England’s Coast to Coast, Saint Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay, August 2019

Fourteen intrepid hikers walked across northern England in mid August through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Yorkshire Moors for sixteen gruelling days and 305 kilometres from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay.

Six put up their hands to lead walks. Andrew went first. Tradition had us dipping our boots in the Irish Sea and selecting a pebble. We climbed from the beach, walked along the coastal cliffs with superb views of the ocean, past the lighthouse before turning inland. John’s first walk will be remembered as the most treacherous. The rain was often more like sleet, it was boggy and we had to cross many fast flowing streams. Even those who were usually sure footed stumbled. 

Elaine took us on a day of gentle rural walking beside the River Swale, through fields of grain, past several English sheep breeds, inquisitive cows and an encounter with a bull! Don’s day from Ingleby Cross to Great Broughton could be likened to a roller coaster walk. The panoramic views of the North York Moors and the distant North Sea made it worthwhile. Lorraine chose to take us on the higher track through purple heather-clad moorland with abandoned lead mines. Monique led us into Robyn Hood’s Bay after further moors and a clifftop walk on a warm day. On the beach we dipped our feet in the North Sea and threw in our pebble. It was a marvellous sense of achievement!

Other walks involved having lunch at the famous Black Sails Youth Hostel, dodging bogs, climbing to the top of Kidsty Pike, the highest point on the walk, visiting the ruins of Shap Abbey and passing the Nine Standards in blustery weather. We crossed three major roads but the rest of the time was spent in the beautiful English countryside with its rustic villages. We negotiated many kissing gates and stiles. We had some road walking which was tough on the feet. In England walking through farms is permitted.We marvelled at the many old stone bridges and walls. We passed The Haystacks and a slate mine at Honister Pass and walked along several disused railway lines. 

Those who thought walking 305km would lead to weight loss didn’t factor in the large cooked English breakfasts, the huge pub and restaurant meals, and the scones, jam and cream awaiting us on arrival at some B&Bs. At Seatoller we were given a four course meal which was finished off with large wheels of irresistible cheeses. Packed lunches of sandwiches, muesli or chocolate bars, juice and chips could be purchased from most accommodations but many chose to buy snacks from village shops along the way.

Our accommodations were a mixture of old rustic pubs and cosy B&BS. As the group was too large for the quaint villages we stayed in, such as Ennerdale Bridge, Patterdale and Danby Wiske we were often separated in different lodgings. We all stayed at The Lion Inn, a 16th century establishment situated in the middle of nowhere with its exposed beams, low ceilings and doorways. It was surprisingly busy because of a bank holiday weekend. Frequently when we arrived at our accommodations there was a flight or two of stairs to climb with our luggage which was a challenge at the end of the day for tired limbs. 

Not everything went smoothly. Andrew thought his boots had shrunk after they were returned to him from the boot room after a particularly wet day. He had actually been given the wrong ones which were a couple of sizes smaller than his. His would have been lost forever except for the chance overhearing of a conversation about the lost boots by a couple on the table next to ours three days later. The woman said she also had the wrong boots and a successful exchange was made. At first we were all very careful not to get water in our boots by treading carefully through streams. By the time we had either fallen in or got water in our boots we gave up and just sloshed through streams as safely as we could. Wet boots were not a major disaster in the scheme of things. Ute had an unfortunate fall after crossing a difficult stream. She chipped a bone in a finger which made further walking challenging. GPS’ were studied at many bifurcations to ensure we didn’t get lost. Scarcity of toilets or private places for “men or women on” was a challenge, which some people embraced more confidently than others.  

Rest days in Grassmere, Kirkby Stephen and Ingleby Cross were looked forward to. Lorraine went to the Derwent pencil factory in Kendal near Grasmere. A couple of days later at dinner she gave us an interesting show and tell on how maps were hidden in the pencils of pilots in WW2 so they could escape from Germany if their planes came down inside enemy lines. Grasmere is known as a bit of a tourist trap but many enjoyed the shopping and the church and graveyard where William Wordsworth was buried. Kirby Stephen is a small village with a few shops, parish church, pubs and restaurants. There was not much to do in Ingleby Cross so many of the group took a mini bus back to Richmond to visit the castle ruins and explore the cobbled market town.

Lorraine’s training programme ensured we were foot and body ready and were unified as a group. Ian’s heroism of standing in raging streams so we had something to hold on to as we nervously crossed was greatly appreciated. His dogged determination to complete the whole walk was an inspiration to us all. We valued the Davies’ extensive preparations before and during the camp and their care to ensure we arrived at our destination each day, knew where we were staying and were fed in the evening. Without them the camp would not have been such a wonderful success.