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Ancient Feet: 69 - A Man Above Other Men

Alan Nolan and his Coast-to-Coast trekking mates reach journey's end.

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It would be easy to understand why Wainwright chose to conclude the Coast to Coast Walk at Robin Hood's Bay. A small town, hanging on the hillside, with tightly-knit cobbled streets leading down to the beach, it is a quaint and picturesque spot with plenty of shops, cafes, pubs and guest houses. It's an ideal journey's end, on the face of it, at least. Yes, it would be easy to understand, but he didn't choose it. Well, not exactly. It was a fortuitous circumstance.

After walking the Pennine Way in 1967, he concluded 'I cannot truthfully say that I enjoyed the Pennine Way! Anyone else would have simply put it down to experience and moved on, but good old Alf was not 'anyone else'. He decided he would devise his own long distance walk! His route 'would have to be in the northern counties of England' which he 'personally preferred to other parts of the country'. That decision made, he 'wanted the starting point and finishing point to be exactly defined and not a source of doubt' which made the coasts the obvious choices.

'By laying a ruler across the map, the route almost chose itself: the most spectacular point on the western seaboard was St Bees Head, and in the same latitude on the east coast was the quaint and attractive resort of Robin Hood's Bay' In fact, St Bees Head is the westernmost point in the north of England, so his ruler would have been drawn there like a magnet. It "was pure good fortune that Robin Hood's Bay was almost exactly due east on the North Sea coast. I think he may have been unduly modest about his choice as I am sure it was not just a coincidence that the route passed through three National Parks and 'nowhere along this line was there an industrial blemish.'

There are, however, a couple of drawbacks to finishing the walk at Robin Hood's Bay. The first is that vehicular access to the lower town is prohibited so, having made it down to the beach and officially ended his journey, the weary walker then has to climb all the way back up the steep street to the lift home. Not exactly the celebration most have in mind after almost two weeks of arduous marching.

The other problem with Robin Hood's Bay is that it is a popular place for holidaymakers and daytrippers too. During the summer months in particular, the narrow streets are crammed with visitors dressed in their smart, brightly coloured summer clothes, making the scruffy walker feel extremely conspicuous, particularly those wearing knee bandages which have not been washed for twelve days.

Wainwright knew how we were feeling and described the scene perfectly 'the cramped streets and alleyways are invariably congested with visitors, today unaware that a great feat is about to be accomplished and in any case not caring a damn that a hero has joined their ranks.' (A great feat! A hero! I like it. Not so sure about them not giving a damn though.) He went on to say 'a man with a pack on his back feels uncomfortable and rather lonely' and 'his travel-stained outfit and heavy boots seem out of place among the smart clothes and sandals of those around him.'

However, 'clothes don't make a man, and a Coast to Coast walker arriving here has every right to consider himself a man above other men; after all, few of these happy holidaymakers could do or would have the initiative and courage to do what he has just done 190 miles on foot.' (A man above other men! Precisely. Initiative and courage! I'm warming to the man at last.)

Neither of these drawbacks crossed our minds as Trevor joined us and we marched triumphantly together down the steep cobbled street, through the bustling crowds and past the souvenir shops, ice cream parlours and cafes towards the beach. The selection of knee bandages on display may have been among the grubbiest and least attractive ever seen on the streets of Robin Hood's Bay, but nothing could dent the sense of euphoria we were feeling. It must have been the euphoria that brought out the poet in me:
'You know, the way the houses cling to the cliff face as if to cascade into the waters below, it's very reminiscent of Positano on the Amalfi coast in southern Italy'

'Yes, but most of the houses in Positano are painted white to reflect the sun,' Paul commented in his know it all about property architect's way.
'Well, they don't need to worry about reflecting the sun here. They only have about five sunny days a year,' Don piped up, unnecessarily.
'And when you walk down the street in Positano, you gaze into the deep turquoise blue of the Mediterranean below, which is a bit different to the shitty grey of the North Sea,' Tom added.

At this, Joe decided to come to my rescue in the face of this unjustified verbal assault: 'But look on the bright side lads, we've got North Sea oil. The Italians haven't got Mediterranean Sea oil now, have they?'

Grateful for Joe's intervention, I was relieved when Don appeared to change his allegiance: 'I think Alan's right; there is a similarity between Positano and Robin Hood's Bay.'

'What's that then?' asked doubting Thomas.

'They're both in Europe,' he said to great hilarity.

'Very funny,' I mumbled sulkily.


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