Coast to Coast 2006 – Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

This is the part of my journal that I wanted to use to total up the mileage and hours walked, height gained and all those other good stats that make for an impressive walk, but also to sum up my thoughts on the walk and what made it special to me. So the stats are at the end of the page and I don’t suppose anyone but my Mum will read those and go “Ooh that’s impressive!” Most people won’t even get that far I guess and to be honest I don’t blame you.

The first thing I must say is that I realise I hardly ever mentioned my wife and family during the journal, I guess this is mainly because the walk was about me and the C2C and not about them. This is unfair, because without their support, particularly the support of my wife, Chris, I could never have even begun to think about undertaking such a task. Nineteen years ago she met and later married a slightly chubby 15 stone guy, who then ballooned to approx 24 or 25 stone over the next 17 years. During this time Chris has gained no weight and she could still get into her wedding dress, if I could get through the loft trapdoor to retrieve it 🙂 She was in full support of my long term goal to train for and complete a LDP, as mentioned elsewhere this was originally going to be the Pennine Way, but was shifted to the C2C after discussions with Rob, my some-times walking partner.

It’s been a little over two months since I got home from the Coast to Coast and unlike other obsessions I have had over the years, which have quickly faded, my C2C crossing is still in the forefront of my mind and not a day has gone by that I have not given it some thought or other. I think it may be going a bit far to say it has had a profound effect on my life, but it has made a big impact on me and I’m not sure if it will ever wear off.

Maybe I would feel the same if the Pennine Way had been my first solo long distance path, or any other LDP for that matter, and perhaps the C2C is no different from any other long trek in that respect, but it happened to be the C2C and it will therefore always be that little bit more special in my mind.

It’s infected me, that’s for sure, as I’m now constantly thinking how I can wangle extra days holiday from work to meet the needs of my family holiday requirements with the wife and also to meet the need to go walking for two weeks at a time. I’ve started to think what changes I can make to my life to allow me to take two months off work and walk Land’s End to John O’Groats, other people manage it – why can’t I? Then I hear about the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail in the states and think, if I can get two months off, what about six? Walking is a cruel and demanding mistress!

Anyway back to the C2C.

Things I would change next time

The main thing I would change is the schedule. 12 days is about the right length of time, I reckon I could have done it in less, but then it wouldn’t have been as relaxing as it was. So what then, you ask, are you talking about? I’ll tell you. I would split my third day (Stonethwaite to Patterdale) into two days and stay overnight in Grasmere. The main reason for this would be to allow me to attempt the high level alternatives over Helvellyn or St. Sunday Crag.

By the time I reached Grisedale Tarn I was knackered. As it was the wind was blowing such a gale that I would have been daft to try and negotiate Striding Edge, but even if the weather had been perfect I was in no fit state to try and climb another thousand feet or so. Also, the additional 2 or 3 hours that would have been needed, would have pushed me to an excessively long day (for me at least). The stopover in Grasmere makes for two very short days, but does allow one to perhaps do a short ramble off-track elsewhere along the way or just recharge the batteries in town for the afternoon.

To make up for the extra day I have just spent in the Lakes I would ditch the stopover in Reeth and make the two day journey from Keld to Richmond in a single hop. This does make for a long day in terms of mileage (approximately 22 miles), but the route is not particularly challenging and is certainly not as strenuous as the route from Stonethwaite to Patterdale. My walking times bear this out; 8 hours and 7 minutes to complete Stonethwaite to Patterdale compared to a total of 7 hours and 47 minutes to complete the two legs from Keld to Richmond.

I also found Reeth to be one of my least favourite villages. I think there were more people per acre in Reeth than anywhere else along the route. The pubs were very busy, smoky and noisy, which is great if you’re after a good night out, but I found it all clashed a bit too much with what I was doing. I much preferred my last visit to Reeth which was during the Herriot Way, we spent about 20 minutes in the village on that occasion and I have fond memories of it (not least because Rob managed to find a public toilet in which to perform his daily bowel movement).

The other thing I would do differently next time is take more time over the walking sections. I spent a long time preparing for the C2C, I used all my walking trips over the weeks and months before the C2C as training walks. That generally involved pushing myself up hills, maintaining a good pace all the way round and keeping breaks to a minimum. Unfortunately this seems to have become my standard walking style, rather than just a training pace.

When it came to the C2C, I did it in the same style as all my training walks, completely subconsciously I hasten to add. It just seems to have become the way I walk now. It did mean though that I spent almost as much time in the pub as I did on the hills (again, not necessarily a bad thing), just not really what I intended for the walk. I don’t actually think I enjoyed the walk any less for this particular walking style, because at the end of the day, that’s the way I walk now. However, maybe I would have enjoyed it more by taking my time – who knows? I cast my mind back to Day 11 and passing an older gentleman by the side of the path near Glaisdale Rigg, making a brew and enjoying the sunshine, the cooling breeze, the bees buzzing around the wild flowers. He was relishing the experience and stretching the walking to fill the hours of the day, rather than rushing through the miles to get to his destination, which is sort of the way I was doing it. Maybe I can take something away from that experience?

Best bit and worst bit

I got this idea from Deirdre and I feel it helps focus the mind when you try to prioritise events in this way.

The worst bit for me was the 1/2 mile or so stretch along the hot, busy and slightly dangerous B1257 from Clay Bank Top to Maltkiln House. Normally one would not have to walk this route, but my selection of B&B forced this upon me. With hindsight I would have walked a little further along the C2C path and come down from Urra Moor to the back of Maltkiln House, rather than use the road. The problem is, on the map, the B1257 looks like a little country lane, it is far from this. It is obviously used by many local people, farms and small businesses as the main road into nearby Middlesbrough.

The other worst bit, albeit much shorter, was the crossing of the A1(M) just before Catterick Bridge on day 9, using the grotty, smelly underpass. It would be well worth the time and effort spent to find an alternative to this.

The best bit was everything else 🙂

Seriously though, its hard to put my finger on the overall best bit, there were so many fantastic places, so much beautiful scenery and so many great moments. If I had to pick one to relive again, I would currently choose the short section of walk from the top of Loft Beck. I was very lucky in that the cloud had lifted as I was climbing Loft Beck and when I got to the top I had splendid views across the Lakes.

I had despaired of being able to see anything when I started the climb, so my change in fortune has as much to do with picking this moment as the views I was rewarded with at the top.

Of course the Dales were brilliant. They still haven’t let me down, despite being rained on nearly all the way from Reeth to Richmond. The previous day from Keld was glorious sunshine and the walk from the foot of Nine Standards (the start of the Dales National Park) to Keld was just stunning, with the added benefit of great company in Gareth and Deirdre.

What next?

It’s taken me two months to decide what to do next, but I’ve made sketchy plans for the next two years now. It was originally going to be something magnificent like three weeks walking part of the AT or climbing up to Machu Pichu in Peru, but realistically these are going to have to go on the back burner until the kids are through University (do you know how much that’s going to cost me!!!).

I have also promised the wife I will take her away for a long luxurious holiday next year, so that’s at least two weeks and more likely three weeks of my four weeks annual leave eaten up. If I plan the next years walking holiday carefully I can utilise at least one Bank Holiday and two weekends, plus 5 days leave means 10 days max for walking. That eliminates a whole raft of LDP’s in the UK, but makes my selection process a little easier. As such I have decided to walk the West Highland Way in 2007. I’ve done no walking in Scotland (the land of my Father) and I’ve realised I’m missing out on some superb hills.

I have 1 day to travel up to Fort William, leave the car somewhere safe and get a train across to Glasgow, 7 days walking to Fort William, 1 day extra for Ben Nevis and then another day travelling back home, making a total of 10 days.

I’m also planning to do the WHW as lightweight as possible, maybe with an odd night camping in the middle but mainly using B&B’s. I realised that the size of my Sherpa transported bag was a little over the top for the C2C and there was loads of stuff I took with me that I never used, I want to use the WHW as a proving ground for my proposed expedition in 2008. I have completed the C2C across England, I now want to do it across Scotland and I hope to use the TGO Challenge in 2008 to achieve this.

My enthusiasm and constant “I had a great time on the C2C” speeches to friends have gained me a possible two companions for the WHW next year. Rob is keen to get back on the hills after a long break from them and my occasional recent walking companion Mike is also keen to get a LDP under his belt. So maybe this is the end for Lone Walker?