24 May Sea to Sea – the C2C
23rd May 2016
We’re about to do one of the great walks crossing the north of England from the west coast to the east. Coast to Coast. Shorthand for this is C2C – the only short thing about it, frankly, as it’s 200 miles not counting any detours, planned, unplanned or merely lost. So, we intend to journey west to east but, perversely, set out this morning from Glaisdale in NE Yorkshire, a village only a handful of miles from the eastern end of the C2C route. We’ve left our car with my niece; both car and niece we will see again in 15 days (fingers crossed!). We spent today traversing England by train, a magical, almost epic journey involving 4 changes and accomplished in the minimal comfort of seriously old, desperately drab but fully functioning rolling stock. Forget onboard buffet car and wifi, intercity Pendolino with all its comforts and, indeed, it’s loos! This is proper retro. It’s 60s style train travel: Grosmont to Middlesborough; Middlesborough to Newcastle; Newcastle to Carlisle and finally Carlisle to St Bee’s in trains that sound like buses and have that stale smell of diesel and dust. Apart from the last leg in a 4-car job, this was a journey in a succession of 2-carriage trains that wind their way through villages you’ve never heard of and towns you’ve never visited. Names that make you ponder (Aspatria) or chuckle (Cockickle).
The guard on the first leg was a cheery chap of long Yorkshire descent judging by his accent and his rendering of rhymes and stories along the way. And the way is through beautiful valleys full of old sheep and new lambs, fields sprinkled with perfectly etched stone walls and rimmed with trees in the furious flush of Spring. Hawthorns spill out of hedgerows laden with creamy-white blossom while great expanses of rape glow shocking yellow on the hillsides. Sun shining on red brick, the train chugs from Middlesborough to the coast, through Stockton surely the home of the railway, where the ghost of Stephenson still strides nostalgically among the sidings. A string of houses along the track with strangely intricate shed-like structures in their back yards where pigeon fanciers tend their broods. You realise you’d forgotten (if you ever knew) how pigeonholes got their name. This is the north of England and it’s all quite new to me; great rivers to cross – the Wear, the Tyne, the Eden; a first glimpse of places which hitherto have been names on maps, road signs or in football league tables – Hartlepool, Sunderland. Red brick characterises the heart of these old towns while blackened stone is typical in the villages, where little rows of workers’ cottages stand proud and old. New houses clustered on the outer reaches are bland in comparison and we were astonished to see how many of them have solar panels on their roofs. The final leg from Carlisle takes you out along the northwest coast, that lumpy bit top left on the map opposite that long leggy bit of Scotland, looking miles and miles away across the Solway.
And so we chugged through geography and history, those somehow always unexpected but joyful companions of train travel, to St Bee’s whence we set off tomorrow to haul our combined 133 years from one coast to the other, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. More from the trail tomorrow….
PS – No, I’m not in a muddle about dates. Despite numerous wifi networks offering themselves in St Bee’s last night, none would actually connect. So this is finally hitting the airwaves a day late – and what a day! After a long hot bath I’ll be back with news.