Last month Martin and his friend Bruce spent two weeks backpacking across northern England. Here’s his report:
Bruce, who’s been going to the U.K. every summer for several decades, is a veteran country walker; he’s done the famous Wainwright Coast-to-Coast walk and numerous other routes in England and Scotland. This time, however, we followed (more or less) a relatively new alternate route, set forth by a fellow named David Maughan in his 1997 book On Foot from Coast to Coast: The North of England Way, that took us from Ravenglass on the Irish Sea to Scarborough on the North Sea.
We covered 200 miles in two weeks, which works out to an average of just over 14 miles a day, though there was one three-day stretch when we totaled about 60 miles. We brought only what would fit in our packs, and made our way using Maughan’s book, various Ordnance Survey maps, and compasses. We only got lost a few times, and never terribly badly.
There are, however, limits to our masochism; we decided we were much too old to camp out, and whereas Maughan designed his route to bring the walker to a different youth hostel each night, Bruce rejiggered our itinerary to take us from inn to inn instead. (Well, we did spend one night at the Windermere Youth Hostel in Troutbeck, but it was surprisingly upscale—not at all like the hostels I remember from when I was, um, a youth.)
We both kept journals, but the impressions have already begun to blur: was it in Ainderby Quernhow or Cold Kirby that the village cats came and greeted us? Did we walk through the grounds of Jervaulx Abbey or Rievaulx Abbey? Was it Lowgill Viaduct or Dent Head Viaduct where I took that picture of Bruce walking under the archway? Was it the market square in Masham or Helmsley that was festooned with flowers?
Despite the tricks and lapses of middle-aged memory, however, I know the parts of England that we traversed in a way that I don’t know, say, Pflugerville or Round Rock, even though they’re just up the interstate from us in Austin. Having to make your way on foot, step by laborious step, forces you to pay attention to the land and the sky and the flora and fauna around you. I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert on the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales, but I do feel connected to them in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced.
And, I might add, there’s something indescribably wonderful about limping into a pub late in the afternoon, after many hard miles of walking, and sitting down to a cool pint of Black Sheep ale or Strongbow cider. I drink a fair amount of beer here in Texas—it’s about the best way I know to beat the heat of a Texas summer—but during our time in England, we felt like we’d really earned it.