Short walk (7.5 miles) in long rain today but it is so grand and lovely at the same time. Tall stone walls run up and over ridges 700 meters high, waterfall cascades stream down into the valley and just now the sun is out, our wet wet clothes and gear are drying on radiators upstairs, and we’re grabbing enough wifi in the pub to have read the good news about the Supreme Court decision today. More rain forecast for tomorrow but if you’re a real walker in the UK you can’t mind the rain. So we don’t.
David and I are resting our feet in the Ivydene B&B in Grasmere, laundry and drying goretex garments hanging from every knob, maps and the C2C book spread out, checking out what tomorrow might bring.
Yesterday brought the hike from Ennerdale Bridge to Stonethwaite, with the first three or so miles along the south shore of Ennerdale Lake. Sue and Kelly, the couple who own Far Reaches Farm had a great time finding plants they’ve never seen, like these wild orchids.
The scenery, once again, was incredible, with lake and mountain views, lakeside farms, grand sweeping open ridges, then a hike down into the totally charming Barrowdale Valley.
Here is the view outside our window last night, where an English Sparrow was nesting and singing into the evening.
Today we started out in rain and hiked into mist and clouds and fleeting sunshine, a bank of fog rolling up out of Grasmere Valley as we descended, then threading away overhead. We passed waterfall after waterfall, jumped rivers and slogged through boggy slopes, listened to the bleating of sheep and marveled at the artistry of the stone walls and buildings. It’s beautiful here!
The variety of visual beauty in today’s first stage of the Coast to Coast walk (or C2C as some signs said) is close to unimaginable. From low light on the Irish Sea as we climbed St. Bees Head, to the soft lavender of the velvet grass (actual name, I’m walking with a couple who run a rare plant nursery and they know their plants), to the sweeping views at the summit of Dent Hill across the coastal plain to the shrouded hills of Scotland to the north and tall mountains of the Lakes District to the east, to the deep and lusciously green valley of the Nannycatch Beck (stream) running high from the recent heavy rains, to the wildflowers and foxglove dotting all the open fields and slopes and ridges, it was almost too much to take in. It’s spectacularly scenic here, we walked over 14 miles, we lost the actual C2C at least a couple of times and it didn’t matter, we had a pint and a great dinner and it’s time to close the drapes against the sun that doesn’t go down until 10:30, and get some sleep.
The Coast to Coast walking book divides the journey into 13 stages. We’ve added a stage – actually getting to St. Bees where we start our trek, and contrary to plans, we’re not there yet. We’re at the Heathrow Sofitel Hotel in London, and while being here was never any part of what I imagined when thinking about this trip, I’ve been wanting to get David to a Sofitel for years, having stayed at the DC and Chicago Sofitels several times and loved them. It’s as lovely as expected.
We’re here for the most common of air travel reasons – we couldn’t get to England Friday night due to a huge cold front moving east, causing massive thunderstorms and wiping out the connecting flights that could have gotten us to an international flight. Instead of flying to Manchester Friday night, we flew to London yesterday morning This morning we’re heading into London to get a train to St. Bees. If plans work out this time, tomorrow we start the official First Stage.
In 1973, Alfred Wainwright published “A Coast to Coast Walk” describing a 192 mile footpath across England. The walk passes through three national parks; the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors. Tradition includes walkers diping their booted feet in the Irish Sea at Saint Bees and, at the end of the walk, in the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay. We plan to do it all.
David and I leave tomorrow, and will meet up with six friends in Saint Bees to begin our walk on Monday. Thirteen days later, on Saturday, July 7th, we should be in Robin Hood’s Bay.
We have a lot of walking to do over those 13 days, but we’re ready. Our training walks around our house have taken us to a number of places I’ve never been, even though close by. We’ve walked through Northwood State Park, over Saddleback Mountain to the second peak, on a trail created as an Eagle Scout project by a friend’s son. We’ve navigated the many criss-crossing logging roads on Evans Mountain in Strafford, finding a rocky knob we’ve looked at on a topo map for years, but never reached before. We’ve walked in pouring rain and on misty, showery days, trying out our rain gear. We’ve walked the Northwood Area Land Management Collaborative (NALMC) trail across beautiful meadows at the top of Blake’s Hill. So much walking has been centering and strength building and has conditioned us to the point that a 7 mile hike in yesterday’s blistering heat felt pretty much like nothing.
Which is good, because in a few days, that will be half the distance I need to go to get to where I’ll sleep that night.
We’re in the last stages of packing for our walk across England, and I’m about to decide to leave my computer at home. But what about blogging? Well, I just downloaded the WordPress app again, even though it did mysterious things to my posts over the weekend, and I’m testing it right now. I’ll hit “done” and see what happens. If it works I can blog from my iPhone. Kinda cool. More about the trip tomorrow when I can type on a computer rather than this one finger tap dance on this little screen. (Yes, if I blog this way the posts will be shorter. That’s okay. I can tell you right now we’re going to be walking walking walking walking walking. Then walking some more and then drinking beer.)
I’ve been away from home again, and this time I was at David’s family house on the Jersey shore. Knowing internet access would be sketchy there (one spot on the railing at the southwest corner of the deck picks up a faint signal sometimes), I downloaded a WordPress app for my iPhone. I wanted to write about the paradox of the garden, about a conversation I had with my friend Kay about that, how we love our gardens and want them to be a source of joy and relaxation, and how often gardening instead ends up being a tortuous series of unachievable visions of bounty and perfection.
So I began the post on my new app on the drive down, then caught enough internet off the corner of the deck on Saturday morning to finish the post. Later that night I checked it online and all looked fine. Yesterday morning I was trying to look at it on my iPhone app and it was still the original few sentences of the first draft. I tapped update, watched the whirling circle at the top of my screen, and there was the same beginning of the draft. Tap, whirl, draft. Over and over.
Then I looked online. What had been the fully realized post was now the few sentence draft. So I quickly wrote a sketchy replacement post, figured it had changed because of some iPhone app interface, and deleted the app. I’m back at Adrienne and Matt’s this evening, where there is abundant internet, and checked my blog. My sketchy post seemed to have gotten even sketchier — did I really post something that unfinished, or is there someone in the internet universe who doesn’t want me posting about how wonderful but agonizing gardening can be?
So, I took down the post. Now the big gardening questions are how many kazillibillion peas will I have when I get home tomorrow, will my cole crop refugees from the woodchucked garden bed be flourishing or gnawed stumps, and will the carrots have finally germinated? And how much will I torture myself to get done in the garden before leaving on Friday for our walk across England. Yes, Friday! Adventure awaits.
Peonies in the garden, nodding their heavy heads towards the grass as I walk to the house from the car. A grand bouquet of peonies on my kitchen table and a small globe of peonies aflame with western light on the coffee table, scenting the house, greeting me as I walk from room to room. Peonies poking through the railings on my porch as I sit here, in late afternoon sun after a long day in the yard and garden. The birds are quarreling, a cricket is whirring and I am awash in the deliciousness of peonies.
Just about four years ago, in our first months together, David and I planned an art trip, an “art attack,” my friend Andi called it. We were going to see a couple of exhibitions at the MFA in Boston, then drive to the Hudson River Valley to visit Storm King Art Center, and then come home through western Massachusetts, visiting the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown and MASS MoCA in North Adams. We got to all the museums, but it was a very rainy weekend and we decided to wait for better weather to visit Storm King.
We finally got there this week. Planning our drive back to NH from Knoxville, we decided to treat ourselves and take our time to get home, staying in some lovely spots on the way. The first night we stayed at the Hotel Strasburg, in the Shenandoah Valley, a wonderful historic inn full of antiques, paintings, and Victorian decor. It was a welcome alternative to the big box hotels along interstates.
In planning our route home, David had realized we could visit Storm King, spending a night in another beautiful valley. Storm King was as astonishing and inspiring as we’d expected. Covering over 500 acres, the Art Center is full of outdoor sculptures situated on the beautiful grounds in ways that change perspective whether you’re looking at a piece from an open field, a picnic bench, walking one of the long allees (an allee is a planting of trees to form a long walkway; at Storm King there are 200 hundred pin oaks in one, 40 maples in another) or standing on the hill that holds the museum building. Over an afternoon and morning of glorious weather, David and I took in the grand Mark di Suvero sculptures that dominate the fields, the stunning David Smith collection on the lawn by the museum building, the snaking walls built by Andy Goldsworthy, the constantly waving rods by Robert Murray, the contrasting color and form of mown lawn against tall native grasses, the sloping lines of distant mountains against the hills of the park, the beauty and grandeur of it all adding to the high we were already carrying home from the wedding.
The night after we left Storm King, at dinner, we started talking about our ideas for creating sculptures in the land around our house. David has been thinking about outdoor art pieces for months; Storm King got me thinking about incorporating sculptural elements in my garden. Wherever our trip home leads us in our art, it led us to a happy journey home. And here we are.