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There's Now't Like Folk
I don’t know how many people have a go at the C2C each year. A fair few anyway; from lone walkers right up to groups of a dozen or more. Plenty of Brits for sure, but it often feels they are outnumbered by those from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and from elsewhere across Europe. Even the odd Frenchman prepared to have a sniffy look at what all the fuss is about.
There are those with the confident stride of the got the t-shirt through to those who haven’t a clue how to interpret a map. Some don’t need a map; they’re part of a guided group. There are campers with the house on their backs through to those carrying just a camelback and the knowledge of a bath and pillows ahead and the magical emergence of their bags at B&B’s each night. You can spot those with all the latest gear prepared for anything. And as time goes on you can observe those who have long forgotten when this adventure seemed like a good idea as fatigue and little injuries start to emerge. All human life is here and sometimes watching it is just as much fun as the walk itself.
We first came across the Petersens at our B&B in St Bees the night before we started the walk. I’d checked in, put all our bits in the boys room went for a walk down to the beach returning to find them making themselves at home in my room. I had them moved out across the corridor. To be honest I wasn’t that bothered about the room and the easiest thing would have been for me to take a different one as offered by the owner but something brought out the devil in me. Surely not those American accents. If it was I apologise. I’m not Anti American. Just think of it as friendly fire; nothing personal.
We stumbled across them an hour or so later; we’d all chosen the same place to have our evening meal. A conversation. They are also a trio (husband, wife and a second woman) in their late 50s, doing the C2C in 16 days. Wife tells us they come from San Diego in Southern California ‘we live in paradise, on the beach, 72 degrees, seven foot waves, boogie boards and I’m wondering what the hell we’re doing’. I made our excuses found a table away from them in the chill of the garden under a parasol in the rain.
Did she just insult our country Charlie asked. Yes and no. They are just like a lot of Americans – smug and clumsy; they mean no harm. Anyway we had our first co-walkers named….Birds (and a bloke) of Paradise.
They appeared at breakfast. Running mouthful by mouthful commentary. ‘These mushrooms are sooo good’, ’this sausage is terrific’, ‘wow these tomatoes are just grrreat’. Welcome to the world of the frying pan; no squeeze out the fat cooking machine in use here.
Our next and as it turned out final encounter with them was on the evening of day two when they turned up at the same bar as us in Borrowdale. They were not moving well; finding the walk tough. A Bird of Paradise was clearly having problems manoeuvring herself in a straight line and attempts to get herself on to a bar stool were sights to savour. Bloke of Paradise limps over to me and accuses us of tricking them. They claim to have seen us ascending the left hand side of Loft Beck just beyond Black Sail and decided to follow; found half way up that they couldn’t get through and had to descend and start the climb again. Desperate stuff and mistaken identity of course. We were more insulted that they might even think we were walking at a similar pace to them than being thought tricksters.
Bloke of Paradise is limping because of huge blister on his heel. I wanted to feel sorry; no honest I really did. Turns out that just after Honister he decided to have ‘one of your English pints’ and then got a taxi down into Stonethwaite. Next day he decided he wasn’t walking; he was taking a lift to their next stopover. He didn’t look that bothered. Oh dear. We have them down as non finishers.
But we also had our first song of the walk. Bloke of Paradise was christened Bob by us. Much singing of ‘Bob the blister, can he fix it, Bob the blister, no he can’t’ the next day with much fun creating new verses (all to the tune of Bob the Builder of course).
Now here’s the thing though. If you go to the Bay Hotel and look in the C2C finishers book, there against 21st August 2007 you’ll find the Petersens; they made it. By cab? By coach? By chopper? They may even have used their feet most of the way. But hey they made it. What does a smug, clumsy Englishman know. Let’s here it for the Birds (and a bloke) of Paradise.
We got thrown together with six goody goody teachers, another group of Americans, at our stay overnight at Ingleby Arncliffe. These guys may have been a generation younger than the Petersens and from the east coast but still we had the excessive swooning over plates of food. ‘Wow take a look at this lasagna’, ‘you just gotta try this pork’ ‘ these chips are sooo good’ ‘ how good is this coffee’. We wouldn’t have minded but our food was crap…‘yes that was very nice’ I thanked the waitress/cook/host; divided by a common language? nope….just as we’ve always known…divided by taste.
What to make of Rob. We weren’t sure. Walked most of the way from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay in a pair of flip-flop sandals and carrying a full pack. I say most of the way because on the days it rained he changed in to a pair of wet suit type slip-ons. He tells us he’s used to walking this way. Fine; but he’s from the Netherlands and does his walking there. Rob finished in 12 days as planned; sir we salute you.
A Dutch couple looked very confused as we approached them at Boredale Hause above Patterdale; rotating their guide book this way and then that way trying to identify the right path. There are plenty of options to choose from at this point and they were about to choose wrong. They had the worst guide book I’d seen – just a scabby pen and ink drawing to take them through this stage – and no map. There’s was a story of dedication to the cause. They’d already walked to Robin Hoods Bay but when they’d attempted the Patterdale stage days earlier they’d had ‘weather’ and had to retreat and then move on to the next stage. They were now back to complete the outstanding stage. A moments reflection; in similar circumstances what would we have done? We’d have almost certainly done epic battle with the weather but I’m blowed if having got to the coast that I’d go back the 150 miles to have another go at the missing link. Anyway we put them on the correct path and then stopped at every junction through to the approach to the The Knott to wave them on to the next correct path.
Not everyone seems so happy to be out on the trail. We came across three 20 somethings – a lad and two lasses - near clay bank top. Swiftly and easily named Le Trois Miserable Sods. Not a word or a smile between them; just the weary gait and trudge of the pissed off. Probably not helped by them having taken lunch at the foot of the bank where as we opted to climb up the steep other side to have lunch and watch them ascend. Schoolboy error.
Now as it turned out first impressions were wrong. They were staying at the same B&B as us on Blakey Ridge and we had breakfast with them. They were part camping and part B&Bing and finding the whole thing a lot harder than anticipated. They were chatty and friendly. However, once you’ve been christened there is no going back. They remained Le Trois Miserable Sods.
Elsewhere I’ve said that in general terms it’s the people carrying the full packs who seem the least happy. Many seem to underestimate just how big a challenge the walk can be this way. We met on the trail a father and son from Lancaster. We called him Lennie. We thought he looked like a Lennie and it sort of hanged nicely alongside Lancaster. He lives there with someone called ‘ the missus’. When we came across him beyond Orton he’d just unloaded 10 pounds of gear from the rucksack with ‘the missus’ who’d popped down the night before. He almost had a smile on his face.
Mind you the most chilled couple we met were carrying full packs. It was late morning, they were sitting at the foot of The Knott field glasses in hand taking in all around them. They’d camped the previous evening at Angle Tarn. They’d managed just a few hundred metres all morning. Summer time and the walking is easy. Said they’d probably try to finish the whole walk in about 14 days. Not a chance. I have them down as non finishers. Finish or otherwise; I don’t think they could care less; they were just out to have a good time together.
As we came across a group of over a dozen walkers climbing out of Patterdale I had a little smile (smirk?) on my face. They had a guide, taking them all the way from one end of the walk to the other. Cheaper to buy a map surely; not a grizzly bear or pack of dingos in sight; hostile natives not unknown but life or limb endangering capacities pretty limited; and never more than a few miles from a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. On reflection that was a little unfair. If you are in Australia or America how are you to know that our ordnance survey maps are not rubbish like your own local equivalents. And if you’re a single walker looking for like company to share the experience why not take this risk free way of doing just that. Of course if you are thrown together as a group you’re not sure what you are getting as partners. In this group they had half from overseas and the other half home grown. Similar proportions of couples and singles; age range mid 40s to mid 60s. Depending how the wind was blowing similar numbers of the mad, bad, ugly; even a couple of the sane.
We were to come across this group time and time again over the rest of the walk. We had some fun exchanges with John and Pauline, grandparents from near Melbourne; definitely in the sane camp. He an expert smoker with extensive knowledge of lager and cricket and with a few observations of his own on poms (no sterotypes here then); much to the amusement of the boys. Enjoying every moment of the trip and planning his next. She not so sure she was enjoying every moment; in fact pretty sure she wasn’t; finding the going hard but with all the grit and guts needed to get through each day.
We stayed at the same B&B as John and Pauline in Grosmont; a converted Edwardian garage; them upstairs, us downstairs. We could hear their every move and I guess they could hear ours. We planned to leave at 7am so were up and about pretty early. We opened our room door to find John with an anguished look on his face. He couldn’t get out of the garage block and it was nicotine top up time. This was serious. Pauline sitting on the stairs; just a silent shaking of the head as she looks at him. Our keys also wouldn’t open the external door. Getting more serious. Various suggestions from John about the kids getting out through a window to raise the alarm. The fire escape in our room noticed, I invite John to make his exit through our room. Oddly enough though he’s not keen; of course…Charlie had been making those bottom noises throughout the night that young teenage boys find so amusing and I assume poor John and Pauline had been tuning in to this and the associated giggling from Charlie all night. John I guess had a fair idea what might be lurking in our room. I exit and try our keys from the outside. They work, and John stumbles into the outside world and lights up. Order restored. John’s rehabilitation can proceed; Pauline can go back into her room to get dressed and we can push on. We have a quick game amongst ourselves to suggest the headline in the local paper if the kids had raised the alarm. We decide that John would be least happy with ‘ MAN FROM OZ GETS HIS FAG’.
You do occasionally see people lose it. Tiredness, way finding and weather can all take there toll on human relationships and perspectives. They can also impact on rational thought. We met a couple of middle aged guys near Smardale, above Kirkby Stephen, who no doubt in the real world hold down responsible positions where a degree of clear thinking in planning and execution of basic tasks is required. Their guide book had beautifully described the day walks first from Patterdale – Shap and then from Shap – Kirkby Stephen. They were angry, as in very angry, with the guide book. ‘It’s not right’…’It shouldn’t be allowed’….’It’s too far…those two long days back to back’….’I’m going to write to the author’… and so it went on. Slack jawed as we moved on and ahead of them we each had our own words to describe them: ‘fools’ ‘idiots’ ‘twits’ ‘odd’, always with ‘bloody’ attached at the front end. For the record they were both English; mind you they were southerners.
Finally a word or two for someone we never got to meet. You’ll read elsewhere in this journal that on the first day of the walk I lost my mobile phone. As it turned out I lost it on the cliffs above St Bees; it slipped out of the backpack as I took a photograph. Well that’s that I thought; gone forever; not a tragedy but a bloody inconvenience. Step forward Mrs Smith. She lives in one of the cottages adjacent to the small quarry as you come off the cliffs beyond St Bees and turn inland. Mrs Smith found my mobile then texted a number of those in my inbox. William contacted her and on my return she kindly posted the phone back to home. She would take nothing for her efforts and costs. I’ve said it to her already but I’ll say it again….thank you Mrs Smith.
And thank you to all those we met on our trek i hope you all had as much fun as us. Maybe we are in your journal. What goes around comes around. Maybe we’ll see you again.
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