We arrived at Robin Hood’s Bay around 4:30 p.m., just as black clouds were gathering overhead. The landlady at “The Villa” hurried us off for the ritual boot-dipping and pebble-dropping in the North Sea, but as we headed down the steep streets of this beautiful little seaside village the skies opened and the rain came down. We had left our packs at The Villa, so neither of us had rain gear (funny after all these days of carting it around with us); within moments we were drenched. When we got down to the bottom of the village, we found a very steep, slippery stone “slip” that gives access to the water; one of our guidebooks had advised against going down that way, warning of dire accidents and drownings, recommending instead continuing on to the beach. But by now it had started thundering and lightning, and I didn’t want to go on any further to the beach just around the bend. So Jimmy went down the slip and dipped his toes; I’ll wait till tomorrow–perhaps in that way postponing the “end.” Maybe I won’t dip my toes at all, so that the journey indeed does not conclude . . . . much better that way, I’d say.
On the way down the hill we ran into Rose and Ann, the two Australian sisters who had been with us last night at Intake Farm. Spontaneously I hugged Ann; we had talked about the Brontes and shared two wonderful meals with them at the Farm (bean cassoulet, chicken pot pie, cauliflower, potatoes, broccoli and cabbage, and “Pavlova” for dinner, all cooked by Judith; the usual breakfast array of cereals, fruit, porridge, eggs, etc.), and it felt as if I was meeting an old friend. But the rain was just beginning, so we quickly parted ways . . . .
Before leaving Intake Farm, I got to watch an amazing ritual–the herding of two bulls into a trailer, to be taken off to market. I had asked Judith yesterday about the cattle that we saw in a barn as we approached the farm; there had been a much larger group in the field. “Those are the bulls,” she told me. “Two of them are going tomorrow. We have to keep them apart because they are so dangerous.” In the morning, it took three men and a dog to corral the two bulls; the men had sticks and formed a line around the animals; Judith watched anxiously from near the house and I was mesmerized, looking down from our bedroom window. A cow had calved during the night. “One dead, one live,” Robert reported. “So we’re losing two and gaining one.”
The walk today was calm and quiet: down from the farm, through lush woods along Littlebeck and May Beck, back up onto a boggy moor where we actually managed to lose our way all while within sight of the sea and two busy roads. We ended up walking for what seemed an eternity along one of the roads until we reached Hawsker and found our way back to the path, rejoining the Cleveland Way along the cliffs. I wanted that part of our walk to last forever: the sun was out, the sea was sparkling, gulls cried above us; we could smell the salt air.
I noted earlier that Wainwright says he concluded this walk “with regret,” and I feel absolutely the same way. Here already? Done? No more miles to cover? It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago we were struggling up and down Cold Moor and Hasty Bank, that two weeks ago I was climbing up Loft Beck and Lining Crag. The only remaining challenge is to get to the Manchester Airport for my early morning flight back home on Thursday. I’m looking forward to my return home, and yet very sad that there are now more steps along this particular way. Time to find another one!
Purple loosestrife (I think) along the lane down from Intake Farm:
The chapel at Littlebeck:
“The Hermitage,” along Littlebeck:
The woods in the Littlebeck Nature Reserve:
Along May Beck:
Climbing up out of the woods near New May Beck Farm:
On the moor again (Sneaton Low Moor), with another view of Whidby:
Happy at the Coast Cafe, near Hawsker:
The sea ahead:
On the cliffs:
The mouth of Robin Hood’s Bay:
Breakfast at Beggar’s Bridge:
Stepping stones across the Esk at Egton Bridge:
A garden at Egton Bridge:
St. Hedda’s Church:
On the permissive path through Egton Estates, an old toll road:
The steam train at Grosmont:
At the Hazelwood Tea Room:
Looking back at Eskdale as we climbed up to the moor:
The sea, with the Abbey at Whidby in the distance:
We think this is “gorse” on the moor:
On the moor again — sheep, heather, and one of the “High Bride Stones” of Sleights Moor:
Low Quebec Farm, above Littlebeck:
Arrival at Intake Farm:
We’ve just arrived at Intake Farm in Littlebeck, just a few miles in from the sea at Whitby–a stunningly beautiful setting after another stunningly beautiful walk. As I walked in the side door after taking off my boots, I noticed a “rag rug” of the kind I had first seen at Dove Cottage. “Oh, a rag rug,” I said, more or less to myself. Judith Ventress, our cheerful and very friendly hostess, overheard me and immediately started telling me about Alice, the 93-year-old woman who had just died, and who had made all the rugs for her. “Clippy mats,” she called them, and then explained that in Whitby they’re called “proggy mats.” “They should be proddy mats,” she said, “because you prod the fabric through the backing,” but “somehow they became proggy mats. I don’t know how.”
Alice, who had served as the housekeeper for Judith’s husband Robert’s uncle, had lived at Intake Farm for sixty years. In his will, the uncle had said Alice could stay on in the house; when Robert and Judith moved in, she lived with them, though in a separate part of the house. In 1995, she left, to live in a cottage for elderly people. “She still made a mat every winter. Just a doormat, because that’s all she could handle.” These mats are made by poking strips of worn fabric through a burlap backing; elaborate designs are often made, and they are a wonderful use of old material, including the sacks that were cut to create the backing. “But now we had to go and buy the hessian in the shops in Whidby,” Judith told me. “Alice didn’t like that. It spoiled the fun, she thought.”
Judith showed me a lovely picture of Alice as a young girl, before giving me the code to her wifi hub. And so here I am now in an upstairs bedroom of this large stone farmhouse (on a working farm–cattle and sheep), on a beautiful sunny afternoon, our penultimate day of the walk.
We walked just eight miles today, through astonishingly varied terrain: first a climb up stone steps to a path high above the Esk River, in a very green, wet wood, leading us from Glaisdale to Egton Bridge. At Egton Bridge, “nicknamed the village the Reformation forgot,” we visited St. Hedda’s Roman Catholic Church, a nineteenth-century structure that also commemorates the life of a celebrated Catholic martyr, Nicholas Postgate who was “hung, drawn and quartered” in 1579.
We then moved on to a permissive path through Egton Estates, slowly making our way (still along the Esk) to Grosmont, another beautiful village that is home to a revived Victorian steam railway. As we approached the town, the railroad crossing barriers were down, and we watched a train roll inn. Thrilling. Tea-shops abounded and invited us to stop; we chose the Hazelwood, a lovely spot with a garden (with a large hazel tree) and a pleasant windowed room.
Over quiche and salad Jim got to telling me the story of Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies, which he had read as a child. Earlier he had mentioned The Wind in the Willows and Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass as books that had given him ideas about what it was to walk across the English landscape. As he talked I suddenly teared up: I understood in an instant why it was that I had felt it so important to take this trip. For I too had grown up reading nineteenth-century British novels (though different ones) and had formed my ideas about life and landscape from them. And then for nineteen years I taught Victorian literature in Oklahoma and New Orleans.
When I moved back to New York in 2005, I stopped teaching the writers I loved so much, turning instead to other (also interesting, but different) texts and topics. Packing up my Victorian novels and poetry and prose when I left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina I had sobbed, knowing that I wouldn’t be teaching them anymore. And now after seven years away, I realize that I don’t want to–or have to–live without them. Taking this walk has brought my old friends back to me, and I look forward to deepening our relationship once again.
And then, hearing at intervals the steam whistle in the distance–we made the steep, long, lovely climb up and out of Grosmont, back onto moorland, where we saw again the sea, and the ancient abbey at Whidby (think Dracula and Caedmon). This time the sun was shining and the water was distinctly blue. Beautiful. We walked a good distance along the moor, paralleling the coast, while also able to look back towards the vales and moors we had traversed over the past few days. The scent of heather and the bleating of sheep accompanied us, as we eventually came to the A169 and a shortcut through farmland (High and Low Quebec) to Intake Farm.
Jim has gone off to explore the nearby village of Littlebeck. I’m planning to settle in for a bath, a book, and maybe some more tea. We’ll be having a homemade dinner here at the farm, at 7 p.m. I can already smell something delicious cooking!
We moved today from the treeless upland world of the moors to the lush lowland where the Esk River meets the Glaisdale Beck. We’re staying in yet another astonishing place, the Beggar’s Bridge B&B, located in the former stationmaster’s stone house right beside the railroad tracks and across the road from the 17th century Beggar’s Bridge. It’s a lovely spot, deep at the bottom of a steep narrow valley, and the owners have decorated the house and planted the garden to create a welcoming oasis of peace. There’s a conservatory looking out on the garden, where we were served tea as soon as we arrived, along with a comfortable lounge filled with books and board games. The walls are painted a soft honey yellow, a color I’ve always wanted in my own homes. Our large room has windows on two sides, and a huge bathroom with a large tub; I’ve come to treasure these rare tubs, though today I wasn’t aching for one as I have been at other times during this walk. Still, I was happy for my hot soak at the end of the day.
After leaving the Lion Inn where we said goodbye to Mike over breakfast–he’ll be reaching Robin Hood’s Bay tomorrow–we walked north along a tarmac road, coming upon a series of ancient stone monuments — “the Young Ralph,” “Fat Betty,” and others. These were beautiful and intriguing, but for me the great moment of the day came when, around a bend, I suddenly glimpsed the sea–in the distance, but unmistakable. Jim thought it might just be “a flat space” at the end of a green valley, but as we continued to walk northeast, the space resolved itself more and more into the North Sea. We couldn’t exactly see it–because the sky was overcast there was no blue sparkle–but at one point I thought I could make out a ship, and Jim agreed. Eventually we turned towards the east, along Glaisdale Rigg, and the presence of the sea became even more palpable. I thought I could smell the salt, mixed with the sweet honey scent of the heather. And I was torn between the desire to rush towards the water and the longing to linger on the moor.
But the walk took us steadily onward, giving us ravishing views of Great Fryupdale below us to the left. Wainwright delays our arrival to the sea by taking us through a few additional hills and dales.
On Glaisdale Rigg, we were overtaken by a young man, Jacob, a schoolteacher from Wigan, whom we had met two days earlier on Cringle Moor. Jacob had camped at the Lion–“just two quid a night!” he told us–and was unsure how far he would be going today. He was trying not to think about when he would get to Robin Hoods’s Bay, he said, because it meant his holiday would be over . . . .
Later, as we began the descent into Glaisdale (an easy, slow path downward on a wide track) we met a bright-eyed Scotsman, John, who paused to talk with us as he walked up the hill. We exchanged a few words and then later he overtook us as he was jogging back down. “I used to be able to run up,” he said, “but two years ago I hurt me knee. Now I can only run where it’s flat or downhill. Still, pretty good for sixty-eight,” he smiled. John slowed down to walk with us, showing us his house (with new solar panels on the roof) and pointing out to us a shortcut into the village. He was happy to meet a New Yorker on the Coast-to-Coast. “You’re the first one I’ve met,” he told me, though he’s met other New Yorkers on his trips to Greece. He was interested to talk with us about our landscape in the U.S., wanting to visit Oregon and Montana and Yosemite.
As we approached the village pub, we heard music – the lilting sound of a man singing a folk drinking song, followed by a chorus of voices joining for the refrain. We’d been thinking of getting an early meal, so we poked our heads in. The room was packed with people, listening, singing, happy. There seemed no room for us, but we lingered at the tables outside, and learned this was a spillover from the annual Whitby Folk Festival. The pubs in Whitby were all full, so a group had followed “Nick” to Glaisdale for the afternoon. Later, I saw them all get on the 4:30 train back to the coast.
Just two more days — 19 miles — and I want to savor every moment. Wainwright notes that “many walkers will consider this section the best of all,” with “a lovely river and woodlands, heather moors, charming villages, prehistoric relics, a stately waterfall, a forest trail, steam locomotives, and, to end it, an exhilarating cliff path and the North Sea extending to a far horizon.” I’m ready.
Looking back at the Lion Inn:
Stone monuments on the moors
(Margery Bradley, Young Ralph, unidentified menhir, Fat Betty, and a road marker for Whidby):
An informal memorial garden we discovered on the moor near the ancient cross, “Young Ralph”:
A first glimpse of the sea:
Looking down into Great Fryupdale (named after the Norse goddess Freya!) as we walked along Glaisdale Rigg. Those grassy mounds that look like drumlins are actually grassed over “dumps” from 19th-century coal mines:
Two shades of heather:
A garden as we entered Glaisdale: