20 Jun Ending
Monday. Our last day and we woke in the cotton-sheet, fluffy-towel, feather-pillow luxury of Grosmont House to a day already hot. Breakfast was served by the lovely Selma and her sidekick, Mary, the perfect understudy for Mrs Overall and a purveyor of morning cabaret – curt, grumpy and graceless meets wacky, natural comic genius. She warmed up slowly but it was worth the wait. While Jim wrestled with the frustrations of car parking at Grosmont station (long story – best not to ask), we three were entertained by the daft delights of Mary!
Then off. This final leg starts with a long, brutal climb out of the valley from Grosmont. A tortuous trudge up the tarmac to one false top after another until finally you glimpse the sea again and the ruin of Whitby abbey and you know the end is within reach. Jilly, normally muttering mild curses at the ‘ups’, scarpered off to set a new record for septuagenarians on the section between the steam railway and the cattle grid. Really you had to be there to appreciate the pace of that awesome redhead over those gruelling two miles. Over Sleights Moor and down into Little Beck where we caught up with our favourite Aussies, Kathy and Greg, to share a couple of miles of shade through old, lovely woods, soft but dry underfoot, dappled light through tall trees, gentle, gurgling sound of water. Then you’re out across open moorland again, bog, heather, coarse marsh grass and huge clumps of bog asphodel, their white tufted beards flapping in the breeze.
A stroll along to High Hawsker where we fancied a tiny detour for a short lunch stop at the local pub only to find it closed and up for sale. Or so we thought – actually the pub was a few yards further along the road, not for sale and probably open. It must have been some other hostelry that was on the market. Never mind, we dropped into the cafe of the Northcliffe Caravan Park and devoured a long, cool drink and a tasty sandwich to see us through to Robin Hood’s Bay (RHB). Here you’re a moment from the coast and the last 3-4 miles south along the sandy cliff-top path. The sea is quiet, blue, immense. And finally, you arrive at RHB for the knee-knackering descent to the shore where you pop your toes in the North Sea. Job done.
Funny how the last few steps of this epic walk mix up your emotions. You feel thrilled and proud that you’ve done it. 196 miles. One foot following the other just short of 450,000 times. There’s a sense of relief that it’s over but also a sense of loss. The living through those days of walking and being in wild and wonderful places in weathers that have tested your mettle, that’s what’s so magical about this walk. The journey is the thing, much more than the arriving. On foot you go to places and meet people you would probably never encounter on an ordinary journey. You intersect the lives of others, complete strangers, but you do so in a common endeavour. Not everyone is a kindred spirit; many people do this journey for many different reasons and they carry themselves through it in different ways: the dogged, the competitive, the slightly (or even totally) obsessive, the free spirits, the oddballs, the people who just love to travel. And many others. They are comrades for a while and a great source of gossip and jollity as we seize on their foibles and make fun of them – as they do us, no doubt, our motley four nation crew!
I love this journey for how it makes you live your life for a couple of weeks. So far away from the madding crowd, a journey into your self, in the company of others but alone and in the presence of the incredible beauty of the landscape. I know it well now and, oh, how all the waymarks are imprinted in my memory.