Eastbound to East Anglia

Stage 211, 26th October: King’s Lynn to Old Hunstanton

With a change of county came a change of scene, but with that scene there was a price to pay – no decent coastal route. I had tried hard to plan something close to the coast but a lack of permissive paths made this one of the most, if not the most, difficult days to find a navigable route that didn’t involve walking along the edge of a busy major road or deliberate trespassing. After about five failed map staring attempts I settled for some side roads and one potential trespass, it would have to do.

I started out with a pleasant little jaunt through the thriving wealthy villages of South and North Wootton with some teenagers warming up for their Sunday morning football and dog walkers out in droves. Paths and side streets took me slowly inland to the edge of the Sandringham Estate and a quick well-worn woodland walk before I returned to the lanes coastwards again to Wolferton and its immaculately tended but long closed former royal railway station. From here the route through to Snettisham was, as expected, marked with the usual English disease of ‘Private‘ signs at the open gateway to a clear and well maintained concrete farm track. With the prospect of a good eight mile back tracking diversion, I had little option other than to ignore the sign. My involuntary trespass through farmland belonging to the Sandringham Estate, sorry ma’am, was a brief one and a mile later I was on RSPB land at Snettisham and in the reassuring company of Sunday lunchtime twitchers. They were a welcome sight with their long lenses and I was just mightily relieved to see them and not a Duke with his long barrel.


Things became much easier from here on and I was able to stick to the sandy shingle sea front at Heacham and on towards the archetypal seaside town of Hunstanton. A few low eroding cliffs with dozens of fossil collectors scrambling about in the freshly fallen stone tempted me to have a delve too, but with so many other pairs of eyes hunting I thought the area had probably been well sifted. Besides, a large and very visible crack in the cliff face dissuaded me and I couldn’t help but cast a worrying wince at both the adults and children poking and prodding their way through the rock immediately beneath the cliff.

Stage 212, 27th October: Old Hunstanton to Holkham Gap

I now had the luxury of a well-marked coast path again as the Norfolk Coast Path made its entrance. It was half-term week for many and the sunshine brought families out in their masses. Campsites were busy and I had a sneaky but unfounded fear that Sharpie might struggle to get us a pitch for a few nights.

In seeing so many people, a friendly “good morning” was commonplace but chats were almost non-existent. One brief chat with a former sports injury doctor brought a small donation for the charities and cheered me immensely, but with families and strolling couples now much more commonplace than serious walkers and hikers, such conversations and thus donations were becoming increasingly rare.

Overall the day was one of huge scenic variation. None of it I would call spectacular but none of it was dull either and I enjoyed the changes under foot as I switched from dunes to reed-bed board walks, sea-banks to roads and gravel paths to sandy beaches. Though it was still very flat, Norfolk seemed far more adventurous and family friendly than the Lincolnshire Fens and boredom was not an issue.

I was keenly and almost religiously now following the Norfolk Coast Path and a seemingly unnecessary duck inland at Thornham took me temptingly passed the pub and restaurant of a celebrity chef tucked in among the equally upmarket and aesthetically pleasing flint and brick cottages.


A return to the coast took me along a narrow board-walk edging the reeds and Brancaster where I met up with Sharpie who had run back seven miles to meet up. We idly chatted and almost ambled our way along in the warm late afternoon sunshine and came across the wide and beautiful open fine sand of Holkham Bay. With the clocks having gone back at the weekend the evenings were drawing in and the light faded as we walked into our farmyard campsite and a clear night sky full of stars.


Stage 213, 28th October: Holkham Gap to Sheringham

Another grand autumn day brought out more hoards of half-term strolling families and the woodland walk around the headland was a brief respite from the crowds before I made my way down the sea-bank South towards Wells next the Sea. The harbour walls were lined with supervised children dipping lines into the water and filling buckets with crabs. The sheer numbers of people around had made opportunities for privately draining off two cups of breakfast tea an impossibility and the appearance of a public loo was a huge relief to the increasing possibility of an embarrassing and very public accident.

Out of Wells I made for Stiffkey and a mystery circle on my map which had been pointed out to me by a friend on Twitter. The circle was a strip of tarmac about a hundred metres in circumference and the mystery was solved at lunchtime when another Tweet from a follower provided a good and plausible explanation. Apparently the tarmac was a launching strip built by the US Air Force in the 1950s for remotely controlled experimental aircraft (prototype drones) to be launched at full throttle from a tether connecting it to a central post and swivel. I couldn’t help but think how ingenious things were before the digital age and how practical engineering solutions were once at the forefront of exciting development and not perceived as a disruptive and unnecessarily expensive cost as they seem to be in this modern management driven world. The ‘Whirlygig’ was a relic of our recent inquisition and a sign that ingenuity was once highly regarded.

Blakeney was even more popular than Wells and a sea-bank walk around the point involved crossing paths with a continual stream of ambling families. As I dipped inland away from the point the very pretty and probably very expensive Cley next the Sea followed before it was back out to the coast and a long shingle beach grind down towards Sheringham.


After five miles of trying to find a firm surface underfoot I got fed up of the shingle. I saw that the huge piles of cobbles and pebbles reached right up the cliff face, so I went up and made my way for the relative comfort of a cliff-top path. As I reached the top I caught two men out of the corner of my eye approaching at marching speed from my right. I didn’t fancy the ignominy of being overtaken so I stopped for a few seconds to fake a map check and let them through. I looked up briefly as they strode on through without giving me a glance.

“Cox? Sharp? You…….!” I called out in surprise.

A pair of sheepish grinning faces turned to give a slightly breathless greeting as JH and Sharpie had spent the last mile or so chasing me down the beach having over-stayed whilst imbibing a few ales in the local hostelry and waiting for my arrival. A great surprise to have another friend join us for the evening was added to by the extra treats of a room at a very comfy B&B plus a few more jars and a meal in another hostelry nearby. This surprise was a very welcome one indeed.


A challenge to sanity

Stage 208, 22nd October: Freiston Shore to Fosdyke Bridge

Thankfully the wind had dropped overnight to a stiff breeze and though it was chilly it wasn’t anything uncomfortable and certainly nothing to worry about. On the other hand, I was worried about having to walk mile upon mile of grass topped sea-bank and I knew it would last more than the odd day.

To start the day I had an experience, which I suspected, could only happen in Britain. The nice grassy open footpath aimed straight at and then took me right through the middle of a prison. It wasn’t edged with twenty-foot high fencing nor was it edged with any fencing, or security gates, or check points of any kind. I couldn’t see any CCTV, nor could I see any prison officers. But I did have a little chat with an inmate who thought my appearance a little peculiar, though not unheard of. He questioned whether the prison authorities were wise to allow free access like mine as anyone could bring drugs in. I apologised for not having any on me and decided it might be best if I got out pretty quickly before they thought my stick was a weapon and my rucksack was actually an escapees kit. As I crossed back into civvie street I just checked a few things: Camera, phone, wallet, Tedz. All were present and correct.

Not long afterwards the sea-bank turned right and headed up The Haven following the river Withern to Boston. I nipped into town for a scene change and a pie from Greggs before making for the top of the Macmillan Way, a 286 mile long distance trail running Southwest to Abbotsbury – a place I visited back in week two. It wasn’t a great start to the trail though neither was it grand for me in trying to head back down the other bank of The Haven as the footpath was closed and I had to find my own diversion around an unloved and unkempt industrial estate.


Back on the sea-bank I made my way around Frampton Marsh and bumped into a birdwatching couple who showed me a very rare bird whose name I immediately forgot. Instead I carried on, clueless to the value of my sighting, as the curving bank straightened to make its way up the River Welland and a meeting with Aaron for a rare, swift and truly tasty beer in The Ship at Fosdyke Bridge. It didn’t count as the best pint of the trip so far, but certainly the best half.

Stage 209, 23rd October: Fosdyke Bridge to Sutton Bridge

Days with nothing to look at can seriously drag. Days with a flat almost bleak landscape have always tested my mental fortitude. Days with nothing but level never-ending featureless path also seem to exaggerate my physical niggles and I had spent the last week getting increasingly worried about the condition of my left Achilles. It had been tender since I slipped down a hole in Southwest Scotland but had recently become quite sore and taken to occasionally sending a ripping / stabbing pain right through my foot and ankle. I’d been telling myself that it was psychosomatic and so far it seemed to have worked. Nonetheless I called upon the ibuprofen that hadn’t seen a proper outing for anything more than a headache since I solved my foot discomfort back in June. Fingers were crossed.

With the exception of a couple of miles of tarmac skirting the RAF bombing range it was sea-bank all the way. Sea? I could barely see it. Occasional glimpses of distant sand and mud banks in the distance were the best I got and if it wasn’t for a couple of brief chats with some workmen replacing a sluice gate and Biddy walking his two rescued greyhounds I might have just forgotten today. The sky was grey, the scene was bland and it was all exceptionally flat. A gang picking vegetables in a nearby field didn’t cheer the mood. They all look thoroughly dismayed and resembled an enslaved chain gang. I assumed they weren’t, but I couldn’t help wondering if they really had any choice.

The red flags flying on the range gave me hope that I might be able to watch some aircraft practising their bombing. They did, but I only know that because I heard them about two hours later when I was halfway up the River Welland and long gone. Today was just a shame all round really. At least the woman at Bramley Caravan & Camping Park gave us a generous and welcome night parked in the peace of their orchard.


Stage 210, 24th October: Sutton Bridge to King’s Lynn

From Sutton Bridge it was back down the opposite bank of the River Welland and more, yes more, sea-bank. I was now following the Peter Scott Way. I think that a founder of the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) deserved more of a spectacular path than these soulless miles but he probably got this one for also being a founder of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. Yes I saw plenty of geese and a pretty marsh harrier, but without far-reaching binoculars I couldn’t name anything else.


The view inland was of a farming landscape on an industrial scale. The fields were vast tracts of unbroken cultivation with barely a hedgerow or rough inch of grassland to offer any sanctuary to wildlife. I reckon I had probably been exposed to more chemicals in an agricultural setting than I had through all the Teeside and Humberside chemical works put together. All this so that we get nice even perfect looking but tasteless vegetables at a ridiculously cheap price that is 1p a kilo cheaper than the rival supermarket next door.

Once again I got brief glimpses of sand banks and mud on the seaward side but barely any of the salty wet liquid. Now in Norfolk, I headed inland again from Admiralty Point and up the Lynn Channel towards King’s Lynn. It was a huge relief to see something other than ploughed fields and flat marshes but the crowds of people were aliens again even though I was the one who undoubtedly looked more alien and maybe even a little trampish too. Trivial conversations were fascinating to overhear even though many seemed ridiculously banal. Civilisation was back again and it was very much welcomed in King’s Lynn.

Rest Day, 25th October: Nr King’s Lynn

Having dropped Aaron off at the station with my warmest thanks to another good new friend, it was back for some shopping and a grand cooked breakfast care of one of the rivalrous supermarkets. Without the benefit of Kate around this weekend it was back to the chores of washing and cleaning and preparing for the reappearance of Sharpie and a chance to relive our ‘Max & Paddy’ week back in March. Note to self. Not so much beer this time Pete.


Miles to Date: 4,288       Height Gained: 506,908ft



Skeggy and the Fens

Rest Day, 18th October: Cleethorpes

Today was one of my few truly restful rest days. Kate stayed on an extra day and took over most of the chores as I tapped out my blog, played with a few photos and caught up on emails. By the time we had stoked up with an enormous carvery lunch and food shopped for the next week it was time to pick up Aaron, the boyfriend of my second cousin Claire and a fella I only met once briefly way back in Exmouth. If I remember rightly, I was feeling pretty grim at the time but I clearly conned him enough to want to join up and support me for a week.

The evening was a top one as Terry and Alfie, who supported me back in Cumbria, joined us for the evening. Terry’s partner Annie made up the throng and the fourth chinese meal in seven days was probably a bit of an overkill on volume for the day and monosodium glutamate for an entire year. A quick pint in the smallest pub in Britain and another week was over.

Stage 205, 19th October: Cleethorpes to Mablethorpe

It was another early start as I said a tough farewell to Kate and she made her way home to find out whether the dogs had wrecked the house in her absence. Her one week as sole driver had probably completely trashed her nerves in terms of driving a large vehicle which handles and responds like the proverbial whale. Despite the driving bit, I think she had enjoyed herself. Throughout this trip it has been just as important to me that everyone supporting me with looking after Snickers, finding stopovers and keeping camp enjoys it too. I’m not sure if I have a 100% record, but it would be lovely if I did.

A final waved farewell at distance saw me down the road, through a holiday park and around the chalets of Humberston Fitties. It was then onto the flood banks skirting Tetney Marshes Nature Reserve. This was an eight mile stretch of viewless tedium and I eventually dropped down onto the sands at Donna Nook with an optimistic hope that a few early arriving grey seals would be on the well-known breeding beach. I had been here a few times before and taken many photos of the cute newborn pups in the wind-blown sand but on this occasion I was probably a good two weeks early and the waiting ‘seal ranger’ was the only resident. So I stuck to the top of the beach and skirted the RAF bombing range.


The dune edged beach gradually became scrubland and this in turn gave way to salt marsh and samphire beds. I briefly turned inland and through the village of Saltfleet before returning to a now silty beach with the sea so far out that it felt as if I was in the middle of a featureless desert. I was half expecting a camel to walk across the horizon but the vague and distant shimmer was but a thin blue line of North Sea. The silty mud slowly became perfect holiday sand and the beach gradually narrowed to reveal a gentle surf, but Theddlethorpe was still devoid of people and, for me, that is why it has always been my favourite Lincolnshire beach.

In contrast Mablethorpe was heaving with nearly ten people playing on the sand. I think it would be fair to say that the holiday season was well and truly over.

Stage 206, 20th October: Mablethorpe to Skegness

If truth be known, I could have chosen to spend the entire day walking down the beach towards Skegness. With the beach from Theddlethorpe yesterday this would have given me well over twenty miles of continuous beach walking and a new personal best for the walk to date. However, I broke the continuity by stopping last night in Mablethorpe and after nipping into Sutton-on-Sea today for a shop stop I’m not sure whether it counts.

Sutton was a lovely little town apparently populated by large numbers of retired women all owning a mobility scooter. From what I could see they seemed to enjoy driving them around the promenade and seafront as if it were a kart track. With their personalised flowers and wicker basket touches, I couldn’t help but liken their behaviour to that of  teenagers and their “pimped-up” hot-hatches doing rubber burning donuts on a supermarket car park.

After one close brush with a scooter nearly resulted in an embarrassing injury which could have prematurely ended this walk of mine, I was glad to return to the beach. The dunes and the sea wall masked the land from my gaze and the view out to sea comprised one hundred and twenty-five wind turbines (I counted twice), twelve of which weren’t working. To be frank the rest of the day was dreary and I spent most of my time wandering the tide line on the look out for pretty shells.


My iPod kept me sane and a vast holiday camp brightened my entertainment as I approached Ingoldmells and Skegness. With the palisade fencing around it and the guard posts at the entrance gates it could easily have doubled for a prison camp. Only the smart tidy chalets and sparkly big-top gave the game away and even though I find such holiday camps completely alien to my remote cottage idyll, I admit to being curiously tempted.

Stage 207, 21st October: Skegness to Freiston Shore

With the prospect of the remnants of another hurricane passing through, I was not looking forward to a day on the exposed sea walls and banks of the fens. Fortunately the rain didn’t accompany this storm as it did when Bertha hit me back in Northwest Scotland.

I was expecting to get wet and I was expecting high wind, so I suggested to BBC Radio Lincolnshire that they might want to pre-record an interview and not try to do it live whilst shouting to each other with the white noise of a gale taking dominance. Hence Melvyn Prior gave me a good five minutes to plug my website and charity stuff whilst I munched my oatibix and sipped tea in the warmth of Snickers.


I set off through Skeggy town in full winter gear expecting to get drenched at some point. As I left town and made down the lane towards Gibraltar Point I knew that navigating my way across the fens would be less than easy. With numerous dykes, ditches, drains and rivers to cross or get around I suspected that my route planning was a bit hit and miss, with some tracks and paths looking decidedly private or inaccessible. I wasn’t wrong, the English disease of marking one’s territory with “Private” was well and truly back and my first option was not welcoming. Instead I found another decidedly dodgy route up the side of a double obstacle of river and parallel drain to find a marked footbridge heavily fenced and locked off. I crossed the drain via an Environment Agency compound advising me against trespassing and made my way up between the two water courses to attempt a crossing of the river further up. I was thwarted but a kindly Karen tending some horses showed me the best way up the main road.

Two heavy and blustery squalls hit me in quick succession as I listened in to the radio to see if my interview sounded reasonable. It didn’t sound bad and I thought I came across quite well considering how much my brain hates mornings. The A52 wasn’t a welcome sight and with the skies a heavy charcoal grey I donned my hi-viz waistcoat for the first time in months to trudge the grass verge for four miles until I could escape back down to the sea-banks near Friskney.
The afternoon comprised one long winding bank-top walk with the wind buffeting me from side to side like a late night drunk. I briefly and happily bumped into Tony, yet another coast walker, who was walking anticlockwise in sections having started in February last year in Minehead. We compared notes on involuntary and voluntary trespassing and I tried to help him with a decent route to Skegness. I’m not sure if he understood my ramblings across his wind-blown paper map, but we wished each other well and marched off in opposite directions.

To ease the last few miles of wind battering and featureless tedium I fed every horse I saw a fruit pastille. They seemed to like me and followed me till my packet was empty. I only ate one but Aaron wasn’t far away and I knew I still had a stock on board the van. Anyway, he also had a large stash of snacks and cakes to gorge on.


Up and Down The Humber

Stage 202, 15th October: Kilnsea to Paull

When I had dropped into Bridlington two days before it hadn’t really dawned on me how flat things would become. With three days to get around the Humber estuary it would become very clear that my cliff top days were pretty much history and that I would be unlikely to see another proper cliff till I reached Kent. Much though cliffs would be absent, sea-walls, flood-banks, levees and dykes would become all too common. With the boredom these can sometimes bring I worried whether I would give them the correct terminology. Little things worry little minds when one gets bored.

The first six miles of the day took me along a grass topped flood-bank until a fenced off sluice gate blocked my path and forced me inland across farmland and, I had no doubt, a bit of minor trespassing. I picked up bone straight lanes passing through places with glum Dickensian names such as Sunk Island, Bleak House Farm and Stone Creek. All morning I saw only twitchers out in their usual non-breeding all male pairs laden with long lenses and all wearing green. Though I did manage to spot a Marsh Harrier too.

I didn’t know, but apparently a clough is a steep valley or ravine. My afternoon consisted of passing several cloughs and I wouldn’t have called any of them steep valleys even in the furthest recesses of anyone’s imagination. Nonetheless I passed Firtholme, Ireland’s, Easington, Winsetts and Skeffling Cloughs. To confuse matters more Weeton Clough was marked as disused on my map. With a leaden sky and  heavy industrial backdrop over the other side of the river, all remained fairly glum. It was iPod time.

The evening lightened my mood considerably as Kate and I met up with Chris, Gwyndra and old friend Rik for a chinese meal in Hull. Not having had much chinese food, two inside a few days felt a bit of an indulgence but I wasn’t complaining. The company was grand.


Stage 203, 16th October: Paull to Goxhill Haven

From the old riverside village of Paull it was briefly back onto the flood-bank before rounding the large heavy chemical works at Salt End. I then had to find my way back to the waterfront as the working docks of Hull took control of access to the water.


After a couple of miles along the A1033 I found a path back through the docks and on to one end of the Trans Pennine Trail, which then stuck religiously to the waterfront. Indeed, it stuck so well to the edge that at one point it even took me up and over the roof of one old wharf. Old quays and rotting wooden structures abounded and I had a suspicion that the disused West Wharf would be the next candidate for a makeover.

Redevelopment was again prevalent as I approached the city centre. Neat apartment blocks modelled on old-fashioned wharves and dockside businesses took precedence before they merged with the obligatory water based attraction of ‘The Deep’ and were quickly followed by the even more obligatory out-of-town shopping complex and leisure facilities. I sadly missed the originality in design and individual identity that towns and cities across Britain once had. Yes they may have been run down, but I would have thought the planners could have chosen more than one now extremely wealthy firm of architects to remodel the landscape.

Once I had escaped the anonymous facade of Makro, the vast span of the Humber Bridge came into view properly. Getting up onto it to walk across was a puzzle, but once up I had one and a half miles of tarmac clad steel across what was once the largest single-span suspension bridge in the world, holding the record for sixteen years. It is now only seventh.


I was now in Lincolnshire and in a land I had some familiarity with, having worked and lived here for a few years in the late 1990s. I had a pleasant riverside path to follow and stayed with it until a timber yard at Barrow Haven decided to close it for some reason. I wasn’t going to argue and couldn’t sneak through unseen, so I marched the lanes and cloying muddy fields inland to find Kate parked up in a very remote spot having had an adventurous day with a fallen horse rider, a cowardly truck driver, an ambulance crew and her nursing skills. I think she won the interesting day competition.

Stage 204, 17th October: Goxhill Haven to Cleethorpes

I set out at dawn for an early start back on a dew laden flood-bank and an appointment with former colleagues and friends at one of the oil refineries on the South bank of the Humber.  Ships were unloading at North Killingholme and the noise level gradually grew as I drew close.


I diverted a little inland and the refineries were, in comparison, quiet places even if their presence seemed more awe-inspiring and a little threatening with their large flare stacks, massive tank farms, miles of twisting pipework and gently smouldering chimneys.

I arrived at reception to be met by some old friends who added the now accepted sarcastic remarks about my lack of girth and enjoyed an hour in familiar surroundings with the huge and much added bonus of a very generous donation to my chosen charities. Time and time again donations have proven to be my psychological fuel and every one – large or small – has undoubtedly given me a real lift, particularly when the walking part is a little dull or lacking in “wow” moments.


Saying my thanks and goodbyes, I reluctantly moved on. The pathless roads around Immingham weren’t so welcoming and I had to keep to grubby unkempt verges to escape the huge number of trucks exiting the port for the motorways of Britain. Eventually I rediscovered the riverside which had now become a very long narrow concrete road and sea-wall which took me alongside further heavy industry all the way to the outskirts of Grimsby with its dock entrance tower dominating the horizon and looking a bit like the “Eye of Sauron” overlooking any who enter or leave the Humber.

The back streets of Grimsby brought a semi-welcome replacement to the smell of heavy industry as fish replaced chemicals in my nostrils. Grimsby soon gave way to rows of amusements arcades and the seaside town of Cleethorpes, a place that always raises a smile in my heart as a traditional old-fashioned and ever so slightly tacky yet charming resort. The end of another week was nigh as I found Kate parked up in a campsite on the South side of town. Our third chinese of the week was probably an overindulgence this time, but at least I managed a good ice cream for dessert.



A shrinking coastline

Rest Day, 11th October: Filey

With Sue and Diesy heading off after their second full week of looking after me, I was truly in their debt….well maybe not so much Diesy’s debt. He had a great week with miles of great walks, plenty of canine friends to sniff and more than a few bonus treats.

So for a genuine change, I had quite a relaxing day as Kate was already on board and took over mothering me by doing many of the chores I had become accustomed to doing myself on changeover days. It even gave us time to nip into Filey for the evening and treat ourselves to a chinese and a good one at that.

Stage 199, 12th October: Filey to Bridlington

With another heavy dew accompanied by a low hanging mist it was down to Hummanby Sands for a brief and chilly beach stroll before dipping inland to follow the only accessible OS marked route across farmland for the villages of Reighton and Speeton. The long grass liberally soaked my lower legs and feet and my first steps through the cobwebs draped silk around my walking pole and calves like fine flowing tassels.

The sun quickly burnt the early mist away as I made my way back to the coast joining the Headland Way and a walk across the top of Bempton Cliffs, reportedly home to the largest colony of gannets on the UK mainland. Twitchers and walkers now outnumbered the birds and only increased in number as I approached Flamborough Head which added Sunday strollers and anglers to the bright Sunday afternoon throng. The sheer number of anglers was a surprise and they gathered in droves on the rocks and in small inshore boats all dangling a hopeful line into the water, though I didn’t see one pull anything in. I love sea fishing too, but for me the pleasure is in fishing alone and without someone commenting upon my ineptitude or taking to bait advice. I like to learn by my own mistakes.


The walk along the cliff edge down into Bridlington slowly shallowed out until I was on the promenade with its diesel-powered land train, noisy fun fair and late afternoon ambling families. One overheard conversation between a young couple made me smile.
“Have you ever been on the Spotty Boat in London?” he asked as they watched a power boat twisting and turning a few yards offshore.
“I’ve never been to London.” she replied.
“Never?” he queried.
“No, you’ve only ever taken me to seaside towns.” she sniped.
“You’ve been to Manchester.” he snapped as a riposte.
“Only to the airport.” she said with finality.

I met up with Kate at the harbour and we indulged ourselves with a 99 cone, a rare treat with the season closing in. I wondered if hot pies and pasties would be more likely from here on.

Stage 200, 13th October: Bridlington to Aldbrough

The wind had got up significantly overnight and the sky had a threatening murk. Nonetheless, it was dry to start and I made my way through the regiments of static caravans to rejoin the beach. I was hoping for a personal record-breaking beach walk all the way to Aldbrough today, but the tide was only just turning to go out and it was a high spring tide.

With no option, I dipped inland and crossed farmland again to round another static caravan park. By the time I returned to the cliff I was now in a land suffering from serious coastal erosion. Once a seaside road, not any more. Once a garden, now on the beach. Once a house? Some pessimistically say that they can expect to lose up to ten metres of land a year to the sea. In truth I think the figure is closer to two metres, but either way it’s still a fair chunk of land and very tough for some people who have lived on this part of the coast all of their life to see nature slowly but very surely take what they thought was theirs. They must dread each storm and high tide and another one was very imminent.


I found a few homemade steps taking me down the muddy cliff  and onto a mixed shingle and sand beach which looked very bleak and rarely walked. The rain finally decided to break free from the heavy clouds and washed in over my left shoulder with a gusting wind picking up speed by the minute to push me forwards at pace down the beach. It was a beach rich with pebbles and a few fossils, but it wasn’t the weather to linger. Fortunately the MOD range I had planned to divert around was open, so I stayed on the beach all the way to Aldbrough. A steep slippery climb up a muddy cliff took me to Kate waiting in Snickers and feeling decidedly sea-sick at the violent buffeting it was taking from the gale now battering in. I suspected that we might be in for a restless night so we moved Snickers to the leeward side of a building to give some shelter from the onslaught that began as the evening drew in.

Stage 201, 14th October: Aldbrough to Kilnsea

My suspicions were well founded as the night had brought torrential rain and a wind that I hadn’t experienced since Bertha struck back on the West of Scotland. A few of the nearby static caravans, which had temporarily been moved away from the cliff edge, had made a break for freedom but none had suffered any damage. The same couldn’t be said for the cliffs.

I returned to the cliff edge for an inspection. The wind was still raging but the rain had mercifully abated and only sea spray made me keep my waterproofs on as I briefly stuck to the cliff top. There was no chance of walking back on the beach for a while as the tide was still far too high and the waves were literally washing chunks of cliff face away before my eyes. With no coast path to follow I took to farmland again and a diversion inland around the village of Grimston.

As I regretfully approached a road junction I heard jogging footsteps behind and a voice called out my name. I had been emailed a few days before by Flora who had very kindly offered bed and board at her place nearby. A fellow long distance walker, she had completed LEJOG last year and had through some convoluted friend of a friend method found out about my journey. She took me back up the lane and also took control of my route for a while as her local knowledge guided me through uncharted paths and private land. It also took me past her front door and that meant that a cup of tea and a Tunnock’s Tea Cake just couldn’t be refused. I had only turned down her kind offer of accommodation as we had already arranged last night’s stopover at Aldbrough, but on meeting Flora and her husband Ian, plus the heavy battering of the overnight storm, I rather wish I hadn’t.

Flora walked with me back to my planned route before turning for home. I had enjoyed my brief time in Flora and Ian’s company and meetings like this have been a highlight of my trip. I think she would have liked to join me for a full day of walking and her company and easy conversation would have made a great change.  It’s always nice to compare notes, experiences and geeky kit reviews.

Back on the cliff top path, the wind had now eased and the tide was receding nicely. I was soon back on the shingle beach and heading towards Withernsea. For the rest of the day I was afforded the sight of coastal erosion in action as I came across muddy boulder after muddy boulder scattered across the beach. At one point a small cliff collapse and landslide came to halt barely a few steps away from me. One fossil hunting man near Withernsea told me that the beach we were standing on was all sand yesterday. Now it was boulders, mudslides and shingle. He was happy sifting through the debris for newly exposed fossils, but I suspect the land owners up above the cliff were less so.


After a brief walk along the short promenade at Withernsea my afternoon continued as the morning had finished and I was back on the beach all the way to Kilnsea and the North end of Spurn Head to meet a less wind-battered Kate. In doing so I passed on the seaward side of Holmpton and Easington with its huge high security gas terminal barely visible above the low cliffs. As I walked, the storm debris was tempting me into a bit of treasure hunting too and I spent much of the walk with my head down looking for fossils, pretty rocks and pebbles. The glacial deposited boulder clays and till are very soft and with the nature of such unconsolidated rocks come many erratics.  These erratics give collectors a dream ticket to find a huge variety of fossils, rocks and minerals. I was a happy bunny as my rucksack slowly gained weight with various fossil fragments, pretty pebbles and a nice heavy handful of haematite. My day was complete when I found one very nice ammonite to take home.




Cleveland Way days

Stage 196, 8th October: Redcar to Runswick Bay

To kick away the heavy industry of Teeside, it was straight down a smart new promenade at Redcar. Sue and Diesy stayed with me for a few miles as we dropped onto Marske Sands for some firm beach walking littered with ammonites and gryphaea fossils, a mollusc which resembles a rather ugly overgrown human nail and accordingly attracting the nickname ‘devil’s toenail’. With two ex geology students stopping every few steps to turn a stone or inspect a pebble progress was a little slow.

On reaching the pier at Saltburn-by-the-sea Sue’s rucksack was a little heavier than normal and she turned back with Diesy as I made my way steeply up hill to pick up the coastal section of the Cleveland Way for some great cliff top walking with distant views back to the small inshore wind-farm near Redcar plus the plumes of industrial smoke and steam of Teeside.


Once I was around the headland, the grim industrial landscape was but a memory and the cliffs now masked a history of Iron and Alum mining instead with only occasional spoil visible way down below or the odd deserted and derelict former mine ventilation fan house up top. Skinningrove and Boulby passed quickly with Boulby’s working mine a rare operational site and sight.

At the steep picture postcard cobbled streets of Staithes I made my way to the top car park for a meeting with Shaun and Ian from the regional Spinal Injuries Association for a quick photo opportunity and a natter. It was a briefer meeting than I would have liked as they both had jobs to get back to and I had a day of walking to finish. I suspect we could happily have shared a pint or two at the Captain Cook Inn if time had been on our side. Instead Sue and Diesy were back with me for the last few miles of anticipated fossil hunting but with the tide in too far to be able to roam the foreshore, Diesy was the happiest as we strode purposefully to Runswick Bay and the joys of our first rural campsite of the week.


Stage 197, 9th October: Runswick Bay to Ravenscar

Steepness was becoming a common feature again and the road down into Runswick Bay was one I was rather glad we hadn’t attempted with Snickers. This time it was a very brief beach walk for Diesy as steep steps took us out of the bay and back over the cliffs for my 4,000 mile landmark. In truth I forgot exactly where I crossed the 4,000 line. It had sadly become less important than previous markers. With the weather almost imperceptibly cooling and the nights drawing in, my first proper thoughts of a deep hot bath, a big comfy bed and a fire in the grate were pulling me slowly towards home. But with another 1,000 miles to go I had to stop those thoughts and just concentrate on one day of walking and maybe the luxury of one week ahead.

Sandsend saw a smattering of retired couples and families with pre-school children enjoying the gentile sea front and picturesque bay. Whitby soon followed with its reputation for fish & chips, kippers, Dracula, Captain Cook, a ruined abbey, narrow cobbled streets and gift shops all bringing visitors in by the coach load. Everything in Whitby was very pretty and additionally great for the sport of people watching, which is exactly what I did as I sat in the churchyard at the top of the abbey steps munching at my sandwiches. The only thing that disappointed me is that somehow I had missed the smokehouse and the opportunity to buy some kippers to make Snickers honk for a few days.




It was more ups, downs and cliff top walking with the added accompaniment of the odd sharp shower to the delightful Robin Hood’s Bay, the curiously named Boggle Hole and a last steep climb up to Ravenscar for a meeting with Sue, Diesy and a rear bumperless Snickers. Apparently “it just fell off”. Fortunately duct tape works wonders and no damage had been done. Note: Full detailed inspection later revealed that the bumper may well have “fallen off” in an earlier life. There were clear scars from a previous repair.

Stage 198, 10th October: Ravenscar to Filey

It was my last day on the Cleveland Way and more lovely cliff tops awaited. Diesy’s morning walk with me was a little shorter this morning and Sue took him back after a couple of miles to pick up Snickers and prepare for another end of week changeover.

After yesterdays showers, a brief thunderstorm last night and a bright sunny morning of increased foot traffic, the path was getting a little muddy. Steep uneven stone steps down into and up out of gullies and gills were becoming treacherous and progress was again a little slower than I would have liked. A heavy dew dried rapidly in the bright morning sun and walkers were out in their droves. Most were open to a “good morning” and a few stopped for a welcome chat, but some were intent on turning their heads seawards and pretending that I didn’t exist. A forced grunting response to my “hello” was the best I could manage from some.

By lunchtime I knew I was approaching Scarborough. The paths were now populated by people with less than suitable footwear and backpacks were absent. As the North beach opened out people’s waistlines opened out too and as I wandered around to the South bay, amusement arcades and chip shops joined the throng of now apparently enormous people waddling along the sea front stuffing chips into their faces. I like chips too, but it all seemed more than a little obscene to me.


I escaped back over the cliffs inaccessible to the waddlers and on towards Filey for a welcome day off, a rendezvous with Kate and an evening out for a couple of pints in a local hostelry and a huge portion of chips in the company of an old friend Simon who had joined up with Kate, Sue and Diesy from his home nearby.


The Tyne, The Wear, The Tees

Stage 193, 5th October: Blyth to Whitburn

With Woody having accompanied me most mornings last week it was now Sue and Diesy’s turn to join me for a few miles down the sands around Seaton Sluice and on towards Whitley Bay. In doing so we ran the gauntlet of literally hundreds of other dog owners all out for their Sunday morning beach stroll in the autumn sunshine. I had never seen so many poo-bag carriers in my life and a level based computer game idea (based on attempting to get a dog safely from one end of the beach to the other without any mishap ©peterhill) became a strange topic to discuss as we strode towards the Tyne.

Back on my own again, Whitley Bay merged into Cullercoats and thence to Tynemouth where I bumped into Phil (a prospective coast walker and blog follower) for a quick hello and a chat. Those sort of meetings have always been great for my morale and I have found any enthusiasm for my bizarre quest a great boost when things aren’t so great. Tiredness had certainly been creeping up on me over the last few weeks.


I then turned briefly inland for a sanitised walk up the Tyne. North Shields was now populated with cafes, bistros and miscellaneous but popular eateries, rather than the rough run-down old docks I would have expected. As I crossed over by ferry to South Shields a similar story unfolded as I was greeted by flashy dockside apartment blocks and quiet residential cul-de-sacs. It was a little disappointing not to find the docks I remembered from 30 years ago, but clearly the outskirts of Newcastle and Tyneside had moved on from the three brief years I spent up here with the luxury of a free university education and a student grant.

A low cliff top walk took me around to Whitburn. It was all rather pleasant with so many out enjoying the Sunday sun, whether it be a beach stroll, a promenade amble or a roam along the cliff top. This had been a people heavy day, though communication had been very light or non-existent. Only my strange hikers attire had raised any reaction and it was barely more than a raised eye-brow or a mistrusting sideways glance.

Stage 194, 6th October: Whitburn to Crimdon

Kate’s weather forecast from home had become quite predictable over the last few weeks. After my very wet August came a very dry September and something was bound to break eventually. Today Kate broke the news as gently as she could but the weather broke big time. Not only was it persistent heavy rain but strong blustery winds were buffeting my face and slowing every forward step. It would have been lovely to see what was around me but most of the time I had my hood up and my head down to watch one foot in front of the other.

A very brief respite from the wind was offered as I made my way up the Wear estuary into Sunderland but the rain didn’t abate and I suspected that Sunderland missed out on a photo opportunity or two as what I could see looked more interesting than I had expected. Nonetheless I was quickly back out onto the exposed cliffs with all my hatches battened down with the occasional peer up to check that I was following the now very welcome and very new brown England Coast Path signs. It might be an incomplete project, but it certainly eased my navigational conundrum for the day.

After Seaham the old collieries around Easington took me along a supposed Heritage Trail. Unfortunately the heritage was lost on me beyond the appearance of the slowly recovering black beaches somewhere down below. Nature, of sorts, was slowly returning. Possibly not the nature that was originally there, but it was nature nonetheless and though it hadn’t completely obscured the grim industrial presence of the past, it was clearly trying. Sue and Diesy met up with me at Denemouth looking decidedly bedraggled and we headed for camp at Crimdon like a small pack of drowned rats.


Stage 195, 7th October: Crimdon to Redcar

I was expecting a few industrial views today and to my relief the weather brightened considerably and I didn’t have to suffer the chemical and steel works of Teeside with the added bonus of rain sheets. So I set out along the cliff top to Hartlepool missing a perfectly good beach and instead followed the official marked trail to walk across Hartlepool Golf Course and the flattened wasteland that was once North Sands Works.

Hartlepool had a big harbour museum and marina with plenty of new development work in various states of completion nearby. It was clearly trying to reinvent itself and the project was still in progress. I can’t say I was impressed but I can’t say that I was disappointed either. I had seen plenty of dock and harbour improvements on this trip and the fashion for such waterside improvements doesn’t seem to have lost momentum. I had probably just become accustomed to them and maybe become a little blase.

From Hartlepool the works of Seal Sands and Teeside loomed ever closer. I crossed Seaton Sands and circled another golf course before dipping inland for the Tees estuary, heavy industry and bland pathless roads. I briefly stopped for lunch by a bridge over a small tributary and some mud flats. Wildlife came to the rescue as a small colony of seals basked on a muddy bank nearby and a sparrowhawk, whom I suspected might be injured, fluttered to rest in a gateway.

I returned to the road and looked forward to a crossing of the famous Transporter Bridge. It was closed for painting work and my chance to complete my pair of crossing transporter bridges with that of Newport in South Wales was thwarted. The irony of having an extra four mile diversion up river to cross the Tees via the Newport Bridge wasn’t lost on me.


Having recovered my tracks I then took to the bizarre and extraordinary Teesdale Way. This OS marked trail took me straight through heavy industry, alongside huge pipe-tracks and even between rail tracks. The path was liberally covered with litter, industrial debris and edged with imposing but rotting high fences. It also became overgrown in places and even blocked by temporary security fencing. With nowhere else to go, I just scaled the obstacle course and followed the trail. The only wildlife I came across was the occasional rat, a few tethered traveller’s horses, a goat and surprisingly two roe deer who pranced away the moment they saw the lunatic who had decided to walk along this path. Why anybody would want to walk this part of the Teesdale Way was a bit of a mystery to me and indeed it seemed as if local industry didn’t want anyone to walk it either and though I felt uncomfortable and a little intimidated using it, I thoroughly enjoyed following it all the way to Redcar.


Sand & Castles

Stage 190, 1st October: Lindisfarne Causeway to Beadnell

With the tide in and covering the causeway over to Lindisfarne, traffic was sensibly absent as Woody dropped me off for a fourteen mile inland detour following the official Northumberland Coast Path, also confusingly partly known as St Cuthbert’s Way and St Oswald’s Way. I made my way up and over Fenham Hill crossing the main East coast railway line having sought permission via a phone call with the signal box. It was also over the A1, through the village of Fenham and deep into the woods before emerging near Belford. Autumn was here and I enjoyed childishly kicking through the leaves in the watery shafts of sunlight.

The detour was worth it as I bumped into five separate hiking groups all up for a quick chat. In the mix I met up with Americans, a German pair and a couple of Diamond members of the Long Distance Walkers Association who were very enthusiastic about my little jaunt. I rather hoped that the conversations would reap some reward for the charities, but my record to date has been hit and miss with promises of a donation rarely turning into reality. I’ve always tried not to be too pushy as I’m never overly fond of people “tin rattling” at supermarket doorways and playing the guilt card if you pass them by without dropping some loose change their way. So for me to do likewise, even via a conversation about my walk, would be hypocritical and though I’m desperate to raise a vast sum, I don’t like begging for it. I have found every donation however large or small to be a very real and significant personal motivation, so maybe I should swallow a confidence pill and be a little more blunt.

Once I had crossed back over the A1 and the railway the views of Bamburgh with its vast and dominant castle opened out and it wasn’t long before I was on the eternally windswept beach, heading around Bamburgh to continue with sand under foot for the few miles to Seahouses. After a sandy walk of such quality I was overdue an ice cream and Woody met up with me at the little harbour filled with Farne Island tourism boats for a cone. I topped mine with a black cherry sauce twist. It was grand and with more dune tops and sandy beach walking we quickly covered the last few miles together to the outskirts of Beadnell and our seafront stopover.



Stage 191, 2nd October: Beadnell to Low Hauxley

I was assured that it wasn’t the ice cream but Woody hadn’t felt too well overnight. But with a fully fit friend it was nice to step out together for a few miles of dune and beach walking to Low Newton. It was all very pleasant but there was a real autumnal chill in the air and wooly hats were a necessity and not a misplaced fashion statement.

Once I was alone, Dunstanburgh Castle loomed and I soon lost count of how many times I said “good morning” to the hoards of couples out walking on a bright chilly day. The look in their eyes and the amble of their step told me that none of them were of the chat stopping type and if they had been I would have been lucky to make my destination before midnight. My “good morning” became a little repetitive and it soon evolved into a briefer “morning” and then a “hi” and eventually a nod and a smile.


The smell of the smokehouse at Craster was a treat.  Smells have been truly evocative throughout this journey and have varied from the gorgeous to the revolting, from wood smoke and fresh bread through to sewage and rotting fish. I could name dozens and each would remind me of a place somewhere on the British coast.

I was soon at the less smelly Boulmer for more beach walking and after a couple of nips inland to round small estuaries Alnmouth and Warkworth were soon over my shoulder too. Sand and castles had been very much the theme this week and with a stiffening breeze on my face the woolly hat was donned again to finish the day in the dunes south of Amble at Low Hauxley.

Stage 192, 3rd October: Low Hauxley to Blyth

Woody joined me again for the first four miles along the sand. He had undoubtedly done more walking with me than anyone else so far on this trip and his company was very welcome. With his long legs and purposeful stride he made a good pace man and helped me ease through the early morning soreness in my right hip. He stayed with me till Druridge Bay and we made good time despite a strengthening headwind. As soon as he left my pace fell back a bit. I blamed the softer sand, but in truth I was probably looking for an excuse as I remained on the sand for a further three miles to Cresswell.

From here on the industrial Northeast began to make its presence felt. Lynemouth was first on the agenda with a colliery history and an unsightly coal-fired power station further blighting the landscape. With the large ex mining town of Ashington nearby coal mining history is huge in this area and the beaches are only now recovering from the phenomenal injuries inflicted upon them by the dirty but once critical industry.

A few dips inland to navigate estuaries only hastened me back to the coast as first Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and then Cambois brightened my day and my mood. Newbiggin sported a modern Sean Henry sculpture on the new breakwater as part of a much larger project to restore the town’s coastline. Cambois beach had also benefitted from a huge clean up and was surprisingly welcoming if only for a quick half a mile. But after that Blyth was decidedly downbeat and reflected its loss of employment with the loss of traditional coal and shipbuilding industries. I unconsciously hastened my step through the town but that was more to do with my unusual and slightly conspicuous appearance and not any intimidation. Dressed in my walking gear with a rucksack and walking pole in hand just doesn’t feel right in some towns and cities.


Rest Day, 4th October: North Seaton

A day off at a popular and noisy campsite was a welcome but barely relaxing break after a good week for both weather and miles covered. Sue had arrived early last night for her second week as support and to catch up with Woody. They had spent the evening ganging up on me to take the mickey out of my nerdy statistics and organisational detail. It was entirely justified and completely deserved. Woody departed Snickers at Ashington bus station with genuinely warm thanks and having taught me how to identify a couple of additional sea birds. Thus Sue and I were left to return for a relatively quiet day with Sue escaping for a long run instead of having to endure an afternoon of my admin.

Distance to date:  3,912 miles         Ascent to date:  483,830 feet

Back to Blighty

Rest Day, 27th September: North Berwick

As I dropped Sara off at North Berwick station, I wasn’t sure whether she was going to Hereford, Bedford or Stevenage. I’m not sure if she knew either. Nonetheless, her week of support was a grand one and it was a hurried goodbye with deepest thanks as she rushed to catch the approaching train. This rather long walking project of mine had become a huge team effort and if it wasn’t for the support of friends, family and even relative strangers my effort would have foundered a long time ago.  For every week they have given up to aid my slightly selfish quest, my biggest hope has been that all of them had a bit of fun doing it and I think, so far, my hope had been fulfilled.

Old uni friend, Woody, arrived at the same station later in the day and the evening was spent having a good catch up with another introduction to Snickers with her list of broken bits getting a little longer with every new driver. We were probably up a little bit later than was good for me, but 30 years of absence do take a while to catch up on.

Stage 187, 28th September: North Berwick to Thorntonloch

Despite the late night, things had to continue and I hiked straight out of the campsite for a brief roadside walk to Tantallon Castle. With a rocky yet accessible foreshore, I headed down to the waterside and stayed down to walk along Peffer Sands before finally heading inland via a woodland track to cross my first River Tyne. As I emerged from the woods onto the drive of a large apartment converted country house I was challenged for only the third time of the entire trip. Again a polite and brief chat turned into a friendly encounter and I left to turn back down river for the John Muir Country Park and a meeting with Woody for lunch.

Dunbar and the hackers of Dunbar Golf Club came and went quickly and it wasn’t long before I met up with Woody again near my latest nuclear power station at Torness. We watched over the sea wall as a dozen anglers gathered to fish the warm water of the power station outfall. Clearly, three eyed fish were a desirable catch. But they weren’t alone in their choice of prey. A pod of dolphin were actively trawling the waves nearby and with their tail slapping antics we gathered that they were in full hunting mode. A fairly flat and uneventful day had ended with a spectacle worthy of the finest days. Mood changes can come easily sometimes.


Stage 188, 29th September: Thorntonloch to Eyemouth

The warmth of the morning sun meant that the day started as my first shirtsleeve one for many weeks. The sea was flat calm and the sky as clear as I’d had all year. Woody joined me for the first hour along the foreshore and up the shallow cliff towards the picturesque harbour village of Cove. With Woody turning back, I entered the village alone again. I made my way around to Pease Bay with its glorious beach utterly spoilt by the massive static caravan park immediately edging the sand. The bay would have been photogenic beyond words if the park wasn’t there. Instead, my camera stayed firmly zipped away in its case and I made my way over the hill towards Siccar Point.

Woody had reminded me of the geological importance of Siccar Point. In truth I had completely forgotten the place and as I diverted away from my planned route I didn’t even have a vague recollection of ever having been there before on a field trip thirty or so years ago. Nonetheless, Hutton’s Unconformity deserved a visit, particularly as an information board proclaimed Siccar Point to be “arguably the most important geological site in the world”. In writing this I felt an irresistible urge to describe  an unconformity and particularly why Hutton’s was so important. To reduce possible boredom I elected not to get nerdy or upset the Old Testament believers, but I’m sure google would give an answer to those with interest.


From Siccar Point the path disappeared. I was happy to edge the fields to find a track and good route back towards my original planned one. By the time I rediscovered the official path at Dowlaw, I felt I had forged a new and perfectly acceptable section.  The path was now well-marked and very well maintained, not that the Ordnance Survey people were aware of its existence enough to mark it on my map.

From here on in, it was a repetitive series of climbs over rolling hill tops with steep high cliffs all around St Abb’s Head and on to the very pretty village of St Abbs. The cliffs to the South of the village were topped with elegant houses and a child friendly sandy bay was still busy with Scottish Bank Holiday families enjoying what I suspected would be the last viable sunshine of the year. I made my last climb of the day and followed the cliff top for three more miles around to Eyemouth. The 4,000 ft of ascent had caught me out today. I hadn’t expected it at all and it was the first day of such magnitude since Morvern back in July. I might have been tired but the weather and the scenery had put today firmly into my top ten for the journey so far.

Stage 189, Eyemouth to Lindisfarne Causeway

The autumn sunshine continued as I prepared to say my goodbyes to Scotland. I made my way through Eyemouth and up alongside the main East coast railway line. The cliffs were gentle and very forgiving as I headed earnestly South and back into England after 16 weeks in the beautiful land of tartan and sheep. Scotland has always given me good memories and this prolonged visit was no exception. Yes there were some grim days, some dull days, some hard days and a fair few wet ones too, but I have no doubt that the section of coast from Oban to Durness had given me many of my best experiences and will probably, no certainly, remain firm favourites forever.

When I reached the border, the crossing was a bit of a let down. The sign up on the railway line was much more impressive than the cheap wooden path-side sign. So to make up for it, I photographed both (more than once and from several angles) and asked a walking couple from Cumbria to take my picture alongside the cheap wooden one. I felt they should swap sign positions as the rail one was probably wasted on the train passengers who don’t get to see their sign too well when they flash past at 100 miles per hour.


The cliff top rail-side walk continued until I dropped into Berwick-upon-Tweed and crossed the oldest of the three bridges spanning the river. I strolled along the promenade at Berwick’s suburb of Spittal and onto the beach before a brief cliff walk bridged me back down onto the sands for a long intended walk to Holy Island and Lindisfarne causeway. Sadly a river blocked my path and I ducked inland over the scrub and dunes to rediscover the official coast path. Snickers was waiting at the end of Lindisfarne causeway and was accompanied by a small gathering of people watching the tide creep in, all secretly hoping to see a car get swamped as it made a dash for the mainland. We couldn’t be bothered to watch the paint drying qualities of a creeping tide so we elected for a quick pint instead.


Going Forth

Stage 184, 24th September: Kinghorn to Queensferry

As I ventured West towards the Forth Bridge and Edinburgh, I had a suspicion that the house prices were creeping up. Burntisland, Aberdour and Dalgety Bay all seemed to attract ‘executive’ type housing developments, something I was glad to see the back of in England all those months ago. Burntisland had a typical busy town look and feel to it with useful shops and a buzzing high street. In contrast, Aberdour, though much smaller, was full of boutiques and the sort of shops bought as an amusing and often quirky pastime for those with too much money and time on their hands. It wasn’t full of butchers, bakers or candle stick makers. But if you needed a manicure or a dog groomed, you would be well set.

With my first sight of the oft photographed Forth Bridge, industry began to show its grimy and sometimes fascinating face. I stood and watched a metal recycling plant for a while, admiring the efficiency of the entire process from receipt, sorting, crushing, shredding through to loading onto a ship for reprocessing somewhere else in the world. I suspected it might be a highly profitable business and despite the noise and grime, probably an example of recycling at its best.


Having tried many angles to get a decent picture of the Forth Bridge, I eventually had to cross the Forth Road Bridge and endure one and a half miles of deafening traffic noise. With each step alongside the dual carriageway I found the grip on my walking pole tightening with tension. Even though it was only meant to be loosely carried in my left hand it had sometimes become a comfort blanket rather than a working aid. I also had a disconcerting urge to jump into the Forth halfway across. I figured that the many Samaritans signs posted on the railings for those in desperate need were probably more subconsciously suggestive than intended.

Leaving the bridge and arriving in Queensferry was a blessing. The cobbled streets tucked between the two big bridges on the Forth’s South bank were filled with quaint shops to attract the visitors and the car and coach park was adorned with my nemesis – a piper. Bagpipes were surely designed to hurt the English ear and I was happy to chat to the piper all day if it meant I didn’t have that drone echoing in the pit of my stomach. He was a cracking guy with an understanding of my English failings. He even pointed out that they sound even worse without the drone. A rare but not forgotten Mint Magnum was a worthy sticking plaster and it soon soothed my internal reverberations.

Stage 185, 25th September: Queensferry to Musselburgh

I was now following the John Muir Way for a few days and felt lucky to have another well-marked path. The Fife Coastal Path had undoubtedly been the best marked and best maintained I had come across to date and I had accordingly thanked a maintenance crew I met only yesterday. At first sight The John Muir Way looked as if it might give the Fife path a run for its money. Things were looking up.

An early woodland walk took me through the grounds of the Dalmeny Estate with its very grand house and well-worn cycleways. A quick duck inland for Cramond Bridge and a brief riverside walk to the village of Cramond was all I could look forward to as Edinburgh was soon upon me.

Most of today would be spent skirting Edinburgh. Much of the old city was inland and I was sorely tempted to drift away from the shore to explore somewhere quite unfamiliar to me. I stuck to my task and instead wandered Granton Harbour and the Port of Leith with huge refurbishment and redevelopment projects well underway, if not already complete. Throughout this walk, I have noticed how city docks around Britain have received huge recent investment, turning all of them into trendy places with expensive waterside apartments, bistros and shopping centres. Yet again and again I have also seen how this redevelopment is localised and that as soon as you round the corner towards the outskirts of town the scruffy squalor soon returns and that the ripple of development money has a real need to move out too.


Once the scruffy trading estates were done a short three-mile walk took me to the now seemingly trendy beach resort of Portobello. Having rediscovered the habit, a mint chocolate chip cone was a must and it did its best to dribble and drip all down my arm as I walked the bustling promenade in the mid afternoon autumn sunshine.

Musselburgh was less trendy – but hello – a golf course. I noted that the East Lothian district proudly displays road signs claiming it to be the “Golf Coast of Scotland”. I suspect it needs to argue that one out with Ayr and Fife first.

Stage 186, 26th September: Musselburgh to North Berwick

With another dry but increasingly blustery day, I almost flew through Prestonpans with the wind on my back. The decommissioned Cockenzie Power Station dominated the skyline and it’s demolishing was clearly imminent. With further plans for a another new energy park and the construction of even more wind turbines, I was beginning to wonder just how many of the silly things would end up blighting our landscape. Conversation with a local woman brought out a love for the old chimneys and a loathing for the dozens of wind turbines required to replace it. She questioned why on earth we need all these monstrosities when we have so much wave and tidal power sitting all around this island of ours. I couldn’t have agreed more.


From Port Seton I transferred to beach and dune walking across Seton Sands and Gosford Sands to the wealthy and tidy village of Aberlady. The rich bird reserve of Aberlady Bay awaited and would dominate my afternoon’s attention.

For lunch, I sat overlooking Gullane Bay watching eider ducks idly diving into the shallows from their sitting position atop the waves.  I could have sat for hours in the gentle warmth of the sun but the deserted charms of more dunes and sandy beaches awaited.

Considering I was still close to Edinburgh, the afternoon was very quiet. I paused again around the Briggs of Fidra to watch the sea birds dipping into the surf, but my eye was drawn to the gannets fighting the wind and tucking their wings in to dive repeatedly for their prey. It was another of those moments when I wished for my nice big camera and long lens to help me but the spectacle of the largest sea-bird in the North Atlantic more than made up for my inability to capture them in high-definition.


This had been my best day of the week and the stiff breeze had mainly worked in my favour to push me along towards North Berwick with its renowned and well populated fairways. I was in a good and slightly mischievous mood as I approached a carpet perfect and empty green sitting yards from the beach. I could see golfers queuing at a neighbouring tee a short distance away. None of them were looking my way, so I grinned like a big kid as I took a golf ball I’d previously found from the side pocket of my rucksack and lobbed it to within six feet of the flag. I’m sure the next golfer to play that hole would be delighted to see the result of his blind shot into the green….at least for a minute or two anyway.