At the end of a 24-hour trip from Canada, I was greeted by the lovely Deborah in her new SUV nicknamed “Veronicar.” She whisked me away to her home with Stu, which is tucked into a Cumbrian dale. There we ate, drank and made merry for three days. Two of those days coincided with a visit by Deborah’s god-daughter Maya to celebrate her 23rd birthday. Never mind the melatonin: I can highly recommend good friends, sunshine and a lot of wine to acclimate to a time change.
Me, Stu and Julian at the Cumbrian Hideaway
Day 1: Sedbergh to Kirkby Lonsdale
On my fourth day in England, I began my warm up for the C2C. Stu, Julian and I set out from near Sedbergh to walk to the pretty town of Kirby Stephen, about 18 km away.
Julian strode purposefully ahead, keen to get back into the C2C groove, while Stu and I kibbutzed in the back like naughty school children.
An English spring is sublime. Bluebells and blooming hawthorn perfume the air, punctuated by the spring onion scent of wild garlic.
Bluebell haze on a hillside
We passed through farmers’ fields
and pretty villages (where we stopped for a pub lunch)
Always under the watchful gaze of lambs.
I think these are asking us to let them out.
At the end of the day, Stu decided that his hips, ankles, shins and back had had quite enough. Julian’s before and after shots of Stu’s four days on the path didn’t inspire my confidence.
But I had agreed to walk the next three days, each 18 km long.
Day Two: Kirkby Lonsdale to Keld
In the morning, we climbed a very steep hill, at the top of which are nine cairns that mark the boundary between Cumbria and Yorkshire. For some reason, Julian chose this moment to change his shirt. I think he’s lobbying for the sexy Peaky Blinders guy over the Babe guy.
Just beyond the cairns lies The Bog, which is the stuff of legend among Coasters. Back in the day, The Bog was unmarked and C2C walkers regularly went in it up to their thighs. As we started out, one wit suggested we drop our hats on the ground so he would know where to search. Courtesy of climate change and the installation of slate pavers, The Bog is no longer what it once was. But we still hit a patch of thigh-high reeds covering foot-deep muck that made me whine.
Our lunch spot, halfway through 7 km of bog
At bog’s end, the C2C path winds past a farmhouse which provides a much-needed cream tea. The farm is Ravenseat, home to Clive, Amanda — aka The Yorkshire Shepherdess — and their nine children. Amanda is famous from a British TV show called The Dales in which she and Clive advocate for rural living. Clive made us a cuppa in their kitchen, while we made the acquaintance of their 6- going on 16-year-old daughter. After cajoling Julian into removing his cowboy hat, she pressed her hands to her mouth in horror and exclaimed, “You got a haircut!”
Julian swears she saved the day for me.
An hour or two later we arrived in the hamlet of Keld, and I promptly fell asleep. Julian woke me up to feed me and I was back in bed by quarter to seven.
Day 3: Keld to Reeth
This day was a slam-dunk. The C2C path follows the River Swale past farmers’ fields divided into neat sections by ancient stone walls.
We were joined on the walk by Fiona and Ray who we met in Morocco last fall. They live in the Lake District and drove over for a walk and a chat. Julian didn’t quite embrace the spirit of a meandering river walk. When we arrived in Reeth in good time for tea, Ray said, “We can’t be there yet” and Fiona agreed “That went quickly.”
As anyone who’s skied with Julian knows: he takes no prisoners. Nor any breaks.
This time I napped before going out to the pub for dinner, but I was still asleep before the sun went down.
Day 4: Reeth to Richmond
Last year Day 4 was my hump day. The skies opened, the path turned to mud and at the end of a 10-km slog I was greeted by a 300-year old inn that threatened to fall down as I slept. This year I approached Day 4 with trepidation.
The walk to Richmond was supposed to be boring, and the day was supposed to be overcast and wet. Neither was true.
The sun shone on the dramatic landscape
And warmed the hawthorn blooms in an amazing copse near a stream in a farmer’s field.
Julian even caught me smiling on an uptrack
By early afternoon, we saw the Norman tower on the castle at Richmond
That night I napped before dinner again. But this time I stayed awake long enough to snap a shot of the old town rooftops at sunset.
I think I might be ready for the C2C.