We could walk no further

My intention was to write down some of the experiences we had on the Coast to Coast, to commit some memories to paper before they faded away. I wanted it to be an overview of some of the feelings we were left with and evidence of some of the incredible sights we saw. Inevitably I will have forgotten things, small beautiful moments mixed in with two weeks of small beautiful moments. The design of the Coast to Coast means constantly being on the move, never staying in one place, making it hard to recall every tiny memory. There are just too many to recount over a two week period.

I wrote this six days after we finished so the memories were already a few days old. However this time allowed for some reflection of what was to date our longest, most challenging adventure.

So where to start? I feel as if the end makes the best start and more importantly the feelings that followed after we’d finished. We made it to Robin Hoods Bay on the 15th of September 2016, both of us in some level of pain, hobbling down the steep hill that led to the sea and the end of the road. It’s an unusual feeling ending a goal you’ve had in mind for two weeks and have been planning for around two years. I woke up in our tent that final morning not to a feeling of elation or relief but one of sadness at the realisation that this had to end. We hiked to the sea in the mist, passing some of the faces we’d learnt to recognise over the last 15 days. At the start of the day we met someone new, someone who’d been travelling in the same direction as us but someone we’d failed to meet. Fittingly he’d done this kind of adventure before and in the last few hours of our hike our discussions turned to what adventure should now follow, perfectly anchoring this adventure to the next.

The people we met along the way will definitely be one of the defining features of this walk. Our adventures are usually achieved alone, the pair of us, sometimes accompanied by friends, drifting through a landscape, occasionally stopping for passing conversations with fellow walkers but never achieving recognition and an element of care and responsibility for the people we meet along the way. This was our first experience of long distance trails and the community that exists within them. Our conversations often turned to how Janet and the ‘Ladies’ were doing, or whether Keith was still on track, heading towards the sea. And the feeling went both ways. I got the feeling that rumour had spread amongst the humans heading East about the young couple carrying far to much gear and the guy with the sore knee. One brilliant moment saw a car pull up alongside us with a friendly Australian lady contained inside ‘Hows the knee? Do you want me to take your bags to the end?’. The rumour had gone round and this unlikely group had banded together to offer help. Another encounter happened after our longest day which was flat and tough on the feet. It was also a day that ended with a footpath that no longer existed, a dash over the A19, clambering through barbed wire fences and arriving at a particularly unfriendly caravan park. Whilst cooking our tea a lovely man named Sheridan approached with half a bottle of wine, 2 glasses and stories of past adventures he’d once enjoyed in a tent. We ended our evening swapping stories over a brandy in his motorhome, I’m not sure he knew but it was just what we needed to raise spirits and keep us on track. And finally I’d hate to forget the lovely Judith at Intake Farm who greeted us at our final camp spot like old family members with a cup of tea and slice of cake. Hearing everyone excitedly recount their own personal adventures acted as huge encouragement for two people, who more than once, were struggling to find their way across the country.

I think the main realisation I had when we returned was just how good it was for our brains to be aiming at such a simple task each day. Routine managed most of our daily tasks, get water, eat food, put up the tent, sleep, take down the tent. But our only real task each day was to head a little bit further East, slowly making our way to Robin Hoods Bay. When we got back our lives suddenly felt complicated, un-necessarily so. I think both of us craved some of the simplicity that we had just left behind. Time was also influenced, we paid little attention to the days, we paid more attention to daylight and trying to reach our end point before the sun disappeared. We often found ourselves shocked by how long it had taken us to get down from the mountains. And we started considering distance in a matter of days rather than the few hours it took to drive somewhere in a car.

And possibly the most important thing to note was the landscape, that beautiful varied landscape we passed through. It is a weird feeling to have spent 28 years on this island without getting to know it. I saw so much unfamiliar beauty so close to the place I grew up. It made me feel small to know that I’d only experienced a tiny strip, one long line of this island. I feel lucky to have experienced that strip of land and sad to realise that there is only so much you can see in one human lifetime. There is no way for me to express all the beautiful, truly awesome sights we saw. Those views of mountains towering over us as we made our way to the Black Sail Hut followed by that secluded valley surrounded by giants, every one of them littered with the tiny dots of people making their way to far off summits. The path that was a wall of rock, a stream and our route out of the valley. Even the cloudy days offered moments of inexpressible sights, like that tiny glimpse, a 3 second snap shot of the peaks near Kidsty Pike before they were enveloped in cloud once more. And it wasn’t just the Lakes that impressed, the edges of the Yorkshire Dales greeted us well, we watched as the different rock types changed across the country, noticing the difference in how streams carved out their routes through the landscape. There was intrigue created by the once occupied spaces of old mining settlements and beautiful days spent making our way through endless heather on the Yorkshire Moors. I wish everyone could experience this kind of beauty once in a lifetime, if only so we all took a little more care to protect this very special place in the universe.

To finish I wanted to make sure I noted down some extremely valuable lessons I learnt along the way…

Firstly I wanted to mention just how amazing my partner Curtis is (Curtis takes the place of the ‘we’ in this story). Before we left I really didn’t know if this experience would be good for us or be severely damaging. I thought I wanted to make my way across the country no matter what, it turns out I wanted to make my way across the country together. By the end of the 15 days I recognised the strength in our little two person team. Our amazing ability to support each other through those moments of doubt enabled us to find ourselves at the top of mountains, in the middle of nowhere and ultimately at Robin Hoods Bay.

The pull of an end point was unavoidable. It constantly amazed me how much your normal levels of pain can shift. On any ordinary day you would choose to put an end to the aches and pains but for whatever reason the pull of Robin Hoods Bay was greater. Base levels of pain, tiredness and normality shifted. You suddenly become conscious of what your body needs above all else. Normality becomes wearing socks and sandals because your feet hurt, eating peanut butter out of jar because you are hungry. Normality is wearing your underwear round a campsite because you need dry clothes. Doing anything that aids reaching Robin Hoods Bay and the end of the road.

It is completely necessary to have an end point in mind but also as a complete contradiction to sometimes ignore it and take each day at a time. I think we can both honestly say that this journey was much tougher than we expected, after the first few days I don’t think either of us thought we would reach the end. Our goals shifted from ‘that rock two meters away’ to ‘our campsite at the end of the day’ to ‘lets make it through the Lake District’ and eventually our ideas escalated to the possibility of actually finishing, with visions of fish and chips at the end.

Our two person team couldn’t have done it without the care and support of other people. The people we met. Our families who looked after us (and our cat) and our friends who offered us care, encouragement and occasional medical advice.

Rumours spread perfectly on the hills between a group of people all heading in the same direction, and the weather can change your mood in an instant.

And finally the end. Our path eventually came to an end with the road at Robin Hoods Bay rolling into the sea. We could walk no further. All that melancholy surrounding the end of our adventure suddenly feels like the start of something. That path ended at the sea but it feels like the start of many more paths we will be inspired to take.