After any significant adventure, I like to gather and publish my thoughts a few days after it is finished. Such a reflective post can help others plan something similar while also helping with my pondering of “what next?” In this reflection, Dean and Tracy also make insightful contributions!
Wainwright’s 1973 publication described the walk as a long-distance expedition from one coast of England to the other, through some of the grandest territory in the country. He encouraged flexibility in both duration and route as the participants saw fit. The intent is to enjoy the magnificent scenery. Since Wainwright’s publication, many thousands have pursued the idea of traveling from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. The fastest hiking time is less than two days, and cyclists traverse the country in less than a day. Others might plan a crossing on foot but take a vehicular shuttle (bus, taxi) daily due to injury and focus on enjoying their journey and destinations differently. We planned to walk the 192 miles over 16 days which averages 12 miles daily.
Team Sloth was a group of six consisting of my family of four and our dear friends Dean and Tracy. The adults were in their fifties, and the two children were in their late teens. However, the hiking experience ranged significantly. Samuel and I had already completed several multi-day mountainous backpacking trips and did not expect to have any issues. The other four had only previously done day hikes of less than 10 miles. The adults did various training preparations while the kids were already active and working out for other reasons. We gave ourselves the name “Team Sloth” to emphasize that the trek was not a race, with the slogan “we will get there when we get there.” I also love Priscilla the sloth in Zootopia!
Wainwright writes that any endeavour should have a definite objective, with his book’s being to get to Robin Hood’s Bay. We shared that objective, but when my barber asked me why I was doing it halfway through the walk, I could not articulate an answer. Can’t you just drive to the destination and avoid the pain? Reasons include a sense of accomplishment, adventure, beautiful scenery, the challenge, fitness and well-being, and visiting new places. Each of us had these reasons in different amounts. In addition, a common thread was experiencing many facets of God’s wonderful creation. I had the additional challenges of leading this team, capturing it in photographs, and describing it compellingly in my blog. It is wise to understand one’s reasons and those of one’s companions. For example, Bailey’s priority was walking every step from the west to the east coast. However, Dean and Tracy were more interested in seeing a new country and enjoying the experiences. The differences in “why” are reflected when hikers share their best parts of the journey, varying from the greatest challenge to the most leisurely day.
This question has two answers. The first is planning and preparation. There are multiple ways to tackle this adventure: B&Bs or camping, completely independent or guided, a duration of between 10 and 18 days, typically west-east. These options make it viable for a broad range of budgets, capabilities, and preferences. The overwhelming attraction for me was that we could complete an extended hiking adventure as a family, as Bailey and Janet do not wish to camp. Road proximity provides easy contingency planning for any day when a hiker cannot hike. We selected an 18-day, self-guided package with Packhorse, who booked all of the B&B accommodation and transferred our luggage. I arranged all other travel and hotels. Experience with public transportation in England helps one work around issues like a rail strike. I also pre-booked each evening’s dinner, as the challenges of finding a meal for six in these small towns have been compounded both by covid and the supply crisis. In addition to the logistics, I advised what to pack. We decided to fit everything into a carry-on bag, with our daypack as our “personal item” for the plane. The controlled amount of clothing helped with the daily packing/repacking. We had to check one bag with our hiking poles and pocket knives. Finally, there was the personal fitness preparation. This was different for each person, the most effective being Janet’s daily walking multiple flights of stairs. The adults undertook two training weekends, each with two 10-15-mile day hikes. Our challenge was finding hills in Houston. Nevertheless, these were valuable to expose gear issues, and any hardships helped the team start to bond. These weekends fed the excitement as we could tell we would have much fun together.
The second answer is about how it went. The Ireland family was able to follow the plan, hiking each day. The adults selected the low routes, even working out their own “lower” when motivated. Samuel always took the high route and was joined by Bailey except in the Lake District. The high routes in the Lakes are not to be taken lightly. Even though he was experienced, Samuel learned his vulnerability when the weather worsened during his solo ascent along the High Stile ridge, though he had perfect weather for Helvellyn and Striding Edge. When Samuel was fighting the elements on High Stile, the rest of us had our own battle ascending Loft Beck. The team’s resolve was tremendous in getting over the mountain, but the alternative of turning around was most unwelcoming. We compared it to Maria and the von Trapps fleeing the Nazis in the Sound of Music. However, such days have psychological and physical impacts. A combination of blisters, toe joint pain, knee pain, and fear of falling caused Dean and Tracy to skip a few days, but their accomplishment of 60-70% of the trail remains impressive. The logistical flexibility of the path allowed buses or taxis to that night’s B&B, though the lodging is so fully booked that changing accommodation is impossible. Finally, the trail is often not well marked. We relied heavily on the FarOut and OSMap apps, where plans and maps can be downloaded for use offline. (The OSMap is the best UK topographical map, but knowledge of its symbols is invaluable.) With such maps, one does not get lost, but one does realize that one is not where one wants to be! We veered off-track a few times but never significantly. These two apps complement each other nicely. I admit I carry a paper map and compass on every trek but have not used them out of necessity for a long time. I ensure I have a battery charger for my phone and have the apps and maps loaded on someone else’s phone. As Samuel discovered on High Stile, even waterproof phones are difficult to use in the worst conditions. Still, I don’t think a paper map would be any better!
I was delighted that everyone felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. However, I had to recognize how Bailey’s goal differed from Tracy’s, and everyone needs to “hike their own hike.” For preparation, nothing beats experience followed by guidance from first-hand experience. I learned much about how to guide others and have much more to learn. First-hand experience applies to everything from footwear selection to loading the daypack to treating blisters. Thorough preparation paid off and led to smooth and enjoyable crossings, even with the challenges. While each of us is glad we did it, we agree it was longer than we prefer. Even with a couple of rest days, the relentless sequence of long hiking days with a quick turnaround at B&Bs wears one down. Samuel thinks 10 days is his sweet spot, and Janet suggests a max of 10 miles a day. We all would have loved the flexibility in choosing to stay in a place longer or varying the hike length on the day.
Why did we do this and what are our takeaways? Like Peter’s conversation at the barber shop, I’ve been trying to articulate the WHY. Why did we agree to join Peter, Janet, Bailey and Samuel on a hiking trip of nearly 200 miles over 3 weeks in another country? My best answer is, they invited us, and we like hanging out with them. We’re part of a 3-family friend group—we call ourselves ftaf (friends that are family)—including us, the Irelands, and the Semses: the Semses are the cool ones, the Irelands are the adventurous ones, and Tracy and I elbowed our way in we’re not sure how—plus we’re funny.)
Tracy and I celebrated our 30th Wedding Anniversary during the trek. We could’ve gone to Italy to eat pizza and drink wine, or (perhaps even better) stayed home and watched TV, but we decided to do this instead. To be fair, we agreed nearly 12 months before, and once we paid, there was no backing out. It was hard. More up than we anticipated, and the wind and rain of the first 3 days made us wonder how we could possibly do this for the next 15! But as difficult as the ups were, I think the downs may have been harder at least to these 55 year old knees. It was hot at times. It was really cold at times. We crossed brooks/streams/rivers and navigated bogs. The terrain was at times challenging with rocks, walls, cliffs and the like. We climbed up a waterfall people. Tracy developed a few blisters, I dealt with a toe issue, we both suffered a few falls and there was a face plant (I won’t say who, Tracy) and an injured knee. Oh—and our fair share of damaged dignity!
But here’s why it was all worth it: first, we proved to ourselves that we had the drive to go forward even when it was difficult; second, it was beautiful. God is an incredible artist, and if we hadn’t done this, we would’ve missed seeing the magnificent Irish Sea, the centuries old buildings, the animals—more sheep than we could count—we saw OREO cows!—the sky, the clouds, the wheat fields, the farmland, the history, the dells, the moors, all the way to the powerful North Sea; and finally, now that we did something challenging, our next holiday can include a beach and a chair. [Side note: we will hike again, but maybe a few miles at a time and only for a few days at a time, but we’ll need a few days off first.] While Tracy and I didn’t make every step of the hike, we did walk more than 150 miles of it—and we’re rather proud of ourselves for that!—we started at the Irish Sea and ended at the North Sea, and thus we will forever claim we completed the C2C!
I knew this trip was going to be beautiful and I wanted to see it in person with my own two eyes. What I didn’t know was how hard it was going to be or how rewarding it would be. I did things I have never done before … climbed a fell. Did it. Crossed a river. Did it. Climbed a waterfall. Did it. Fall in a bog. Yup … did that too. I turned around so many times and said out loud “I did that!”
I came home with a new perspective on many things. First, and probably the most obvious … I CAN do hard things. Secondly, while I can DO hard things, it is easier to have help. And my independent self needed to live that for 3 weeks … our group of 6 was truly a team. We encouraged, helped and sometimes just walked beside each other quietly while we were feeling all the things. I’m so thankful for my crew … the half who were with us and the other half cheering for us in the states. And finally, take the trip. You may question yourself a thousand times in the middle of it, but in the end you will truly say it was worth it … and even fun.
We loved our time in England. What made it so special were the people. Kindness abounds … you just have to stop and look people in the eye and you will find it.
I have evolved my recordkeeping on previous adventures, balancing camera equipment with photo quality, capturing raw feelings “in the field,” and the time to publish on social media and a memory book on return. Anything written on the same day is so much more meaningful. I started to post using a WordPress blog, as it gives greater control and access compared to the mainstream social media platforms, though it has annoying quirks. For this trip, I wanted to take photos with both my phone and drone, edit and enhance them, and publish daily using just my iPhone. The pressure to perform rose considerably when Tracy and Janet told all of their friends to subscribe, increasing my followers from 14 to over 100, with many more accessing via Facebook and Instagram. My site received 651 views from 274 visitors on 30th June, with the post of our Patterdale to Shap journey alone getting 359 views in total. Janet’s friend in Australia shared how she’d get up before 4am each morning to read, and strangers would share encouraging comments or compliment Bailey’s styles. Another friend shared how he read the blog to his family at dinner each night. Knowing that people from 46 countries were following our journey helped motivate me to publish each night through preparation and practice before the trip enabled it. To cap it all, I have a tremendous real-time record of our daily adventures. The blog made it easier to create a memory book (I use Shutterfly); while it remains a bunch of work, I love to have the memory in print.
Janet and I had Land’s End to John O’Groats on our list for the future, which is about 1000 miles covering the length of Britain. The Coast to Coast showed us that we would have more fun being selective where and when we hiked. So maybe we will drive it over an extended period, with lots of day hikes along the way. We must investigate other routes such as the Cumbria Way, West Highland Way, or the Caminos in Europe. I also have to plan my next adventure with Samuel. For our expeditions, I need to find a sweet spot that presents a new challenge without pushing us too far. We have loved camping in the Lake District, Colorado, Big Bend, and the Grand Canyon, though a winter scout camp in Minnesota with temperatures about -30 was too much for both of us. When it is that cold, whether the -30 is Fahrenheit or Celsius is the least of your concerns! I’ve briefly looked at the Tahoe Trail or the Wind River Range and have considered a trek around all of the 214 Wainwrights. Recent suggestions include the three or five peak challenges in the UK or the Haute Route in France. The initial plan for next summer was to go to New Zealand, but we fear July will be suboptimal. Now the Coast to Coast is completed, may the research and planning begin!
This page is linked to from my England’s Coast to Coast home page.
Thank you for following us on this journey and for sharing your encouragement!
One thought on “Reflections on the Coast to Coast”
We loved armchair travel with you each day. The pictures and narrative were outstanding. We loved seeing the daily fashion. What an incredible adventure and accomplishment. Thanks for blogging.
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