England, The Coast to Coast Walk, 1999

The Coast to Coast Walk

Our first long distance footpath in the United Kingdom, Paul and I succeeded in walking all 192 miles from St Bees in the Lake District on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea.

It was an amazing accomplishment, hard days pounding the trail but passing stunning landscapes through three spectacular National Parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. Each dramatic and unique in character, offering new challenges each day.

Despite the physical effort, it was largely a meditative experience for me. We quickly fell into a simple routine of eat–walksleep, with satisfying conversation with Paul and other ramblers, and ample time for quiet thought. Each day my mind grew calmer, my body strengthening, and my senses consumed with sunlight and clouds, the colors of farms and fells, smells and sounds of everything we passed.

We quickly developed a community with other walkers: a group of strapping Belgian soldiers on holiday leave equipped with massive packs and GPS gear; the two chatty retired schoolteachers who somehow always managed to beat us to every tea shop and over-night village but barely seemed to exert themselves; the group of old pals, one of whom always exclaimed “crackers!” (as in the English Christmas crackers which make a firecracker sound when pulled); the young vegan university gals from Essex (which they jokingly referred to as “Es-SEX” due to its unfavorable reputation in Britain) who ate only rice and chips (refusing even pub ale which purportedly contains fish-based emulsifiers). The other walkers were an assortment of all types, itinerants with different motivations and stories; we found ourselves among fast friends. The evening conversations in the pubs were always a highlight of our day.

Exhausted yet exhilarated, we arrived with blistered feet and sore legs at the North Sea 11 days after leaving the Irish Sea, faster than the suggested 14 days. Next time we will take more time, the fine market towns of Richmond and Reeth deserve more attention, and a couple days of padding to recover our strength and break up the daily rigors of foot travel. It was an incredible learning experience and an achievement we were eager to repeat. Fortunately the United Kingdom is rife with footpaths, we have endless choices in front of us.

I still remember the disorienting feeling of riding a bus leaving Robin Hood’s Bay, how quick and easy powered transport is! After 12 days riding my own two feet, I was ready to sit back and let the countryside slip by effortlessly as we made our way to London.

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