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Ancient Feet: 71 - Signing The Book

...The final ritual was the signing of the Coast to Coast book. This is something of which Wainwright was unaware, as the landlord of the Bay Hotel introduced the book in 1991, the very year that the great man passed away...

Alan Nolan and his mates went through the expected rituals after completing one of England's classic long walks.

To purchase a copy of Ancient Feet visit

Signed copies of the book are available from Alan http://apn.thelea@yahoo.co.uk

We had followed the traditions of what the locals sometimes call Baytown by smuggling our own contraband across the country and, having completed one of Wainwright's rituals by dipping our toes in the sea, we now had to perform the second by throwing the pebbles ¦which we had carried all the way from the west coast into the waves of the North Sea.

Not wishing to carry any unnecessary weight, I had chosen a small flat stone which I now retrieved from the pocket of my shorts, gave it a little rub on the groin of my shorts in the manner of that great Yorkshire fast bowler, Fred Trueman, before sending it skimming, effortlessly across the grey-green expanse of water. I was watching Tom, Joe and Paul carrying out the same ritual when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Don, asking for the bag he'd given me to carry that morning. Throughout the journey there had been something strangely fascinating about watching Don rummaging around in his mysterious bags. We never quite knew what was going to emerge. I took off my pack and struggled to extract the weighty Tesco bag, which I handed to him, once again wondering what on earth it contained. Don's last surprise was soon revealing itself from the deepest recesses of the bag. It was a pebble, or more accurately, a rock the size of a grapefruit.

'I don't bloody believe it,' I said,'look lads. Don enjoyed Grike so much, he's brought most of it with him. And the cheeky sod's had me carrying it for him all day'

Undeterred by the incredulous shaking of heads, he simply shrugged his shoulders.

'It's a symbolic moment,' he said. 'There's no point in fannying about. Got to have something that makes a splash.'

'Well it will certainly make one of those Don,' I said. 'Go on then.'

With what seemed an enormous effort, he hurled the missile seaward and I wondered whether Air Traffic Control should have been notified so that they could have warned aircraft in the area of the danger. Its flight path was unusual. If anything it went upwards rather than forwards, then seemed to hang in the air, as if debating what direction to take next, before plummeting earthwards and landing no more than two yards in front of him! It did make an almighty splash though.

'Fuckin' hell, Don. I'm soaked,' spluttered Tom, who was nearest the point of splashdown. As always, Don was oblivious to Tom's discomfort.

'There,' he said, a satisfied smile on his face. 'Job done.'

Wainwright's rituals completed, we now had a third and final formality to perform and made our way back up the slipway to the first building on dry land, the Bay Hotel, where we were determined to become, if not Robin Hood's merry men, then Robin Hood's Bay's very merry men. Wainwright referred to the Baytown Hotel in his book, but it appears it has never been called that. It was an easy mistake for him to make. Perhaps he celebrated too much.

The final ritual was the signing of the Coast to Coast book. This is something of which Wainwright was unaware, as the landlord of the Bay Hotel introduced the book in 1991, the very year that the great man passed away. At the time, the landlord clearly saw an opportunity to cash in on the Coast to Coast phenomenon and, by giving walkers the chance to record their feat for posterity, he could entice them inside where, undoubtedly, they would not be able to resist the opportunity to have a celebratory drink — or two. So many people are doing the walk now that it takes less than a year to fill each volume, even though the existence of the book is not known by all who complete the walk. The current landlady keeps all the completed volumes, although a couple have been mislaid. For those who completed the trek in 1993 and 1994, the evidence is no longer available.

This written record has no official title and the bar staff know it only as 'The Book'. Somehow, this seems to emphasise the importance and mystery of the tome.

'I'd like to sign The Book please' prompts a frantic search of the premises to trace the spot where the last signatory left it. Anywhere else, the question would be met with a 'what book?', but not here.

The current landlady reinforced the Coast to Coast connection by renaming the public bar 'Wainwright's Bar' when she took over a few years ago. Before signing the book, there is a compulsion to read the recent entries and, once again, it is astonishing to see how many Americans and Australians do this walk. The comments range between the pithy that Wainwright is a bad man, the brief wonderful, the long-winded weather disappointing but enjoyed the scenery and the company although my feet ache and I'm not sure I would do it again, the glass half full had a wonderful time despite the awful weather, the glass half empty the weather spoilt it, the moaning doesn't it ever stop raining up here?, the comic doesn't Wainwright know I've only got short legs? — there's enough material here for me to write a book!


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