England's Coast-to-Coast Walk, Days 5-13; July 19-27, 2015

Around 5:00 PM on our 13th day of hiking we arrived in good shape at Robin Hood's Bay, completing the 190 mile Coast-to-Coast walk with a few extensions. If there's a single word to capture the walk, it's variety: variety in scenery, terrain, difficulty, weather, navigation, local people, other walkers, B&Bs, food, you name it.

The previous travelogue left off in the Lake District, the only part of the walk that's truly mountainous. But the Yorkshire Dales were no less beautiful (photos 1 & 2): green rolling hills, deep valleys, rivers, old stone walls and buildings, remote farms -- James Heriot country, for those familiar with his books. The last few days crossed the North York Moors (photo 3): heather-covered hills with miles (and miles!) of vast open expanses punctuated by centuries-old "boundary stones" and a smattering of sheep. The walk finished on bluffs along the coast (photo 4), just as it started, culminating with the ceremonial toe-dipping in the North Sea (photo 5). By tradition we also carried pebbles from St. Bees to deposit in Robin Hood's Bay, although Jennifer managed to lose hers along the way.

The difficulty of the walk depends to a large extent on how quickly one aims to complete it and how many side-trips one takes, although it's not an easy undertaking in any circumstance. Our guidebook says their most common complaint -- particularly from North Americans as it happens -- is that the book doesn't emphasize enough just how tough the walk can be. Although much of the terrain was considerably milder than treks we've done in the world's major mountain ranges, the daily distances put it in the same category of overall strenuousness. On the other hand, arriving at a town or B&B each night puts it in a different category altogether in terms of comfort (photo 6).

We couldn't come up with a single favorite walking day -- so many days were interesting or spectacular in their own way. It's hard to compare the precipitous ridges of the Lake District (previous travelogue) against the mysterious mist-covered Nine Standards in the Yorkshire Dales (photo 7), even with the four miles of boot-eating peat bog that followed. We do concur on our least favorite day: 23+ miles crossing flat farmland from the eastern foot of the Pennines to the western end of the North York Moors, skirting animal pens, crossing endless barley fields (photo 8), and walking along roads from dirt lanes to near-highways. It's the price we pay for insisting on crossing the entire country. Crossing the country also inevitably meant crossing a couple of major north-south motorways and railway lines (photos 9 and 10).

Weather-wise we were relatively lucky. Although many days were cloudy and some downright gray, we didn't have a great deal of heavy rain while we were walking. Clear blue skies were few, but Coast-to-Coast tales of endless soaking storms suggest we should be happy enough with our fate.

The towns we stayed in varied from the attractive "metropolis" of Richmond (population 8000, photo 11) to Keld -- just a small cluster of buildings on a hillside (population about 50). Our accommodations were equally varied, although nearly all had welcoming proprietors, comfortable rooms, and lavish breakfasts. With just a few exceptions the food was quite good, even in the pubs -- Britain is making real progress in modernizing its culinary offerings. At one B&B that's been hosting Coast-to-Coast walkers for 40 years, the proprietress showed us where Alfred Wainwright himself had signed the guestbook. (For those of you who didn't memorize the first travelogue, it was Wainwright's book that created and popularized the Coast-to-Coast route.)

One of the nicest features of the Coast-to-Coast is toasting the day's walk with newly made friends at a pub in the evening. There were a number of walkers keeping pace with us, though over time some pulled ahead and others fell behind. A frequent companion on the first half of the walk was a friendly outgoing writer Alex, whom we met at our very first lunch stop. One way or another Alex seemed to know everything about everyone making their way along the trail. Photo 12 shows the two Alex's conferring with a Polish friend on navigation (which turned out to be a constant challenge). On the second half we fell in with an "odd couple" trio of men: Brian in his 40's, his retired boss Graeme, and John who looked 60 but at a whopping 76 was moving along the trail as fast as anyone. When John isn't long-distance hiking he's a "dance host" on cruise ships. Photo 13 shows the six of us at the last B&B before our schedules diverged. Although males somewhat outnumbered females on the trail, we also befriended couples and other families, and there were a few women in pairs or on their own.

Emily kept up her training, running every day except the 20-mile final pull to Robin Hood's Bay, which fortuitously coincided with a "rest" day in her training plan. On shorter hiking days (under 15 miles) she ran before we started walking, while on longer ones she would run a portion of the route and meet us. One day she was departing for an early morning run when she managed to lock herself into a bathroom hallway at the pub where we were staying. Not excited about waiting an hour for the pub to open, she crawled out a small window and shimmied ten feet down a drainpipe into a farmer's field. When she later provided an on-site tour of her escapade, we pointed out the un-alarmed fire exit at the end of the hallway. Oops.

Finally we have to give credit to Sherpa Van, who seamlessly and invisibly made our luggage appear at each evening's B&B. There's no question that the Coast-to-Coast is comfortable trekking at its finest, highly recommended.

Next: We meet up with Tim in Edinburgh, then enjoy just over a week exploring the Scottish Highlands.

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