Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Walking the Wainwright Coast to Coast Part One. . .

There's no better way to get to know a country than to walk your way across it. I just got back from a lovely holiday doing the famous Wainwright Coast to Coast walk that starts in St. Bees on the west coast and ends up in Robin Hood's Bay on the east. It took us fourteen days (about 100 hours in total)  to walk the 192 miles that goes through three national parks, and while trudging up and down hills and through boggy moorland, soggy fields, jarring tarmac and lots and lots of mud and sheep poo might not be everyone's cup of tea, I had a marvellous time. The U.K. has been getting record amounts of rain this summer but we were really lucky in that the worst of it always seemed to fall in a different part of the country from that day's walk.  We certainly had bouts of rain - some of it very heavy - but more good days than bad, and some truly beautiful and sunny ones.

We used Packhorse to organize our trip and I strongly recommend them. In addition to moving our luggage each day, they booked all of our accommodations and everything ran so smoothly.  We stayed in a variety of B & Bs, hotels and even a working farm. It was a real mixture - everything from a hermitage built in 1691 to a completely modern open concept house built in the last five years. The company even gave us a framed certificate at the end which has the route and the elevations at the bottom and a place to stick in your favourite photo. The maps and instructions they provided were also very clear and useful. You meet a lot of people along the way and we heard quite a few horror stories from other companies that offer similar services. I won't mention them by name but suffice it to say that everyone who was using Packhorse had nothing but praise for them.

A couple of tips for anyone planning on doing the Wainwright (and it really is a wonderful, challenging and rewarding long distance walk):

1. Be navigationally prepared. In addition to Packhorse's maps, we also had ordinance maps, a compass, a GPS guide and two books. We had to use them all. There are parts of the walk that are very well marked and others where the path disappears and it is very easy to get lost particularly up in the fells if the visibility is poor, or while crossing farmers' fields that all look very much alike. The two books we carried were the second edition of Alfred Wainwright's own guide, revised and updated, because you HAVE to pay homage to the guy who devised the route, plus his notes are not only very beautiful and detailed, but quite funny and charming to read. We also took Martin Wainwright's (no relation) Coast to Coast Walk guide because it's frequently useful to have written instructions along with a map. When he points out that you should cross the railway by the obvious underpass and you can't see said obvious underpass, you know you've gone a bit wrong.

2. Invest in good gear.  You don't have to go crazy with the absolute top of the line stuff, but you need really good hiking boots that are waterproof and a good waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers you can pull on over your clothes. We also got waterproof inner bags for our rucksacks. Are you sensing a theme? When it rains, it rains hard and quite steadily. Fully clothed in all the appropriate gear, you actually can keep going and it's not that bad an ordeal. I debated getting gaiters (my companions both had them) but decided against them and I was fine with just the waterproofs despite all the mud and bog. Only once did the water go into my boots - on the last day no less - but otherwise my feet were completely dry the whole time. Walkers debate whether or not to use poles; I like them especially for the descents but they are also useful to measure the depth of puddles. I used poles all the way through the Lake District, but not for the latter part of the route.

3. Bring lots of bandages and painkillers. It's a long walk and you'll get footsore. I count myself lucky that I only got one blister the whole trip, but we encountered many who were hobbling in pain. The UK chemists sell these wonderful plasters called Compeeds that really do the trick. There was much discussion of the various effects of over the counter drugs all along the route.

4. Bring enough money and postage stamps for postcards. You won't find many banks or post offices along the way and some of the shops, cafes and B & Bs don't take credit cards.

5. Talk to the people you meet along the route, your companions during breakfast at your B & Bs, and those coming in the opposite direction. You'll get lots of useful tips, make new friends, have a laugh along the way and encounter some very unusual and eccentric characters. It's all part of the fun.

I'm just getting my photos sorted and I'll post some from each stage shortly.

See Part Two here and Part Three here.

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