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.
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