Hiking in Merry Olde England─a walk in the park?

By Deirdre Butler
RMC Hiking Leader

“I’m out of water,” gasped the hapless hiker well into our lengthy coast-to-coast walk in England. Despite strong instructions to carry four pints of water, he sheepishly admitted that the one pint he brought was gone. This was the catalyst to get admissions from several other guilty participants who were similarly depleted. With four miles to go and 1,500 feet to climb, half the group was thirsty and struggling.

Outings Photo Hiking in England Jan P&P.jpg
Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay, North Sea Coast

England’s coast-to-coast walk is a classic; it is the creation and life endeavor of the late Alfred Wainwright, a famous British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator. The entire walk spans 190 miles from one coast of England to the other. The path is an approximate beeline, a mostly high ground crossing of some of England’s most stunning countryside.

The version I and my fellow hikers took covers slightly less than 100 miles of the original route, which begins at Saint Bees Head on the Irish Sea coast. We hiked through three of England’s national parks: the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North Shore Moors.

Lake District is renowned for its gorgeous lakes and craggy peaks. Yorkshire Dales─popularized by the Public Broadcasting System series, “All Creatures Great and Small,”─features gentle green valleys full of ancient stone walls and old farms. North Shore Moors, secluded and lush with heather, ends at Robin Hood’s Bay, along a picturesque coastline by the North Sea.

Rest stops along the way

Along the way we stopped in remote and quiet old country villages and hamlets to refresh ourselves in pubs and tea-rooms (mostly pubs). We also took time to wander around medieval ruins and monuments that provide fascinating evidence of England’s ancient history. Local ramblers accompanied us on several walks and also joined us for dinner, sharing their insights into the rhythm of life in rural England.

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Ennerdale Valley to Honister Pass

This part of England has a vibrant history in mining, and we crossed landscapes showing evidence of lead, coal and iron mining reaching back over 300 years. Our walks varied in length from seven-to-13 miles each day, every day for eight days in a row. Days three, four and five produced arduous elevation gains (and losses) of 1,000 to 2,000 feet, albeit not at altitude.

Our rest day in Richmond was followed by two consecutive nine-mile days, the first of which included five hills, totaling 2,000 feet up and 1,535 feet down. That was an especially tiring day.

Is this a hike you might like to take? Is it a walk in the park? It could be; it might be. However, it is important to note that England is very green, meaning it rains a lot. That doesn’t mean there are no sunny days. My last trip was blessed with 12 consecutive days of sunshine and above-average temperatures. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to bring plenty of water and other essentials, including good, waterproof gear.

Walking in England, surrounded by evidence of human history and human endeavors spanning the millennia, is awe-inspiring and gives a strong sense of being grounded. It’s an experience─given time and space─that lifts one’s spirits and is proof-positive that nature can prevail by reclaiming and reestablishing itself.

Deirdre Butler refers to herself as a “local” when leading trips in England. She grew up in Devon, England, hiking and horseback riding in Dartmoor National Park. She would be delighted to share her old home-country with you and has a trip planned for the Dartmoor area for July 2013. Meanwhile, when not leading trips, she enjoys a bucolic life with her husband, dog, cats, and chickens in Lyons, Colo.

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