"But what a snapshot it is! Around two-thirds of the walk are spent in the national parks of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors. These parks encompass some of the most dramatic scenery in the country, from its highest fells to its largest lakes, its most beautiful woods and its bleakest, barest moors . . .
"Furthermore, where man has settled on the trail he has, on the whole, worked in perfect harmony with nature to produce some of England's finest villages . . . The paths and bridleways that make up the trail have existed for centuries . . . It's true that the Coast to Coast may not be the longest, most difficult or most recognized of long-distance trails in England. But few, if any, can match it for beauty or splendour."
- Henry Stedman, Coast to Coast Path (Trailblazer Guides Walking Series)
And but so I got this idea in my head. Coming back from the holidays in Atlanta, I realised that I needed something. You need something. You know? I'd read a sidebar in the Guardian mentioning the Coast to Coast path. And I thought - Hey! I like to walk! And it all would have ended right there if I hadn't tricked two friends Mark and Darby into coming along. There ensued several months of planning, gear buying, map scouring, and coordinating. And it culminated today when (Mark and Darby having arrived in London a few days earlier, where we had laughed an awful lot and, in Darby's phrase, found one another's edges) we hopped a train from London's King's Cross station up the west coast of the country to St. Bees a cute little northern agricultural village nestling on the coast.
We were up very early having done final packing, drunk, late the night before and descended down into the Underground. I'd failed to calculate that we would need to get to the station during morning rush hour and it took us a panickingly long time to squeeze our heavily laden selves onto a Piccadilly line train. Moreover, I immediately went into Londoner commuter mode, racing across stations and platforms, threatening credibly to leave the others behind. I then made a snarky comment about them not keeping up, which I immediately regretted. I had to promise to lighten up as soon as we got out of London.
Finally, having scored food, coffee, and berths on the "Quiet Zone" car of our Virgin train, we got busy sleeping as England rolled past outside. When Darby managed to rouse herself, we discussed the horrors of the ends of live-in relationships (including, in her case, a marriage). There appears to be a divvying up process of both possessions and friends, both equally painful and at least conceivably overlapping: "I'll trade you Sally for the cast-iron skillet. (It's finally seasoned!)" I laughed for a long time at that (probably to keep from crying).
We finally arrived at the station in St. Bees, which is cute. On the walk to our B&B, Tomlin Guest House, a cute little affair down by the water, the three of us started to annoy, provoke, and (ultimately) threaten one another. Darby established her signature threat of the trip, to be brandished as necessary: "Don't make me kick you in the nuts." As Mark and I were in possession of 100% of the nuts on the trip, we were well cowed. (Darby also had 100% of the sharp sticks, namely her walking poles, more on which later.) I riposted by pointing out to Darby that over the next fortnight we were going to be passing by an extraordinary number of extremely deep ravines, and it would be an awful shame if she were accidentally knocked into one of them, and I'm bigger than she is. Not to be left defenseless in this arms race, Mark pointed out his willingness to feed us to the sheep (the first of about 196,000 of them we were to see on the trip): "I can knock you out, stuff grass in your mouth and in thirty minutes you'd be nothing but bones."
Our innkeeper was lovely, the rooms pretty and comfy, and we slept like dead babies. We were going to need it. Frankly, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.