Coast to Coast Day 4: Grasmere to Patterdale

We started day 4 in full waterproofs, prepared for rain.

On our walk from Grasmere, Dave spotted a red squirrel. It was very accommodating, not running away until it was sure I had a clear photograph.

Despite the ominous clouds, the weather decided against rain, so we soon removed the waterproofs again. The day was similar to the others, in that we started in a valley, climbed our way out of it, then descended into another valley.

The initial route took us up past Great Tongue to Grisedale Tarn, where we had a choice of three paths. The easiest was a gentle stroll along the valley floor to Patterdale; the other two ran along either side of the valley. The book warned against the higher one if you had any vertigo. Given my dodgy balance that was out, but the other high route promised some of the best views of the trail.

Grisedale Tarn was beautiful. A farmer was rounding up his sheep, and the valley was filled with the noise of bleats, bells, and farmer’s calls. A few people had camped at the water’s edge, and were waking to this beautiful sight.

The climb took us onto a ridge that led to the Cape, an 841 meter peak. It was a simple day’s walking, but very satisfying. I was convinced that I could see the sea from the hilltops.

`From there it was a steep walk down to Patterdale Village, and the end of our first section of the Coast-to-Coast. The weather had not been great, but we’d been lucky with the views, and the rain could have been much worse. We stopped about a quarter of the way through the trail and will be resuming in May.

Coast to Coast Day 3: Rosthwaite to Grasmere

The area around Rosthwaite has the highest level of rain in the UK, and at breakfast on day 3 it looked like we were in for a damp day. We ate in the hotel, where I made do with whatever vegan items I could find, then we set off.

Wainwright suggested walking from Rosthwaite to Patterdale in a single day, along with some optional climbs, but that seems a lot. Like most people, we were going to break the day in two, which also had the advantage of allowing us to explore Grasmere, one of Rosy’s favourite places to go on holiday.

The day’s walking began following a river before a long, slow ascent. The highest point was only about 400m, but this still felt challenging. We followed the path higher up the valley until we reached Lining Crag, where the footpath seemed to become almost vertical. We checked the map, but this was definitely the way. The climb was not quite as steep as it looked from below, but was still hard work. I looked back to see some other walkers checking the map the same as I had, sure the path couldn’t be taking that route.

At the top of the climb we found ourselves in thick cloud and, once again, wandered off-trail. We’d talked about our mistake the day before, and realised that we had jumped to a conclusion. If we’d checked the compass on our phones, it would have been obvious we were going the wrong way. We retraced our steps, and found the path again, along with another walker who confirmed we were on the right path.

(I should add here that relying on phones for wayfinding was irresponsible and possibly dangerous. For the next section of the Coast-to-Coast I will be bringing both proper maps and an analogue compass)

Given the weather, we decided against taking the high route, simply following the downhill path through the valley. We found a pathbuilder’s hut where we sheltered for lunch, and were soon joined by half a dozen other walkers. Very cosy.

Grasmere was disappointing. After a quiet day, we crossed a road and suddenly found ourselves in a packed town. I don’t understand why, when so much of the lakes are peaceful, everyone crammed themselves into one town. It also had the feel of tourist towns everywhere, with some incredibly brusque and rude restaurants. We eventually found our way to Tweedies Bar and Lodge, which had excellent food, beer and hospitality.

For our evening meal, we were less lucky – several restaurants were closed, and we needed to book for the others. We resorted to the YHA, which promised vegan pizzas – but they were out of vegan cheese. Grasmere was a definite disappointment. You can’t even get a decent view of the lake. There are two good things about the town – the excellent gingerbread and the path out.

Monthnotes: September 2021

It’s September, and time still feels like it’s passing slowly; but the summer is over, the days are getting shorter, and the outside world feels bleak. There’s the slow panic about logistics in the background to everything, which feels like the continuation of a crisis that started with the referendum. It seems like a bad winter is on the way, but nobody can do anything about it, particularly the government. Being English is exhausting. In the countryside, I feel a little insulated from this, but it’s also hard to get anywhere without petrol.

September has involved a few trips – a summer party and a client visit in Bracknell, and visits to and an office party with my employer in Leicester. I did the first four sections of the Coast to Coast. I also visited Hebden Bridge with Katharine where I drank cocktails and had my worst hangover in years. It cleared with a walk on the moors, but that was brutal, hard work.

My steps were higher than usual due to all the hiking, with an average of 15,706 and a total of 471,180. My maximum for a single day was 44,181 on the second day of the Coast-to-Coast where we managed to lose the trail. Despite all these steps, I’m not getting any fitter.

I only finished two books (although I have several books almost finished, as I’ve been picking at things). Gallows Pole by Ben Myers was an excellent historical novel set around the Calder Valley. Genesis P Orridge’s biography, Nonbinary, was interesting, but had little about the areas of his life I wanted to read about. I also read through The Debarkle, an online history of the Sad/Rabid Puppies.

I watched a few films early the month. I had a nightmare about A Quiet Place II, so watched it the next day and was mostly underwhelmed – it didn’t make a lot of sense. Mandy was an amazing movie which never compromised its vision. I’m not sure whether I liked it as such, and it ultimately relied on a woman being fridged. The Color out of Space was frustrating, not knowing if it was sci-fi or supernatural, and relied too much on lazy Lovecraft references.

I didn’t watch much TV beyond a few episodes of The Walking Dead, where I’m slowly figuring out what’s happening based on my knowledge of the comics. I’ve also been watching Midnight Mass, which is a little too obsessed with church and monologues. Inspired by my hike, I started replaying Death Stranding on hard mode, until the grind of it put me off again.

I’m feeling a little more settled at work now. The last few weeks have been spent fixing and upgrading builds for various projects, which I always find a fun challenge. Last weekend I gave a talk on JHipster for Mindera, which seemed like a lot of stress and it didn’t go as well as I would have liked. This is something I need to work on over the next few months.

Last month, I said that I wanted my writing to be more fun than video games, and that’s working out well. I’ve been working on several longer pieces and loving coming up with ideas for them. September ended with three rejections in two days which was a drag. I did have one piece published, a Drabble (a story that is exactly 100 words) called Instagram Famous.

The new issue of Bodge came out, with my page talking about an Invisibles event I am involved with at the end of the month. I also ran a Not for the Faint-Hearted writing session as a tie-in to Emma’s MA research. At the end of the month I went along to an in-person writing workshop in Leicester with the Speculators, which I really enjoyed.

I passed my probation in September, which means I’ve been able to start sorting out a mortgage. So, I guess I need to get on with finding somewhere to live.

A List of Things I Haven’t Got Round To

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a postcard of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. She picked this painting because, back in 2004, I worked a lot in Madrid, but I never extended my business trips to do tourist things. In particular, I wanted to visit the art museum and see Guernica, but I quit the job without having done so. I’ve not been back to Madrid since. I’ve always expected to see Guernica one day, but somehow I never have.

This postcard got me thinking about other things that I’ve not got round to, and I started making a list.

(It’s not a bucket list. I’ve written in the past about how much I loathe reducing life to a checklist of goals. I have another, short list of epic quests I would do if time, money or commitments allowed. But this new list is the simple things that I could easily do, but never have)

My friend Lou often does projects which make her life more interesting. Like, the year she turned 30, she stayed with 30 different people to help choose what she should do with her life. I thought it might be a fun thing for 2022 to pick an item from the list each month and do it. The list includes:

  1. See Guernica
  2. Visit John O’Groats
  3. Go to Stonehenge
  4. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant
  5. Take a sailing lesson
  6. Try paddleboarding
  7. Do the Lyke Wake Walk
  8. Try scuba diving
  9. Visit this beautiful valley I drove past on the Isle of Mull on the way to Iona
  10. Do my hip rehab and train for another marathon

See? All of them are simple, and all of them would be fun. There’s also a few others relating to catching up with people I’ve not seen in years. I’ve also asked some of my friends what they would put on their own such list. Answers include: visit Ireland; travel in a hot air balloon; watch the Mousetrap. Maybe I can even link up items on their list with some of mine. If you can think of your own list of things you’ve never got round to, then let me know.

It’s not the end of the world if I did none of these things, but I really should get on with them.

This is the 1000th published post on this blog, with entries dating back to 2007. (I have a pile of posts from earlier blogs, but I’ve never got round to loading them into wordpress). I wonder what the next 1000 posts will bring?

Coast to Coast Day 2: Ennersdale Bridge to Rosthwaite

Day 2 of the Coast to Coast started with a calm, beautiful walk around the edge of Ennerdale Water. I imagine this can be busy in summer but for us, most of the time, there were no other people in sight. Shortly after the lake we had a choice of two routes, a low path and a high path. As the day’s total distance was just 14 miles, it made sense to take the uphill path and see the views.

Red Pike is 755 meters high, which was a long climb. I dragged myself up, lagging behind, resting frequently, counting paces. It was hard work, but we were rewarded with a great view.

It was here that we made a wayfinding error. Looking at a view, we managed to get ourselves turned around and followed the wrong ridge. At the end of the description of this section, our guidebook said, “Just make sure you don’t start the descent to Buttermere”, but we didn’t notice that at the time. As usual when you’re lost without realising, every bit of evidence seems to reassure you that you’re on track. We did ask some fell runners if there was a path down where we were headed and they told us there was.

Never ask fell runners if there is a path somewhere. They are hardy and limber, and their definition of a path is very different to that of normal people.

We followed a thin path down a steep slope, which included a little scrambling. This was brutal for my feet, and I didn’t trust my footing on the loose surface of the path, so descending took forever.

This was the descent. We came down about 500m on this slope.

In the Buttermere valley there was a helicopter and teams of BASE jumpers. I thought it was some sort of competition, and only realised later that we were passing through a shooting location for Mission Impossible 7. Apparently, it was also a day when Tom Cruise was filming. So, it’s possible the footage of this sequence will include two hikers wandering down the wrong path.

We had a choice of routes out of the valley. There was a path to the slate mines that would return us to the official route as soon as possible. The alternative was slogging up the B5289, rejoining the Coast-to-Coast a mile or two before Rosthwaite. Without an OS map, I wasn’t eager to improvise, and risk adding yet more miles to our day. We settled on the somewhat tedious path up the road.

On the way downhill, we ran into the geologists again, so were able to ask them what slate was, and how come it could be mined at the top of these hills. It didn’t take too long to reach Rosthwaite. I was expecting a village, but it was just a small settlement around three hotels. We were very welcomed at the Scaffell hotel, and when I said I was vegan, the woman in charge was sure she could sort something out. “We could do you… Um…” After a moment, I let her off the hook, and said I would be OK for tomorrow with the snacks I’d brought with me.

I had a bath then joined Dave in the bar, which was filled with walkers. I felt a little hangry when we were forced to wait for a free table, but the food was great. Above the bar was a map of the trail, and the Mountain Rescue weather reports were on the noticeboard. The weather report promised a good day, but Dave was certain this would not be the case.

There are Coast-to-Coast signs in the Lake District section, but branding is inconsistent

Coast to Coast Day 1: St Bee’s Head to Ennerdale Bridge

The traditional start of the Coast-to-Coast is for the walker to dip their boots in the Irish Sea; and then to take a pebble from the beach to be carried to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Pick a small stone as it is a long journey.

The Coast to Coast route was originally devised by Alfred Wainwright for his 1973 book A Coast to Coast Walk. As the book’s title implies, it is only one possible route, and the trail has a number of options. As an unofficial trail, it is not always signposted, particularly in the Lake District.

Me, Dave and my Dad at the start of the trail

The walk begins with a climb onto the cliffs of St Bee’s Head. This hill is tame compared to what lies ahead. The path follows the coast for a while before turning inland and heading east.

The lack of signposting makes it easier to get lost than on other trails. We’d decided not to bother with OS maps, choosing to rely on the Trailerblazer Guide. This was not a great idea, and we slid off the path a few times on day 1. We were doing a little better than the two Scottish women who carried just an overview of the trail. They told us that “Not all those who wander are lost”. We saw them a few times in the early afternoon, but I’ve no idea how well their day’s walking ended up.

One of the great things about the Coast to Coast is running into the same people each day. Right at the start we met Steve and Laura, two American geologists who we bumped into most days. There were other groups we’d greet each day. More than any other trail I’ve done, the Coast to Coast feels like a group of people sharing an experience – while, at the same time, still feeling wild and relaxed.

Day One brought our first proper hill, although it was a tiddler at 353 meters. It gave me quite a challenge and I dragged myself up it slowly. The way down was the steepest slope of the trail, providing a different but equally tough challenge. I’m blaming lockdown rather than age for my physical deterioration, but it is worrying.

Halfway through the day, the village postman called Dave with some bad news. He’d seen Mabel the cat at the side of the road, hit by a car. Dave called my sister to tell her, and I felt weirdly sad. I liked Mabel, despite him being a very reserved cat. While I was sad about him dying, there was little to say or think beyond that. But then we had a call a few minutes later to say that Mabel was sat outside sunning himself. It turned out to be a hare that the postman spotted. Still sad, but less personal.

A good view while sitting and resting

The end of the day took us to Ennerdale Bridge. We stayed at Thorntrees, a lovely B&B which was in its last week of operation. We just about managed to get food at one of the village’s two pubs (assigned table 23, of course), finding ourselves sat next to Steve and Laura. I forced myself to eat the stodgiest bean burger of my life – the vegan food options on this trip were as woeful as the scenery was beautiful. I had a couple of pints of Wainwright’s then collapsed into bed exhausted.

Coast to Coast Day 0: Travelling to St Bee’s Head

Early morning view from my Workington Hotel

I’ve wanted to do the Coast to Coast ever since I read Curtis and Emily’s accounts of the trail. Emily’s description of the walk and the community it generated was one of my biggest inspirations for getting into hiking. Based on the first four days, the Coast to Coast is the more fun than the four national trails I’ve walked on previously (Ridgeway, North and South Downs Ways and Pennine Way).

The biggest surprise was how hard I found the route. There were days that beat me up badly, where I struggled with getting up and down hills. I’m not sure if this was because the trail is harder, or if I am substantially weaker after lockdown. My balance and flexibility both seemed off too. I don’t remember even the Pennine Way being so hard.

The first challenge was getting to the start. We set off a five on a Friday, perfectly timed to hit the end of the week traffic jams. It took over six hours for us to drop a car off at our end point and reach our hotel in Workington. The weather was appalling too, with thick fog as we drove through some lakeland passes.

On the way up, we were so delayed that stopping for a proper meal was impossible, so we grabbed some fast food. I ordered a large chips, since in Brighton that’s just enough to be filling. Further north, for the same price, I was given a ball of carbs almost as big as my head.

Given the possibility of arriving late, I booked us into a chain hotel in Workington. The town was subject of a BBC news article the day we were there, about towns that needed levelling up. The main thing I noticed about the place was that it was spotless, with very little litter.

Four beers, and a liter of Greek yoghurt. Someone was partying hard at the Travel Inn

We ate breakfast in a Wetherspoons. As much as I loathe Tim Wetherspoon’s politics, he is a good publican. I can go into any Wetherspoons and be guaranteed a vegan meal with no fuss. This was also by far the best vegan meal of the trip. Once we’d finished our food we took a short drive to St Bee’s Head to start the walk.

Stories that change reality

One of the best newsletters I’m reading right now is 50 years of text adventures. Rather than focussing exclusively on computer games, the series has given glimpses of a revolution in literature that never quite happened (see for example Galatea, Screen or Patchwork Girl). There have also been some great stories, such as how young programmers in communist Czechoslovakia used videogames as subversive art. And then there is 1992’s Silverwolf, whose background is so weird that it defies summary.

I had wondered what the series would write about as it approached the present era, when text adventures have become a less important genre. The recent posts have presented some innovative and fascinating ideas. One I’ve particularly loved is the piece about 2001 Alternate Reality Game (ARG) The Beast.

The Beast was a puzzle game marketing the movie AI, with clues in movie trailers, websites and on answer phones. Players from around the world collaborated to solve the puzzles. While I never played it myself, I remember being amazed by the possibility this had for story-telling. It had around 3 million players and led to a whole series of other ARGs.

Reading around this led to listening to a series of interviews with Joseph Matheny who produced what is likely the first ARG, Ong’s Hat. This was a story about a strange cult, told across a series of different media. There was a good summary of this in Gizmodo’s article Ong’s Hat: The Early Internet Conspiracy Game That Got Too Real. The idea was that a community of physicists had collaborated with a group of mystics to produce a portal between dimensions. The story was seeded over years, including a zine article by Hakim Bey in the early 90s. Interestingly, one of the people involved was Nick Herbert, whose book Quantum Reality was one of the main inspirations for me studying physics.

In a long podcast interview with Project Archivist, Matheney spoke about Ong’s Hat and how it emerged through his thinking about how to use the Internet as a story-telling medium. Refences to Ong’s Hat were placed in zines and on bulletin boards, and fake publications were listed in a rare books catalogue called The Incunabula. They even went as far as photocopying articles and leaving them in coffee shops and concert venues. In 1999, Matheney was able to produce an ebook that collected together all these sources. Within a few years, Matheney shut down the project, as a number of people were becoming convinced it was real, and behaving dangerously.

Matheney has also admitted to being a consultant to the people behind time-traveller John Titor. He also worked on Majestic, a 2001 ARG from Electronic Arts (there’s a good summary from Wired in May 2001 – the game was shutdown to security concerns after September 11th)

One of the things I love about these ARGs is the way that they merge fiction with reality. There’s something Borgesian about them – not just in the combinations of reality and fiction, but also in the way that some of Borges’ fake citations turned up in real contexts. This has a negative side too – some of the conspiracists who are into Ong’s Hat have refused to acknowledge that it was a work of art. There was also a claim by Adrian Hon that QAnon is structured like an ARG. It’s interesting to see how the iteration/repetition of fictions can have an affect on their reality.

A Mystery in the Hedgerow

Out for a walk the other day, I spotted a tired helium balloon at the edge of a field:

The balloon was deflating and could no longer carry its cargo. It was attached to a photo, but there was nothing on the back to identify where it came from.

I’m not sure who is in the picture or why the photo was attached to a balloon.. The white balloon and ribbon makes me think it might be an escaped wedding decoration. It feels like there ought to be something to do in response, but I can’t think what.

Monthnotes: August 2021

August felt like a return to normality, as I’ve felt able to socialise with large groups again. It’s a strange time, as it’s hard to tell what I should be doing to protect myself. Cases are high and rising, vaccination effectiveness is fading, and the government has not said anything about how things proceed in the long-term. Being the only person in a supermarket wearing a mask has felt weird. But, while I’m still resolved to avoid coronavirus, I’m also reluctant to keep my life in suspension forever.

This month saw a fair bit of travelling. I visited Brighton twice – once to see Tom, the other time for a hike with Emma. Hiking with Emma was part of her MA, so the walk was written up in her research blog. I also visited Norwich, where we celebrated Rosy’s daughter leaving home (such emotion!) and ate some great meals. I spent some time in Hebden Bridge (Hepstonstall, actually), where I learned a valuable lesson about not trusting Calder Valley weather. I visited the offices of my new employer, Mindera, and loved meeting my colleagues in person. There was even a bit of camping in a field near where I’m living, and the Blame Blake event in Sheffield on Bank Holiday Monday. That’s a lot of travelling.

I continue to feel like I’m struggling with the new job, although the feedback I’ve had has been excellent. I’ve never had such a slow ramp-up to the point where I feel I’m contributing to a project with my full ability. I do love working on a mature microservice set-up – although I also feel a little awed by how much work it has taken the client to reach that point. Successful cloud architectures are not easy.

I’m continuing to write, and focussing on sending things out. I’ve had a small piece, Alex and the Face, published in Microfiction Monday and there are seven other stories out for submission. I’ve decided that writing should be at least as much fun as playing video games, and will let that idea guide what I work on from now on.

Other than the hike with Emma, I’ve mainly been keeping to my regular daily walks. My total for the month is 407,230 steps, with a daily maximum of 33,634 (thanks, Emma!) and an average of 13,136 steps (compared with 11,342 in July and 10,766 in April 2020’s lockdown).

I finished six books – highlights were Heroic Failures and CJ Stone’s Fierce Dancing, which was a great portrait of a lost culture. The Final Girl Support Group was a brisk read, which was great, but it wasn’t quite the book I’d hoped for. I wanted more revisionist slasher fiction (like the first series of the Nailbiter comics) but the novel was somewhat overwhelmed by the plot.

I watched very little TV, slowly making my way through Pose. I did watch the movie Pig, which was a wonderfully weird film about food culture, featuring an understated performance from Nicholas Cage. Music-wise, there were long-awaited releases from Kanye West and Lorde, both of which I’m finding hard to get into. The Lorde album feels a little too dreamy, possibly due to sharing a producer with Lana Del Rey.

Quitting caffeine last month was a successful experiment. I am sleeping better and less tired during the day than usual. It’s not cured my headaches, but they have been less frequent and less severe, so that is a definite win.

I’ve been replaying The Last of Us Part 2, this time on a harder difficulty level. I’m definitely better at it than I was the first time round, but it feels like a dumb way to spend my time. Video games are compulsive and gripping, but developing skills in them feels kind of pointless. I have considered getting a new game, but can’t see anything that won’t just devolve into repetition. As I said above, I’d rather focus on the sort of writing that is more interesting than games.

Overall, August felt pretty good. Now, with Summer coming towards an end, it’s time to start planning my next move.