Finding our feat.

It’s taken me almost 6 weeks to get down to writing a postscript blog post about our 18 day self-supported walk across Northern England in September; Wainwright’s coast-to-coast walk. It’s not that I’ve been really busy since being back, just that I have felt a bit “ugh”. A lingering, residual sense of restlessness, inability to focus or sit still long enough at my laptop to write this; a motivational issue that I put down to seasonal change – nights drawing in, the earth’s pungent smell making itself known on damp chilly mornings, the knowledge that summer is behind us and that winter is just ahead.

Well, until I read a chapter from an inspiring collection of women’s adventure writing where the words of Dr Kate Rawles reflecting on her incredible 8,288 mile Life Cycle project really resonated with me and made me stop reading as I realised: “Yes! This is EXACTLY how I’m feeling!” I wasn’t feeling the seasonal blues (though the night’s drawing in doesn’t help), I was grieving for life on the trail; the life-enhancing simplicity and gratitude of walking and camping every day. The straightforwardness of each day’s needs – being warm, dry and getting some shelter and food. Being constantly aware of the weather and movement of the sun whilst immersed in the sounds, touch and smells of a bigger, non-human world.

Upon returning from a year of cycling the length of South America on a bamboo bike (that she built herself I should add) and camping every night, carrying all her gear on her bike, Kate reflected:

“After that, to be back in a stationary house, with walls, the same house, night after night…After all that motion, to be suddenly stationary felt like a collision. Like hitting a wall. And in among the obviously wonderful connections with family and friends and landscapes and animals, the slow, inexorable, heart-breaking loss of gratitude. On the road, every mouthful of food, every glug of water is just fabulous. A good coffee is a miracle. Or a hot shower. Or clean clothes…I fought against taking these things for granted once I could have them whenever I liked. I tried to practise gratitude. But when you can have all these things and more multiple times a day it is hard, really hard, to retain that huge, life-enhancing sense of appreciation. Appreciation for the basic, good stuff of life and not wanting more than that – this is the secret to both happiness and sustainability. So simple and yet so tough to sustain off the bike, off the road, living in a more or less “normal” way in a “normal” Western culture, with rooms and wardrobes instead of panniers…There’s an easy sense of purpose and meaning on the road too, however illusory: each day is shaped by the need to find food and shelter and to get to wherever you are going. Life is both straightforward and vivid. There’s a feeling of being really, truly alive. And also, something harder to articulate: a strange sense, at least sometimes, of somehow tuning in with the overall ebb and flow of things. An intuition of other layers of reality. A feeling, sometimes, that you are in some other-world groove and that, so long as you stop trying to control and just go with it, everything will be just fine. And there is connection – connection with the ordinary extraordinariness of the world.”

These words really, really chimed with my own experience and what I had been mourning for, now that the C2C walk was behind me. It took Kate’s reflective words for me to be able to identify it within myself. I was grieving the end of living in “some other-world groove” where our days on the trail were “both straightforward and vivid”. The restlessness and beige feeling I was now experiencing upon being back home were almost inevitable.

I have subsequently signed up to the Long Distance Walkers Association as i met quite a few members on the C2C. I am curious, a tad amused and definitely excited, by the little-known world of long distance walking  (LDW), which my membership is opening up to me – well, it would have if the recent escalations in C-19 cases hadn’t shut down all organised LDWA walks.

It appears that walking 100 miles in 48 hours is a THING and one that people appear to do annually! Given that the next 100 mile Challenge is starting out from Chepstow in May 2021 (well, that’s the intention) and Chepstow really isn’t that far away from my house, I’m considering to try to qualify for entry. I have also been thumbing through my tried and trusted Cicerone guides. The Pennine Journey, Offa’s Dyke and Cumbria Way are long distance routes that have long interested me and Dave and we now have the confidence in ourselves as a little team to want to undertake a few more trails in the UK, as neither of us has any inclination to go overseas on holiday anytime soon… What do you think should be our next LDW? I’d love to receive some suggestions. Mind you, with an incredible 1,600 routes in the UK catalogued online by the LDWA, it might take a while to whittle down a few suggestions.

As a new member of the LDWA I received a curious pack that’s hinted at an endurance sub-culture I might find myself stepping into. There’s a member’s magazine aptly called ‘Strider’, although on many occasions on our walk I’d be pushed to say either Dave or I were striding! And there’s The Hill Walkers Register. I didn’t quite understand what this was initially, but I am amused to learn that this organisation keeps records of people who take it upon themselves to climb each and every peak over a certain height in the UK. There appears to be at least ten registers and certain names appear on a number of them, hinting at the addictive nature of mountaineering and long distance walking I suppose. Little did I know until flicking through the register that there’s the Deweys (hills at least 500m, but below 610m/2,000ft), the Wainwrights (214 Lake District fells over 2,000ft), the Corbetts (222 Scottish mountains between 2,500 and 3,00ft), the Munros (mountains in Scotland over 3,000ft), the Birketts, the Nuttalls, the Marilyns…the lists and registers go on to satisfy that curious breed of walker who is fixated on ‘peak bagging’. There’s even an international peak-bagging group that amusingly call themselves ‘Baggers without Borders’! Yep, like I said, I get the sense there’s a sprawling sub-culture where identifying as a ‘walker’, a ‘rambler’, a ‘mountaineer’ and a ‘hiker’ indicate quite different things and are loaded terms not to be banded about lightly in LDW circles.

However, when we set out quite apprehensively on foot from St Bees on the Cumbrian coastline edging the Irish Sea, we had no idea of all this. We were just walking. Admittedly, quite a long way for us; 192 miles, carrying all our gear with the intention of walking every day for 17 days with one stationary ‘rest day’ on the 9th day of setting out East. Whilst walking Wainwright’s route from the shores of the Irish Sea to the North Sea we walked through three national parks: the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. We fell in love with the distinctive landscape of Swaledale, although quickly tired of hoisting our 18 kilo rucksacks over the numerous narrow drystone styles. The vistas from the top of the North York Moors were expansive and welcome after living within the confines of a narrow city street, whilst despite the awful weather, the Lake District’s fells worked their magic on us and spurred us on with their majestic, awe-inspiring contours and moods. 2020 has been a year we could never have envisaged. It has been a tough year in so many ways bringing numerous losses, cancellations and disappointments, but as the adage goes, every cloud has its silver lining, and I would say, even though the year is not up yet, walking the C2C with my husband has been mine. I am profoundly grateful that we took the opportunity to go on a long walk and pushed ourselves to do so despite the challenges, doubts and fears. It was quietly epic and we are proud of ourselves for having done it. If all 2020 has given me is the opportunity to walk for 18 days across my motherland accompanied by my husband, then for that alone, I am full of gratitude.

Below is a photographic snapshot of our journey. I hope you enjoy the view!

Feeling a mixture of apprehension and excitement for the unknown at the official start in St. Bees. I look tired in this photo as I hadn’t slept well the night before, for worrying that I wasn’t prepared enough and panicking that I hadn’t packed some essential item. But, the good thing about being underway is that there’s nothing I could then do about it. It brought relief to simply start. One foot in front of the other.
Evidence that pies were quite a big deal to walkers on the trail!
First pitch of the trek having walked 15 miles from St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge (Cumbria). Sometimes we rough camped and sometimes we pitched in pub gardens (to access hot food) and on farms (to access a hot shower).
On our second night we had to find what shelter we could among some pines near Blacksail YHA and hunkered down for 16 hours due to fierce wind and rain. This is our camp the following morning. I am trying to dry off some of our clothing in the drizzle! On the left-handside you can see our tent pole is bent. We have no idea how it happened, only that it did and rendered the tent progressively more defunct over the coming days.
The rain clouds were with us throughout the first half of the trek, but occasionally showed their beauty.
I absolutely fell in love with the Upper Stonethwaite Valley – beautiful light on the fells.
Freedom on the fells
In my happy place striding along a majestic ridge with inspiring views.