Across England on the Coast to Coast walk, part 3

We continue into the Lakes District with sometimes gritted teeth

It takes us five days to navigate our way across the Lakes District.

The weather’s at its worst for this part of our walk. There’s sunshine, sure—after all, it is summer—but the rain! There’s plenty of that too.

Rocky paths

Take, for example, our second day which took us from Ennerdale to Rosthwaite where, thank goodness, there was a lovely little hotel with a very comfortable room and good grub waiting. But first we had to cross a mountain. First we had to climb Loft Beck. I composed this about our experience scrambling up:

The second day in and the weather is foul,
we’re scaling Loft Beck and the wind it does howl,
what I would give
to be sure I will live,
is everything I’m carrying to survive.

The rain stings with little bullets of ice
that hit my exposed bits like pellets of rice,
it cascades down the rocks
soaking my socks,
I have doubts I will ever revive.

The wind roars and blows,
I can’t stem the flow from my nose,
snot flies to every point in the land
because I daren’t spare a hand.
All I want is to safely arrive.

Loft Beck

Grim, I was, determined not to be the one who slipped and needed a helicopter rescue. No, that was ‘fortunately’ someone else later that day. We heard about it at our hotel that night. The poor woman was pretty banged up having fallen quite a way.

Before beginning this walk we’d determined that if there was a choice between the low road and the high (mountain tracks) we were going to take the high. We reasoned we may never be this way again and we wanted to see as much of the scenery as we could.

Fine in theory. But when the mist hangs low and the rain is sleeting the guide book tells you to not be stupid. Besides, what are you going to see in zero visibility? Believe it or not we put in a couple of minutes debating, and felt that somehow we were wimps for not choosing the mountain.

Thank goodness for the several YHA huts along the way. Lunchtime saw us at Black Sail where we could sit in the dry for half an hour and buy a hot tea, coffee or chocolate. A big mug of chocolate got me! The little speck that looks like a tree to the right of John’s head is the hut. And the mountains we have yet to cross are behind.

Black Sail YHA

Once over and down the other side, which was nearly as hair-raising because of loose rubble, is an old slate mine that’s still in low-key operation.

Slate mine

Honester slate mine

The paths aren’t easy underfoot. We met people wearing footwear totally inappropriate for the terrain. Thank God, we muttered more than a few times, for good walking boots. I’d invested in a pair of Berghaus—the best, my UK son-in-law informed me with an impressed nod—and they were proving to be brilliant.

Paths that are streams

Here the path, awash with rain, intersects a dry stone wall and stile

It’s easy to get lost in the Lakes. There’s often no hint of a track and because it’s national park no signposting is allowed. To overcome this, walkers over successive years have built stone cairns to mark the way. Even so we wandered off course several times. Not too far, but enough to have us standing and scratching our heads while scanning the terrain for other walkers, which would show the way we should be heading.

And believe it or not, on those high peaks, in the middle of summer, you can get bogged.

Boggy ground

John went in ankle deep at this point. Unsympathetic me laughed and hopped across really quickly and only got muddy soles. The bogs aren’t always apparent and they’re everywhere. You can find yourself sinking on what looks like a firm grassy tuft.

Experienced walkers told us we were lucky. Most years the bogs are much worse and much more widespread. but early good weather had dried out a lot.

That day was a 16½ mile slog. But don’t get me wrong. We were glad to be there and the overnight stay in the Scafell Hotel at Rosthwaite revived us.

Scafell Hotel at :Rosthwaite

The next day was an easy 8½ miles to Grasmere, Wordsworth’s home for nine years and where he’s buried.

And it doesn’t get any lovelier than this!

The day was gorgeous so we took the high level route to Helm Crag which is the last peak before Grasmere and overlooks it.

The ridge walk via Helm Crag

It’s a relief to reach the bottom as it’s not an easy descent—were any of them!—and find yourself in Lancrigg Woods taking the Poet’s Walk into the village. The guidebook describes how:

Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy would sit at this spot while her brother walked up and down composing verses.

We could see why. It’s beautiful.

Next time: We say goodbye to the Lakes District.

I was there, Harrison Ford was there–so how did I miss him!

Earlier this week I was in Sydney for two days taking location photos for my novel imbroglio.

SydneyJohn and I drove from Canberra—an easy three-hour stretch given it’s a dual highway all the way. Until you hit the city, that is. Then it’s bumper to bumper, stop start, gridlock. I didn’t take any shots while in traffic; I was too busy keeping an eagle eye on the GPS for instructions and feeding them non-stop to John who was driving.

He needed a lie-down and strong coffee before I could get him out of the hotel and going again.

The weather forecast for the two days was for thunderstorms and lightning. Which was just my luck as I’d been wanting to do this for ages and now I’d finally organised it the weather was going to screw it up for me.

I had a list of the locations I wanted to photograph:

Coogee (one of the suburban beaches where my heroine Noel Valentine grew up)
Elizabeth Bay (where she now lives)
Hyatt Hotel on Circular Quay (where she makes her play for her boss, William T Hall), and
Darling Harbour (where David Cameron first sets eyes on Noel).

We booked into a back-street hotel in Wooloomooloo because it’s an easy 30 minute walk to Circular Quay, and from there we could take harbour ferries everywhere but Elizabeth Bay, which we called in to after booking out of the hotel to drive home.

The walk was lovely. Past the navy ships at the Garden Island base and the historic Finger Wharf (the longest timber-piled wharf in the world), then through the Botanic Gardens.

The beaches are lovely too. Coogee is a favourite of mine, which is why Noel calls it home and why she continues her morning swims there.

The next day we were catching up over lunch at Circular Quay with girlfriend and fellow author Roz Baker of the Sooner or later series fame. Then it was onboard the ferries to Watson’s Bay so I could take water-side shots of Rose Bay where another character, Marion Davies, lives. And lastly Darling Harbour.

The weather held!!

That night the thunder and lightning hit and the rain poured. But … I had all my photos. How lucky was I!

As for Harrison Ford, it was on the evening news I learned he was in town to promote the new Star Wars movie and the backdrop for his photos was the Opera House. I’m staggered I didn’t see him because I there was too!

Me and Diamond Princess

Diamond Princess, Opera House, ferry

Cruise ship Diamond Princess and the Opera House

I might have hung around and tried the selfie with him in the background trick.


Across England on the Coast to Coast walk, part 2

Across England on the Coast to Coast walk part 2

Well … today’s the day.

The first of 18 that see us walking from the west coast of the UK to the east coast. Through Cumbria and Yorkshire. Following Alfred Wainwright’s famous Coast to Coast walk.

The start

It’s been organised for us, so all we have to carry are our backpacks. Luggage will be transported between our nightly accommodation.

We’ve got B&Bs, hotels and farm stays lined up, some in the middle of towns, some in the middle of nowhere, and we’re looking forward to them all.

Recommended backpack inclusions are emergency medical supplies, water, lunch, snacks, raincoat, and little shovel/wipes/plastic bags for if you’re caught short.

It doesn’t take long—an hour or two on the road—to realise that’s WAY too much. In subsequent days we reduce it to band-aids, water and the minimum amount of food we think we’ll need.

As for being caught short—just make sure you do your ablutions before you head off in the morning and you can ditch the shovel etc as well.

Oh, and make sure your backpack is lightweight and waterproof—because if rain doesn’t soak it your sweat will.

But all that knowledge is in the future. Today we fortify ourselves with a full English breakfast (part of the package) and sandwiches packed by the B&B host.

Then it’s off and into the great outdoors, heading for the Lakes District. That’s those mountains in the distance.

On to Dent Hill

The first day covers 14½ miles. Mid-morning sees us puffing and doggedly panting up our first slope, Dent Hill.

Nearly killed John who began to feel very poorly early and didn’t improve for hours. At one point as we were slogging it to the top I had visions of calling in Air Rescue! But being a man he said he’d manage, and he did.

That smile on my face, you may notice, is definitely forced. In fact, our kids commented on our smiles after a few days of receiving photos, asking:

‘Are you having fun yet!’

Top of Dent Hill

The Lakes District is a hike of five days through the toughest countryside on the 4 out of 5 difficulty-rated walk, so we know we’re not in for an easy time.

Dent Hill turns out to be the worst we encounter that day; the rest is along tracks and over fences, this one deer-proof.

The sheepUp and over a deer-proof fence

We make it to Ennerdale and our overnight accommodation mid-afternoon, but as our hosts aren’t home we find the nearest pub and have a beer. Boy! Does it ever taste good—though as you can see, those smiles haven’t re-surfaced yet.

Ennerdale B&BBoy, that beer tastes good!

This becomes the pattern for the next 17 days. Hitting the road early so we arrive at our next destination at a reasonable hour.

Next week: Through the Lakes District with gritted teeth.

Across England on the Coast to Coast walk

Two years and a few months ago I was following Alfred Wainwright’s coast to coast walk across England, starting at St Bees on the Irish Sea coast and finishing at Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea coast.

I wasn’t alone. I was with my husband John. He’s my mate (in this context I mean good friend). In fact he’s my best mate. There’s very little I do without him.

I kept a daily diary on my iPad with the intention of writing some blog posts about it but the iPad was stolen before I made it back home to Australia. And back then I hadn’t come to grips with iCloud so when I lost the iPad I lost all the data on it.

I downloaded photos onto the iPad every day but–phew and thank goodness!–I didn’t delete them from my camera. So at least I have a visual record of the walk.

And at long last I’m putting pen to paper, so’s to speak, and will reconstruct the walk from the photos.

It was the summer of 2013 and the weather, except for our days in the Lakes District, was glorious. You’re never alone on this walk as it’s popular. We met plenty of UKers but also a lot of internationals. The UKers, being locals, have the advantage of being able to break the walk into two or more segments but the internationals were to a person doing it in one hit.

John and I had our itinerary organised by a company called Mac’s Adventures and they did a great job. It was one of those walks where your luggage is transported between your nightly accommodation so all you have to carry is a daily backpack–which became increasingly lighter as the days progressed! Amazing how heavy even a few items become after a few hours.

How tough is the walk? The guide book says ‘Undertaken in one go the path is a long, tough walk with some fairly steep gradients’. Most of those are in the Lakes District.

In total the walk is around 200 miles. Mac’s arranged each of our days into varying lengths the shortest being a stroll of 7-1/2 miles and the longest 23 miles (37 km to us Aussies). There were three days of 20+ miles and they were shattering.

This walk is do-able but it’s testing!

We spent two nights at St Bees, thinking it would give us a chance to have a look around the town. That took us all of a couple of hours! so we took a taxi (no train or bus service on the weekend) to Whitehaven, 8 miles away with the intention of walking back along the cliffs, which is in fact the track we’d be taking the next day on the start of ‘the walk’, only in the opposite direction.

Whitehaven’s a small port and used to be a centre for coal mining. We came across the water works building on the wharf and were immediately enthusiastic, for a moment, about buying it and doing a Kevin McLeod’s Grand Designs project.

The walk back to St Bees was a taste of what we were in for over the next 18 days. Along the cliff, perilously close to the edge at times, overgrown, we were both silently thinking, ‘Is this a good idea?’ We resolutely kept our smiles plastered on. So much so that the next morning our eagerness had us up early and down at the beach picking up pebbles and wetting our boots. Tradition demands these gestures. The pebble is to be carried to Robin Hood’s Bay where you drop it into the North Sea. And the boots are to be wet again in said sea to mark your completion of the walk.

Overgrown path

The walking path between Whitehaven and St Bees

I think I’ve waffled enough for now. In the coming weeks I’ll take you up and down mountains, through bogs and across heather-laden moors to give you a taste of what the walk shows and gives you.

Cheers and Bye for this week.