Day 14: Grosmont to Robin Hood's Bay (16 miles)
Just 16 miles to go! It seemed such a long way when we tramped up that steep cliff path out of St Bees, yet here we were, almost within touching distance of the end.
Margaret and Joyce would be waiting for us in Robin Hood's Bay and said they would walk a little way along the coast path to meet us. David's son, Anthony, had also decided to come up to see his dad across the finishing line.
So we're all set up for the big finish, but we still have 16 miles to go, so we can't celebrate just yet.
The first section out of Grosmont is a steep and long climb up to Sleights Moor. I thought we were done with moors, but no, there are a couple on this stretch and they are very boggy as a last hurrah. It was good to see and hear the moorland birds on the last day, especially the oystercatchers who have only a short flight between moor and shore for a varied diet and also the red grouse, which seem more tame here than ever.
The weather was cloudy to start with, but not cold and no real sign of rain, although we did walk into low, wetting cloud on the higher moor. Sleights Moor offers a couple of ancient stone constructions. There's High Bridestones and Low Bridestones. It's thought High Bridestones is a stone alignment of a type called a four-poster, more common in Scotland and Northumbria. The Low Bridestones may be two rows of stones forming an avenue. It's one of those sites where a good deal more fieldwork is necessary in order to come to any conclusions. There's little money for that right now, but the remote location of the stones and difficult access means they will happily stand and lie there for another thousand years. There's a website with pictures here: http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/highbridestones.htm
The moor also gave us our first view of Whitby Abbey away to the left. I took a picture on my iPhone, but the ruins are indistinguishable on the horizon. However, if you take the original picture and zoom right in you can easily pick them out. The camera on the iPhone is absolutely amazing. Mine's a 5S, so the 6 must be even better.
Coming down off the moor, we headed into Littlebeck and through some beautiful woodland (called Littlebeck Wood). There's a teashop in the wood at a place called Midge Hall, so that was something to look forward to, and a waterfall called Falling Foss.
Littlebeck is another post-industrial landscape. This area was part of the alum industry for 200 years up the the 19th century and, again, it's amazing how nature heals industrial scars; although the landscape remains changed. Alum is used for many purposes, but the big use in Tudor times was for dyeing wool, which was our biggest export back then. Alum was imported from the Papal States, but Henry VIII's disagreement with the Pope put paid to that and so shale deposits containing aluminium sulphate in North Yorkshire began to be exploited and were until the 19th century when the wool industry declined in importance and alternative sources were available.
Alum extraction from shale involves digging out 100 tons of shale to gain one ton of alum, so large quarries were needed. The processing method initially involved burning the shale and this was done in huge piles 100ft high. Massive amounts of wood were required, so woodland was cut down, and the slag left after burning was steeped in urine and seaweed, then boiled and crystallised, bagged and shipped out. This place would have been unrecognisable 300 years ago - a dirty, scarred, stinking, polluted landscape.
You can see evidence of shale extraction in Littlebeck Wood, but it's now a lovely place with rich birdlife, including dippers, although the path was very muddy and becoming quite badly eroded in places. Higher up, the wood is a tourist attraction and there are a couple of large car parks where people park up, take a short stroll down to Falling Foss and have tea and cake at Midge Hall.
I imagine that the midges are a problem in the evening, but not late morning when we reached the place. It has a very hippy feel to it, but the cake and tea were good and there were a lot of very tame birds around who liked cake as much as we did. In particular, a nuthatch came very close, only six feet away, giving me a great view of this lovely bird. The chaffinch and robin were even more cheeky.
We were now on the last page of the map and the morning has passed quite merrily. However, the Coast to Coast route now takes one of its frustrating loops, a little like the first day when you walk for miles to end up just down the road from St Bees. Here, the same applies in reverse, with the path going north east to hit the coast around three miles north of Robin Hood's Bay. It's a case of walking eight miles to go three.
There's a steep walk out of Littlebeck Wood and then you hit boggy moorland again. This was the boggiest bog since Nine Standards Rigg and the path is very indistinct. It has been diverted in several places for reasons unclear and, in places, it is so wet that wooden walkways have been constructed.
You hit the road at a place called Middle Rigg and then there's a trudge of a Yorkshire mile or so to the village of Hawsker. David knows this area well and seems to have fallen out with quite a few locals: there was the farm cottage that was his worst holiday ever, the woman who told him off for parking his Range Rover in the wrong place, the pub that wouldn't serve them because food stopped at 8pm and it was only 7.45 ... David bears a long grudge.
I said we should call in, ask if they were serving food and when they said yes, we'd say: "well we don't bloody want any thank you."
|On the coast path at long last|
I was itching to be on the coast path - the final leg - but Hawsker went on for ages and then was followed by Hawsker Bottom. Finally we headed through a field of static caravans all anchored to the ground with steel cables and down to the coast path.
This day was proving harder work than I would have liked and the coast path should have been an easy stroll, but it wasn't. I was weary and, for some unknown reason, my left leg was hurting. Maybe it was shin splint, maybe it just wanted its own back on me, but whatever the reason it hurt every time I put weight on it - and I'd had two painkillers.
We finally met up with Margaret and Joyce about a mile from the finish and walked back into town. It seemed strange for them to be on the walk, but nice to share that last mile. David's son (and his wife) surprised David in town and we all walked down the steep street to the beach and out across the sand to throw our pebbles into the North Sea. As we were on the beach, I could hear a voice shouting "Eric! Eric!" It was Tim, up on the balcony of the Bay Hotel. I told him I'd be back to have a beer with him in two minutes and so we walked those last few yards to get our boots wet and hurl our pebbles into the waves.
|Sign on the Bay Hotel, Robin Hood's Bay|
The Bay Hotel has a bar named after Wainwright and a book for people to sign once they've finished the Coast to Coast. We signed the book, got a pint of Wainwright's Ale and went to shake hands with Tim.
David had asked me a few days earlier if I was enjoying it. I said I was, but that I'd probably enjoy it a lot more looking back in two months time.
It is a walk and a half but you see such varied scenery. I don't think I'd want to walk 190 miles in the Lakes for two weeks, but this is a genuine journey.
|Hurling those pebbles into the sea - we'd carried them from St Bees.|
|Signing the Coast to Coast book in the Bay Hotel|