21 miles walking.

I would now like to say something about my hat. It’s goofy, I know. Made by Kavu it’s the best hat I have ever owned. The strap tightens from the brim, so the hat is never against the head in such a way as to induce a headache, but it always stays on even in the fiercest wind. I have gotten some sun, but nothing direct and the wide brim has worked beautifully in light rain too. Yay for the hat!

I’m now at the the Lion Inn after a long seven mile stretch smack dab in the middle of the moor. I may have this puppy over and done with in two days. Excited, happy and strong. Praise the goddess.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 16, St. Giles Farm to Ingleby Arncliffe

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
– Frank Lloyd Wright

Wheat in the wind, the Cleveland Hills in the distance.

Today was the day I was warned about – long, flat and a lot of road walking. It’s to be expected on any real thru-hike that you’ll have some days less exciting than others, but what surprised me was that the road walking turned out to be blissfully relaxing with some of the fields, less so.

I was told by a local that Yorkshire people have short hands and long pockets. This soon became evident in the state of the way-marking and stiles, as if no one could be bothered to keep the right of way in good repair. Sometimes this included crashing through a hedge barely trimmed for clearance, or busted steps, flimsy poles or barbed wire surrounding the exact placement for your hand. It felt a bit like I wasn’t totally welcome here. And topped off by a wildly dangerous mad dash across a dual carriage way, lorry upon lorry upon young man in an Audi bearing down on your sad hobbled run.

The excuse for no bridge? The road was here first.

Half-way pit stop in a long day’s walk.

But maybe my own attitude needs adjustment. When I told a few folks in Danby Wiske that I had added six days in the Lakes to the walk to bag all the big mountains, they said “As if this isn’t hard enough?” I am thrilled I did, and proud I moved well, but today I’m paying with a big fat blister right on my heel, like stepping on a sharp tack with every footfall.

It’s dressed with everything in the arsenal, but endless pounding through fields and road – even if flat – started to deflate my spirits. And that’s when something needed to be done, to get into noticing mode. I ask myself what is around me to see, whether beautiful or ugly, what sticks out?

Church, Bolton-on-Swale.

Bolton-on-Swale has an interesting church, the leaning gravestones taking up the entire front yard. The houses here are no longer stone, but made of brick and the land is greener with the thick vegetation everywhere. In fact, at one point, the trail veered right into a tunnel of hedge between two fields. It was about a half mile in the shade.

Moors have given way to meadows, the wind gently blowing the grass like waves on a sea. Yellow Jammers float frozen in the air, singing their complicated song as skylarks whistle, competing with the wind.

Friendly fillies.

One farm warned me to beware of the witch, a skull and rubber rats nailed to the stile. Once I stepped up a recording was tripped, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” Had this family gotten fed up with people letting their pooches loose on their lambs? Or is watching walkers negotiate the zigzagged trail, losing their way and traipsing on the lawn enough to make them want to poke fun?

I must admit, at this stage, I feel kind of ridiculous carrying a backpack stuffed with gear, the GPS strapped to my left shoulder, dressed in my goofy hat and walking on all fours with trekking poles. I deserve to be poked fun at. One farmer did so when he built a stile to nowhere ending in tramped down grass above a beck and no way out. He had the last laugh as I – and all who went before me – backtracked to the correct crossing.

Just me and the birds on the road walk.

But it’s been well worth it to carry the kit because here I am all set up in another field, the weather clement and a plate of lamb rump coming to me – lamb rump, I might add here, I saw in great abundance alive and bleating all along the route. In France, campsites have a bar and took my order for the morning’s croissant. In England, the tea service is available for campers right next to the toilet.

Though not the most memorable day of this walk, it did turn out to be just right.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 15, Reeth to St. Giles Farm

Travel far enough, you meet yourself.
– David Mitchell

Way finding in Richmond.

Another stunningly beautiful, bright, sunny day completely out of the norm for this region of the world. I met two women also backpacking and coming the opposite direction, dressed in full-on rain gear, gators and sun protection. They were in such shock about this unusual weather, they seemed unable to change their clothing – or attitude.

The day opened on Reeth at 4 am, but I was absolutely knackered from my trudge across the moors, I slept late. By the time I suited up, sent the “I’m starting my hike” and tracking message to Richard, it was well past 10. But I knew the walking was only getting easier and the sunsets later, so I had literally all day to find my way past Richmond.

Stone laithe in Swaledale.

Out into the countryside, the land was changing noticeably into more rolling green pastureland and deciduous trees. The path forward was still a bit of a puzzle as to finding which way any sort of “trail” went through the fields and if they indeed led to a stile or fence, but I was improving in my way-finding, and only had to backtrack a few times.

The sun was hot and the cumulus clouds grew above the verdant path, one so delightful to walk on as if someone had spread an Oriental carpet in front of my feet. Soon, I reached the priory ahead of Merrick. Closed now to the public, I was only able to make out its graceful ruins from a distance. But what remains for public consumption are the stairs hand-built by the nuns leading through a wood for almost half a mile to the town center. The cool of the dense shade was welcome this morning, and I could almost hear singing through the ages as I ascended.

Nuns walk to Merrick.

The village is just a collection of farm buildings and homes all made of local stone. I looked longingly at the homes with their stunning view atop a hill. Could I live here? Experiencing sunrise in June at 4, it doesn’t take much calculating to figure that by December, sunset would be early, and darkness – combined with a damp cold – might make the living less desirable. I do know if I lived in a stone house, I would paint my doors a bright purple or maybe even orange.

Opening gate after gate, some with a tuning fork-like melody, I entered into a new kind of field, no longer moor, but meadow, with a gentle reminder to walk in single file. This is because the seemingly useless meadow is in actuality winter feed for livestock and the farmers prefer giving up only so much right-of-way.

Local boosters.

Upon entering any village, I pop out of my pocket two rubber tips for the trekking poles, a brilliant last-minute idea I had right before leaving Minnesota. And I would like to say something here about my trousers and their most excellent pockets. In the last several long distance hikes I have walked, I have worn long pants. It was my husband – a professional disc golfer – who convinced me that it was worth being protected in keeping the sun, poison ivy and all that scratches and clings off my skin. It’s actually cooler to stay covered than to wear sunblock, so I am pleased to have these long pants from REI.

At first I thought the stretchy material was just to hide bulges and contour to my curves, but the purpose is also to make real pockets that actually hold things like left side: map; right side: pole tips; zip pocket: wallet and the little stone I’m carrying from one coast to the next. I can also make them tighter with a kind of internal belt as I slim down over the hike. These pants rock.

Snacks served in the cemetery.

In Marske, a little sign invited me to take a pause at St. Edmunds Church. They had an honesty box of candy bars, potato chips and drinks. I hadtoI partake of the peaceful surroundings, sipping an OJ in their graveyard.

As I approached Richmond, I came upon a bench and small sign with words from one of Alfred Wainwright’s books extolling the wonder of this high level view of an ancient Norman city. Sadly no one took the time to trim the branches and the view was directly at a hedge.

But Richmond did not disappoint, a lovely small city of stone and cobbled streets looked upon by castle ruins directly on the River Swale. I had a snack at a pub in the center of town with techno pumping and an early drinker throwing darts.

Pastoral scene, Yorkshire.

It’s never easy finding the trail that leads out of towns, and I missed my turn at one point, fortunately without too much damage. I have never been so happy to find the sewage treatment plant that I needed to pass before heading back up into meadows and farmland for the village of Coburn.

You can’t imagine how odd it is for an American to come upon a village just emerging out from the fields. We’ve become accustomed to strip malls and urban sprawl. England protects its open spaces, which are havens for wildlife and all that goes with a natural setting like fresh air. I wish I could bottle the smell and bring it with me back on the plane.

Glad I’m slimming down to push through this slot stile.

My plan was to reach a farm where camping is allowed on the lawn, just about a mile out of town. But as I passed the pub, people looked out the windows and beckoned me indoors. Finally a waitress came out and suggested I not pass but come in for a pint. At first I was reluctant, but then relented and was swept into the magic of trail walking, that you make friends from all over the world. Two men from Mississippi were particularly eager to talk and find out all about me. Though it did seem their primary interest was to talk about themselves as how this was the second time they’d walked the trail, they loved it so much.

Gate to nowhere.

I tend to get shy around such gregarious behavior, so when they asked me what I do, I told them I was lucky enough to win the lottery and was able to spend the rest of my life traveling.

Would it were so. But life is pretty darn good as I get to spend my night in this glorious location up on a hill looking out on some of the most delicious scenery on the entire trail , with tomorrow a long day’s walk all on flat ground.

View from my tent at St. Giles Farm.


Coast to Coast

C2C: day 14, Ravenseat to Reeth

I like being near the top of a mountain. One can’t get lost here.
– Wislawa Szymborska

One third of the Ravenseat Farm brood.

I broke two cardinal rules today: I didn’t check the map as I came around a difficult section of the trail and I followed two people I thought were going my way. Never do these things. Why? Because you get yourself good and lost.

I’m in the lovely village of Reeth tonight. A reasonable pull of 14 miles or so, if I hadn’t made a long and arduous detour. The day started at Ravenseat Farm, right at the end of the trail coming off the moors. The farmer’s wife greeted me with scones and jam and had me set the alicoop right at the foot of the stone bridge, the bubbling beck singing me to sleep. When I awoke, it was all in mist and chilly, though the sun peaked out promising a good days walk.

This way in Swaledale.

Soon the children came out one by one to see who was camping in their yard. This is a big family of nine children spanning a few decades. First it was the second oldest riding over in a motorbike he was fixing up himself. He was dressed to kill in real biker duds, though likely his dad’s or older brothers as the pants were rolled up. He showed off a little, waiting for me to ask more about the bike.

Then the farmer himself sauntered to my the picnic table where I was organizing breakfast. He gave me the facts about sheep farming, then plunged right into politics. Brexit – bad; Trump – not so much.

#blissfulhiker looking for Crackpot Hall.

Later the little ones came by. “What’s this for-uh?”asked the littlest one, Clemmy, about all my gear. “What’s this for-uh?” This is a compass. “What’s this for-uh?” My gps…”What’s this for-uh?” These are my trekking poles…The smallest of the brood has no guile whatsoever and I could have stayed the day playing and explaining.

But it was time to push off, out on the moor high above gulleys rushing with water and “forces” or waterfalls. This area is called Swaledale and rolls along in gentle curves dotted with laithes or stone barns standing solitary in million-dollar views.

Lead mines remains right before the storm hit.

Soon, I approached Keld, more of a bend in the road than a village of stone houses. I picked up a bacon bap at the camping store, but was a bit put out by the notices filled with rules, regulations and a cost for everything including charging the phone.

Perhaps it was the funk I got into leaving a lovely green in Keld with massive signs saying no camping, so by the time I neared the high route leading to Reeth, I was distracted and enervated by the increasing heat and lost my way. The book warned that the trail was not easy to find, and of course, I landed myself directly on the wrong trail, only two boots wide and hanging right over the cliff above the river. But I found it an adventure and soldiered on towards Crackpot Hall, crackpot simply referring to the depth of the chasm, one only a crow could love.

Two intrepid women marched ahead of me and I circled around the old lead mining ruins with them, snapping a few pix then following them up the other side of the chasm. A big mistake. From here, the trail came right back out, onto the edge of the moor, essentially in the opposite direction I needed to go. Once I realized my mistake, I discovered an easy exit straight down to the lower route to Reeth, where most hikers were slowly meandering along in bunches.

But that kind of walking was not for me. I was up for a challenge and thought I might simply take a beating and meet the main high route trail by making a kind of triangle. Theoretically, it’s doable. But it required crossing over two miles of open moor, much of it uphill.

Road walk through Keld.

And that’s what I did, ignoring all of my English lit classes warning of the dangers on the open moor, how one can get thoroughly lost, disoriented, or sucked into the mire. Luckily the mire was well in hand with so little rain. It was the heather that nearly did me in, sharp, scratchy, grabby, clumpy, tussocky heather for miles on end.

But once I got going, there was no stopping me and I plodded onwards and upwards, finally following a stone wall that eventually led to a stile. A stile meant only one thing: people walked here. And just as I felt completely idiotic adding many miles to what was supposed be a reasonably easy day, two other women hikers appeared. We shared the map and advice and I found a way down and down, backtracking to a bridal path and finally to the C2C.

Storms building on the moor.

And this just as the thunder started rumbling. It was quite a sight at that junction, ruins from one of the smelters built during the Industrial Revolution, a lovely brook falling over mossy stones. But at this point I needed to go up to go down, right into the path of the storm.

In a previous post, I mentioned the English seem less panicky about thunderstorms which tend to be less catastrophic. None-the-less, loud booms echoing in the hills had me moving as fast as I could up onto Melbecks Moor as the rain began lashing down. The site at the top seemed fitting, an industrial wasteland of tailings and moved earth, a few ruins scattered about for dramatic effect.

The only thing needed after a day like today.

The hike from here, had I not made such a costly error, was mostly boring. But I was knackered through and through, it seems an endless six miles or so. I missed yet another turn and ended up in a tiny group of houses on the road a mile from Reeth. A sign promised a walk through the fields, but came to nothing and I cursed as I made my way back to the road and walked all the way into this lovely town, wide open to the fells and wide open in embracing my tired self.

Now I must go and study up carefully for tomorrow’s hike which I hope will prove uneventful. Though to be honest looking back, what an adventure to have such a stunning view up the Swale Dale over Gunnerside and Mucker and to experience for myself the first – and hopefully only – time crashing straight through moorland, no trail, no path, just me an the compass. I’ve had my share of thunderstorms in the hills, but this time I really was out in it and far from comfortable. So I just put on the raincoat and kept moving. Not so bad an adventure after all, and certainly different from the masses.

Yay for this #blissfulhiker.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 13, Orton to Ravenseat Farm

You need special shoes for hiking — and a bit of a special soul as well.
– Terri Guillemets

Kirby Stephen, boot fungus Capitol of the world.

The alicoop is up, the midges are out on cue, dinner is cooking on one of the myriad picnic tables at Ravenseat Farm and the sunset is giving the swell of the Pennines an orange hue. It was quite the day. To get myself a few miles more ahead of where I thought I should be camping last night in order to finish this thing, I set my sights on Keld, about a 25 mile walk from Orton. It was along the way that I noticed a more pleasurable stop at a farm with camping on the lawn next to a stone bridge marking the exact halfway point of the walk.

The day began much cooler than yesterday, which proved to be absolutely enervating, so I was thrilled to get underway, the trail leaving the charming village by road at first, then straight onto the heather-clad moor. Birdsong followed me everywhere, complex and foreign to my ears from yellow wagtail and linnet as well as one of my favs, the lapwing with its dog-toy squeak. Coming over the rise, birds filled the spare trees reminding me briefly of the Drakensberg in South Africa and it’s haunting long views.

The wild and lonely moors.

Likewise most days, I passed through gates and over stiles, each having its own distinct character. Sometimes I’d come across a spiffy affair with a long, easy-to-reach metal latch that was equally easy to move and a gate evenly hung on its hinges would simply open wide for me to pass through. Even better would be a spring in the gate so I can simply let the door close with a pleasing slam on my way past. But more often than not, the gates hang askew in their hinges, have awkward to open latches or have one extra little clip that seems totally unnecessary. Then there’s the gate in a kind of pass through, where you push it open, put your body into the space and squeeze the gate in front of you. All well and good, unless you’re carrying a backpack, and then things get a little tight. I often stood up on the edges of the fence to hoist myself beyond the gate. Not pretty, but sufficed. Stiles can be ladders or strategically placed rocks, some built right into the wall a bit like the Incas. I got up, over, and through all of them, and was sure to close the gate once past.

The moors are wonderful places, high, mysterious, full of life, even if seemingly monochromatic. Once in the middle, all that surround – fell and dale – disappear, as if being far out on the ocean. It’s no wonder that this area is full of prehistoric sites, rock cairns, circles and settlements. One in particular is said to be the most important in Britain, but its remains are mostly seen from outer space, so I moved right on by.

No one knows who they were. No one knows what they were doing.

It was in this place of big sky that I saw my first backpacker, another woman on her own from Holland. She sauntered in the way backpackers do, but I was hoofing on past where she planned to stop for the night, so moved right on by again. That is one thing that has surprised me on this walk, that I have not run into many walkers. I am wild camping for one, so not doing the usual stages and meeting up with the groups who have their bags carried between B&B’s, and I also added dozens of miles in the Lakes and missed Coast-to-Coasters while off on my own, but still, this may not be as populated a walk as it ought to be.

Soon, the final pull on the moors reached its apex and Kirkby (with a silent k) Stephen opened below. It’s one of one larger towns on the hike, and greeted walkers with a little town theme of worn out boots filled with flowers. Densely spaced row houses lined the main thoroughfare as I marched along looking for a place to get water before the big push into the Pennines. The Black Bull has an inviting seat right on the sidewalk, and within earshot of the local color, already working on their second or even third pints at 2 in the afternoon.

Stepping stones across peat bog.

I took a look at the 13th century church built of sandstone from the local quarry I’d pass up the hill, crossed Frank’s Bridge over Eden Beck and I was off. Five miles winding up and up, past Fell House with guanaco in their yard, past bleating sheep and their soft wooly white lambs in black face and long silky black legs, onto the peat bog of this new range of hills in beautiful Swaledale.

At the top is Nine Standards Rigg, a series of huge carefully stacked rock cairns guarding the summit. I didn’t quite ascertain why they are there or who built them, but I found the place in the late afternoon particularly special, imagining my own stories of the peoples who went before.

Lonely cairn where I should have turned.

The standards mark the beginning of the infamous bogs, ones that can steal a boot, a trekking pole and one’s dignity. I am incredibly lucky in that the rains have stayed away for months since a very wet spring, so mostly the walking was spongy dirt, and where it wasn’t, the park service has placed huge rock slabs, I barely got a toe wet.

Though I did manage to miss my turn and found myself taking a long and circuitous route to the farm. Wondering if I was on the right trail and having just about enough after 20 odd miles, a nice couple came around the bend in the nick of time and drove me the last 1/4 mile to the farm where I’m sleeping tonight.

Is that cheating?

These boots were not made for walking.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 12, Haweswater to Orton

I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.
– G.M. Trevelyan

Flower power.

What a sight to see beautiful Orton over the last rise, nestled in a dale and framed by the Pennines. My plan was to get the alicoop here tonight and then I’d be a few miles ahead of where I was hoping to be last night. No regrets at all, but climbing every big mountain in the Lakes plus a rock climbing “rest” day did take up a good chunk of the time and it’s good to now be on the actual Coast to Coast and heading east, even if I still have about 120 miles or so to walk to the end.

It was not a fortuitous start to the day, even if the sky was clear and the sun shining. Right after I signed off last night and the sun set, an evil cloud of midges surrounded, cornering me in the alicoop. No matter the speed I flung myself in, hundreds followed me. They leave a tiny red welt in the skin, and their bite – especially in the face – hurts. Little bastards. But they die quickly and I carried thousands of their little carcasses stuck to the sides of the coop all day.

Signage improving.

The morning was no better and it was about the fastest packing job of my hiking life. Fortunately, the flowing beck emptying into Haweswater generated enough air to keep them away as I made breakfast before a long, hot day of walking. It occurred to me that perhaps I could have chosen a better time to hike, like the fall. But I would miss the profusion of flowers and birdsong had I not hiked right now.

Hausewater is a reservoir, with strict instructions once I reached its end not to camp. I left a clean site and had my tent where others also broke the rules, so little harm. The five-mile trail begins rocky and undulating, but soon levels to the first flat area where I could move with long strides and not watch my feet. Along the way were rock signs, the size of small gravestones. I was told in the Yorkshire Moors, they’re called “crosses,” signs leading the way. In this case for a village that is submerged.

Pit stop in Shap.

After the water, the terrain changed dramatically. Rolling farmland interspersed with tamarack forest opened in front of me. Sheep were still on the scene, but cattle and horses joined in. I passed a few houses as I walked at the edge of fields where signs warned to keep dogs on lead, as it is the farmer’s right to shoot any mingling with livestock. Even if it wasn’t too early in the day to camp, I did not linger long.

Tom’s honesty box surprised me as I legged up over a stile. He has quite the reputation, less as a trail angel than an enterprise, even listed in the guidebook. On and on I went through fields filled with wildflowers looked down upon by puffy white clouds.

Why did the hiker cross the dual carriageway?

Soon I came upon the Shap Abbey ruins, a nunnery built in the 12th century and ransacked by Henry VIII’s henchman. It’s bell tower still stands, but most of the good stuff has been pilfered. You can see some stones in the buildings of Shap as the C2C brings you straight down Main Street. I got a drink and something to eat before the long pull I had left for the day. At the Abbey Cafe, an earnest trans biker offered all sorts of advice, some good and some less so, before I moved on.

Shap was once on the main highway, but now lies a mile away from the A6, the main thoroughfare to Scotland. You notice the noise first, then see in the distance how to get past it: a lovely footbridge. Up and over and suddenly out of the Lakes and into Central England and Yorkshire Dales National Park, only recently expanded to include the Howgills, and – I was told – to keep people from building willy nilly. Once over a rise, the engine noise disappeared and the views really opened up, far and expansive, the Pennines that I’ll walk tomorrow beginning to come into view.

New national park to walk across.

Here I walked on soft grass covering limestone that sometimes showed its craggy self. It’s not the grandeur of the Lake District, those hills disappearing behind me, but a kind of wistful loneliness of slower rises and falls. There is something of the American Prairie to Westmoreland, but perhaps that was because the sky felt so big above me, the birds calls so soothing in my solitude and the distances I was covering so satisfying.

It’s a bit of a detour to come to Orton, but I am thrilled I did as I set the alicoop on a lawn and cleaned up my clothes, the kit and myself nearing the halfway point of my hike. I feel confident I will walk every step to the end, but tomorrow will be a long day with Keld in my sights. Will I be able to wild camp again from here on out or will it be lawns and campsites?

We shall see…

Limestone, Howgills.


Coast to Coast

C2C: day 11, Grisedale Tarn to Haweswater

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.
– Edward Abbey

Hiker coming around the bend in Patterdale.

I just might be at the most beautiful wild campsite yet, and the last of the wild sites. Tomorrow, when I hit Shap and cross the M6 motorway, the lakes will be just a memory – and most camping will happen next to pubs.

Last night was cold and damp. The sky was clear and some very bright planet peaked into the alicoop from the south across the Tarn. I shivered when I emerged into the wind and before I could make tea, a chilling mist sneaked up the dale “on tiny cat’s paws” covering the sun, causing me to shiver. The hardest chore camping is to take down in the rain. But taking down in the cold is right up there in challenge, when your frozen fingers can barely work as they touch metal and you try to roll up the tent and carefully stuff it in the bag. I sang to myself to move faster and stay warm as I left that lovely place, down and down to Patterdale.

Mist creeping in at Grisedale Tarn.

I always worry the impression I make when I enter town and need to buy things. I see myself as strong and intrepid, having added ten major peaks to the trail plus a day’s climbing. But the impression I must give is a bit raggedy, my hair squashed into a buff and held tightly off my burned face, my hands dry as crocodile leather, and my body smelling like a barnyard, and that’s an insult to barnyards everywhere.

But what a delight to discover that haggard hikers is the norm and I fit right in. All the action is at the local post office – part store, part cafe, part charging the electronics pit stop. Apparently it was the favorite of Alfred Wainwright himself, and the first to carry his beautifully illustrated trail books. BBC broadcaster Julia Bradbury hosts a special on her top Wrainwright walks and raves about the bacon baps at this very spot, so I was found mid-morning enjoying one myself.

Resupply at Wainwright’s favorite post office.

A thru-hike never really feels like a thru-hike until it’s time to resupply. On the Colorado Trail and the John Muir Trail, I sent my food ahead, but here, like France, I knew I’d drop into towns and could pick things up as I went along. Of course, you’re at the mercy of what’s available, like potted soup, random bars and “smash.” The tea selection was good and I was surprised the tiny store carried isobutane for the Jetboil.

It was hard to leave, but I needed to make some miles today, so crossed the beck and looked for the trail headed straight up the next set of hills. As I moved up, a few RAF jets came careening down the dale, the sound sudden and terrific.

Trail crew.

Up the trail, I finally saw trail workers laying the stone paths, young people I asked might show me how strong they are for a photo, and replying “but we are strong!” Now on the official C2C, more people shared the trail. Many a “hiya!” and “awright” as I meandered up the path.

If a walker sticks to the classic route, this one will be the hardest they hit. After so many peaks tackled, I was feeling pretty cocky. This is gonna be a breeze as one false summit after another was crossed. The map was clear, I’d walk nearly four miles before hitting the highest point at Kidsty Pike, but I obstinately believed each rise was my destination, even after passing the shapely Angle Tarn, only half-way up.

Kidsty Pike before the midges took control.

I only took a few wrong turns, quickly corrected, before seeing the obvious pointy brow of the pike and the long gulley leading to Haweswater. It was a lovely perch of jagged rocks framing the high peaks of the lakes I had only recently climbed. But as I admired the view, the wind dropped and the midges rose, as if one amorphous organism setting down on my face and hands. Think African Queen, no swatting would keep this evil cloud away, so it was out of there as fast as I could. It seems it’s not just water that attracts these buggers.

The next stage made me a bit nervous as my official guide warned of a steep, rocky descent where hands would need to be used. The first part was velvety grass, the type fell runners crack straight down. I’ve gotten pretty good at that myself, even with a pack. Sticks help the technique of placing your feet facing down, bending your knees, leaning back and running in smallish steps. You really move. No more zigzagging for this #blissfulhiker!

Beautiful Angle Tarn.

But the fun was over when the stones appeared. Wainwright himself suggests your best defense is to use your bum. There’s certainly no shame in it, and I have the snagged trousers to prove it. So I was fully prepared to get down in whatever undignified way necessary. It was a bit of challenge; a wee bit. I guess if this was your very first big pull, a fair warning might be useful, but I’ve been hiking now nine days, so just flew right down.

Looking down at my (hopeful) campsite.

Haweswater is a reservoir, one that completely buried a village. In drought it’s said the ghost town comes into view. Right now, all that can be seen are crumbling rock walls and overgrown trees. My site is next to a small stand of tamarack next to a burbling creek. Idyllic and absolutely at peace. Hoping for Shap and Orten tomorrow, and on to the Pennines!

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 10, Mosedale Beck to Grisedale Tarn

There are two kinds of climbers, those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest.
– Alex Lowe

Striding along in Striding Edge.

Sitting in a steppe above a tarn below Dollywagon Pike. Feet are in crocks, tea’s steeping, the alicoop is ready for my weary body. There’s just enough wind to keep the midges from finding my delicious O+. A few sheep bleet from various ledges. Not only is it stereophonic, but in a third dimension of altitude.

Today has been the most glorious day yet. But it did not start that way. Last night, a cool breeze moved in and cleaned the mist from Blencathra just as I began eating dinner. Clouds turning golden as the sun lazily set close to 11. All this was good news for the next day, as cooler air might push out the humidity and thunderstorms, as well as the view-destroying fog.

View from my tent.

But late at night, it crept in settling right on the alicoop. I love sleeping with both vestibules open, but had to quickly close into the chrysalis for the remainder of the night.

And it stubbornly remained in my little dell by the beck when I awoke. I needed to wear both rain coat and pants to stay dry as I fixed my breakfast and rued the fact that this would be my last major peak climbed in a white out.

Bog Finder.

My plan was to crack up the gully and meet the meandering trail along the Dodds ending at the magnificent horseshoe-shaped Helvellyn, England’s second highest peak and highly recommended by Wainwright as the most thrilling ridges between St. Bees and Robin Hoods Bay. Yesterday was a bit of a disappointment with Blencathra in mist and tackling its Sharp Edge out of the question with the recent rain.

But the skies began to look like they were changing, so I packed up and started the day. The trail was not entirely obvious, just packed down in areas through sucking marsh. The English don’t bother with “spats” or gators. You pretty much have to make your peace with the fact that you will get wet. Rusty brown water oozed over the tops of my trainers as each step made a thwappy kind of sucking sound.

The fog is lifting.

But what a reward to reach the ridge, a main trail like a super highway and to come this time not into mist but above the cloud shyly revealing the peaks I’d walked, first Blencathra, then Skiddaw in the distance. Ahead, the Dodds unfolded – Calfhow Pike, Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, and the Browncove Crags in sensual rolling curves easy to walk and filled with views becoming more apparent as the day warmed up.

Soon the long upward sloping angle of Helvellyn herself appeared and I counted myself exceedingly lucky to be granted the perfect day of little wind and full sunshine. As I mentioned, the fell is shaped like a horseshoe with the two craggy arms reaching down to a sparkling tarn. Beautiful enough from the top, I threw off my bag for a snack to take in the magnificent view. It was a catalog of the last week of hiking. Ennerdale Water in the far distance to the south, and each peak I’d climbed one after another: Pillar, Sca Fell, Great Gable – where Napes Needles positions herself at the base – Cat Bells, Skiddaw and Blencathra.

Higher than summit of England’s third highest mountain, Helvellyn.

But what to do about the edges? On a day like today I simply had to be on them, but my pack wold make it awkward if not dangerous. It occurred to me that I could simply leave my pack at the top and do a little loop going down Swirral Edge, pass Red Tarn and shoot back up Striding Edge. And glory hallelujah, I have my mini daypack with me to take a few items like my camera and passport.

I can tell you after seven days of pushing all out up and down peaks, there was nothing like cruising without a pack. My breath is good, my strength is really up and my balance surprised me, especially on the exposed rocky portion where I skipped from rock to rock, truly feeling like I was striding.

Not recommended in mist or wind.

I should mention here again that this portion of the hike has not been part of the official Coast-to-Coast trail, but even its creator, Alfred Wainwright suggests we all come up with our own path, so adding the three peaks over 3000 feet, plus some climbing and some spectacular ridges, I added maybe 50 more miles to the total hike, but have had the most incredible time. Carrying all my kit does slow me down, but it has made me far more nimble and free.

Perfect weather at the Grisedale Tarn.

Helvellyn is an option for those doing the official C2C, so as of now, I am back on the trail. In a few days, I leave the Lakes, sated and happy. For now, it’s a possible dip in the tarn, some food and a long nap in the sunshine. In the words of e. e. cummings, “I thank thee god for most this amazing day.”

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 9, Blencathra to Mosedale Beck, below Clough Head

It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.
– Dave Barry

Looking for a wild camp above Threlkeld.

An ode to the alicoop:

Oh, alicoop, you are so long and shapely with your twin peaks and proud double mastheads.
You are my chrysalis and my haven.
Light and lithe, you cradle me when darkness falls at half-eleven, and as the eastern sky lights at 4 am.
Thank goodness I haven’t broken a trekking pole.

I’ve been sleeping so well on this walk, probably because my floors have been grassy. But last night I was awakened by flashing light. A thunderstorm?! I lay there cozied in and heard the rumbling approach up the dale. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…kaboom-boom-boom, it rattled and echoed the surrounding fells, as I wracked my brain, does five seconds mean five miles away or one? KaBOOOOOM-boom-boom!

Soft grass, water and solitude in the fells.

I breathe very shallow in lightning storms, feeling vulnerable and completely at their mercy in the wild. I was surprised to here that the English are not too worried about a little crashing in the heavens. I was told the storms are never all that severe, but this one sounded close.

Soon the flashes stopped and the rain came, pitter patter at first followed by a downpour. The alicoop stood up to the shower, and I slowly drifted back to sleep.

Thankfully, the morning came with no rain. There’s nothing worse then packing up in damp. Well, maybe walking in rain is worse. It was dry and the midgets had given up for now, so it turned out to be nice for a spot of tea next to the beck.

First order of business was to get up in Mungrisdale Common, and that would require walking across the rushing water. I did so by wading straight in as I wisely chose trainers for this walk. Sometimes I long for ankle support when I’m contouring the side of a hill, but mostly they are perfect, strong, comfortable, light and quick drying in these marshy, boggy conditions.

Uber-complex stile.

Where I made my mistake was in my sock choice. I have a slight allergy to elastic, so I thought I’d nip it in the bud with low socks. But within just a few days the promised perfectly fitted heel failed completely and the socks spend more time under my feet then around them. I hope to find a suitable replacement in two days when I hit Patterdale.

I pushed up the tussocky – pronounced toossookey – hill, straight into disorienting mist. Blencathra, just shy of 3000 feet, was my goal but finding my way took extra time. This peak was one of Alfred Wainwright’s favorites. It’s more a mountain of ridges than a peak with multiple gullies and sharp edges to be explored. But on a wet day like today with a backpack, I took the easy way up and down. Still a slog and for what? No view whatsoever.

Descending Blencathra, views finally appearing.

As I sit here now I’m looking back on the peak and fog spreads a tablecloth hiding her beauty. Perhaps tomorrow will see clearer skies as I cross the Dodds. You could say a hike like this is a test of one’s attitude and spirit. Can you still feel joy if the weather is not in your favor? The people I met at the top seemed to take it in stride. If not today, there’s always tomorrow.

I chose the least direct route down to avoid a slippy descent on rock. Still, one area was closed by farmers and I found the free-to-roam public footpath going back up before finally heading down into Threlkeld. I was delighted to find a cafe open and serving a bit of lunch, before I heaved the pack back on and headed up the next sheep field towards a blue line in the map where I might wild camp.

Charmer charms.

Who knew there would be a perfectly flat grassy area right at the bridge, and close to the junction for tomorrow morning’s walk with just enough wind to dry the alicoop and my freshly rinsed clothes, and keep the midges at bay. Perhaps it’s a wind persistent enough to blow away the mist? Let’s hope, but no matter the weather, count on me out in it.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 8, Keswick to below Blencathra

Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
– Walt Whitman

Knocking out another big peak.

Today the alicoop was carried to a spot along the Cumbrian Way right next to the river. Lonely and far from everything, it’s the first real “wild camping” experience so far. Even so, as I sat down to muse on the day with a spot of tea and my shoes off, another single woman slowly lumbered passed, the first person I’ve seen on the trip with a backpack.

Keswick was a fine stop for food and civilization. I skipped the Pencil Museum and instead hung out in town. Moot Hall with its high clock tower stands at the center of the pedestrian shopping zone and marks the start – and end – of the Bob Graham rounds. I was lucky enough to see a finisher just arriving for his picture and congratulations from about twenty-five pacers, supporters, friends and family. He was dressed only in flappy short shorts, fell runners and a light raincoat for the 24-hour slog of 28,000 feet over 40-something peaks.

Shy sun in the Lakeland Fells.

The forecast called for 40% chance of rain, but began clear, the sun going in and out of cloud, dancing on the far fells I climbed yesterday, giving them a velvety cast over Derwent Water.

The real issue was how to get out of town and on the trail to Skiddaw. I am always amazed at my luck on walks as just when I was wondering which road to take, a young man kitted out for hiking came striding down the sidewalk sending me on the right route.

Church bells pealed in the town as I got closer to the fell. A sign pointed towards the public footpath, but appeared to be bent. Confused I marched up a trail that gave way to bracken, thick stemmed ferns standing three feet high with long grabby tendrils setting up a tripping hazard and hiding holes.

Helpful signs for once.

Turning around, I ended up heaving myself gingerly over a barb wire fence only to find the way closed by the owner. The only option was to get down to the road and start my search all over again.

Eventually the path came into view, and a farmer was even kind enough to ensure hikers didn’t accidentally venture into his fields. The going was steep, but to my surprise, signs had been erected to keep people from charging straight up the mountain, which had eroded away a good bit of it. Instead, the path zigzagged on a short series of switchbacks. I am betting these will be the only ones I use the entire walk.

Miss Smiley goes up.

Higher and higher as all of Cat Bells ridge came into view above the water, but so did mist blowing right over the peak I intended to climb. I met a couple who told me England’s third highest peak, Skiddaw, tends to “trap the cloud.” It makes me a bit tense to get into the mist. I’m blinded, for one, and the cool air feels like chilled silk against my cheek. But it’s also a lonely feeling. I find it hard to relax and feel sure being here is the right thing for me to do. It’s more than loneliness. More like an out-of-sorts.

But that all blew away as hikers suddenly appeared at the ridge, most in shorts and tank tops. Someone told me, “If we waited for good weather to go into hills, we’d never go.” I felt instantly better.

Backpackers appear on Skiddaw’s misty summit.

After the summit it was down and down towards a wide, well used track called the Cumbrian Way. On the way was one little Wainwright at 673 meters called Bakestall. I was certain I was on it at a cairn until one lonely cairn appeared out of the mist about 50 yards away and only slightly higher. Of course, I took off the pack, marched over, and touched it. One more for the record books.

My goal was to reach a flat spot by water and set myself up to tick off England’s second highest peak tomorrow, Helvellyn with a side trip up Blencathra. On the way is a youth hostel high on a bench looking out on the hills. No one was around when I arrived, and no beds were available anyway should the rain come. So I had my lunch on their bench, then pressed on.

Alicoop at “campsite spooky.”

And here I am, right next to an almost cliche bubbling brook, wide views and soft grass. The English describe carrying a tent and pitching outdoors, “wild”camping. I find it such an apt description of how I’m blending in with all that’s here, the birds, the grass, the changing weather and the continuity of the natural world. I am its guest here and my memories of this moment embraced in its wildness will go on the rest of my life. Will this place remember me?

Above England’s second highest, Skiddaw.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 7, Seatollar to Keswick

Walking: the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise.
– Carrie Latet

Descending below cloud on Cat Bells.

There are five good reasons to hike in mist:

1. You get the fell all to yourself
2. It’s cooler (well that’s debatable; the day actually started out humid)
3. The birds sing louder
4. It’s intimate with every footstep a surprise
5. You get to test your navigation skills

On the steep path out of Seatollar, the stillness of the mist was magical. I only ran into one older walker striding at a good trot and obviously pleased with the day having just finished his final Wainwright, at least from one particular book, Castle Crag. This was Alfred Wainwright’s plan all along, to organize the hills so people could organize their walking. Most people I met proudly ticked off the fells on their list before they asked where I was from.

Lonely stile in the Lakes.

In the mist, the Lakeland Fells look as they usually look, poetic, hidden, mysterious. At the junction, I pushed up a steep section littered with slate. The low fog added atmosphere to ruins of walls, buildings and mines along the hillside.

Soon I reached the ridge completely hidden in cloud. My plan was to do a circular route that would find me eventually in the bustling village of Keswick, a tourist destination filled with shops and pubs. But with the weather, I decided to shoot across the moor towards High Spy, Cat Bells and eventually work my way around Derwent Water.

What is a fell, you might be wondering. It’s likely from old English or perhaps Norse, another word for hill. In the Lake District, fell and hill are interchangeable, even though Sca Fell is over 3000 feet high. The term mountain is reserved for Scotland, higher – by 1000 feet or more – and craggier.

And a peak? That’s reserved for a completely different district, unless you’re referring to just one particular top. And the term for the fells in North Yorkshire that I’ll hit next week? Those are called moors, high tussocky and wet flat areas on top of fells. It’s really all quite confusing with the most important thing of all knowing where I am when I’m there.

Stairs built and walked by thousands of slate miners’ feet.

As I approached the pointy lookout of Cat Fell, the number of hikers increased 100-fold. Lots of “hiya”s and “allright, mate”s as we passed. I loved the speed I was getting even with my home on my back, so flew up to find a little rest stop for lunch. It didn’t take long before my overconfidence was deflated coming down on rock stacked like bread slices, and needing to slither slowly, inch by inch on my bum.

Once I reached the lake, it was only a few miles to town and I was overjoyed that a public foot path was organized through the forest and gardens. You really can walk anywhere in this country and people do.

Damp selfie in Keswick.

By this time, it was raining full on, but no one seemed to mind too much including me, the temperature is so lovely and the air fragrant. Today is market day in Keswick and I arrived just in time for half price on fruit and vegetables, the stall minders loudly selling their wares like carnival barkers.

Tomorrow proves to be better weather and I hope to find a little tarn near Blencathra for the alicoop whose seen only campgounds for the last few days. But for now, it’s window shopping and pub crawling. Cheers!

Large cairns for low visibility.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 6, climb on and have fun

Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.
– Hermann Buhl

Ali abseiling on one piece of gear off Napes Needles.

The crag gods tested me, but they must have had a conversation with the weather gods in the end.

Again, it was an early morning, the sun up at 5 with stirring in the alicoop in a farm field in the crook of the fells. The day began muggy, with drizzle then thunderstorms predicted. I was to meet Tom, the climbing guide, somewhere down the road near Borrowdale. A farmer said it was at least a mile, so I set off in search.

Luckily Tom found me in the road in his kitted out van. Tall, blond and fit, Tom is an accomplished guide having led teams in Nepal and China. He’s done much in his 26 years, now building a business as a personal trainer. But not like any trainers I’ve come across. He helps people achieve fitness and life goals in the outdoors whether hiking a certain number of peaks in a set time, learning the skills step by step to orienteer, or training to climb Everest.

Lovely Tom, the guide.

We had to walk back up the trail I just came down the night before, this time with gear and rope, heavy, but nowhere near what I’d been carrying exploring the Lakes with my own pack.

When we took the cut off for the climbers route, he stopped to check his book. “Actually,” he said in his Lancashire English, “I’ve never done Napes Needle.” OK, then. It was going to be a discovery for both of us, clearly at different levels of achievement, but nonetheless, starting fresh.

On and on we went, my mind wondering if the rain would come making any climb out of the question. Just one more scree slope to cross, just one more heap to climb over. And suddenly – after a two hour approach – it was there, just like the pictures in the guidebooks. Another hand-over-fist scramble and we were at the base with not a soul in sight. All ours.

The approach was tougher than the climbing, but so worth it.

We clambered up the scree and clattered over rocks, carefully placing our feet on the thin grassy strips of trail at the edge of a 1,000 foot drop to the Moses Trod leading back to beautiful Wasdale. You may not die instantly if you tripped, but as you gained speed rolling down, you’d certainly create a show for the tourists walking below.

Every rock outcropping looked promising, beautiful ashen black pillars and ledges, but we had our heart set on the Needle. It’s famous for its shape, a kind of Thor’s hammer cut out from the rest of the wall. It’s not a technically difficult climb for me, but the views would be superb as would the airy feeling that high on a tall obelisk.

Tom led the climb, that’s why he was there, and I followed. Easy and short, the route on Napes turns sharply, so you have to separate the climb into two pitches. But here was the problem: there is no way the leader can abseil from the top. The only way he could get down was to downclimb, using his pieces of gear as a handrail. Fortunately someone left a sling at the ledge, where he would be able to bring himself off the first “pitch.” So with a sigh of relief I prepared myself to belay him the 20 feet or so to the top. He struggled just a bit, practicing the downclimb a few times before landing on top.

And then he gave me the bad news: there was no way he could belay me from the top. He placed only one piece of gear within easy reach of the ledge. But it left me an exposed climb above it and if I slipped, I would definitely deck.

“Can’t say no to her enthusiasm;” climbing fast to beat the thunderstorm.

We sat there in that stunning setting, my disappointment obvious. The moves didn’t look too hard, but I’d have to do them going up and down. Could I risk a broken ankle just to say I did this climb? I touched the rock, put my foot on the first hold and decided, no.

Tom told me that the English way is not to make things too easy. This is why they don’t place bolts at the top for safety. If you can’t hack it, you shouldn’t be on it. That sling at the ledge will be taken down soon enough.

And come to think of it, we abseiled off that one piece of gear: a piece of rope lassoing a rock with one carabiner for the rope to pass through. Not the wisest thing I’ve done but likely safer than making Tom downclimb and it was there because others wanted a modicum of safety on such a classic climb.

Tom on the climber’s route.

I got to the bottom, took off my climbing shoes and harness and had a snack before packing it in, feeling disappointed. Tom told me there have been plenty of climbs he quit when the feeling wasn’t right. The entire experience is a process of learning, not just succeeding. It was a hard pill for me to swallow, but a sobering one. Not every summit can be reached and I knew I needed to accept it.

Assuming we’d head back as the weather moved in, he suddenly suggested trying another route. It hadn’t even occurred to me and my whole mood lightened. Had the weather gods discussed my little lesson learned today with the crag gods? Perhaps.

Black mist swirled over the fells across the dale. It looked unlikely any more climbing was possible that day. As we ruminated should we be caught out in thunder, I asked that we sit a moment longer. I leaned back and touched the rock, and said I’d really like to climb. And this seasoned guide said he couldn’t resist that kind of enthusiasm and told me, let’s get on it.

Bags of rocks delivered by helicopter.

It was a beauty, maybe 80 feet of bliss. Nothing too hard, certainly within or below my grade, but the striated, pitted rock was so nice under my fingers as I felt about for the holds. My feet stuck to everything and I pushed right up to the grassy bench.

We put on our trainers and simply walked off the back side of the cliff to pack up and return on the pencil thin trail, over the rocky bits that shifted down the slope with each step and back to the main trail just as the first drops of rain touched down. The thunder rumbled as we reached the stone steps, but it wasn’t until we got to his van parked where I camped the night before, that the heavens really broke open and the rain dashed down.

What timing, what luck, what a perfect day. The kind of dreamy sort of changeable day about which Wordsworth penned, and here I am right in the thick of it.

Cloud coming down in Seatollar.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 5, Wasdale to Seathwaite

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein

Play Misty for Me.

Seathwaite Camping Farm is accommodating the alicoop for tonight. It’s a real working farm with implements scattered about, stone-walled buildings of indeterminate usage, odors sweet and pungent and sheep allowed to roam. Its location is divine, surrounded my Lakeland fells in a kind of bowl, the burbling brook in duet with the lambs calling for their mothers. She calls first, a low-throated “baaaaal” answered by the sweetest “beeeel” as the little ones run to find a ready teet, leaning in, their tiny tails wagging. Right now, the clouds are pink, a cuckoo is singing and the midges are surrounding me.

Light comes early this far north, so I was up and out for a day of peak bagging by 7. After much reconnaissance of the map, I realized a backpack was going to make some of the going up England’s highest peak not only hard, but verging on dangerous, so I hatched a plan to contour up fields from the east.

Magical Fox Tarn.

There was a very narrow road some of the way, but soon I needed to simply get high. Up I went. Straight up trampled meadows, breathing hard and finding my rhythm of determination. I’d focus on a rock and go for it, huffing and puffing and watching Wast Water come more into view. The tops of the fells were all in mist, but my mind seized on a sky beginning to lighten. Perhaps it would burn off, I thought.

Just as I reached the ridge, Sca Fell in all her glory came into view. A giant, massive, distant lump. While it was clear, I headed straight for her with a blessing from peak goddess as a path suddenly appeared in front of me, replete with cairns.

Yes, that is way down.

And the timing could not have been more perfect. Just as I alighted the mist came down completely. All was obliterated. I have been in full-on fog and had some exposure to the English version, but when you’re looking for the peak and out of breath, utter blindness can be terrifying.

I pushed on, up scree at about a 55 degree angle, like in a nightmare when your feet can’t get purchase and there’s no context for how far you’re going. Rocks loomed into focus, but were never the promised summit. At one point, I saw the mountain top, far away and massive. My heart sank thinking there was no way I could get up that. It turned out to be a mirage, just a pile of rocks appearing further away then they were. And in fact, that pile was the top. I set my backpack in a wind break, put on more clothes, grabbed the phone and gps and cracked up to the top to find no view whatsoever except for swiftly moving mist.

Higher than the highest point in England on Sca Fell Pike.

Out of nowhere came a few other hikers. Pictures and beta were exchanged, as well as “all that work and this is what we get.” Most importantly, they sent me down a route that would get me to Sca Fell Pike. Just when you thought you were at the highest peak, someone goes and busts your bubble to correct your ignorance. Not only did you bust your ass for no view, but Sca Fell itself is not the highest.

We said our goodbyes and I searched out my trail. Understand, this is in a fog so thick, I barely saw three Fell runners, dressed in shorts and the lightest of rain gear, coming up the trail. They assured me I needed to find Fox Tarn, take a left and crack up to the Pike.

Long descent on stepping stones.

Not so fast. Going up would be after going down a huge slope of rocks upon rocks flailing underfoot. Looking down the scree shoot, I couldn’t believe I needed to descend so low to go higher on my peak bagging.

Finally the mini lake came into view, a magical spot tucked into the crags and teaming with big black slugs. I sat to enjoy this lovely blissful place feeling I’d arrived at some sort of destination. That was until I saw the continued descent, down a water filled gully of broken fallen rock. I imagine the ascent would be fairly reasonable, but the descent with 22 pounds on my back was a broken ankle waiting to happen. I soon became one with the mossy rock, sliding as much as walking.

Ali on the Rigg.

Fox Tarn is up there as the most difficult trail of all time. Once I reached bottom, it was right back up another scree slope. A young man greeted me at the top to the fine views and to share thate he was working on his first Class 3 scramble, one first ascended by Samuel Coleridge Taylor in 1803. I hung back a while to watch him negotiate the exposed ridge, my “woohoo” and his “cheers” echoing off the rock.

It was time to press to the top and being the highest point, I could already see that Sca Fell Pike was packed with tourists, all happy and full of the joy of success. A few pictures, a snack and then I was off for Seathwaite along a ridge of hills, one after another hanging high above the lakes. It was an absolute dream of beauty, though perhaps not the kindest underfoot with rocks, slippery pebbles and more rocks. I thank the good people of the Lake District who thought to pave the trail with individual stones strategically placed by hand. No garden designer could compete with these lakes trails. After starting the day simply marching upwards of 1000 feet in fields and making my own trail, the pavers were a god send.

Another night, another farm.

It’s off to bed now to get set up for tomorrow’s climb of Napes Needle, a big approach back up those paving stones to get to one of the most famous crags in the lakes.

Bang sticks for luck with the weather.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 4, Ennerdale Water to Wasdale

Nothing is as close to magic as nature.
– Anastasia Bolinder

Finally the fells.

It’s happened again. I’ve found myself in a pub, talked into trying the local liquor, a Lakes vodka. Hit the spot after a long, satisfying day.

The alicoop has been carried to Wasdale, a village not on the official C2C, but full of history with a reputation as the most photographed town in the district. It’s luscious green valley is sectioned into intricate squares and rectangles of sturdy rock enclosures for the local sheep. A sign warns us that every ewe is pregnant, though some must have birthed recently as countless lambs in black and white bounce around, testing out their balance, looking for the good grass outside the fence and mewling non-stop. I know this, because my tent is set up in one of the enclosures reserved for people with tents. It’s likely the most bucolic place I have ever slept.

Enchanted forest.

The very best fell runners come from Wasdale, and right here where I write, Wasdale Head Inn, is the preferred meeting place for climbers headed up Sca Fell, Napes or Pillar, a peak I summited today gazing longingly at the rocky cliffs, their sharply defined crags seemingly pulled straight out of one of Wainwright’s pen and ink drawings.

Why did I come this way? To bag a few peaks and linger longer in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The morning began with heavy winds slapping the alicoop. Breakfast was a challenge as I hunkered behind the rock wall. Though Ms. Wind was in the starring role all night, she finally exited the stage to make room for the midges waiting in the wings. Fortunately, I was packed, so suffered only briefly before leaping the fence and heading up Ennerdale Water.


It’s the Lakes, so it’s rocky and slippy, but soon I arrived in an enchanted forest of oak, gnarled and covered in moss with the smallest leaves I’ve ever seen. The birds kept up a chorus of morning song egging me towards the faint path up the mountain – or hill, as they’re deprecatingly called here. So, by logic, if they’re a hill, then why bother with switchbacks. Just go up, straight up. My pack is still fairly full this early in the hike, so I chuffed up happy to have my poles.

I want to say one thing about my pace. It’s not fast, but it is steady. One guide, long ago, told me to walk ‘under my breath.’ He meant to never get out of breath, even if breathing hard and to stay in that perfect zone that allows you to keep going. I usually pick a spot and simply head for it, one step at a time without taking many breaks. It’s rhythmic, meditative and moves me along at a surprising clip.

Lovingly built stone trails.

That’s not to say that after I’d gotten about 1000 feet above the lake, I happily found a spot to contemplate the beauty, breathe in my solitude and marvel that the wettest place in the UK was bone dry and sunny. I found several special spots all on my own, rising higher and higher towards the ridge, the ridge that would take me towards some of the highest spots in the Lakes. It was made famous by a challenge called the Bob Graham Rounds, a physical endurance test requiring a runner to hit over 40 mountain tops under 24 hours. That’s an elevation gain the size of Everest, in case you were wondering. As I took in the view at the rock cairn atop airy Steeple, a young man in training heaved himself up, touched the same rock pile, and flew back down.

Next was to figure out how to get down to Wasdale to get into position to summit Sca Fell and Mickeldore. I had my heart set on following a series of ridges, but the loss and gain of altitude felt a bit much and I would come out on a road south of town. So instead, I pushed towards Windy Gap, discovering my descent and subsequent ascent likely added up to just about the same in the end.

Sca Fell beckoning me on for tomorrow’s climb.

And there it was, the direct route off the tops of the peaks down to Wasdale. But it was straight down, eroded and with a pack seemed foolhardy. So I did the logical thing. I headed up another mountain top, straight up this time on a steep and eroded, rocky, hand over hand path up Pillar.

And what a spectacular spot! As I looked back at what I’d done, seeing the peaks I had in mind next, the mist came down. Fast and unrelenting. And that meant my trip down was fast and unrelenting. As fast as one can go on rocky trip hazards of ball bearing rocks giving way to one of the miraculous things in the Lakes, the paving stones. Large stones brought to the area by helicopter in big black bags and left to be placed by hand. There was something loving and touching about stepping on these, making the footfall calm and even and safer and taking me to the picture-perfect village and lamb for dinner.

The alicoop in Wasdale.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 3, St. Bees to Ennerdale Water

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
– Susan Sontag

The Irish Sea at St. Bee’s where I pick up a stone to drop into the North Sea at the end.

The morning began with the sound of birds and breakfast being made for a decent-sized group of hikers, their luggage piled high in the sitting room. Their luggage would be ferried to the next B&B. But not for this intrepid one. With food, water and fuel, my rucksack – backpack – weighed in at 25 pounds and I was all my own.

After some small talk and “see you on the trail” betwixt us, I was off. The path heads west first, straight to the beach. I promised my friend Kate I’d wade in at least to my knees in the bracing Irish Sea, which I did, before – true to tradition – I selected a pebble to make the journey across England with me.

St. Bees Head in unusually spectacular weather.

Up and up St. Bees Head towards its lighthouse past unimaginably beautiful vistas, the path sometimes within the animal fence, sometimes without, right at the cliff’s edge. It was full on sun all day, unusual for this part of the world, making the wild flowers sparkle in pinks, purples and yellows.

After a little over three miles, it was time to say goodbye to the sea and push west through Sandwith, Demesne and Moor Row, crossing under the railway line that brought me to the start and striding through fields of sheep and sheep poo. My water was getting low, so I stopped into a garage to top up. The eager proprietor had lots of advice in his accent of rolled R’s.

“Crrrrrikey , you’rrrre crrrrracking along. The sun will be on yourrrr back. Make surrrre to pick up all you need in Cleitorrrrr. Therrrre’ll be no otherrrr place to stock up forrrr days.”

Shops along the way make resupply – and rehydrating – easy.

Then he sent me up the hill reminding me at the top of the rise to turn left and “crash through the hedge” for the shortcut to the next village, where that proprietor happily disagreed with my comment about too much heat saying “it’s a nice change from the rrrrain.”

What a lark to have such a glorious day as I strode up and up through forest then out onto Dent Fell, the panorama of the lakes opening in front of me, the sea just behind.

The going was steep now, straight down the slope. And it’s here I’d like to sing an ode – in the form a haiku – to my trekking poles.

Walking Coast to Coast,
Up, down, views, flowers, wind, stiles.
Nil wobblies with poles.

First big pull up Dent Fell with big views of big mountains ahead.

The lovely people of Ennerrdale made a footpath next to the road for safety, but by now, my feet had had just about enough for the day. It was a walk past town towards the man-made lake and I felt sure I’d find a spot for the alicoop somewhere as the C2C follows the shoreline. But after a hard, tiring 20 minutes of scree-filled walking, I had to give up and turn around. Not one flat place showed up, just the grassy area next to to the overflow.

The spot appeared made for camping, its little locked fence unable to keep this tired hiker out. It even had a rock wall to block the whitecap-inducing wind.

Alicoop in her element next to Ennerdale Water in the Lake District.

Up went the tent, dinner soon made – mashed potatoes, broccoli and squash with beef jerky, apple chips for “pudding.” The sky is crystal clear promising another glorious day tomorrow as I scramble up some of Wainwright’s favorite peaks, one of them delaying the view of tonight’s full moon.

Not to worry. I’m crawling in now and will await her glow under the canvas.

Queen of the Stiles.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 2, Manchester to St. Bees

You were made to soar, to crash to earth then to rise and soar again.
– Alfred Wainwright

Ticket to ride.

It’s half past nine and still the sun hasn’t set on the Irish Sea. I’m sitting at a picnic table in front of the Manor pub and hotel on St. Bees’ winding Main Street. An excellent pre-hike meal of Cumbrian Sausage, chips – fries to us tourists – fresh veggies – hooray – and a pint of Wainwright 4.1, a sour-ish blonde named in honor of the man who developed not only the Coast to Coast trail, but also through his outstanding pen and ink drawings and maps, as well as precise and loving descriptions, brought the Lake District international attention.

Now my own itinerary explicitly states I’d partake in a drink but not until the other coast. But how could I say no? This sleepy sea-side town marks the start of the thru-hike epic and the anticipation is keen. Besides, tomorrow I plan upwards of 15 miles with good pulls. It’ll burn off in no time.

Pint named for the founder of the Coast to Coast, Alfred Wainwright.

On the overnight flight, I got two seats to myself but still managed little sleep. Four movies in, I must have dozed off for a bit, because I woke with a start to the almost-full moon rising above a sea of clouds, casting a silvery trail right to my perch in the night sky.

The good news is customs let me in with all my pre-made camp food, jerky, bars and various veggies. I’m confident I have a good five days of supplies for the walking ahead and a day of climbing at Napes Needle. Virgin Atlantic served awful food, so I was famished upon arrival in Manchester and not wanting to break into my supplies, I tucked into a Radisson next to the train station with a bountiful buffet selection including both “back” and “streaky” bacons as well as an English speciality, black pudding. mmmmm-mmmm

Breakfast options.

Getting to the trailhead in St. Bees is fairly straight-forward by American standards: just a walk from customs, past black-pudding-buffet and down a flight of stairs to the train platform.

But the first train drops you off in Carlisle, far north-west of the sea. From there, it’s a local train with loads of stops, passing towns with fanciful names like Aspatria, Corkickle, and Flimby. The train was packed, apparently always oversold with many standing, swaying along with their luggage in the crowded aisles.

Train stop, Flimby.

Finally, the tracks parallel the sea, the high mountains of Scotland in the distance and Bees Head looming. Call me lazy, call me old, but I booked a room in a B&B right on Main Street, literally steps from the train. Stone House Farm is more a quaint and cozy village inn then working farm.

My gear’s been laid out, double and triple checked and I’m ready to roll. No WiFi for a few days is my guess, so stay tuned for the next installments as they come.

…and bang sticks for luck!

St Bees in the gloaming.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 1, getting to the start

Everywhere is within walking distance, if you have the time.
– Steven Wright

Let’s get this party started.

And so, it begins.

But not so fast. It takes about a day-and-a-half just to get to the town where the trail starts, the ancient city of St. Bees on England’s westernmost coast. I am flying from Minneapolis to Atlanta, then on to Manchester. Here at the gate, I’m inundated with northern England accents. A little pre-trip immersion.

Presumably, we are all on the same flight. I always scan the crowd for fellow hikers. Sometimes, secretly pleased to see none as I hang onto the misguided belief I’ll have the trail all to myself.

Beautiful art in the bowels of Atlanta airport.

Beautiful art in the bowels of Atlanta airport.

When I arrive in the green and pleasant land, l’ll catch a train – two actually – and arrive a bit staggering from jet lag with a few tasks ahead, to buy fuel and lighters.

But for now, I remain state-side still humming from quite the send off. Last night, Cameron Wiley, Andrea Blain and I put on air our last-for-the-season of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra broadcasts, with loads of help from Mike Pengra. I do so love my walks and getting away, but every day, I count my lucky stars to have such great colleagues, not to mention world-class music just a 30-minute walk down the Hill stairs.

My life is not bad, really. This morning, I biked to the market for eggs and fresh vegetables including six morels at two bucks for a departing feast. I packed enough of my dehydrated ingredients to last through day five when I hope to resupply in Keswick, but one never knows if customs will confiscate my healthy meals leaving me with bangers and mash for the next 20 days.

I love my life in front of the mic, especially hosting live concerts.

I love my life in front of the mic, especially hosting live concerts.

When I walked the spine of the Alps two summers ago, I wore an outfit ready for Goodwill and packed most of my gear in a lightweight bag lined with cardboard. The board got dumped – as did the clothes after a stormy first night, tossed out the tent to be colonized by French slugs. The bag, I kept for the return. This time, the entire lot will find a home at some charity in St. Bees. A good plan, as within hour one, I spilled an entire can of tomato juice in my lap.

Richard asked me last night as we sat out on the porch in the finally cooling air what I was looking forward to most. Sure, I’m ready for a vacation and a break from the day-to-day demands of work and home. But what I most savor is the feeling of walking, that glorious feeling of just putting one foot in front of the other, moving along and settling into my rhythm. I really don’t go all that fast, I just walk far. One friend said I saunter. There is a bit of a lilt to my gait.

Throwaway clothes make packing a snap.

That’s because I look around. I love to take in the grand and glorious, the views I work so hard to get to, both during and before the walk in setting up the opportunity itself. But there’s always something to see even below the climbs in out of the way places of the special unexpected moments. I’ll have the camera and microphone at the ready to find those and promise to share.

Richard and I celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary yesterday. Many years ago he made an observation about me. He said, “My wife is always smiling when she’s moving here body.” Ain’t that the truth. Lots of moving – twenty days worth – and lots of discovery.

I can’t wait.

Awesome friends see me off.


hike blog

Coast-to-Coast + aliloop-of-the-lakes, England – June, 2018

I want to encourage in others the ambition to devise with the aid of maps their own cross-country marathons and not be merely followers of other people’s routes.
– Alfred Wainwright

England’s Coast to Coast is roughly 192 miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, but I added another 50 miles peak bagging in the lake District.

Coast-to-Coast + aliloop-of-the-lakes, England – June, 2018
I want to encourage in others the ambition to devise with the aid of maps their own cross-country marathons and…Read
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C2C: gear list
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. …Read
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C2C: day 1, getting to the start
Everywhere is within walking distance, if you have the time. – Steven Wright And so, it begins. But not so…Read
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C2C: day 2, Manchester to St. Bees
You were made to soar, to crash to earth then to rise and soar again. – Alfred Wainwright It’s half…Read
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C2C: day 3, St. Bees to Ennerdale Water
I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. – Susan Sontag The morning began with the sound of birds…Read
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C2C: day 4, Ennerdale Water to Wasdale
Nothing is as close to magic as nature. – Anastasia Bolinder It’s happened again. I’ve found myself in a pub,…Read
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C2C: day 5, Wasdale to Seathwaite
There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as…Read
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C2C: day 6, climb on and have fun
Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence. – Hermann Buhl The crag gods tested me, but they must have…Read
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C2C: day 7, Seatollar to Keswick
Walking: the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise. – Carrie Latet There are five good reasons to…Read
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C2C: day 8, Keswick to below Blencathra
Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to…Read
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C2C: day 9, Blencathra to Mosedale Beck, below Clough Head
It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on…Read
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C2C: day 10, Mosedale Beck to Grisedale Tarn
There are two kinds of climbers, those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all…Read
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C2C: day 11, Grisedale Tarn to Haweswater
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and…Read
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C2C: day 12, Haweswater to Orton
I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. – G.M. Trevelyan What a sight to see beautiful Orton…Read
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C2C: day 13, Orton to Ravenseat Farm
You need special shoes for hiking — and a bit of a special soul as well. – Terri Guillemets The…Read
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C2C: day 14, Ravenseat to Reeth
I like being near the top of a mountain. One can’t get lost here. – Wislawa Szymborska I broke two…Read
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C2C: day 15, Reeth to St. Giles Farm
Travel far enough, you meet yourself. – David Mitchell Another stunningly beautiful, bright, sunny day completely out of the norm…Read
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C2C: day 16, St. Giles Farm to Ingleby Arncliffe
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. – Frank Lloyd Wright Today was the…Read
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C2C: day 17, Ingelby Arncliffe to Blakey Ridge
Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. – Henry David Thoreau Rain…Read
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C2C: day 18, Blakey Ridge to Grosmont
Desert, jungle, mountains or coast; I don’t have a preference. If I’m out in the wilderness with everything I need…Read
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C2C: day 19, Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came…Read
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C2C: day 20, epilogue
Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no…Read
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Creatures of the C2C
I was never alone hiking in Northern England.
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more deets on aliloop-of-the-lakes, Northern England
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and…Read
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Created by the illustrious fell walker Alfred Wainwright, the Coast to Coast is an unofficial and often unsigned path that passes through three contrasting national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors.

The last time in Yorkshire, I ran.

Which pretty well describes my plan of no plan aside from ‘wild camping’ and catching a bus and two trains from Robin Hood’s Bay back to the airport and home mid-June.

My mantra…

To experience the countryside on fair days and never foul is to understand only half its story.
– Melissa Harrison

<bang sticks for luck!>

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