Coast to Coast

A Poem - April 2007

When winter gales assail our doors
And drive us sleet-whipped from the moors
We hunker down beside the fire
Recounting tales of scrambles dire,
Of surging stream and mountain fog
Where dreadful cliff with oozing bog
And drifted snow or driven rain
Presaged we’d not hike home again.

Though copious draughts of foaming ale
Enlarge the scale of any tale,
Our strength the more is, due to drink:
Thus dangers vanquished fade and shrink.
Landlord fills the glasses gladly
Optimism rises madly
‘Til some daft soul, the booze-soaked sot,
His name and family long forgot,
Sways drunkenly and tells mine host:
‘We’re goin’ to walk the Coast to Coast.’

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn,
Of thee such crazy schemes are born.
Reality, that fickle bride,
Has tossed her head and stormed outside.
Our mind’s eye pictures cloudless days,
Warm breezes, picnics, sunlit bays,
Benign conditions on the fells,
Soft dappled light in bosky dells,
Refreshing tea and scones and cakes
From sea to sea in Dales and Lakes,
A trek devoid of aches and pains,
No blisters, joint and muscle strains,
Our legs possessed of boundless power,
And pubs that know no closing hour.

Our whispering relatives and friends
Confer on what our urge portends
While stifling a rare profanity
Expressing doubts about our sanity.

To chase our dreams without a care,
We blithely ponder, unaware.
How to evaluate the route?
How many nights? What choice of boot?
Bed and breakfast? Hostel? Camping?
Short cuts saving miles of tramping?
Dried fruit? Pub lunch? Sandwich to go?
Days short or long? Paths high or low?
Book our beds or opt for pot luck?
Maps or Sat Nav or a guide book?
Use Sherpavan or backpack light?
Such things perplex us, day and night.

Decisions made, the trek is on!
St Bees is quickly here and gone.
Cliff-nesting seabirds scream and glare,
Spring lambs and ewes suspicious stare.
Knees and ankles enter battle
With baked pastures poached by cattle.
We earn our view from Dent Fell’s crest
To Man and Scotland in the west,
While full ahead the mountains rise:
Tomorrow’s targets greet our eyes.

Fast away at half past seven
To the hills of Wainwright’s heaven.
Reckless, we convey our daypacks
Ridge-wise from Great Borne to Haystacks,
A testing struggle for Day Two
That by the end I start to rue,
Stiff and aching, hot of collar,
‘Til revival at Seatoller,
With tea as sweet as maiden’s kiss,
My day’s walk done, I sleep in bliss.

By Greenup Edge and Gibson Knott
Is nine miles, give or take a jot.
For seven hours on the run
I stroll and lounge in glorious sun,
Avoiding Grasmere’s siren song
Where money never lasts you long.

A choice of routes to Patterdale
From Grisedale Hause where east wind’s wail
Cuts through the fleece, the vest, the flesh,
And Granville says: ‘By ‘eck. That’s fresh.’
Cut Striding Edge, St Sunday Crag,
Obscured by grey unyielding clag,
We, not needing second bidding,
Step out smartly for Glenridding.

Next day to Shap, a canny hike
Past Angle Tarn to Kidsty Pike,
High Raise, Low Raise where you oughta
Miss the trudge beside Haweswater.
But wheesht, young man, you’ll get your fairing
If you don’t heed your compass bearing.
Emerging from the smothering cloud,
Like casting off a deathly shroud,
Through sweeter fields to straggling Shap
Where fun seems sparse for any chap,
So young guns rev their hotrods hard:
It’s cool to roar from yard to yard.

We trek from Lakes to Pennine dale
Through hinterlands that try, but fail,
To replicate their neighbours’ styles.
Transition takes full twenty miles,
But slogging through this blasted heath,
A chill wind blowing in our teeth,
We shout with joy on reaching Eden
And rest relieved in Kirkby Stephen.

Nine Standards Rigg, an easy climb,
To tall, grey, silent stones sublime.
There’s driving drizzle from the west
So we duck east from boggy crest
To follow down the River Swale
Through lovely, austere Whitsundale,
By Keld where plates and tea mugs clatter
‘Midst casual hikers’ Sunday chatter,

If winds are high and clouds are low
A duty easy to forgo
Is scuffing through the desolation
Left by lead-mining desecration:
Rather walk the dale at leisure,
Moors demand a sunnier pleasure.
Nurse your body, rest it, feed it.
Store your energy: you’ll need it!
Curd tart at Reeth, ice cream and tea,
Some beers, a meal, a malt or three,
‘Til at breakfast Raymond reckons:
‘Come on, fellers. Richmond beckons.’

Georgian gem or faded glory?
Jury’s out on Richmond’s story.
The Army, I’m told with a frown,
Drags down many a market town.

And sadly there’s no early treat.
Switch off the brain, switch on the feet,
Through fields and lanes and gates and stiles
You’ve twenty-five mind-numbing miles,
Before you reach Osmotherley-
A word of warning brotherly:
Walk brisk, avoiding any risk
Of missing lunch at Danby Wiske,
Stride out until you light upon
Life-saving food at yon White Swan.
Start again with vim and vigour.
Twelve more miles? That’s just a figure!
(Thought for H and P from Rotherham:
Hope the cattle didn’t bother ‘em.)

Fresh from sleep in your four-poster,
Ready for the roller coaster?
Up, along, then down and up it,
Repeat ‘til you’re like a puppet,
Knees like jelly, aching, tired,
Muscle control long expired,
Only glorious panoramas
Mitigate these torture dramas
Until you climb to Urra Moor
Eight miles from the welcoming door,
Eight miles of stones and railway track,
But you’ll feel grateful, that’s the craic!
Now you’ll make it, man of iron,
Your night’s abode - the Blakey Lion.

Downhill for almost half a day,
Such Coast-to-Coasting’s great, I say,
Until at Grosmont, what the heck?
Steep climb ‘twixt me and Littlebeck!
One-in-three! Six hundred feet!
But up I soar with ne’er a bleat.

The last lap looms, and aren’t I glad.
I’m near the end and won’t feel sad
To stop and rest, imbibe the beers,
Pose for photos, smile at the cheers,
Thank the brass band, sign autographs,
Relate my tales, enjoy some laughs.

Greeted by the Welcome Party,
Checked to prove I’m hale and hearty,
Not a blister, nor a splinter-
What shall I dream up next winter?

With apologies to Robert Burns, and with thanks to those I met along the route, to Sherpavan and the many providers of food and accommodation, and last but not least, to my Reception Committee at Robin Hood’s Bay.

Pete Stott
April 2007
                                                                                                                                         To Ennerdale Bridge >>