After a mostly sleepless night for me (the anticipation was keeping me from a much needed night's rest), we had a filling breakfast and set off later than I had planned. We lingered over tea and toast smeared with butter and strawberry jam. (I discovered an amazing breakfast creation of buttered toast and bacon sandwiches. I named it a “bacon butty” only to discover that someone already named bacon and butter sandwiches just that. Oh well, thank God I’m walking 200 miles because I eat these every morning…) After pushing away from the bacon butties, it took way too long to figure out what to leave behind and what to take on our backs. Finally, we were off!
Although its only 8 miles from the start of the walk to our first stop, our hotel was at least a mile from the starting point, so there we were - facing the first 9 miles of The Coast to Coast. By UK standards, it was a beautiful day, which means we were in several layers and wearing hats and gloves.
We found the coast (another happy moment) and headed for the white foam in which to dip/baptize our boots. The problem was that the tide was out so far, we'd have had to walk another 1/2 mile just to get to the surf so we cheated and wet our boots in a small tidal pool of sea water. We decided it wasn’t really cheating since everyone would have wanted us to get moving…it was now after 10am. We selected two stones each (one to throw in the North Sea and another to bring home as a souvenir) and found ourselves in a lively conversation with two older gentlemen about our walk and where we live. They kindly offered to snap a photo of us standing in front of the Coast to Coast sign but our camera went on strike and refused to cooperate. We thanked them for trying, promised to be careful and said goodbye. We hoped that our nasty little camera’s bad behavior was not an omen of things to come, shoved it in my backpack, and headed for the cliffs.
The next problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to GET to the start of the path. We could see walkers already scrambling up the cliffs and almost out of sight. Lauren saved the day by hopping a fence or three and I blindly followed. We were on our way! Years of planning and day dreaming and we were really doing it!!
Within minutes we were shedding layers and stopping to catch our breath. We were sharing our walk with lots of sheep and even a few cows and it was the perfect start to a great day. The view was…well, stunning would be an understatement. Never before have I seen such beauty. Lauren and I were both stunned and our appreciation of the view certainly did slow us down. Thankfully, she was able to get some pictures with her iPod, which we’ll upload later. (Her computer battery/power cord did a marvelous display of electrical flames in St Bee’s and died a quick death. Since she can’t use her computer, we’re trying to share mine and after a week of no internet, neither of us is very good at sharing.)
We were maneuvering a sharp, uphill turn when we were passed by a group of three Brits. The man was carrying an 8 month old baby on his back (no kidding) and was still twice as fast as we were. Mike and Amsty and their baby Max, accompanied by a father-in-law, were regular characters in our walk for the first 5 days or so. They were expert walkers with very big hearts and took it upon themselves to babysit Lauren and me through some of the more difficult passages at the start of the walk. We’ll never be able to repay them and since they were only doing the Lake District portion of the walk, we’ll likely never see them again. Let us announce here that we are greatly in their debt and we appreciate all of their kind help.
After a couple of hours of walking and being passed by every single person who had set out to walk that morning (and there were several), we stopped at “The Loneliest Bench” to enjoy some lunch that had been packed for us by the bartender at the Queen’s Hotel. We sat near the edge of a cliff looking down on the Irish Sea as it crashed onto the shore below. Off in the distance we could see the Isle of Man. The sun was shining, it was fairly warm and we weren’t lost. What a great moment to savor.
As we were packing up and getting ready to start off again, another British couple happened by. We took some pictures for them with the Irish Sea in the background and talked about our plan to complete the walk in 17 days. They said that they were impressed with our tenacity to attempt such a challenging walk without having done any destination walking before this. (This means that they thought we were barking mad.) Like Mike and Amsty, they became another cheering squad and gave us words of encouragement every time they left us in their dust. That was frequent.
After several hours of walking and eventually turning inland, we figured we were only a short distance from the village of Moor Row, where we were booked for the night. We were still in the middle of fields of sheep with no civilization in sight. This is when we learned an ugly and scary truth: our guide book’s scale is hosed. What should have been a ¼ mile stretch was actually over a mile. We wasted about an hour going back to where “we went wrong” trying to figure out how we missed the turn-off. I eventually was frustrated enough to say to hell with the book, let’s just follow this semi-path. 45 mins or so later found us back on track and Lauren saved the day for the second time in less than 8 hours. I was prepared to head off in the wrong direction but Lauren convinced me that she was right and I followed along like a good little lamb. She was right and we finally stumbled into Moor Row to find our innkeepers waiting for us.
We were shown to a comfortable, en suite room only to discover that our ginormous bag that we’d left in St Bee’s to be picked up by Sherpa (a luggage service) was nowhere in sight. Long story short, our innkeepers drove us back to St Bee’s and dropped us off at the Queen’s Hotel (where we’d stayed the previous night). This was when we finally understood the saying that you can walk 5 miles out of St Bee’s and only have gone 2 miles. We walked 9 miles from The Queen’s Hotel to Moor Row but by car it was a mere 3 miles!!
No matter, we enjoyed a delicious dinner of fish and chips, retrieved our bag, and were collected by our innkeepers and taken back to our B&B. We showered, watched a little tele and drifted off to sleep. Well… we tried but the sun wasn’t cooperating! We are sooo far north that the sun doesn’t set until after 11pm and it rises before 4am. What????
Aside from the sun’s refusal to turn off its light, we passed a very nice night and I finally fell asleep feeling a sense of great appreciation for being able to fulfill my dream. A huge thank you to my family for indulging me in this crazy endeavor.