Archive for June, 2012

We woke early on the penultimate day of the walk. We had been discussing leaving a bit earlier and although we hadn’t made a firm arrangement to do so, something must have filtered through. We were both ready and we left well before eight O’Clock. It was going to be yet another long day, nearly as long as yesterdays walk, but the terrain was going to be much harder. From Ingleby Cross onwards we would be walking in the North Yorkshire Moors, the last section of the walk and, although not the most challenging when it comes to terrain, it is still a very hilly part of the world.

To compensate, we decided to make a detour which followed a different path up the first few hills of the day, we would be walking up the same hills, but taking a more gradual, if slightly longer, route to the summit. Also our old favourite, tarmac, would take a bigger portion of the route. After the early detour, we would follow the main route for the rest of the day. We found out quickly that staying on the main path was probably for the best.

We had been walking for about an hour and a half, our route split off from the road, and we started to make our way up the side of a hill. Using this path meant that we saved some time early on, making good progress. We now had to navigate along a path that was obviously never used. I am sure that if we had stuck with the main track that we would have had no trouble navigating along a path so well trodden, this path, however, wasn’t. I knew we couldn’t be too far away from our correct route because there was another path on the horizon. There were many people climbing this path. This was the main path which we should have been taking. The heat was starting to build up, and on the horizon you could see heat waves. All of bracken was dry to the tough, it clearly hadn’t rained hear for some time. The hill top was arid, and deserted, it could have been a setting for a desert film. We did follow our own path and made it to the other side of the hill soon enough, although it did take us longer than we had thought, we probably didn’t save any time by taking this route in the end.

The next major mile stone was clay top bank. This was a valley between two hills several miles away. To get to it we had to ascend and descend at least three more major hills. Each of which was right on the edge of the moors. When we got to the top of each hill there was an amazing panorama over the flat lands which we had walked across the day before. The weather that day was quite hazy, it meant that the views were restricted to a few miles, apparently on a good day the view would reach out past Middlesbrough (Jonny went to University there and liked to point out that that’s where it was).

Each hill was roughly the same height as the other and each had heathery moor land on it, with sheep grazing. Each one was also very different. One had a large plateau on the top of it which seemed to go on forever, another had a rock formation near to the top which had to be climbed over with no clear way of how to do so, the third had a very steep decent which took its toll on my knees quite badly. I stopped when my knees were hurting and let a group of walkers  pass who were going the other way. They made polite conversation and I told them where I was heading for, they in return told me about a short-cut which would take off several miles at the very end of the day, which I felt a little dubious  about, but I thanked them and went on my way.

When I got to the bottom of the hill, near to the road at clay top bank, Jonny and I stopped for lunch and a break. We had stopped a few times during the morning, but it wasn’t much more than a few minutes at the top of each hill. This was probably the only considerable break of the day. After the usual bag of sweets and a glug of water we carried on up clay top bank.

Making our way up clay top bank was the last major climb of the day, and at half past two I thought that was quite good going, not realising that once we had made it up onto the moorland there would be another slow climb that went on and on for what seamed like an age. The grasses and bracken on the tops of this moor were no different to the others; parched, dying and lifeless. Walking along with no real land marks to guide the way I had to make do with counting the footpaths that branched off of the main track that we were walking along. Where there was an intersection and a chance to put a poster on the footpath signs, the park rangers had also left notices about how it was very easy to start a wildfire in these parts of the moors. I was suddenly getting visions of the terrible forest fires that plague Australia and North America: not scary at all. I put thoughts of such nonsense to the back of my mind, after all, there was no smoke on the horizon.

Still on the same, what seamed like never ending, moor, our route started to take a deviation. It was probably the only land mark of any sort up on top of this hill. It was a dismantled railway line, which had been converted into a bridleway. I turned to tell Jonny that it was the last navigational decision to make today because our camping pot for the night was at the end of that railway line. Hang on? I had to wait for Jonny, something’s not right. I waited for him to catch up, he wasn’t looking good. He was clearly not enjoying this walk. Apparently his shoulders were giving him more than a bit of jip by now and all the pain killers in the world were not helping. There wasn’t much I could do for him. We stopped for a while so he could take the weight of his bag off for a while, but at the end of the day, we still had to get to the end. Jonny told me to carry on and he could catch me up, I had been telling him the same thing for nearly the entire trip by now, so I could hardly refuse him the same. I left him to his shoulders, looking behind every now and again, making sure that he was OK. What else could I do? I couldn’t think of anything else for him. At least we were on the home straight.

The railway track was about five miles long, it followed the contours around the side of the hills and the valley well and there was very little in the way of climbing to do. The path was also flat, and for the most part, clear of loose stones. I felt quite good about the walk, I was starting to get a little bit tired, but then again, walking for an entire day, with very few stops in the blistering heat of the sun will do that to you. I was a bit worried about Jonny though, he was falling further and further behind. I did slow down for a bit, and then Jonny began to pick up again, “The pain killers must be kicking in” I thought to myself. Then Jonny would drop back again. By the time we meandered around the railway and the end was in sight we could tell it was starting to get dark. The grouse and the Lapwings which had been making their distinctive calls all day had started to fade away by now and although the sun was still high in the sky, the heat had started to cool off. The last bend on the railway was a long one, it seamed to make the rim of a very large bowl which we had to walk the long way around. The pub, we could see was so close, but still so far. For Jonny I’m sure it was desperately unfair.

When the railway reached the back of the pub, there was a little path which went up the side of the property, to the road and made for the front door, where we would put our bags down for the evening. This was the path which our friendly walkers had told us about earlier in the morning, I did have to laugh a bit to myself as this was actully the marked route on the map anyway! Walking up the final path was for me, a relief, a slight incline gave my knees a bit of a chance to change pace and really helped me to finish the day feeling good. For Jonny, the opposite. The last thing he needed was to be walking up hill any more and although it wasn’t far, it was enough.

We went into the pub, set up a tab, got our camping arrangements sorted, and had a large glass of Cola each. I just needed some sugar I think. We then went outside and pitched out tents before going back in to get some dinner. When we got inside we sat and had a pint, while we were there  the man who had advised me about blisters, the one leading the older group, he came up and had a chat with us. I think he thought that we would have given up long ago, I’m guessing he thought I’d be the one to jack it in and Jonny wouldn’t want to carry on by himself. He seemed very impressed that we had got as far as we had, especially with our injuries , past and present. We told him that tomorrow was going to be our last day, and how we planned to make it all the way to the sea. He felt the urge to buy us a round, such was his amazement at this fact, I think both Jonny and myself felt a little bit proud of our achievements, having earned the respect of a walker, a seasoned pro, who does this route several times a year. After dinner we made for an early night, the final days walk was approaching fast.

This was the day. Do or Die. If we didn’t make it to our target, Ingleby Cross, today, then we really had blown it. We had read in the spare time we had the night before, in the guide book, that the entire days walk was completely flat, in fact there were no contour lines on any of the maps, not out of omission, but simply because all day the ground was between such a small range of heights, that it never crossed a contour. For this reason it is suggested that people do a few extra miles who need to catch up, also it is suggested because Wainwright himself doesn’t like flat areas, not finding their beauty in the same way that he does the hills and mountains of the Lake District.

Anyway, by now you are probably getting used to the same start: hot day, left at half eight, made our way down a road until we could find a footpath. Same thing, different day. The weather, although still as sunny, was not as hot as it had been yesterday. We made good use of the cool breeze when it came and powered through the first few miles. Infact the first three miles were passed in less than an hour. This put us in a good frame of mind and we continued well for some time.

I must say that I disagree with Wainwright. Just because the natural scenery isn’t a thousand feet tall and covered in pointy boulders that can kill and maim, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. On a day like it was, it was lovely to walk through the fields with no distractions of scrambling over rocks, or clinging for dear life to an outcropping. Just to walk through the fields, listen to the birds, and the babbling rivers and brooks. Seeing the swifts fly past and the lambs skipping about; and not from a thousand feet up. right there in front of you. Butterflies dance past, bees scurry around in flower beds. You can see it all and it is just as nice, just as interesting and just as fun to walk through. I’m not saying that I don’t like the Lake’s; I do. Their breathtaking, wild, mysterious, and awe inspiring panoramas from the top of a high point literally take your breath away at times, I just don’t get why there wasn’t the room in Wainwright’s book to comment on the nice and pleasant parts of England, not just the aggressive.

We walked until lunchtime, along some lovely country roads and through fields which were all very nice. Until one got back at Jonny, as he was climbing over a style, his bag got caught on a fence post and jarred his shoulder. Now he had two bad shoulders. This was the start of things to come with Jonny, although I did not notice it at first. When we arrived at our lunchtime halt, Danby Wiske, and its village green pub; the white swan. We had a large drink in here because the sun was starting to get to us a bit now. Along with that we had some lunch. Sitting on the green out in the sun were several different characters which we had already met along the route. A father and daughter duo, we had met in Reeth, a troupe of cyclists, a man who was walking solo, and a couple of different groups of slightly less young groups, one of which had given me the blister packs the day before.

We carried on after about forty minutes. We could have stayed there all day, when not walking the weather is most agreeable, and sitting in the sun with a glass of ice cold cola was heavenly. I did feel a bit jealous of the father-daughter pair, who were staying in the pub that night. Nothing else to do but sit in the sun. Most of the others who were sitting on the green had all left by the time we decided to go. It was just gone two o’clock. Really there is not much to say about the next few miles; more sun, more fields, more heat. We passed through field after field of sheep and tractors and the like.

A bit later we passed trough one gate which was slightly disturbing, we knew it was coming, it was in the guide but still to find a gate adorned with skulls, rats and owls, even on the brightest and sunniest of days was slightly grim. I wondered what this place had to do with death, not one hundred yards further on I got my answer, this was where we had to cross a railway, no bridges, no tunnels, no footpaths. Just a gate on either side of the tracks, and this wasn’t some pokey little branch line either, this had plenty of traffic going up and down. What had this place to do with death? I asked myself, I had my answer. Of course I haven’t uploaded this blog via a seance so you realise both Jonny and myself managed to cross the tracks unscathed. When we got to the other side, Jonny commented on how weird it was to have a footpath crossing the railway in such a manner. We’re all taught at school that the railways are dangerous places and that we should stay clear, here we’re told to cross, with nothing to stop you tripping on the tracks, no warning lights and no aids. Just a sight saying “Stop, look and listen”. More of this feeling was to follow.

The path, we could see on the map, meandered up and down, for miles. From the railway to Ingleby Cross should only have been a few miles as the crow flies, but were were walking for many miles more than that. We were starting to grow a little weary, I was certainly. I knew that when we reached a large overhead power cable we were only a few miles away. When we did finally pass the cable, I secretly celebrated the landmark with a dextro tablet. This probably was all that kept me going until the next hurdle.

The next hurdle was the A19. A very busy dual carriageway, the main way in and out of Middlesbrough, and we had to cross it… at evening rush hour. It was around half past five. We had to pick our moment carefully and go for it, otherwise we would be waiting for a big gap in the traffic until it had gotten dark. Again, you must have realised that we’re not dead. We got across unscathed, well, mostly unscathed. Running across the road I jarred my knee, which was aggravating. From this side of the A19, we had only one small hill and about 15 minutes of walking to do. Here I’d like to be dramatic and say it felt like hours and it was torture, but it seamed to take about 15 minutes, and although I was bushed it hadn’t been any more difficult than any other day.

We arrived at the Blue Bell pub, where there were people sitting outside enjoying there beer. They recognised a fellow walker, and the usual encouraging well done’s were made before we went inside. We booked a table for dinner (it was steak night) and had a quick drink, before we went back to pitch out tent. Tent pitched we enjoyed a beer and a steak the likes of which I haven’t had for a long time (seriously, I had forgotten steak could be that good). During dinner we talked to the two gentlemen who were drinking their pints when we arrived, one of them had come all the way from Australia to do the Coast-to-Coast walk. He was saying how it is one the best things he had ever done. I think I have to agree with him. Like he said, “better than pissing away your money at a bar in Bali”. After they left we were joined by the man we had seen earlier that day at the White Swan, we talked with him for a while about walking in the Lake District, and fishing in Milton Keynes before we settled our bar bill and turned in for the night.

I genuinely thought that today we would make some headway in catching up with our target. We were still about half a days walk behind where we had planned to be. I thought, you see, that because we had no tent to pack away, and the facilities were better, and we’d have had a a better nights sleep, that we would get going a bit earlier and make better progress during the day. When the alarm went off the first thing that happened was the television went on. Instead of making a quick getaway in the early hours we instead sat and watched the weather report… twice. It was quite nice to see the penguins at the zoo in background of the report, not really helpful in getting ready though.

We did eventually get our act together and ended up leaving at about the same time as usual. It was probably the hottest day of the entire walk, there were no clouds at all that I could see and the sun was beating down with a lot of heat right from the get go.

Leaving Reeth, we walked along the side of the main road and soon took the side road for Marrick Priory. This was supposedly a quiet road, that lead only to a farm and an old building, now an educational centre. On the way down this road we were met by many other walkers, we had to move to the side to allow loads of traffic to pass, a heard of cows blocked the road for a while, and a group of squaddies marched through, putting all the walkers to shame. Quite a busy little road for something no more than about a mile long and a dead end.

At the end of the road, by the priory, a new path lead up hill. In the heat the hill was mercifully covered by trees. I was glad of a little bit of shade. The path lead to the top of the hill and the village of Marrick. Here the path levelled out a bit, it undulated, but wasn’t steep in any way. Both Jonny and myself made good progress here while the ground was soft underfoot.

As we walked along the path towards the next village, I found myself slowing down. It was not only the heat of the day, which was getting more and more intense as the morning sun moved towards its mid day high, but also the sweat was causing some rubbing, which was very irritating. Jonny stopped in the village of Marske and we had a break on the bench in the middle of the village. Another group of walkers passed us and made a joke about waiting for a bus and that we were cheating, we took it as the joke that it was meant to be, even though the Marske isn’t on a bus route.

When we set off again that is when the rubbing began to really take its toll. I think this was probably the slowest I walked throughout the trip. Jonny was having to wait for me to catch up so much that he probably spent more of his time waiting than he did walking. A further group of walkers passed us on a country road. They could see that I wasn’t really enjoying myself and asked it I was OK. I blamed my sorry face on blisters, not wanting to go into detail about the other intimate rubbing issues with old ladies. They were very kind and gave me a pack of blister patches. I now had the dilemma of stopping to put patches on in front of  these people, onto a blister that doesn’t exist. I said I would put the patches on when I got into Richmond. I said my thank-you’s to them and tried to show my appreciation but I could tell that their guide was not impressed. He strongly advised me again to sort my feet out NOW. After which, he, and his group left me alone to waddle on by myself (I say waddle because that is genuinely what I was reduced to).

We passed the group (with the insistent leader) while on the top of the last major hill before Richmond. They had stopped for some lunch, while Jonny and I had said we would have lunch in town, and then carry on, trying to get as far as we could on the other side of Richmond before nightfall. Inevitably, after they finished their food, the group now behind us, caught up again and passed in a small wood, which was nicely sheltered. Their leader let the group carry on while he had a private word with me, trying to tell me that I really should put the patches on. By now I had had enough, I realised that they were all trying to be nice and I just didn’t want to make a fuss about such matters, in the end though as it was just him there I said that the rubbing “wasn’t going on in my boots”. He got the hint straight away, he obviously has done a lot of walking and it has happened to him before in the past as well. He told me that there is nothing that can be done for that problem, gave me a good old fashioned “stiff upper lip” pep talk, and then walked ahead to catch up with his group.When I caught up with Jonny, he told me that the leader of the group had told him that “He had seen it so many times before. People giving in and not continuing with the walk, all because they didn’t use blister patches.” Of course he still didn’t know where my problems were. I can’t really blame him, he was only trying to give what would normally be good advice. As the day went on, clearly there was a bit of hillside gossip going on. At one point I was stopped by someone going the other way. “Are you the one with the blisters?” He asked. I confirmed the rumour, still not wanting to broadcast where my injuries were. The man then helpfully gave me directions to the Boots Chemist in town.

Once he had gone off ahead, I caught up with Jonny, who himself was slowing down a little now. We both walked into Richmond at about the same time. Here, we found a supermarket and filled up with supplies, I also got some sun cream, so I didn’t have to keep on borrowing Jonny’s (which was better than nothing but only factor 15, and my hands were going a sort of copper-bronze colour). After having some lunch (a packet of cola bottles for me), we carried on through Richmond and its wonderful olde worlde charming buildings. If I had had more time I would have said we should stay in Richmond for a day or two, explore the town and try a few of what looked like rather excellent pubs.

The road out of town meant climbing a hill, which we just couldn’t be bothered with. Once we had got to the top I knew I really just wanted to rest, let the rubbing heal up a bit. I suggested to Jonny that we take the next camp site that we could find. I think Jonny was beginning to feel the strain on his shoulders. We walked to Brompton-on-Swale, where there is a camping and caravanning park. We pitched our tent by the river, it was still fairly early. We just sat there for a while, before we did anything else. We were still near enough to Richmond and we sat on our phones, checking emails, calling people, sending txt messages. The novelty of having reception kept us busy for some time. Eventually, we made some food, had a wash, I sorted out my wounds as best I could and had an early night (and that’s early by the trip’s standards, probably wasn’t even half past eight!).