"I wandered lonely as a cloud ." William Wordsworth lived and is buried here in Grasmere, a tranquil valley village he called 'the fairest place on earth.'
After days of stumbling across the Lake District in terrible weather, disoriented by unmarked paths, sore and looking for an exit strategy, I set out early from Grasmere determined to make it across Grisedale Pass and descend to Patterdale by mid-day.
The bridleway up was steep and grassy, hard to get good traction. The rocky trail to the top was even steeper. Lost in a swirl of mist and sleet, I finally spotted a path disguised as a stream in the downpour. The wind whipped the rain in circles and the fog closed in behind me. I waded through water to higher ground, to reconnect to the path further up the mountain. Grisedale Tarn, a small lake at the top of the mountain actually had whitecaps on it.
And that's when I knew I was having a great day on the 'Coast To Coast.' I was sweat-soaked of course, my backpack and everything in it drenched. My legs were shaking from the ascent, my arms ached from the cross-country skiing motion with the walking poles and I got the chills as soon as I stopped.
Yet proudly, I stood next to Ruthwaite Lodge, a boarded up hikers hut dedicated to two Brits who died mountaineering. I was not lost. And from here the valley funneled down into Patterdale so I could not get lost. Not today. Today was a great day and I arrived at my B&B Old Water View in the estimated four hours over eight miles, the shortest leg of the journey.
Over ale brewed especially for his B&B, Ian Mosely poured over my maps highlighting alternate routes, lower on the mountains because the peaks were too 'boggy' and impassible. His advice was invaluable, his encouragement heartening.
Still sore all over and pretty banged up, I was starting to believe I might make it to the end. That's when Ian's eight-year-old daughter bounced into the room.
"This is Rachael. She did the 'Coast To Coast' walk last year when she was seven. She's the youngest person ever to complete Wainwright's walk."
Really I thought, isn't that special. Rachael's going into the Guinness Book of Records. I'm going to buy that edition and then white out her name.
Reaching Shap before dark the next day, lovely Margaret at the Brookfield House was waiting at the door. I thought she was taking my wet clothes to the drying room but she actually washed and dried them for me. Making me comfortable in front of the electric fire in the lounge she brought me a silver tea service complete with scones and jam. She was genuinely disappointed when I turned down her lemon meringue pie.
Out early the next morning and headed for Orton, I somehow missed Robin Hood's Grave described in the book as 'a large cairn in a shallow fold in the moor.' See what I mean?
I got completely turned around adding needless miles to the day when a young couple out walking their three terriers put me straight again.
"Keep the quarry to your right and hug the wall." I walked over and hugged the wall. Nothing happened. They were mildly amused. I made it to Scar Side Farm in seven hours and took advantage of the town's pub for a free lift back to the farm after dinner.
Kirby Stevens was a long and hard 13 miles but the path was well marked and littered with pheasants and grouse. It hasn't stopped raining since I arrived at St Bees eight days ago but in fairness, the winds, gale force at times have always been at my back.
A daily routine has evolved on its own - one foot in front of the other and one day at a time. Get there by dark, get dry, get to a pub to map out tomorrow.
I was warned not to take the high route over the Penines the backbone of the British Isles because the bogs were now deep and dangerous. I took the longer but easier lower path into the hamlet of Keld - 12 stone houses and the best, smallest pub in the Yorkshire Dales.
Keld, the half way point was the logical place for me to quit but there was no way out so I gave it one more day. And what a day! The sun came out, I hiked in shorts and for the seven glorious hours I followed the banks of the River Swale all the way to Reeth. I took photos, talked to the sheep and actually sat down to eat my lunch. And it was all, in every respect, all downhill from there.
Reeth is the picture perfect town where they filmed James Herriot's television series All Creatures Great And Small. At the Black Bull I shared a pizza and great conversation with two middle-aged Brits, cousins who were doing the walk, three sections per year.
As advised, I avoided the sprawling city of Richmond and pushed onto the hamlet of Ingleby Cross, arriving just after dark. The 13-mile stretch to Great Broughton the next day looked easy on the map. However the climb, a rollercoaster ascent onto Urra Moor at 3800' never seemed to end. Through a sea of heather and soggy mush I came upon the Lord Stones Café, a gem of a tea house in the middle of a barren, misty moor.
Nothing great about Broughton, but the Wainstones Hotel blessed me with a hot bath and a spacious room. In the morning they drove me back to where I left the path and I was off on the 19-mile section to Glaisdale. The route was very manageable with two memorable markers. The Lion's Inn is an amazing cavernous, ancient pub in the middle of nowhere and bustling with a boisterous lunch crowd. Fat Betty, a large square stone at the halfway mark welcomes 'coasters' to take and/or leave an offering of food.
The kind publican of the Horseshoe Hotel in Glaisdale got all my gear dry, even my shoes as he offered me an educational tasting of fine English ales.
The final day of 14- I'm feelin' good and lookin' for an ocean! At Beggar's Bridge on the outskirts of Glaisdale, I watched a trout fisherman flick flies into the River Eske which I followed east toward the sea.
Nineteen miles of sharp rocks, muddy tracks and soggy bogs over four moors, one named Ugglebarney - the walk in the rain to Robin Hood's Bay was emblematic of the two weeks I'd spent on Wainwright's Coast To Coast Walk. High spirits amid miserable conditions, first I spotted the North Sea. Then the village. Then the massive bay - Robin Hood's Bay. After several hundred miles, there it was - the North Sea receding in high tide. The end.
No yips, yehs or high fives, I quietly lost it looking over the sea from the cliff behind the Victoria Hotel. Mission accomplished. I collected my signed certificate, bought the 'Coast To Coast' coffee mug and a T-shirt to boot and then celebrated a tad too much at the iconic Bay Hotel. Sixty-five years old today- still relevant and entirely capable of coming up with a really big, really bad idea.