Walking Across England

I’ve recently returned from a fifteen day walk across Northern England.

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I started at Ulverston, Cumbria and finished at Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland.  My route comprised the Cumbria Way, the central (and best) bit of the Hadrian’s Wall Path and the St Oswald’s Way.

Here’s a photo-blog of what I saw.

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As you may know, one of my biggest worries on any long distance footpath (apart from a closed-sign in a pub window) is persistent rain; day after day of ceaseless, pitiless rain.

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And one year that will most certainly happen … but not this time.

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March 2014 was (finally) a fine example of why I go walking in early spring and, compared to the rigours of last year, this was a comparative walk in the park.  Albeit a 220 mile walk in the park.

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There were the daffodils and spring flowers I always hope for,

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the regular ‘a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese‘ call of yellowhammers,

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the almost constant song of skylarks,

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and often in the Lake District the background sound of running water (streams and pools were mostly frozen last year).

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And lambs; hundreds upon hundreds of newborn lambs.

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In over two weeks, I had only two afternoons of rain and one of those was of intermittent, light showers mixed with sunlight

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providing a succession of rainbows leading me eastward.

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Low Tarn from near the summit of Coniston Old Man

On day two, the weather was so perfect that I couldn’t resist climbing a mountain.  Leaving the Cumbria Way behind and making up my own route,  I climbed the Old Man of Coniston (2634 ft) and nearby Swirl How (2631 feet),

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Greenburn Valley

for an exhilarating high level traipse (and my only snow of the trip)

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across and down into Great Langdale.

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In the five days it took to cross Lakeland, I had no rain at all – which was odd.  Doesn’t it always rain in the Lakes?

But then day three dawned overcast and misty and I thought my run of sun was over.  It wasn’t until I climbed up and over Stake Pass

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that I emerged above the mist,

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into bright sunshine once more.  Climbing above mist or cloud is always a rich reward on a stiff ascent.  That and chocolate.

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In the middle section of my walk, I rarely saw sunshine but the cloud provided a moody, dark backdrop to the grandeur of Hadrian’s Wall.

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I have visited sections of the Wall before but it is only by walking beside it for mile after mile (and visiting the marvellous fort and museum at Housesteads) that I truly appreciated what an incredible feat of construction it was.

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The Wall imposed an arbitrary line across Britain, sealing out the tribes to the north from the Roman Empire and cutting through farmsteads and villages (whose inhabitants were forcibly relocated).  For the first time in British history, the Romans implemented a fixed border between what would eventually become England and Scotland.

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I can’t recommend this stretch of walk enough.  I thought it spectacular and you needn’t undertake a long distance footpath to see it properly.

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Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall

The most impressive section of Wall is between Gilsland in the west and the Roman fort at Housesteads – a distance of only about 12 miles.

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When I reached the Northumberland coast the sun returned – and so did company.  I was joined for a day by my friend Jonquil and for the rest of the trip by my partner Jim and regular walking pal, Tracy.

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This is a magnificent coastline with vast sandy beaches,

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Low Newton-by-the-Sea

pretty little villages

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Jonquil and Tracy. Lunch stop at Boulmer

and pubs serving great food.  Always important.

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And it has castles galore: Bamburgh Castle is world-famous but very heavily renovated in the C19th by Lord Armstrong (who also built Cragside);

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I much preferred Warkworth (which I had never heard of), one time home of the Percy family

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but fell in love with romantic Dunstanburgh.  Built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster as a refuge from King Edward II it didn’t help him much.  Defeated at the battle of Boroughbridge, Thomas was captured and Edward had his head chopped off in 1322.  He should have stayed at home.

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I try to keep a keen (if myopic) eye open for animals and birds whilst walking.

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Amongst the birds I photographed, there was an obligatory dipper but only one (I feel a little cheated if I don’t see a dipper);

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Tufted duck

and species which I struggled to identify.

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I certainly hadn’t seen shy goosanders before.  Have you?

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Or a reed bunting?

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Or how about a meadow pipit?

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There were eider ducks,

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and oystercatchers,

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and the call of the curlew was another regular strand to the soundtrack of my walk.

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On the banks of Derwentwater

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sat an unperturbed cormorant, who didn’t mind in the least if people stopped to stare.  And many did.

Though I saw a hare and even a dolphin, there were no deer, very few rabbits, no stoats or weasels, no seals, no badgers or foxes.  I had especially wanted to see a red squirrel but without success.   Then one morning, as I sat on a rock eating a very nice orange, I looked up into the eyes of a curious squirrel about eight feet away.  I slowly reached for my camera but not slowly enough.

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He was off and I only managed a rubbish blurred photo a thrilling action shot as he scampered away.  Never mind, I did see another one a few days later.  But you’ll need to take my word for it – that one was even more camera-shy.

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The Old Dungeon Ghyll, Great Langdale

I stayed in some marvellous B&B’s, hotels and pubs.

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With top marks especially to Anne and Tim at the very beautiful, very comfortable Old Rectory, Caldbeck (this is a perfect example of all a good B&B should be – and cheap too!),

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to Lorna at Cornhills, nr. Kirkwhelpington

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and the superb food and much sought for company (I was a bit lonely by this point) of Sean at the remote Saughy Rigg Farm, Twice Brewed.

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Pauperhaugh Bridge, St Oswald’s Way

So, how was my walk overall?  How did it rate against similar long distance walks?

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Well, I got a suntan, no blisters and lost half a stone!  The clement weather was a big bonus (though actually I did miss the challenge of snow and ice and even blizzards);

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The North Gate, Milecastle 37, Hadrian’s Wall

the path was hugely varied with mountains and beaches, moorland and rivers, forests and farmland, more castles than I’ve mentioned and, of course, that Wall – there was just so very much to see and explore.

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A serene moment? Not really, my heart was yammering after running into shot before the shutter clicked!

It is only twenty miles longer than the Coast to Coast path and, with all due respect to Mr Wainwright, ‘my’ walk knocks his C2C into a cocked hat and boots it deftly over a nearby dry-stone wall.  Or at least, I think so.

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If you’re thinking of completing an English Coast to Coast walk I would heartily and unreservedly urge you to do this one.

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Looking south over the Lake District from the Cumbria Way

Apart from steep Stake Pass and the (by-passable) ascent of High Pike (2159 feet) on the Cumbria Way there are few long climbs;

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and whilst the Wall has plenty of ups and downs, after crossing Lakeland and with hardened calves of steel, you’ll barely notice them.  (You certainly don’t need to include the exhausting and long climb up Coniston Old Man with a rucksack.  I was in a masochistic frame of mind that day).

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Climbing out of Keswick

And, perhaps, when you finally reach Berwick you’ll be disappointed that your walk is finished and wish, as I did, that you could simply carry on walking.

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A more detailed account of this walk appears on my other blog – ‘The Walking Gardener’

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43 thoughts on “Walking Across England

    • Hi Aaron, glad you liked it. I thought it was grand and think back on it often. During hot hours spent mowing I’ve increasingly found my mind turning to next spring and which walk I might do. There’s a lot of choice. Dave

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  1. Fabulous. Utterly fabulous. Such varied scenery and lovely to combine a period of lonesome walking with a time of company too. Dunstanburgh is one of my all-time favourite castles. Did you go round it? There always uses to be really amusing little cards by the knick-knacks littered around on the antique furniture. Northumberland and its coastline are spectacular, one of my very favourite areas of the world, never mind the UK, though I have only ever walked short sections of the wall. Lounging in the sandunes in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, fish and chips in Seahouses, and of course Lindisfarne, But my favourite of all your wonderful images is the shot of Derwentwater. We used to camp there when I was a kid, and it is where I learned to sail.

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    • You have great taste, Janet but sadly – no. Dunstanburgh was toward the end of a long 18 mile day and we hurried on to our night’s stop at Embleton. But we spent our final night just outside Berwick with friends in their gorgeous Victorian schoolhouse conversion. And have an invite to return! We are planning on a visit in the summer. I want to see Lindisfarne again (we didn’t walk across to it on this occasion), and the Farne Islands (puffins!) and Alnwick too. And definitely a return to The Olde Ship, Seahouses – fantastic! I can absolutely understand why you love that coastline so much – we were totally smitten. And Derwentwater is very beautiful too, of course. I walked alongside its western shore on a sunny afternoon and it was packed – well, there were a few dozen people and after the fells that seemed quite packed. Dave

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    • Hello Eliza, thank you. Taking photos has become an increasingly important part of my walks (I even lugged a tripod along with me – and used it precisely once!) – which is another reason why day after day of rain would be frustrating as well as miserable. Dave

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  2. What a brilliant set of pictures. It doesn’t always rain in Cumbria, right now I’m looking at a garden in brilliant sunshine :} Glad you got to see a ‘Red’, albeit briefly. They visit our garden almost daily and every single sighting is treasured because it is only a matter of time until the greys take over.

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    • Hello Jayne, I was just teasing about Cumbrian weather. Actually it is mostly very good when I visit – (but I read a lot of accounts of walkers who suffer endless days of rain). I’ve reconciled myself to only getting a decent shot of a red squirrel by being perched in someone’s house and watching them on a bird-feeder. Are greys not controlled in the Lakes? There seems to be a robust program of grey control in Northumberland. If it’s any consolation I didn’t see any greys on my walk at all. Dave

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  3. Just amazing Dave. I wish I could do it ( spend all my life wandering through such beautiful countryside ) for even a moment. Wonderful photos. An entertaining story as ever. The BBC really needs to get hold of you. Travelogues across the UK?

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  4. Spectacular pictures, what a walk. Makes we want to lace up my walking boots and stride off right now. Suspect the office would frown on that, though. Still, something to ponder…

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      • I do love walking, cut my teeth in Yorkshire and Dartmoor with my grandfathers, and more recently used to do a lot of walking/scrambling in Snowdonia/Peak/Lake dIistrict. Sadly haven’t done much except local circuits since we bought the albatross/house, but now that things are pretty shipshape here hopefully we’ll make more opportunities for some decent walks. We do keep talking about it…
        We’re a bit of a detour from Offa’s Dyke but do let me know if you’re heading along it – I can always bring across a flask of tea and some cookies, and perhaps join you for a day’s walking.
        S

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  5. I am in Australia and not into long-distance walking but I found this very interesting as we will be visiting many of these spots in our upcoming trip in August. The comments on Hadrian’s Wall were especially helpful as we try to work out the best bits to see.

    Thank you for an interesting read and some really wonderful photos.

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  6. Fantastic photos of amazing scenery. You certainly were lucky with the weather, thank you for sharing your walk with us. I wish I could still walk those sort of distances, unfortunately not any more, but it was good to see it through your eyes.

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    • Thank you, Pauline. Out of three March walks in recent years only on last year’s did I have challenging weather. On the other two I’ve certainly needed sunblock and plenty of water Dave

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    • Hello Amelia, I’m jealous you’ve walked the WHW. I certainly have my eye on it – but it is a walk I don’t think I can undertake early in the year (when I like to go walking). Scottish snow and blizzards seem all the more serious than English ones! Dave

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      • I did it with a friend in early summer. We got some rainy days but it didn’t spoil the beauty of it. I must confess we did it the “soft” way with our bags carried by a service to our stopping place apart from one day. We always stopped at amazing B&Bs or a hotel in the evening. I’ve done the Speyside Way with my husband (carrying my stuff this time!) but it must be so much more difficult having to work out your own itinerary. Amelia

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  7. Really enjoyed your pictures. And commentary, just like being there without having to heft that rucksack! Especially liked the running water photo-ingenious!

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  8. Completely fabulous. You make me want to walk it. I did Offas Dyke a few years ago and just now would struggle to get away for long enough to do another long distance walk but when I do (and I will) I think it will be this one. Thank you for the photos. Loved it.

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    • Hello Elizabeth, thank you. I started Offa’s Dyke many years ago and got as far as Brockweir and had to give up when my knee developed a fault. I’m hoping to walk it as one of my long walks – perhaps next year. I know what you mean re time off – I try and go walking when the garden is still mostly sleeping but I got it very wrong this year. But I don’t really want to revert to January/February walking. It’s too much of a weather gamble. Dave

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