A Walk on the British Side
by Bob Strenski
I walk with my friends and make new friends while walking," wrote Marlyn Doan in Hiking Light. A long-distance, multi-day hike, (when you walk for a hundred miles or more), puts her experience to the test. Great Britain offers many special opportunities for an extended journey by foot.
(Judge Larry Bohning and his attorney pals Gary Waggoner and Bob Strenski recently returned from a walking vacation in England. They were joined by Wanda Cox, a CPA who is Gary’s wonderful wife, and Craig Schaefer, the CEO of a software consulting business).
A long-distance trail ranges from 30 to 600 miles. (The Brits prefer to call it a way or footpath instead of trail.) There are 18 national long-distance footpaths in England, Scotland, and Wales that are maintained and marked by a government office. In addition, there are unofficial routes, like the 190-mile, coast-to-coast walk in England. Walkers can complete the entire way or choose sections that meet their time constraints.
The Internet, a guidebook, and maps will provide all the direction you will need for finding your way. Richard Hayward is a friendly source for advice on books, maps and lodgings. Richard operates a small travel book business named British Footpaths in Bellingham, Wash. and is the author of several guidebooks on British walks. He can be reached at (360) 671-1217.
Our group of five hiked one of the official trails in England during the first part of September. It is named the Cleveland Way. The route took us through the inland moors and along the eastern seacoast. This trip could be called a British surf and turf vacation!
The Cleveland Way begins in Helmsley, near the center of the Yorkshire Moors. It snakes for 60 miles along the top edge of a broad plateau of heather and bracken covered fields to Saltburn, a less fashionable town on the North Sea. The walk then continues south along the sea cliffs for another 50 miles, ending in Filey.
The Way brought us through towns and villages with names like Sutton Bank, Chop Gate, Robin Hood’s Bay, and Scarborough. Many towns in England had beginnings before trains and cars. The space between them relates to the distance a person can walk in a day. Our daily walk on this vacation was between seven and 15 miles. The distances were governed by the lodgings for that evening, because we had booked them before leaving Denver.
To prepare for the Cleveland Way, our gang of middle-aged walkers, averaging near 60 years of age, hiked once a week in Colorado during the summer. The mileage for each training hike was between six and 10 miles. We also arranged for Coast-to-Coast Baggage Services, operated by Peter Gosling, to move our suitcases along the Way. Each of us had only a day pack to shoulder from town to town. Although we encountered blisters and sore knees, the summer training provided us with the endurance needed for the days we walked 14 or more miles.
We viewed the ancient and the modern as we moved along each day. Evidence of history as far back as the settlement of the moors by prehistoric people has been saved from obliteration. The Cleveland Way is never far from Stone and Bronze Age burial sites, Iron Age forts, Roman signal stations, Norman abbeys and castles, or picturesque cottages from the 18th century. In contrast, we also saw modern farm equipment in the fields, amusement arcades at seaside resorts, and the occasional factory smokestack in the far distance.
Many people think the best aspect of hiking in Great Britain is the friendly B&B that you can reach at the end of the day. The English mainstay of tea and biscuits is offered to the arriving but weary walker. The sometimes-baffling bathroom fixtures, using electric water heaters, provide abundant hot showers. We usually had our evening meal, along with a pint or two of the local bitter, at the nearby pubs.
One day, we arranged to have Ann Addison, the gentle owner of the Bankside Cottage in the small farm community of Kildale, prepare a dinner for us. The cottage sits on a hillside about a mile from the village. It overlooks a lush green pasture, scattered with lounging cattle, which leads to a forest with a church steeple rising above the treetops. The landscape provided our eyes with a view of serene beauty. The meal was filled with laughter and conversation. We were served a delicious turkey dinner, with a great variety of fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, that ended with bramble cobbler. Two doctors from England joined our group for the Bankside feast. Steve and Ruth Byrne, a husband and wife in their 30s, were taking a long weekend away from their hospital duties to walk a part of the Cleveland Way. We shared stories and jokes about the differences between England and the United States in providing medical training and care.
The following morning, the traditional English breakfast greeted us. At least according to every B&B owner in England it is traditional! We were offered a similar meal each day: cereal, eggs, bacon, sausage, broiled tomatoes, beans, toast, and, occasionally, smoked kipper or blood pudding. After breakfast we traded addresses and phone numbers with the doctors with the hope of seeing each other again.
We spent 10 days walking the 110-mile Cleveland Way. The long-distance walk makes time slow down to a walker’s pace. It gives time to pause, to meet new friends, and to hear less familiar words like bitter (a type of beer) and bramble (blackberries). Time to discover new or forgotten attributes of our companions. Time to reflect. An opportunity to learn more about people from other countries, about our friends, and about ourselves. The memories of these experiences linger long after the return home.
Go ahead. Take a walk on the British side.