In May 2015 I booked a flight to UK and a place on a self guided walk along Wainwright’s Coast to Coast track across the north of England. This was an attempt to fill the void left by the death of my husband nine months earlier. I knew that I had to find some motivation to drag me out of the crushing lethargy of grief and having seen a DVD about the walk I rather impetuously booked the trip for September.
I chose Sherpa Expeditions simply because they have been in operation the longest. I opted for a 15 day self-guided walk which included 15 nights bed and breakfast in good quality lodgings, transfer of my luggage (apart from a day pack) route maps, notes and a guide book “The Coast to Coast Path” by Henry Stedman.
After reading about how testing the walk was, how likely it was to rain (The aptly named Sprinkling Tarn near Seathwaite receives an average of 185 inches (4.7m) of rain a year) and watching Julia Bradbury’s DVD another three times, my initial thrill at the challenge for which I had signed up was being ever so slightly replaced by a growing concern regarding my ability to overcome it. This was heightened by those who greeted my plans with exclamations of “How far?? You’re walking over 300 kilometres in only 15 days ALONE?” Was I really being ridiculous?
It was either give up now and lose my deposit or prepare, get fit and go for it. Well of course I chose the latter option, reasoning that if the worst came to the worst and I couldn’t face another day walking I could always catch a bus to the next accommodation.
My Sherpa notes recommended 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week with training being stepped up as departure date approaches. They suggest training with the gear you plan to walk in including a weighted pack so that you know what is comfortable.
My neighbours thought that I had finally lost the plot seeing me striding across the local paddocks and roads with walking poles, a backpack and a very determined expression. As well as walking I joined a Pilates class which not only strengthened my core muscles but introduced me to some new friends.
I was amazed at how quickly my fitness improved and with it my emotional wellbeing. I found that I could get through the lonely evenings without the crutch of copious amounts of wine. Instead I searched the internet and read as much as I could find about A.W. Wainwright and the walk.
By the end of August I was as ready as I could be and eager to set out but when departure day arrives I am beset with worries and a feeling of deep sadness that I am a widow. Angry that I have to walk alone from now on and very aware of how much responsibility Tony shouldered when we travelled as a couple. Airports always make me sad and I struggle to control my emotions, tears spill onto the departure card that I am trying to fill out with a shaking hand. Tony always took care of all this stuff… It takes a few minutes but somehow I pull myself together, complete the departure process and await the call to board my flight. I sit by the huge glass windows cradling a glass of wine while I watch the planes coming and going and try not to think about what might have been.
I am blessed with having loving family in UK who pamper me whilst I recover from jet lag and bask in their attention but after a few days I am itching to begin the walk.
Finally the day comes and after spending most of it either on a train or waiting at a station I disembark at St Bees. The sun makes a spectacular final act appearance having spent the day waiting for the end of UK’s hugely famous rain performance. It is a glorious evening as I make my way to the quaintly named Fairladies Barn B & B where I leave my luggage before heading out to the local pub for a meal. Eating by oneself in public is never easy. I feel very alone and rather vulnerable so I take my Stedman’s guidebook to hide behind so that I will not look either lonely or vulnerable but I need not have worried, there are 2 other patrons clutching Stedmans Guide, we look like members of some secret society. Conversation is immediate and easy, we are all equally relieved to be able to share a meal and talk about tomorrow’s walk. By the end of the evening I feel relaxed and ready for the challenge, I have already faced and overcome the first hurdle.
When I awake next morning I have so much adrenaline coursing through my body that I can barely sit still long enough to eat my Full English Breakfast. To be honest it is probably not a good idea to eat so much before exercising so I discreetly make a sandwich with my bacon and bread to be eaten later. Sadly Britain did not benefit as Australia did from a post war influx of Europeans who knew how to make coffee. I recommend sticking to their national beverage…tea.
At last, full of food and enthusiasm, I make my way to Mile Zero the official start of the Coast to Coast walk. By days end I will have walked 22.5 kms and only have another 283 odd kms to go.
Over the next 14 days, described in the book, I experience so many things from blisters to being chased by bullocks, great elation but also the depths of despair. At one point I would have given up were it not for the support of fellow walkers. The walk is like life itself. There are good days and bad, seemingly impossible heights to ascend and plunges down into deep valleys that seem endless. The feeling of despair when you lose your way followed by the overwhelming relief when it is found again. The courage that comes from facing your fears and the comfort offered by those you meet along the way.
I called my book Wainwright’s Cure because for me the walk has been life changing. It gave me a motive, an objective and helped me cope with my grief. The adventure enriched me and made me realise that I can go on living despite being alone. I will never forget Tony but I will honour him by enjoying life as I know he would want me to.
© Janice Collins “Wainwright’s Cure – A Personal Journey” by Janice Collins is published as an ePub (for most digital devices and for Kindle). It includes many photographs of the magnificent scenery that Janice encountered on her walk and is available for to buy with instant download, from: https://bit.ly/29ITg6D