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Sherpa Expeditions traveller Jac Lofts share hers experience on our Coast to Coast - Guided (15 days) trip.
Why did you choose your trip?
I wanted to get out and experience the English countryside with some fellow walkers.
How did you prepare?
I did lots of full day walks at home (Sydney, Australia) and I’m really glad I did. The coast to coast throws a bit of everything at you – rain and mud and bog. The walks are quite long so particularly for the full end to end walk, it’s a real test of one's endurance.
What was the best part of your trip?
I loved the mix of accommodation – the B&Bs & pubs etc. Also the bonding over a beer each evening to compare stories, photos and our various aches and pains!
Your favourite destination?
I really liked Patterdale, just a tiny little town but the 400 year old pub we stayed in has a lovely setting surrounded by hills and pastures , a nice river, plus great food - and, if you’re lucky like we were, some local musicians for entertainment.
Best food and drink?
Fish & chips featured on most menus so most of our group had this at least once. My fish & chips at the Red Lion in Grasmere was excellent – best hand cut chunky chips ever. Trying the various local ales at each stop was an enjoyable daily ritual.
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Sherpa Expeditions travellers Mary & Joe Richardson talk to us about their journey to England and their experiences on our Cornish Coastal Path - Marazion to Mevagissey trip.
Why did you choose your trip?
I have wanted to walk the coast of Cornwall ever since reading Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier as a young teenager. Later, a more mature interest in history enforced my fascination with the area.
However, we had another reason for taking this particular trip – my husband I have somehow become senior citizens, and we were looking for a walk that would be a bit easy on our old bodies yet still be fascinating and beautiful. My husband has a brand new stainless steel knee, and I have a condition which affects balance. So, he was pokey climbing up hills and stairs, and I was cautious coming down - walking together we were slow as mud. We looked at each day and found ways to shorten the walk to accommodate our disabilities – and we still had a great time.
How did you prepare?
We live near the Louisiana coast in the United States. The elevation is 13 feet above sea level and there's not a real hill in the whole state, so we relied on the gym for training almost every day. None of the machines are a good substitute for walking real hills on uneven terrain, but it was the best we could do.
What was the best part of your trip?
Before talking about the scenery, I have to admit that one of the reasons I love Sherpa walking tours is the accommodations. Each night I could count on a room that not only had a hot shower, but also a hair dryer and good smelling shampoo. Moreover, each place is always lovely and has personality. The inns' owners are enviably helpful and give loads of information about where to go, where to eat, and what to make sure we don't miss (special thanks to the wonderful people at Gallentreath in Porthallow and at Bacchus B&B in Mevagissey).
Then there was the scenery. We experienced cliffs in a variety of ways, each with charm. There was only one bright-blue-sky day, which was of course gorgeous. One day we walked in deep fog. We could hear the surf crashing below us, but we couldn't see it. We were cocooned in a white mist that made every flower stand out in sharp relief and every bird call sound like it was just out of reach. Then, every once in a while, the fog would part and we got a glimpse of grey blue sea and shoreline before it closed in again. That day was lovely.
Another day, the wind was blowing at gale force and the red warning balls were up. I felt secure because the wind was blowing us toward the land, not over the cliffs. It gave us a sense of the power of nature in Cornwall. The many stories of shipwrecks on the reefs below seemed very real.
A personal highlight was going into all the Anglican churches along the path and in the villages. One not to be missed is the Little Church of St. Winwalloe (Day 3). It dates mainly from the 15th century and older, and is still being used. It is tucked right into a cliff near the beach. The stained glass windows in the Church of England in St. Mawes are outstanding and well worth a climb up the hill.
We happened to be in the village of Portloe on a Sunday and I attended a Church of England service (hiking clothes are considered church-appropriate). The people were exceptionally welcoming, and I got to see the preparations for a wedding between two families who had lived in the area for centuries. Attending Sunday service in this historic Anglican/Methodist church was my most intensely moving moment of our trip.
The single most beautiful place for me was the tiny beach at Mullion Cove. We were pleasantly tired from the descent, and we joined several other hikers on a little wooden bench facing the sea. The sun broke out and hikers started peeling jackets, loosening hiking boots, and breaking out granola bars in companionable silence. The combination of warm sun, blue water, fresh breeze, rocky cliffs, and old stone houses made me realize why people are passionate about Cornwall. I just wish there had been time for a nap.
...and the most challenging part?
The most challenging part was figuring out how we could see as much as possible with our physical limitations. We knew that if a walk was listed as “six hours” in the Sherpa guidebooks, it might take us 12. And in most places we couldn't get a really early start because breakfast wasn't served until around 8 am; each breakfast was so good that skipping wasn't an option.
We shortened each day, usually by substituting walks along country roads for the worst of the ascents/descents from cliff to beach. We augmented the maps supplied by Sherpa with local road maps, and these were very helpful. We also caught rides part way on two occasions. We were always afraid of missing something spectacular, and I'm sure we did. However, each shortcut brought its own special experiences and encounters with people, their dogs, and in one case, a blueberry picker who offered us a ride.
Your favourite destination?
We were so fascinated with the town of Mevagissey that we were glad we came to it at the end of the hike and could stay a couple extra days. Many of the original stone 17th century buildings have been repurposed into restaurants and stores (including the best Cornish ice cream stand of the whole walk), but it is still a working fishing village. You can buy raw, fresh-caught fish on the dock. The tide, as everywhere in Cornwall, is a force to behold. In the inner harbour, fishing boats would be perched on dry harbour-bottom, then, 12 or so hours later, they would be floating almost even with the sidewalks. There is a quirky museum filled with local artefacts, and a charming little aquarium housed in an old lifeboat station. I liked the aquarium because it displayed the fish that people actually catch in the area; I could see what the filets I had been eating looked like when they were still swimming.
Best food and drink?
Pub food is fantastic! We learned early on to avoid the cheaper fish and chip places, and head to the pubs. Although the fish and chips at the 15th century Fountain Inn in Mevagissey were the best of our entire stay in England. The overall best pub was The Five Pilchards Inn in Porthallow. The menu includes all manner of seafood including king prawns and mussels, not to mention what I ordered – Fillet of Hake with crushed new potatoes and mange tout, served with a Crab, White Wine & Saffron Sauce. That was followed by a made-just-for-me (honest!) Summer Berry Pavlova with Clotted Cream.
I had not known that pubs were family affairs. Small children and dogs were plentiful, and very welcome. Fish and eggs are both fresh in Cornwall. A sign in The Ship Inn in Portloe said, “Tomorrow's menu is still in the sea” and I believe it was. At breakfast, the eggs were almost always free range.
MARY'S TOP TIPS
Look at the shirts the bartenders in the pubs are wearing. Often they will have an insignia for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which is a volunteer organization that saves lives at sea. These young men are involved in the welfare of their fishing communities.
A very important note about ferries: An “on demand” ferry means that you are supposed to turn a sign on a billboard to let the ferry operator know you want to go across. We were at the ferry at Helford (Day 5) for a long time. I didn't mind because it was near the location of “Frenchman's Creek” and I wanted to look around. But when the ferry finally came, the operator told us we hadn't flipped the sign – if someone on the other side hadn't wanted to cross, he would never have come.
Buy hiking pants that zip off at the knee. Most of the dirt, mud, and sheep dung will be on the lower parts of your pants, so you can unzip them and wash just the most dirty parts in the sink. It works beautifully.
If you are from the United States, don't mention the Doc Martin TV show, no matter how much you like it. People in Cornwall think it's stupid. One told me it makes Cornwall residents look “dense.” I'm looking at that show differently now.
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is place of great dramatic
walks with Atlantic views, of mysterious coastal and highland mists, of intricate water canals and the innate friendliness of the Madeiran / Portuguese people themselves. The jagged peaks flanked by forests of pine and laurel, rise up to over 1800 metres and betray their volcanic origins.
Through these peaks thread the 2000 km of levada channels bringing water down to the coastal settlements. During spring and autumn a myriad of colourful flowers and trees are in bloom: Jasmines, Begonias, Freesias, Magnolias and Camellias form just part of the spectacular flora. Walking routes in Madeira follow paths and levadas through the peaceful pastoral countryside and traversing the terraced hillsides. More challenging trails traverse the coastline and climb up to the rugged peaks of the interior including Pico Ruivo 1860m - the highest summit. Highlights of a trip here include having look around some of the interesting villages and towns including Funchal and a wicker sled ride down from Monte to the capital, which is an interesting experience, as is a visit to a Madeira wine lodge or the food and flower markets bursting with colour.
When to walk in Madeira
Anytime is an ideal time to go walking on the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira. Surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, 400km north of Tenerife, it's warmed by the Gulf Stream and enjoys a pleasant sub-tropical climate all year round.
During spring and autumn especially, there is more chance of the unstable weather associated with Atlantic fronts than during the summer, although they may only last an hour or so and then there may be a complete reverse back to glorious sunshine. So although it is generally bright and warm in this region each year, you should be prepared for rain, cold weather, high winds, and a particular Madeiran speciality: mountain and coastal mists.
A little on the history of Madeira
Madeira was discovered by sailors in the service of the Infante Prince Henry of Portugal (soon to become known as Henry the Navigator) in 1419, settled in 1420. The name Ilha da Madeira (English: Madeira Island) literally means 'Island of wood' in reference to the dense forest of laurisilva trees that covered the island.
Interesting historical facts about Madeira:
Madeira is famous for it's unique fortified
Madeira Wine. Originally created by accident, its unique charactistic comes from the introduction of grape spirits (added to prevent the wine from spoiling) and the excessive heat and movement that the wine was exposed to as it made its way across the seas in ships headed for the New World or East Indies. The
UNESCO-listed Laurisilva Forest of Madeira dates back to the Ice Age and is the largest surviving laurel forest in the world. It's also home to a very unique ecosystem of flora and fauna including the native Madeira Long-Toed Pigeon which lays only a single white egg. In 1815,
Napoleon Bonaparte stopped off to buy Madeira wine in Funchal en route his final destination and exile on the island of St. Helena. Winston Churchill came here on holiday to paint and write his WWII memoirs in 1950, and former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and husband Dennis spent their honeymoon in Madeira 1951, returning 50 years later to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary.
doesn't actually come from Madeira. It was named after Madeira Cake Madeira wine which was popular in England during the 19th century and was often served with a slice of golden-yellow 'Madeira' sponge cake. Getting to/from Madeira
Madeira is around a 4 hour flight from the U.K. and is served by numerous airlines from most major airports across Britain. Madeira's main airport 'Funchal Airport' itself is quite an engineering feat and consists of an elevated platform partly over the Atlantic ocean.
The historic town of Machico is the starting point for our Madeira walking holidays and is around 15 minutes drive from Funchal Airport.
Walking Holidays in Madeira
Sherpa Expeditions offers guided and self-guided itineraries to help you get the most out of your walking holiday in Madeira:
If you have been walking on the Spanish mainland, or have been to The Canaries before and you come to La Gomera, you will probably notice that this, the second smallest island of the Canaries is something special, altogether quite different. Some people liken it to Spain in the 1970s, but if you have travelled to countries of Central or South America, there are certainly Latin American elements that you will recognize in the villages and landscapes.
Due to the fact that most Spanish tourism has been beach focused and that Gomera has little flat land and only a few small beaches with deep water and sometimes strong currents, it has survived from the frenzy of development seen elsewhere in the Spanish territories. As a result the island has an old world rural feel to it with homesteads, small vineyards, layers of terraces and large rocky peaks set in an amazing crown of Laurisilva - a laurel cloud forest. A remnant of the last Ice Age and Tertiary period, the Laurisilva is kept alive by trade wind rains and the sound conservation by the Garajonay National Park (which enjoys UNESCO recognition),where other islands have been largely deforested.
The upper reaches of this densely wooded region are often shrouded in cloud and swirling mist, which has maintained this lush and diverse vegetation. In ancient times the local population (Guanches) used to collect the water dripping from the trees into jars and fill their reservoirs with it. Even today the tap water on the island comes from the ground water aquifers and although it is treated, it is drinkable – you don't need to keep buying bottled water.
Landscapes of La Gomera
La Gomera is of volcanic origin and the mountainous Gomeran slopes are criss-crossed by paths, presenting varying levels of challenge to walkers and stunning views to reward the energetic. The island is roughly circular, about 22 km (15 miles) in diameter and rising to 1487 m (nearly 5000 feet) at the central peak of Garajonay. It is shaped rather like half of a peeled orange from which the segments have been parted, leaving deep ravines or barrancos which are coated with laurisilva.
Between the extremes of the high cool vegetation and the warmer sun-baked cliffs near sea level, the Gomerans have for centuries farmed the lower levels, channelling water for the irrigation of their vines, fruits and vegetables, such as bananas. Because of the narrow barrancos, Gomerans have a unique way of communicating across the valleys by an amazing kind of whistled speech called Silbo. Silbo Gomero is an indigenous language, whose existence was known since Roman times. Invented by the original inhabitants of the island, the Guanches, Silbo was adopted by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century and survived after the extinction of the Guanches. When this was about to die out early in the 21st century, the local government required all children to learn it in school.
Eating your way around La Gomera
Canarian cooking is Mediterranean in style but with its own unique character. There is a distinct preference for traditional farm produce and meats, with low reliance on fatty foods. Gofio, a traditional staple of the Islands, has its roots in Spanish Canarian culture. Made from ground and toasted maize or wheat, gofio is highly nutritious and can be eaten as a dough mix, with savoury foods such as fish, or as a drink in milk. There are also a number of excellent cheeses made on the island, the best are those white cheeses from goats. There are a lot of pigs kept and pork is a common ingredient of succulent stews and hearty soups. Fish is probably the most common Canarian staple, be it fresh or salted and usually accompanied by one of a large selection of ‘Mojo’ sauces which range in flavour and strength, from the extremely hot and spicy to medium or very mild. ’Sancocho’ is one of the traditional fish stews made from salted sea bream, stone bass or wreck fish (this species has no English equivalent) which should be tried.
Potatoes are another common ingredient and come in a variety of ways. Outstanding are the potato stews orthe ubiquitous and aptly named ‘Papas arrugadas’ (wrinkled potatoes), which are boiled in extremely salty water and eaten with hot ‘Mojo’ sauce. To round out your taste experience, there are shellfish and a variety of tropical fruits. Atypical product of La Gomera is ‘Guarapo’, the sap taken from the countless palm trees dotted around the Island which is cooked to make ‘palm honey' The local wine is 'distinctive', and complements a tapa (snack) of Gomerian cheese, roasted pork or goat meat. The better ones are the whites such as 'Asocado'. Brands to look for include 'Garajonay' and 'Roque Cano.'
Self-Guided Walking Holidays in La Gomera
Sherpa Expeditions offers three different trips designed to help you get the most out of your self-guided walking holiday in La Gomera.
Getting to/from La Gomera
The easiest way to get to La Gomera is to fly to Tenerife (not Tenerife North Airport – further out of the way) and then get the ferry or catermaran to San Sebastian. If you are pushed for time you can take a taxi from the airport to the "Ferry Los Cristianos" (25 Euros approx) which is the port at Playa de Las Américas, for onward ferry to La Gomera taking 40 minutes approx. If however, you are not pushed for time, there is a bus service that leaves from directly outside the terminal to Los Christianos interchange building, 2 Euros each way (approx) you need to check times locally. There are two main ferry operators between Los Cristianos and San Sebastion, with a number of daily departures.
From their food to their villages, the French love to rate things.
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France , or Most Beautiful Villages in France, consists of 156 villages spread over 21 regions - and given there are over 32,000 villages in France this list might help you narrow down your dream French itinerary!
Many of these villages feature in our range of walking and cycling tours – here’s a few of our favourites.
This “bastide” or fortified village near Albi overlooks the Vère valley and lies in the heart of the Gaillac vineyards. It was founded by Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse, and its church is home to the reliquary cross of the Counts of Armagnac, adorned with 310 precious stones.
Explore Castelnau-de-Montmiral and other historic sites of the Cathars on our
journey. Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron
Nestled in lush green surroundings, the tiny village of Conques is a must-see highlight on the French Way of St James. A visit here will see you encounter the classic half-timbered house architecture as well as the main attraction, a golden statue covered in gold and precious stones in the Romanesque UNESCO World Heritage listed abbey of Sainte Foy.
Discover Conques on one of our walks along
. the Way of St James
Located on the Wine Route, right in the middle of the vineyards, this flower-decked village of Alsace conceals a wealth of treasures and unusual sights: its 16C houses, its fortified church and cemetery, which make Hunawihr one of the few examples of defensive religious architecture, and for a romantic touch, its Butterfly Garden.
Set in the heart of the Alpilles, the region that captivated the Dutch impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, Les Baux-de-Provence is perched like an eagle’s nest boasting views across the Camargue. The town was owned by the Grimaldi family until 1790 and Prince Albert of Monaco still retains the honorary title of Marquess of Les Baux.
Get there on our
In Van Gogh’s Footsteps
At the foot of Mount Saint Odile, surrounded by vineyards, this village is the preserve of the Zotzenberg grand cru and bears a definite stamp of its winegrowing culture: from the architecture of its houses opening onto large courtyards flanked by buildings for winemaking to the "Weinschlag", a precious compendium containing a wealth of information about vineyards and wine since 1510 that can be seen in the charming Renaissance town hall.
Moustiers has established its houses and bustling streets in the indentation of a rock, right beside the Lac de Sainte-Croix and the Gorges du Verdon. It is famous for producing pottery (faïence) and the village still has some twenty workshops devoted to that craft today.
Get there on our
In Van Gogh’s Footsteps
The fortified village of Puycelci watches over Grésigne Forest from the top of a rocky plateau overlooking the Vère valley. 14C and 15C houses made of stone, wood and brick are revealed behind more than 800 m of ramparts and the rampart walk offers wonderful views of the surrounding scenery.
Explore Puycelci and other historic sites of the Cathars on our
Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron.
Riquewihr is one of Alsace’s gems and its excellent wines match the excellence of its architecture. A medieval museum of a town with fortifications dating back to the 13th century. Many of the old buildings have dovecots and are built round central courtyards.
Walking in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are famed for their soaring limestone towers, consisting largely of a very bright Limestone mineral called Dolomite (calcium sulphite). The scenery is dramatic and a complete contrast to the alps, being generally lower and with only one real glacier around the Marmolada massif. There are several massifs, which significantly change colour throughout the day, separated with bright green alpine meadows flecked with flowers and there are both conifer and mixed forests.
The region is famed for being on a cultural divide, Italian, but perhaps also Austrian, but not quite, as Austria pulled back in the First World War. Now it is partially a semi-autonomous region of the Tirol, known as the Alto Adige. There are also 40,000 Ladins, an ethnic group, speaking an older cruder latin language, and with their own steeped traditions and woodlore. Although Cortina has an Italian feel, other towns are a bit different, and in more Ladino towns you will find buildings with painted facias and complicated carved wood working: towns such as Campitello fit into this category.
When to visit the Dolomites
September is a lovely month with not so many tourists. Late June is also a possibility, but with the chance of being hampered by residual snow. High summer is a busy period often punctuated by dramatic storms; humid air having drifted up from the coast near Venice.
What to expect in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are revered for their ‘Via Ferratas’, climbing cable ways which take people into some remarkable positions. Then there are to famous hard hut walks The Alto Via 1&2, which utilise a bit of the via ferrata network. The Sherpa walks do not involve any via Ferratas, but give a good account of the variety of terrain and the general scenery.
Where to base yourself
Cortina is a popular base in the Dolomites because it is accessible by public transport and many towns in the Dolomites do not have good connectivity. Bolzano is also a popular base for walkers, further to the north.
Prepare for some spectacular but also steep walks and plan your travel well around your flights as it can take a long time to get from point to point.
Sherpa's Trips in Italy's Dolomites
For more information and inspiration on travelling in the Dolomites,
visit the region's website.
Shap to Kirkby Stephen - Will Copestake - Coast to Coast. Day 7
Described with a hint of optimism in the guide books as a ‘Recovery Day’ the journey between Shap and Kirkby Stephen stretches 33km across the moors. It was my longest day on my trek but not necessarily the hardest, with the mountains behind more benign Howgill fells awaited.
For the seventh day in a row I begun with a full English fry up, porridge and fruit before waddling out the door to start the day. Navigating to the start of the trail couldn't have been easier, it was directly opposite the door.
The crossing the railway line I left town to wind along farmyard walls into an open field. The roar of cars on the M6 motorway nearby rivalled the stiff wind in the trees. A small bridge spanned the busy traffic leading back into the countryside beyond.
The noise of the motorways was soon muted behind the hills to be replaced with the swish of wind across the open moors. The steaming chimneys from the nearby quarry tailed upward above Shap.
Hopping over a stile at Hardendale quarry I was blown along the dusty track toward the small community of Oddendale. Skirting the low walls at the edge of town I wandered along a large limestone pavement jutting from the grass. Somewhere nearby two concentric stone circles stood illusively hidden, they were the first of many interesting archeological sites I would pass during the day.
Heading onto the moors
Despite the onset of curtained rain which hammered against my side in the wind I chose to linger and explore the deep fissures in the rock known as grikes. They form fascinating micro habitats with each crack filled with a unique array of ferns.
As the limestone pavements petered out I returned to following a wide and well marked trail across a long heather moorland, there was a certain deja-vu to the Scottish Rannoch Moor about the stretch. Focused on my feet to keep the rain from my face I found many a frog relishing the abundance of puddles.
The lone boulder on the Moor
Hidden in a cleft a small cairn announced my arrival at 'Robin Hoods Grave.' Although almost certainly not the resting place of the man who's namesake is held to the walk the hollow did provide a well needed shelter to sit down for a morning lunch.
The grave of Robin Hood
Another stretch of open peat hunched against driving rain brought me to a small lime kiln above Broadfell farm. Below I could make out the little community of Orton which as an optional extra to the Coast to Coast is described as one of the few 'lost' villages en-route. Sheltering inside the lime kiln I decided upon a quick check of the map to move onward toward Sunbiggin tarn instead.
Sheltering in the Lime Kiln
The trail took upon a new character entirely, the open moors suddenly replaced with walled fields and numerous stiles to cross. It was a welcome respite to shelter behind the wall stone walls as I marched with a squelch down the farm roads and through flocks of sheep hunched in the fields.
Occasional points of interest kept the track interesting such as an old abandoned barn to clamber through and explore in the company of the local Barn owl. Yet another stone circle also appeared in a nearby field which prompted a very muddy detour.
Views in the rain
Following the farm tracks
Leaving the fields back to the moors I ventured onto Sunbiggin tarn. An important bird sanctuary it was clearly signposted to stay on the tracks. Aside from a few intrepid curlews which soared past it seemed all the birds were hunkered down to shelter from the wind. Far in the distance I caught a glimpse of two familiar walkers on the horizon, I pushed the pace a little faster to re-join some friends on the road.
Locals past the tarn
Following from moor to walls again. Can you spot the people in the distance?
A tempting detour
Catching up Stephen and Suzanne at Severals Village Settlement we cheered in greeting before exploring the important archeological site. Although there is little but a few furrows and grassy walls to be seen by the untrained eye it is supposedly one of the most important historical sites in Britain.
For us however it was the turning point to cross a large stone bridge and our final uphill before descending to Kirkby Stephen.
Caught up at last
Rising upon the far side of the hill the effort was lost to conversation while we chatted about our day so far. The end of the valley was dominated by Smardale Gill viaduct, in the foreground an interest feature known as 'The Giants Graves' tempted us to wander upon their true formation, it is thought the long mounds were prehistoric rabbit enclosures.
Looking up to the viaduct
As if in an instant the rain stopped, the clouds parted and a warm wave of sunshine washed over the hillside. A whole new day appeared to have begun, in the distance the brooding blue of the distant rain hung with wonderful contrast against the Pennines.
Waving goodbye to the storm
Following the walls on Smardale Fell
We soon found ourselves re-united with the Australians. As a small troop of friends we descended in the sunshine along the long limestone walls into Kirkby Stephen in the valley below. The sun started to dance across the fields with a warmth pouring through my damp jacket.
Finding beauty in the small details I was fascinated to discover the entire all to which we strode was comprised of beautiful fossilised pipe worms, a reminder to limestones coastal origin.
Re-united on the way down
Looking down toward Kirkby Stephen
We swapped maps and booklets to navigate mostly on group consensus. Although for the others their approach to Kirkby Stephen marked the heart of the coast to coast and the (almost) half way mark, it was the end of the journey for me. It felt fitting to have started alone but descend with new found friends.
Friends from the road
Heading down a small road via a quick detour to pet a few friendly horses we aimed toward the distant church spires that marked the town. A small tunnel in the railway ahead marked the final kilometre before reaching town itself.
Crossing the final fields.
A gentle amble through the final few fields brought us into town. I dropped my packs at the friendly Jolly Farmers guest house before running along the street to catch up with the others.
Welcomed by the locals
The Jolly Farmers
After a quick explore of Kirkby Stephen we all settled into the Kings Arms pub for a final farewell pint. Reflecting over a cool ale I thought back to where I had come. It had been only seven days but so crammed with adventure felt like months, I had wandered atop tall cliffs above the sea, meandered through fields and pasture, scrambled across narrow ridge lines and even made a few friends along the way. As we rose our drinks in cheers there was just one thing to be sure, I would definitely be back for more. . .
At the end of the journey.
Patterdale to Shap - Will Copestake - Coast to Coast Day six.
Clambering upward in an already warm morning sun I was soon breaking sweat. Below Patterdale baked in dappled sunlight between woodland and stone walled fields. Stopping for a break and a quick drink at a grassy ledge known as Boredale Hause I looked down over the last view to Ullswater, it is said the lake inspired Wordsworth's poem ‘Daffodils.’
The climb up
Already high above the valley floors the track wound like a thread across the open grassy slopes leading across toward the distant ‘High Street’ peak. Passing close to several Wainwright peaks along its route I decided to make the best of the glorious weather and stride to the cairn of each as I passed.
View from Angletarn Pikes
Winding up the ridge
From the summit of Angletarn Pikes I wandered back on route before passing Angle tarn itself. The upland lake was nestled in a sheltered bowl on the mountain side. Barnacle geese called and flapped atop a small island above the glistening waters, in the heat it was suddenly very inviting.
Strolling to the waters edge I tested it to decide if it was worth a swim, it was warm enough but with the arrival of a large crowd of hikers I decided a quick skinny dip might not be so appropriate.
The gradient levelled out for a short stretch along the open uplands, with a short detour via the summit of Rest Dodd I wound upward toward The Knott another small peak ahead in the sun.
View from Rest Dodd
From the small unassuming summit of The Knott I joined the steady stream of fellow hikers and wandered along a now impressively wide mountain trail. Once a roman road the track was wide enough to walk three aside with other walkers and chat along the way. Arriving at the junction between the route down on Kidsty pike and the route up to ‘High Street’ I decided to prolong my time high on the ridge.
Looking back from The Knott
A quick detour to summit High street and return back to the coll took an extra 30 minutes onto the days journey but rewarded with superb views back to the fells to which I had walked over the days before. To my surprise from the summit of High Street I could see the seaside on the west coast for the first time since day one.
View of the coast from High Street Summit
Heading back to the Coll
The wall along the Roman Road
Back on track once more I followed around the edge of a deep corrie to Kidsty pike. The summit at 784m was the highest point on Wainwrights original coast to coast route. From the cairn stunning views back to the northern cliffs and ridges leading from High Street all the way to Haweswater reservoir below.
I glanced around looking hopefully for ‘Golden Boy,’ England’s last remaining Golden eagle which purportedly has its eyrie in a nearby cleft. The only gold I saw was the sun dappled over the ridge descending ahead. It was time to descend to the inviting waters below.
Views from Kidsty Pike
Descending to Haweswater was short but steep and somewhat jarring on the knees after a long ascent. Thankfully the view and warmth radiating from a ground baked by an entire days sunshine meant regular breaks on the way down. Reaching the waters edge the trail forked toward the dam 5km in the distance.
Fellow hikers on the way down
Enjoying the view
On the way down
The last steep section
In 1929 a bill was passed to authorise use of Haweswater as a reservoir to serve Manchester’s increasing demand. With the dam constructed and valley flooded a community was lost to its depths forever. Mardale a small settlement remains to this day submerged beneath the water, including a church of the holy trinity. It was difficult to believe that England’s very own atlantis was just beneath the tranquil surface as I wandered along the undulating track to its side.
There is a village somewhere under there.
A short steep rise brought me over toward a woodland which wound with refreshing shade from the sun toward the dam ahead. To my delight I caught up Steven & Susan yet again and could walk in company for the remaining 4km to the end of the reservoir.
T he trail along the lake
Leaving the couple to amble upon their own pace I wandered onward into the rolling fields. Approximately 6km remained to Shap but with almost no ascent it would be a fast walk to reach the end.
It was clear I had left the Lake District as I arrived in the small community Burnbanks as signs appeared reading C2C at every turn. Wandering between the homes each resident all of whom were mowing their lawns would stop to stroll over and briefly offer their own advise and well wishes to my journey.
Passing the waterfall Thornthwaite Force I was on the right track, it meandered along a trickling brook into the fields. After the few days in the mountains the open space ahead seemed vast, I found myself enjoying the open skies and endless rolling hills in the distance almost as much as the crags I left behind.
Farmyards replaced mountains
Chasing lambs which hopped in little clusters with springy leaps and bounds I passed a series of barns and clambered over many stiles on stone walls. The length of the day was starting to become apparent as the soles of my feet ached on the hard trail. I continued to follow narrow tracks and coast to coast signs toward Shap Abbey in the distance.
First view of Shap Abbey
Rising from another stone wall I caught my first glimpse of the impressive Shap Abbey nestled in a hollow amongst a small woodland. It was the last Abbey to be founded in England and built in 1199 by the French St.Norbert. Also known as 'The White Canons' the french abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540.
Today only the ruined shell of a once great building stands, never the less its tall walls and beautiful masonry is very impressive. No longer is it guarded by people but instead a troop of chickens which roam free around its base.
Friendly farmer at Shap Abbey
A final kilometre along a narrow road hemmed in with tall stone walls brought me into the little town of Shap. Stretched along a long road it is a pleasant community with an interesting market hall built from the recovered masonry from the Abbey.
Arriving at the lively Kings Arms Hotel I rejoined the Australian couple, Steven & Susan to share stories of the day over a cool pint and huge fish and chip supper. We prepared for a long day to Kirkby Stephen in the morning.
The morning started in bright sunshine and high hopes for a view later in the day. As I left the Chestnut villa stuffed with bacon & eggs I waddled uphill toward Grisedale tarn. There were three different route options to choose from once I reached it, the lowland, Helvellyn or St.Sundays crag. But first there was 500m ascent to reach the coll.
Grasmere to Patterdale - Will Copestake - Coast to Coast Day 5
Forecast at Chestnut Villa
Leaving the farms
Two Australian walkers follow behind
The trail wound through farmyard tracks before forking around ‘The Great Tongue’ giving the choice between steep and short or long and gradual to the top of the tarn. Choosing to get the ascent out of the way I marched upward on the steeper trail. As I rose the mist descended, by the time I reached the top I was immersed in a dense fog.
Two familiar faces appeared from behind, Steven & Susan a middle aged couple whom I had played cat and mouse with along the trail all the way from St.Bees. No longer strangers we walked together to the end of the tarn to relish the occasional glimpses in the cloud.
Steven & Susan in the mist
I sat down to throw on some waterproofs and distill a plan. The junction at Grisedale tarn was where the decision would have to be made to which of the three options I would choose to hike. Although most walked the lowland route would mean arriving into Patterdale before midday but both other routes were likely to be in cloud all day. Finishing a cup of tea from the flask I concocted a compromise with the map. I would run to the top of Helvellyn, scramble along striding edge ridge then descend to just 1km before Patterdale. I would then jog back up toward the tarn where I could cut up to the summit of St.Sundays crag. From here I would descend to Patterdale on the ridge having experienced all three routes.
Leaving Steven and Susan I set off uphill at a jog. The wide cobbled path proved excellent to keep a fast pace and required little navigation toward the ascent, none-the-less I hiked with compass and map in hand just in case the path faded out. Passing the second team of path repair volunteers between a wisp of mist I thanked them for their dedication even in the poor weather.
Hard at work so we can enjoy such great tracks: National Trust Volunteers
By 800m the trail had levelled out significantly. I wandered onto a wide grassy plateau which rose toward the first of two Wainwright peaks preceding Helvellyn itself. Both were marked with small cairns shrouded within the thick cloud but yet easily located without a compass simply by following the wide trails.
As I rose the path became a track before developing into a road, as I neared the summit it could have been a runway for a plane… not a far cry from the truth. A small plaque bears memory to two very brave pilots who landed their Avro plane upon the mountainside, John Leeming & Bert Hinkler managed to not only land their plane but have a short stay on the summit before flying all the way home to Woodford. They became the first men to ever land a plane on a mountain in Britain.
A memorial to brave pilots...who survived!
Within sight of the plaque a large plus shaped structure stood as a wind shelter for hikers. It was in good use with roughly 15 separate walkers huddled out of the wind enjoying their well earned lunch. This was the summit shelter of Helvellyn, a few meters above a small unassuming cairn marked the true highest point.
I headed straight for the cairn and eagerly claimed my first English Munro, somewhat an easier challenge than the 282 in Scotland as England possesses only four.
Helvellyn Summit: Note the windbreak in the top right
After a brief break in the summit windbreak for lunch I descended toward Striding edge. It was the section described by Wainwright as the best stretch of hiking between St.Bees and Robin Hood Bay, I eagerly anticipated finding out if it would live up to the reputation. The start of the ridge is marked by a large slate memorial. It reads:
Beneath this spot were found in 1805 the remains of Charles Gough.
Killed by a fall from the rocks his dog was still guarding the skeleton.
Walter Scott describes the events in the poem ‘I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn.
Wordsworth records it in his lines on fidelity.’
The stone plaque reminds the walker not only of the dark events which unfolded one sad day in 1805 but also of the risk they may take ahead upon the ridge. It is essential to take care along the way.
The Memorial to Charles Gough
The descent begun with a thrilling rocky scramble to the main ridge, the ground was steep but dissected with a narrow winding trail which snaked in hairpins between the rough ground. Out of the mist ahead a narrow triangular shadow loomed in the murk, I could only assume this was the full splendour of Striding Edge itself.
First glimpse of the fun ahead
The rock was grippy to the touch even in the wet and had no shortage of holds to grip upon. I aimed to scramble the hardest route I could create along the way and to stubbornly stick to the very top of the ridge line. Where the ridge grew steep I climbed, where it levelled out I carefully set off at a jogging stride to honour its name. Even with the abyss below shrouded in cloud there was a tremendous sense of exposure, it gave a fantastic buzz to help spur energy along the way.
S crambling upward
Hanging over nothing
Teetering along the ridge
Another reminder of the perils of being complacent on the rocky precipice appeared by way of a small Iron plaque. It read:
In memory of Robert Dixon of ... on the 27th day of November 1858 following the Patterdale Foxhounds. I couldn't help but wonder how a fox would find itself on the ridge let alone a troop of dogs.
This time the fox won the hunt.
Beyond the memorial the ridge became wider and less technical. Large slabs replaced narrow ridges and before long I was returning to a fast descent on more grass than stone. To my delight I escaped the cloud by about 700m.
Looking down to Patterdale
I returned to a swift jog to descend to the bottom of the ridge. I still hoped to return up the valley and cut across to St.Sundays crag which stood brightly on the far side in dappled sunlight.
A deafening roar suddenly erupted from above. A jet passed by barely 100m from my head before an impressive turn took it bravely low into the valley to buzz past Patterdale. I was glad it hadn't passed while I was on the ridge, it would have given quite the shock.
A close fly-by
A low pass over St.Sundays Crag
Recovering from a thumping heart care of the surprise jet visit I moved a little faster onto the cobbled trail leading gently down the slope to Patterdale. Passing walkers of all ages along the way it was clearly a well used route into the mountains. Views across the valley were tremendously worthwhile after the ridge walk, I was keen to return to winding along the narrow stone walls which criss crossed the fields below.
The trail down
Looking on to Patterdale from above
The temperature change from the ridge to the valley was incredible, out of the wind I had to stop to de-layer as soon as I reached the lowland track. Looking around the views up to the crags above seemed just almost more impressive as they had seemed when standing upon them. Looming over the track tall dark walls hung over the track which wound gently between hawthorn trees back up toward Grisedale tarn.
Looking back up to Helvellyn.
The trail down to Helvellyn
The road toward St.Sundays crag
Returning upward along the valley floor I set off at a slow jog to the tune of birdsong from the nearby woods. Spotting a zig zag trail leading upward along the spur to the northern end of 'The Cape' (The summit of St.Sundays Crag) I ascended in a single steady push to the ridge. Wainwright rated the ridge on St.Sundays as
a fell for connoisseurs, with spectacular vistas over Ullswater lake below and a sun dappled 360º panorama of the lakeland fells it was well worth the extra effort to ascend.
Looking back to Ullswater and Patterdale from St.Sundays Crag
Views to the fells
From the ridge it was a short 200m stride to reach the summit of The Cape. The terrain was filled with interesting rocks and crags to explore along the way, there were few places where the foreground didn't rival the stunning views behind.
From the summit cairn I could gaze across to Helvellyn which had entirely cleared from the cloud, to my south Fairfield peak rose from the ridge. A small flurry of rain scattered across the peak, it was time to head down for the evening.
View from The Cape
The trail into town wound gently along the ridge before descending in forgiving hairpins into the woods. The scenery behind distracted any effort in the knees after a long days hike, before long I was wandering onto the roads and into Patterdale itself.
T he final descent.
Passing a tall church as I entered the town I soon found my way to
The White Lion Inn where I had been booked to stay.
The White Lion Inn
Settled in for the night I could reflect on the highlights of the three options.
Route 1: The Lowland Valley - Grants spectacular vistas above to the cliffs on St. Sundays crags and Helvellyn, wonderful stone wall wanderings and the ever present gurgles of the nearby brooke.
Route 2: Helvellyn & Striding edge - Worth doing if you are un-perturbed by mild exposure and seeking the most adventurous route possible. Grand views and technical enjoyment are the highlights of this option.
Route 3: Slightly less ascent than Helvellyn offers possibly the best angle to view Ullswater and in my opinion the grandest view of the day, this could be bias as most of Helvellyn was in cloud. The descent into the woods is not to be missed and was a highlight of the day.
As the bar closed in the pub the barman procured a bottle of wine from behind the bar,
would you like a taste? he offered. A New Zealander he had perfected home brew wine which was as delicious as many store bought bottles I have tried, a superb end to a long day in the hills.
Stonethwaite to Grasmere- Will Copestake - Coast to Coast Day 4
Breakfast in Knotts view was a unique way to start the day, how often can you enjoy local eggs on toast while watching red squirrels eat just meters out of the window! The rustic home which only joined the electric grid in the 1960's was such a part of the landscape the squirrels simply saw it as an extension of their woodland home.
Red Squirrels at Knotts View Guest House
As the squirrels departed so did I. Waving farewell to owner Mrs Jackson I set off along the puddled roads to follow the mossy stone walls and head uphill to Grasmere.
I was starting to discover that in an area where rain is the norm there was beauty to be found even in weather which might be off-putting to some. A light drizzle drifted mist like through the valleys and around the nearby Eagles crag looming across the trail. The thin veil of moisture clung in crystal droplets on the mossy stone walls and drooping branches in the native woods. Duke of Edinburgh groups past along the way who new to hiking they were dressed in cheap plastic ponchos, which as they were staying low were adequate to explore the valley floors.
L eaving Stonethwaite alone the walls
Looking ahead past the river Greenup Gill
Passing the drumlins
The trail wound upward past a gurgling brooke. Waterfalls rumbled as I climbed into pools hidden below huge boulders, I often strayed aside the well cobbled trail to peer down to see what was there. As the route ascended I joined with another couple on the trail, Ian & Mary. Poor Mary had taken quite ill and was struggling to keep balanced, she insisted on continuing to find a bed in Grasmere with an irish determination. There is a wonderful sense of community along the coast to coast trail, should you get into trouble there is seldom long to wait until someone wanders by. It just so happened that someone this time was me,
Mary's going to hate me for this, but do you mind helping us up the steps? Ian asked. So at a slow but steady pace we helped each other rise into the mist.
Lending a hand up the steep edge
Up the steps into the cloud.
The trail steepened into steps to reach the top of the climb before flattening into flat blog. There was a remarkable similarity to the Scottish moors, I felt contently at home wandering the peat hags between occasional cairns leading the way.
Navigating the upland moors
Delighted to discover that the cloud shrouded only upon the top stretch of the path we descended together to tantalising glimpses below. Reaching the junction between the low or high route to town Ian & Mary joined another small group to descend together, I would proceed to explore the recommended high route to Helm Crag.
The view appearing
Far below a criss cross network of expertly crafted stone walls spread like a spiders web across the lush pasture. From the rocky ridge I was in a different world entirely. Wainwright described the route as having 'many geological and geographical features of unusual interest' but the crags, tarns and cairns along the way seemed to beg differently. Seldom was there nothing to explore or enjoy, even when the mist descended.
Looking down (Note low track to left of river)
Looking on to the crags
It was a pleasant ridge to follow, from Calf Crag the trail undulates in intriguing changes between grassy levels, rocky rises and shattered craggy bumps. Despite the saturated ground there was seldom a bog to navigate between and little chance of loosing the route. With good ground and high spirits I arrived onto the summit of my first ever Wainwright! Perhaps a dangerous thing to be starting a whole new list of mountains to dream of achieving someday in the future, the worst that might happen would be years of fun and exploration to come. Gibson Knott was a stunning start to the 214 other peaks to tick. To add to the reward two peregrine falcons soared in rising circles around the summit.
Summit of Gibson Knott
From the first Wainwright it was a short down and up hop to reach the summit of Helm Crag. The famous pinnacle standing on the top pointed upward in the sunlight.
Looking ahead to Helms Crag
As soon as I reached the top I dropped pack and scrambled to the summit. Reaching the top of the pinnacle was a short scramble with little technicality but sufficient exposure to render exciting.
Known as Click Here for a Video. The Lion & The Lamb after the crags appearance from the valley below the pinnacle is also often referred to as The Howitzer. The views back to where I had come had cleared entirely of mist and offered a grand vista to the ridge I had followed. Alone on the summit I lingered to explore the boulders in the warmth of the sun for over an hour before starting to descend.
Triumphant on the summit
View from the summit and ridge following up to the left
Looking back to The Lion and the Lamb from second summit
Looking down to Grasmere
Rested and somewhat on a vertigo induced high I decided to jog to the valley floor. Once off the ridge the trail became wide, cobbled and fast underfoot. Within a few fast minutes I arrived into the dense woods below.
The trail on the way down.
To end the day I meandered along
The Poets Walk where many a verse was written by such poets as Wordsworth. Winding between the Lancrigg woods between some of the tallest and mossiest walls I had seen yet the air was filled with birdsong and the pungent smell of wild garlic.
The last stretch to Grasmere
Garlic in the woods
Picking twigs from my hair after a short detour into the woods to watch another red squirrel I wandered down the narrow cobbled streets into Grasmere itself. The town is the first larger village since St.Bees and felt like a bustling metropolis despite being relatively small. Cafes, bars and hotels lined the pretty streets which were filled with fellow walkers ending their days in the fells. Grabbing a pastie and an ice cream I headed for
The Chestnut Villa.
On the way into town
The Chestnut Villa
With boots drying in the guest house care of the friendly owner Mike I headed 50m down the road to spend the evening in
The Swan. A grand portion of Fish & Chips paid tribute to my Scottish food heritage before a cool pint, I was surprised to discover that by announcing I was staying in the Chestnut villa that a 10% discount was placed upon my charge... a good excuse for another pint to prepare for the journey toward Patterdale in the morning.