The second iteration
Back in September, I tentatively started thinking about this walk. After abandoning my intention to walk the “official” C2C last year, I still had a lingering desire to do a coast to coast walk. With my walking calendar for 2012 starting to take shape, I picked up the plan again for a second go.
Incidentally, there were a number of reasons why I decided not to do the Wainwright walk:
- I’m really put off with how popular it has become, and don’t want a crowded walk.
- Similarly, given accommodation can be scarce in places, I don’t want the competition.
- I couldn’t get excited about the middle part of the walk. Or maybe better put, there are places I’d rather walk.
- Having walked in the Lakes and North York Moors last year, it felt like too much repetition.
I could probably come up with a few more, but by now you probably get the point. The motivation for that particular version of the walk just isn’t there, and that’s a bad basis to build a long distance walk on. No doubt I will do it some day though.
So if I didn’t fancy the standard route, or a variation on it, then why not craft my own ? It was about this time that I found out about the Alternative Coast to Coast and the Ravenber Way. I bought both books from Amazon, and although I’ve not actually read either of them through, I have dipped in and out for inspiration. First the choice of end point – Holy Island – came straight from the ACC. Indeed before the book even arrived, I’d pretty much decided on this. But I couldn’t get excited about the start point of the ACC – Barrow-in-Furness.
This is where the other book came in. As the concatenated name suggests the Ravenber Way starts in Ravenglass and ends in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The RW’s end is close to Holy Island, so not much difference there. But Ravenglass as a start point sounded attractive.
From Ravenglass there are several route choices through the Lake District, but three obvious ones, to me. First, the natural route line up through Wasdale and Borrowdale to Keswick and exiting the Lakes north of Penrith. This is effectively the “straight line” route towards the Northumberland coast. Secondly, I could follow the route in the RW book which again starts in Wasdale but then heads east into Langdale, through Ambleside and then up via High Street to Askham. The third obvious choice is to resurrect the classic Ravenglass to Shap walk, or a variant on it. For me this has several advantages: Shap is convenient for heading to one of the key checkpoints on my walk (High Cup Nick); it takes a southern line through a favourite part of the Lakes, and the opportunity to mop up a few odd man out fells on the way.
I also knew that I wanted to include Cross Fell, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cheviots on my route if at all possible. So my first iteration of planning, which was a very rough hypothetical route linking the key points came up with the following (comparison of my rough route [blue] with AW’s C2C [orange], the ACC [pink] and RW [green]):
The second attempt
The first thing I did was break the walk into 4 chunks, so that the planning was more manageable:
- Phase 1: The Lake District (ending in Shap)
- Phase 2: The Pennines (Shap to Hadrian’s Wall)
- Phase 3: Hadrian’s Wall (The Wall itself up to the start of the Cheviots around Byrness)
- Phase 4: The Cheviots
The idea was that each of these phases would be around 3-5 days, which is manageable for planning, but also reflected points that the walk would definitely go through, thereby making the planning 4 smaller plans that could be done largely independently. It also meant I could plan them in any order I wanted.
Taking this literally, I started with the bit I know well – the Lake District. My first attempt at a detailed route has me heading up from Ravenglass to Devoke Water, then over the Dunnerdale and Furness fells to Coniston, via Black Fell (an odd Wainwright out) to Ambleside, through the start of the far eastern fells to Kentmere and then to Shap. I also have alternative options where I head from Coniston to Windermere, and then Windermere to Kentmere. This comes out as about 4 ½ days walking.
I then started looking at the other end of the walk through the Cheviots. I don’t know this area at all, but do know it’s quite wild in places. And with the second largest military firing range in the country slap bang in the middle of it. So it’s fair to say that I had concerns about coming up with a route that also fitted with the scarce accommodation options, and with knocking off The Cheviot and Windy Gyle on the way. The route I’ve come up with starts with a crossing of the range from Byrness to Alwinton, then via Barrowburn to Windy Gyle to Mounthooley, Mounthooley to Wooler and Holy Island. I have a couple of options planned for the bit around The Cheviot – basically doing it on the way to Mounthooley , or on the way from Mounthooley to Wooler. What I’ve ended up with is about 5 days of walking, but with accommodation stops it looks like it actually needs 6 days, because of one half day section. This all feels too long, so I expect to trim this route in the next round.
I then looked at phase 3 – Hadrian’s Wall. The simplest chunk. Indeed, I was surprised when it came out out as only 2 ½ days: from Greenhead to Once Brewed, then up to Bellingham and Byrness. I don’t expect the plan for this phase to change much other than due to accommodation availability.
Phase 2, I mapped out late last night. This has me heading east from Shap towards Dufton, to pick up High Cup Nick then swing north for Cross Fell (and associates). From there it’s down to Alston and up to Greenhead. 4 days walking in all. The biggest challenge with this phase is accommodation in the middle. It’s virtually impossible to reconcile accommodation, a route over these fells, the typical distance I can do each day and something which doesn’t take days and days. So I’ve looked at bothy options to avoid wasting two half days getting down from and back up to Cross Fell. I’ve achieved a route that does all of the things I want, but it is risky as it critically relies on use of a bothy.
So my second iteration looks something like this:
In case you’re wondering, the house symbols denote hostels and bunkhouses, the little red dots are nearby fells that I wanted to build as many as possible into the plan, and the red and yellow target symbols are key points along the walk – High Cup Nick, Hadrian’s Wall and Holy Island. The picture also includes the variations I planned in the Lakes and Cheviots.
This gives me a plan that involves 206 miles of walking, over 11,000m of ascent and comes out at 16 days walking. If I convert the ascent to flat walking using my usual rule of thumb, that is equivalent to 281 miles of flat walking, which means 17.6 miles a day (12.88 unadjusted). That’s ok, but day after day, fully laden feels a bit much. The current plan works out at an average of 708m of ascent every day. And the way I’ve cut it, involving 2 half days in the middle as well as one at each end, means I could need 18 or 19 days once I also allow for travel to/from the start and end. Yikes!
This is far too long. For one thing, I’m limited to a realistic maximum of two weeks, if I do this at my preferred time at the end of April/start of May. If I defer it to July, when time is less of a constraint, then accommodation is likely to be more of a challenge. And it all depends on my work situation, and specifically when my current freelance contract ends, which itself is a bit fluid at the moment.
So in my next iteration, I’m going to have to try to trim it down – at least in terms of timescale, and there are a number of things I can look at:
- A less ambitious route through the Lakes – I go there at least once a year anyway, so I shouldn’t be adding in extra days, which I think I am at the moment due to my fell choices. I may have to opt for a more sensible valley-based route to save a day, or at least a half.
- Similarly, a less ambitious route through the Cheviots. In any case if the firing range is in action, my current route doesn’t work anyway. I may have to decide what’s really critical for the route here and make some compromises.
- I can’t do much about the Hadrian’s Wall section, but the start and end of that section could change depending on changes I make to the previous and next phases.
- I think I’ve done quite well with the Pennine phase, so don’t expect to trim it much, unless I take a lower level route. Or chicken out of bothies.
- I could be more adventurous with my overnight accommodation – which at the extreme could mean taking a tent, which I want to avoid really because of the weight. Much as I enjoy camping, I’m not doing it for two weeks solid. And I’ll only take a tent if it’s for enough nights to be worthwhile.
- I could straighten the route, which would shorten it and save maybe a day. But it would also lose some of its appeal, as a straighter route would avoid the Pennines, and two of my key points.
- Because I’ve built the route around location of accommodation, I could look at whether clever use of buses to take advantage of accommodation further from the route might be an option. But I don’t want to do that as it is one more thing that can go wrong, and makes the walk feel a bit less “pure”, even returning to the exact previous day’s end point the next. I’m not even sure this would be an option given where my biggest accommodation challenges are.
Whatever, I’m going to have to make some compromises. AW’s C2C is 192 miles and takes 12 days, which would mean 13 at least including travel. My route is 14 miles longer (one day’s walking) so I can’t justify 18 or 19 days and need to get it nearer 14 or 15. The Ravenber Way is 210 miles and 14 sections, whilst the ACC is 191 miles in 18 sections (many of which are half days that can be combined). These are my guidelines for coming up with something sensible.
I have to cut it, not just because of work and how much time I can realistically be away from home, but also because I’m not sure yet I can walk that many days in succession, and at that level of strenuousness.
And it’s here that the value of having done the Cumbria Way last year really becomes apparent. It gives me a frame of reference and is essentially the template that I’m using to plan this walk. My CW involved some lower level and valley walking, albeit not as much as the official route, and apart from a couple of points I always had options to bail out of higher level routes in favour of safer more sheltered lower level routes. I stayed in camping barns, hostels and a couple of B&Bs which worked very well. Whilst the CW was a good basis from which to plan, that walk only took me 10 days, of which 2 were extra fell-bagging days around Skiddaw House. So I’m wary about how much I can extrapolate too much from what was an 8 day long distance walk to one which will be double that.
The problem solving continues.