[Exhausted me finished this post last night but neglected to post it correctly. We are alive and getting geared up for the return to home.]
To be perfectly honest, I am a bit at a loss for words. I know words will come if I keep hitting the keys but I really have no plan for them when they show up. We arrived at The Dock in Robin Hood’s Bay today at 4:28PM. A rarified image of this place is engraved in my brain from watching countless videos and reading a huge quantity of material about the Coast-to-Coast walk for the past four years. As well as I knew the place, I had had not conjured what I would feel when I got here. In truth, today I was disappointed. The plaza outside Wainwright’s Bar was completely occupied by locals or tourists who were not hikers. They were drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in a space that I had imagined would be the exclusive sanctum of exhausted but exhilarated hikers. Even the stone ramp that leads to the sea which is the traditional place to stand while tossing the ceremonial Irish Sea pebble was filled with ordinary people strolling with dogs. So, in that initial exposure to the finish line, I found myself feeling pretty depressed. I had no inclination to fish out my pebble to toss it into the North Sea with only these slackers to witness the event.
Then Mike suggested getting a celebratory drink and I readily agreed. To do this we had to head back up the hill to enter the pub through the upper doorway. As we emerged from the steps into the bar area, I spied a man having a drink at one of the side tables. But this was no ordinary man. This was a Belgian gentleman with whom me we had breakfast this morning in Glaisdale. And he is no ordinary Belgian either. He is the superintendent of Police for the city of Antwerp who also happens to be an ultramarathoner – and he looks it. We first met him as he ran down the slope leading into Richmond several days ago and our paths had crossed a couple of times since. It is this kind of serendipitous camaraderie that makes a trek like this so special.
And speaking of serendipitous meetings – A few days back I mentioned a Yorkshire woman named Jean who introduced us to the wonderful recess that is St. Edmund’s Church. Jean overtook us again on the high moors between Great Broughton and Glaisdale yesterday and cheerfully called out, “Hello Michael! Hello Dennis!” as she whizzed past. Well today, as we walked in the rain (more about that in a minute) through the tiny village of Egton Bridge, a small white van pulled to a stop at the curb in front of us. The passenger window rolled down and the greeting that came through the opened window was from none other than Jean! She told us that she had read the weather forecast for rain today and decided to chug onward to complete the course yesterday and now she was showing her husband, the driver of the van, the places she had been. She was delighted to see us because she, like us, had seen almost no hikers on the trail for the past two days.
Back to today’s scene in Robin Hood’s Bay. We had the reunion with the Belgian policeman in the pub and together we signed the book maintained by the establishment for hikers to record their arrival. Just as we finished that, two other hikers who had stayed with us at the Arncliffe Arms last night, Susan and Curt from Portland Oregon, came through the door having just come off the trail. (Susan, a most interesting woman who spent her academic career working with chimps and later rescuing them from research labs, had been a source of great help supplying me with blister supplies over the last few days.) A few minutes later, the Messrs. Rafferty, a father son duo from Colorado and Virginia respectively, arrived. They had eaten dinner at an adjacent table to us a couple of nights ago in Great Broughton. And thus, in a flash, a disappointment had transformed into a true celebration of our joint accomplishment. We capped off the reunion by going outside with Susan and Curt to take turns making photographic records of arrival and of the tossing of the pebbles into the sea.
Now the travelogue – We left Glaisdale at 9AM in a steady light rain. The first miles were covered in a wooded track that traces the south bank of the River Esk. Sooner than expected, we arrived in the town of Grosmont where the claim to fame is a steam-powered train line which I suppose is principally a tourist attraction. With today’s weather, the town was moribund with no cafes, bars or restaurants open though we did hear the occasional blast of a steam whistle in the distance. With nothing to do in this place, we churned onward and were immediately deposited on the most punishing uphill climb of the entire trip on a paved road that rose at a “33%” angle for more than a mile. It was brutal!
After walking some miles at altitude, we descended into the sleepiest village to date, Littlebeck. This is a quiet beckside place with a church and some beautiful stone houses but no commerce of any kind. So we stopped under the drizzling sky to eat our packed lunches at a bench that honored Levi Henderson who died last year at a very young age. Leaving Levi’s bench, we were again faced with a ferocious ascent that was only a little less steep than the one out of Grosmont.
An important decision was taken as we left Littlebeck to follow Google Maps walking route and to abandon the one laid out in most of the Coast-to-Coast guides, including MACS Adventures who planned our trip. The idea was to plot a more direct course rather than to follow what seemed an unnecessary loop through the moorland to the north of the finish line. The maps showed that both routes covered the same amount of geography – the planned route swung northward and Google’s more to the south. Though our chosen route had us spending a mile or so on the rather busy Robin Hood’s Bay Road, we had no regrets because the minor bother of road spray on a rainy day was a worthwhile exchange for the one to two hours that we likely saved by not having to slog through muddy moors. The rain ended mercifully as we crossed the plateau above the sea when we were about one hour from our destination so our dockside celebration could happen hoodless and hatless.
We did it! Upon arrival I thanked my brother for joining me on what had started a couple of years ago as a very personal quest. It may be fair to say that I could not have made it without him and it is a hard fact that there is no one I would rather have done this with. Now for a good night’s sleep, a late breakfast and the trek homeward tomorrow.