C2C 2017: Gearing Up for Another Attempt

Some five years after the adventure in 2012 with Deborah, Emily, and Hee-yeon, I will be making another try to walk the entire c2c footpath, this time with son Erik.

Ever since 2012, when I missed two of the legs (day 2, I had to return the rental car to Carlisle; and later, we got a ride from Chop Gate to Grosmont, as it was 30 miles or so), as well as got woefully lost one day, I have wanted to go back and complete every step of the walk (and not get lost). Erik expressed an interest a couple of summers ago, and Deborah strongly supported that idea, so we have been quietly gearing up ever since. Now, departure is imminent as we leave from Calgary airport on the evening of April 28.

Much has changed in five years, with Deborah retiring, me taking a job in Red Deer, AB, and Emily working, driving, and, very soon, graduating from high school. I just hope these old legs still have enough in them at 60 years!

Since my blogging has always been sporadic anyway, with most of my posts being of a personal nature, I just decided to resurrect it for this trip. I had to move it from the VIU server when I retired from there, and the upcoming trip has provided the incentive to modify its look a bit. So here we are!

As with five years ago, I will try to post a day-to-day journal, even if I only write them up and post them every second or third day. I expect pretty good wi-fi coverage in our inns, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and hostels – but you never know.

Probably one more post before we leave, and then the rest will be from the UK.

Arrangements all set

The finishing touches on the ground transportation and remaining accommodations for C2C 2017 (Steve and Erik) have now been made.

C2C Itinerary May 2017

C2C 2017 Packing List

All that is left now is to pack and for Erik to drive up to Calgary from Medicine Hat, and us to drive down to Calgary from Red Deer. We plan to meet at Andrea’s around 2:00 pm on Friday – Erik will be parking his car there while away – and then Deborah can drop us off at the airport around 4:00.

My old friend Rick put the wind up me last night (Monday night) with news of an arctic front coming down this week into the UK, bringing snow and freezing temperatures to Scotland and the North. Man – that sounds a lot like Red Deer weather!

So I looked at the forecast, especially the 14-day one, and things look a little brighter for next week after we arrive:

grasmere forecast

I certainly hope that forecast holds – perfect hiking weather.

Excited!

Departure – and Arrival

April 28

Erik drove to Andrea’s from The Hat, and Deborah and I met him there about 2:30. A cup of tea, hellos all around, a short spell enjoying the sunshine, last-minute frenzied advice that resulted in another set of hiking poles for Erik, and we were off to the airport.

We said our goodbyes to Deborah and headed for the nearest kiosk. Check-in went smoothly and we dropped off our bags and headed for security. Again, all went smoothly and before you knew it, we were sitting in Chili’s enjoying a couple of Tool Shed brews.

The plane left on time at 6:25. We sure appreciated our extra legroom! I had a spare seat beside me, as well, and it was a fairly new plane (a Boeing 787 Dreamliner) with everything working and a very good, friendly crew. The 8-hour flight was probably my best transatlantic flight ever. They fed us right away – nothing really special, but tasty, and they were not stingy with the little wines. We both watched Star Trek Beyond, Erik watched Star Wars: Rogue One, and Steve watched Why Him? I tried to nap a bit, and may have got 30-60 minutes. As we neared London, we were served a modest breakfast of yogurt, coffee and juice, and a slice of banana bread – a nice light way to adjust our stomachs to the beginning of a new day in the UK. 

April 29

We landed as scheduled at 10:00 am. There was a long line-up to get through Customs, but it moved along pretty crisply. When we got to baggage claim, our bags had been lined up beside the carousel. We grabbed ours and looked for the Europcar rental desk. When we found it, no one was there, so I picked up the courtesy phone and asked what to do. The young woman on the other end told me which bus stop to go to. We got the shuttle to the car rental office and were treated very expediently and got upgraded to a Vauxhall Zafira. We pulled out of at about 11:20 am and started to make our way to the M25 and then to the M40.

We stopped at a rest area about 12:45, and I must say I was wondering if I would make the entire drive up to our destination, Carlisle, which was another 4-5 hours away. But after a sandwich, a stretch, and an Americano, I felt better, so we got back on the  motorway with a plan to stop every hour for a stretch. That seemed to work, because I never felt as sleepy as I did on the first hour out of Heathrow. We arrived at Carlisle about 5:30 and made our way through the town to our hotel, with the assistance of Erik’s iPhone maps.

After checking in, we asked at the desk how to get to the Europcar place, and our man Stuart gave us good directions. We drove there, and then looked around for a place to gas up. We turned what turned out to be the wrong way, and headed out of town. We turned around and went past the rental place and found a Sainsbury’s with a gas bar – gassed up and took the car back.

We walked over the bridge and back in to the city centre and looked for a place to eat. We settled on an Italian place (no fish and chips yet!) called Franco’s and had a really good, wholesome meal of salad and pasta. After that, we walked back to the hotel and had a pint of Tetley’s each in the bar and checked up on email and texts. I was basically falling asleep playing Words with Friends, so we called it a night after the one pint and turned in about 9:45.

A Day in Carlisle

April 30

We got up around 8:30, so we felt encouraged about getting over our jet lag. Erik made coffee in our room, and then we took turns with the dribbly shower. One thing I do not have to do is shave – I decided not to pack shaving stuff and just let my beard grow for three weeks and see what it looks like. Once dressed, we headed to The Griffin for breakfast – a full English breakfast.

Then we headed out to explore, and very quickly we spied what had to be Carlisle castle. It was an English Heritage site, and we went in and had a good look around. As we left, we walked around looking for any signs of Hadrian’s Wall, because it looks on maps as if it came very close to Carlisle. But we did not find any real signs of it.


After the castle, we went for a coffee at Costa on the square. But the wi-fi was dodgy, so after our coffee we went to the Wetherspoon’s called The Woodrow Wilson for a couple of Wainwright golden ales. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s maternal grandfather was a clergyman here in Carlisle, so his name shows up here and there. The Hotel Ibis was across the street, so I texted Deborah – sure enough, she stayed there before her Hadrian’s Wall walk back in September, and they ate in the same pub – and she even sampled the Wainwright’s. It’s a decent beer named for the fellow who first “connected the dots” that make up the Coast-to-Coast footpath. But we also tried the Greyhound bitter.

Then back to the hotel to get a couple of San Miguels and get on the wi-fi to complete some Facebook and WordPress posts. About 5:30, we started to look for dinner. A nice Sunday carvery was not found nearby, and we found out that it is a bank holiday weekend for many because of May Day tomorrow so many other places were packed. So we ended up back at The Woodrow Wilson where we both had the lamb shank. It was very tasty, and the Jaipur IPA, John Smith’s, and Strongbow were also very good.

Now we are back in our room watching some British TV and doing some web surfing. Tomorrow we take the train to St. Bees.

To the Trailhead

May 1

I woke at 5:41 am to visit the loo, and Erik was reading in bed. I think we both worried that we would be up for the day, but we both slept a bit longer. Breakfast was downstairs at the hotel – a nice buffet with options like granola and fruit.

After breakfast, we showered and packed and got to the train station about 10:45 – a train to St. Bees was leaving at 10:54. We got to Platform 2 and got on the train that was on a milk run towards Lancaster. It took about 30 minutes or so to get to the coast, and then we hugged the coastline for as far as we went. Compared to my ride on the same route five years ago, I was very much encouraged by the fact that the rivers were not bursting their banks and flooding all the low-lying fields. About 12:15 we arrived at St. Bees.


We walked down the Station Road towards the beach and arrived at our hotel, the Seacote. The young woman at Reception was very pleasant, but our room was not ready yet, so we headed to the pub. They have Black Sheep on tap, so we had some of that – and some Caffrey’s, and something called Dizzy Blonde.

At 3:00, we checked in. We went up to our room, which is very nice and looks out seaward. When we came down, we ordered a couple of packed lunches for the morning.  We walked towards the beach and Erik took a few photos with his camera (not the one on his phone). I pointed out the start of the trail, as it heads uphill right away from the beach.


We walked back to town across some fields. Sheep are all over, and they have just lambed so there are cute little lambs everywhere. We headed to the Queen’s, which we had stayed at in 2012, because we read the food was highly rated. Again, we had to wait awhile – dinner did not begin until 6:00. So we made a reservation (apparently last night was crazy) and went out to the beer garden for a pint, until it got chilly and black clouds rolled in. Then we went inside and continued to sample local beers, like RazorBack and Cumberland.

The young woman behind the bar showed up promptly at 6:00 with menus. Erik seriously considered bangers and mash, but in the end we both ordered fish and chips because we are right on the ocean here. It arrived and it was very good.

Now we are in the bar again at the Seacote, blogging and posting pictures to Facebook and such. One last pint of Black Sheep and we will retire to our room to pack our day packs with what we reckon we need until Grasmere, where we will first be reunited with our luggage.

Tomorrow morning, the trek begins.

A Good Start

May 2

We woke about 7:00 and got ourselves showered and dressed and went to the dining room for breakfast. Surprise! Full English breakfast! I enjoyed some grapefruit juice and cereal in addition to my scrambled eggs and bacon. Then we went to our room to sort out what to carry until Grasmere (where the Packhorse service was taking our suitcases) and what to put in the suitcases. At 8:30, we went down to the lobby to leave our baggage and get our packed lunches. It became clear that the lunch order did not make it from the bar last night to the kitchen this morning, so we just waited 10 minutes or so to get the lunches.

A short walk to the beach, a few selfies in front of the “mile 0” marker, a friendly local taking a couple more photos, picking up our stones from the beach – and we were off. The trail goes up for the first half-mile or so, and then circles the St. Bees head for about 2 miles. Lots of seabirds in evidence; Erik took a lot of photos. Past the lighthouse, past a sandstone quarry, and we headed inland. We walked through the few houses of Sandwith, then through familiar (to me) farmland and towards Moor Row and then to Cleator, stopping for lunch in a sheep field about 12:30. Erik reminded me that today – May 2 – was the very date 25 years ago that we left to Europe for our four-month odyssey with the four boys. Such a formative trip.


From Cleator, you must make the climb up Dent Hill, which is a bit of a climb up a forest road, and then through the forest, and finally up an open meadow (still uphill) to a stone cairn. A fell runner passed us up the last push, and we actually passed him later as he ran up the other side.


But after you circle around Raven Crag, the descent down to Nannycatch Beck is BRUTAL! As we pondered the precipice and considered ways to protect our toes and ankles, Erik mentioned tying up your boot laces tightly to anchor your foot, and he also reminded us that we were carrying our poles. So we unhitched them and lengthened them and we used them to assist in the sharp descent.

It was still painful, but, with luck, I did not kill any toenails this time.

At the bottom of the hill, it’s a couple of miles along the Beck towards Ennerdale Bridge. We saw a few dog walkers just out for walks, and then as we  neared the road to Ennerdale Bridge a flock of sheep was being driven our way. The farmer warned us about the road, emphasizing that we should take the footpath on the side. So we trudged along the last 1 1/4 miles and ate the last of our lunch. Finally, we arrived at the Fox and Hounds here in Ennerdale Bridge at 4:55 pm. Into the pub for a pint.


I had booked the family room, mostly just because I was looking for two beds. When we arrived, they said they were going to put us into two rooms (they only have three!) – must be a slow night. We both showered and went downstairs about 7:00 to have some dinner. Erik ordered the Cumberland Pie and I had the spagetti carbonara – very good.

Lots of C2C walkers here. We met two couples from Hawaii, a couple from England, a fellow from Cambridge, and Barry. Lots of good camaraderie here on the trail. Locals in the pub were asking if we were walking, too.

Pretty tired and sore and stiff, but we look forward to tomorrow and a walk along the lake called Ennerdale Water, stopping at the hut called Black Sail. This place sounds legendary, but apparently has no electricity so we may be out of contact for a couple days.

New Territory

May 3

We had agreed to meet for breakfast at 8:00, so I set my alarm for 7:00 – but, as usual, I woke before it went off. We got ready, I checked news and sports (trying to follow the hockey scores), we sent a few texts back and forth to each other, and then went down to breakfast. You pre-ordered this one, so I passed on the meat and just had scrambled eggs, toast and jam, the tomato and mushroom. Also, some cereal. So I felt properly set up for the day. Alyson had made us some nice sandwiches, too, for our lunches.

We set out around 9:00 again, out of Ennerdale Bridge and towards the lake known as Ennerdale Water. As we neared the lake, we passed Baz, the 70-year-old we had met the night before who camped in the yard at the pub. The lake was pretty, and we took off on the clear path along the southern shore.

At a point called Robin Hood’s Seat, we came to a fork in the trail. This had been identified to us by Chris, the barman and Alyson’s partner at the Fox and Hounds. He had said something about “avoid the easy-looking one” – so, when we got there, we tried to assess which one looked more difficult. I think we took the wrong one. We ended up scrambling up and over a pretty hairy outcrop right at the edge of the water, and perhaps 20 feet or more up. My heart was racing. But we made it, and continued on our journey.


The rest of the walk along the lake was easy and pleasant and we got to the end and lay down on the grass and in the sun for a few minutes. As we waited there, the older fellow with the red fleece who had passed us at St. Bees head stopped for a break, too. We chatted a bit and found that he was staying each night at a B&B with his wife, who was driving in support of his walk. We could also see a group of four coming along the lake, and we assumed it was the two couples from Hawaii.

Around a field, and we were on a gravel road that turned onto the road past the YHA Ennerdale Bridge. Very soon after that came the big decision of the day: straight on along the “low route”, or the “high route” over Red Pike, High Stile, and High Crag? Consulting our guide book, we saw that High Stile was the highest peak on the Coast-to-Coast, so we decided we could not miss this opportunity. We turned up, stopped for lunch at a broken-down sheepfold, and then began the ascent.

It was bloody hard going. Partly, you want to make sure you don’t get lost – especially when the guide book says something like “warning: do not turn east too early or you risk injury!” So we picked our way carefully up along the string of cairns, and kept our eye on a young man who passed us at a good clip. After about an hour and a half, we got to the top of Red Pike, where it was very windy and we had beautiful panoramic views of Ennerdale Water and Buttermere and the peaks all around.


Luckily, once we were at that height (755m), we did not have too much more climbing to do to get up and over to High Stile, the highest point on the C2C at 807m. The crags connecting the peaks were a bit scary, especially with the winds so strong that they could blow you over.

We ran into Mark, the carpenter from Cambridge, who was staying at the YHA Ennerdale Bridge, and was returning from the peak route plus The Haystacks. He said he had seen our hostel from the top, so we were pretty encouraged. The biggest thing in our way: getting DOWN. The descent from High Crag was a very hairy combination of steepness and loose scree. I tightened up my boot laces (thank you, Andrea) to minimize the impact on my toes. Two young women who had passed us were scooting down on their bums – luckily, we had our poles! There were lots of stone stairs, as well, but it was all very steep – only when you got to the bottom and looked up did you really appreciate how steep.


But we made it, and then we kept our eyes peeled for the trail down to the Black Sail through Scarth Gap. It was probably another mile or so to the hut – just after 5:00. Very charming, old-school hostel that was a shepherd’s hut. It seems everyone knows of this place. It’s very remote (read: no phone or wi-fi), and surrounded by sheep. We sat on the benches outside and had a beer and took our boots off. I think the middle toe on my left foot is my first casualty. Tom the host (with his partner Flo) filled us in on dinner and breakfast and the shower and stuff. He said they were pretty low on water, apparently, so short showers. A woman named Sarah was staying, and Tom said they expected another four men – so a grand total of seven guests (in the 16 segregated bunks).

Wonderful dinner at 7:00 of three nice Cumberland sausages and gravy with new potatoes and vegetables. At about 7:30, two guys rolled in – the other two were supposed to be with them, but could not make the trip for various reasons. This was Steve, a quiet copper with a wicked sense of humour, and Rob, an active fellow who liked to talk. We took some photos of the sunset around 8:30, and all chatted until about 9:00, when Erik and I went to our bunks to “read”. Of course, we did not get much done before falling asleep.

An “Easy” Day?

As we sit here on Saturday in Tweedie’s bar in Grasmere, let me try to catch up. Between exhaustion and lack of internet connection, and perhaps the distraction of sampling the local brews, it is sometimes difficult to make a post on the day. I have hiking days three and four to narrate, and then maybe a few comments from Grasmere.

May 4

Erik and I both woke early at Black Sail, in preparation for the three courses of breakfast: toast, yogurt, and cereal at 7:00; porridge at 7:45; and cooked breakfast at 8:00. We partook of all three courses – in moderation, of course. We packed up, gave Rob our details for Osmotherley, and said our goodbyes to our three hostel-mates. It’s amazing how close you become on the trail, and so quickly. There is a given level of respect for just doing what we’re doing, and everyone shares their routes, their aches and pains, their missteps, their high points of the day.

After a mile or so along the river valley, we had to attack a climb along Loft Beck up past the Grey Knotts and over Honister Pass. Once up that one climb, the rest of today was a relatively easy walk. As we approached a working quarry, we could see our right turn down towards Honister slate mine and the trail got quite wide, like a gravel road.


As we got down to the slate mine visitor centre, which still mines some slate but does a lot of other stuff too, we stopped for a coffee and a pee. Right next door is the Honister Hause YHA, where we stayed in 2012 after being driven from Ennerdale Bridge. Erik and I were headed to Rosthwaite in Borrowdale, so we kept hiking down the hill into Seatoller, then through farms and forest through Longthwaite and on to the Scafell Inn in Rosthwaite by about 1:30. We checked in and then headed to the Riverside Pub for a pint. Wifi was only accessible in the lounge right near the reception area, so we had baths (shower was disappointing) and went to the lounge to catch up on news and communication. I finished my post for the day before and posted it from here, so I was a bit behind already.


As 6:00 approached, we went back to the pub to be ready for supper. All kinds of hikers started to come in – mostly older, many locals, some doing what we were. We half expected Baz to walk in, or someone else we had met on day one. Supper was a version of cassoulet with chorizo and Cumberland sausages – tasty, but I would have liked a second helping! Sticky toffee pudding helped fill in the gaps. We left the pub around 9:00 and went back to the lounge for a bit before turning in.

On to Grasmere

May 5

Breakfast was not served at the Scafell until 8:00, so we reckoned we would get a later start today. It was a big buffet, with cereals and fruit, sliced meats and cheeses, and hot breakfast. I passed on the FEB in favour of scrambled egg with smoked salmon – why not?

I sent Deborah an email about banking, not expecting her to see it for hours since it was the middle of the night in Red Deer. When she answered a few minutes later, I thought I should FaceTime her while we had a wifi connection. We had a bit of a chat to catch up, so that was good.

Erik and I picked up our lunches and packed up, hitting the trail just before 10:00. Our path went north just a bit, then across a bridge onto a trail that paralleled the beck for a mile or so south to Stonethwaite (the third “-thwaite” in Borrowdale) where we turned slight left for a moderate but steady climb up the Green Gill toward Lining Crag. Beautiful views down the valley, as well as up where there were numerous waterfalls. Of course, sheep were all over the place. We met a couple from Portland and exchanged a few words before they took off past us.

img_0496

As we got to the top of the valley, I could see the same topography as five years ago when Deborah saved us from getting lost: a line of drumlins going off to the right, but the trail going left up a steep climb parallel to a small beck. We hauled ourselves up and got to Lining Crag, where you could actually see things because it was so clear. An English couple was there, and we asked them to take our picture. Then it was across the boggy “saddle” to get over to Easedale for our walk into Grasmere. With much better visibility than in 2012, when the whole top was fogged in and only Emily’s keen eyes saved us, we made it to the edge of Easedale very easily.

When we got there, though, we took a bit of a wrong turn for 400 metres or so. Erik said, “hey, dad, if we are going down a valley, how come this trail is going UP?”, so we stopped, got out both the guide book and the Ordnance Survey map, and realized we had probably made too sharp a turn. So we re-traced our steps to the real trail, and started to head down again. It was a pretty long walk, with lots of stony trail and even a fair bit of boggy ground. Near the beginning of that part of the walk, we could see dozens of big black bags full of stone dropped beside the trail. I guess they are planning some repairs. As we rounded a curve, Erik said “is that Baz?” Sure enough, our new friend was sprawled on the grass beside the beck having some lunch, so we stopped and chatted for a few minutes. It turned out that he had walked in to the Riverside pub in Rosthwaite at 9:00 last night – just after we left! He was planning to camp somewhere outside town tonight, but his last words were “the Red Lion, in the town centre” – so we took that to be a signal of where he planned to be tonight.

We stopped for lunch near a stream crossing around 1:00. Continuing down the valley, we crossed a bridge and could see farms and other buildings that made it look as if we were nearing a town. Many more walkers were converging on the trails. We met another couple from Oregon – this time, it was Corvallis. We could see that we were approaching town, and we came through and wound around one corner and there was a sign to our hotel, the Dale Lodge. We checked in, and picked up our suitcases – this was our first “sherpa” stop – and then got a pint at Tweedie’s Bar (where I am as I write this) and took some selfies out in the garden – the sun was out most of today, so it was beautiful.


We each showered in a great shower, and then we started to walk around town to get our bearings. We found the post office, for example, which the guide book said was the only place in town with a cash point (ATM). It was closed now, but we figured to come back in the morning. Right around the corner was a small restaurant called Goody Blake (Wordsworth reference) and we decided to go in. Erik was buying tonight, and for some reason we both thought red meat sounded good. Erik had a rib-eye, and I tried the special: venison steak. A bottle of shiraz made for a very fine meal. We asked the server as we left where the Red Lion was. She said that it was no longer, but that it had reborn as the 1769 pub.

We knew where that was, so we headed there. Pretty busy, but no familiar faces. As 9:00 approached, we were expecting Baz to show up – Erik looked out the door and saw Mark, the carpenter from Cambridge! So we motioned to him and he sat with us and we talked about hiking for another two hours before calling it a night – Baz never did show up. Apparently, Mark will be at Patterdale when we arrive there in two nights.

R & R (rest and reflection in Grasmere)

May 6

This was our rest day in Grasmere, so I awoke with two main goals: 1) find a cash machine, and 2) find some long pants at one of the many outdoor stores.

The guide book suggested that the Post Office was the only place in town where you could get cash. We knew where it was from the night before, so after breakfast (served 8:30-10:00 at the Dale Lodge) we headed straight there. The fellow in there said that we could only access British banks – when I suggested HSBC, he said to try it, but no go. He mentioned the Co-op as a place to do a credit card advance – not our preference. But we only had about £17 between us, so we headed in that direction. First, though, we went through a number of the outdoor stores, and I found some long pants for £14.99. Then, at the Co-op, right when we walked in there was an ATM, so we both got some cash out.

Erik was looking for some socks and a buff, so we went through the middle of town and into a number of other stores – he found both. We also stopped at the church so I could show Erik the Wordsworth family graves. We dropped off our purchases in our room, then went for a walk towards Ambleside that took us on the far side of Grasmere the lake, so we curved right around and headed back to town on the highway. It took us to Dove Cottage, where we stopped first for a light lunch of soup and sandwich. We did not go through the Cottage, but poked around the property. Erik found the “names on stone” in the garden.

After our walk, we first did a small bit of laundry each so we could try to get it dry before tomorrow morning. Then we went to the bar at our hotel, called Tweedie’s. We had a couple of beers (surprise!), and updated FaceBook and blog posts – sketchy wifi permitting. It was about now that I remembered why I keep my face clean-shaven: my beard itches! Oh, well. Erik got into a FB message exchange with Paul Gardner, and within about 20 minutes, Paul and Pauline had plans to meet us in Reeth to walk to Richmond with us! Look forward to that.

We stayed for dinner, both having fish and chips – nice big piece of fish. After heading back to our room, we watched a bit of TV, including the end of the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and then an episode of a cool reno show we get back home (much later, of course), and then something about mammoths in the UK. By then, I may have been dozing off.