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Welcome to the Land and Sea Images site. Yes,  there are many photographic images here, but you will appreciate the written discussions and journalistic write-ups on this site. For example just below is a 2010 journal on a 14-day Alpine tour through France, Italy, and Switzerland of the Mont Blanc Massif. Further down is a journal on the Coast-to-Coast a 200 mile walk across three national parks spanning England! And though the focus is often the California coast and its spectacular scenery, correspondents have stretched geographic perspectives much more broadly. 

Point Lobos

In 1603, Sebastian Vizcaino led three Spanish ships into Monterey Bay on an exploratory mission. He discovered that the lands around the bay teemed with wildlife: grizzly bears and tule elk roamed the lakes and marshes of the Salinas Valley; herds of pronghorn antelope graced the foothills; wolves, mountain lions, and the occasional jaguar preyed upon the plentiful supply of deer and rabbits; and black bear patrolled the rugged mountainous terrain of the interior.

The Monterey County landscape has changed dramatically since the arrival of the first European explorers, and much of our natural heritage has been lost or severely reduced, but there are still places which have survived relatively intact where we can get a glimpse into the past.

 

 

Point Lobos on the Monterey Peninsular, CA

Click on the Point Lobos page for more details, with text and pictures of this remarkable California landmark. 

 

  

The Merced River in Yosemite National Park (right)

See details lower down this page, and also on the Yosemite page for more views and comments on California's renowned heritage site, visited by millions each year.

How to Access all the Site Images

Images on this site, that you will find by clicking on the portfolio headings at the top of this page, are enhanced by  descriptive text that looks at the significance of, and perhaps some historical details behind the picture. Readers have noted the value of this information, sometimes anecdotal.  Worldwide, readers open these images more than 300,000 times each month.

To link to this site if you have a website with interests in photography, travel, vacations, whether in the U.S. or overseas, address your email to:

tonyarmor@netscape.net

 

 

 

Tour de Mont Blanc: 

A diary of a two-week hike in the Mont Blanc Massif through France, Italy, and Switzerland at altitudes up to 8500 feet, Twelve other hikers from the U.S., England, Australia, and New Zealand did the same hike independently, and stayed at the same auberges.  The trails were pre-defined (see the red trail on the map below), though we had no tour leader (Text by Jackie Armor). 

 

Tour de Mont Blanc

July 24 – August 6, 2010

 

          

  Our Choice of the Mont Blanc Tour

Four years ago, in 2006, Tony and I walked the “Coast to Coast’, 200 miles across England from St. Bede’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire (see journal later on this page). We enjoyed it immensely and often talked about doing it again.  In fact, we were all set to start making our reservations when, in February, we received the Sherpa newsletter tempting the reader to consider many other long-distance walks.  One of these was an Alpine classic – the Tour de Mont Blanc, 14 days of walking the Mont Blanc trail through France, Italy, and Switzerland, with accommodation arranged by Sherpa and bags transported daily from hotel to hotel.  We would be part of a group of around 14 hikers, but would walk independently.  It sounded challenging and just different enough to attract us.  We booked immediately.

 Saturday, July 24

 We are flying into Geneva from Brussels after almost no sleep.  We have stayed overnight at the Airport Sheraton, which is so incredibly convenient that we are able to drag our bags out of the hotel at 5:00 a.m. right over to the terminal which we are misguidedly expecting to be deserted at that early hour.  But it is a madhouse as thousands of Belgian families prepare to leave on their summer vacations.  Surprisingly, our gate, once we reach it, is peaceful and not crowded at all.  Geneva must not be such an exotic vacation locale as Corfu or Tenerife.  On the Brussels Airline flight we get upgraded, which means we’re fed breakfast, a real luxury in these days of foodless flights.

 

index.23.jpg (45744 bytes)We have neglected to book bus transportation from Geneva to Les Houches, our starting point, but no problem, a mini-bus with spare seats operated by Steve, a young man from Aberdeen, takes us right to Auberge Le Beau Site, our first night’s accommodation.  Now we need to kill three hours.  Rooms will not be available before 2:00 p.m., no matter that we are so tired.  We explore the pretty, flower-bedecked village that is Les Houches, checking out the supermarche, the tourist office and the gondola station.  We buy, write and mail postcards.  In the tourist office I endeavor to send an email home, but the French keyboard is different enough that I spend most of my time correcting mistakes.

  At last, the key to our room!  We sleep for a couple of hours, then shower and go down to a mandatory meeting with our fellow travelers and our baggage handlers, Bob and Sian.  We are told to expect a marvelous dinner, beautifully presented and indeed it is, but there is a problem :  we are not meat eaters and the meal is extremely “meaty”, so we push the main course around our plates and try to eat only the veggies.  The company, though, couldn’t be better.  We eat at a table with Peter and Sandra from Melbourne, Australia.  They are avid hikers and the year before did a two-week walk replicating a World War 2 march across New Guinea.  The Tour de Mont Blanc should be child’s play after that!

  Sunday, July 25

  Packed and breakfasted, we leave our suitcases for the Sherpa baggage handlers and walk throughwpe1A.jpg (23041 bytes) Les Houches to the gondola station where we purchase two tickets – aller simple, seniors – for nine Euros each.  I’m a bit nervous about this ride, but taking the gondola will save us two hours of uphill index.26.jpg (33384 bytes) climbing with no compensatory views, so I’m toughing it out.  Soon, the cabin is packed with exceedingly smelly mountain climbers festooned with ropes, helmets, pitons, and ice axes, and then we’re off, soaring above the treetops and with jaw-dropping views of the Chamonix Valley as I dare to look back.

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At the Bellevue telepherique station it is cold, so we add more layers of clothing as well as wool hats and gloves.  Now the hike begins.  At first, the going is fairly smooth, leading to a steep, rocky downhill section and the crossing of a “Nepalese-style” suspension bridge over a raging torrent.  I know Tony thinks I might balk at this, but I’ve crossed these things before, in Maui of all places.  Piece of cake!

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Now begins the uphill.  It reminds both of us of slogging up the approach to Helvellyn in the Lake District.  It’s beautiful, though.  Wildflowers abound and I am charmed by a sign of a cute lamb asking : “Ton chien, il est gentil?  Mais j’en ai peur”.  It’s requesting hikers to keep their dog on a leash.

You are seldom alone on the Tour de Mont Blanc trail, or so it seems, especially since today is a Sunday, and the trail is full of people young and older, many with dogs (on leashes).  After a long climb, we reach the Col de Tricot (7000 feet).  Fantastic views of snow-capped mountains delight us in every direction and I wonder if this is a good lunch spot, but we decide to postpone eating for a while since breakfast was just a few hours ago.

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Our guide directions warn us of a long “knee-jarring” descent ahead.  I am probably the slowest person on the descent (ever maybe!).  It takes me well over an hour to teeter down the short, steep zigzags and I am constantly passed by fit, young people who bound with ease.  I don’t care.  My goal is to reach the bottom unscathed and I do.  Tony has reached the bottom well ahead of me and is lying on a rock.  After three knee operations, his legs have really taken a beating.  Our quads are on fire as we stagger into the Chalets de Miage refuge, a picturesque rest stop with a restaurant and anP7260069.JPG (137161 bytes) “interesting” toilet.  Here, you squat over a deep hole, your feet balanced on two widely spaced foot platforms, your thighs burning.  We call it a “Tashkent toilet”, named after the diabolical facilities at the airport in Tashkent. After a bread and cheese picnic at the Sunday-crowded refuge, we ascend again, shortish and steepish, then emerge on a comfortable, flat hilltop.The final, long downhill does us in.  It is long, very long, and very steep.  Much of the path is shaley and rocky, so we either zigzag from side to side, or mince along (me, not Tony) for fear of slipping.  Our thighs scream for mercy.  Tony leans backwards and throws his legs out in front in the exaggerated style described by the unique writer Bill Bryson after a night on the beer.  We rest, easing down little by little and finally reaching the main road.  But now we still have a mile to walk south along the river to Hotel le Chemenaz.  With quivering thighs we reach the hotel and collapse.  That was hard!

We cannot face dinner, so visit a nearby patisserie where we buy a quiche and blackcurrant tarts.  We wolf them down in our hotel room then, exhausted, head for bed, but the food sits so heavily in my stomach that I am up all night with a bad stomach-ache and unable to sleep.  In the morning, I am a zombie, aching all over.  I cannot walk today.

 

Monday, July 26

  Feeling ill and nauseous, and since both of us have non-functioning legs, we decide to forego hiking and stay put for another night.  Luckily, the hotel can accommodate us.  I crawl back to bed and sleep for the entire morning; Tony puts in a couple of hours too. In the afternoon, we manage a short riverbank walk to Notre Dame de la Gorge, a very old and small church dating back to around 1300 AD.  On the way there and back we pass several campsites where French families are enjoying some vacation.  There is no shortage of activities available for their leisure – a swimming pool, a boating lake, pony rides, archery, the ubiquitous games of boule, soccer and many other pursuits. 

  Feeling able to eat once again, we decide on the set menu at the hotel :  tomato soup (OK), raw (yes, raw) eggs in a small glass dish atop a sort of mushroom custard (inedible, I am not Rocky), chicken thighs with noodles (just the noodles for me), and chopped fruit in a kind of fruit salad. Exhausted again, I am looking forward to tonight’s sleep.

  Tuesday, July 27

  An excellent night’s sleep has made me feel so much better and today I can eat a good breakfast. We had hoped that our Sherpa baggage carriers might also give us a lift to La Palud as they picked up or dropped off luggage, but no such luck.  Apparently, they have no room in their van, but we have good directions to reach La Palud, which is in Italy on the far side of the Mont Blanc tunnel : bus, train, then bus. We begin by purchasing a copy of yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, which has so much to read, unlike our local newspaper in San Jose, and peruse it while awaiting the first bus.  

An excellent ride through pretty French countryside in lovely weather is only marred by seeing the aftermath of an accident between a car and a motorbike.  Public transportation in Europe, though, is so easy.  At the La Fayet train station we buy tickets for Chamonix.  The train is punctual and clean and we are enjoying magnificent views of snow-capped Mont Blanc when the ticket collector demands our tickets and asks :  “Avez vous compostez?”  Did we compost?  Hmmm … that doesn’t seem right, wonder what he means?  It turns out that we should have punched out tickets in the little yellow machine P7270073.JPG (106317 bytes) at the entrance to the platform.  Oh well, next time, we’ll know.  In Chamonix, we pick up the luxurious and almost empty bus to La Palud.  Most of the journey is taken up by the Mont Blanc tunnel, eleven miles of grey nothingness, but what a feat of engineering.

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La Palud is a small village, so our hotel is easy to find.  We have tea on the terrace and are soon joined by Peter and Sandra who have just finished today’s hike and so need to imbibe something stronger.

That night we eat at the La Palud Restaurant.  Since we are now in Italy, I learn that “Ca va” in French translates to “va bene” in Italian, so now I can say more than just “Ciao” and “Bon Giorno”.  Tony has vegetable soup, an enormous gorgonzola pizza and beer and I eat vegetable lasagna,  salad and drink a beer. Now we are healed (more or less) and ready to begin hiking again.

  Wednesday, July 28  

Everyone in our group has a well-deserved rest day today but, of course, we have just had two non-hiking days and therefore decide to stretch our legs and take the suggested, easy hike along the east bank of the Doire de Ferret river.  I should note that the guide describes it as “a pleasant, low level walk, waymarked on the ground with red/white marks”, so I expect a gentle stroll, a country walk, a meander. 

 P7280077.JPG (385037 bytes) The river is a raging torrent, the path non-existent, the waymarks impossible to locate, often on rocks in the river!  We bushwhack through brambley woods, scramble over enormous boulders, climb small cliffs.  Tony gets stung several times and bitten; I am scratched and bleeding.  We are really quite angry at the misleading description and annoyed that houses and a road are easily visible on the other side of the river.  Civilization over there; rugged wilderness here. Enough is enough and we abandon the hike.  We are tired and cranky.  A shower, a nap and clean clothes restore our equanimity and late in the afternoon we set out for the town of Courmayeur, a few miles down river.  It’s a pretty town with a traffic-free center, so we stroll through, eventually locating the supermarket where we purchase apples, cheese, two packets of English biscuits and a large pack of Kitkat!

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 None of the Courmayeur restaurants tempt us, so we hop onto the bus back to La Palud and dine in the restaurant adjacent to our hotel.  We have only just managed to get a reservation and I can see why.  It’s an eating place popular with Italian families and the food is quite good.  Tony chooses French onion soup, grilled cheese with polenta and vegetables and a beer, while I eat French onion soup, a small green salad, sautéed potatoes and drink a beer too.  Now it’s time to go back to our room and pack for tomorrow’s long hike.

 

Thursday, July 29

  First, it’s a happy birthday wish by email for our daughter, Megan, working in California.

  Heavy rain is falling as we set out; we’ll be able to test our “wet gear”.  Hiking in California seldom involves inclement weather so we don’t have the expensive and durable waterproofs that our English companions sport.  Tony has his “Dri Ducks” and I’m trying out my inexpensive rain jacket and pants from REI.  Because of the rain, everyone in our group has decided to take the bus to the base of the Col de Ferret.  Hiking this stretch would have meant three miles of tarmac walking in a heavy downpour, so an understandable decision. The hike, as you can see, will be steep up to the Col but the views of the mountains and glaciers above the Col are going to be spectacular.

P7290078.JPG (124970 bytes)Today’s hike will take us to the Col de Ferret (a weird name which all of the English-speaking hikers pronounce in the English way), and the highest point on the Tour de Mont Blanc at 8,200 feet.  What a climb it is!  At first, we slip and slide all over the place in the rain-soaked, gloppy mud.  Although Tony’s “Dri Ducks” do indeed keep him dry, they also trap moisture and it doesn’t take long before he is sweating up a storm.  Fortunately, the rain starts to taper off so we can at least remove our now-muddy rain pants.  Before long, Tony is down to his shorts and t-shirt.

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        There’s nothing easy about this climb to the summit. We zig-zag slowly, up the very steep and rocky path. There are many others climbing today and I am often passed as I seem to need to stop for a breather every so often.  Also, I have an urgent need to stop off the trail and there is not a tree in sight, but luckily I find a fairly private place near some ruined old farm buildings and Tony stands guard.  Unluckily, I have inadvertently positioned myself over a patch of thistles – ouch! As we ascend, the views in every direction are outstanding: cows grazing high up on a cliff , the snout of the Miage glacier, the lovely Val d’Aoste Valley in the far distance.  Finally (and thank goodness!) we summit and immediately need to don our layers.  It is super cold and even begins to hail.  On go the wool sweaters, the gloves and hats. We’d like to linger and admire the views, but honestly it is just freezing, so we begin our descent down the back side of the mountain.

I can truly say that I enjoy the descents and this one is long, but gentle, so perfect really.    We’re quite hungry, but P7290082.JPG (253600 bytes)wait until reaching the refuge at La Peule to eat our measly lunch of an apple and cheese, although it is supplemented by a cup of (expensive and instant) coffee and a candy bar.  Apparently, hikers can enjoy an authentic Alpine experience here by staying overnight and sleeping in the hay-loft on the hay.  We, however, are bound for La Fouly, so before setting out in the now-heavy drizzle we put on our rain jackets once again and begin the long, downhill walk.  At first, we’re on a jeep track, then a tarmac road, happily devoid of traffic.  Actually, I find it a pleasure walking in this light rain and feel quite euphoric.  Tony, though, is listing to the left and we wonder whether it is the camber of the road or his legs.  We jog into the tiny hamlet of Ferret and on into the little town of La Fouly. 

  Our hotel is charitably described as rustic, and after depositing our boots and hiking sticks in the basement and our bags in our room, we share a drink (tea for me and a beer for Tony) with Peter and Sandra, and are soon joined by other members of our hiking group.  Dinner that night is a jolly affair as we all share one long table with good conversation and jokes.

Friday, July 30

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Our directions inform us that today will be a shortish (9 mile) and easy day, so we don’t get on the road until 10:30.  We’ve had a few moments of panic when we couldn’t find our hiking sticks in the basement room and, of course, assumed that someone had walked off with them.  They had just been moved, so with a sigh of relief because these things are expensive, we set off. This morning it is dry, but cool and I’m in my wool sweater and gloves.  Tony, naturally, is down to his P7300085.JPG (374941 bytes) short-sleeved t-shirt almost immediately.  We are on pleasant country paths, through woods, contouring the mountain and trending downhill.  At one point, we are walking on the lateral moraine of a long retreated glacier.  We stop and talk to a group of a dozen young American teenage girls, so sweet, energetic and fresh-faced.  Surprisingly, one young woman is moving to Menlo Park from Colorado as soon as she returns to the US.  Menlo Park is just a few miles from where we live. We eat our usual apple and cheese lunch on a bench vacated for us by Anne and Nick and their sons from Epsom.  The bench overlooks a wildflower-filled meadow and then as I am admiring the quiet beauty, out of the corner of my eye I spot movement.  Suddenly, two juvenile ibex burst out of the woods, chasing each other at high speed and disappearing into a thicket.  Just as unexpectedly, they reverse direction and dash back to the woods.  What a treat!

       

Now comes the hard part of today’s hike – around two hours of steep uphill climbing to Champex-Lac.  What makes it curious is that Champex is a surprisingly large lake perched in an alpine hanging valley.  We catch up with Sandra and Peter and the family from Epsom who are exploring a most peculiar feature.  It is an outcropping of rock into which has been P7310100.JPG (90324 bytes) set a prison-type door, with a very long vertical ladder up one side of the rock and a set of moss-covered steps ascending the other side.  A chimney sticks out of the top, way high up.  What could it be?  Surely, not a prison, deep in the woods - (later turns out to be a Swiss nuclear shelter!). Animals, like this wild boar and the ibex, are carved out of tree stumps on theP7310093.JPG (357778 bytes) P7310099.JPG (91695 bytes)wpe66.jpg (47414 bytes) way up. We are instantly charmed by the small town of Champex-Lac; it’s gorgeous and worth the steep climb.  Our hotel is lovely and dinner is the best yet :  endive with walnuts and gorgonzola; broccoli and cauliflower soup; lake fish with potatoes and vegetables ; peaches and creamy tapioca and coffee.   Europe's version of the Western States 100 Mile Trail Race follows the same Mont Blanc trail we are hiking, and starts in two weeks we notice from the poster. 

Tomorrow will be a day of rest.

Saturday, July 31

P7310097.JPG (161364 bytes)P7310095.JPG (176547 bytes)  Yes, it is a lazy rest day in lovely Champex-Lac.  Since we have no hikes planned and, in fact, no plans at all, we get up and breakfast late.  My left ankle has been hurting for a while and still hurts, so I am glad for some recovery time. WeP7310091.JPG (112213 bytes) take a leisurely stroll around the lake, watch a fisherman land awpe64.jpg (54757 bytes) trout, admire wooden animals carved straight out of trees, visit the bakery for two cakes (each), buy tomorrow’s lunch and postcards at the supermarche and find a day old Daily Telegraph.  There’s so much to read in this newspaper. After an afternoon nap, we have a cup of tea in the next door café and decide to re-visit the store to buy dinner to eat in our room, so we feast on cheese and tomato sandwiches, yogurt and Heineken while watching the sun set over the Swiss mountains.

Sunday, August 1

It has been a lovely sojourn in Champex-Lac, but today we must leave and make for Trient.  The hike is billed as 13 kilometres, about 9.3 miles, but Tony’s Garmin will register it as 11 miles.  Of course, we don’t know that, so we set out fairly early in lovely sunshine.

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We leave the village headed uphill, walk downhill for half a mile, then head off uphill again on wide tracks past charming Swiss chalets bedecked with strings of flags for Swiss National Day.  It’s rolling terrain for a mile or so, then the real uphill begins and it gets steeper and steeper.  After an hour or more of this we emerge above the treeline and find ourselves amongst enormous Swiss cows, grazing contentedly and tolling their huge neck bells.  I know that cows are gentle creatures, but they’re big too and can be a bit intimidating when they block the path.  They move when they’re ready, not when you are.

  For another hour we contour gently and are absolutely amazed at the view of the wide Rhone Valley a mile below us.  In every direction, snowcapped peaks thrust skyward.  It couldn’t be more impressive.

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Ahead of us now is an Alpage and we are ready to eat.  I have exactly six Swiss francs left and since we are about to cross into France I am anxious to spend them.  A big slice of apple tart – tarte aux pommes – costs me five, fifty.  “Pas dewpeF.jpg (47635 bytes) monnaie”  (keep the change) I magnanimously announce.  What a good choice, it is absolutely delicious.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m really hungry, but it’s the best apple tart I’ve ever eaten – very appley and sweet.  I’ll look for recipes on the Internet when I return to see if I can replicate the taste and texture.  Sitting at the alpage in the sun amidst other hikers from many countries (and eating apple tart)P8010111.JPG (120655 bytes) is an enormous pleasure.

wpe15.jpg (56894 bytes)  Onward and upward, but not for long as we soon have to begin the long, steep descent, not easy on the knees.  A kind French woman offers to take our photo and reminds us that “What goes up, must also go down”, so we are resigned.  We take it very slowly and are overtaken by two large hiking groups, one Asian, the other English.  More surprisingly, we are impressed by a young man running up this very long and steep path and by four, polite mountain bikers.

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P8010114.JPG (306413 bytes)Finally, after a brief stop at Col de la Forclaz, we make our way down the very steep paths to Trient, a tiny village.  To call our hotel rustic would be an exaggeration, it is more of a hostel than a hotel.  Our twin-bedded room is tiny and we have to share a bathroom, so we nip in the shower quickly.  Things could be worse.  Since it is Swiss National Day, the hotel is overbooked.  Trevor and Paul, Jane, Peter and Ben cannot be accommodated.  Also because of Swiss National Day, a lot of celebrating has already taken place and a drunk guy drives Trevor and Paul to what he believes to be an alternate hotel, only it turns out to be a grotty youth hostel and they don’t go for it.  Finally, all five are taken to a most bizarre and empty hotel about five miles away.  Ben says it’s like something out of “The Shining”. P8010115.JPG (91889 bytes)

  They are brought back for dinner and it’s a festive affair.  Out entire party, including our two baggage handlers, shares a great long table.  We eat pea soup, salad, fondue with potatoes, and icecream.  We have really come together as a group and it’s good company.  We laugh and make merry while outside, thunder and lightning flash and heavy rain sluices down.

  Monday, August 2

  I have just endured a very bad night’s sleep, or lack thereof, resulting from a sore ankle, an aching stomach and a room that is far too hot. I am also less than thrilled about having to share a bathroom with hairy, unwashed hiker, and there seem to be many of them staying here, there must be some kind of a dormitory upstairs.  Nevertheless , we have to get on, so after packing our bags we drag them down the steep stairs, deposit them with a million others in the entry hall and look in on breakfast. 

This meal is an utterly haphazard affair.  You grab whatever you can get, make do if there are no knives, bowls or spoons (or food), and try to find a place to sit that is not too sticky.  We’re not sorry to finally leave this hotel at around 8:35 a.m. 

The first half hour of today’s hike is a gentle uphill walk past chalets and their vegetable gardens.  Two things occur to me :  first is the complete lack of graffiti anywhere along the Tour de Mont Blanc trail and its villages and towns; second is the fact that although the growing season here must be pretty short, most houses have flourishing little gardens, growing onions, potatoes, beans, lettuce, fruit trees and other lovely vegetables and fruits. Trient though is a little village, as we can see looking back to the valley. The visit of our 14 hikers was a significant event for them.

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The weather is cool and cloudy, just right for hiking.  A small logging operation intrigues us.  Single cut trees are dispatched on some kind of an overhead line from way up in the forest to a couple of loggers down below who grab the cut tree and proceed to chop it into lengths.  This probably accounts for the extensive log piles we have seen neatly stacked outside every house. No sooner have we traversed the logging operation than the real uphill begins and it’s steep and rocky.  For more than an hour we’re slogging through the forest and crossing rushing, rocky streams with outstanding views of the valley we’ve left behind.  The trouble is that my stomach hurts and I don’t feel very well.

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Finally, at around 11:30 we reach today’s summit, the Col de Balme at 7,000 feet.  The café here is reputedly run by the Kraken (according to our hiking instructions) and we (well I, really) are both fascinated and scared to see what this formidable woman is like.  We venture inside and ask for tea.  It’s true, the old lady lacks charm, but this refuge is hers, her livelihood and she obviously does things her way.  The tea seems to settle my stomach for which I am thankful.  As it’s so cold outside (and not that much warmer inside), we add layers of clothing and prepare for the big descent. After 45 minutes of knee-crunching downhill hiking in weather that is looking worse and worse, we reach a gondola station and decide to give our knees a break.  The downhill ride is short and fast and we arrive at the lower station at Le Tour in three minutes.  We eat our meager lunch sitting on the steps of the gondola station, then set off for Argentiere.  We have had some spectacular views of snow-covered Mont Blanc and its surrounding glaciers, but the battery on Tony’s camera has quit, so we’ll need to buy a replacement.

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After about three miles of gentle downhill hiking through small villages, we arrive at the sweet little town of Argentiere and check into the very nice Hotel de la Couronne.  The charming concierge informs us that there is no camera store in town, so we’ll need to take the bus or train to Chamonix ands she kindly gives us two days of free, unlimited bus/train passes.

After a bath, so welcome for sore muscles, we head for the railway station and board the train for Chamonix.  It’s a small, clean train, but crowded at this time of day.  I like the fact that you can bring dogs (even St. Bernards) on the train. P8040176.JPG (118219 bytes) In fact, quite a large dog is sprawled right in the middle of the aisle and everyone has to detour around it, to its complete oblivion.  It’s a delightful 15-minute journey to Chamonix and raining very hard by the time we arrive.  We must be the only people in town without any raingear, and we dash from the station to a store sporting a Kodak sign.  Instead of buying a new battery, the store clerk offers to re-charge the old battery for only four Euros, which we think is quite a bargain.

We discover a newsagent and buy yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph.  Then it’s dinner time.  I have fancied a cheese omelette ever since I started this hike, so that’s what I order :  cheese omelette with French fries and tea.  Tony goes for pizza and beer.  Sated, we dash for a supermarket where we find a small section of English food, so we buy digestive biscuits and a Crunchie bar as well as the usual apples and cheese.

On the way back to the station, we pick up the camera’s battery, then make a reverse train journey and are back in our hotel before 8:00 p.m.

  Tuesday, August 3

Awakening to heavy rain, we have to re-think today’s hike, along with everyone else in our group.  We are supposed to be heading up high, then contouring the mountain before heading down to Chamonix, but this would seem a waste of time since everything will be obscured by heavy cloud.  Instead, we decide to tackle the lower Petit Balcon Sud from Argentiere to Chamonix, about eight miles. The views of the Mont Blanc range continue to be stupendous.

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  It’s a pleasant, if drizzly, hike with some ups and downs, but nothing challenging.  The rain dies away as we are passing a pony paddock in which sodden Shetland ponies await young riders. Fly fishing is challenging in the fast-flowing Alpine River Arne. The path has become a popular trail by the time we reach the outskirts of town at the Chamonix Golf Course and we meet up with our Australian friends, Peter and Sandra.  We walk together into P8030137.JPG (126071 bytes) Chamonix, stopping to admire the pretty flower-decked bridge over the Arne River. The HotelP8030147.JPG (119517 bytes) Gustavia is conveniently located opposite the little train station. Once checked in, we decide on a shower and are surprised that the water drains directly into a hole in the bathroom floor with no shower enclosure.  Tony says he hopes the floor slopes in the right direction – well, no, not really.

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  It’s time to explore the famous Alpine town of Chamonix.  Much vaunted for its wintersports facilities, it’s also packed in the summer.  The weather is sunny and warm and we make our first stop the Office de Tourisme.  In the square outside is an interesting set of billboards explaining the conquest of Mont Blanc.  It was first climbed in 1786 (by a man), and not much later, in 1830, by the first woman.  Not too shabby, considering the voluminous skirts, tights corsets and restrictive women’s clothing of the time. We eat at the same café in the main square as on the previous evening.  Tony again orders pizza with beer, and I have vegetarian tortellini and half a bottle of Muscadet. 

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          Our room allows for a remarkable view of the Mont Blanc range and the close-in glaciers. Although our room is on the third floor, the hotel bar is two stories below.  On Tuesdays, they delight patrons (but not us) with live music until the wee hours.  The music and  carousing do not end till around 2:00 a.m. and even with the windows tightly closed, I can hear the noise.  Tony sleeps through it all!

Wednesday, August 4

 Today’s weather looks distinctly better, so we decide to take the little local train back to Argentiere and attempt yesterday’s scheduled hike. In fact the weather is perfect for hiking with stupendous views all day. In addition the days of alpine climbing have left us pysically much stronger and even lighter! This will be a day to savor.

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We are, once again, back to some very steep ascents.  We climb up and up and up to La Flegere.  This takes us almost three hours as we pause often for refreshing water breaks.  The incredible, eye-popping views of Mont Blanc, the Aiguille du Midi and the Bossons Glacier just get better and better.  I have decided that I love the lumpy scrumpledness of glaciers.  I hope that they do not succumb to global warming and will be around twenty years hence for my grandsons to enjoy as I have done. As we approach La Flegere, the number of hikers increases tremendously.  I use the term “hiker” loosely here.  Many of these people do not look as though they’ve hiked up from the valley.  Ha, I was right, a chair lift operates and disgorges the world and its grandmother here at over 6,000 feet.  The trail between La Flegere and Plan Praz is heavily traveled by people of all ages (and dogs), even though the path is far from level and even a bit scary in places. 

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It’s lunch time now and we settle on a spot in a popular “picnic” meadow to eat our usual repast, then forge on to Plan Praz.  Mirage-like, we can see the site long before we ever reach it.  In fact, there is now a plethora of paths to choose from, and we probably hike a bit further than we need to.  Finally, though, we reach the gondola station and buy our tickets --  11 Euros each and no senior discount this time! It’s an extremely steep descent, but I must say that I’m getting used to gondola rides and this one is truly sensational – fast, smooth and scenic.  Our hotel is across town from the gondola station, so we have a bit of a walk to the Gustavia.  We shower, rest and head out for dinner at our usual eating spot.  Tonight, Tony goes for a potato, mushroom and cheese bake with a beer, and I repeat my cheese omelette of two night’s ago, this time pairing it with Muscadet.

Again, there’s a noise problem at night.  At the café across the street, a DJ plays discs until late, then when he closes up, a group of teenagers hangs out.  Lying in bed with gritted teeth, I imagine there must be dozens of kids outside, but when I check I see four or five girls and a couple of young men, noisy, screeching and oblivious to anyone but themselves.  Hmm … am I getting old and cranky?

Thursday, August 5

Today will be our final hiking day and it is raining quite heavily, so we don our wet gear.  There are a couple of hiking options on our route to Les Houches, but given the misty conditions and the lack of visibility there’s no reason to climb high, so we decide on the Petit Balcon Sud trail.

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I am surprised that there is a lot more “up” on the path than I had expected.  At one point, the trail has been diverted by a P8050187.JPG (107207 bytes) rockslide, resulting in a steep, rocky and (for me) teetering descent.  Since we’re under tree cover, we dispense with our pesky and muddy rainpants.  The rain is off and on, but mostly on.  We certainly do not have the trail to ourselves and are often passed, in both directions, by runners and riders on horseback,

Finally, the trail comes to an end at the Les Houches train station.  The weather is still dismal, the rainP8050188.JPG (129165 bytes) continues to fall, and we eat our soggy apple under a station notice board, then start up the hill for the village.  Turning right at the top of the hill, we encounter an amusing sight :  Peter and Sandra, in full rain gear and in spite of the downpour, are having a full-on picnic with plates, cutlery, fruit, vegetables and a can of sardines, looking perfectly contented.  We politely decline their offer of sardine juice and slog on to the Auberge le Beau Site where we are refused entry since it’s not yet 2:00 p.m,

At least the supermarket is open and will let us in.  We buy two packets of cookies and wolf down the Jaffa cakes.  We buy a day-old English newspaper and finally it is 2:00 so we can check in to our room.  After a hot bath, we send an email home from the Office de Tourisme with its quirky French keyboard, have a cup of tea with P8050189.JPG (111389 bytes) the rest of our cookies, and I shop for souvenirs.  I buy a toy singing marmot for two-year old Luke, which I’m sure will drive his parents mad!

Our final dinner together is fun and festive.  The dessert is especially tasty.  Peter (from Australia) asks us whether we keep a gun in our house in California!  When he was a bank manager in Melbourne, guns were habitually issued to bankP8060195.JPG (169399 bytes) personnel and training at the gun range was a necessary part P8060194.JPG (137397 bytes) of the job.  His stories always crack us up.  We consolidate our group’s two tables into one and sit together, laughing and joking, for a long time. A last look at Les Houches,  farewell to our fellow hikers, and a final review of the wonderful flowers of the southern Alps, and we leave for the return via Geneva, London, and San Francisco.

It has been a challenging and gorgeous two weeks and we could not have enjoyed better company.  We are very glad that six months ago we made the decision to hike the Mont Blanc trail.

 

The British Isles Section

Lynmouth Harbour.JPG (72250 bytes)In the British Isles section you will find additional photos, with supporting text,  from the Lake District, from Snowdonia, Wales, from Suffolk's Constable country, and from Lynmouth in Devon. In addition, the following journal entry describes a day-by-day walk across northern England through three of its most famous national parks.

 

 

A photo-journalism article on a trip that has become the most popular long distance hike in all England

 A Diary of a 200 Mile Walk from Coast to Coast Across England (text from Jackie Armor)

This is a day by day journal of our two-week walk across the famous Coast to Coast trail from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea. The scenery, as you will see, was quite remarkable as we crossed the three national parks of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors.

The walk  began July 7 and ended July 21 in Robin Hood's Bay, Yorkshire. 

 

 

 

Overall Trail Maps: The two strip maps below are credited to Sherpa Van Project, a company in the U.K. that transports hikers' luggage between stops on the main walking routes of the United Kingdom. They performed an outstanding service for us. 

The Coast-to-Coast trail covers the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors spanning the most scenic regions of the North of England. The brainchild of Alfred Wainwright, renowned English hiker, the route is followed each year by thousands of determined hikers. Most of them finish!

The choice of stopping places, and how many days to take, varies from hiker to hiker, but the route generally follows the small towns and villages shown on the map. Our route, and what happened during the 14 days follows.

 

 

Day 1: St. Bees to Ennerdale, July 7, 16 miles

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St. Bees railway station, admiring the roses with the Fairladies Barn (FLB) owners, breakfast at the FLB, and the Queens Hotel (where we had dinner), and the plaque noting the start of the Coast-to-Coast

Today, filled with a full English breakfast and a sense of trepidation, we begin our much anticipated walk.  It is traditional to dip one's boots in the Irish Sea at the start and to pick up a stone from the St. Bee's beach  to be carried and deposited in the North Sea at the finish of the trip.  Unfortunately, I understand only half of these traditions and, stupidly, throw a rock into the Irish Sea, expecting that at some future date, this same rock will find its way to Robin Hood's Bay.  Don't ask me how!  Leaving the beach at 10:00 in the morning (see St. Bees from the cliff) we have P7060013.JPG (780222 bytes) expected to be part of a merry band of Coast-to-Coasters departing on this date, but we are alone as we ascend the cliff head.  Black guillemots and gulls scream overhead, a young hawk flaps away for cover, chaffinches tease us, fluttering ahead.  The path, by no means always smooth, leads us up and down, through gorse, red, pink and white clover, nettles, buttercups, magenta foxgloves, purple loosestrife and thistles.  Chest-high, then head-high bracken border our path as we approach the light house.  Finally, after two hours, we turn east, leaving the cliff path and observing a two-minute silence to remember last year's London bombing victims.

By now the weather is warm and sunny and, just to be on the safe side, we ask two nice ladies in the village of Sandwirth to refill our water bottles.  By now, also, we have begun to feel extremely confident.  The route appears well signposted and our Harvey map is easy enough to follow.  Needless to say, we are in for a surprise.  The map has instructed us to cross the railroad lines and follow the path across a field to a small bridge which will carry us across a stream.  We safely negotiate the train tracks, tromp through the field, but can find no trace of a bridge, not even a plank!  The steep banks of the stream are covered in nettles, otherwise we would wade the stream, our boots already soaked by the wet grass.  We search and search for the bridge, consult the map, grow angry at the map, blame the map, and finally decide to hike back along the tracks to where we have seen a group of orange-suited railway workers.  Alarmed at seeing two hikers approaching along the line  -- "This is a live line, you know!" they re-direct us to a far corner of a distant field.  Here, we manage to find a passage across the stream blocked by a large cow reluctant to move.    The rock offering safe footing is covered by a large dollop of cow dung, but the cow does move and we cross.  We enter fields full of cows and possibly bulls.  There appears to be no trail so, giving the animals as wide a berth as possible, we negotiate the fields as best we can, feeling very let down by our now useless maps.

P7060014.JPG (764638 bytes)At 4:00 p.m. we reach the village of Cleator.  We have been walking for six hours and are tired and out of sorts.  Surely, we think, there must be a bus service to Ennerdale or at the very least a taxi.  Wrong on both counts.  We will have to walk the remaining five miles.  The village shopkeeper asks us to sign her Coast-to-Coast book and Tony writes "Struggling!" which well describes how we feel. Fortifying ourselves with three raisin slices apiece and a sit down, we are continuing onP7070016.JPG (795637 bytes) through a farmyard (see the rooster) when an angel from Heaven appears in the guise of a young woman hiking alone sans backpack.  "I can't decide whether to climb over Dent or just to take the road to Ennerdale," she says.  Of course, we think, there is a road to Ennerdale and, really, no shame in taking this more direct route, given the fact that we have put in extra miles today searching for that non-existent bridge.  So, we do.  Exhausted and sweaty, we arrive in the pretty little village of Ennerdale Bridge (see the lake) at 5:40 and collapse in the pub, falling asleep over our sandwiches and beer.

Day 2: Ennerdale to Rosthwaite, July 8, 17 miles

After a somewhat stingy breakfast, but secure in the knowledge that we have packed lunches due to today's anticipated great distance, we begin the day under overcast skies.  A mile or more on the road brings us to the start of P7070015.JPG (793208 bytes) Ennerdale Water, with a well defined path along its southern shore, and then soon we are faced with the obstacle of Robin Hood's Chair, a large outcrop of rock jutting upwards and outwards.  The lower path looks easier, so we take it.  Bad mistake!  Moments of difficulty, even panic, ensue as I try to descend a crack.  Tony, a former climber, talks me down encouragingly and says thatP7070017.JPG (821304 bytes) was a Level 3 climb.  I am impressed with my ability, until I later learn that climbs range from Level 1 difficulty (very easy) to about Level 14!  Meanwhile, as I recover from my brief bout of mountaineering, I glance up to see another couple, about our age, striding along the upper path (see right) with no difficulty whatsoever.

The path alongside Ennerdale Water is typically rocky, but generally flat, and we reach the end P7070019.JPG (792595 bytes) (see left) uneventfully.  It has already taken us about two hours and we are ready for a bite to eat, so we throw off our packs and tear into our bags of potato chips -- greasy and salty, just the thing!  I remember Wainwright being disgusted with the "concentration camps for trees" on the next part of the hike, but I think things have changed in the twenty or so years since his publication.  At least onP7070020.JPG (854730 bytes) our side of the River Liza, the forest is mixed deciduous and coniferous and the trees appear to be thriving (see picture).  Our main challenge on this stretch is sharing the path with several young families, their toddlers, strollers and tricycles.  Towards the end of the forestry road, a most unattractive sight appears -- an entire hillside logged down to hundreds of tree stumps.  I have seen this kind of thing in Oregon, and although I fully appreciate the need for lumber, clear-cutting seems an environmentally poor choice.  

At Black Sail Hut (England's most remote youth hostel) we stop to eat our packed lunch.  The hut is locked, including the bathrooms, as the septic tank is full.  By now, the skies are gray and threatening, the wind has picked up and a P7070022.JPG (887110 bytes) most persistent sheep appears interested in approaching our food, quite unlike normal sheepwpe3E.jpg (14341 bytes) behavior.  Tony and a fellow- Coast-to-Coaster, Graham, confer over maps, trying to decide on the best way to approach the steep climb up Loft Beck (see picture) and to the left of Great Gable.  It really is a massive climb, hands and knees stuff.  Graham goes first, followed by Tony, then I drag along at the rear.  Up and up we scramble.  I look down and see two other couples struggling  below.  Up on top, the rain begins.  

P7070023.JPG (777882 bytes)It is time to put on our jackets.  It's a good thing that Tony and Graham seem to have the route figured out.  Left to my own devices, I would have headed off right and ended up who knows where, but we edge left and see the Dubs Slate Quarry in the distance.  It is a long and steep climb down the old tramway path.  In spite of the rain, tourists are climbing up the path clad in shorts, t-shirts and open-toe sandals.  At the slate quarry exhibition rooms we stop and have a most welcome cup of tea.

P7070025.JPG (796197 bytes)The route down to Rosthwaite is partly on trails, partly on the road. Even the sheep try to escapewpe44.jpg (22146 bytes) the wind! We walk with Graham, who reveals that he is recovering from a serious illness which has made hiking impossible for the last three years, so the C2C is a celebration.  Kudos to you, Graham.  Reach Rosthwaite (see picture) in an absolute downpour, tired but pleased to have made it through this challenging day.   

Day 3, July 9, Rosthwaite to Grasmere, 11 miles

P7080027.JPG (839303 bytes)It has been raining all night and we have not slept well.  We awaken at 8:30 and breakfast is at 8:30, so it’s a rush.  After a big, but greasy, meal we resolve not to eat the full English tomorrow.P7080026.JPG (887844 bytes)  We make a late start, hoping against hope that the rain will abate, but it doesn’t, so off we set wearing our ponchos that are lightweight but act as sails against the strong wind. Greenup Gill, normally a mild-mannered stream at this time of the year, has turned into a raging torrent.  

After an hour of flat walking, the path begins to climb and we are faced with deciding how to cross a wild and nasty stream.  We climb a little higher looking for a safe crossing but that doesn’t pan out, so we climb lower, still looking and still having no luck.  It occurs to me, privately, that our Coast-to-Coast may be over at this point.  Tony, however, makes the P7080028.JPG (849232 bytes)crossing in a triangular fashion, holding out his hand or hiking stick for me to grab.  It’s scary!  Underneath lie slippery, moss-covered rocks.  I don’t want to slip and be carried away with the torrent.  I also want to try to keep my boots and socks dry.  Two things become evident after our crossing : first, I have failed in my efforts not to soak my footwear and henceforth will simply walk straight through the rest of the rivers and streams today with perpetually wet feet; second, we are horribly cautious and slow at river crossings. A fellow hiker appearing out of nowhere has apparently marched through our raging torrent with ease.

The climb steepens.  Ahead, through breaks in the rain and low-lying clouds, we see June and Mike, fellow C2Cers, and we hurry to catch them up.  They have top waterproof gear – rain jackets, pants, boots and hiking poles,  a GPS system, and three different types of maps.  The ascent of Lining Crag is not easy.  It is very steep and the rain sheets down.  It’s windy too, billowing out our plastic ponchos.  Now, on top of Greenup Edge, the mist and clouds have closed in around us and we are thankful for Mike’s GPS system.  The trail, such as it is, is rocky, wet and slippery, and it is not difficult to get off-trail where conditions are so boggy that our feet get sucked in.  The going is not easy, though it is downhill now, steeply downhill in fact.  Without benefit of a hiking stick or poles, I count on strong quadriceps to prevent me from falling; well, those and a couple of Crunchy bars, though Tony swears by Kendal Mint Cake.

  On we plod, as the rain begins to abate and the clouds start to clear.  Now we are more amenable to our surroundings.  We notice a dejected sheep baaing and baaing and then, next to the path, a dead lamb,  her lamb no P7080029.JPG (774715 bytes)doubt, and I wonder what could have caused its death?  I can’t think of any predators, so perhaps just natural causes.  It is the first of four dead lambs or sheep I will see on this walk.  In the distance we think we see a known bridge, the one crossing Far Easedale Gill, and we are quite buoyed at finding this familiar landmark.  Tony is excited to see the familiar tents of Manchester Grammar School’s Lake District camp, erected in the same field where he camped 50 years ago.  Twowpe4E.jpg (340710 bytes) MGS boys ask him if the tents leaked  back then like they do now! We check in at our Grasmere hotel, the Harwood, and plan for dinner at the Red Lion. Grasmere is quiet and lovely and perhaps my favorite place in England.  We watch the final of the World Cup at the Red Lion pub, culminating in Zidane’s astonishing head butt. 

Day 4,  Grasmere to Patterdale, July 10, 9 miles.

P7090032.JPG (789429 bytes)This is a day I have been looking forward to:  the weather seems to have improved, our route is a known and familiar path which we have hiked many times before, and today would have been my brother’s 56th birthday.  We stock up on Kendal Mint Cake, Crunchy bars, crackers and Wensleydale cheese at the Co-op store.  I am sad to be leaving Grasmere.  When I retire, I’d like to come and live for a year in Grasmere, watch and record the change of seasons, and maybe write a book about it.  Tony is in a bad way;  one contact lens is inside out.  He removes it, then drops it on the ground!  Luckily we find it, clean it with water-bottle H2O,  and he puts it back in. 

P7090033.JPG (845592 bytes)The usual long pull up to Grisedale Tarn takes almost two hours, but it’s warm and sunny and we turn around to watch RAF fighter jets screaming over Grasmere Valley.  At the tarn the weatherP7090034.JPG (814614 bytes) turns cold and windy and the paths are often waterlogged.  We put on our jackets, round the tarn and begin the steep descent, stopping outside Ruthwaite Lodge (see picture) with its plaque commemorating two local climbers killed in 1988 on Mount Cook in New Zealand.  The scenery is breathtaking, dark scudding clouds overhead and swollen waterfalls.  The trail continues steeply downhill and I am considering the advisability of purchasing a hiking stick in Patterdale.  It drizzles, then stops.  We wpe56.jpg (277700 bytes)put our jackets on, then take them off.  This continues for about an hour.

Finally, we are on a flatter path past a tree plantation enclosed by charming stone walls.  How I love these walls.  There is an artistry in their construction, often capped and topped with moss.  An old stone barn is in a state of collapse, and a red fox slips quietly around its corner. We are in Patterdale before 3:00 p.m., passing a lovely stone house where a dozen bird feeders hang, each with a different type of birdseed.    Our room at the White Lion is small, but at the back and quiet with a sensational view. To see the end of the day's hike, the stone walls, and the White Lion Inn: click on the thumbnails below.

 

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Day 5, July 11, Patterdale to Bampton, 14 miles

P7100045.JPG (802609 bytes)After breakfast, the first order of the day is to buy a hiking stick.  It costs me sixteen pounds, and I hate the expense, but believe it will be a help and, funnily enough, I feel as though I bond with it right away.  We are walking with June and Mike along a steep uphill path taking us out of Patterdale.  We stop often and turn around to enjoy the spectacular views of Patterdale Valley, Ullswater,P7100046.JPG (791935 bytes) Brothers Water and Hayes Water.  From our vantage point, it all looks like "Toytown".  We struggle on up, finally overlooking Angle Tarn (see pictures below), and remarking that it’s always reassuring when the tarn actually resembles the one on the map.   Now the weather has turned cooler, spitting with rain, and we need our jackets and wool hats.  I walk with June who tells me that Marks and Spencer’s big knickers are called “Bridgets” after Bridget Jones’ Diary.   Just the thing for hiking!

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Today we have brought along packed lunches and eat them sheltering in the lee of a stone wall : a  cheese and pickle P7100047.JPG (821061 bytes)sandwich, a tomato, crisps, a hard-boiled egg, a Penguin and a biscuit.   At a V-bend in the path, Mike whips out his GPS, takes a reading and coordinates it with his map.  Good, we are on the right path!  It is still very cold and two fingers on my right hand have turned white, so I put on gloves. 

We have now reached Kidsty Pike, which I think is a funny name, appropriate to our daughters' rooms when they were teenagers. The thumbnails below cover the Angle Tarn to Haweswater section. Down, down, down we scramble, a very steep descent of Kidsty Pike, and particularly hard for Tony after last year’s knee operation.  My new stick is a big help.

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Reaching Haweswater (a reservoir for Manchester) is all very well, but also demoralizing when I look at the map and realize that we now have a five mile trek, up and down, along its length.  I had thought that this bit would be an easy finish.  We are a bit short on water P7100059.JPG (789845 bytes) too, so it has to be rationed.  Actually, the first part is the worst, but it still takes us two hours to reach the dam.  Next to the path, we come across our second dead sheep, an adult ewe, recently dead and covered in flies. 

We leave Haweswater behind, but where is Bampton?  We ask a lady gardening and she tells us :  “Only a mile and a half, dear, not far!”, but far to us, so I hitch a ride from a local farmer, Lenny,  who deposits us right in front of the Crown and Mitre.  Bampton is tiny – two pubs, a church with a clock that chimes the quarter hour, and a few houses.  I eat the best sticky toffee pudding ever for dessert, then fall asleep hearing the church clock chiming the quarters.  We have covered 59 miles of the walk to date.                                                                                  

 

Day 6, Bampton to Orton, July 12, 13 miles

Lawson, the owner of the Crown and Mitre tells us that he had considered having the gravel in front of the pub cleared away to expose the original cobblestones; however, the cost was prohibitive -- eight thousand pounds!  Bampton is a pretty little P7110062.JPG (843536 bytes)village, though, and with the cobbles exposed could stand in for a period TV movie. Horse riding down the lanes of Bampton emphasizes its remoteness.  I wonder if the BBC scouts sites around the country for upcoming productions? Since Bampton is off-route, we are directed to a path through the churchyard which ultimately connects with the Coast-to-Coast.  “Beep, Beep!”  Someone calls out “Jackie!” and I turn to see Catherine and Tom, a young couple we have intermittently criss-crossed on the route.  Tom had been ill the previous day and they had had to quit at Mardale, then got a ride into Bampton.  Now that same kind person is returning them to Mardale, and we admire their determination to stick with the trail.

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We cross many fields, stiles, and It’s a question of crossing many fields, stiles and gates on our way to Shap. At one point I drop our map into a big patch of nettles while crossing a stile.  We try using a pincer action with both hiking sticks to grab the map, but it’s slippery and keeps falling back.  Finally, Tony reaches quickly intoP7110064.JPG (810948 bytes) the nettle patch and snags the map.  Surprisingly, no stings! While sheep are no bother whatsoever, other than their ubiquitous droppings, I don’t much like walking past cows and bullocks.  They are so big and never seem inclined to move, so we have to give them a wide berth.  The trail gets thin at some points, suggesting that few hikers have been through recently. Based on hikers that we meet, perhaps 5-15 a day start out at St. Bees.

P7110065.JPG (792550 bytes)We reach Shap.  I have read quite a bit about its glory days (see the 17th century market hall in the picture), but the M6 by-passed Shap, its stage coach history as a main artery to Scotland has faded, and now it is a grey and grim village.  A thick coat of grime appears to cover all the buildings.  A celestial powerwash is in order.  In theP7110066.JPG (797479 bytes) newsagents we buy a new strip map – this one with the route marked and detailed step-by-step written instructions – as well as a Mars bar, a Crunchy and some throat sweets for Tony’s sore throat. After Shap we find small, isolated, and in some cases ruined farms. This is a region for  tough Yorkshire folks.

Using our new map’s instructions, we cross the railway line and the M6.  How incredibly noisy it is by the motorway.  P7110067.JPG (764668 bytes)Mike and June join us and soon we are passing tiny Oddendale and reach the moor.  This area is as beautiful in its own way as the Lake District.  Although RAF jets intermittently streak overhead,P7110069.JPG (807584 bytes)P7110068.JPG (815901 bytes) we could be travelers   hundreds of years ago.  We see no one as we pass ancient tumuli, limestone pavements, which Wainwright considered desecrated, erratic boulders and Robin Hood’s Grave.  Mike remarks that he’s heard the man has a bay as well at our destination.  Hope so! The trail gets very thin again and we need to check our compass occasionally. But we find the right location P7110070.JPG (772816 bytes)P7110071.JPG (783541 bytes)on the B6260 road,  and drop down into Orton.

 

 

What a delight Orton is, even a chocolate factory!  Our stop for the night, the Barnhouse, is the best so far..  Lillian, serves us tea and home-made scones in her airy conservatory with its amazing cucumber plant.  Later, dinner is at The George with Mike and June, and I end the day reading a biography of the village, put together some years earlier by older residents.  It makes me realize that winters are hard here and that, prior to World War II, life was a hardscrabble existence. 

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Day 7, July 13,Orton to Kirkby Stephen, 14 miles

Kudos to Lillian at the Barnhouse!  Her breakfast is the best yet – Alpen, yogurt, croissants and fruit, including raspberries, kiwis and redcurrants.  Tony has the full English breakfast.

We leave Orton at 9:45 a.m., first returning to the village to stock up on goodies.  Interestingly, the general store lady P7120076.JPG (817119 bytes)remarks that she could not afford to buy and live in Orton, so perhaps it has become a bijou retirement area.  We anticipate passing “Bland House” on our route out of the village, and joke that it must be a pale, or less awful, imitation of “Bleak House”.  Turning off the road and onto a track, we discoverP7120077.JPG (833631 bytes) Tom and Catherine (both very pale) sunbathing in the path.  Now we make our first mistake of the day (which will not be our last).  We miss the path, get stuck in a field and have to backtrack.  Tom and Catherine have now overtaken us, but soon we encounter Catherine feeding four tiny ponies, so we pass them.  We are approaching the moor with its evocative sounds and smells of our English childhoods.  I would like to be eight years old again and roll down these grassy hills.

P7120078.JPG (785393 bytes)Now we have a two-mile stretch of road walking.  In a nation of 60 million people, how amazing it is toP7120080.JPG (831877 bytes) be so alone; we see no other humans but the Royal Mail van driver.  Every so often we have to teeter across cattle grids set in the road and I am always happy to have made it across successfully and not fallen in.  Skylarks soar overhead and am I so very glad to see a lapwing.

 

P7120081.JPG (831645 bytes)Back on the moor, we take a break to eat lunch next to a long stonewpe16.jpg (615527 bytes) wall and admire the magnificent view . I now make the unfortunate discovery that I have thrown away a bag of perfectly good Wensleydale cheese in our B&B’s garbage and have been carrying the bag of trash instead, so all we have to eat is an apple, some raisins and a few nuts.

P7120082.JPG (799903 bytes)Heading toward Smardale Bridge, we take note of the enigmatic “giants’ graves”, then cross the bridge and head on up the hill following a steep track set between stone walls on either side.  Our map warns that “there may seem to be a confusing number of paths and tracks”, so we try to be alert, but to no avail and we make our second mistake of the day.  We are to “keep the stone wall in sight on the left” and we do, but it must be the wrong stone wall because soon we are stuck in endless sheep fields.  We crisscross the fields looking for a way out, but are thwarted at every turn by barbed-wire topped fences.  Finally, after almost an hour, we precariously scale a dry-stone wall and end up close to where we should have been.  Tony’s compass readings had been right all along. Moral: climb stiles that look likeP7120083.JPG (852570 bytes) stiles!

We can see Kirkby Stephen in the distance, so we stride off downhill, but are easily passed by a young man who is doing the Coast-to-Coast in eight days, quite believable if he can keep this pace up.  Before entering the environsP7120085.JPG (844165 bytes) of the town we have to pass through a farmyard and it is milking time.  Cows with huge swollen udders obediently walk in from the field to the milking barn,  numbers stamped on their rumps. We enter Kirkby Stephen at 5 p.m.  My left eye is red, swollen, itchy and feels as though there are rocks in it.  I am anxious to check in for the night, to have a shower and to put drops in my eye, all of which help.  June and Mike are staying here too, so we enjoy another dinner with them.  I have cauliflower cheese and Tony orders a shrimp and cod dish. Nowhere is far from the coast in England!

Day 8, July 14,  Kirkby Stephen to Reeth via Keld, 23 miles

Our night in Kirkby Stephen is spent in the front bedroom of a pub overlooking the center of town with a resultant bad night’s sleep.  First, there are no curtains at the window, only a thin pull-down blind which does nothing to block out the pub’s outdoor lighting, so it never gets dark.  Then, the pub seems to stay open until the wee hours, and when people do leave, they are drunk, yelling and arguing.  Also, the idiot next door keeps her/his TV on loudly until 1:00 a.m.  Grrr!

We have requested an early breakfast at 7:30 a.m. to get an early start.  We love the fact that almost every place has Alpen, which is an expensive and rare treat for us back in the U.S.  As well as Alpen, I eat a yogurt, fruit, toast and tea.  Tony, again, has the full English breakfast. 

P7120086.JPG (823394 bytes)We quickly buy apples, cheese, Mars and Crunchy bars to get us through the day and are on the trailP7130087.JPG (791963 bytes) just after 8:00 a.m.  We cross Frank’s Bridge over the River Eden and, looking back, wish we could have spent a bit more time exploring Kirkby Stephen.  Up, up and up we climb on the small steep road out of the town, taking quite a long time to pass the big quarry, then we’re out on the moor.  Tony stops to take a photo of sheep being sheared – 20 seconds per animal – while a lovely Border Collie sits patiently in the truck just waiting to go back to work intimidating its flock.  Even though it is a warm, sunny, breezy day, we need to add a second layer as we climb ever upwards. 

Because of the fragility of the moor, the Yorkshire Dales National Park authority has designated separate routes for different P7130088.JPG (773757 bytes)P7130090.JPG (850816 bytes)times of the year.  Luckily, we are permitted to take the May-November route past the enigmatic Nine Standards.  We have heard about the Nine Standards cairns and indeed they have been visible for quite a while now on our ascent, but finally we are there.  They are certainly impressive, yet little appears to be known about them  though they have appeared on area maps for three hundred years.

Not long after Nine Standards we take the right hand, May to July, route across the high, empty moor.  Not a soul is in sightwpe44.jpg (411297 bytes) P7130091.JPG (793718 bytes)for hours.  The moor is peaty, damp and squelchy.  After being directed along the seasonal path there are no more signposts and really no obvious paths, so we have moments of concern and are glad for our compass.  It’s not hard to understand how human footprints can impact this delicate land.

Although Birkdale Tarn in the far distance has been a reassuring landmark, more reassuring still is the sight of two other humans, an older couple coming towards us, who confirm that we are P7130093.JPG (840224 bytes)indeed on the right path.  We locate the Coast to Coast sign,  celebrate by eating our apples and cheese lunch, then hike on in glorious sunshine to tiny Ravenseat, with its charming stone bridge. As we stop here two other C2C hikers go past (Nikki and Adrian), the first Coasters we haveP7130095.JPG (1449245 bytes) seen since leaving Kirkby Stephen, five hours ago.

 

Three miles later we approach the little village of  Keld, a good place to stop for a cup of tea, and about the half-way point on the Coast-to-Coast.  It is P7130105.JPG (867221 bytes)such a lovely afternoon, and we drop down into the village, passing several chickens and a Westie named “Toddy” who is far more interested in the chickens than in being petted.  We sit at a picnic table down in the village, drinking our tea and eating our cake and being visited by a friendly little chaffinch who shares our taste for fruitcake.

 

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Our next stop is Reeth, where we stop at the Buck Hotel.  We are more than ready for showers on our arrival.  It has been a long, warm day and the pub’s outdoor seating area with its bright umbrellas looks inviting.  I order my customary pint of draught cider and Tony tries a pint of Black Sheep ale.  We feel we deserve a big dinner, so Tony goes for the leek, mushroom and potato pie with bread pudding for dessert, while I have cheese and tomato quiche followed by an apple and blackberry crumble.  Feeling extremely full, we console ourselves by agreeing that we’ve walked off thousands of calories so far and that we’ll eat less tomorrow.

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Day 9, July 15,  Reeth to Richmond, 10 miles 

A quick perusal of Reeth before we leave and time to buy a couple of apples and three English tea towels.  We have P7140110.JPG (863885 bytes)enjoyed both the charming town of Reeth and the Buck Hotel.  As we adjust our packs to leave, we see a group of cyclists gathering on the green and wonder whether they are riding the Coast-to-Coast bicycle route.

We expect that it will be very warm weather today, but you never really know in England, so we areP7140111.JPG (834971 bytes) carrying jackets, just in case.  Our first three miles take us along the River Swale, past Marrick Priory and into the little village of Marrick where we lose our way.  We simply take the wrong turning, knowing that we’ve made a mistake, yet trying to persuade ourselves that we’re on the right path.  Back into the center of the village, we ask for directions and set off again on the correct path.  Here, I’d like to interject that without exception, everyone we’ve asked for help, whether it’s been refilling our water bottles or pointing out directions, has been unfailingly kind and helpful.

P7140112.JPG (852669 bytes)From Marrick we set out for the village of Marske, almost three miles away.  We are generally ascending, often through large fields containing both sheep and cattle.  In some fields, bulls sit or stand guard over theirP7140113.JPG (834042 bytes) harems.  We make sure to keep a good eye on them and to give them a wide berth.   I, for one, have great respect for, and a little fear of bulls.  Reaching Marske requires a very long, steep descent of a shady hill and I decide that stopping at the local pub for a lemonade will be a good idea, but to no avail.  P7140114.JPG (896276 bytes)Marske, apparently, has no pub, so we leave the village, cross fields where hay is being made and the path is thus non-existent, cross Clapgate  Beck and make for a white stone cairn high on a hillside overlooking the River Swale.   Here, with the outstanding view of Swaledale spread beneath us, we sit and eat our lunch of apples, nuts and raisons. Not a very exciting lunch, but one that is good for us.  Way below is the A6108, apparently a favorite with motorbikes, whose noisy, buzzy engines offend our ears far more than do those of cars.P7140116.JPG (832111 bytes)P7140118.JPG (877451 bytes) P7140117.JPG (827740 bytes)

We continue on beneath Applegate Scar whose limestone cliffs are being climbed by a group of young rockclimbers, then beneath Whitcliffe Scar, along stony paths, past subsistence farms and through shady woods.  As we leavewpe20.jpg (492640 bytes) the wood we read a notice about a murder! Last year, a 20-year old Richmond woman disappeared and has never been found.  Foul play is suspected and it adds a chilling note to today’s hike. We are joined for the last mile by an older couple who completed the second half of the Coast-to-Coast walk this past May.

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The town of Richmond is dominated by its 11th century Norman castle on a hill and we see it long before we descend into the town.  My, how steep the streets are!  The Old Brewery Guest House is reached by a set of very steeply descending hills from the Market Square. After a hot day, we shower, rest and then climb back up to the square for dinner.  We order food in a pub and have a drink while we wait and wait and wait.  Other people coming in are being turned away and we’re pretty certain that something has happened in the kitchen.  Yes indeed!  Our money is refunded and we decide to just buy snacks and dine in our room, so we do, polishing off all six Bakewell tarts.

Day 10, July 16,Richmond to Danby Wiske, 13 mile

This will be a day of bulls, bugs and great heat.  Temperatures today will reach into the 90s and we slather ourselves with suntan lotion.

P7150126.JPG (812474 bytes)Leaving Richmond's ancient castle walls to the sound of Sunday church bells, and trying to follow the trail along the RiverP7150127.JPG (875985 bytes) Swale, we encounter a crabby old character who leans out of his upstairs window and hollers at us : “Hey, that’s no right of way!”  He is the only unpleasant person we have encountered on the whole walk, but then a much nicer older man stops to give us directions and we are soon on the path past the sewage works.

P7150128.JPG (855466 bytes)Our path alternates dank, dark, woody paths  with open field crossings.  It is extremely hot.  Herds of sheep shelter under the umbrellas of trees, then disperse to let us pass andP7150129.JPG (850910 bytes) we feel bad about bothering them.  We cross diagonally through a potato field, then skirt fields edged with nettles, weeds and wildflowers which brush at our legs.

There are crowds at Catterick Bridge, for the race course I suppose, which makes it hazardous P7150130.JPG (784993 bytes)crossing the A6136, but we manage and set out next to the River Swale once more.  Bolton-on-Swale looks like our last, best chance to refill our already almost empty water bottles on this hot day, so we ask a young girl in riding gear who has just been dropped off at her home, aP7150134.JPG (851142 bytes) palatial house set in lovely grounds.  While she is off filling the bottles (from the servants’ taps, no doubt) we notice the three cars parked in front  --  a Volvo station wagon, a BMW and a Maserati!

Our next challenge involves 20 bullocks massed around the stile that we need to cross.  They are in no P7150135.JPG (845706 bytes)mood to move.  Clacking our hiking sticks together only makes them approach us with some curiosity.  Another hiker comes along, and we confer.  Finally, as a joint effort, we scale the barbed-wire fence further down the field and away from the bullocks.  I want to thumb my nose at themP7150136.JPG (842253 bytes) as we walk back past them on the far side of the fence. We hike alongside wheat fields and small streams before finding our way onto the deserted B6271.

It looks like the next three-plus miles will be on a small blacktop road.  No one passes us and it’s as P7150137.JPG (1002557 bytes)though we are in a time warp.  An old, rusty signpost looks like something from World War II when directional signs were turned around in anticipation of a German invasion.P7150138.JPG (930646 bytes)

This has not been our best day.  It’s been hot, flat and buggy, so we picnic by the roadside to eat our lunch of mealy apples, cheese and fruitcake.  Suddenly, we get the creepy feeling that little insects are walking all over us.  They are!  We are both covered in tiny, P7150139.JPG (845436 bytes)1/8 inch long black insects that appear to have no wings, but do move, so they must have legs.  What are they?  Do they bite, sting, burrow under the skin?  Quickly we get up and begin brushing them off ourselves and each other.  Just when we think we are finished, there are more.  We brush and brush, shake out our clothes and our packs, and continue brushing them off all the way into Danby Wiske. 

Dragging and sweating into The White Swan at Danby Wiske, we are worried that we will infest the pub.  Perhaps we will have to be fumigated!  We decide to separate our hiking packs from the Sherpa Van bag in order not to contaminate those clothes too.  Even after a shower these little bugs keep appearing and now we see them climbing the bedroom wall.  What have we done? Dinner is beer and chicken curry in the pub, then we wander along to the pretty village church.  We go to bed wondering whether we shall ever be free of our bug infestation.

Day 11, July 18,Danby Wiske to Osmotherly, 13 miles

 Following a good breakfast enhanced by thick, delicious locally produced honey, we leave tiny Danby Wiske at 9:15 a.m.  It looks to be another terribly hot day, as well as another day of following minor roads, with forays into and along the edges of farmers’ fields.  The wheat appears just about ripe and ready for harvesting.  I hope that the warm weather holds for another week (maybe just not quite so hot) so that farmers can get their harvest in.  Some fields are planted in a grain we do not know; might it be canola?

Today’s horror for me is allergies.  Once in a while, at home and usually in the spring, I’ll get red, itchy eyes if I am out running near grassy fields.  Here, I am horribly allergic to some airborne pollen.  I sneeze continuously, my nose drips, and I have red, stinging eyes which are only made worse by sweat dripping off my forehead. Within a short time, it has become so bad that I can barely see.  I have taken to tying a red bandana around my hiking stick and constantly swipe at my forehead and eyes, which gives me seconds of relief. Then the agony begins all over again.  I am actually looking forward to reaching the A19 and its nearby service station, expecting to be able to buy some kind of allergy medication, but I am disappointed.  The service station does not sell it!  We stop in for a quick cuppa in the adjoining grotty café with its blaring and tedious music and inane radio patter, then risk our lives dashing across the A19!  We hear that a foot bridge is being considered for the A19/C2C intersection, hopefully before the first tragedy.

Ingleby Arncliffe and Ingleby Cross are stopovers for many Coast-to-Coasters, but not us.  We cross the A172, then climb up, up and up past Arncliffe Hall and into a forest.  At this point, I feel like a blind walker – I can truly hardly see, my eyes are so swollen and painful.  We welcome the shade of the forest as we trudge on upwards and then we make a mistake.  A signpost that we needed has been broken off and instead of turning right, we turn left and trudge for half a mile through deeply rutted, muddy paths before finally deciding that this must surely be the wrong way.  Indeed it is, so we re-trace our P7170148.JPG (848125 bytes)steps and finally get on the trail to Osmotherley, and while high on Swinestye Hill we first see the North York Moors. Shortly after, we pass the junction with the Cleveland Way, which we will meet againP7160141.JPG (876231 bytes) tomorrow on the climb up. Before dropping down into Osmotherley village we pass through a field, home to a resident bull and his harem, thankfully without incident  this time.

The famous 300 year-old store in Osmotherley is now closed, so we try the Post Office/general store for allergy medication.  Again, I draw a blank, but the proprietor, Dave, kindly offers me a ride into Northallerton when he closes the  Post Office at 5:30 and I accept. The Vane House, our stop for the night, is next to the Post Office, and since no one is home, we wait on the grass outside and cool ourselves with ice cream and ginger beer,P7170147.JPG (862358 bytes) and meet more roosters. Every P7160143.JPG (668676 bytes)village in Yorkshire seems to have them!  A young boy on his way home from school tells me that today has been so hot that one of his friends got burned on the metal slide at school!

After a shower and a rest, my eyes marginally improve, but I still take Dave up on his offer of a lift into Northallerton.  He drives me to a pharmacy where I find a plethora of allergy remedies to choose from.P7160145.JPG (794710 bytes)  We stop at the local Tesco supermarket so that Dave can stock up on bread and milk for his little local store.  I buy shampoo, apples and jam tarts. Osmotherley has three pubs we are spoiled for dinner choices.  We eat an excellent meal at The Golden Lion.  Tony has cod and I choose salmon fishcakes.  We cannot resist dessert, the first course has been so tasty.  At the base P7160146.JPG (860741 bytes)of the North York Moors, Osmotherley is quaint and pretty and hard not to like.

 

 

 

Day 12, July 19,Osmotherley to Great Broughton, 13 miles

The weather forecast informs us that we are in for another day of blistering temperatures, so we buy an extra two-litre bottle of water and now have five litres between us.  I have taken the recommended dose of allergy medicine and hope for a better day.

We are away at 8:45 a.m., which is quite early for us, and just before we enter the bull field, retracing the last part of P7170149.JPG (816302 bytes)yesterday’s walk, our landlord, Alan, dashes up in his driving school car and asks whether we still have our room key.  We don’t.  We left it on the bed.  I hope he finds it. We join the Cleveland Way and climb up through a thankfully shady forest before reaching the TV masts on Beacon Hill.  Wainwright thought the masts had "a  revolting appearance” which I suppose they did, but I think a lot of trees have since grown up around the TV booster station, so that they are no longer quite as visible. As we climb up into Scarth wood moor, above Arncliffe wood, Scugdale is spread out beneath us. We will be staying on the ridge top for a while.

  Another mistake occurs!  We miss a sign, along with two other groups of Coast-to-Coasters, and instead of turning left, we walk half a mile too far along a wooded path, then exit through a farmyard and all have to backtrack for a mile.  A fellow hiker we have met along the way,  Sue, who is hiking alone, has cleverly not lost the way and, back on the right path again, we follow her up a very steep hill.  It’s so hot and we are thankful for all of our extra water.   I’m also thankful for the allergyP7170150.JPG (821429 bytes) medication, which seems to have done its job. 

Now we are on top of the high moor, Carlton Moor.  We pass three cairns, a glider runway, the glider club hut and a triangulation point, then it is time to descend, and a steep and long descent it is.  P7170151.JPG (840899 bytes)Someone has mentioned the mythic “Lord Stones Café” and there it is!  How welcome too.  It’s lunchtime and we are so hot, but not so hot that we cannot drink tea, so it’s tea, cheese sandwiches and the jam tarts I bought in Northallerton.  The café is a stop not only for us Coast-to-Coasters, but apparently is popular with people from the surrounding towns, who come out for a drive, a snack and a stroll.  After filling our water bottles, the waitress kindly agrees to call ahead to our landlady at Great Broughton, telling her we are on our way and will need collecting at P7170152.JPG (837837 bytes)the Clay Bank Top parking lot in about two hours.  We really appreciate this.

 Setting off uphill again, we feel fortified by our lunch and by the good breeze that cools us as we climbP7170153.JPG (815818 bytes) up on to Cringle Moor where the triangulation point  registers 1427 feet.  It is just beautiful up here and the moors extend in the distance. This will be tomorrow's walk, but this is a day of uphills and downhills, and we drop down Kirkby Bank before heading along a two-mile path paralleling Broughton tree plantation.  Shortly, we meet a well-dressed lady in non-hiking clothes. She is walking by herself, and ten minutes later a young man approaches us from the same direction anxiously asking :  “Have you seen an elderly lady walking along here?”  We reassure him that indeed we have, but privately we agree that we hadn’t thought of her as “elderly”, more as someone about our age! Walkers come in all ages.

P7170154.JPG (876990 bytes)Clay Bank is our goal today. It is the entrance (for tomorrow) to miles of open moorland with little if anyP7170155.JPG (893857 bytes) habitation. A natural stopping point, Clay Bank has no nearby accommodation and hikers need to search for an overnight place off-trail. At 3:30 we are at the Clay Bank parking lot and half an hour later our landlady’s daughter picks us up and drives us the three miles into Great Broughton.  Ingle Hill Bed and Breakfast has the most incredible garden, with fabulous blue and white delphiniums.  Mrs. P7170156.JPG (681116 bytes)Sutcliffe has tea and scones ready for her guests in the lovely garden.  We are impressed with her kindness and her energy – she is in her 80s! That night, we and two other parties of Coast-to-Coasters eat dinner at the Jet Miners pub, named from the time that jet mining was the occupation of most locals.  The restaurant is very good.  Tony chooses lobster and cod pie, apple crumble and two pints of Kronenburg lager, while I have Whitby scampi, sticky toffee pudding and a pint of Fosters  (Australian for beer, mate).  Back at Ingle Hill, we pack our bag ready for a very early start  tomorrow.  We’ll need to be on the trail at 7:00 a.m.P7170160.JPG (840432 bytes)P7170162.JPG (843356 bytes)P7170158.JPG (879651 bytes)

 

 

 

 

Day 13, July 19,Clay Bank Top to Egton Bridge, 23+ mile

Today is a day we have anticipated with mixed feelings.  We will have to walk more than 23 miles, and although we are certainly better walkers now than we were two weeks ago, it is still a daunting distance.

Mrs. Sutcliffe has arisen early along with us and insists that we eat a small breakfast before leaving, then her son-in-law drives us to Clay Bank Top, our stopping point yesterday.  At 7:15 a.m. we are back on the trail.  There’s a lot to be said for P7180163.JPG (816977 bytes)an early start, and we enjoy the cool breeze as we  begin the seven mile traverse of Urra Moor.  At first, we appear to be the only ones up and about so early in the day, but at Bloworth Crossing we spy another party in the distance, a party of three or possibly four.  No matter, we are now on the track of the former Rosedale mineral railway, and the walking is easy, if tedious.  Far ahead, the Lion Inn hoves into view, but it seems a mirage  --  although we are walking in its direction, it never appears to get any closer.  It’s time to stop for bananas and most of an entire packet of cookies.

Finally, at 11:15, we reach the Lion Inn.  It is certainly a famous landmark, dating from 1533, and perhaps the most isolated P7180164.JPG (832679 bytes)of all the inns in England.  The elusive party of four ahead of us has not only stopped here to rest, but their day ends here, as they are staying at the next-door bed and breakfast.   They are a very friendly and jolly group of four women who, I think, must enjoy each other’s company as they hike along.  Tea addicts, as usual, we order a tray of that genial beverage and finish our packet of cookies. 

Having topped up the water bottles, we reluctantly leave the Lion, wishing we too we staying nearbyP7180165.JPG (841547 bytes) overnight.  The Lion’s dinner menu looks impressive.  We head north, walking along the grassy verges of the road and keeping our eyes open for several ancient boundary stones.  The first is a very weathered standing stone named Old Margery, then the two Ralph crosses, Young Ralph and in the wpe50.jpg (374039 bytes)distance, Old Ralph.  Our favorite is a squat white stone aptly called Fat Betty.  Just whom these stones commemorate or what boundaries they mark, I do not know, but they seem typical of the many happy enigmas found in the English countryside. Although we think we have missed a path, we are glad to find a coast -to-coast sign that shows we’veP7180167.JPG (843083 bytes) actually gone a little further than we’d expected.  It’s about the only thing that does make me happy as my right eye is, once again, stinging and drippy and I’m mopping away with the bandana.  A lunch stop is called for and Trough House, a stone shooting box, is just the place.  Of course, it’s not open, but there’s a fine stone seat nearby with marvelous moor views, so we break out the apples, cheese and a Mars bar.

The descent into Glaisdale is a long one, along Glaisdale Rigg.  On our right is Glaisdale Moor and ahead and to our left is P7180168.JPG (861589 bytes)the beautifully named Great Fryup Dale. This is really just a day of keeping on going, but we are helped by the lovely scenery.  We admire the large farmers’ fields sloping downwards into the dale, and enjoy the little houses and settlements we see from our high vantage point.  The weather up on the moor remains warm, but not hot, and this makes the walking easier too.

After a long but gradual descent along the ridge, we approach the village of Glaisdale. ThisP7190173.JPG (916367 bytes) necessitates an extremely steep descent, our thigh muscles tightened to stop us falling down the hills.  We complain about having to lose all of the height we’ve gained, but there’s no alternative, so we take a deep breath and set off along the steep, uphill path of East Arncliffe Wood.  Our last mile of the day is along the tiny road leading to Egton Bridge, and I’m surprised to see a sign for a ford, with a P7190170.JPG (814824 bytes)measuring pole alongside.  Does the River Esk really flood its banks and reach a flood height of six feet?  Pondering this question, we trudge into the Horseshoe Inn at 5:30 p.m.  As Tony showers, I put my feet up, but they jingle and jangle and hurt so much that I don’t know what to do with them.  Still, after a shower, some tea  and a quick look at the news on TV, we feel refreshed enough to find out about dinner.  It’s another good one in a pretty pub dining room, but we’re more than ready for sleep at 10:00 p.m.

 

Day 14, July 20, Egton Bridge to Robin Hood’s Bay, 18 miles, Total Walk: 200 Miles

If everything goes according to plan, our journey should end today, although we still have many miles P7190171.JPG (863039 bytes)before Robin’s Hood Bay comes into sight.  This morning’s weather is gray and overcast as we leave Egton Bridge and its lovely country homes at 9:30 a.m. on our way to Grosmont.  Our route takes us along a former toll road, now closed to vehicles.  I’m amused to read the 1948 tolls :  three shillings for a motor bus, one shilling for a car and sixpence for a hearse!

Grosmont looks like nothing special as we enter the gray village, but it has delightful treats in store,P7190175.JPG (765608 bytes) especially delightful if you were a train spotter back in the 1950’s, as Tony was.  Quite by chance, as P7190176.JPG (766288 bytes)we are crossing the rail line, we notice a steam train pulling into the far end of Grosmont Station.  A steam train!  By the early 1960’s they had all gone for scrap and been replaced by the cleaner diesel engines, yet at least one still runs, and it is here.

The North York Moors Railway Society, made up largely of volunteers, has managed to locate and restore a number of the old steam engines and runs them from Grosmont to Whitby in the summer.  Better still, the shedsP7190186.JPG (847118 bytes) are just a short distance away and can be visited, so we do, walking through the first ever train tunnel, P7190187.JPG (788533 bytes)designed by George Stephenson. In the sheds we find a real treat – the Sir Nigel Gresley, an A4, the fastest of British streamliners has been restored. Another A4, Mallard, reached a world record 126 mph, pulling a full train, in 1950.  The A4 is gorgeous, shiny and dark blue.  While I peruse the souvenir store, Tony goes to have a word with the train engineers and gets a look at one of the trains he “spotted” as a young boy – the Lancashire Fusilier.  We make a mental note to come back one day, maybe next year, and take a ride on this railway.

P7190188.JPG (817606 bytes)Leaving reluctantly, we begin our trek out of Grosmont up a long 33% gradient hill.  Wow!  The only way to ascend this endless hill is slowly.  Thankfully, today’s weather remains overcast, otherwise we’d be drenched in sweat.  We cross Sleights Moor on what appears to be a good path on the map, but is in fact non-existent most of the way.  We end up post-holing our way through peat and heather, which I feel badly about.  In the distance we see cars speeding along the A169 which we need to cross, but still it takes a long time before we, quite by chance, arrive at the stile signaling our path across the highway.  We agree that, on this entire hike, moors have consistently been a challenge to navigate.

P7190189.JPG (846250 bytes)A mile later we descend into the tiny and picturesque village of Littlebeck on the May Beck river,P7190192.JPG (857103 bytes) crossing the road near yet another ford.  I remember these from my childhood in the 1950s, and it’s hard to believe they still exist.    In drizzly rain we enter the two and a half miles of Great Wood, and one mile in we are amazed at the “Hermitage”, an enormous boulder whose inside has been carved out to accommodate a shelter with seats. Then, it’s on to Falling Foss, quite an impressive waterfall, but we’ve joined the Falling Foss Nature Trail, so it’s not only quite busy, butwpe6B.jpg (575684 bytes) littered too. 

P7190196.JPG (762925 bytes)We exit into a parking lot, and I am hoping for a tea van, but it’s almost deserted so, in our rain ponchos, we climb the steep hill up to New May Beck and get ready for our last moor crossing  --  Sneaton Low Moor.  Because of the past week’s record high temperatures, the moors were on fire a couple of days ago.  We see fire trucks and fire fighters everywhere and truly expect that we will be denied access, but surprisingly we are told :  “No, you can cross the moor.  Just look out for the hotspots.”  The fire fighters are, in fact, still on the moor putting out hot spots.  It seems like all in a day’s work for these guys. P7190198.JPG (735327 bytes)

Tony gets his first, and only, blister of the trip on the moor.  It’s on the end of his left big toe, so we doctor it and go on, through the smoke.  Then we get lost again!  The trail is just not there and we feel completely turned around.  We should be more or less paralleling the A171 to High Hawkser, so we make for the road and begin walking along its verges in the High Hawkser direction.  It’s terribly dangerous, though.  Cars barrel along at 80 miles per hour, so the only sensible thing to do seems to be to hitch a ride.  Big expensive cars completely ignore us, but a nice lady in an old, red car stops and drives us the mile and a half into the village.  How kind of her.  Now we have only five miles left.  We meet Sue, whose husband has driven to Robin’s Hood Bay, left the car and has walked back to High Hawkser.  They walk the last miles to the finish together.  It seems a long time since we've had anything to eat and we are hungry, but we press on through manicured caravan parks to the cliff edge.

P7190200.JPG (824933 bytes) We turn right and begin the final three mile hike along the cliff top.  It is endless, but seems a goodP7190201.JPG (776539 bytes) bookend to the cliff top walk we began at Saint Bees.  Up and down the path takes us, around bends and through cow fields until, finally, yes, there in the distance is Robin Hood’s Bay.  I have not been to this part of England before and am very impressed with the gorgeous scenery; the sunshine doesn’t hurt either.  We leave the path through a kissing gate and begin the long descent to the beach, passing our night’s accommodation, but we cannot stop, we are on a roll.  The very steep P7190202.JPG (808823 bytes)P7190203.JPG (809202 bytes)P7190204.JPG (749526 bytes)descent to the beach is an insult to our tired legs, but we have no choice.  We must dip our boots into the North Sea, even though the tide is out.  We have to content ourselves with a dip in a tide-pool puddle, while our photo is taken.

Of course, there is an immense feeling of satisfaction atwpe80.jpg (274910 bytes) having completed the Coast-to-Coast, yet there is also an anti-climactic sensation.  Where is the brass band and the piper I had thought would be there to welcome us?  Never mind, we deserve a drink, and take ourselves off to the P7190210.JPG (824721 bytes)P7190205.JPG (835422 bytes)P7190207.JPG (809776 bytes)Wainwright Bar at the Bay Hotel, where we both order cod, chips, peas and beer.  We toast Wainwright and inscribe our place in the Coast-to-Coast book.  It’s over!  Almost 200 miles and we’d do it again tomorrow!

 

 

tonyarmor@netscape.net

 

 

Recent Events and Images from Northern California

 

Winter at Capitola, CA

 

One of the literary centers in the Santa Cruz area of Northern California is our local Capitola Book Cafe.  Recent visitors to the area who have spoken to us about their publications include world-renowned authors Frank McCourt and Simon Winchester. McCourt from Ireland and Winchester from England have recently published new books and their talks are highlighted below.

Frank McCourt Talk

PB180007.JPG (24200 bytes)Frank McCourt, talked to a large gathering of local teachers about his newest book Teacher Man. McCourt's earlier publications Angela's Ashes and Tis! gained critical acclaim and won him a Pulitzer prize. His presentation was full of amusing anecdotes from his 30-year experience in the New York school system, and from his earlier education in Limerick , Ireland.  This remarkably alert and trim 75- year old was in his 60s when he turned from teaching  to writing, and he pondered on where his life might have gone if he had started his book -writing 30 years earlier. Bottom line for all of us to think about : it's never too late to redefine one's future path in life. Below are some of the shots I took of McCourt's  session.

 

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Simon Winchester Talk

Less than 10 miles from the coastal town of Capitola (picture above) is the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a quake that shook San Francisco, caused many deaths and is still discussed by locals. Recently, noted author Simon Winchester spoke to us at the Capitola Book Cafe about his recent publication A Crack at the Edge of the World, describing the events before, during, and after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Winchester, an engaging and humorous speaker, expressed amazement that we still build houses close to the San Andreas fault, and that residents in towns such as Portola Valley, live in total disregard of an upcoming even bigger earthquake. Having said that though he acknowledged that he could think of no more pleasurable a life style that to live in the Bay Area drinking California Chardonnay! Winchester's background as a journalist and author has taken him to many parts of the world, including of course the U.S. where he has a home in Massachusetts. Since his early life took him climbing in North Wales, paralleling my experience, I had the opportunity to discuss with him early climbs near Mount Snowdon. See pictures of Winchester, and  Snowdonia photos below.  Remarkably at the Tyn-y-Coed hotel in Capel Curig, North Wales, close to Snowdon, we experienced our only earthquake in England, a real shaker in the 1980s. So they can happen anywhere.

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Winchester has just published his latest epistle " The Man Who Loved China". Comments on Winchester's books, or on North Wales climbing to tonyarmor@netscape.net.

 

Spring in the Sierras

Yosemite in March was heavy with snow. It had been a winter with massive precipitation in the Sierras. The snow melt was swelling the waterfalls into the Valley, and the Merced river and its tributaries were close to flood stage. Then more snow fell during our March visit making for some spectacular photo shots. Surprisingly, though this is the most scenic time in Yosemite, tourists are few and far between and so accommodations are often available. Yes, it's colder, so you need to layer up, but most of the trails are open including the Yosemite Falls trail and the trail to Vernal Falls and beyond up the John Muir trail. A crisp day in the mountains followed by dinner at the Awahnee is worth the trip from the Bay Area!

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From the left:

1,2.  Cross country sky course, Badger Pass  3. Cathedral cliffs from Yosemite Falls trail  4.  Tenaya Creek 5. Mirror Lake 6. Half Dome from Royal Arches meadow

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From the left:

1. Merced River  2. Half Dome from Stoneman Bridge  3. Half Dome from Curry Village  4, 5 Tenaya Creek tributaries  6. Curry Village

Click on the Yosemite page above for more background and photos on this, the most photographed of all California natural landscapes.

Pacific Storms

Winter on the Monterey Bay coast brings Pacific storms, menacing cloud formations and often brilliant sunsets. This month has seen weather patterns that brought unusually warm winds from the east, cold polar winds from the northwest. The two evening skies below, one week apart, were shot over the California central coast south of Santa Cruz. A week later the winds picked up again from the east and hang gliders were soaring up and down Monterey Bay under ideal wind conditions. Weather conditions in February are relatively mild of course compared with the rest of the country and attractive for outdoor activities, such as running and biking. For those close by to the Central Coast I recommend the Forest of Nisene Marks in Aptos for both jogging and mountain biking. Also the 20 mile stretch of wide beach around  Monterey Bay is virtually unspoiled.   Across the Santa Cruz mountains the Tour of California bike race, modeled on the Tour de France starts in San Francisco and then heads for San Jose, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles.

 On a personal note, while biking recently above Palo Alto, a mountain lion was sighted by one of our biking group in the Bay Area foothills. Unfortunately it was gone by the time I showed up. This is the third time in a year that I have missed a lion sighting by a few seconds, and I still haven't seen one even though all my jogging and biking trails are in prime cougar country!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skies above the Monterey Bay, evenings of January 28 and February 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sky changes on February 18, and again on February 19.

 

Comments from Readers Enhance the Site

The page at the top called "Readers' Pictures" highlights outstanding pictures taken, or suggested, by readers of this website. By clicking on this page you will be able to access the photos and associated text from the following:

bulletRare orchids from San Francisco and Santa Barbara orchid shows
bulletHighlights of an Italian bike trip from Venice through the Dolomites
bulletShots from a bike trip along the Lewis and Clark trail
bulletBig River Beach in Mendocino, California

 

Monterey Bay, California

Among the most scenic areas of California is the spectacular coastline of the Monterey peninsula. Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey are the three attractive coastal communities that make up this remarkably scenic location. Point Lobos is just down the coast.

Monterey Harbor, CA

 

Yosemite in the Spring (click on the Yosemite page above)

In March we were in Yosemite where 12 feet of snow lay above 6000 feet, but the Valley (at 4400 feet) was clear. We were reminded again of the outstanding scenery offered by the great monoliths of El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, Cloud's Rest, North Dome, and the waterfalls: Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Branch.jpg (331893 bytes)Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and at least 30 others that were flowing full this  month, following the enormous snow fall in the high country. All this is a magnet  for  photographers. Mirror Lake for example, shown on the Yosemite page, is set in a bowl of cliffs that carried nine waterfalls on the day we were there. As we hiked up towards the John Muir trail above Vernal Falls we noticed several fellow hikers carrying full photographic gear and sturdy tripods. I had packed only my digital that day since I had miles to cover, but the Yosemite views were outstanding as usual. See current pictures of Yosemite on the website. 

Tuscany, and Florence Images (click on the Italy page above)

Tuscany villa.jpg (174796 bytes)On the Italy page are shots from Tuscany, and specifically Florence. It is hard to ignore the beauty of this region, surely one of the most visually stunning regions of the developed world and of course the location of many of the art treasures of the Renaissance. Tuscany of course is a focus for wine, and particularly known for the great wines in the Chianti region. We found this villa just outside Florence as a perfect center for exploring the region.

 

California Images (click on the California page above)

Many readers call home the Central Coast of Northern California, so a number of the images you will find on this site reflect the Pacific Ocean and the beaches of the Santa Cruz area: Capitola, Aptos, Rio Del Mar, Seacliff, Seascape, and the coastline of Monterey Bay round to Carmel, and beyond.

Pacific Sunset, Aptos, CA

But close by are the Santa Cruz mountains, the San Francisco Bay area, and beyond the Central Valley, and the Sierra Nevada range. Opportunities for nature photographers are abundant here, but the same can be said of vast regions of the U.S., and indeed of the world. 

  

 

A Final Thought on Recording Images of Natural Places

  1.  Most of us take up photography because someone, usually a family member, has bought us a camera.  We use it to take pictures of family and friends, and to record trips, parties, vacations, graduations and all the key events that make up a lifetime. Looking at old photos and remembering past events is something we all enjoy, and the collections of prints can be passed on to future generations. It is chastening to reflect though that until just over 100 years ago, there was little definitive record of people, places, events. In fact art, buildings, and the written record are all that remain of our early history. What was it really like to see the buffalo herds on the Great Plains, or the sky "darkened by the migration of passenger pigeons"? Past art provides an interesting perspective on what the landscape was like. In some cases a painting can be close to reality, in others "artistic license" takes over. Take the landscape paintings of England's John Constable in the early 19th century. Remarkably his painting of "The Haywain" in Suffolk (see the Haywain painting left and compare with the current location on the right) represents almost exactly the present day version of the scene. See the British Isles page for a photo of Dedford Mill and the River Stour today, that two hundred years later appears almost as Constable painted it. Recently this question of "what the past looked like" was highlighted by an astonishing find -  a newly discovered old portrait of Shakespeare. But which of the half-dozen known "likenesses" truly reflects the Bard?  

Today there are hundreds of millions of cameras, producing billions of images every year. The most remote of the earth's regions have been explored and photographed. But the exciting aspect of the art of photography is that the  opportunities for new shots and different vistas never end. See for example the sunflowers in North Dakota.

Sunflower Field, Underwood, ND

In fact every day provides, for each of us, images that have never been seen, and will never again be seen, by anyone. Take sunsets and their reflections in the clouds; no two days provide the same shot. Indeed no sunset stays the same for long, and a few minutes can transform the picture. Who has not missed an opportunity for a great photo shot, knowing it will not return?

What is appealing to many landscape photographers is the ability to combine photography with other activities that often permit views of wild and remote areas. Perhaps the late Galen Rowell epitomized this best with his shots from the great  mountain regions of the world, notably from the California Sierras and from his climbing expeditions in the Himalayas. But we don't have to travel long distances to find these opportunities. I Flatford Mill.JPG (73813 bytes) have found, while indulging my interest in long-distance running and biking, that wonderful views of oceans, forests, and mountains, and close-ups of wildlife, trees, flowers, and streams, can be discovered only a few miles from most urban areas. Check "the Red Boat" pastoral scene from England's "Constable Country", and click on Constable's famous picture of Flatford Mill to see why he was so successful at landscape painting.

 

Current Status of the Website Readership

Recognized as the number one site on " Land and Sea Images" by search engines at Google and Yahoo the LandandSeaImages website periodically adds images from some of the most intriguing, and often stunningly visual locations in the U.S. and the world.  Each month more than 300,000 hits are made on this site, and daily hits can be above 20,000. We will continue to concentrate on the quality of the images and text and have been  gratified to see broad interest in our data.

The latest statistics for this site show growing interest from the U.K., and other European countries. We notice also an increased number of visitors from S. America, Australia, New Zealand, and S. Africa.   On the subject of links to other sites, I recognize the interest from the travel and real estate industries in having supportive images that enhance their businesses. If you choose to link  this site please notify me with an email. Thanks to many of you who have done this. 

Enjoy your photographic journeys in 2010/2011. Best regards to my fellow photographers. Thanks for browsing this site. Your thoughts and added comments are always of interest.