Day 6 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen – 20.5 miles/33 km

No snow today 🙂

It was a bit of a slog though – almost 21 miles. But it was a beautiful slog. We set off early (8am) with (again) sodden tents and boots from yesterday and the rain during the night. It was close to 0 degrees during the night. Tris and I had both run out of dry socks, which is not a good thing at the start of a long day.

But there were none of the knee crunching, blister popping, back breaking, shoulder slicing ascents and descents today. Just a really, really long walk through limestone pavements, moors and farm land with lots of sheep. By the way, I’m thinking about starting a blog about breeds of sheep on the Coast to Coast walk. And maybe a calendar with Breed of the Month.

But the views of the Pennines for the whole day were breathtaking, which makes a welcome change from the ascents being breathtaking!

We stumbled into Kirkby Stephen around 5pm, out of water and out of energy…already thinking about putting up the soggy tent, finding a washing machine and some way to dry our wet clothes from yesterday, walking back into town to get some food…to find the best surprise of all, my wife and kids all set up on the campsite in our big tent! How amazing!

Tris set off home to Bath 30 mins later once he’d refuelled on tea. It was great to have him join for the last 3 days. He got me through some really difficult stages and was great company.

Today, despite being tired and sore we were constantly energised by the unfolding landscape around us. It’s easy to forget how important ‘the land’ and by that I mean God’s creation is to our spirit.

Many of our lads have little or no experience of this. Whenever we can we take them outside the town or city and just walk in the countryside. They are always amazed by it and feel positively different during and afterwards. In February myself and Rob took Bryn up Roseberry Topping near Middlesbrough. It was a cold, clear day and having got to the top and down again. Bryn said, ‘Do we have time to do it again?’ So off he went running to the top again just for the joy of it!

Today was a slog, but a joyful one (most of the time), full of wonder and amazement. Tris has already made it back home to his family and I am here with mine.

Bring on tomorrow!

Day 5 – Patterdale to Shap – 16 miles/26 km

Snow on May 10th? YES. Don’t worry, you’re not reading yesterday’s post. But yes, there was snow and lots of it. Mostly blasting in our faces on the approach to the summit of Kidsty Pike.

The day started so hopeful with a lovely morning in Patterdale. The cuckoo that sang us to sleep last night woke us up again to blue skies and sun!

It didn’t last long.

After losing our way as the snow closed in (probably adding at least half a mile of tramping) we made it to the top at almost 800 metres – or 2500 feet in old money. Thankfully, it was downhill to Haweswater Reservoir. Sadly, the decent was a knee crunching one, and as Tris had badly bruised his toe kicking a step (accidentally, I think) at the Youth Hostel where we’d camped, it was pretty painful for both of us and we were relieved to reach the lakeside. And it stopped raining or snowing.

Leaving the lakeside was like leaving the Lake District. The landscape suddenly changed and we could look back at the hills we’d come across in the last days slipping slowly into the background.

Still with 5.5 miles to go and realising our water was running low we asked an old man working in his garden if we could refill which he happily did. 2 minutes later hidden at the bottom of a stile we found the most surprising honesty box – full of goodies.

All the chocolate is in the red box. Not wanting to add any more weight to our already tired legs we pressed on towards Shap.

It’s been a really long day, but I’m through the Lake District. No other words than it’s been really, really tough, but beautiful as well. And I know why I’m doing it.

During the day one of my colleagues sent me a message she’d just received.

Thanks to all you that have left comments and messages of encouragement. I can’t reply to them, but I read them all and each one helps me along. I realise I’m not on this journey alone. It reminds me that I’m not going through all this pain and suffering for nothing 🙂

(Patterdale)

Last night the skies cleared. The hills looked fresh and washed clean as they can only do in the Lake District and the higher peaks were still touch by the last rays of the sun going down. After the storm of the day, everything was peaceful. Beautiful.

Day 4 – Grasmere to Patterdale – 7.5 miles/11 km

Snow on 9th May? Yes! 100 metres above us on the top of St. Sunday Crag and sleet driving horizontally into our faces below.

Don’t believe a manufacturer that says their clothing is 100% waterproof. Ours wasn’t! Wet suits might have done it. Temperature estimate? 1 degree plus a negative wind chill from the 40 mile an hour wind blowing in our faces.

Tris didn’t get the memo about joining me for 3 days to carry my backpack, so it was me and my stuff that survived the cull of last night. I stopped short of sawing my toothbrush in half.

After the relatively short (compared to other days) drag to Grisedale Tarn above Grasmere it was more or less downhill all the way to Patterdale near Ullswater. But the last 2 miles did their usual trick of feeling like 6. Still, it was the easiest day so far! Phew. Because tomorrow’s a long hard one to Shap. 15.5 miles and covering 1,300 of elevation. It’s making me stressed just thinking about it. I’ve got some blisters that I’m struggling to manage and my right knee feels stiff. Oh, and the backpack is still really heavy.

One day at a time and we always start from today. Two things that we often need to remind the lads we support. Looking too far ahead can be daunting and can steal from something positive that’s going on today. And endlessly mulling over yesterday’s struggles or failures doesn’t help anyone, unless you are drawing something positive from it. Our lads are used to being reminded, not least by themselves, but also by others, of their short-comings and failures. We remind them yesterday is gone and today is something new and an opportunity to break free from yesterday. Until they start to believe this for themselves it can be crippling for them moving forward. At worst it can stop you even getting out of bed in the morning.

I’ll try and remember that tomorrow when it’s time to wake up.

(Our tents at YHA Patterdale)

Day 3 – Rosthwaite to Grasmere – 9.5 miles/15 km

James has only been out of prison for a few weeks before he called his mentor crying, ‘I can’t do it. It’s too hard. I just want to go back to prison’.

As you know I’ve been having my ‘It’s too hard’ moments these last days. When I’m thinking like that, I’d just like to go home where it’s warm and safe and where I feel in control.

It was the same for James. I don’t think it was physical, but it was certainly emotionally. He’d reached his limit, hit his wall and couldn’t imagine how to go on. So he wanted to return to his safe place – jail. I’ll let you think that one through yourselves.

It’s amazing what a nights sleep can do. Thanks so much for all the encouragement and prayers. They worked.

It rained all day today. Fine drizzle. Soggy mist. Driving horizontal darts. But the scenery – what we could see of it was stunning. And the sheep were friendly…mostly. There was another staircase climb up to nearly 600 metre and then a seemingly endless decent into Grasmere. The rocks were very slippery and we ended up ankle deep in bogs multiple times.

But the breakthrough was today we swapped backpacks – don’t worry, just the bags, not all the stuff inside – so I could see whether I wanted to keep Evelyne’s bag once she leaves tomorrow. The answer was YES. It’s better and more supportive than mine and with the cull that happened in the tent tonight I’m hoping to drastically reduce my weight. I say drastic, but what I mean is a kilo or two. But when you’re at the limit that might make all the difference. Tonight we collect my good friend Tris who is joining me for the next 3 days. From a conversations I just had with him I fear we might have to kit him out with water proofs in Grasmere before setting off tomorrow!

(The descent into Grasmere)

Oh, and by the way, James didn’t go back to prison that day or that week. His mentor told him that he was doing really well and talked through the things that were really bothering him. She reminded him that prison wasn’t his home – that that was still to find, but it wasn’t behind a barbed wire fence. He shared his burden and she helped him remove a couple of items from his backpack. It made all the difference.

Day 2 – Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite – 16 miles/26 km

We made it again. But only just and a lot more only just than yesterday. Amazing scenery along Ennerdale Water, but long, long climbs and one in particular above YHA Black Sail that nearly did for me!

I had so many moments when I just wanted to put my backpack down and stop. But I knew it wasn’t an option. I just had to grit my teeth and keep going. But it HURT! Really hurt. What saved me today, apart from Evelyne again, was a cup of tea with a lucozade chaser and a peanut flapjack at the Honnister Slate Mine! Oh and the driving rain stopping.

The moral of the story – strip the weight down to the absolute minimum otherwise I am not going to make it to the end. I thought I’d already done this, but I’m getting more militant by the day.

Anyway, the world seems OK just at this moment. The tent is up, we’re in a pretty little pub in the tiny hamlet of Stonethwaite and we’re warm! And I don’t have my backpack on.

Praying for supernatural physical restoration before tomorrow 🙂 I need it.

Day 1 – St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge – 15 miles/24 km

We (My wife Evelyne, who is walking with me for the first 3 days and me) made it! I feel, just made it. But they all count!

Having left our car ‘safely’ in Grasmere last night, until we get back there on Wednesday and taken the bus to Whitehaven, we took the train to St. Bees this morning. I didn’t sleep too well. A mix of excitement and trepidation I suppose. A completely new challenge, a new journey to places I’d not been. Would I make it? Was I strong enough, fit enough to carry everything I have to carry? To make it through 192 miles?

Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a walk. We started on the beach in true C2C style. The first few miles from St Bees head north along the coastal path. It was stunning! The sun, the flowers, the sea birds, and of course the sea. The hills of Galloway were in the north, the Isle of Man was floating out there to the west, Scafell Pike (highest mountain in England) was beckoning to the east and Sellafield nuclear power station was ‘glowing’ to the south. But beautiful as it was those first 4.5 miles were hard, because we weren’t heading east towards Robin Hoods Bay, we were heading north, back to the outskirts of Whitehaven where we’d just left.

We’d hope for a nice bakers or at least a newsagent in one of dreary nondescript villages we passed through in the morning. (I’ve already forgotten what they were called) Somewhere to buy some lunch. But nothing. Closed for the bank holiday. So we kept going. Finishing all our snacks and flask of tea by the top of Dent Hill. Amazing views, tortuously steep climb to get there.

EVERYTHING aches! My rucksack is too heavy. But we made it. The tents are up in the garden of the pub, we’ve showered at the cafe, (yes, the cafe), eaten and washed up and we are ready for bed. There were definitely a few moments when I was having mutinous thoughts, like, ‘would it be cheating to flag down a car and get a lift the last couple of miles’, things like that – but they passed quickly with a bit of encouragement from Evelyne and we made it! Day One – Check ☑️

And what made the difference today? How did I keep going when I so wanted to stop? Evelyne. It was having someone with me to keep pushing and encouraging. Of course it worked both ways. We need supportive people around us if we are going to succeed at anything.

As lads leave prison they also have a lot of emotions going on. It’s one of the reasons they are often kept on the wing or in their pad (cell) the day before release. There’s too much going on for them to cope with the normal life of the prison as well. Of course, excitement is often there. Who wants to live in a prison? But there’s also often fear. What will life be like, how will they cope? Memories of past failures. What might make it different this time?

Imagine heading out into a world that’s not your friend, without the proper training or resources and more often than you’d think, no one there to support and encourage you. Their first few days are sometimes like my first few hours today – excited, the sun shining, happy to be walking free, but just like me, soon the weight began to press and only got worse as the day wore on. It was only because I had someone there to say, ‘Keep going. You can do this’, that I got to the end of the day. That’s the same difference that having an In2Out mentor can make for the lads we support. It’s not rocket science – it’s really simple.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I’m hoping for a good nights sleep and not to wake up aching all over – but at least I made it through today.

Preparation is everything…

Well, there is little under a month to go before my ‘real’ journey starts. And I suppose that’s the question with all journey’s – when do they really start and when are they finished? (Answers on a postcard). I feel like I’ve already been on this journey for a while – deciding as a team that we wanted to do something different this year to raise awareness and funds for the work of In2Out; realising that as the boss I needed to lead the way; learning about the Coast to Coast path that crosses the North of England where we support most of our lads; telling people that I was doing it so that there would be no turning back; starting to plan and realising what a logistical challenge it was going to be; starting to train and realising what a physical challenge it was going to be (!); and beginning to gather sponsorship and encouragement in equal measure from friends, family, church and neighbours.

Even with all this that’s gone before – I still don’t really know what I’m going to find when I step out on the path. But I’m counting on the fact that all the preparation and planning will pay off in the end.

And it’s no different for the lads we support as they prepare to leave prison. Just that EVERYTHING is so much harder. I can read a map and a guidebook and understand what I need to do at each stage of the journey. I can call on my past experience and just about as much encouragement and support as anyone could want. I can go out on the roads and hills around my home and train and test my equipment – not forgetting that I can afford all the right equipment in the first place. But for the most part our lads are lacking ALL of these things. And they are heading out into a much, much wilder environment than anything I’ll experience even on the most windswept, rain-lashed fell of the Lake District.

And so while they are still in prison we come beside them and commit to go on their journey with them. We help them begin to understand some of their past experiences and start to draw positive lessons that they can use later. We start to help them unpack their backpack – one they wear all the time – so that in time they might be able to lay down some of the weights they carry around from their past. We help them fix their eyes on the horizon – maybe a hope or dream they have – a vision they will often suppress because they have no idea of how to get there. Sometimes we will show them the map and guidebook we have, and if they want we will teach them how to use them – hoping that in time they will develop their own. But most of all we give them as much encouragement and support as we can – because if you’ve been starved of these things you are ravenously hungry for them!

Like any journey there is a long lead-up and preparation to leaving prison and returning to the community and then the need for on-going support. Without it we can expect them to fail – just as I know I would fail if I set out on my journey without everything that has gone before.