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Best Gifts of the Year and the Yearly Navel Gaze

I would like to celebrate the season by being thankful for all the gifts that didn’t fit under the tree, and all the early gifts, the ones I got way before Christmas, the ones that make anything under the tree seem, well sort of anti-climactic.

The Gift of Writing

Holly at the Piccadilly Waterstones in London. We have arrived!

Like you didn’t see that one coming! I’ve loved it since I could hold a pencil and do more than scribble. Every year I love it more and more. This year I loved it through two novels, two novella’s, a slew of short stories, and blog posts too numerous to count. And all the while I was frantically writing, I was watching how well The Initiation of Ms Hollywas selling with a very broad, very silly smile on my face. The only thing better than loving writing is having

Pets in Soho, next door to Madame JoJo's, where the Kitten Club performes. Where else would they want to be?

other people love my writing!

Oh yes! The writing gift was particularly good this year! And, I’m already rattling and shaking the package of next year’s writing gifts, which promise to be just as exciting, if not more so.

 

The Gift of Outside

I know, I know; you saw that one coming too, didn’t you? But being outside makes me a better writer, and it’s been a great year for being outside. Most of you who are my friends on Facebook have suffered through endless photos of our vegetable garden and the lovely harvest. Some of you were even green with envy when the raspberries and strawberries came on. I didn’t include even one photo of the slugs or snails or the abundant weeds, though that might be a promising photo op for next year. With any luck, an allotment will be in our near future and then you can expect lots more garden porn.

Many of you know that I walk my stories, and I’ve had some fantastically inspirational walks this year. I’ve been

Me on the beach at Lincoln City, Oregon

enthralled by the fabulous fungi in the local woodlands in the autumn walks, I’ve walked the Oregon Coast and the lava flows in the Cascades with my sister. I’ve walked on the Strip in Las Vegas with writing friends.  I’ve walked amid the incredible blossoms in spring and the lovely sunsets in high summer and everything in between, all the while working out plots and characters and settings. Being outside always balances me and centres me again, which is a good thing, since I tend to be a bit obsessive.

The Gift of Adventure

The very stylish 'drowned rat' look walking the Coast to Coast Path

The biggest adventure of all this year was the fourteen days in August when Raymond and I walked the Wainwright Coast to Coast Path across England. Yes, you heard me right, across England. I like to repeat that phrase a lot because it’s still amazing to me. Oh, by the way, did I mention that it was all the way across England!

Not only did we walk it, but I blogged about it, and those of you who followed the posts definitely caught glimpses of me at … well not exactly my best. It was one of the toughest, most amazing experiences I’ve had, and I had to dig deep to finish it. That’s another package I’m rattling for next year. Oh yes! There’ll be another Bad Ass walk! And I’m scheming to get Raymond to blog it with me this time.

Then there was Vegas! Yes, I packed my bags and went to Las Vegas for the first annual Erotic Authors Association

At the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas during the Erotic Literary Salon reading

Conference. There aren’t enough wows for that fantastic experience. Though Vegas wouldn’t have been my first choice of cities to visit in the States, I couldn’t have chosen a more fabulous group of people to spend a hot and action-packed weekend with. The very best part of the Vegas gift was finally putting faces to names of some of the American erotica writers, who had long been my friends online. And they were every bit as wonderful in person! With amazing people, panels, workshops and two readings, one at the Erotic Heritage Museum standing between a plethora of eight-foot white marble penises, oh yes, it was good!

Justine Elyot, Janine Ashbless, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Kay Jaybee, Me, Jacqueline Applebee at Sh! Hoxton in July

There were numerous readings in London, as well, which are always a gift. One was with my dear friend, Kay Jaybee. One was with one of my heroes in the world of erotica, Rachel Kramer Bussel. Then there was the huge, blow-out launch party for my second novel, The Pet Shop, in October at my favourite place, Sh! Hoxton, with so many of my favourite people. And now Pets are happily misbehaving not only all over London, but all over the UK. In January they’ll be misbehaving in the States too!

Of course, I've been naughty, Santa! And THIS Santa just happens to be Peter Birch, who's not exactly angelic either;)

Definitely one of the best gifts of the year was Erotica, 2011 — three days of fabulous, delicious naughtiness at the Olympia Convention Centre in London. And Raymond and I were there for all three! We had the pleasure of working with the terrific folks from Xcite Books, doing readings, panels and selling and signing LOTS of books written by yours

The lovely ladies from the House of Burlesque have fabulous tastes in literature!

truly. In the midst of all the thongs and corsets and whips and nosebleed stilettos, I was the one with the ear-to-ear smile.

Friends

Hazel Cushion, Matt Peterson, Peter Newsom at the Xcite stand

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, at the end of the day, it’s the gift of people that matters more than anything else, and I’ve had so many fabulous people surround me this year that it’s impossible to come close to expressing how they’ve enriched my life. This was the year that I got to know the folks at Xcite Books a little better. Hazel Cushion, Matt Peterson, Peter Newsom, and the lovely Miranda Forbes. You all are totally amazing. Thanks for all you do.

This was the year I got involved with Fannying Around, Sarah Berry’s fantastic brainchild, and the source of a lot more new friends. Through a year of laughing and chatting and learning to appreciate our bodies, I’ve come to love and respect Sarah even more than I already did. Amazing hardly begins to describe this lovely lady.

The lovely Sarah Berry

For two years now, Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium has played a major role in my life by helping with research, supporting my work, and just being fabulous. It was love at first sight for me when I met these amazing Ladiez. They truly are modern-day heroines. Plus, they have great taste in eroticaJ I admire them more than I can ever say.

Brian and Von Spencer opened up the great outdoors for me, showed me how to use a compass and a map, and turned me lose in the Lake District to fall utterly and totally in love with the place. They have shown Raymond and me breath taking parts of the Lake District we might never have known to look for without them. They have inspired the Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy, and have

Lucy Felthouse, Lexie Bay, Rebecca Bond, Victoria Blisse, me, Kay Jaybee at Erotica

helped all along the way with the research. I admire them deeply, and I hope when I grow up I can be just like them!

There are two lovely women who have inspired me and encouraged me and been there for me through all the writing adventures of the past year. Lucy Felthouse, the fearless EP, is not only a promising young writer, but a PR and marketing person extraordinaire. She designed my fabulous website and has staved off many a panic attack for me as I venture into the

Lucy Felthous and Kay Jaybee at Sh! Hoxton

scary realms of PR and marketing. Lucy has taught me how to promote my brand, and bless her, that couldn’t have been an easy task. Don’t know how I would have managed without her.

The second lovely lady is the fabulous writer and even more fabulous person Kay Jaybee. Again it was love at first sight. Hon, the journey wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without you. Your encouragement and fabulous sense of humour, and your loving spirit have been one of the best gifts of this year. Thanks for being you.

There are others, lots of others. My life is rich because of the people in it, and they are, as always, the very best gifts. They are what give all the other gifts meaning.

Me and Kay Jaybee with my delicious 'test subject.' Notice the smile he's sporting.

The Gift of Love

And of course, you saw this coming, too, didn’t you? The best gift of all, the best gift for all our years together, is the gift of love. The one closest to my heart, the one who encourages me, stand by me, loves me, and keeps his head down when I’m not very loveable and the sh*t is hitting the fan, my lover and best friend, my husband, Raymond, the man who brings out the best in me and loves me through the worst. He is the man who is proud of me, the man who tells his friends that I use him for research. And he’s the man who is willing to don a pair of walking boots and walk across England with me. I’m a very lucky woman indeed.

The man of my heart!

Happy Navel Gazing!

I promised when Lucy and I began this website almost a year ago that I wouldn’t navel gaze, that I would do my best to make this blog a place worth visiting, and I’ve done my best to do that. But it’s that time of year, and navel gazing is as much a part of the season as mistletoe and cheesy Christmas music, so I figured you might, with the holiday spirit and all, be willing to forgive me just this one.

Having said that, I wish you good navel gazing as the year grows to a close. May 2012 be filled with love and laughter and challenges and adventure and many, many causes for celebration.

Happy Navel Gazing, wherever you are!

 

The Marriage of Intellect and Animal

Last night Raymond and I went to an  Astronomical Society meeting in which Stephen Slater was discussing the making of his film, Destination Titan, which was shown recently on BBC. As he played back footage of that amazing moment when Huygens actually landed on Titan, I had a lump in my throat.  And I couldn’t help it. My eyes misted a bit. This was humanity at its most amazing. With the help of our technology, we had flung our consciousness out into the cosmos. Over a billion kilometers from home, the Huygens lander, equipped with an instrument package not much bigger than a shoe box, sent us back information from a world that we could scarcely have imagined. Now, six and a half years on, I still can’t get my head around it, and yet it’s a fact. We have the data to prove it.

Afterwards I came back home and answered the questions for an interview Sarah Barry was doing for the  Fannies Rule website. The questions involved why I liked a full bush, something I’m always happy to expound upon. That’s right. We were discussing pubic hair. So what do the two have to do with each other? Seemingly nothing. That’s what’s so amazing. These are classic examples of our  human duality. We have the intellect to conceive, design and build a space craft and a landing craft that will visit worlds we can barely conceive of at distances we can barely imagine. And we made it happen. And yet in the blood and bone and DNA of us, we’re animals, so similar to all other animals on our planet that it’s astounding, even disturbing.

Are we a little lower than the angels? Oh, I don’t think so. I think any angel would envy the position of humanity, the marriage of intellect and animal, the being who can fling her consciousness into space and bring it back to herself and in the very next breath join in the rut that’s the biological drive of all animals. But even the down and dirty of it, the rough and tumble between the sheets of it,  is in itself an act of flinging our consciousness out there into the great unknown, into the great unknown of the other, the lover, the one who mirrors us, but whose secrets we can never quite touch except through that physical act of joining.

Wow! Humans! So wonderful and so terrible, so in need of each other and yet so alone in ourselves. And for the most part so totally clueless of what we are really capable.

 

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!

Afterward

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!

Reminder

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

 

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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