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Occupy Mind Street

The other day, I overheard someone say, ‘my mind is occupied.’ And I had one of those ‘Aha’ moments that happen when I suddenly see meaning in a word, meaning that’s always been there, but somehow I missed. Then Friday night, while channel surfing over a bottle of wine and some chocolate, Raymond and I happened upon the 1998 film, Fallen, starring Denzel Washington. Fallen is a film about a demon who occupies people for his malevolent agenda and passes himself on from person to person by touch. And there it was again, that amazing concept of occupation.  Okay, in the case of a nasty demon, the word used is usually possession, but the two words are synonymous in many ways.

I suppose with the occupation of Wall Street and all of the other occupations going on, and with high unemployment causing the loss of occupation, the word was already in my mind in an unconscious sort of way. But I’ve never really thought about what it means to have my mind occupied. What happens when my mind is occupied, and who’s doing the occupying? Surely the occupied mind implies that someone is there other than me, someone who has taken up residence and is now in the driver’s seat, focusing me, perhaps in a way that my unoccupied mind would not be able to focus.

Socrates spoke of the inner voice, what he called the daemon, the ‘inner oracle’ that guided him. For the Greeks, the daemon was an entity somewhere between mortal and god. In his Dark Materials Trilogy, Phillip Pullman manifests those inner oracles in the outer world and embodies his daemons in animal form.

Carl Jung believed each of us is two different entities, two different selves. He believed there was our public persona, the part of us we show to the world, and there was the mysterious, hidden realm of the second self, the self that was more at home with the mystical, more connected with the divine. For Jung, the life journey was one of integrating those two selves.

I can’t help thinking that Socrates’s daemon, Jung’s second self could be just other names for the writer’s muse.

That brings me back to ‘occupy.’ Even in the free online dictionary, all the definitions for ‘occupy’ gave me more food for thought about the occupied mind.

As I think about the unoccupied mind – if there even is such a thing, I think about the blank piece of paper or the blank monitor we writers face each time we settle in to write a story. There’s a passivity implied before occupation can happen, an emptiness. The dictionary defines ‘occupy’ as seizing possession of and maintaining control over. Our word ‘occupy’ comes from the Latin, occupare, to seize. There’s no denying that conquest is implied. A country must be ripe for the takeover, weak, unable to defend itself. There has to be a void to fill. To me, it make sense that a mind must also reach some point of passivity to be ripe for the takeover.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the mind is blank before it’s occupied. More than likely the mind was already occupied, or preoccupied.  When we’re ripe for the takeover, does the occupier come in and sweep out the detritus, the tyrants of busy-ness and lethargy, the sludge of self-doubt and procrastination? Is it a peaceful coup or a violent uprising? And how does the way the occupation of the mind come about effect what we, as writers, create when the occupier comes in, does a proper housecleaning, and takes over the controls?

An occupied mind is a beautiful thing to behold, even more beautiful to experience. And at those times when I’m fully taken over, I’m truly beside myself, watching with amazement while the occupier guides me.

When that happens then word, ‘occupy,’ takes on a new, active meaning. I become engaged, employed, with my full concentration on a task, and that task involves the writing of a story. Since I can’t really skirt the spiritual implications while talking about daemons and muses and the Self with a capital ‘S’, it seems appropriate to bring in that lovely word, ‘vocation,’ because vocation and occupation are so beautifully linked. Vocation, according to the dictionary, is a regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified. It is an inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, a calling.

An inclination, as if in response to a summons definitely sounds like a close encounter with the Muse to me. And it’s that close encounter that brings me to the final definition of occupy; to dwell or reside in, to hold or fill. The world I create, the characters I populate it with and the conflict I thrust upon those characters now all come rushing in en mass to fill up, to dwell in, to reside in my occupied mind, along with the Muse/Daemon/Self, who is at the controls. That, I would say, is a fully occupied mind, and every writer’s wet dream.

I could go on and on about the implications of occupation and vocation and daemons and the Self and Muses in the driver’s seat, but my mind is really occupied with a novella at the moment. So if you’ll excuse me, I really need to get back there so I won’t miss anything because the occupation is just now getting really good and really messy.






What Happens in Vegas Part 1

I’m not a Vegas sort of person. I went for the Erotic Authors Association Conference, not for the gambling, not for the bright lights. I wasn’t there to be impressed. And yet…

We flew over the Sierra Nevada Mountains just before we landed in Las Vegas.  We all crane our necks for a look at impossibly jagged peaks already covered with snow, even as we were about to land in 97 degree temperatures. But on the ground, it was desert heat and more shades of brown and tan and olive than I would have thought possible, all set off in stunning relief against a baby blue sky puffed with clouds that were clearly only there for looks rather than business. Very appropriate for Vegas.

The woman behind me on the shuttle talked loudly on her cell phone in a Midwestern accent to whoever was taking care of her geriatric dog back home. When the conversation finally ended with her satisfied that the pooch was in good hands, we all turned our attention to the shuttle driver, a man who was a driving history book of Las Vegas. While he delivered us to our respective hotels, he regaled us with stories of Bugsy Segal and the mob history of Las Vegas. The Flamingo is the original resort hotel that Bugsy Segal built in the middle of the desert.

My room was on the 14th floor, with views of the mountains in between the towers of Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas. Once I got settled, I explored the hotel grounds, lingering in the gardens to see the habitat for flamingos, sacred ibis, and black swans. I was planning to meet Sharazade for dinner, but I’d gotten a message from her saying she’s coming in on a later flight, so I decided to check out The Strip on my own.

Las Vegas is in your face, like an arid version of New Orleans on steroids and all tarted up with neon and fountains. It’s like Disneyland for adults, Sharazade observed, when we finally connect the next day. Just as it was getting dark I wandered about with my mouth open and my eyes bugging because there was so much to see. I’ve been to Paris, so Paris Las Vegas shouldn’t impress me, but when it rises up all truncated and neon in the middle of the desert it does. I realized as I walked amid the tourists who are as bug-eyed as I am that though I’m hearing lots of different languages, a lot of the people who are here will never get any closer to Paris or Venice or the Forum in Rome than Las Vegas, and the tarted-up versions can’t fail to impress.

As I stopped to watch the volcano erupt in front of Treasure Island, along with the rest of the enthralled crowd, I realize that as much as I’d like to stick my nose in the air and be unimpressed, the spirit of the place is contagious, and it would be really hard to walk among the holiday makers and the lovers there to elope and the neon and the noise and the resorts that are several city blocks in size and not get caught up in the atmosphere.

I ended up shivering in an overly air conditioned food court having Mexican food, my first since arriving in the US. I ate and people-watched. The city was awash in spandex and suicide stilettos, and I find that, in spite of myself, I was loving every minute of it.

Outside again, I was happy to leave the air conditioning and get warm. It was a dry delicious 87 degrees, and that alone, after leaving the rainy damp of south England, was enough to make me feel festive. I walked along stopping here and there to watch people and take in the giddy gaudiness of it all. In some places Hispanic men and women lined the streets handing out cards for peep shows and escort services, and I squirmed at the contrast of people working a hard, uncomfortable job in order to put food on the table while they watch a party going on all around them in which they never get to participate.

I watched the incredible dancing fountains in front of the Bologgio amid the crowd and press of others doing the same, and I wandered along the street where tourists were having their pictures taken with Elvis impersonators and show girls decked out in brightly coloured feathers. A man who had too much to drink was propositioning every woman who walked by. I found myself lost and turned around in the maze of stylized bridges that crisscross the heavily trafficked street that runs through the strip. The bridges cross into resorts and come down alongside towers of glass and flashing lights opening onto the streets like gaping mouths exhaling the overly air conditioned breath of the casinos into the warm the night.

 I was caught up and carried along on a wave of sensory overload that smelled of restaurants and cigarette smoke and perfume and sweaty bodies and excitement; and looked like a city all dressed up for a costume ball. I let it all settle around me and flow through me until the heat and the noise and the jet lag of too many time zones passed through too quickly began to take a toll. Sharazade still hadn’t arrived, and I was fading fast. I made my way back to the Flamingo through the sparkle and the kaching of the slots to the elevator banks. I managed to make it back to the room and whip of an email to Sharazade that I’d see her in the morning. Then I slept.

I woke in the night and looked out at the dazzle of the lights from the 14th floor and I drift back to sleep with after images of the rich blue lights of the towers of the Cosmopolitan fading behind my eyelids. The next time I woke up, the mountains between the towers of the casinos were just blushing pink, and I was struck by the contrast of the rugged wilderness, jagged and overwhelming held at bay by towers of glass and steel and lights. Even Las Vegas seems small and demure next to such vastness.

As I looked over the schedule for the first day of the Erotic Authors Association conference, the butterflies woke up in my stomach. When I thought about the day ahead, the introvert in my cowered for a second, wanting to run away to the mountains beyond. But this would be the day I got to be on my first panel ever, and this would be the day I got to read from Holly in front of a new audience, and this would be the day I got to meet the people who I already knew would be my friends, the fabulous smutters on the US side of the pond. It would be good. I knew it would.

Stay tuned for the next installment of What Happens in Vegas.


Coast to Coast: The North York Moors on to Robin Hood’s Bay

Day 12 Ingleby Cross to Clay Bank Top 12 miles

At last, we left the flat miles of farmland and began the climb into the Cleveland Hills. Our first views of the North York Moors came as we climbed the path through the Arncliffe Wood along the Cleveland Way, which we followed all through today and will follow partly through tomorrow as well. Miles of blooming heather and red sandstone stretched out before us on either side of a very solid rock path. But every once in a while a view of the black peat bogs served as a reminder of what lies beyond the stones. And after our experience on the decent off Nine Standards Rigg, we were more than happy to stick to the path.

As we broke through the trees to open moorland for the first time, getting into the North York Moors proper, the views were astonishing. We could look back to the west over the Vail of Mowbray and the miles of farmland we’d walked across the day before, and to the east we could see the rise and fall of an undulating ocean of mauve heathered moors patch-worked with swaths of rich green pasturelands and the odd fringe of woodland. There was altogether a wilder feel to the place than anything we experienced yesterday. It was as we sat by the cairn on Live Moor having our lunch that we realized we were actually seeing our first glimpses of the North Sea on the horizon. Strange how we looked right at it for the longest time before we realized that we were seeing what we’d been walking toward for the last eleven days.

During the course of the day, we walked a series of plunging rocky descents and oxygen sapping climbs into even more exquisite views, culminating in a delicious scrambley ascent over the Wainstones before our final descent of the day. Since our B&B for the night was off rout, our landlady and her enormous black Airedale, Bonnie, met us in her Land Rover at the end of our last descent at Clay Bank Top. We were glad for the lift, as walking there would have meant an extra three mile descent to get to dinner and bed, and then another three mile ascent the next day to get back on rout. At the end of a hard day’s walk, neither of us were particularly anxious to add any extra mileage to our long-suffering feet.

The Buck Inn at Chop Gate was our final stop for the night. All in one, bed, breakfast, room on the ground floor, and dinner at the really lovely pub, along with a good WiFi connection, which we took advantage of in the pub until bedtime. And bedtime was not very late.

In spite of a path much to our liking with lots of rocky ascents and descents, it was a hard day. After twelve days of walking, the wear and tear of the miles is beginning to take its toll on both of us. Raymond had a new blister and I had a knot on the back of one knee. As we approach the end of our journey, three things have become massively important; getting enough rest, which we never can quite manage as time goes on, getting enough food and drink – doesn’t really matter what at this point, it just matters that it fills the void. And the void feels huge at the end of a long day. And finally, there’s the all-consuming care of the feet. Nothing has taken more of a beating in the past twelve days than our feet. Each morning we spend a half an hour treating blisters, taping up wounds and making sure no toe is rubbing where it shouldn’t and no hot spots are left untended. We’ve become fanatical as we get closer to the final day. We’ve heard horror stories of people who have almost made it to the last day, then gotten infected feet injuries, and that’s the end of their Coast to Coast. And few things are more miserable than walking on sore feet. So yes, I’d say we’re fanatical. We’re too close to the goal not to be careful. With the last two days ahead of us, we can’t afford not to take good care of our feet.

 Day 13 Clay Bank Top to Glaisdale 18 miles

We were walking by 8:15 this morning. Knowing just how far we had to walk today, getting an early start was just that little extra assurance. It was one of those days when the path before us was straight and easy after our first steep ascent back onto the moors. In fact we spent the first fast eight miles on an abandon railway bed with miles of bog and heather on both sides of us as we walked along pleasantly on terra firma. After walking in the bog, we can only imagine the engineering feat it took to build such a railroad. It was built to carry iron stone to the coast. It seems sad, in a way, that there should now be no real trace of such gargantuan efforts other than a long, straight path. Having said that, we were certainly thankful for those efforts.

A little before noon, we arrived at Blakey and the Lion Inn. The Lion Inn sets up on a rise above the rest of the countryside, and is the first and last outpost of civilization until the end of our day’s journey at Glaisedale. Lots of Coast-to-Coasters overnight at the Lion Inn, but we had ten more miles to go before we could overnight, so after a cuppa and a venison baguette, we walked on.

The weather was perfect for walking – Blessedly dry and cool with mixed sun and cloud. We found our rhythm early and it was a golden sort of day. We made good time walking along the great paths across the North York Moors and seeing very few people until we got on toward Glaisdale. At this point in our journey, we were meeting people who had started their Coast to Coast walk at Robin Hood’s Bay and will finish up at St Bee’s Head in Cumbria. My feet hurt for them.

It’s funny how our world has narrowed to the walking rhythm. Life is so simple walking every day. Our routine is easy and good. We get up, we eat breakfast, we walk all day, eating and drinking as needed, we get to the B&B in the evening, have our shower, wash out a few things, eat our dinner, look at the route for the next day and fall into bed. The next day we do the whole thing over again. I love the simplicity of it all. It fits so well, and it’s so much closer to what matters than what often passes for what matters in every-day life. I’m tired now, and looking forward to dipping the toe of my boot in the waters of Robin Hood’s Bay, but as sure as I’m sitting here, I know I’ll feel bereft when I wake up Monday morning with no more miles to walk, and there’ll be culture shock as surely as if I had been in another country. And is so many ways, I am in another country, a wonderful country. I suppose I’ll deal with the bereavement the same way I deal with it when I finish writing a novel. I’ll start planning the next walk. In fact, I already have a great walk in mind for next summer.

We’re now sitting at the only pub in Glaisdale, chatting with other Coast-to-Coasters who, like us, are excitedly anticipating their final day of walking, anticipating completion of something that seemed bigger that anything we could imagine when we all started it, something that, at times, was a lot more than we had bargained for, but something we would not have missed for the world. Tomorrow, we walk twenty miles to Robin Hood’s Bay. Tomorrow, I’ll write about how it feels to walk all the way across England. It’s almost a reality and yet at the same time, it seems like a dream.

Day 14 August 21 Glaisdale to Robin Hood’s Bay 20 miles

 I very naively thought because we did yesterday’s eighteen miles at speed and got in so much earlier than we thought we would that today would be the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yesterday we walked a good bit of the walk on abandon railway beds, and other than the ascent to get back up on top of the moors at Clay Bank Top, most of the walk was flat, even slightly downhill. Also there was only the Lion Inn in the middle of nowhere at Blakey Moor to slow us down. For the most part we walked at speed without interruptions.

Today was completely different. Today the first thing on our agenda was to get back on route from our B & B and work our way out of the convoluted maze of Glaisdale, which is only a small village, but sprawled out higgledy piggledy up the flanks of the moors. We were barely out of Glaisdale before we had several other small villages to negotiate culminating in the walk through heaving Grosmont with its myriad holiday makers there for the steam trains and the views. The crush of humanity was followed hard on by a hellish five hundred foot ascent out of the village on a busy road. It was this ascent in untried socks that was responsible for my worst blister of the journey, driving me to shed boots and socks as soon as we were out on open moorland again and reach for the Compeed and sports tape and a different pair of socks. (I always carry a spare)

LESSON LEARNED: Socks DO matter. And what I can walk in at home on the Downs in the Soft South are not necessarily good for walking 2o miles at pace across massively varied terrains.

After the Ascent from Hell, for awhile we walked along open moorland, though we were still on the road for quite a bit longer. Road-walking does not make for happy feet. We descended steeply into Little Beck then walked through the Little Beck Wood for ages. It truly was a lovely place to walk, especially since the day had turned hot and sunny and the shade was very welcome. But I think the experience of busy Grosmont and the walk through the woodland full of holiday makers complete with kids, dogs, and picnics was the beginning of culture shock. Our Coast to Coast journey was coming to an end, and in a few hours we’d be thrust back into the rest of the world again, and back to our normal routine. We both found the experience of such a sudden deluge of people to be strangely jarring.

Aside from the slow schlog from village to village, making our way through crowds of holiday makers (read this to mean way more than the three or four people we had been encountering every day en route) and the long stretches along asphalt roads, there was that realization that tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow we would wake up and NOT walk. We both agreed that somewhere between the breathtaking views and the blisters and the putting one foot in front of the other, we had almost forgotten what it was like not to be walking. It felt like we’d always been walking, like walking was the natural order of the universe, like walking was just what was supposed to happen every morning. As we got closer to Robin Hood’s Bay, as we found our way through the caravan park to the coastal path that would eventually lead us to the end of our journey, we were both moving on autopilot, tired and a bit numb, our minds still trying to take in the experiences of the past two weeks.

As we rounded the corner and got our first view of Robin Hood’s Bay shining like a jewel in the low sun, the adrenaline boost of that first view drove us on. Descending toward the beach, we met a couple of our compadres with whom we’d had dinner the night before. They were coming back up the hill smiling with the elation at the feat they’d just completed. There were happy congratulations all around before they limped off up the hill and we found our way to the beach to finish the ritual we had begun fourteen days before at St Bee’s Head in Cumbria. At 7:00 pm on Sunday the 21st of August 2011, we dipped our booted toes in the North Sea and tossed the pebbles we’d carried throughout the journey from the Irish Sea, including the one I’d carried for Holly, into the water. Then we promptly commandeered a gentleman to take photos of the great event, and it truly did feel great.

We had been very lucky to get a B&B just at the bottom by the bay so we didn’t have to walk back up the long hill. We dropped our bags and went immediately for fish and chips, in proper Wainwright fashion. Apparently the great man always finished off a good walk with a meal of fish and chips. And since the weather was so lovely, at our landlord’s recommendations, we went to the local chippy for haddock and chips to eat on the dock as the tide came in around us. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better meal.

When we’d polished off the fish and chips, we went across the road to the Wainwright pub and had a pint to toast our success. Traditionally the pub is the first stop for Coast-to-Coasters after the boot dipping and stone tossing. The walls are decorated in Coast-to-Coast maps and memorabilia. It’s a great place to toast the journey’s end. Then we went upstairs, had another pint and talked walking with other Coast-to-Coasters until we found ourselves struggling to stay awake. But on our way back to our B&B we discovered that the sweet shop was still open, so we ended the day with ice cream.

Our room above the Boat Inn was small and close, and it didn’t matter. We showered and fell into bed. I’m not sure it was yet ten o’clock. Such party animals, we Coast-to-Coasters!


It was strange to wake up with no walking to do. Breakfast was leisurely We had to restrain ourselves from hoarding some of the luscious fruit offered, which would have been the walkerly thing to do. We had a short wander around the town. I managed a bit of writing while Raymond did a bit of prep work for his course and we waited for our friends to arrive from Keswick.

Shortly after noon, Brian and Vron arrived. After hugs and congratulations, they loaded us in the car and drove us back to Keswick, where they fed us homemade lasagne, showed us pictures of some of their many long distance walks and listened while we shared our experiences and our photos. It was such a great way to end a great walk. Brian and Vron Spencer have been so instrumental in teaching us navigation and encouraging us to strike out on our own and walk the long, hard walks, that it was very moving to us that they would come all the way from Keswick get us. They pampered us and took care of us and sent us happily on our way this morning.

I’m now on the train back to Guildford still trying to get my head around the experiences of the past two weeks. In a few hours normal life will resume in earnest, and I will have to catch up with all that has been on the periphery of my life for the past two weeks and get back to work. But one thing I’m certain of, my life is much richer because I walked the Coast-to-Coast. I’m inspired in ways I don’t think I’ve even begun to unravel yet. It was good. It was so very good.

A Week Later

The feet and joints are recovering. I’m back working hard on the final polish-up of Lakeland Heatwave. When it rains now, I look out the window and stay dry. I wonder at times if I only dreamed the experience, but then I look at the healing blisters and even better, the mountain of photos and know that yes, we really did it. We really walked across England from Coast to Coast, and it was quite possibly the best holiday ever!


My copy of The Initiation of Ms Holly has now been all the way across England, from the Irish Sea, through the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, Bog schlogging across the Pennines, across the farmland of the Vale of Mowbray and over the North York Moors all the way to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Now I want to know where you read your Holly? There’s still time to enter the Where’s Holly contest to win an Amazon shopping spree and a signed copy of The Pet Shop — as soon as it’s available in October.  Contest runs until the end of August! Here’s the link



Coast to Coast: Through the Dales and the Vale of Mowbray

 Day 9 August 16 Day Nine Keld to Reeth 12 ½ Miles

We woke up to pouring rain this morning. Funny how it doesn’t even phase us anymore. There was not much wind and it was warm. Good enough! Rumours were flying that it would clear. It didn’t. We started our day’s ascent along the River Swale. There were two routes to choose from today. There was a low level walk along the valley floor following the Swale and there was a high level walk through some of the old mining sites in the fells above. Because the mining past interests me, and because I love old ruins in general, we chose the high level route and were not disappointed in our choice.

In spite of the rain, we were back in our element. After a day of bog schlogging, we were scrambling up through the rocky fells. As we ascended the River Swale dropped away below us and we found ourselves in the bizarre landscape that was half nature at her most exquisite, with mauve heather carpeting the hillsides and half man at his most destructive, with mine tailings mixed in amongst the heather. Our ascent took us first to the ruins of Crackpot Hall, and no that’s not a reflection on the walkers who take that rout. Crackpot Hall is an old framing stead that had to be abandon when it became unsafe due to all the mining that had happened underneath and around it. We wandered around in the ruins and took pictures of what was left, the remains of the kitchen hearth and even an old metal bathtub. We couldn’t keep from wondering what life had been like for the people who lived there. No doubt not easy.

The rain continued, and the ceiling was just high enough for us to make out our rout up the rocky, Swinner’s Gill, which took in the ruins of the Swinnergill’s lead mines and smelt mill. We were in our element climbing up the narrowing gill with the stream running along beside us. We climbed up over wet rock as the gill narrowed and steepened until we found ourselves climbing up dodgy peat rather than stones. Fortunately we found our way to the top of the gill to follow a very nice shooters track through the rainy moor until we found a descent into Gunnerside Gill to the ruins of  Blakethwaite Smelt Mill with its elegant stone arches and round smelt mill.

We crossed swollen becks and climbed up scree strewn gills up to the devastated landscape caused by the Old Gang Lead Mine. It was sobering to walk through the destruction, like a dead moonscape, then look out into the distance at the richly heathered hills surrounding. Hard to believe such devastation could exist next to such beauty. As we approached the Old Gang Melt Mill, we passed by a fleet of matching black, shiny Land Rovers. Upon questioning an elderly gentleman in the first, we discovered that he was a gamekeeper, and all the Land Rovers were full of hunters waiting for the mist to clear so they could shoot grouse.

We ended our day at the School House in Reeth, arriving just as the rain finally cleared and the sun peeked out from the clouds.

Day 10 Reeth to Richmond, and beyond (Bolton on Swale)

It should have been an easy walk of just eleven miles, and that over gently undulating hills as we left the Swale and followed up to Applegarth Scar. We even stopped at a farmhouse for tea and scones. It should have been a leisurely day. We would have been in Richmond by early afternoon, had we not put our heads together for a hair-brained scheme. Neither of us relished walking 24 miles tomorrow, so we hit on a brilliant plan to walk into Richmond, as planned, hop a taxi out to Bolton on Swale, which we thought was another five miles on our way, then walk back into our B&B at Richmond. We got our mileage a little off. Instead of being five miles from Richmond, Bolton on Swale ended up being seven and a half miles from Richmond. Now tow and a half miles may not sound like much in the scheme of things, but my feet can attest to the fact that an extra flight of stairs at the end of the day can feel like a major ascent.  We arrived at our B&B at seven that night. As luck would have it, this was the only place we had in the journey that had a bathtub, a very large bathtub, which we took full advantage of. Though I have to admit lying there in the warmth and the bubbles with my glass of red wine, I feared I might just drift off to sleep and pull and Ophelia.

Being too tired to find a place for dinner, we ended up having bread and cheese and fruit and a bottle of wine in the room, always one of our favourite meals anyway, before falling into bed. The good news is that tomorrow will be only 16 ½ miles rather than 24 ½ thanks to our brainy idea and the use of a good taxi.

This was another day when Whiney-Arse KD commandeered the reins. It was probably the toughest day I walked so far. Nothing really hurt. I just could barely hold my eyes open, and I walked in some sort of weird fog all day, even though it was a lovely day to walk, the first sunny, rain-free day we’d had in awhile.

 LESSON LEARNED: I can’t walk fourteen hard miles a day and not get enough sleep at night. Duh! As a writer, I live under slept most of the time, always attempting to get just a little more written before I head off to bed, and I was trying to do the same thing en route – walk hard all day and write at night. It was not a workable plan. After today, I promised myself if I wasn’t finished with what I was doing by 10:00 pm, it didn’t matter. I’d shut down and go to bed anyway.

Day 11 Bolton on Swale (Richmond) to Inglby Cross 16 ½ mile

Our biggest danger faced so far, crossing the A19 dual carriageway before arriving at Inglby Cross. As far as the scenery of the day was concerned, we could have been in Kent, as we passed grain field after grain field and cow pasture after cow pasture. The experience was made interesting by the fact that the grain and the hay harvest were in progress and we saw some very interesting farming techniques going on while we were passing through. The flat walk was made challenging by at least a half a million stiles. It’s amazing how tiring it becomes to hoist body and full pack over one stile after another, most made for people with VERY long legs, some wobbly enough to make going over an act of faith, and some hoisted high with hip-deep nettles surrounding the giant step and a strand of barbed wire connecting it to the rest of the fence. Add to that the fact that we were in cattle country and for some reason, cows seem to particularly enjoy relieving themselves at the foot of styles. Wicked sense of humour, cattle. Oh, and there was the odd electric fence just to keep us on our toes. So in the end, our fears of not getting enough of a work-out on the flat of the Veil of Mowbry were put to rest.

We were told that the long flat stretch between Richmond and Inglby Cross, the Vale of Mowbry, is twenty-four miles that just have to be gotten through to get back to the good bits. That wasn’t far wrong. Though the rout isn’t unpleasant, it’s just miles of farmland, which does little to stimulate tired minds and tired feet. And feet do tend to suffer terribly on the long, hard flat.

Never mind. Zig-zagging our way through the racing traffic on the busy dual carriageway of the A 19 gave us an adrenaline rush we needed to see our way through to the end of the day’s walk. With the Cleveland Hills looming bright in the distance, we’re assured of a more exciting walk tomorrow when we head into our third national park, the North York Moors.





Coast to Coast with Holly: We Venture Beyond the Lake District


I’m tired and my feet are sore and I’m writing this blog post from a pub near Clay Bank in order to get a signal. It’s done on the hoof, so to speak. I apologize for any incoherencies that may occur, and hope very much that you’ll still take away from it all that we’re having an amazing time. Here are some of my pictures of where Raymond and I read our Holly, so please remember to send in your pictures so I can see where you read yours! Here’s the link for the chance to win really cool stuff.

Day 6: 13 August Saturday Burnbanks to Orton 13 ½ miles

We are lucky to have such good friends in the Lakes. Brian and Vron Spencer were kind enough to take us to Burnbanks, the starting point of the day’s walk. Now nice holiday cottages, Burnbanks was originally a camp for the workers who built the dam on Haweswater. We’ve picked Brian and Von’s brain about the rest of the walk, looked over the rout, even raided their walking larder for sports tape and extra shoe laces, so now all that’s left is to do the deed.

On our first day of walking on our own, Vron and Bonnie, the collie, who has been the star of more than a few of my Lakeland photos, walked with us the first few miles to the ruins of Shap Abbey. There Brian picked them up and we said our final good-byes, at least for the next nine days. But, as Wainwright said about leaving Lakeland, ‘It’s not good-bye, only so long.’ He adds to that no one would blame you if you decided to stay on in the Lakes and not go any further. But our path was set.

It felt strange leaving our friends behind and striking out across unfamiliar territory on our own. We walked on through the town of Shap, barley making it pass the smell of the fish and chips shop that we’re pretty sure Wainwright frequented. But we have turkey sandwiches and wanted to press on a bit before chowing. We crossed the enormous footbridge spanning the noisy, heavily trafficked M6 Motorway. From there the path rose and fell away from the motorway into hills showing the first signs of the limestone outcroppings that awaited us on the rest of the day’s walk.

We had lunch above the quarries then walked on across areas where limestone pavements pocked and scarred by endless water erosion, nestled amid miles of mauve blooming heather. I couldn’t look hard enough. We’d heard about the heather in bloom, but no picture could have possibly done justice to our first real sight of the much-anticipated moorland. We saw a hobby in pursuit of his avian meal, and a little later on, actually saw a buzzard kill a small rabbit. We startled her off her prey before we realized what was going on. She was training her young to hunt. They all congregated in a tree at the top of a hill and waited for us to pass.

Without the regimentation of a group, we took our time to enjoy the journey, and it was good to have decent weather and a leisurely pace. We walked into Orton around 6 p m and settled in for the night at the George Hotel. At the George’s restaurant, we wolfed down homemade chicken and ham pie and two pints of Black Sheep while swapping tales and gathering information from some of the fellow walkers, who were also en route. Then we celebrated the end of our first day alone on the trail by sharing an enormous banana split. Total decadence! Holly didn’t join us for dinner, but she enjoyed the limestone pavements.

Day 7: 14 August Sunday Orton to Kirby Stevens 12 ½ miles

We woke this morning to heavy rain, which came and went off and on until around eleven, so the already saturated ground got even more saturated, and we splorshed and splurshed our way through pastures until we got out into open moorlands, where there was still plenty of mud and running water, but only strategically placed sheep poo to slow our progress.

The hazard of the day: Stiles into cow pastures. Because the cows tend to congregate around stiles and gates, they turn the soft wet pastures into a deep mud bath and a cow toilet. Argh! We went in over our boots several times in the early bits of the walk, but fortunately we filled our boots with boggy rather than cow toilet! We got to be quite acrobatic at finding ways to keep relative uck-free. There was lots of open moorland walking today, some beneath limestone outcroppings. But not nearly as much heather. The best part of the day’s walk was Smardale oabove the remains of the old railway along Scandal Beck. The old Victorian viaduct is still standing arched across the valley like a work of art. We past the ruins of a lime kiln and an old boarded up railway cottage, while viewing in the distance a strange limestone scar called Giants Graves. The abandon railway line beneath the rail bridge would be a lovely to walk some other time.

Day 8:14 August Sunday Orton to Kirby Stevens 12 ½ miles

We woke this morning to heavy rain, which came and went off and on until around eleven, so the already saturated ground got even more saturated, and we splorshed and splurshed our way through pastures until we got out into open moorlands, where there was still plenty of mud and running water, but only strategically placed sheep poo to slow our progress.

The hazard of the day: Stiles into cow pastures. Because the cows tend to congregate around stiles and gates, they turn the soft wet pastures into a deep mud bath and a cow toilet. Argh! We went in over our boots several times in the early bits of the walk, but fortunately we filled our boots with boggy rather than cow toilet! We got to be quite acrobatic at finding ways to keep relative uck-free. There was lots of open moorland walking today, some beneath limestone outcroppings. But not nearly as much heather. The best part of the day’s walk was Smardale oabove the remains of the old railway along Scandal Beck. The old Victorian viaduct is still standing arched across the valley like a work of art. We past the ruins of a lime kiln and an old boarded up railway cottage, while viewing in the distance a strange limestone scar called Giants Graves. The abandon railway line beneath the rail bridge would be a lovely to walk some other time.

Day 8 Kirby Stephen to Keld 12 ½ miles Across the Pennines and Through the Bogs

We walked a good bit of the day in sunshine, and a dry day was essential as we crossed the Pennines at Nine Standards Rigg and descended into the peat hags and bogs into Yorkshire. I kept asking Brian and Vron in the Lake District if the boggy walks we endured on Greenup Edge compared to what we’d face on Nine Standards. They kept saying you couldn’t compare the two. How right they were! Raymond and I both agreed we’d never walked or even seen anything like the bogs we descended through today. Very fortunately for us, the weather was good and the descent was much more gentle than the descent off Greenup Edge and Far Easdale in the Lakes.

We started out the day with a fairly fast ascent up to Nine Standard Rigg, which is a series of nine stone cairns which dominating the top of this particular Pennine Ridge, and can even be seen descending into Kirby Stephen the night before. I was very excited to actually get on top of the ridge and see the impressive standards. No one knows how they got there or who built them. One legend has it that they were built to make an invading army think the standards were the vanguard of a large army.

At the top, as we looked around I was in awe to discover that looking out in the distance in every direction but back toward Kirby Stephen were huge black stretches of peat bog sprawling across the landscape. I hoped we wouldn’t be walking through that. But of course, we would be. We took photos in a sharp wind, then found a sheltered place for tea before descending into the unknown of the bogs. Just as we were about to head off into the bogs, we met a walker doing the Coast to Coast in the opposite direction and ask him how it was. He gave us a rather glazed look and said, ‘boggy.’ He wasn’t joking.

Our first encounter with a peat hag was like the earth had split open and left in its joining place a thick black ooze of mud, too deep to wade through and too wide to jump. We were standing on the lower piece of grassy marsh looking up at the upper piece wondering how the hell we were going to get across. Fortunately we are fairly good with a compass, because in the end the only way to deal with a peat hag is to go around it. That made for a very wet, very slow descent. The scary thing was that we had several people tell us how much better the boggy bits were than they normally were. Urg!

We thought we’d actually made it through the boggy bits as we began our descent down Whitsundale Beck, but what awaited us before we managed contact with terra firma was the equivalent of a giant, wet sponge that went on for several kilometres. With the ground sinking beneath each step we took, we found out the best way to deal with it was just not to stand in one place too long.

After what seemed like ages, we finally made it to the lonely post of humanity called Raven Seat, which is a farm with lots of kids, lots of dogs and totally fabulous cream teas, which we were only happy to take advantage of.

Even from Raven Seat, it was quite a muddy schlog down to the miniscule village of Keld on the Swale River.

The walk over Nine Standards Rigg had been the part of the Coast to Coast I’d dreaded the most, and it was such a relief to finally have it behind us. As we enjoyed our dinner at the Keld Lodge, Raymond and I both agreed that though we enjoyed Nine Standards, our love of bogs had not increased in any way, and that it was not only the hardest bit of the walk so far, and though it was most definitely an adventure, it was the first bit of the walk so far we’d not want to do again. We were both looking forward to rocks and solid ground the next day, when we planned to walk the high level rout to Reeth through the old mining ruins.


© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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