In May 2017 I hiked the Offa’s Dyke route from Prestatyn in north Wales to Chepstow down in the south. It was a hard old slog carrying all my kit and free camping along the way, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the blisters and sore feet and vowed to do another walk in England one day.
So, in May 2018 I flew back to the UK and was lucky to enjoy some bright and sunny weather as I yomped the “Coast to Coast” that stretches from the west coast of the Lake District (St. Bees) to the east coast (Robin Hood’s Bay), crossing the Lakes, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors.
Traveling on the slowest train in the world, I arrived in St Bees at about 5 pm, and had 16 miles of hiking ahead of me across farmlands in pleasant evening sunshine to get to my first camp at the Fox and Hounds at Ennerdale Bridge… and the first of several steak and ale pies.
I was using my new Tarptent Moment DW single man tent and a Hyke and Byke Eolus 800 goose down fill sleeping bag I ordered from the USA to keep weight to a minimum. I suffered somewhat on the Offa’s Dyke and I made a concerted effort to reduce backpack weight by 10 Kgs.
Later on when absolutely howling and pretty chilly up in the North Yorkshire Moors I used a silk bag liner for extra warmth, but for now I was comfortable.
The next day I was up at 5.00 am, partly because of the time difference between the UK and Hong Kong, and partly because it was already light. By 6.00 am I was packed up, looking east, and heading towards Ennerdale Water.
I planned to walk 23 miles across the hills and valleys to Grasmere… and I did… including an extra 3 miles up and down the roller coaster ridge route, as recommended by a local hiker who told me, “the view is better”.
Possibly. My feet thought otherwise.
Although it was the second day, I had been hiking for less than 24 hours and had made about 37 miles when I came across a spartan and remote youth hostel called, “Blacksail”. It was being managed by two young people and I was able to buy a hot coffee and a piece of shortcake. Just before leaving I double checked on directions ahead as my friend Kieran Hale (former RHKP and keen hiker) said that at this point it was easy to walk off on the wrong trail. (Thanks for all the tips and advise, Kieran).
I took the less obvious left hand path and started a climb, not dissimilar to climbing Sunset Peak on Lantau Island where I live, possibly not as high, perhaps 600-700 meters, and much cooler, with the Hong Kong snakes and kites replaced by English sheep and buzzards.
As I was climbing I bumped into a hardy looking fellow dressed in old style hiking kit with a face that had been exposed to Cumbrian wind and rain, rather than computer monitors and fluorescent lighting. As I approached him he was laughing and cackling and pointing up the hill to a solitary figure that was making hard work of lugging a mountain bike up the steep path.
He couldn’t help himself laughing, but also expressed concern the “idiot” was going to kill himself. ‘Keep an eye on that one… he’s got lost… thinks this is a bridle path’.
I consulted my map, and in fairness it did say “bridle path” further back. I assume the bridle belongs to a mule or a donkey!
he continued,’He is in even more trouble when he gets to the top…its just bog for miles and miles…no way he can ride the bike’.
I caught up with the chap dressed in finest black lycra and lugging the sort of bicycle you would buy in a supermarket, certainly not one of those expensive downhill jobs I see in Mui Wo.
He was in a right state, huffing and puffing, and had obviously rehearsed the, ‘Don’t laugh’, when he greeted me.
I walked with him for a while until we got to the top and really felt sorry for him when it was clear that the top of the mountain was indeed deep and very soggy “bog”. Bog and nothing but peat bog for miles. Fair play to him, he struggled on, navigating streams and occasionally going knee deep into pools of black peat bog and hauling his machine out covered in mud.
I had been told by the “local” chap earlier on that the valley walk to Grasmere was very wet and that if I had time I should continue along the ridge route, which I did, and which at the end of 20 odd miles of hiking I could have done without. It was like a roller coast, up and down steep climbs, with Grasmere in the distance seemingly getting further and further away.
Anyway, I eventually reached the end of the ridge in the early evening and scrambled down the steep scree path into Grasmere, which I instantly took a dislike to. Far to touristy for me, but I needed something to eat and headed for a pub for beer and pub nosh.
Lamb shank and a pint of local bitter after a day of hiking…. glorious.
After dinner, it started to drizzle and so I hiked out of Grasmere and headed for the hills where I found myself a free campsite next to a sheep hut half way up the mountain.
It rained and howled all night, but by 7.00 am it was blue, sunny, crisp and as I was packing up my tent I could see the first of the B&B hikers with their day packs starting out along the C2C route.
I caught up with a gaggle of hikers and exchanged pleasantries. Surprisingly, there were many Americans and Australians doing the hike. It seems the coast to coast is a lot more famous than the Offa’s Dyke hike. Why? No idea. I can safety say having now completed both that they are superb hikes of pretty much the same length and difficulty. I was, however, better equipped for the coast to coast and carrying about 10 kilograms less kit and that made a difference.
The majority of hikers I encountered were middle aged, completing just a few sections at a time, or were hopping from Bed & Breakfast to another, with a transport company carrying all their possessions. Like the Offa’s Dyke, some were even transported to the start of the section each day. Most were taking it very seriously indeed and had planned ahead for many months.
I was walking a lot further than most of my fellow hikers each day, mainly because I started earlier and carried on walking into the evening, whereas most hikers finished about 4 – 5.00 pm at a designated pub or bed & breakfast.
I normally stopped walking about 9.00 pm and pitched my tent on any flat dry grass, although on occasion I stopped earlier if I wanted to pitch the tent in the pub beer garden or adjacent field. I always had two pints of bitter with my evening meal, which was usually pub food, although in the remote areas I cooked up and ate whatever I had in the rucksack, usually noodles or sandwiches, fruit and nuts. I tried to avoid sweets and chocolate this time, as I find it too sweet.
The beer was the best food, surprisingly, as it not only re hydrated me, good real ale is full of vitamins and minerals and helps digestion after a long day.
Whilst drinking and eating in the pubs with the other hikers it was clear to them from my back pack that I was a solo free camper and many would ask where I had started, where I was going, where I came from, what I did for a living, my plans?
Those who know me, know these are not easy questions to answer.
A rambling answer, if I could be bothered and in the mood would include Hong Kong, South Africa, Shanghai, England, Staffordshire, Bournemouth, Royal Hong Kong Police, China, investigation, security, global adventuring, motorcycling, paragliding, etc. I think most think I am making it all up.
What was abundantly clear to me, though, was that most people I met lead really boring lives. That’s for sure.
Around midday I would normally take a 20-30 minutes break in a picturesque spot with a stream, get a brew on, eat some fruit, nuts, noodles or a village post office sandwich, enjoy all the wildlife and watch the world go by.
The joy of this hike has been the total immersion in “nature”. Birds, insects, wild animals, domestic creatures, and especially butterflies. I loved them all.
Humans? With too few exceptions a big disappointment. My only amusement with my fellow humans is to press their buttons and see how they react. This usually results in them getting extremely pissed off.
The natural beauty of the English countryside is remarkable. All too often I would stumble as I gazed around me at the scenery and wildlife. I was lucky to see fox cubs peering out of their den, lapwings arching and swooping above the moorlands, grayling swimming in a crystal clear steams, and soaring buzzards.
I pushed on through to Gelridding and Patterdale and up into the hills again. I was navigating using a dedicated strip map that did not have as much detail as an OS map, but much lighter, and if you concentrate and read it correctly, more than good enough.
The Coast to Coast is not as well sign posted as the Offa’s Dyke that has the “acorn” symbol at nearly every junction and stile. As such, I made mistakes, or perhaps wasn’t paying attention, and doing so led to my biggest diversion off the C2C route, but a diversion I would gladly do again because it led me to a beautiful valley where I pitched my tent in total isolation (except for the werewolves and goblins).
Having got myself back on track I had a long hike ahead of me across classic Lake District highlands, across valleys, rivers, streams and along the shoreline of lakes towards Shap and Kirkby Steven that marked the end of the Lake District, and the start of the second phase of the coast to coast across the Yorkshire Dales.
The weather was pretty much perfect for hiking. My feet, which always let me down on long distance hikes due to being the wrong shape for a human being, had settled into an almost tolerable level of pain. I got in the habit of taking off my boots at lunch, soaking them in the streams and lakes, and taping up the blisters, or where blisters were starting to form around the toes and heel.
I was delighted to come across “honesty boxes” full of soft drinks, beer, sweets and cakes, that were very welcome.
The Yorkshire Dales was my favourite part of the Coast to Coast hike. Why? I guess I have traveled all around the world and seen many mountainous places (Tibet, Alps, Himalayas, Pyrenees, US Rockies, Lesotho, Table Mountain, Sunset Peak, Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya etc). I have also been to and hiked through the Lake District many times and so, as beautiful as they are, there was nothing really surprising.
The Yorkshire Dales, however were superb. I guess because they are so quintessentially English. Rolling green hills, secret blue bell woods, butterflies and birds, babbling crystal clear streams, and chocolate box “pretty” villages. I was also blessed with glorious weather and that made all the difference. It was very enjoyable indeed.
The North Yorkshire Moors? What can I say? Cold, blowy, damp and I wasn’t feeling that great as I developed a chest infection. Visibility was poor, but I did see an amusing red grouse chasing me and making funny noises… and I shall remember that more than anything.
However, there was a big dampener put on the whole hike when I reached Robin Hood’s Bay. I should have been celebrating, but I was presented with an unnecessary logistical headache when I should have been preparing for Croatia and Sicily and getting early medical attention for a chest infection.
I called Fanny on Facetime on my iPhone. I knew she was super busy with work projects and a bit stressed out, but wanted to let her know I had completed the hike in nine days and my plans for the next few days.
She said, in her nonplussed way (sic), ‘ There is no colour ink in the printer ….. and your brother called me and said Marie (his wife) doesn’t want you to stay at their house any more’ !!!!
Huh? No ink in the printer?
And what am I supposed to have done now?
During the few days in Dorset I had tiptoed around their house like I was on egg shells, carefully cleaning up after myself, paying for everything, and being on my very best behaviour.
‘You antagonized her, and you can’t stay anymore… I don’t want to get involved…. how come the printer ink is only black and white?’
I was seriously perplexed. Antagonized?
‘Apparently you said English women are ugly’, Fanny added
‘ I have said English women are ugly for over 35 years… ‘
Fanny continued, ‘ I have to get the visa stuff done, I’ll talk to you later, take care, don’t cause anymore trouble’, and then she hung up.
As I was sitting having my celebratory pints of Wainwright ale in the Bay Hotel in Robin Hood’s Bay I was racking my brain to:
1) actually remember saying anything about fat ugly English women (after all its a universal truth); and
2) work out the logistics for retrieving two motorcycles that are sitting in my brother’s garage in Wimborne with all my damp stuff.
And then it became clear.
Marie (aka the ayatollah) absolutely hates our mother. The ayatollah and our mother have never got on and been at each others throats for decades, so much so that the ayatollah banned my brother and their children and grandchildren from seeing her.
The back story is that before the hike Simon and I drove up to see our ailing mother and whilst we were visiting the Staffordshire village where we were brought up had a superb time, regaling old stories, drinking and eating in the local pubs, and generally having a great time. No mention was made of my television or female preferences.
As usual, I paid for everything (food, drink, B&B accommodation, fuel, flowers etc). All was fine, and the next day I was dropped off at Stafford train station and traveled up to the Lake District.
I can only assume when Simon got home he was interrogated by the ayatollah and caved in, ‘ Yes Ma’am, its true, I had a wonderful time, saw my mother, had a few beers, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, don’t hit me’
Having been evicted, with my personal possessions thrown into a damp garage, I now had to spend many hundred pounds and several days recovering all my stuff. Its been a logistical pain in the arse and so I have no intention to write about it or describe further.
Anyway, I have learned my lesson, if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all, and never trust a woman with thin lips.
So, now all the motorbikes are safely in Bexhill on Sea, where they will be cared for by Nick.
Fanny is arriving in UK in June and we will ride across Europe to Croatia and visit my friend Mike Adlem in Italy and Fanny’s boss at Novartis HQ in Basel, Switzerland (new BBT chapter).
But in the meantime, I am off to ride a Vespa 125 across Sicily.
So, what hike for May/June 2019? Pennine Way, perhaps? Scotland?