This was the longest day of the year. We were the beneficiaries of another hearty breakfast, stoking up whilst eavesdropping on the landlord chatting to his mates about the liquid profits accrued over the previous evening. It would seem that even the worst football matches provide a lifeline for such public houses.
Out in the slaty morning , we soon realised that the village’s name had a French derivation: Gros Mont – big hill; the terraced houses of Fore Street climbed impressively to the edge of the village. We were soon overtaken by two gentlemen from Leeds.
It transpired that they were C2C regulars, about to complete their third traverse. Julia and I talked of the competing delights of other long distance paths. But no; if the mood took them to walk long distances in the future, they would aim once again for the C2C; they loved it. They graciously took our photo, and sped away towards the North Sea. Whilst on Sleights Moor, a couple from Limoges also caught up with us. We struck up a conversation, there being a bond between their pottery town and ours. Julia was able to pull out her flawless French whilst I tried to hone my stertorous frenglais
The C2C dipped steeply off the Moor to the tiny village of Littlebeck. We were inquisitively looking around the tiny Methodist chapel, when a gentleman poked his head around the door and asked us if we wanted a cup of tea. At the back of the chapel is a function/community room, which on this Tuesday morning was the setting for The Sleights Area Men’s Shed (SAMS). The room was buzzing with enthusiasm and bonhomie. Although the members enjoy other interests, on this morning, the focus appeared to be working with wood – walking sticks, plaques, a small container being turned on a lathe. Bob, who had offered the brew, showed us around, and explained that sheds had started in Australia as places to meet new-found mates, contributing old skills, and developing new ones. The idea was to combat male isolation in a friendly, unthreatening environment. They certainly were very welcoming, and enjoyed the fact that the Coast-to-Coast brought in an eclectic bunch of visitors.
At Littlebeck, the eastward march took a frivolous, southerly detour to walk through the pretty but muddy Little Beck Wood. In fact, this was the only stretch of C2C that Julia and I had walked beforehand. In 2014, we had stayed in Fylingthorpe for a few days, and completed a circular walk which included this sylvan squelch. We remembered the cave which had been the site of an alum mine some centuries past. We remembered the hollowed-out boulder known as the Hermitage. And we remembered the impressive Falling Foss waterfall with its adjacent tea garden. It proved to be a relaxing setting for lunch.
After lunch, we continued in a southerly/south-easterly direction following the woodland banks of May Beck. Not far from the tea room, the path offers the choice of a wooden bridge over the beck (involving a minimal detour), and a ford. Julia sensibly chose the former; I went for the latter. The beck was only a couple of inches deep over large, flat slabs of stone. But I slipped and got drenched; at least I avoided injury!
My most soggy bits were my socks, and as luck would have it, I was carrying a spare pair. I sat on a boulder, drying my feet, when a familiar face greeted me. It was Helene, a young, Swiss lady we had met between Ennerdale YHA and Grasmere during the early days of this sojourn. She walked with us for the rest of our day, although she was continuing with the aim of reaching the finishing line at Robin Hoods Bay.
We climbed out of the woodland dell back onto fell – the exceedingly boggy Sneaton Low Moor and the Graystone Hills. Progress was slow. The afternoon was by now sunny with perfect visibility. But way-finding was difficult; there were slender wooden waymarkers, but they were extremely difficult to make out. We were very fortunate to be travelling with a younger pair of eyes! To our credit, we did not get lost, and the last mile or so to High Hawsker was along country lanes.
Helene was being sustained by the prospect of a cafe-bar just beyond High Hawsker. But our Trailblazer guide stated that it was closed on Tuesdays; Helene confirmed this by checking their website on her phone. So we sat her down on a bench on a triangular patch of grass in the middle of the village, and plied her with coffee from our thermos. In return, she peeled off her footwear to show us an impressive array of blisters, and regaled us with her plans for further adventures before returning to Switzerland in the autumn to study medicine. We said our goodbyes; Helene hobbled towards RHB; we trudged a few hundred metres north to Long Leas Farm.
The farm’s outbuildings had been converted into single storey guest-rooms. A bit cramped; unprepossessing; but it didn’t really matter – we were mucky, hungry and tired. At least there was an outside tap with grid at which our boots could be washed. When suitably scrubbed up, we returned to High Hawsker’s village pub – The Hare and Hounds. It was very busy, and we were somewhat fortunate to find a table in the bar. It was pie night, and we both went for the fish pie. We soon discovered why the place was heaving – the food was excellent and the service spot on. By and large, we had eaten very well on C2C. We meandered back to Long Leas Farm under an azure sky whilst the stars were being switched on. We reflected upon the fact that the morrow would bring the end to our C2C; it would be wonderful to get home, but we would miss the rhythms of a long distance walk.