The house is oddly quiet this week and next, since my husband Dave is off doing the famous (or should that be infamous?) Coast to Coast walk.
This is a marathon trek of around 190 miles from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. On route it takes in some spectacular scenery in not one but three separate national parks – the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. It also passes through some areas of surprising wilderness – surprising not least because they survive in this hectic twenty-first century. Most people do the walk from west to east, not least because the most challenging terrain is in the Lake District and it’s better to tackle it while you’re fresh, rather than at the end of a fortnight’s plodding when your legs are reduced to stumps and your feet are on fire!
The walk was the brainchild of Alfred Wainwright (more on him later) who devised it for one of his series of well-known guide books in 1973. At that time, the idea of walking between two such little-known places was unheard-of, but in the intervening forty years a thriving business has sprung up catering for the thousands of walkers who tackle the route every year. Busiest time, not surprisingly, is in late summer/early autumn, when the summer heat has died down a little but the nights are still long enough to make getting lost less of a problem. Believe me, stumbling around in the pitch-dark on Nine Standards Moor is enough to reduce strong men to tears.
So, who was this Alfred Wainwright? Well, originally just an ordinary bloke from an ordinary town in Lancashire, who took a day trip to Windermere in the Lake District and promptly fell in love. Not with a person, but with some of the most stunning scenery – mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciated valleys – in the country. Not long after, he sold up, took a poorly paid job in Kendal and moved to the area, and spent the next thirteen years climbing every hill and mountain by every available route (and a few that weren’t) and writing a series of guide books about the process. The books are special, because not only did he write them in his own unique, drily humorous style, but he also illustrated them with beautiful blackand white sketches and annotated maps. You can spend hours at a time flicking through the pages, poring over the routes up Helvellyn or Blencathra, and laughing at his occasional talking sheep.
We’re lucky enough to live within spitting distance of the railway station where Wainwright fist arrived in the Lake District, and within a 2-hour car journey of the start of the Coast to Coast walk. It’s been Dave’s ambition to tackle the walk ever since we moved to the area. He’s currently about a third of the way through, running out of useable feet, but enjoying every minute and every spectacular mile. And very grateful to Alfred Wainwright for coming up with the idea in the first place.