Coast to Coast 2020 - Day 1 (St Bees to Shap - 62 miles)

After very little sleep I rolled out of bed at 4am and got to St Bees at about 4.35am.  This gave enough time for the tracker to pick up a signal, sort out final bits and pieces and a quick interview by my wife.  Although the tracker thinks I started a few minutes earlier I left the Coast to Coast memorial at exactly 5am.  The first few km involved skirting the coastline and I felt really relaxed and kept things nice and easy; running where I could and just walking anything a bit too steep.  By 5.35am I had left the coastal path and I was already heading inland.  Other than a tiny navigational error I had already reached Cleator (7 miles) at 6.15am and quickly stopped to see my wife who was patiently waiting for me.  I didn't want to stop for more than a few seconds, so other than taking on some more liquid I pressed on.

Start at St Bees

Leaving Cleator, I hit Dent Hill which is a small hill by all accounts at 350m, but is the first little test before heading into the Lake District.  I took it at a sensible walking pace and looked back from where I had come.  I was above the mist layer whilst much of what was around me in the valleys was shrouded and when mixed with the early light was spectacular viewing.  Coming off the hill it appears I took a shortcut, but it actually is the main route nowadays and is just one of a number of upcoming examples where the route has changed over time.  The descent was quite steep in places so I was conscious to not overcook it, or to turn my ankle in my fell shoes.  As I followed the stream towards Ennerdale I had entered my first National Park - The Lake District.  I had reached Ennerdale (14 miles) at 7.20am and I still felt quite fresh.  The only issue was that I couldn't see my wife anywhere, so was a bit concerned that she was somewhere else in the village or thought I had not yet arrived as it often seemed to report my position about 5 minutes after I had passed the location.  Thankfully I had phone reception and she was only two minutes from the village so we met just as I had left for Ennerdale Water.  Although not particularly hungry, I made sure I topped up on some snacks and I took on additional drinks as it was starting to get warm and the next leg involved a significant climb to Honister Hause (26 miles).

St Bees - Ennerdale

Ennerdale Bridge Review

Skirting Ennerdale Water is a bit slower than you would think due to lots of short up and downs alongside numerous loose boulders and rubble.  Following that it is just a case of following a forest track that goes gently uphill for what feels like an eternity until reaching the famous Black Sail Hut Youth Hostel.  Again, I ran almost all of this, but even at 9am it was becoming obvious is was going to be a very warm and humid day.  Leaving Black Sail it is easy to make a navigational error, something which I have done in the past; the correct route follows what feels like just a sheep path but is actually the correct route towards Grey Knotts.  The climb, bordering on a scramble was slow so was just a case of walking at a sustainable pace and making sure that the navigation was spot on.  Peaking at 610m, the first climb was out of the way and it was then just a case of descending down to Honister Hause at a decent jog, except for the sections where the going was too rough under foot.

As it was now getting very warm I drank the remainder of my water as Honister came into sight at 10am and I tried to look for my wife's car.  I couldn't see anything so assumed she was at the Youth Hostel around the corner as the main car park was already busy.  As I passed the Youth Hostel and then an overflow car park it was clear that she was not there.  I was not majorly concerned as we had already agreed that Plan B was to meet up at Rosthwaite (29 miles) which was 3 miles down the valley.  However I was now a bit worried that a) I was out of drink and b) whether due to lack of phone reception she would even be aware that I have come and gone.  As I descended a track adjacent to the road I saw a car that looked exactly like my wife's so stopped for a second and thought that if it was my wife she must have seen me.  However, the same car did not pull into the first entrance to Honister so I started to convince myself it probably wasn't her after all.

About a mile from Rosthwaite there was a plethora of possible tracks and I made a minor navigational error that I spotted early which cost me only a few minutes.  Once corrected it was only a case of trotting into Rosthwaite, not before I had spotted a tap to the rear of someone's property, so I promptly took the opportunity to top up with water as I was by now getting desperate.  As I came into the village at 10.45am it was clear that my wife was not there; there was just no way on earth I could do the next leg to Grasmere (36 miles) without extra fuel.  The problem was that there was just no way to communicate with each other due to lack of phone reception.  I had already resolved that if the village shop was still open I would sort myself out there.  Just as I was exiting the village at a blind road junction I stopped to change the page on my map when my wife was just arriving!

Honister Hause - Rosthwaite

Review at Rosthwaite

I took 10 minutes or so to freshen up and take on plenty of more liquid due to the heat.  I still felt ok but my quads were now starting to feel sore from acting as shock absorbers due to the pounding from uneven ground.  The upcoming section to Grasmere is a simple straight up and down and other than a small amount of jogging when leaving Rosthwaite, it was now a case of power walking.  However, even when there were small opportunities to run that I would have utilised earlier, I just didn't have the legs at this point.  The uneven ground was compounding the effect and my toes were getting a good bashing that made my feet feel very sore.  Even though I got to the top of the climb in good order, the descent was no better and it just resulted in further pounding to my quads and more bashed toes.  About a mile from Grasmere there was some flat hard standing, but by now I just didn't have the legs to do anything other than walk.  My route didn't actually involve going into Grasmere centre, but a loss of attention resulted in me accidentally going into the village itself.  I ended up having to call my wife and thankfully we found a good resting point just outside the village on the main road.  I stopped at about 1.45pm for a 15 minute break.

I was really pleased with my progress; when I did the Coast to Coast some years ago we only managed to get half way between Grasmere and Patterdale on the first day - about 42 miles in all.  At the time we thought that was impressive but it was clear that I was going to go even further this time.  It was starting to come at a cost thought, despite being in good spirits I was overheating, struggling to stay hydrated due to the heat (it was virtually impossible to keep up drinking) and both my quads and feet were very sore.  It was at this point we discussed where to overnight - whilst I had brought my camping equipment for maximum flexibility we agreed it would be preferable to have a B&B so I tasked my other half to see what she could find around Shap and to report back at the next meeting point in Patterdale (46 miles).  I knew there was no chance of me being able to get to Kirby Stephen (79 miles) that day; in fact I knew that I was taking on a risk as between Patterdale and Shap there are no overnight options.

Rosthwaite - Grasmere

Review at Grasmere

Leaving Grasmere I was now only in walking mode and ahead of me lay the second largest climb of the day that skirts Seat Sandal at 600m.  To be honest I powered up it at a reasonable pace and went between episodes of feeling ok, followed by energy troughs.  The early part of the descent involved more bashing of my toes and even where I was able to jog, I elected not to, or if I did it was more of a shuffle jog.  Put simply I was now knackered.  I was now starting to compartmentalise each section i.e. x many steps until I could stop and relieve myself, or have a drink or something to eat etc.  Whilst the route suggests I went off piste as I came into Patterdale, this again was just down to more recent updates suggesting it was better to go this way.  I arrived into Patterdale at 4.15pm for another 15 minute break.  My wife had reported back that she had found a B&B and I suggested an ETA of about 8.30pm.

Grasmere - Patterdale

Review at Patterdale

I knew the upcoming leg was going to be the hardest of the lot - Shap (62 miles) was 16 miles away so not a short leg and b) the biggest climb of the whole trip lay ahead (Kidsty Pike at 780 metres).  The initial rest did me some good and I made decent progress up the ascent to Angle Tarn.  However, I knew this was one of the few sections of the whole trip where some compass work is necessary.  As I looked at my compass the metal floating pin had come off the hinge so was as good as useless!  I started to tap it against a rock to see whether it would re-seat itself.  This was successfully achieved, but at the cost of some of the liquid leaking and resulting in a large air bubble that made a stable compass bearing much more difficult.  I occasionally resorting to asking other people on the track whether I was on the correct path to the tarn.  All this did was slow me down as I had to be extra careful with the navigation and I knew I needed to press on, to have any chance of getting to Shap in the daylight.

Patterdale - Shap

Thankfully, I got to Angle Tarn to find it a bit of a party atmosphere even at this height as a number of groups of people were enjoying themselves during the early evening.  Following Angle Tarn I walked to The Knott, following which I fell over quite heavily.  I have no idea how it happened as it wasn't particularly bad underfoot.  Despite the scrapes to my hand I was unharmed but I was convinced that I had probably smashed the screen on my phone, but thankfully this was unscathed as well.  Following this was the additional ascent to Kidsty Pike, the highest point of the whole trip.  Until this point I felt that I was making steady progress and whilst running was not physically possible I felt that I remained in control for an 8.30pm finish.  It was then just a case of the descent down to Haweswater, follow the lake for 7km and then similar again across farm land into Shap itself.

The descent to Haweswater was horrendous, any remaining energy in my quads were pounded away from the descent and the going underfoot was so harsh that every step was now agony in my feet.  It took 45 mins to cover a 3km descent to the lake.  I arrived at Haweswater at 6.45pm and I knew that if I didn't run, I would have no chance of finishing in the light at all, let alone 8.30pm.  I had no head torch and I was worried that in this remote location the chances were that my wife would probably not know where I was.  I made every effort to run as much as I could, using every trick in the book to push myself to run e.g. 2000 steps before a quick walk, or a bite to eat etc.  You would think that the trail adjacent to Haweswater is nice flat and a well made path.  Whilst this is true in some sections, the majority of it is very narrow and up and down.  Nonetheless I made every effort to run it and whilst I wont pretend I was going at a record speed I managed to cover the 7km lake section in one hour.

It was now 7.45pm and I just had the final 7km to go which was mostly over farm land, but lots of stiles and boggy bits to negotiate.  In practice only about half of this was runnable and I was now well and truly left to going at a running shuffle.  By 8.25pm my wife was waiting at a tiny minor road jumping up and down with encouragement and it was a true morale boost in the fading light.  I didn't stop long as I knew the last few km lay ahead and it was now starting to get dark.  We met up again about 8.55pm for the final road section in Shap.  I was shattered.  Following a quick stop at the local Co-Op as I had finished too late for a pub meal I officially finished the day at 9.15pm before I switched off the tracker for the day.

My wife drove me the 500 metres or so to Brookfield Bed & Breakfast where I met the proprietor who was very kind throughout, but also suspected I was slightly crazy.  I think she was more used to people doing the route in a more conventional manner and was astonished that someone could cover 62 miles over that terrain in a single day!  It was then just a case having copious amounts of tea, some prepared cold pasta, a shower and bed!

End of day review at Shap

I was convinced that it was probably going to be the end of the trip there and then.  At the very least I knew that completing the Coast to Coast in three days was no longer on.  Why?  Well, although I had completed the requisite distance in the first day and covered the worst of the terrain, the damage to my quads were severe.  Being a fairly accomplished runner, I know the difference between what is just fatigue and what was damage and this was most definitely the latter.  Also the damage to my toes were such that every step was painful.  Even shuffling across the room was painful, getting up from sitting down required considerable effort and even turning in bed usually resulted in a yelp.

I agreed to assess how things were in the morning, but it was genuinely not looking good.  Tomorrow is always another day, but what would it bring?


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