How do do find time to complete a long-distance walk and keep your wife happy?

Post 51: April 1993 – On Foot From Coast to Coast – The North of England Way – a ‘New Man’, aged 41

Whilst recognising that on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk you start as a boy and finish as a man, on my coast to coast you start as a man/woman and finish as a younger man/woman, in spirit if not in age. You finish as a ‘New Man’ or ‘New Woman’.

How do you devise a 200-mile walk, complete the walk, then write a book about the walk, all with a full-time job, a wife who works full-time, household chores to do, a dog that needs walking twice a day, two teenage children who need ferrying here and there? Answer: with great difficulty.

The dog walking is no problem as the walking gets you fit, the children don’t mind as long as you do what they want in between walks, the wife may grumble a bit or a lot when you keep disappearing to the computer and away for days and weekends mapping and walking. However, she will forgive you if you do a lot of the ironing, hoovering, washing, shopping and other household chores. So how do you fit all these in?

Never go up or down the stairs without carrying something, such as ironing to be put away or washing to be hung. Never iron things that don’t really need ironing, such as underpants. Buy a dishwasher and microwave. Hoover and dust rooms first that will get dirty again last, for example, bedrooms.

Only twenty-six per cent of men do the weekly household shopping, dropping to eleven per cent of men who have families. If, like me, you are one of the eleven per cent, then do your shopping at 9.00am on a Saturday morning; any earlier, then only one till will be open and you will have to wait for the two people who are always in front of you. If you leave it later in the morning there will be lots of customers resulting in the tills always being busy. Always try to arrange dusting of the living room, ironing and writing Christmas cards to coincide with watching television (often recorded programmes) or listening to the radio. Otherwise you are wasting time; time you haven’t got. When having a day out walking, leave early in the morning (ideally 7.30am, 8.00am at the latest) to avoid traffic jams, thus enabling you to get back early to enable you to keep the wife and children ‘happy.’

Avoid general shopping trips, during which you wander around looking at things but never buy anything. Women in particular are prone to this activity, which has become one of the country’s leading leisure pursuits. To me it is simply a complete waste of time. If you need something, head to the shops and buy it, but don’t go to twenty shops looking at everything only to return to the first shop to buy the article.

A more drastic alternative is not to get married, not to have children, then in theory you should have plenty of time to indulge in walking.

More conventional is to leave the walking until the children have left home, although by that time you will be too unfit for really serious walking and your wife may have got too used to having you around.

Having sorted all these domestic chores out, you are ready to embark on yet another adventure, to experience the freedom and excitement of devising your own long-distance walk. Here is my story.

(Update: in theory, internet shopping and home deliveries in more recent years have made fitting everything in a lot easier).

29 March 1993

Farewells to the family as I left; your mind racked with guilt for abandoning them for a week or so. This guilt does diminish over the years as, when your children become teenagers, you can’t wait to escape some of their annoying habits; not least music so loud your eardrums nearly burst.

Travelled on the train to Leeds, then on to Preston where Alan joined me. It was with a little trepidation that we arrived at a wet Ravenglass station at 3.30pm to embark on this long-awaited adventure – my own coast to coast walk. I was still uncertain whether my knee would withstand 200 miles of walking across England. I also wondered whether my coast to coast route would meet all the original objectives I had set, the overriding objective of which was to select the best southerly coast to coast route. I was not to be disappointed and, indeed, with excellent weather for most of the fourteen-day walk, all my expectations were exceeded.

BDWW MArch 2011 Lakes-088_edited-1
Ravenglass Sunset


BDWW MArch 2011 Lakes-086_edited-1In the evening we went to the Ratty Arms pub, near the Ratty museum and railway station. Ravenglass is the western home of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, England’s oldest narrow-gauge railway. With a gauge of 15-inches, it’s a bit like riding on your son’s Hornby train set with wind blowing through your hair and beautiful scenery all around. If enthusiasts can make such a small train line profitable, why couldn’t British Rail (as it was then) keep their country lines open in 1963 when Beeching axed many of them?


A Nagging Pain, Frozen Peas on Naked Knees, a Wedding, and the Last Day before my Own Coast to Coast.

Post 50: 23 January 1993

The nagging pain in my knee returned, making me feel quite depressed; I couldn’t understand why it was still there. I booked in to see the Doctor again. Again, he advised keep walking.

25 January 1993

Utter despair. I walked 4 miles on Saturday and Sunday with no problems, but by Monday I was in agony again. I was ninety-nine per cent certain my walk would be off.

28 January 1993

A small miracle seems to have happened. After over four weeks of pain, this is the first day I haven’t had any. I spoke to a former colleague, now a physiotherapist, who advised frozen peas to reduce the swelling and it worked!


He also recommended special leg exercises, which also helped. I was still waiting to hear from the National Health Service physiotherapist. I have never fully understood the NHS waiting list system, which seems to work on the basis that you get better before you are attended to; no wonder statistics show waiting lists are coming down, everyone is getting better before they are attended to. Time can be a great healer.

31 January 1993

By this time I was very optimistic about doing the walk. All pain has gone from my knee and I had done some reasonable walks with my dog. I was really excited at the prospect of two weeks of walking on a virgin route.

1 February 1993

However, there was now a setback. Alfie didn’t think he could make the walk as he was smitten by a new lady in his life; it sounded very serious. The matter was put to the ‘Ethics Committee’, which ruled five years could be given off from long-distance walking for marriage, provided members were invited to the wedding. Alfie was left with no choice; he proposed, she accepted and he was therefore excused from the walk. I couldn’t help but question his commitment to long-distance walking, but then he hadn’t had the best of times on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk.

5 February 1993

I woke up with a sore throat and aching all over, a virus? Wainwright used to say that he never had a day off work and put it down to the beneficial effects of walking. I also had an excellent attendance record at work and again felt this was due to the health giving properties of walking, minimising the effects of viruses, colds and other ailments that seem to keep other people off work for days. Statistics show that the average person has something like eight days off work per annum, whereas I averaged one day every three years. Usually, when that aching feeling comes over an early night and lots of fruit juice seems to cure it. I desperately needed to get out for a long walk on Sunday to test my knee, otherwise I couldn’t go for another three weeks.

7 February 1993

I was now feeling much better. It was glorious February morning, mild and sunny. To test my knee out I went for a walk from Crosscliffe Viewpoint on the North York Moors. The smell of the pine trees and morning dew seemed so strong. It was great to be out in the country again with its smells, sights and sounds. I didn’t feel one hundred per cent, but we pressed on for 8 miles and my knee was okay. Only seven weeks to go and, although I’ll never be as fit as I hoped, there was a good chance I could at least start the walk. If Ranulph Fiennes can walk unsupported across Antarctica, surely I can walk coast to coast?

28 February 1993

Snow everywhere so we couldn’t go to the North York Moors as planned but still managed a 15-mile local walk. Knee okay, things are looking good.

6 March 1993

Went to the North York Moors for another walk, near Dalby Forest, My knee was okay apart from one or two twinges in the evening.

13 March 1993

This was my final walk on the North York Moors, before embarking on coast to coast. No problems with knee.

28 March 1993

This was the day before coast to coast. Weather forecast is for an unsettled first week. I felt a little anxious. Would my route and knee hold up? However, once I start walking there would be a sense of freedom and excitement, similar to when I hitch-hiked solo to Europe when I was eighteen or when I toured New York and Canada at the age of twenty.

Dad’s Football Match followed by a Visit to Hospital

Post 49: 28 December 1992

This is a time for reflection. I am sitting in York District Hospital Casualty Department with my left knee the size of a balloon.

The receptionist, who happens to live in my village, was clearly amused at my predicament.

‘Oh, what have you been doing?’ she said, as though I was a naughty little boy. York is one of those places where everyone knows your business.

‘Playing football.’

‘What at your age?’ she said.

‘I was in the dad’s football match, a mistimed tackle just as I was about to score a goal did the damage.’ I said. ‘I was only on for five minutes. I have a history of ligament problems due to jumping off sand dunes; but my wife and children persuaded me to take part.’

When I was seventeen I went on a school geography field trip to the University of Swansea and, whilst surveying a beach, I went for the longest long-jump off a sand dune, but instead badly strained my knee ligaments. My career in sport, as a member of the school football team, basketball captain and keen tennis player, was ended on that fateful day. Since then, I have avoided serious twisting sports, until I was reluctantly persuaded to play in the dad’s football match. As a result, I was again in hospital with a suspected ligament injury. I no longer felt a ‘New Man’. In fact I felt a very old and frail man. After about two hours, a young doctor came to see me.

‘What have we been doing here?’ the doctor said, prodding my knee until I winced, again making me feel like an errant little boy.

‘I was in the dad’s football match and, after a mistimed tackle, pirouetted to end up on the floor.’

‘Ah, I see,’ he said, again feeling my knee to make me grimace. ‘I think you have a bad strain of the crucial ligament. It’s a common football injury, Gazza, Brian Clough and a number of other footballers have had it.’

‘What can be done about it?’

‘Well we could operate, but it’s not worth it on you. Just completely rest it, bandaged up, for two days, then gradually start to use it, but don’t do any twisting sports such as football, badminton, or tennis.’

‘What about long-distance walking?’

‘Yes, couldn’t be better, as long as you build up gradually.’

‘Great, I have a 200-mile coast to coast walk at Easter. Will that be okay?’

‘You’ll have to see.’

1 January 1993

It was a bright sunny day. Having spent a week on the sofa with my leg supported in the air, I was desperate to get my legs moving again. I only had three months left before I was due to walk 200 miles from Ravenglass on the Irish Sea to Scarborough on the North Sea.

After two years of scouring maps, completing day walks and undertaking extensive research of churches, pubs, villages, and breweries, my draft coast to coast guide book was completed; now I wanted to walk it in its entirety. I hobbled along with my cross bearded- collie/whippet tugging me along, a sorry sight (no not the dog) and hardly the ‘New Man’ I was supposed to be.

4 January 1993

Back to work. I could only just manage to drive the car. Coast to coast seemed a remote possibility, but at least my knee was no longer balloon size.

16 January 1993

It was time to see the Doctor. Although I was able to walk short distances of half-a-mile or so, there was often a nagging pain in the knee, like toothache.

‘Will I be able to walk 200 miles coast to coast at Easter?’ I said anticipating a firm no in reply. Was this the end of my dream of walking my own coast to coast route. This had been an obsession, like an itch that you have to scratch and can’t leave alone.

‘Yes, it should be okay by Easter, just keep walking,’ he said surprisingly. ‘Did I tell you about the time I was in the Cairngorms when the wind was so bad we had to crawl on all fours using ice-axes?’

I suddenly realised the advice I was being given to me was by one of those crazy rock climbing types who believe everything is alright, until they stop breathing. Broken legs, ribs, arms etc. don’t stop you climbing or walking; you only stop when rigor mortis has set in.

Some encouragement was better than none, so I began doing longer walks, first half-an-hour, then three-quarters of an hour, an hour and then an hour and a quarter.


April Fools Day, the Last but Most Difficult Day and a Black Eye


Post 48: 1 April 1992: Day 5 – Caldbeck (Whelpo) to Carlisle – 20 miles.

After a good breakfast and knowing this was our last day, spirits were high. We had completely forgotten it was April Fools Day. This was a mistake because the rain, sleet and snow were torrential. With a train to catch at 3.30pm and 20 miles to walk we left the bed and breakfast at 8.30am.
Passing through Parsons Park, a young deer ran across our path and a red squirrel shot up a tree in front of us. The path descended to the River Caldew and I noted the comments in the guide book:

‘The banks of the River Caldew are subject to erosion. This necessitates minor diversions from time to time, which cannot be anticipated on the map or within the text.’

Gary was heading nearer and nearer to the raging torrent that called itself a river. Soaking wet from the torrential rain he was in great haste. I suddenly realised that he was getting dangerously close to the river, so that if he slipped his pack would drag him to the bottom and he would never be recovered alive.
‘Stop!’ I shouted as loud as I could above the roar of the gushing water.
‘What?’ he replied.
‘We can’t carry on along this path as it goes too close to the river and we might slip in. I think its best we go back and find another route.’
Gary grunted as he was clearly unhappy with this, never liking to go back over a route he had already done. I would have preferred to go back further.

‘Okay, then let’s try climbing this bank,’ I said noting his reluctance to go back. I started to clamber up a steep muddy bank. My boots slipped and the weight of my pack suddenly made me realise that this was a mistake. Under my breathe I cursed Gary for not agreeing to go back further along the proper path. It is at times like this that real friendships are tested. I grabbed a branch to give me some leverage, then suddenly there was a snap and blinding flash.
‘You alright?’ Gary said.
I swore under my breath. ‘ What do you think?’ I said grasping my eye, which had been hit by the branch. ‘Oooh…..’ my eye was stinging, watering and couldn’t be opened. I began to think walks in the country shouldn’t be like this. After about five minutes, I managed to open the eye and was much relieved to find I could still see.
‘You’ve got a black eye,’ Gary said.
‘Great, that’ll take some explaining to my wife.’
Eventually we reached a better path and started to follow it along the valley until it dropped down to the river again.
A sign said as we reached a landslide of mud and trees that went straight into the river. Was this the Himalayas or the Lake District I thought to myself? We cautiously found our way through the mud realising that one slip and we were goners in the river.

It was with great relief that we left the mud and forested area to stop for a miserable, wet, refreshment break perched on a rock.

After that it was head down, best foot forward, as we raced through puddles, rain, streams and mud to reach the end of the walk in Carlisle at 2.30pm. 20 miles completed in six hours. A weir looked like Niagara Falls as we posed for photographs in front of it, pleased that, despite the atrocious conditions, we had managed to finish the walk. Having forgot his gaiters, Gary’s trousers were brown with mud up to the knees.

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The Cumbria Way 1992
The River Caldew in full spate. The end of the Cumbria Way 1992

Next stop was the railway station, where we headed for the gents loo to change into some dry clothing. At this point, Gary realised he had lost his glasses and I realised all my maps were soaked through. From there we went to the snack bar for some warming soup, then it was on the Carlisle – Settle train, with connections to York.

When I got home I turned out my clothes into the linen basket, next to the dog’s basket. The dog refused to go on his basket. I know dogs have sensitive smell, but I hadn’t realised it was that sensitive!
It took only one day to recover from the hardships of the walk, then I started to look forward to the next one – my own coast to coast walk!