Sunday, 6 August 2017

Our Coast to Coast Adventure

Ennerdale, gateway to the Lake District

Having abandoned my Cape Wrath Trail hike due to illness, I spent the best part of a week recovering in Ullapool before I headed south to the Cumbrian coast to meet-up with my wife in St.Bees for our impending trek along Wainwright's famous Coast to Coast trail. I still had a cough and a rough throat but it was beginning to subside and I felt much better than I had when I had arrived at Inchnadamph, almost a week earlier. Despite not feeling well, I spent these days exploring Ullapool, which I found very attractive and as I left for Cumbria on the bus, found myself regretting the fact that I had not been well enough to really enjoy my stay. After a long trip by bus and train, I arrived at St.Bees station to find my wife waiting and we headed into the village and enjoyed a drink and the afternoon sunshine in a nearby pub garden. We set off the following morning in fine weather and enjoyed the exhilarating clifftop path and the views across the Irish sea to the Isle of Man before heading inland towards the Lake District, which looked superb in the sunshine from the summit of Dent, the first serious hill of the walk.  Unfortunately, this was to be the last sustained, decent weather of the walk until we crossed into the Yorkshire Dales. The third day from Rosthwaite to Grasmere turned into one of the worst days walking I have ever experienced as the constant rain, flooded paths and rivers were compounded upon reaching the top of Greenup Edge by flooded peat bogs and gale force winds. We came to a swollen river as we headed for the path down into Easdale and as we stood in the howling wind and rain, I began to shake uncontrollably with cold as we wondered how to deal with the obstacle in front of us. I had started walking in my usual very light clothing, which had been fine in the valley, but at the top of the climb the gale force winds became an unexpected factor and although I had more layers in my rucksack, putting them on in the wind was almost impossible. Despite this, I managed to pull a windshirt on over my waterproof, which helped considerably and as I tried to ignore my predicament and focus on our options, we were joined by four other walkers. Together, we squelched through bogs to a point further up the river where it narrowed a little and helped each other jump across. As we reached the summit of the Easdale path, the wind became so strong that one of our party was blown off of her feet and knocked to the ground. Having re-grouped, we bolted for the descending path and fairly quickly things eased although the rain and wind continued until we arrived very wet, cold and bedraggled into Grasmere.

Black Sail Hut, Ennerdale

The following day into Patterdale was an improvement and the sun even put in an appearance in the afternoon as we descended into Grisedale but the next day, things reverted to pouring rain and low cloud. We decided to catch the steamer along Ullswater to Pooley Bridge thereby avoiding Kidsty Pike, the highest part of the walk. This was partly for safety reasons but also because we were by now totally fed up with walking in pouring rain. On arrival at the pier, we were surprised to see virtually every other Coast to Coast walker we had met along the way waiting for the boat. The boat trip looked as though it would have been a delight in good weather but all we could see was low cloud and grey water through the steamy, rain lashed windows of the boat. Having reached Pooley Bridge, the rain continued to fall heavily until just before reaching Shap and we were glad to find one of the pubs open so we could dry off as we weren't able to access our room in the guesthouse until 4pm. That evening, a local guide staying at our guesthouse confirmed that we had made the right decision in avoiding Kidsty Pike as he had taken a party over the top and the conditions sounded similar to those we had experienced on Greenup Edge a few days earlier, with walkers being blown off of their feet The following day, we were heading for Tebay and the weather stayed dry for a change but the next morning, torrential rain had returned and as we packed our rucksacks after breakfast, we looked out of the window and decided we couldn't face another day of these horrendous conditions and took a taxi to Kirkby Stephen, our next halt along the way. This would be the first time ever that I had skipped a section on a long-distance walk, (unless counting the Ullswater diversion) but I didn't care as I had already walked the Coast to Coast route twice in the past. The following morning, we climbed in blustery conditions to the summit of Nine Standards Rigg on the Pennine watershed and once on top, were forced to shelter from the gale-force wind behind one of the huge cairns. Our route from here headed directly into the teeth of the gale and we battled through the flooded peat, stopping frequently to try and find a way across some of the deeper sections as occasional showers added to our discomfort. As we slowly descended from the top of the ridge and the Coast to Coast main route started to bear left across the moors, we were hit by a torrential downpour and, deciding that we had had enough, followed a wide, stony track downhill to the lonely moorland road between Kirkby Stephen and Keld, our overnight halt.

Keld, Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales

The walk along the road was easy but still very windy but what we didn't know was that the downpour was to be the last significantly bad weather of the trip. From Keld, we walked to Reeth along the beautiful river Swale with our friends John and Davina, who had recently moved to the Dales and were now living near Reeth. Apart from one or two light showers in the early part of the walk, the weather improved throughout the day and continued to do so throughout the walk until by the end, we were walking in hot summer weather, the early weather trials and tribulations almost forgotten. The following day, we walked with two walkers, Bob & Kim from Nevada, who we had teamed up with in the awful weather on Greenup Edge, to the attractive town of Richmond. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the delightful scenery on this short but attractive section. On arriving in the impressive centre of Richmond, we said goodbye to Bob & Kim as they were having a rest day the following day so we wouldn't be seeing them again. Soon, we were picked up by our friends John and Davina as we were spending the night in their new home in the Dales. We enjoyed being in the company of good friends and we were treated to an excellent meal and a comfortable nights sleep before being returned to Richmond the following morning to resume the walk. The following days were marked by the constantly improving weather and the problem now was not so much the cold and wet as the heat!

On the Cleveland Hills

Over the next few days, as we crossed the flat Vale of Mowbray to the Cleveland Hills and the North York Moors, we met many walkers, most from the USA and Australia and enjoyed their company at various stages. It was really good to hear their comments about the UK countryside, which was almost all complimentary, although the weather attracted fewer compliments! After sixteen days of walking, we eventually arrived at the cliffs above the North Sea and stopped for a well earned break in the hot sunshine before walking the three miles of coastal path into the attractive village of Robin Hoods Bay. We strolled out onto the sand and dipped our boots in the North Sea, having last dipped them in the Irish Sea on the other side of the country over two weeks earlier, before throwing the pebbles we had carried from St.Bees into the water. For me, there is always a mixture of feelings at the end of a long distance walk and this one was no different and I felt a little sad that the walk was finished but was also looking forward to a rest from walking. We turned our backs on the sea and headed for the bar to join in the celebrations with the other walkers we had met along the way. Our Coast to Coast adventure was over! 


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