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Published: June 14th 2017
St Bees on the Irish Sea
We have just returned home after another epic May adventure. This year we hiked England's Coast to Coast trail which starts at the Irish Sea and ends at the North Sea. This trail is about 190 miles.
Our journey (Jan, Marsha Brown and yours truly) started with us embarking for London Gatwick on May 6th via Calgary, arriving in the UK the next day. After the usual tedious flight, it was on to the British rail system using our 3 day passes. The train system is very efficient and easy to use with our first leg being the Gatwick Express . The GE takes people to Victoria Station where you have to switch to the subway (Tube) to get to Euston Station. Thanks to Richard Branson, by 5.30 PM we were in Lancaster at the Royal Hotel and Bar.
As it was Sunday the pubs typically were serving traditional roast beef dinners complete with Yorkshires. The pub (Merchants) has been around since 1666 as had the beef.
The next day we caught the train to Barrow in Furness and then switched to a smaller diesel train which would take us to St Bees. This appears to be a
very old right of way and the trip is very picturesque with lots of pastoral scenes along the track including sheep, cattle, geese ,etc. The tracks run right along the coast (Morecambe Bay) finally arriving in St Bees. Our plan for the day was to go to mile zero , get the beach side pebbles and dip our toes into the water in preparation for the next day. We then caught a taxi to Ennerdale and got a chance to experience the always exciting narrow British country roads. Our first night's stay was at the excellent Brackenway Farm and it was the first of many superb accommodation facilities. It is about 3/4 of a mile from town so we walked in and did a pub dinner at the Fox and Hounds.
Om Tuesday morning it was time for the Full English Breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, fried tomatoes, potatoes, toast etc)and then a fast taxi shuttle back to St Bees. The three of us were then on our way up the first big hill by 9.00. The first few miles are a bit rough in places but the view was spectacular out over the Irish Sea. Leaving the coast,
one of our guide books
We had 2 guide books, a GPS and a full map set-still got lost
the trail then turns inland and finally starts heading east towards Robin Hood's Bay. The first small villages appear (Moor Row, Cleator) and there are no tea rooms or public toilets...
We started meeting lots of other C2C walkers with people from the USA (no MAGA hats) Australia and the UK. Navigation by consensus committee started. After Cleator, we did the first mega climb up a mountain which in the UK is called a fell? After arriving at the top we met two Yorkshire men who could have had their own TV show-we walked with them for a while until we took alternative routes down the mountain-our choice was the very steep option. Upon arrival at the bottom, the trail went left along a stream to a gate where our navigation process failed, sending us along "the wrong path" This resulted in an extra 2 miles, lots of flailing around plus various arguments and recriminations. We ended taking a cross mountain walk through a sheep pasture to get back to the C2C trail. Our arrival back at Brackenway Farm came at 515 so day one included 16 miles and about 8 hours of walking. Dinner was at the Shepherds
misty day up high
Arms in Ennerdale and we had the privilege of waiting until all 12 members of the USA based Sierra Club ate their dinner- not enjoyable.
The next day, the profile was slightly different-long flat section along a lake (Ennerdale Water) and then a huge steep climb and then another steep and rough downhill-supposedly 14 miles.The climb came after the Black Sail Hostel and was about 2000 feet of vertical. At the top the 2 Yorkshireman were having a brief rest so we took their guidance to the next section which was the old tramway down to the Slate Museum. After that the trail continued on to Rossthwaite and our next B and B. Dinner was at the nearby pub and once again we got extra time thanks to the Sierra Club. Dinner took until about 10.00 PM.... However the bar coaster collection increased. We are all in fair shape but Marsha has major blisters and some back issues.
Day three was a short but enervating hike into Grassmere via yet another 2000 foot climb which was even steeper than yesterday, with some sections requiring hand work. (Jan did something to her knee on the steepest section) We arrived
in Grassmere at 3.00 and easily found our hotel for the next 2 nights (Inn at Grassmere)
Day 4 was a designated rest day which turned into a shopping day for Marsha as her foot program needed some adjustment- New Salomon boots plus technical socks and a new backpack turned changed her life... I ordered a slate sign for the cottage and we then caught the bus to Ambleside which appears to be the world headquarters for equipment stores. Upon our return, we got to eat without the Sierra Club.
May 13th saw us heading out on another short walk to Patterdale in the rain and mist. The hike out of Grassmere is another steep one up Tongue Gill to Esdale Tarn and we had the benefit of an estimated 70 mile per hour wind. The distance was billed at 7 miles but we did 10.7, eventually arriving at the White Lion Pub at 3.00 PM. Room a bit rustic but the beer was excellent-coal fire in the bar. We got the crest, pin and t-shirt at the nearby store so now we have to finish the walk. Tonight's dinner was steak and ale pie plus the "Spotted
Erosion is a problem on the moors
Dick" (infamous british desert pudding) The bar was full and no SC.
Next day was scheduled to be a long walk (billed at 15 miles) which would take us out of the Lake District to Shap. The full breakfast program is starting to get a bit old and bacon as a staple appears to be a thing of the past-now going with cereal, poached eggs plus beans. The rain appears to be holding off for the day, so our biggest climb of the trip (2560 feet) was accomplished in fair weather. There about 12 of us who are more or less doing this section together. The name of this mountain is Kidsty Peak which we arrived at with our British friends (Jackie, Alex and Pete) They decided to take a peak to peak route , avoiding the steep climb down to Hawswater Reservoir - going down is harder than the climb up. After a long afternoon we finally arrived at Shap Abbey via a sheep pasture- only 2 more miles. We finally arrived in Shap at 7.00 PM after an 18 mile day. Because it was Sunday the pub had roast beef accompanied by beer. The next day (Day
6) appears to have a rain event in the forecast.
We stayed in an excellent bed and breakfast in Shap which was called the Brookfield-one of the best breakfasts all served on Tea Rose china. Then it was out of the yard, under the rail way and over the freeway on a pedestrian bridge, all done in the rain. Two of us had full rain gear and Marsha was toughing it out without rain pants. This turned out to be a recipe for hypothermia. We were trying to move quickly to keep warm and over ran our navigation capacity ending up way off the trail. The supposed distance was 7 miles but after 8.5 we decided that discretion was the better part of valour. A Royal Mail van driver helped us find a ride to the pub in Orton where we had hot soup and called our B and B host in Tebay. The gracious hosts assisted in gear drying and were very helpful.
Fortunately the rain held off the next day so we were able to hike in relative dryness. On this section of the trail we met up with two wonderful people from Australia (Adrien and
Nine Standards Cairn
Top of Climb out of Kirkby Stephen
Christine) who we joined with us to hike and navigate the trail. We did consensus navigation with the assistance of three guidebooks, 2 map sets, and two GPS systems-no more wandering around in random sheep pastures.... The weather was good today and we made it to Kirkby Stephen by 215 with a final total of 13 miles.A number of us had a nice lunch stop on an old bridge near an abandoned railway right of way. The B and B was the Jolly Farmer and it was excellent-Marsha bought rain pants today, thus assuring we would have no more rain on the trip. Dinner was at the Black Bull Pub with 12 other hikers. We essentially took over the entire dining room.
Day 8 saw us heading out with our group which now totalled six with the addition of Colin from Manchester.Our first stage was to do yet another 2000 foot ascent to the 7 pillars but the climb was fairly gradual as it was spread out over about 5 miles. (Thanks to Advil and tape, Jan and I are managing our knee issues) Once on top, we were on the moors on a limestone block path, which soon
They were quite interested in us
deteriorated to bog and various water crossings. There are lots of grouse present which are apparently managed to provide the landowners and their friends with hunting opportunities. Once down off the hills, we stopped at Ravenseat for scones. This is the home of Amanda Owen, who is an author, shepherdess and the mother of 9 children as well as being the proprietor of the tea "room"
This area which is the Yorkshire Dales is also the home of James Herriot of "All Creatures Great and Small" fame.
After scones and tea, we asked Amanda for directions to the Frith Lodge. This did not turn out well as she talked us into a "short cut" which involved a diversion off the trail and up over a bit of a mountain. She assured us the lodge was "just over the hill" After three miles we hiked out to a paved road and flagged down a car- the helpful couple phoned the Lodge and then assisted us to get to a nearby (and very isolated) pub. The Tan Hill Inn is apparently the highest pub in the UK and is one of the oldest. It had all the features you need
including cold beer, low beams, coal fire, friendly bar man and a cast of character customers. It turned a bit a train wreck detour into a great experience.
The great ending to the day continued with our ride to the Frith Lodge and subsequent checkin to the best B and B so far. The Frith Lodge is a well converted sheep barn with friendly hosts and a gourmet chief. After gin and tonics, we sat down to goose pate, shepherds pie and a rhubarb crumble. It was good that we walked 16 miles to get there.
After a great sleep, we got shuttled back to the trail in Keld, where we met up with our hiking team for the day's walk to Reeth. There are two routes to choose from here and most of us took the low route along the Swale River. It was billed at 10 miles but the final tally was 13 miles. However it was one of the nicest walks of the trip, even with a worsening knee. The Hackney House was our home for the night and we ate at the Black Bull Pub. Pub food is starting to get a little old.
Lots of farm animals (cattle, sheep, geese)
Reeth is at mile 103 with 7 days to go.
Friday May 19th and we are off to Richmond which apparently is around 10.5 miles down the trail. This was a fairly flat track with a bit of a steep climb up to Marrick. There were lots of traverses across pastures and many curious sheep to meet.At 215 we arrived in Richmond which is the largest town on the coast to coast trail. After some rehydration, everyone went shopping. One item on the list was Kinesio athletic tape which was available at Boots Drugs for an exorbitant fee. Another costly discovery was the closing out sale at a nearby outdoor store where all of us contributed to the UK economy (rain jacket, fleece, pack etc) at an 80% discount. Luggage challenges-here we come. Today we are staying in the Old Brewery Pub which is way down the hill on the edge of town-great for the knees. After checking in we got to walk back up the hill for dinner at a good Italian restaurant. The British have this thing about potatoes and observed at the next table was a diner having spaghetti with a side of fries...
The Black Bull
One of many pubs along the way
11 took us from Richmond to Danby Wiske (15 miles) on a pretty flat track. Happy Birthday to Jan (all three of us had birthdays on the trail) We are still hiking in a group but Colin left us here as he has to do 23 miles today which gets him all the way to Ingleby Cross.Today Jan and I both have taped knees plus we are on 12 hour Advils. Marsha, on the other hand is over her blisters and is rolling through the countryside like it is a walk in the park.
Today the trail led us through lots of wild garlic fields in full bloom. Our walk also led us to Bolton on Swale where one of the churchyard grave markers commemorated a man who was 169 years old? The Church registry also had several people with the Coates surname...After leaving there, we crossed many more farm fields ,meeting lots more sheep. The sheep are ever changing and the consensus was that Bolton sheep had "evil looking" faces?
The last part of the trip into Danby Wiske involved a long and rather boring stretch on a road. Our arrival into Danby at 315 initially took
Heather is not in bloom yet.
us to the White Lion Pub for rehydration, before checking in to the Seasons guest House. There were 20 C2C walkers that evening for dinner at the White Lion.
We completed another rather flat section the next day with a short 8.5 mile walk to Ingleby Cross. Our host at the Park House greeted us with champagne at the door. This place and all of the surrounding countryside including the church is owned by one Lord Bell. In comparison to Lord Elmsworth of the mythical Blandings Castle (P. G Wodehouse) Lord Bell is only interested in sheep. (Lord Emsworth's passion was a giant pig) Apparently a female ancestor of Lord Bell (Gertrude Bell) was a consort of Lawrence of Arabia. The Park House operators lease from Lord Bell and they run an excellent establishment.
The next day, fortified by a great dinner the night before and the usual large breakfast, we all started up the hill on what was described as a relentless climb to the moors on our way to Clay Bank Top at a distance of 11 miles. After coming down off the high moors, we and many of our companion hikers (Australia, UK, Belgium, USA
one of many sheep
) all converged on the Lord Stones Restaurant. (there was beer) After lunch three of us took the low route due to knee issues and the rest did the triple peak version on the high route. We arrived in the Parking Lot after 12.3 miles and were shuttled to Wainstones Hotel in Great Broughton for our accommodation.This hotel and staff had some similarities to Fawlty Towers. (Not a memorable stay)
Tuesday May 23d (71st birthday) Our walk today is supposed to be 9 miles from Clay Bank Top to Blakey Ridge (The Lion Inn) One sad highlight of the day was last nights terror attack in Manchester at an Ariana concert-22 dead and 60 injured which we heard about at breakfast.
The first part after the climb was over the moors and then we got to walk on an abandoned railway line right to the Lion Inn. The moors along the path here are known for adders (poisonous) and wood ticks which caused some panic among our hiking team. We caught up the Aussies on the trail and walked with them to the Lion Inn. The client base at the Inn included a number of people with dogs.
Some (but not all) pubs in the UK encourage people to bring their dogs. On our first night on the trail in a pub in Ennerdale, three couples came in with three good sized border collies. Within minutes the dogs had almost completely disappeared under the the couch seating and were not a visible presence for the duration of the evening.
Back at the Lion Inn, we called for a shuttle as were staying in a B and B near Rosedale (the Augusta) While we were waiting Jan taped a sprained ankle for Alex who we had walked with on several previous days. The Augusta Guest house had a great backyard for birders and I saw a few new birds including european goldfinchs, tree sparrows and some green finches. Dinner was at a hotel in Rosedale.
The next day (May 24th) which was our second last day of walking, our objective was to walk 11 miles to Egton which according to the profile was all down hill. Most of the trail was on the moors and Jan saw an adder.We stopped in Glaisdale for beer and coffee and then walked to the Horseshoe Hotel in Egton. Because it
Grosmont steam train
was early, we left some gear at the hotel and continued on to Grosmont to see the steam train. It was then back to Glaisdale on the 4.17 PM regular train along with about a hundred school children. The conductor was so busy that we got a free ride on the 3 minute trip between stations.
The next day, we caught the return 813 AM train (also free) back to Grosmont to start our last day's walk to Robin Hoods Bay. This was supposed to be a 14.5 mile walk but it ended up being 18.2 miles (most of our days turned out to be longer than predicted) The first stage was a long drawn out 2000 foot climb up to the moors before we descended back down to Littlebeck. From there the trail passed through a beautiful woodland in a nature reserve until we got to the tea room at Falling Foss waterfall. They had carrot cake. Lots of (virtually all) C2C walkers stop here.
After leaving Falling Foss it was back up high to the moors and a long walk to High Hawkser. A local then told us the cliff top trail was treacherous and too
North Sea Cliff side walk
We were warned not to take this section
dangerous to walk. He suggested we take the rail way right of way short cut. Of course ,this helpful advice was ignored. We arrived at the cliff side at about 3.00 and did the last 3 glorious miles of spectacular cliff side walking into Robin Hoods Bay-a fitting end to a great experience. Upon arrival we had some life giving beer at the Victoria Hotel, before showering and walking the last mile down to the beach by the Wainright Bar where we deposited our pebble from the North Sea. There is a register in the bar and it appeared we brought the total for the day to around 35 people. I am guessing the traffic in the summer is much greater as apparently 10,000 people do this trip every year. A lot of people do the C2C in stages rather than straight through like we did.
After a final dinner with some of our trail friends, It was back to the hotel to pack for the trip home. Jan discarded two pairs of boots as they were basically worn out. Even my relatively new boots have some issues and I expect to be shopping by this fall.
The next day we caught the bus to Scarborough train station where we took a fairly full train to York. This is the last day of our RailPass and the trains are busy due to it being a bank holiday weekend. They do not celebrate Victoria day in England.
After York we were on a less full train to London Kings Cross. We noticed some extra security but perhaps not as much expected. The last leg of our trip was a train to Gatwick which we caught from St Pancras Station. Our hotel near Gatwick (Old House Inn) lived up to its name and only cost $350 CAD for the room and dinner-welcome to the London area. The next day was the long flight back to Winnipeg via Calgary-great to be home after one of our best trips ever.
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