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                                         C2C                             Caen Hill
                                                             COAST TO COAST WALK                                                  KENNET & AVON CANAL WALK


                                                                                                              Coast to Coast Walk

There are various types of beautiful walking paths throughout UK. Some are old Roman routes such as The Ridgeway and some are new like the Coast to Coast Walk of Wainwright’s path. These walking paths are particularly busy with walkers during summer months. Some people are out just for a day and others walk for days, or even weeks.

Long distance walking is one of my passions. From all the walks I have experienced so far, the one which is engraved in my memory is The Coast to Coast Walk. This route was planned and started by A. Wainwright in the late 60s, early 70s. The walk starts at The Irish Sea near St Bees in Cumbria and crosses through 3 national parks- the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors and finishes at The North Sea near Robin Hood Bay in Yorkshire. According to Wainwright’s plan, the walk should take 14 days, for people who are reasonably fit. However, it is up to individuals. Some people do it in 10 days and others in 15days, 18 days or 20days.

A good friend of mine, Roger Salmon, and I embarked on the challenge of walking the Coast to Coast path one year. Some people stay in bed and breakfast accommodation during the walk and their belongings are handled by a baggage service company (www.coast2coast.co.uk) who drop it at the place where they are staying each night. Some walkers carry their camping equipment in a rucksack and camp each night. We took the second option and carried everything we required on our backs. Our load weighed up to 30 lb.

We arrived at St. Bees on a Friday evening, ready to start the walk on a Saturday morning. This small village was packed with walkers. All the pubs and restaurants stayed busy all night. The atmosphere was just magic. Of course, the topic of the day was nothing but walking, that binding common interest, which brought everyone to this beautiful spot. There were people from all parts of UK. There were people from USA, Canada and Australia but it felt like we were all from the same family, tribe or community.                   
                                                                St. Bees  

                                                                                                  Setting off from St Bees

After breakfast, on Saturday morning, we went down to the sea and up a steep cliff and we were off. The walking pace was different for everyone but Roger and I had agreed to keep the same pace all the way and stayed together. When I stop and look backwards I see a line of walkers following us and when I look forward another line of people walk ahead of us. It looked like a camel caravan.

                                                                Irish Sea
                                                                                                     The Irish Sea 

Lots of people question my enthusiasm about walking. They say what is the pleasure in endless walking and sleeping on uncomfortable ground in a tent? What about the pain, the heat, the rain and that cold temperature?  They are amazed that I see that as a holiday. My view is that there are so many hidden pleasures from country walking.

 I thought I was in heaven.

Walking brings you close to nature. Most of the time, you walk in quiet and peaceful surroundings, far away from the traffic noise. Most of the landscape and scenery is beautiful. One particular day, during our walk, I noticed that peace and tranquillity. We had been walking all day and we decided to stop and pitch our tent. It was on top of Haystacks by the side of Innominate Tarn. It was one of those evenings where the weather was perfect, with clear skies, bright sun, genteel and fresh breeze. I thought the place to be extraordinarily beautiful and out of this world. I felt extremely high and privileged to be in that spot at the time. I woke up in the night from my sleep and, when I opened my eyes, my tent was quite light and thought it must be the morning light. When I opened my tent it was the moon. There was a clear sky and full moon with its reflection in the lake. For a brief moment I thought I must have gone to heaven.

The next morning I wondered if Wainwright mentioned this place in his book and pulled the book out of my rucksack and read what he said. “If I were destined to drop dead on the fells, this is the place I would like it to happen.”

                                                              Camping on Haystacks
                                                                                            Camping on top of Haystacks                                                                                       

 Cold drink and tasty food.

The chance of having regular meals each day during Coast to Coast Walk is rare. Towns and villages are wide apart from each other. We started our walk one early morning with a sandwich breakfast, because there was only one shop open, where we bought our sandwich. We walked all day without any more food and very little drink and stayed out in the wild for the night. By 10 am the next morning, we reached a small village. From a distance we could see a pub sign. What a beautiful sight. We stepped it up to get there quicker but, to our disappointment, the notice outside the door indicated that opening hour is not until 12 noon.

I thought I am not going anywhere. I will just sit and wait here. I knew, if we went browsing around the village, the time would go quicker but I was not in that frame of mind. My total attention and focus of the moment was food and drink. I sat there frequently turning my eyes towards my watch and visualising just cold drinks and tasty food. I thought about food and my previous experience with food, especially about all the food I left on my plates, after I had enough of eating. I imagined how nice and tasty that would have been now at this moment.

I decided never to leave food in my plate in the future. I kept telling myself that I need to give food and drink more value and respect than I have ever given them before. I thought when the pub opens I am going to have a cold pint of beer but I am not going to drink it fast like I usually do. I am going to take a sip and send it down my throat slowly. I am going to have a meal with my drink. I am going to eat it slowly and focus on my actions of putting it in my mouth, tasting it, chewing it, and swallowing, catching that brief moment of delight and satisfaction.

After what seemed years of waiting, the pub opened and we had a few drinks and some food. I can say that was the best and tastiest food and drink I have ever had throughout my life.

                                                                    Having a racet
Waiting for the pub to open

 Physically challenged

You need to be fairly fit to walk the Coast to Coast Walk. On the way from Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite, there was a choice of an easy path where not much climbing is required, or a path which leads you to a climb up Red Pike (2000ft) and High Stile (2644ft). We decided to take the challenge of climbing.

It was a very hot day and I was stepping up slowly but breathing heavily. Halfway up, I was huffing and puffing like I was sprinting in a 5km race. I was wearing a heart monitor and on average the reading was 160 beats per minute. Normally, when I run and sprint with full speed, my maximum heart beat is 175 per minute. A few months before the walk, I had completed my 12th London Marathon and I thought I was super fit. Of course, this requires a different type of fitness.

                                                                          The Lake District.

                                                                                                         The view from Red Pike


The distance is only 190 miles but it took us 14 days to complete the walk. It was the middle of June and some days it was too hot and unbearable. Another day it rained non-stop and was freezing cold. On a cloudy and misty day, visibility was limited. Most of the walk along the Lake District was up or down, seldom flat. The hills range between 1000 ft. and 3000 ft. Some days we walked from 6 in the morning to 8 in the evening. On the days we were lucky, we had one good meal with drinks and on other days we had nothing much. Each day brought different type of difficulties and challenges. These difficulties and challenges were the trigger for our adrenaline rush, pleasure, satisfaction and fulfilment. During the walk we'd stop now and again and look ahead to our destination. At the time, it looks very far and unreachable but 4 or 5 hours later we are there. We stop and look back where we came from. That is a very clear vision of achievement and delight.

We could have luxurious holiday in a 5 star hotel or a cruise with plenty of delicious food provided, where we could lie down and relax every day throughout our stay with minimum physical activity. The question is, would we have been able to harvest as much pleasure and fulfilment as we had from our holiday of The Coast to Coast Walk? I doubt it very much.

                                                                       Robin Hood Bay.
                                                                                           The North Sea at Robin Hood Bay



                                                                                                            Caen Hill 
                                                                                                                    Cain Hill staircase locks

There are various reasons why some people prefer canal walking than other types of challenging walks. Most paths are flat and easy to walk. You always find some nice pubs along the way with in reasonable distance of each other. There is always company. You meet the people from the barges and stop for a chat.

                                                                                                     Canal walk
                                                                                                           Friends we met along the canal

Liz and I walked along The Kennet and Avon Canal one summer and enjoyed every bit of the experience. We walked from Bath to Reading and it took us 7 days. We took it very easy and did not push ourselves. Each day we walked for 5 or 6 hours.

                Canal walkCanal walk  
                                                     Canal scene                                                                                        One of the many bridges

Although we had a plan as to where to stay each night, we did not book anything in advance. We thought if we carried our tent and clothing in our rucksacks, it would give us some flexibility and we can stay wherever we want. That is exactly what we did. Some nights we camped and other nights we stayed in bed and breakfast accommodation.

                                              Canal walk            Resting  
                                                                 Walking loaded                                                                    Taking a rest

I would say our walk was relaxing and easy. The only climb we faced is about 237ft. That is from the Avon valley to Devizes. There are 29 locks within just 2 miles of this stretch. These locks are including the famous Caen Hill Staircase of 16 consecutive locks. You can sit for hours just watching how these locks operate and thinking about the ingenuity of those people who built it.

                 Resting           Canal rest
                                                     Reading about the  locks.                                                                                         Having a rest by the canal

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