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Why the Coast to Coast?

I’ve been working at In2Out for almost 2 years now. When I started I knew nothing about the lives of young people who had been caught up in the Criminal Justice System and ended up in prison. I had no idea of the struggles and hardships that many, if not most of them, have faced before prison – nor of the huge challenges that they face on release. Since then I’ve been privileged to walk alongside some of the lads we support as they journey from custody back into the community and seek to get their young lives ‘back on track’ – lads like 17 year old James who hadn’t seen his Mum for 18 months and was so fearful of the life that awaited him on release that he was wondering whether staying in prison would be better. I’ve seen how difficult their lives can be, but I’ve also seen that with the right support – like that provided by In2Out – that they can make it!

By undertaking the 192 miles of the Coast to Coast walk I wanted to push myself to do something that would reflect in some very small way the challenges of the long journey, often alone and carrying an unsustainably heavy burden from the past, that these lads embark on – the difficult and often hazardous journey from the ‘inside to the out’. In place of the weight of shame, guilt, addiction, loneliness, pain and loss, I will carry my tent, a map and a compass – alongside 16 kg of other things.

If you’ll travel with me by following my posts (which I hope you will) I’ll share the highs, and possibly lows, of my journey, but more importantly I’ll try to share with you something of the journeys that lads like James are on and why it’s so important that we don’t let him and others like him become a lost generation because no one went after them, helped them shoulder their burden and showed them the right way to go.

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Day 13 – Littlebeck to Robin Hood’s Bay – 11.5 miles/18.5 km

So it’s over. I made it. I told you I would! 😉 I’m exhausted and sore, but very thankful for the experience, (and to be home), after almost 2 weeks of rain, sleet, snow, hail, hot sun, howling winds, fog and drizzle. I’ve seen some amazing places, and met some lovely people, tasted some of the best food I’ve ever had – generally anything eaten outside when I was cold – and experienced amazing support and encouragement from start to finish.

It rained most of the night last night and having eaten my breakfast from an old Pot Noodle tub (my heavy cup went with Steve a couple of days ago) I packed up my soggy tent for the last time. I’m so glad I cut 4 miles out of today’s journey by doing more yesterday as it was cold and miserable and quite a tricky morning. It was also a good reminder of how much worse the weather could have been, particularly over the last week.

The first challenge was navigating the very wet woods around Littlebeck on the way to Falling Foss waterfall, which I annoyingly somehow managed to miss, save for a glimpse through the trees.

Then it was up onto Low Moor then Graystone Hills Moor. In fact, I used my compass more today than all the other days put together as the fog closed in as I traipsed across the bogs towards the coast.

Evelyne and the kids met me with an amazing lunch in High Hawsker before myself and my eldest son, Ben set off for the last 4 miles along the coastal path to Robin Hood’s Bay. On the way we met Alice, Joey and Tim, who also walked through to the end, and picked up Claire and Tom as we approached the end of the path.

Having come down the steep hill into RHB I arrived at the ramp down onto the beach to ritually wash my boots in the North Sea to find a small crowd of friends waiting to welcome me in. There was even a ‘Well Done’ balloon. Amazing! Thanks everyone. You made a potentially anticlimactic end a really nice moment.

Of course, to complete this journey carrying all my stuff is a massive personal achievement for me. There were times – hours, even days when I questioned whether I could even do this as I’d planned, carrying the load, putting up with the discomfort and pain. It just seemed too hard.

But this was never about me or whether I could complete my journey Coast to Coast. If it was I’d have paid for a nice warm B&B every night and eaten in a restaurant and had my luggage ferried to the next stop by taxi while I carried my lunch and a couple of litres of water for the day.

It was about lads like Billy who wants more than anything else to be with his Mum. But he can’t. Or Dilon who just wants to get a job and start again, but can’t. Or Bryn who wishes he could turn back the clock, but can’t and doesn’t know how to move forward from that. Or Aiden who needs to know that because he’s failed in the past doesn’t make him a failure. It’s for all those lads, and hundreds of others, who need someone beside them to walk their journey with them, to lighten their load, to sometimes help carry their burden, to encourage and support them and tell them they can do it, that they believe in them. I’m no more worthy than one of these young lads and yet I have received all of these things in abundance. And because of all that I completed the journey set before me. I overcame the pain and discomfort and succeeded.

And so can they.

I know many of you have already sponsored me to do the Coast to Coast – Thank you! – but there’s still time if you were holding out to see whether I’d make it. I did! I’m inching towards my target of £10k but I’m not there yet, and I’d be quite happy to raise more 😉 And our target for the year of £25k is still a long way off. https://www.give.net/MarksCoast2Coast/fundraising

Or if you would just like to stay in touch with In2Out and the journeys the lads are on, then please sign up for our Quarterly Newsletter or Monthly Prayer Update.

https://www.in2out.org.uk/contact.html

You can find all the details on our website or through the links above, or get in touch with me and I’d be happy to help.

Thanks to ALL of you for being on my journey with me. You got me through.

Together we can do the same for more young people like Billy and Aiden, and countless others that are just waiting for someone to say, ‘I believe in you. You can do it’.

Day 12 – Blakey Ridge to Littlebeck – 17.5 miles/28 km

Well, as predicted it was a very windy, noisy night on Blakey Ridge beside the Lion Inn. Although it rained in the night the tent was mostly blown dry by morning. Our friends Fran and Barrie dropped Evelyne off (after I’d had breakfast in their warm car) and promised to pick her up wherever we managed to get to – the original plan being Grosmont 13.5 miles away.

It was cool and very breezy and there was definitely rain the the air as we set of, or in my case plodded off very slowly. It takes about 30 mins before my legs and feet start working properly.

Compared to the climbs and descents of yesterday morning it was relatively easy going, but on rough stony tracks that were really uncomfortable for my already tender feet.

That photo’s just to prove I’m still on this trip (above Great Fryup Dale – yes, it’s really called that) and not sending daily posts from Tenerife.

We had our sandwiches in Glaisdale where we met a couple of locals out for a stroll, and by early afternoon were soon approaching Egton Bridge and Grosmont, the planned destination for the day.

But the campsite, at a farm, which I already knew didn’t have a shower, looked even less appealing when we saw it was not flat and was already full of tents of young people on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. After a bit of deliberation, a couple more Ibuprofen and some encouragement from Evelyne we decided to head 4 miles further to another farm that did have a shower and a flat garden to camp in. And so we did – not only knocking 4 miles off the last stage, but also completing the most difficult part of what would have been tomorrow’s journey. And we got tea and cake when we arrived!

I’ll count any cost tomorrow morning when I examine my feet. I haven’t got the courage for it tonight.

So, I’m nearly there. One more push tomorrow – less than 12 miles and I’ll be done.

As I reflect back one of the things that’s struck me the most, and particularly in the first days I feel like it’s all I thought about, is the weight that I was carrying. The weight made all the difference to how fast or slow, painless or painful my journey was.

The pack I will carry tomorrow is not the pack that I started with on Day One. Things that I thought were important, or even essential have been jettisoned left, right and centre. Why? Because I couldn’t sustain carrying the weight if I wanted to move forward and reach my objective. I could have held on to all of those things if I just downed tools and said, ‘I’m not going a step further’. But if I wanted to keep moving towards Robin Hood’s Bay, stuff had to go. I couldn’t carry it all.

Sometimes someone literally shared my load for a short time, at other times it was words and messages of encouragement that kept me moving and gave me strength, but that never changed the fact that I was carrying unnecessary baggage and it was killing me. And so I had to sort through and make decisions about what to discard. What was important and worth hanging on to,  and what was unnecessary and slowing me down?

So with all of us. But especially so with the lads In2Out supports. They are after all often still children. They often carry huge invisible burdens that no one, let alone a young person, should have to carry and yet more often than not they don’t have someone to share or ‘carry’ their burden for even a time. Or someone to be beside them to make an inventory and help them sort their baggage and start to make decisions about what is worth keeping and what is slowing them down, or at worst bringing them to a complete standstill. Things like failure, useless, abused, typical, waste of space, neglected, disappointment. No one should have to carry those things, but each one can be like a mill stone.

Amongst other things we try to equip lads for the journey they’re on. Sometimes that might be with new skills or qualifications, but more important is what we try to do to help them understand who they really are, discover the strengths they never knew they had and what items they do and don’t need in their backpack for the journey ahead.

I’ve been so blessed to have so many amazing people around me on this journey, who’ve carried and encouraged and sustained me when things were tough. I wouldn’t be so close to finishing now without that support. Doesn’t everyone deserve that?

(Egton Bridge)

Day 11 – Ingleby. Cross to Blakey Ridge – 21 miles/34 km

To be honest I wasn’t very hopeful for today and set of around 8 am with some trepidation. However, within the first 200 metres I came across an honesty box beside a cottage selling great lumps of flapjacks – date and walnut to be precise. Like Brexit, that flapjack was the gift that keeps on giving – getting me through the whole day. I kept going at it, but it never seemed to get smaller! Until eventually it did and I finished the last morsel within sight of my destination – the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge – 21 miles and 9 hrs after leaving Ingleby Cross.

In fact, the morning was as bad, and probably quite a bit worse, than I’d expected. I was in a whole world of pain and though thankfully the tarmac of yesterday was replaced by country paths and amazing scenery, there was also over 1000 metres of steep ascent. There were also plenty of knee splitting, blister busting descents!

(Approaching the Wain Stones)

But seeing Roseberry Topping with the sea behind, and Middlesbrough close by gave me a boost that I was on home turf and nearing the end of the journey.

As I was planning to take a break at Clay Bank, almost 13 miles in, and as this is not too far from where we live, Evelyne came up in the car with a coffee and some cakes and encouragement. And more plasters!

At that moment I didn’t really know whether I could go further. I was thoroughly discouraged and in danger of letting the mornings struggles dictate my afternoon. Part of me wanted to stop at Clay Bank and lick my wounds – not literally. So I had to slap myself, (again not literally) and say to myself, ‘ OK, I’ll eat, take more pain killers, do a bit of needle work on the blisters (if you know what I mean), bandage everything up again, change socks and give it a try’.

And miraculously I seemed to have new energy and masses less pain and almost flew the 8.5 miles across the moors to Blakey Ridge, skirting above Farndale (below) on the way.

Our friends Tony and Janet came up to meet me and treated me to a lovely meal at the Lion Inn. They even brought a flask of tea so I could have a drink while I put the tent up! Thanks T & J !

Incidentally, camping here costs £2.50 and you get a real towel for the shower! It’s very windy up here, so I think it’s going to be a noisy night.

So thanks for all the encouragement and prayers. I really needed it today and it got me through.

Today, Aiden, one of our lads was offered a place on a safety course which is a starting point for all sorts of construction work. You’d think that was good, right? But his first reaction was, ‘I can’t do it. I won’t be able to. I was rubbish at school’. He was ready to turn it down because of what had happened in the past.

10 mins later he was saying, ‘I might be able to do it, I’ll give it a try’. What had made the difference was his mentor encouraging him to look beyond his past and to catch a glimpse of the potential that he has. It worked. He caught a glimpse of something someone else had pointed to and that was enough. Small, painful steps sometimes, but always significant, because each one is a step in the right direction.

Day 10 – Colburn to Ingleby Cross -18.5 miles/30 km

That was a tough day, but I made it… at some cost.

I managed to set off at 7am this morning and was soon heading under the A1 which was already busy. After Catterick Bridge and a few pretty villages beyond I was soon into the no mans land of flat land, large farms and no footpaths between there and Danby Wiske near to Northallerton. It was really hard going walking on the road with my already fragile feet. In fact maybe 80% of today has been on tarmac or a near relative.

After about 10 miles I had my first glimpse of the Cleveland Hills and knew that was my destination. It didn’t draw me in much to be honest. It felt so far away.

But I’m here now at Ingleby Cross at the foot of the hills and heading up onto them tomorrow. My mate Steve came over to bring some needed supplies of plasters, different socks and some food, but in my never ending quest to reduce weight, I think I sent him back with more than he brought. Anyway, it was great to catch up and have someone to talk to after a pretty lonely day on the road. A couple of my fellow travellers of the last week or so are ahead of me now and the rest are behind.

Actually, I’m really quite worried about my feet, which are not in great shape, partly through attrition and partly through new friction points leading to blisters from a day on the tarmac like today. I’ll spare you a photo, but it’s not pretty. Ask Steve.

Instead here’s a picture to represent them.

Whatever happens I will have to deal with them if I hope to get anywhere tomorrow.

The most terrifying moment of the day was crossing the A19 – not by bridge or tunnel – just straight across. Oh and I also crossed the East coast mainline. See above.

Today’s challenge really was just to keep going when I wanted to stop. What kept me going, beyond all the reasons that you know for why I’m doing this was the thought that if I stopped moving I simply wouldn’t get to where I needed to be to meet Steve. The distance would still be there ahead and I would be stuck back there, and my feet would still hurt.

So, I kept going forward, even when it hurt. I gritted my teeth, found some momentum and went again, until eventually I arrived.

We’ll all be familiar with trying to get some kids to go for a hike. Lots of complaining, ‘where are we going, it’s too far, can we go back now’ etc. (Obviously, my own kids are nothing like this, but you know what I mean). It’s hard to motivate yourself for something you can’t quite see where it’s leading or what’s in it for you.

Our lads often feel like it ‘just hurts’ to keep moving forwards. Life is tough sometimes, but we try to encourage them to have hopes and dreams, sometimes as simple as staying out of trouble, or making their Mum proud. That can be their motivation to keep moving forwards, however slowly, because each step forward is one step closer to that goal, however painful that individual step might be. Something else for me to remember tomorrow!

It’s potentially a 20 miler up onto the moors to Blakey Ridge. At this moment I don’t know whether I can manage that. I can hardly walk to the toilet. But I’ll give it a go. But whether I make it that far or not I have to keep moving forward.

Day 9 – Reeth to Nr. Brompton-on-Swale – 14 miles/22.5 km

Day 9 complete! And a completely different day from all the others. I’ve very definitely left the Pennines way behind and I’m now into the rolling farmland that starts above Richmond and is likely to be my lot for all of tomorrow until I cross the A19 and head towards the Cleveland Hills and the North York Moors.

But, this morning was woods full of flowers and streams and rivers, and lots of gun fire from the army ranges around Catterick…

…until around lunchtime I arrived above Richmond.

It looked miles away, but was only 2, and I was soon there feeling a little out of place amongst all the people and cars. But…there was a Gregg’s with a Belgium bun with my name on it and my first coffee in 5 days. I sat in the shade of the church and had my lunch knowing I probably only had another 3 or 4 miles to do.

The original plan had been to stop near Richmond, but as I’d only done 10 miles or so I decided to keep going to make tomorrow’s otherwise 23 miles a bit shorter.

I’m now camped in the garden of a lovely B&B on the outskirts of Brompton with 2 dogs at my feet and not only tea and cake from the owner, but a real towel to use in the shower! It was such a nice change from using my quick dry travel towel which is a bit like a big chamois leather.

Even with my gains today, tomorrow will be a long trot to Ingleby Cross. I feel good but my feet are a bit of a mess. I’m wearing more compeed than skin at the moment!

My colleague Sue, who did the C2C a few years ago (sorry Sue, I didn’t find your lost flip-flops in Richmond) reminded me not to forget to look back now and then and recognise how far I’ve travelled. It was a good reminder.

To be honest I’m often looking at my feet or up ahead, trying to see the next landmark or signpost, trying to get to the next place, but when I do look back it really is amazing to see how far I’ve come. For almost a day of walking we could still see Kidsty Pike in the Lake District where the snow storm struck, getting smaller and smaller until it was finally lost. And villages that I’ve just left less than an hour ago soon disappear in a fold of the landscape – gone, done.

I can’t see St. Bees, the Lake District, the Pennines or even Richmond anymore, but I know that they are there, way, way behind. It might feel like another lifetime, even if it was only a few days ago, but they are done, I came through (with a lot of pain!) and I don’t need to do them again. Seeing what’s been achieved so far gives me confidence for tomorrow and the next days. If I can do that, I can do this.

Our lads are no different. Joe had to be reminded how much he’d achieved in his first 12 months out of prison. He found it easy to look at what hadn’t happened, or what he hadn’t achieved, but it took his mentor reminding him of all the things he had done, or gone through and come out stronger, for him to finally realise how far he’d actually come. It gave him new confidence to look forward into a new chapter with hope, and not backwards with regret.

It’s important to look forward, not least to see where we’re going. But forward can sometimes be daunting and looking back on where we’ve come from can be what gives us the confidence to keep moving forward whatever challenges lie ahead.

Ingleby Cross – here I come!

Day 8 – Keld to Reeth – 11 miles/18km

It was another very cold night last night in Keld! Wearing all my clothes inside the sleeping bag helped.

But Keld is a beautiful hamlet (no mobile reception for a 4 mile radius) and great place to camp. Just beside the river and a lovely waterfall. Apparently, in the summer there are swarms of midgies. I knew there was an upside to it being so cold.

Still, the day has been warm and sunny, even a bit hot during the afternoon. Perfect for a walk and for drying socks hanging off the back of the bag.

As a day it was one of the shortest and easiest on the whole route apparently. It was a bit like a rest day – just an 11 mile ramble, although at one point the path was so narrow and the drop to one side so precipitous I unclipped the waistband of my rucksack…just in case I slipped and wanted to get it of quickly before it took me to the bottom of the ravine!

It was also my first day going solo, although inevitably you meet up with, and leap frog, different people or groups throughout the day, depending on their pace and rhythm of taking breaks. There are the plodders that never stop and the speedier ones that stop regularly. I’m probably in the second category.

(Ruins of Crackpot Hall!)

Lunch was beside the river. And I found a Gigantoproductus. Yes, I know. How exciting!

For the few of you who don’t already know, that’s basically a really, really old clam. How do I know this, as I know nothing about fossils? Well, not 10 mins after finding it and still wondering if I’d ever discover what it was, I saw a man kneeing on the ground ahead with a small hammer, tapping rocks. Low and behold a geologist! He knew everything there was to know about rocks and the like and we chatted for about 15 mins. My only dilemma now is whether to keep it, as it weighs a lot.

So, my first solo day complete. I got on the road at a reasonable time without leaving anything behind, didn’t get lost, (even stopped someone else from heading way off track), bought enough food and water for the day and made it in good time to Reeth. It’s different being on your own. There’s no one to check in with, to test your idea about where you are on the map or encourage you on when you’re flagging. No one to help you put your tent up.

Our lads also need to step out on their own – do things that they haven’t done before – to prove to themselves that they can do it. It might be as simple as getting a doctor’s appointment or going to the Job Centre. Maybe we’ll need to help them the first time, but the next time we’ll challenge them to do it themselves. They don’t always rise to the challenge the first time, but when they do they always have a real sense of achievement. It’s small steps, but our plan is always to move them from dependence to independence, so that in time they won’t need a mentor. But you don’t just become independent like that. You need to practice with others until you start to believe you can do it yourself.

I’m glad it went OK going solo today… and now I know I can do it again tomorrow.

Day 7 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld – 14.5 miles/23 km

Today I reached the halfway point at Keld (Hooray!) and finally entered Yorkshire (nice to be home after being in foreign parts for a week) – where I’ll stay until the end of the walk.

The day was described as a day of bogs. Leg sucking, black gloopy bogs, known for flooding boots, soaking feet and generally being unpleasant. As someone who loves a challenge my cousin Chris arrived in Kirkby Stephen at around 9am and we soon set off for the day with only 108 miles to go. Thankfully not all today.

As you can see it was a glorious day and having lost the gaiters during the backpack cull I opted for shorts to keep my trousers clean, just in case anything went wrong in the bogs. What could go wrong?

It doesn’t look nice and wasn’t, but I feel like I got off lightly having lost my leg down a hidden sink hole almost to my knee. A quick sock change and we were off again and still that pair of nice clean trousers in the backpack 😉

Up to the top of Nine Standards Rigg and 360 degree views of the Lakes and Pennines.

Chris was a gent and carried my pack for an hour. I felt I could almost run up the slopes without my backpack, which is getting lighter by the day, and maybe I’m getting stronger. You’d hope so by now!

All in all it was a beautiful stroll into beautiful Swaledale and the sun is bathing the sheep dotted hillsides around my tent as I write. Memories of snow are long gone 🙂

Being with my cousin that I spent a lot of time with growing up we inevitable talked as we walked about our childhoods and upbringing and the like. We had great experiences of both and it’s positively shaped who we are today. And it was just good to spend time with him again. Adding a new positive experience to both our stories.

It’s a very different story for the majority of our lads. Don’t get me wrong there are often good memories there, but there also a lot of negative ones. Experiences are like a see-saw. What you have weighed on each side can decide how you view and approach life – positively or negatively.

Today Chris literally carried my burden for while – he looked really uncomfortable…only joking Chris 😉 – but it was massive for me. Suddenly I wasn’t thinking about my blisters or knee or back. I was just walking and enjoying.

Sadly, sometimes their mentor is the ONLY person a lad can off-load to. We all need a break sometimes. And we all need the opportunity to create new positive memories to add to the see-saw.

Highlight of the day? Other than the stunning scenery and great company and the fact that not everything hurt?

A FAB ice lolly at the campsite! This one’s for you Tris 🙂