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Ancient Feet: 70 - Toes In The Sea

Alan Nolan and his hiking mates complete their long hike from England's west coat to its east.

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The street became the slipway on to the shingly beach, where the incoming tide had driven the sunbathers to the small remaining patch of dry land. As we took the final steps on to the beach, we hugged each other and entertained the astonished crowd by performing a little jig on the sand. Well, actually we shook hands and exchanged 'well dones' in a restrained, manly way before taking the final few strides to the lapping waves to dip our toes in the water, just as we had done at St Bees twelve days earlier.

As we looked out over the seemingly endless sea, I couldn't help reflecting how different everything seemed to the last time I had stood, gazing out to sea, just twelve days ago. Then, I had looked westward over the open sea to the horizon, with St Bees Head to our right, waiting patiently for our ancient feet to start our initial ascent, and with the sandy beach to our left stretching as far as the eye could see. Behind us lay the promenade and gardens and the extravagantly large car park. Open space was everywhere, as if inviting us to enjoy England's green and pleasant land and willing us to accept the challenge of walking from one coast to the other. In contrast, Robin Hood's Bay closed in on us, as though telling us this was the end of the line. Just behind our backs stood the town, forming an effective barrier with only the one narrow means of access.

Yes, the sea stretched out endlessly in front of us, but the cliffs around the bay seemed to wrap themselves around us in a protective hug whilst we reflected on a job well done.

There was a contrast in our emotions too. As we tumbled out of the minibus at St Bees, glad to be in the open air, our feelings were of excitement and anticipation. After months of preparation, we were at last embarking on our great adventure, raring to get started, not knowing exactly what faced us or whether we would complete the journey. Now, we had proved to ourselves that we were capable of not only taking on a formidable test of our powers of endurance but also that we could enjoy ourselves at the same time. Strangely, although we were elated by our success, we felt vaguely deflated at the same time. For the last twelve days, we had risen from our beds knowing that a major challenge lay ahead, each one different to the day before, the excitement of not knowing what faced us beckoning us to make haste. Standing on the beach now, we knew that the sense of anticipation was in the past and that, tomorrow morning, we would be back to our normal routine.

The origin of the name Robin Hood's Bay is a mystery and there is no known connection to the semi-mythical Robin Hood. The first recorded reference to Robin Hood's Bay dates back to 1536 and even then fishing was important to the community. The fishing industry reached its zenith in the mid-nineteenth century, but smuggling was another thriving occupation. Indeed, Robin Hood's Bay was reputedly the busiest smuggling community on the Yorkshire coast in the eighteenth century and, with a network of passageways and tunnels, it was said that a bale of silk could pass from the bottom of the village to the top without leaving the houses.


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