The sea!



27th February Eskdale to Ravenglass 8.5 miles

After a quick march down the Esk valley and through the grounds of Muncaster Castle, I reached the top of a hill, and all of a sudden, there was the sea.  What a super place to pop out of the Lake District and reach the coast. Dunes and sandy beaches lay in front of me, sea sparking in the sun. Yes, sunshine again. Two days in a row!  



I met Ian in the village of Ravenglass, posed for photos, and that was it. The Coast to Coast journey is complete.  We jumped in the truck and are now buzzing down the motorway, en route for home.  



I feel very different to the day when I reached John O Groats, 18 months ago.  Back then I tried to make my final day last as long as possible. And I was full of joy and emotion on finishing. Today I rushed through my final stage of walking, eager to reach the coast and finish.  I’ve enjoyed the walk a lot, and I think simply because it’s nowhere near as far as 1,200 miles, it seems quite straightforward a thing to do.  I’m really pleased to have done it though. 

It’s taken me 21 days of walking, and the route is 222 miles long. Of course it could normally easily be done in 2 weeks. I took my time so as to ease back into fitness. In that respect it is mission accomplished. I feel loads better than when I started, and have regained confidence in my body.  

I have loved the route. Within the 222 miles the variety has been fantastic: the big sky country of Holderness, the rolling Yorkshire Wolds, the flat Vale of York, the pretty market towns, the hills and valleys of the Yorkshire Dales, and then the craggy Lake District.  It shows that a linear walk from one’s own house is easy to plan – we are so lucky to have a country that is criss crossed with footpaths.  

If you live in Holderness and fancy doing this walk, I’ll be doing another blog post with route details and gpx files. I’d recommend starting from Hornsea (rather than my house). 

This morning I pondered about my favourite part of this walk. I’d have to say it was the Yorkshire Dales. I liked walking over 2 of the famous 3 Peaks, I enjoyed the quiet villages and small country towns, and the landscape changes constantly from one valley to the next.  

Whilst February seems an odd time to do a UK long distance walk, actually that was also a big plus factor for me. Apart from on Ingleborough and Whernside, or on a dog walking route, I hardly saw a person. Certainly no one else doing a long walk. I like that. The people I did meet en route and in B&Bs were always keen to chat and not rushed off their feet, as can be the case in the summer months. It was cold and a bit wild, weather wise, at times. But amazingly I only experienced about 5 hours of proper driving rain in total. That’s not bad at all for a winter walk. 

Thank you for reading, commenting, and encouraging. I always feel boosted along my way by knowing that friends are vicariously enjoying my walks too. 

The end is in sight 

26th February Coniston to Eskdale 12 miles

What a day. A superb walk. The most ascending of any day so far. I have enjoyed the hilly days the most.  Mountains make my spirits soar. Even little mountains. 

It tipped it down last night.  Yet more rain to add to the deluges of the last few days. So today’s walk has also been exceedingly wet underfoot. Many paths simply had to be waded along. 



A few years ago my dear friend Bob and I sat looking at a sea chart of the Baltic Sea off the coast of Finland. Planning our route, we felt intimidated by the complexity of navigation due to the sheer number of islands. Bob exclaimed “Goodness Flora, there’s more land than sea!”  Today, if all the flooded streams, bogs, fields, and engorged rivers had been marked on my Ordance Survey map, I’d have said “Lordy me, there’s more water than land!”  That’s how it seemed today. 

At one point I needed to cross the River Duddon at a place where stepping stones were marked on the map.  But this was a foolish idea. The stepping stones were submerged under a couple of feet of water. And the current was rushing, angrily, so strong. A river in spate is not something to be taken lightly. Especially on ones own, with no rope. People drown in surprisingly shallow rivers. In fact, they are one of the biggest hazards for hillgoers.   So I looked at my map and figured out a longer way around. 

My route today took me up out of Coniston village, and over the shoulder of Coniston Old Man, on the track called ‘Walna Scar Road’. 

Just before I reached the highest point of the path, 620 metres, I stopped to batten down all the hatches – mittens, buff pulled over my face like a balaclava, jacket fully zipped, wrapped in all 3 hoods of my various layers. Boy was I glad of these precautions.  All of a sudden the skies grew dark and the strong wind accelerated to gale force, hail hitting me in the face. I descended as quickly as I could into the Duddon Valley, where my river in spate awaited me. 



I made my little detour and started another ascent, this time up the side of Harter Fell. Treat of treats, the skies cleared and all of a sudden it was nothing but pure blue above. It was wonderful to see. Sunshine! 

Finally I could see green Eskdale far below. A steep rush downhill and I was on smooth tarmac. Fifteen minutes later, I was esconsed in the Woolpack Inn.  And an hour later, I spied a blue pickup truck, and there was Ian.  It’s great to see him. 

Last day tomorrow! 



blue sky at last!!!





Brrrr



Monday 23rd February Sedburgh to Burneside 14.5 miles 

Brrrr this has been such a cold day! I set off at 7:30am, which has given me the advantage of finishing my walk by 2pm, and thus plenty of time to wash muddy socks and rest up.

I found this stage the hardest so far, purely due to the weather. A bit of a struggle, truth be told. For the first time I wore every one of my layers of clothing. Hail and then icy rain kept me moving at a pace. I had one break to drink hot roobois tea from my flask. It’s tricky staying warm and dry enough during a tea break. I found a tiny bushy copse of un thinned conifers, and climbed a fence so that I could hide inside, somewhat sheltered from the bouncing hail and chilling gale.

No major hills today. I was passing from the Pennines over to the Lake District. This land between the two great hill ranges has a confusing topography. It’s a bit like a choppy sea – small angry waves coming from all directions.

Needless to say, I saw no other walkers. In fact, the only human I saw was a cheery lady farmer, who commented on the foulness of the weather, as I slopped muddily past.

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24th February Burneside to Bowness on Windermere 9 miles

It was slightly warmer today. There were still frequent hail storms and rain showers, and a tough gusting wind, but I never felt as chilled to the bone as yesterday.  Again, I marched through the rumpled scenery of southern Lakeland. With all the rain of the last few days, most footpaths have turned into little streams.  Every now and then I glimpsed the higher fells, gleaming white in the rare shafts of sunlight.  

It felt like a milestone reached, to finally look down on the shores of lake Windermere. Then I descended into the town, and felt a bit out of place in all the bustle of this busy tourist town.  Even midweek on a cold February day, the streets seemed jammed full of visitors. 



I’ve been loosley following the Dales Way footpath since Sedburgh.  It’s time to say goodbye to it now, as it terminates in Bowness on Windermere. Seems a strange ending point to me – I prefer the idea of going on to the sea.  

25th February Bowness on Windermere to Coniston 9 miles 

A treat. The wind has temporarily dropped. It didn’t rain or hail either. Well, apart from a little drizzle in my last half mile. But mainly this has been a peaceful, mild seeming day. Quite relaxing.  And whilst it’s another short day, I feel a bit of that cumulative heavy leggedness that comes and goes on a long walk.  

But this has been an enjoyable day, punctuated at start and finish with ferry rides. In the morning I got the chain ferry across Windermere, and in the afternoon I caught the little launch that putters around Coniston. In between that I walked through Grizedale forest.  Pleasant walking, with lots of different types of woodland, and enjoyably challenging navigation. Very very wet underfoot again.  





Scotland!!!!!

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Sorry for all the exclamation marks, but today is a big day for me. In cloud and rain, up on a boggy hillI, I crossed the border. I’m in Scotland.

I’m in Scotland!

I’ve walked the length of England. I’m thrilled to bits. This (below) is my crossing the border photo. It’s not got much in the way of dramatic landscape in it, but hopefully you can see the happy face underneath all the layers of clothing.

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Ok, enough of the celebrations. I’ll rewind several days to Plan B.
Plan B worked out pretty well. My alternative route was extremely scenic. On the day of the gales I walked north, underneath the slopes of the North Pennines, along tracks and paths and through quiet red sandstone villages. I stayed the night in a little village called Melmerby, with a proper mr and mrs tiggywinkle who ran a sweet B&B.

The following day was calm, hot and sunny. Ideal weather to go over the fells! Cross Fell, complete with big snow patches, seemed to grin wickedly at me I tramped along my long-way-round-route. If only I had waited out the bad weather in Dufton. But hey ho. Instead I did go north east and over the hills, but on a much easier, lower route. I loved the little green lanes that took me back up to the moors. I met a man who said that the tracks are referred to locally as ‘Lollins lanes’. I may be spelling it wrongly, but what a lovely word. Lollins.

After a wonderful sun baked 23 mile day, I caught up with myself. I.e. I caught up with where I planned to be. I was now down on the north eastern side of the North Pennine moorland, and in the South Tyne valley. (Which is extremely beautiful. Another gem that I would not have known of). Ian and Celeste came up for the weekend, bringing fresh eggs and other food treats.

Hadrian’s Wall was my next days walking – well, half day, as I seemed to race through it. For the first time since, since, well I’m not sure really. The first time since the Dovedale area of Derbyshire probably. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that for the first time in ages, I suddenly saw loads of other walkers. It was bank holiday Sunday. And Hadrian’s Wall Path (another of our 19 official National Trail long distance walking routes) would seem to be far far more popular than the Pennine Way. Interesting. It’s popular with people from all over the world too. I met an Australian, saw Dutch people, Swedes, a Russian couple, and to cap it all I met a family from Honolulu. I think the reasons for its popularity are that the trail is a manageable 84 miles long, never goes higher than 350 metres, is near to roads and accommodation, and of course there’s the whole Roman thing going on.

In comparison to Offa’s Dyke which is a wonderful walk, but the Dyke itself is just a hump in the ground, Hadrian’s Wall is very impressive. At least it was in the stretch I walked, where the Pennine Way coincides for 7 miles or so with Hadrian’s Wall Path. Again I was walking in warm sun, and I felt so happy that my route was taking in yet another marvel of our amazing islands. And I was now in yet another county – Northumberland.

I also realised that I am at last fairly fit. The 23 miles the previous day felt fine, and on this Hadrian’s Wall day I sped along in high spirits, revelling in the sun and glorious views of wall and distant hills. I overtook everyone I came across, and no one except fell runners passed me. There will still be days when I feel low on energy, but at least it is good to know that 777 miles under my belt have made me stronger and fitter.

I read somewhere that on a very long walk, during the first third of the journey you get quite tired and are struggling to get fit. In the middle third, you feel great. Then in the final third your body starts to fall apart! I hope that final third bit doesn’t happen to me.

Having made the rendezvous point for meeting my friend Alex a day early, I was able to take a rest day. I’ve decided on a complete change of route through Scotland. So my rest day was spent pouring I over maps. I was going to have followed the new Scottish National Trail all the way. But on closer inspection I think that it’s (a) very wiggly and (b) includes quite a bit of westerly and potentially very midgy glens. Plus it’s not a marked trail, right now it’s more of an idea than a trail. I have come to the conclusion that it would be more fun to plan my own route north. I’ll keep you posted as to how it works out.

Back to England. The day before yesterday I was joined Alex. Instead of chatting to sheep I had a real live human to talk to. It was a day described as dull by my Pennine Way guidebook, but it was fine, and with plenty of variety. We started with a 1/2 mile of Roman wall, followed by moors, forests, and grass fields. The going was a tad boggy at times, and I was disappointed not to have my camera to hand when Alex decided to get more up close and personal with the bog. I turn round to see her rolling about in the bog, having slipped from a log into the mud. Luckily this event happened early in the day, so there was plenty of time to dry off. We also had a game of ‘Guess How Many Pennine Way Walkers We Will See Today’. It’s more exciting than it sounds. I set the rules. And I won. Funny that. Alex guessed 3, and I predicted 0. We saw one line walker, so I was closest.

Alex kindly had brought a gourmet lunch. We picnicked in a clear felled area of forest. The tree stumps made excellent furniture – providing us with a table and two stools on which to perch. Pickled quails eggs, falafel, and stuffed vine leaves made a welcome change from my usual slices of Soreen loaf with cheese. I’m somewhat fed up of the Soreen but I will persist with it as it’s brilliant for energy. Plus one loaf lasts for three days in my rucksack.

Our day ended with a stroll along the banks of the North Tyne into Bellingham. I now know that the North Tyne and South Tyne rivers flow into the more famous Tyne. In this neck of the woods all three river valleys are wooded and very beautiful. In an interesting quirk of pronounciation, you say “BellingJAM”.

From Bellingham, minus Alex, I strode on alone to Bryness. The lovely thing about walking is that I never feel totally alone. Some days I don’t see a soul. But when I do see another walker, they are always happy to chat. Its so different from normal life, where you’d rarely strike up a conversation with a stranger. I met Jim, a very experienced walker, who I later had supper with as we were staying in the same hostel/inn place for the night. And then I met Guy and Alastair, a father and son duo. Today I bumped into them again, and it was great to have company for the first few hours as we plodded through bogs and saw a sum total of nothing much in the cloud and rain. We shook hands and wished each other good journeys as we parted company late in the morning. Guy and Alastair are just one day away from completing the Pennine Way. And I was heading off the Pennine Way and along Dere Street, towards Jedburgh. Dere Street is a Roman road that runs all the way from York. The Romans would have been appalled at the state of some of the bits I walked on today. All that remained was muddy yucky cow trodden bogs. Thankfully after a couple of miles it improved and became more grassy. Late on in the afternoon I had had enough mud though, and completed my days walk to Jedburgh on quiet lanes.

A final word about the Pennine Way. I didn’t do the very last stage. But I’ve now walked most of it. It’s a wonderful walk. A challenge, but its fabulous to walk high along the spine of England, through three National Parks. The trail is in the best condition it’s ever been, with far fewer boggy bits than in previous years. Yet conversely it has the fewest people walking it than ever. It’s easily completed over three years – taking one weeks holiday each time. Go and walk it!

Right, that’s the end of this essay/chapter. And that’s me. In Scotland.

Plan B

Today I set off up the fell, aiming to go over Cross Fell. It’s one of the toughest Pennine Way days, taking walkers over England’s highest hill outside of the Lake District. Cross Fell is 893m high. Not a huge mountain, so I was surprised that it defeated me. I was on my way up it, not too perturbed by the snow I could see on the tops (during breaks in the cloud), and by the driving rain. Right from the moment I stepped out of the lovely youth hostel in Dufton this morning, I was buffeted by the wind. Walking was difficult. As I got higher, I rounded a corner, and the gale got so strong that I just couldn’t walk. I’ve experienced plenty of windy conditions up hills in my life, but this was super fierce. If I’d have crawled I might have been ok, but I still had 14 miles to go. And 14 miles crawling isn’t a practical way to go. I wished I’d not lost weight since I started walking. Some extra ballast might have helped. But even my rucksack felt like it was going to be tugged off my back by the wind.

I turned round and admitted defeat.

With the wonders of modern technology I downloaded some additional OS 1:50,000 maps to my phone, worked out how to walk the long way round these North Pennine fells, cancelled my B&B, googled another and booked it, and set off in a northerly direction on lower tracks and paths.

I’ve got a friend joining me in a few days time, so I’m hoping to still make our rendezvous point. Luckily I had an extra rest day planned in on Monday, so that gives me a bit of leeway.

A couple more weather facts. Up by Cross Fell there is a weather station. It holds all the records for the most extreme weather conditions in England. The average temperature (year round) is 4 degrees C. (That’s 39F for US readers). And the area is the only place is England with its own named wind, The Helm Wind. Wikipedia will do a far better job of explaining it than me. What I do know is that it doesn’t half blow.

Days like these

Days like these

(I wrote this a day or so ago but couldn’t set it live because of having no phone signal).

Days like these are what I go walking for. I am typing this blog post whilst lying in my hostel bunk, face hot with wind burn, stomach full of food, body content with a full days exercise. Today was glorious. If I say to you the word ‘Tees’ or the ‘River Tees’ or the ‘Tees Valley’, what images does it conjure up? For me it was an industrial, urban landscape. Middlesborough, where the Tees flows out to the North Sea.

This afternoon I walked up the Upper Tees valley. And it was one of the best and most beautiful days walking I’ve had so far. Definitely in my top 5. One reason for doing this long walk in my own country is to discover places like this. I could have done a famous long distance path like the Way of St James in Spain, or the Appalacian Trail in the States. But the UK has such varied and outstanding landscapes. Walking is such a great way to see it and to discover places I have never been to.

The Upper Tees valley is one such discovery for me. I hope my home made (on phone) video does it justice. There’s Low Force and High Force waterfalls – famous I know, but I had never been. High Force is England’s most powerful waterfall. There were flowers, and very varied riverbank trees. I passed wood anemones, spring gentian, cowslips, oxslips, bluebells, daffodils, ladysmock, buttercups, and England’s largest juniper wood. If you are ever in the area I thoroughly recommend a visit.

The day before the Upper Tees day I crossed out of Yorkshire (boo hoo) and into County Durham, into the North Pennines region. On my last night in Yorkshire I stayed in Keld in Swaledale. What a closed in, wild, valley. It felt like one of the most remote places I’ve been to in England. I walked up and over Tan Hill and the moors surrounding it and then descended into Bowes. It is funny, after spending hours in the moors, which are beautiful but so desolate and bare seeming, it’s like sensory overload to come into a green valley, with trees and flowers and the smell of wild garlic. I felt like someone who hadn’t eaten for days, suddenly presented with a gourmet meal. In May especially, the contrast is so great, since the bright green leaves and grass are so vivid. I heard Colin Prior, the photographer, give an interview in which he said that there is a difference between looking and seeing. I am hoping that on this walk I am really seeing, noticing things around me. I guess the same goes for our other senses too.

My Upper Tees day was also aided by the fact that Ian and Celeste had been to visit for the previous two nights. Not only was it wonderful to see Ian again, but he cooked up gorgeous meals AND brought me some brand new socks. I can tell you that one’s feet become incredibly sensitive on a long walk. At the moment I can only wear one particular brand and model of socks. Anything else feels like sandpaper on my feet. (Smartwool womens PHD hiking sock in medium weight crew height, size 6, to be precise).
The new socks are blissful to wear. I think my old ones had started to wear a bit thin.

The following day after my sunny shorts-weather Upper Tees walk, I crossed over the higher North Pennine fells to Dufton through snow and hail. Minus 12 windchill! I was wearing almost every item of clothing I had (not lots, admittedly). The day was wild and rather wonderful. But not weather for stopping for picnics and taking lots of photos. I did manage a few photos of High Cup – an incredible rock cleft and high hanging valley. Mostly though, I hurried on, arriving too early at the Youth Hostel. Luckily although not officially open until 5 (most are closed in the daytime), the doors were open so I could shelter inside, make a cup of tea, and wait for the warden to appear. Incidentally, Dufton is in Cumbria, on the edge of the Vale of Eden. Another county for me. Although I’ll walk straight back out of it as I head north.

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On and off over the last 10 days or so I have met another End to End walker. He’s doing such a nice thing – he sends his elderly mother a postcard each day. We chat about route plans and feet.

Thank you ever so much to all of you who comment on my blog or message me or respond on Facebook. The day before Ian arrived I had a low batteries day – no particular reason, I just felt low on energy, not motivation. It is so nice to know that friends and family are cheering me on. If my blog posts make you smile, then its equally true that I always smile when I read your comments.

I can’t believe I’m heading up to the very roof of England now. In the distance today I saw not only the Lake District, but the hills of southern Scotland. Scotland! I played Highland Cathedral on my iPod to celebrate the sighting.