Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Coast to Coast Walk: From St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay

Alfred Wainwright’s A Coast to Coast Walk is a curious book. It was the first place I thought I should start when preparing for the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk. What happened is that I didn’t consult it much before and during the trip. It wasn’t until after the trip when I picked up the book did it start to make sense to me. Alfred Wainwright (1907 – 1991) published this book in 1973. The book I refer to here is the second edition and from the book flaps “[t]his is the first fully revised and updated edition of A. Wainwright’s unique guide to the Coast to Coast Walk which he devised in the early 1970s.”

The book is a wealth of details on how to get from point A to point B. There is a long tradition of this type of descriptive detail. In the Tower of London, days earlier, an exhibit discussed the history of the Ordinance Survey in the UK and its roots in military considerations (hence the name “ordinance”). This general cultural history, plus Wainwright’s interest in drawing and cartography I guess inevitably led to a very descriptive style where every gate, group of trees, contour line, and geological feature is called out and drawn in loving detail. To be honest, it was overwhelming at first, but makes complete sense now in retrospect having walked the land and seen what Wainwright describes, and more importantly, passed through and over numerous kissing gate and stiles - the very objects he describes. It still blows me away looking at the book as I write this that Wainwright created the 200 drawings and maps that appear in the book. Especially interesting are his precise depictions of views from key peaks where he shows direction and distance to other geographical features.

Mount Grace Priory - Page 124Views from Sunday Crag - Page 43

The book also contains lots of observational (non-navigational) passages that at times contain a good dose of humor or perhaps honesty, take your pick. Some of these selected passages are given below with some photos I captured.

Wainwright: p. 8 Cleator is “an old village that expanded with the boom in the 19th century iron-ore mining and in so doing sacrificed its charm and character. Some architectural pretensions are evident in its places of worship and a few older houses but completely absent in the long terraces of small cottages built to a common pattern.”
Travelmarx: Sort of true. The rows of houses have an odd aspect to them. A line from the peak of the roof to the pavement abruptly separates one dwelling from the other without too much thought for continuity. The church (St. Leonard’s) has a back area with a small replica of Lourdes which I understood to have been built when the miners were out of work and today is maintained by volunteers.

Cleator – Row Houses Split Down the Middle

Patterdale to Shap
Wainwright: p. 46 “This is a farewell to Lakeland, and farewells to Lakeland are always sad. What follows is anti climax – level walking instead of up and down, trees and fields and villages instead of rough and lonely hills: lovely, yes, but not excitingly beautiful as the crossing of Lakeland has been.”
Travelmarx: Lakeland is beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to cozy up in Rosthwaite ( Borrowdale) for several months? But, the rest of the walk is just as beautiful.

Sunbiggin Tarn
Wainwright: p. 64 “Sunbiggin Tarn has many regular visitors, but none of them would describe it as visually attractive: it is little more than a large reedy pond in the middle of a morass.”
Travelmarx: I had a lovely day walking across this area. The skies were blue, the heather, well, it was purple. It was 65 degrees and Kate Bush’s Big Sky kept playing in my head.

Milk at Sunbiggin Farms

Big Skies at Sunbiggin Tarn

Richmond to Ingleby Cross (Vale of Mowbray)
Wainwright: p. 110 “If you are fond of placid rural scenery and have an interest in farming, you might enjoy this section of the walk; but if your preference is for the high ground and rough hills you will find it tedious.” p. 116 “To walkers whose liking is for high places and rough terrain, this will seem the dullest part of the whole walk; those who believe the earth is flat will be mightily encouraged on this section.”
Travelmarx: Yes, this is where we saw fields of grain (barley?) and walked through potato fields. Flat it is, yet, it was still pleasant and I don’t believe the earth is flat.

Grain Field in the Vale of Mowbray

Carlton Moor
Wainwright: p. 131 “Carlton Moor was for centuries a place of work; more recently it has been a place of leisure. Gliding is a fine sport, a thrilling and graceful exercise, and it creates no noise or litter – but not even the most ardent enthusiast will claim that the landscape has been improved by its conversion to runways and some may even agree that a large tract of natural scenery has been despoiled.”
Travelmarx: Yes, you can tell something is slightly different there, but, maybe I was too tired to care, the sun was too hot, and I was too hungry for a bacon and egg sandwich at Lord Stones Café. Could also be that the land has rebounded a bit since Wainwright wrote about it since gliding activities were suspended in 2008.

Landing Strips in Carlton Moor

Gliding Club Buildings

Robin Hood’s Bay
Wainwright: p. 163 “Now you can rest on your laurels in the Bay Hotel with a pint, but (let there be no misunderstanding about this) you do so at your own expense. It’s no use saying ‘charge it to Wainwright’ as you could in days gone by at the Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm. No, sonny, that game won’t work here. Pay for you own. I’m skint.”
Travelmarx: I didn’t think to try to charge it to Wainwright. We did have a nice celebration dinner at the Bay Hotel. And, if you are wondering skint = broke.

The Bay Hotel at Robin Hood’s Bay

Personal Notes
Wainwright: p xiv “…I would feel I had succeeded better in arousing interest for the planning of private long-distance walks if the book induced some readers to follow instead their own star and find their own rainbow’s end.”
Travelmarx: We did see a rainbow while celebrating at the Bay Hotel. An appropriate end.

A Rainbow Over Ravenscar Caps the Journey

The Book Flaps of Wainwright’s Book – Second Edition

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