Post 21: Alfred Wainwright’s ‘A Coast to Coast Walk’ was published in 1973, one of my biggest regrets being that I did not become aware of it in detail until 1989, after it appeared as a TV series. Seeing an elderly Alfred Wainwright, smoking his pipe strolling along the route, made me think if he can walk coast to coast so can I. Little did I realise he had never walked it in one go.
I did not feel competent in terms of experience or equipment to be able to attempt it until 1991, the year Wainwright passed away. According to the cSunday Times, 13 April 1997, one and a half million copies of the book had been sold and 20,000 walkers per annum walk it. A café owner en route, at Carlton bank, on the North York Moors, estimated that 5,000 walkers completed coast to coast each year. Perhaps the other 15,000 do sections of the walk. Despite the walks popularity, volunteers to join me were few and far between. Gary was unable to get a two-week pass from work or his wife. However, after a little gentle persuasion Archie agreed to join me on what would be his first and almost last long-distance. There is not a more enjoyable way to learn about British history, geography, and the countryside than to embark on a walk such as this. It has been voted the second best long-distance walk in the world, the Milford Trail in New Zealand gaining top spot. Alan, who has walked the Milford Trail, has questioned whether the Milford Trail deserves the top spot.
28 March 1991
Excitement was in the air, my training was finished, my packing was all done and all that remained was the big weigh in; my pack was twenty-eight pounds. My only concern was a pain in my instep, which I had repeatedly suffered from since May 1990 whilst wearing my everyday work shoes. It was probably a reaction to increased training. The only cure seemed to be walking boots with sorbothane insoles, but I could hardly go to work in those. I eventually discovered that leather soled shoes rectified the problem.
The first mistake we made was that we didn’t use the scenic Settle – Carlisle train but, as British Rail were trying to close it, they rarely advertised it. This dramatic line through some of England’s finest scenery ought to be publicised far and wide, but British Rail preferred to try and close it. It is a gem. Only a concerted campaign by railway enthusiasts saved it from closure. Our route was to go from York to Newcastle, then Carlisle, and then to St Bees the westerly start of this classic walk. The train out of York was the latest ‘high-tech’ Yorkshire Express with push button door openers and locks and a telephone, both relatively new innovations in 1991. I nearly had an accident whilst trying to work out how the toilet door opened and how it was locked. We felt a bit odd in our outdoor gear in an air-conditioned carriage. Most of the other passengers were on their way to the cathedral of shopping at the Gateshead Metro Centre – ugh! To a lover of the outdoors it is the nearest thing to a hell on earth, too many people, too many cars, too many eating places , too many shops, and too high prices; it even has a fairground.
So successful was this type of train that they have spread all over the country. The train from Newcastle to Carlisle was a more familiar, draughty, ‘boneshaker’. Looking towards Hadrian’s Wall the countryside became remote, but welcoming to walkers.
Arriving at Carlisle we had a shock; of the six carriages on the St Bees train, two were reserved for Sellafield nuclear power station workers only. Even worse, no workers appeared and I could only assume those on this stretch of the line had fled or died of radiation. Were we condemned coast to coasters? This could be a job for 007.