Trekking across the UK
“My Gutsy Story®”-Alana Woods
In April 2013 I was in the UK helping my oldest daughter cope with three children under 7: two boys, 6 and 2, and a new baby girl. After the birth I stayed on because daughter and her man were getting married on 1 August in Italy and daughter had asked me to stay handy.
End of June saw my husband John touching down at Gatwick and after a week of the boys and him getting re-acquainted we took off to do a few weeks travelling. No point getting under the son-in-law’s feet.
We spent a week touring Ireland visiting John’s ancestral roots and then headed back to the UK to undertake a walk we hadn’t long known about. The famous Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk. John had seen it on TV in Australia before flying over. You cross the UK from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, starting at a little village called St Bees and finishing at Robin Hood’s Bay.
The 200+ mile walk takes you through the Lake District, over the Pennines and across the Yorkshire Moors just a little way down from the Scottish border.
We knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. We’d booked through a company called Mac’s Adventures and their website lists it as 4 out 5 in difficulty. But we figured We’re Aussies, we can do it.
And we were right, we made it, no disasters. But, and it’s a big but, it was a real test of stamina. And that’s taking into account the best weather the country had seen for years. That meant no armpit-deep bogs to sink into—only ankle deep—no soaking wet clothes to peel ourselves out of every evening, and no howling gales to pitch ourselves against.
And thank goodness for that, because just walking those distances—up to 16 miles a day—up and down mountains was shattering enough.
Tradition is that you take a pebble from the beach at St Bees and dip your boots into the Irish Sea. Then at the end you drop the pebble and dip your boots in the North Sea.
Second day in we were in the Lake District and despite what I’ve said above the weather was horrible. The guidebook advised against tackling peaks in bad weather so we took the low route. But at Loft Beck there’s no escaping a stiff climb from one valley to another—in icy sheeting rain, with gusting howling winds. About half way up I had to give myself a stern talking to. I was darned if I was going to be the one they had to send in the rescue helicopter for that day.
The second day in and the weather is foul,
we’re scaling Loft Beck and the wind it does howl,
what I would give
to be sure I will live,
is everything I’m carrying to survive.
The rain stings with little bullets of ice
that hit my exposed bits like pellets of rice,
it cascades down the rocks
soaking my socks,
I have doubts I will ever revive.
The wind roars and blows,
I can’t stem the flow from my nose,
snot flies to every point in the land
because I daren’t spare a hand.
All I want is to safely arrive.
We had two truly shattering days in the walk. The first was the last day in the Lake District, the 16 mile Patterdale to Shap leg, with no tea houses, pubs, shops or anything else to ease the pain. My God! There’s the last peak, Kidsty Pike, then there’s traversing Haweswater reservoir which the guidebook describes as “Soon you’re panting like a hippo on a treadmill” at the end of which you leave the Lakes national park and start picking up a few C2C signs. By then, if I’d had the breath to say it, I would have been calling “My kingdom for a tea house!” We were total ruins by the time we reached that night’s accommodation, much too tired to eat.
The Pennines and moors gave great expansive views and lots of boggy ground to skirt. An unexpected sight were the Nine Standards, ancient sentinels against no-one knows who or what. I imagine one day they’ll be cordoned off like Stonehenge but for now we cheerfully sat on them while taking a lunch break.
By the time we arrived at Ravenseat Farm, several hours on from the Standards, we were gasping for the tea and scones the farmer’s wife, Amanda, is famous for. We weren’t sure she’d be open because she’d given birth to her 8th baby less than a week before. But she was! Serving everyone herself. Now there’s a gutsy story for you! I loved the ‘Warning. Free range children’ sign at the gate.
The Yorkshire Moors were a delight. Comparatively easy up-and-down-dale walking with long stretches of rolling tweed colours. We were a couple of weeks early for the moors in all their purple heather glory and I was sad about that. It would have been a memory to keep forever.
For all its fame the Coast to Coast isn’t an official walk so there are no signposts in the national parks, and they make up quite a percentage of the distance. In the Lake District successive walkers have built stone cairns to indicate the path but it’s not foolproof. We wandered off non-existent paths numerous times, sometimes following other walkers who were going somewhere entirely different!
The last day was the second of our shattering walks. The North Sea came into view miles before we hit the coast and the first town of any size we spied was Whitby with its abbey ruins standing proud and alone on the cliff. But there was still a hell of a way to go and by the time we saw Robin Hood’s Bay we were almost too tired to make the steep descent to the sea where we found the tide out and had to walk half way to France to reach it!
Would we do it again? Not on your Nellie! Got nothing to prove by repeating it.
But it has given us a taste for more walking. I think that’s pretty gutsy of us.
ALANA WOODS … intrigue queen. As a novelist, that’s me. I toyed with ‘thriller queen’ as an author description but my novels are much more suspense intrigue.
I’m a storyteller from way back but not a prolific producer. It can take me years to be satisfied with the quality of a story and how I tell it.
I have two suspense intrigue thrillers, a short story collection and a writing guide published to date, and I’m reworking a third thriller that should be out this year.
Quality is the name of the game and it’s what I strive for. Website: http://www.alanawoods.com
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