Thursday 20 August 2015

Photo Essay: Coast to Coast Walk - Preparation

The Preparation

A lot of the fun in travelling — for me at least — lies in the planning. There is always a long period of preparation, full of research, reverie and anticipation. The amount of preparation sometimes seems to be all out of proportion with the eventual pay-off; nonetheless, it is always one of the most exhilarating parts of the process. Here are some of the elements in play when planning an extended holiday.


John Lodge
The idea for doing a special retirement-year project came from an old school friend, John Lodge, who marked his own retirement (in December 2010) by buying a motorcycle, and doing a tour with it through Italy and Sardinia in June 2011. John did the planning and preparation for his journey from January to May 2011; and then spent all of June doing the travel. And he blogged about it — the entire process: buying the motorcycle and its accessories, re-learning the techniques of motorcycle riding, planning the route, purchasing the gear and supplies, and so on. I read through all of his posts, and found the whole thing quite inspiring. The blog is called Touring the Italian Peninsula on a Honda CB500. I thought, "I should do something like that". It was not just the travelling part that intrigued me, it was the process of planning and documenting the adventure.

With John's example in the back of my mind, the idea for my own adventure was born in the midst of text messaging on Skype with my good friend Tony (who lives in Wimbledon, UK). We do this texting every weekend during the Premier League season — usually on Saturdays at 10:00 my time (EST) and 15:00 his time (GMT) — as we follow that week's match involving Southampton Football Club. Our support for the "Saints" goes back to the early 60s. 

Whilst listening to live commentary about the match on our computers, and Skyping back-and-forth about the progress of the game, we also digress into other topics. During one game I was musing with Tony about doing some sort of special project to mark my impending retirement in June 2015. We mentioned possible hiking trips and quickly agreed on the Coast to Coast Walk designed by Alfred Wainwright. Nine days later I contacted Michael, another close English friend, who quickly agreed to join us. The hiking trio was established. And the serious planning began.


Booking your holiday
The primary consideration for a trip like this is accommodation. The key factors involved are convenience, comfort, carriage of equipment, and cost. All of these have to be juggled.

If economy is your most important consideration, then camping might be your first choice. But you face two main issues: finding camping sites  — whether out in the wild, or in an organised camping site — close to the terminus of each of the fourteen stages could be very difficult; and carrying all of your camping gear and clothing in a large backpack. Every day would be a physical struggle — especially on those days featuring lots of steep climbing up and down the fells.

Lake District Hostels

Next, in order of economy, would be staying overnight in hostels. This is a lot more convenient and comfortable — there are plenty of hostels all along the Coast to Coast Walk. This might be the best option for the young, or the young at heart, who don't mind sharing facilities and dormitories.

But for those of us keen on comfort and privacy — and able to pay for it — staying in B&Bs or hotels is probably the natural choice. But there are a lot of older folk competing for such prime accommodation, and the choices are limited at certain times of the year. The smart thing to do is to book ahead, to ensure you get the sort of thing you want; if you leave it to the day before — phoning from the previous day's overnight location, for example — you could be out of luck.

But to find and book fourteen different establishments that fit the bill could be a long and trying process — although a lot easier to accomplish via the internet. One possibility — and the choice that we made — is to hire a company that specializes in booking the entire 14-day journey. 

These companies provide a range of options: they could simply book the accommodation; they could provide a guide to accompany you on the hike, if you would prefer an expert hand; and they will also ferry your suitcases and bags by van from B&B to B&B. This last option is the one we chose — it means you can bring a reasonable selection of clothing and equipment, and not have to carry it with you along the trail. You just need a day-pack with a minimal amount of stuff: a packed lunch, light rain gear, guide books, maps, camera, and binoculars.

So we booked early, through a Glasgow-based company called Macs Adventure — at recommended B&Bs and hotels — and knew exactly where we were staying each night. With everything planned, and the bulk of the baggage shipped on ahead each day by van, we would focus our energies on the task of each day's hike.


A word now about the type of clothing required for such a long slog across England.

1) Hiking boots are probably the most important item necessary for long-distance walking. You need thick soles with a good tread to provide good traction on loose stone and slippery rock. There should be lots of support for the ankles. A waterproof top (such as Gore-Tex) is important to keep the feet dry in heavy rain or boggy conditions.

2) Socks should be comfortable. Avoid cotton; merino wool is a good alternative. You might consider two layers: a light synthetic fabric next to the skin (a "liner"); and the merino wool socks on top. The liner "wicks" the moisture away from the feet and into the socks.
3) Upper body clothing should be layered — two or three layers, depending on the weather. Again, avoid cotton; it will create excessive moisture on the body. Start with a light synthetic material (polyester) in the form of a short-sleeved T-shirt. The second layer should also be light and synthetic — a long-sleeved shirt (in bright sun), or a fleece-styled sweater. Two layers ought to be enough on a warm, sunny day. If it's cold, windy, or rainy, you could add a third layer - a light, breathable and waterproof jacket made of polyester, or similar synthetic material. If you have the money, how about Gore-Tex?

4) Polyester is also a suitable material for shorts and rain paints. It will make them light and breathable. Avoid cotton and denim; it is too heavy and it holds the moisture (sweat or rain) next to the skin.


Each to his own in this department; but these are the most important items I will have on the Coast to Coast Walk:

1) I'll have my Nikon D7000 DSLR (digital, single-lens reflex) camera, with an 18-105 mm zoom lens. I would have liked to have my longer telephoto zoom as well; but it's quite heavy, and the number of times I would use it would not justify its inclusion.

2) Mini camera tripod to get old-styled "selfies" of the trio. Also can be used to stabilize camera for making videos.

3) Binoculars for getting close-up views of unfamiliar British birds — of the avian variety.

4) Zoom H2n "Handy Recorder" (audio recorder). For recording conversations or outdoor soundscapes.

Telescopic Hiking Poles

5) Walking Poles (similar to cross-country ski-poles) are useful for "older folk" — especially when negotiating the steep uphill or downhill sections of a trail. They help to protect the knees and joints. And you can actually progress more quickly. Get telescopic poles that you can adjust to any height, and change for uphill and downhill situations.

6) An orienteering compass to use in conjunction with a map.

7) And, of course, my ultrabook laptop computer to use in preparing the blog posts throughout this journey!


Books and Maps

Some useful resources and reference works to provide advice and information:

1) A Coast to Coast Walk: A Pictorial Guide (Revised Edition - 2003) by Alfred Wainwright — responsible for this whole thing!

2) Coast to Coast Path (Sixth Edition - 2014) by Henry Stedman

3) Collins Bird Guide (2nd Edition - 2009) by Lars Svensson

4) Collins Gem: Wildflowers by Martin Walters

5) Coast to Coast: West - Harvey Map XT40

6) Coast to Coast: East - Harvey Map XT40

Left-to-Right: Clive, Michael & Tony

1 comment:

  1. a great and thorough plan, you didn't mention medical items, particularly foot care, blister etc and something to make splints for twisted ankles, knees, maybe a knee brace bandage. Solar blanket is great for making a carrier, to wrap in case of hypo-thermia. Scot and I, hiking on a summer day got caught in a rain shower and got a little wet, a wind cooled us down and Scott started to get very cold until he started to shake uncontrollably, it took putting on all his clothing, two sleeping bags and a small fire to bring him back to normal.