During our walking trips in 2005 (see Herriot Way journal), Rob and I had set ourselves a target of walking the Coast to Coast in 2006, we had even gone as far as to discuss rough dates. Rob had various commitments towards the end of the year and I was going to struggle to do it anytime other than early – mid 2006. In the end we plumped for late April and early May of 2006. The theory being to avoid the busiest period of June to August, but still try to get some good weather and get the benefit of the longer days. That time of the year is also littered with Bank Holidays so we could save some annual leave days from work into the bargain.
We were loathe to make any bookings until we had completed the Herriot Way which was scheduled for September 2005. I think we both silently knew that until we could be sure we were able to spend long periods of time in each others company, there was no point in making any further commitments. The timing wasn’t a problem though, we would still have loads of time to get our first choice of B&B’s or hostels.
At some point during the Herriot Way, one of us made a throw away comment (neither of us can remember who it was) about postponing the C2C until later in 2006, possibly around the September time (which is the same time of the year we were doing the Herriot Way in 2005). It soon transpired that Rob had taken this comment a bit more seriously than me, and by Christmas 2005 he was booked for a trip to Nigeria in early April, which would mean he wouldn’t be able to get time off work to do the C2C at the end of April.
I was left with two choices; reschedule the walk to some other time in the year, which was going to be next to impossible with my other family holiday commitments and my work schedule, or go alone. The thought of not doing the C2C in 2006 was simply not palatable to me, so I decided to use the window in my diary that had been created and do the walk anyway – on my own.
This was not an easy decision to make. Half the fun of the Herriot Way had been the companionship and banter we had enjoyed and the reassurance that when one of us was flagging the other was able to encourage and enthuse. However I rationalised that not doing the walk would be far worse than doing it alone, besides I have always been comfortable with my own company and I had now done hundreds of miles of walking on my own (albeit with my dog Meg as company). I then considered taking Meg along with me, but the logistical nightmare of looking after a dog for two weeks in B&B’s was not appealing and when it actually came down to making bookings I ended up with two or three stops where I could not find anywhere to take her.
We had always been a bit vague when talking about how many days we would take to do the C2C, we talked in terms of “two weeks”, but this oversimplifies the problem. I had recently changed jobs, my new employer only provided 20 days annual leave, compared to a possible 30 days from my previous employer. When you consider you need at least one week for the family holiday, a few days at Christmas and possibly one or two odd days here and there for other things, I wasn’t left with many days. I worked out I had 8 days annual leave to play with, if I included a Bank Holiday and two weekends I would have 13 days. I would need at least one day at the beginning to travel to St. Bees and overnight so that Sherpa had somewhere to collect the baggage from. That would mean 12 days actual walking, if I forsook the same luxury at the end of the walk.
Wainwright’s original walk was broken down into 12 stages, this seemed serendipitous and I planned my walk around his 12 stages, making the decision to use the exact stops suggested in his book as well. This does make for a particularly gruelling first three days and with hindsight I would probably have tried to find a way to scrounge an extra day from somewhere and break up the Rosthwaite to Patterdale section with a stop in Grasmere. I console myself with the thought that if I’m too knackered to do Helvellyn, it ain’t going anywhere and I’ll just go back one weekend and do it on its own.
It was now early January and I needed to start making bookings. I decided that now I was travelling alone I did not really fancy hostelling. The hostels on the HW had worked out great, sharing a room with a friend was fine and we had always ended up with a room to ourselves. Travelling alone this was going to be unlikely and I didn’t really want to share a room with strangers. The money side of using B&B’s wasn’t a problem and I made sure that I selected ones with drying rooms, as these had proven invaluable on the Herriot Way.
Using the Sherpa Van web site for accommodation suggestions I started sending e-mails to various places checking on availability. I started with the two most likely problem stopovers; Clay Bank Top and Keld. I got my first choice at the former location (Maltkiln House), but didn’t manage to repeat that success in Keld. I was hoping to find a room at Butt House with the (in)famous Mrs. Whitehead, but in the end found space at East View.
I then worked my way east from St. Bees, on many occasions getting my first choice, but often not being able to secure a single room and having to pay a single supplement in a twin or double room. Some of the rooms have the luxury of an en-suite bathroom. In the end my accommodation itinerary worked out as follows:
Day 0 – St. Bees, Stonehouse Farm
Day 1 – Ennerdale Bridge, Shepherds Arms Hotel
Day 2 – Rosthwaite, Gillercombe
Day 3 – Patterdale, White Lion Inn
Day 4 – Shap, Brookfield House
Day 5 – Kirkby Stephen, Old Croft House
Day 6 – Keld, East View
Day 7 – Reeth, Walpardo
Day 8 – Richmond, Willance House
Day 9 – Ingleby Cross, The Blue Bell
Day 10 – Clay Bank Top, Maltkiln House
Day 11 – Glaisdale, Greenhowe
Day 12 – Robin Hood’s Bay, no accommodation
Update (May 2012): Some of these guest houses are no longer in operation.
In all the whole process took about a week. Many people do not respond to e-mails, Maltkiln House being the best example of this, although a phone call worked straight away. I am being a bit harsh I suppose as many B&B’s are run by retired couples and many people of that generation are not as e-mail savvy as we younger ones. If I had phoned everyone though I would never have been able to keep track of who was who and what I had booked and what was a possible etc. etc.
I then looked at getting to St. Bees and getting back from Robin Hood’s Bay. I needed to be in St. Bees on the Saturday with my first day walking being the Sunday before the Spring Bank Holiday. My first thought was to ask my wife for a lift to the start and a pick up from the end, she agreed and that seemed sorted. After a few days though, she admitted that she was very worried about finding her way back from St. Bees after dropping me off, and finding RHB when collecting me. My wife is a great driver, she is confident and adept, but navigation is not one of her talents. Many are the times I have had a phone call from her, completely lost asking for directions back home, so she had a valid point. Scratch Plan A.
I then looked at trains, but as I am travelling on the Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend, services are severely restricted. I was going to have to get a train to Manchester, change there for a train to Preston(?), where I would then need to get a bus to Barrow-in-Furness (wasn’t that the bus station eaten by the Chewits monster?) and then another train to St. Bees. All in all a 6 hour journey, even if all the connections were successful. Scratch Plan B.
In the end I begged my very good friend and neighbour, Steve, to give me a lift to St. Bees and pick me up from RHB, thankfully he agreed. I now owe him big style. Good old Plan C.