As soon as I hear about the Wainwright Coast-to-Coast walk, I knew I would have to do it.
It's almost a compulsion. I'll read something online, or find a map in a bookstore, or my ears will perk up in conversation. Next thing I know, I'm knee-deep in mud in a bog. I can't help myself.
Let me tell you a bit about Al Wainwright, as I knew nothing of the man before I moved to the UK. He's a bit of a folk hero among outdoorsy types here. He spent his life walking in the hills and fells and moors of the North of England. He then would write and illustrate a journal with his walks- where he went, what he saw, what the trail was like. These journals later became published and he developed a cult following with walkers as the time that retreating to the great outdoors became a national pastime. The books are charming as hell, with chatty and beautifully descriptive details. Lonely trees and well-crafted stone walls become poetic companions on the trail thanks to him. Many of the books became recognized trails by following his footsteps, and you can still use them as guides while walking in the Lake District. Even the fells became his- there are 214 fells that he climbed and wrote about, and they are now known as "Wainwrights". If you climb all 214 of them, you get your name in a registry. I am tempted.
In 1973, he published what might be his best-known work: the Coast to Coast. He took off from St. Bees on the Irish Sea, meandered across Cumbria and the Lake District, across Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors and landing on the beach at Robin Hood's Bay 192 Miles later. The route is by no means direct: it meanders north and south to take in the best views, the highest climbs, the prettiest lakes. This is by no means an easy trail. Even the fleetest of walkers would take at least two weeks to complete.
I had to do it.
So, personally, we were having some conflict as far as our stay in England was concerned. We have been here six months already (!) and despite the fact that our visas and work permits were about to expire, I had decided that I hadn't had enough. We scrambled to extend our visas, and with much confusion and anxiety, we were told very last minute we would be allowed to stay, but we would have to return to New York on our return tickets to renew. Oh! and that week before the flight? Bry was not allowed to work due to his work permit expiring. We thought this would be our pack up and move week and didn't know he wouldn't be allowed to go into the office. WHAT? A FREE WEEK? We could get a big chunk of this trail behind us in a week.
Mind you, we learned this Friday night.
I ran out to Waterstones and grabbed a waterproof map and the original Wainwright book and started frantically planning. I plopped myself down in front of a computer and booked away like mad...with hopes to leave on Sunday.
One thing everyone warns about is booking this trip well in advance if you do it in summer. I was doubtful that I would be able to find anything at all, especially in the tourist-heavy Lake District.
By the wee hours of Saturday morning, I had found beds to sleep in for the next six nights, train tickets to St Bees, return tickets from Kirkby Stephen, and a certainty that we could squeeze in near 90 miles and be back in London for the following Monday to fly back to the states. Deep Breath.
Saturday morning I made a quick trip to the one Decathlon in London to pick up a few supplies. The big backpacks were packed with rain gear and clothes and plenty of extra socks and granola bars, OS maps were poured over, and a final night was restlessly spent in the home bed.
Oh yes. This was about to get real.