“Eli and Gem,” the handwritten sign on a small whiteboard in a Lake District village in the UK read, “on a walk on the wild side.”
The two British women who signed their names weren’t kidding. They’d allowed themselves 14 days to walk 191 miles from the east to the west coast of England carrying everything they needed to eat, sleep and survive in enormous packs on their backs. (Gem, we discovered later, considered her selfie stick an essential!)
When we met them, they were a bit down but far from out. “We’re tired of navigating,” they admitted following a day when they’d taken a wrong turn and ended up bushwhacking their way up a steep, rocky slope, been drenched by needing to walk through a waterfall, and wandering for several hours not knowing where they were.
Yes. They had a guidebook with maps, but it is no simple task to stay on the appointed trail during this increasingly popular walk. It’s almost as if the sign-posting powers took delight in withholding markers in the spots where they are most needed. I can just hear a Brit insisting, “What fun would it be if the trail were all properly marked? Take all the adventure out of it, you know.”
Being directionally challenged myself, I was so happy to be part of our walking group that included expert map readers and a willingness to consult at every turn. Over six days and 85 miles, we did not get lost. Our trip took us from the tiny seaside village of St. Bees to Kirkby Stephen, a small town less than half way to the end of the Coast to Coast path at Robin Hood’s Bay. Following their “bad day” Eli and Gem became part of our group which added tremendously to our enjoyment.
We had such a good time that there’s been some serious talk of returning next year to do the second half of the trail that Alfred Wainwright devised in 1972. He was already well known for his guides to walking England’s Lake District when he walked across the width of his native land and wrote a guidebook describing his path. Since that time up to 10,000 people annually attempt the trek.
In typically British understatement, our guidebook by Henry Steadman describes the path as “a long, tough walk.” All you need, it says, is “suitable clothing, a bit of money, a backpack full of determination and a half-decent pair of calf muscles. In the 190-odd miles from seashore to seashore you’ll have ascended and of course descended the equivalent height of Mount Everest.”
I think the seven of us who set out together all felt as if we’d stepped totally out of our everyday lives during this magical week. For me, the joy came from the companionship, the charm of English villages, precise tiny gardens, small winding roads, ancient stone walls, countless sheep grazing in the fields, the exhilaration of having nothing more to do than put one foot in front of the other for as long as eight hours a day and the ever-changing weather from mist, fog and mizzle (that’s a combination of fog and drizzle) to an occasional visit from the sun.
I’m ready to go back!