The last eight miles. We’ve come at least 184 (allowing for the occasional navigational wobbles and the extra bits we volunteered, such as walking over St Sunday Crag and doing both the low and high route in the Dales).
Now all that remains is yomping along the old railway track out of Moor Row to reach yet more pasture and the usual challenges of finding the dryest route through fields that herds of cows and incessant summer rain have turned to mudbaths.
The only difference is that the soil here is sandstone so instead of black bog our boots, feet and legs turn the colour of weak cocoa.
The final miles to the coast are a mix of underwater farm track and narrow country roads. Our boots prefer the roads as we can move more quickly and already both of us imagine we can smell the sea air.
This leg is actually a bit of a tease. We probably started the morning closer to St Bees than we are now as we head through the little village of Sandwith where one of the houses has sandbags piled at the end of its drive in response to the previous days warnings of flooding.
Wainwright preferred to steer his walk away to join St Bees Head near Whitehaven. So that the final miles are almost a mirror image of the first few, spent on the headland connecting Robin Hood’s Bay with Whitby.
The landscape is quite different though. Three weeks and 188 miles ago we left behind high cliffs, a slate grey sea and an endless horizon.
As we reach the headland, and our final Coast to Coast marker post, the cliffs are sandy red, alive with Herring Gulls and ravens, we can see the shapes of the Isle of Man and, further away, Ireland, while sunlight is breaking through the clouds and lighting up the Irish Sea so it looks alternately jade then blue then silver.
two more Coast to Coasters
We don’t expect to see any more walkers but amazingly two men, one older and younger, both with huge packs, meet us on the cliffs. They are doing a Coast to Coast trial run apparently to see if they can bear each other’s company, and cope with camping out. If their two days trial works, they’ll return next year and do the rest.
“Let me tell you a story,” the older man says.”I know you’re supposed to dip your toe in the water at the start so I tell him that’s what we’ve got to do. We’re just at the water’s edge and this huge wave comes rushing in right over our boots.”
We nod sympathetically. It’s not great to start the day in wet boots but we know what lies ahead of them, so it would only ever have been a matter of time before they were as wet as we are.
The cliff path is a joy, full of promise for us on this final, final stretch.
It is also heavily used by cattle. In evidence let me cite the fact that one kissing gate we pass through is plastered in slimy wet cow poo that can only have got there by a cow turning its backside to the gate and letting fly.
Not much further on the path turns to steps to climb down into Fleswick Bay then up and out the other side. I swear the local cows have been using these steps. They are, if anything, more plastered in ankle deep cow pats, than the fields we’ve just passed through.
It doesn’t matter. Very little matters as we keep our focus on the beams of sunlight like beacons calling us onto St Bees. We aren’t even dragging our feet any longer because we’re both so excited at the prospect of touching down on the sand – and cleaning our boots in the ocean. No careful toe dipping for us after all this time…
I think we both shed a few tears several times during the morning, and especially when, finally, the beach comes into view.
It is one pm by now and there are families enjoying a cliff walk having started out from St Bees. One family, with rather too many pairs of clean trainers, having stopped to ask us whether it’s wise to go on, hears our story and actually claps us.
The sun is making a real effort and before we know it we are walking easily down the end of the headland, past another caravan site, and onto the beach.
There is nothing to do but head out to the point where the waves are rolling in, as wide and determined as the huge expanse of the bay requires. I immediately lose my walking pole in the water and Shushie gets soaked rushing out to it. Our boots are well and truly filled again.
We share a long hug. Then we take off our socks and shoes, though it’s a bit academic by now, and walk out into the shining silver waves together, holding hands.
Skin and Blisters.