Between 24 July and 6 August 2010, The Extreme Cellists managed the mammoth Coast-to-Coast walk across northern England, as made famous by Alfred Wainwright. This 192-mile trek, spread across 14 consecutive days of walking, involved all the usual challenges of such a walk, plus the added difficulty of carrying cellos - and of course playing along the way (usually three times a day!).
The challenge managed to raise over £6,000 for two causes. Aspire is a charity that helps rehabilitation of people with spinal cord injuries, and has a long history of partnership with Extreme Cello. The other charity we hope to raise money for this time is PACT (Parents Association of Children with Tumours and Leukemia), a Sheffield-based charity that provides a range of support services for families whose children have been diagnosed with cancer, including two caravans and a house right next to Sheffield Children's Hospital.
The mammoth walk took us from West to East, starting at St Bees in Cumbria, and finishing at Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire. We were very grateful for some high-profile endorsements: among others from Coast-to-Coast guru BBC presenter Julia Bradbury, and comic actor John Challis. And whilst we were on route, we were fortunate to receive messages of support from Stephen Fry (via Twitter) and Stuart Maconie (on Radio 2) - many thanks!
The full story of the challenge, as told on our blog at the time, is repeated here:
Well, we're finally in Cumbria, and although the walking hasn't started yet we've made a fantastic start to the challenge.
After a difficult journey up from Sheffield (delayed and crowded trains upstaged by a lineside fire near Whitehaven), we gave our first performance of the tour - a concert at St Bees Priory (pictured).
We were simply bowled over by the turnout and reception, which provided the best possible way to start the challenge. Thanks to a very generous audience, we are now comfortably more than half way to our £5,000 target before we've even walked a mile!
Massive thanks to all at St Bees for making this possible. And now we're feeling ready to start the walk - come back tomorrow evening to find out whether or not this confidence is misplaced!
Finally we've started the challenge proper - beginning at 9.30 this morning, by playing on the beach at St Bees, and we've since walked 14 miles to Ennerdale Bridge... a few more miles to go yet, as we're going to the Ennerdale Youth Hostel, but we're blogging now as I don't know whether we'll have any reception today or not!
High points of the day (so far) include having a cup of tea at the cottage by St Bees Head lighthouse, meeting a family from Sheffield, and getting caught speeding by a speed camera when running up hill!
(By the end of the day...) 20 miles down, 173 to go!
Quote of the day: "What's all this about then?"!
We did a little bit more on day 1 than we had originally planned, owing mainly to logistical difficulties if we hadn't. So 20 miles left us absolutely knackered last night, but we're feeling a bit fresher this morning and have started day 2 brightly!
More brightly in fact than the weather, which although dry at the time of writing has covered the "alternative" ridge route (including Haystacks) in cloud. So in the interests of safety we're taking the valley route to start with, and will leave the big climb until later...!
Well, we're now two days in, and with nearly 30 miles under the belt it's feeling well underway.
I've no idea when this will appear online, as there's no phone reception where we are tonight (Borrowdale Youth Hostel), but today has been a very different one from yesterday. Much shorter mileage, but a much bigger climb - our first significant one of the challenge.
Not as significant as we'd hoped - the Red Pike-Haystacks ridge version of the route was covered in cloud, so we walked along the valley and save the climb until later on. Instead, we played outside Black Sail youth hostel - the only one in the country not accessible by road (pictured) - and later on outside the Honister slate mine.
So, hopefully a relaxing evening ahead (involving a little playing, of course) before - gulp - another 12 days of tough walking to come...
Quote of the day: "That's a funny shaped backpack you've got there..."
Well, it may have only been 8 miles or so today, but it was a tough 8 miles. A good climb in the first part of the walk was followed by a joint-destroying equivalent descent thereafter - and all in pouring rain.
In fact, for the third day running an alternative "higher" option was ruled out because of poor weather. It's a little frustrating, but it's not preventing us from getting there. It is, however, starting to cause some damage to the cellos (see picture) - hopefully it won't rain for the whole of the two weeks!
So, three days and 37 miles in, and we're seeing the first of our personnel changes. I've not said anything about our personnel yet this year, so here is a brief introduction... as many of you will know, Jeremy, Clare and James are the cellists; we're being joined throughout the walk by our friends Ashley, Rachel and Chris, to help us carry non-cello items, as well as Angela (James's mum), who is driving from place to place to help with transporting luggage and other logistical matters. Then we're being joined by some others along the way: Simon, Mary and Helen were with us for the first three days, and Clare's brother Paul joined us from today until day 9... which seems a very long way away right now!
Anyway, we're giving a concert at St Oswald's Church, Grasmere tonight (7.30) so we better go and prepare for that!
Quote of the day: "Oh, so you're those daft ha'peths with the cellos..."
Something amazing happened today: it stopped raining and the sun came out. Not for vast amounts of time, granted, but long enough for us to get our cellos out at the highest point of the day's walk, just above Grisedale Tarn - about 600m up the slopes of Helvellyn (pictured).
This was one of the highlights of a good day's walking - again not the furthest in terms of mileage (about 9 miles, meaning we've now done 46 in total), but a good climb and descent, with a novelty in arriving at our destination in dry clothes!
Another highlight was meeting a group of kids on the way down, on a YHA-run adventure course (they were camping up where we had just come from), who turned out to be wonderfully polite, interested and enthusiastic to hear us play - and despite being no older than about 13, generous in their donations too. The sort of encounter that really leaves a good feeling about the whole challenge!
So we're staying in Patterdale tonight, perhaps entertaining the locals later, and preparing ourselves for a much bigger walk tomorrow - the highest climb of the whole route and 16 miles to boot (well, to Shap actually!). Fingers crossed for some dry weather...
Quote of the day: "So, are yous lads all army then?"
Are we really only 5 days and 62 miles into it? We seem to have been going for ever, and the feet and joints certainly feel as if we have.
Today was certainly the toughest day of the route so far - and may yet turn out to be the toughest of the whole lot, but I don't want to tempt fate by saying that for certain now! Although there are three which are longer in terms of mileage, it was still nearly 16 miles today, and involved the biggest climb of the route - 780m up Kidsty Pike.
We played at the top (including our debut performance of "Ain't no mountain high enough"), and James decided to get arty with his cello (pictured). This was then followed by the toughest descent I've known for a long time - bone and muscles being crunched all the way.
So, we arrived in Shap safely at about 6.30, and are going to head out to perform in a local pub soon. Tomorrow brings much easier terrain, but a whole 20 miles of it... let's see whether we feel that more or less than the same distance on day 1!
Quote of the day (to Jeremy at breakfast): "Did you hear those cellists in the pub last night?"
We're just starting day 6, and thought it would be worth blogging about the fantastic hospitality we received in Shap (...ah-ah!). The fabulous New Ing Lodge was where we stayed, and we would heartily recommend it to any Coast-to-Coasters, and indeed anyone else visiting the village.
Clare was particularly impressed that one of the owners not only bought her an ice cream on arrival, but even carried it up two flights of stairs for her! Also worthy of a mention is the Bull's Head Inn, where we performed and had a great meal last night. Let's hope it was enough to see us through today's 20 miles...
Well, that was a different day. A long one, for sure (20 miles), but far easier terrain than previously in the walk and almost perfect walking conditions (alternating sun and cloud cover, but never getting too hot for too long and barely even the merest hint of rain - no need for waterproofs!).
We covered the 20 miles in just over 9 hours, including a stop to play some Beethoven by a wonderful railway bridge near Kirkby Stephen (pictured) - I don't know whether it added to the occasion or not that the audience was mostly cows (who, to their credit, gathered round almost as soon as we started playing!).
Tomorrow is different again - an ascent up and down the Pennines, with the promise of finding ourselves in Yorkshire by the end!
Quote of the day: "Moo!"
(Subtitle: A blog about a bog)
A slightly later start today - we played before we left the fabulous youth hostel in Kirkby Stephen, which is an old converted chapel (with much of the original architecture preserved), and set off with the clock approaching 10.00. We were joined for the day by Clare's old friend Kate and her three daughters, and this boosted us to get up to the Pennine ridge in good time.
After playing at the Nine Standards - a set of stone constructions on the ridge at about 650m up (the morale-boosting sudden view of Yorkshire nearly being tempered by James's attempt to let his cello be attacked by his case...), we walked through the boggiest part of the whole route, which despite being dry by its standards was still enough to get us rather wet in places.
The journey down to Keld was then rather more straightforward, the occasional shower meaning we couldn't rest on our laurels though. We did stop at the wonderful Ravenseat farm for a cup of tea & scones, and played to the owner - two of her children and the dog being particularly engaged by the performance. We would certainly recommend the food and drink there!
And so tonight we're staying in Keld, a tiny village in the western end of Swaledale. It's great to be back in Yorkshire, although the lack of phone reception means I have no idea when this blog post will appear! At the halfway point of the challenge, though, I am pleased to report that all is going to plan...
Quote of the day: "We were following you yesterday, and it was so inspirational to see the cellos in the valley ahead..." "You mean knowing there is someone madder than you around?"
A much gentler day today: 12 miles along the River Swale in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. In fact, we covered a significant part of Swaledale today (and will walk though much of the rest tomorrow), and apart from a single very light shower, we had great weather to do so.
This was the alternative version of the route, one that Wainwright recommends as a change to the hill climbs of earlier in the week - and we are all very glad we did it this way. The trees that line the river complement the lush green hillsides perfectly, and the sound of running water through the stony river really added to it. As seen in the picture, we also found a place to play in the middle of the river - or at least at the mouth of Barney Beck as it departs from the Swale.
Another landmark passed today was the 100 mile mark - we have now completed just over 108 of them, and are still largely in good health (barring the occasional dodgy ankle or blistered heel) and spirit!
On arriving in Reeth (a beautiful village - the so-called "capital of Swaledale") we played outside an ice cream parlour for about half an hour and attracted a good audience - hopefully our rendition of "O Sole Mio" attracted people to the idea of ice cream, rather than leaving them disappointed that they didn't sell Cornettos!
Apologies, by the way, for the lack of updates to our location today - I have had no phone reception since the middle of yesterday (Friday), so unless I strike lucky with wi-fi this evening you won't be reading this until a good way through Sunday anyway!
Quote of the day: "I think that cello's going to have to sit on the loo overnight" (due to lack of room in the B&B)
A quite easy day today - just ten and a half miles, and the terrain not too difficult either, with just a couple of shortish steep climbs. For this reason, we set off later than we had on other days - in fact we started by playing, once again, on the village green at Reeth, with a surprisingly large audience for 9.30 on a Sunday morning!
The walk itself was straightforward enough - one of the highlights being when we met a fellow Sheffield Wednesday fan on the way so stopped to give him a rendition of "Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday" on the cellos... which went down very well! Later on the walk we also gave our first performance of "Sheep May Safely Graze" while some, erm, cows grazed in front of us. In fact, there were some sheep only a few yards away, but we don't have anything to do with cows in our repertoire.
On arriving at Richmond we played a 30 minute or so set in the town square (pictured), joined for much of it by Donald Smith as a fourth cellist - he (and his wife Shirley) had been instrumental in our performance at Sedbergh earlier on in the summer. We were also joined by our latest co-walker, Joanne, who will be walking with us from here to the end at Robin Hood's Bay, as Clare's brother Paul departs from our company tomorrow morning.
So here we are - 119 miles in, five days to go, and it feels as if the end is in sight. Two more relatively easy days are followed by a very tough one on Wednesday, but we won't think about that quite yet...
Quote of the day: "I rushed my toast to come out and hear you this morning!"
Ok, I have a couple of admissions to make. First, I had confused the mileages of today's and tomorrow's stages, and rather than the 12 miles I was expecting, it should have been 14 (and in fact ended up closer to 15). The fact that tomorrow's walk should now be no more than 12 is some consolation, but the psychological difference between 12 and 15 miles is quite significant.
Second, despite today's walk being remarkably flat (and, if I'm being honest, largely dull), my back is starting to ache more and more. I guess that's what carrying a cello for 10 days and 134 miles will do for you. I'm going to try to fit a waist strap tomorrow to see if that helps.
Anyway, so what of today's walk? As I already mentioned, there was not much in the way of gradient change throughout, but it was not without features. For one thing, we crossed under the A1 this morning - and decided to play Nessun Dorma to celebrate this feat of engineering and the noise it produces.
Later, we stopped in the village of Bolton-on-Swale and played at the church by the tomb of Henry Jenkins, who reportedly lived to the grand old age of 169. We celebrated this fact by playing a whole three verses of "The Day Thou Gavest".
And so we arrived in the village of Danby Wiske at about 4.30, planning to have a takeaway pizza this evening (the pub doesn't do evening meals), and play later while contemplating tomorrow's (shorter) leg of the walk!
Quote of the day: "At first I thought that was an ironing board you were carrying - turns out it's only a cello!"
As expected, this was somewhat easier than yesterday: mostly very flat, with only a sharp climb at the end to give the muscles a good workout. Just 12 miles in total, and ten of those were completed before lunch. The most notable aspect of that stretch was having to dodge traffic to cross the busy A19 (all six lanes!).
The said meal was had at Ingleby Cross, where we played a couple of hymns around the war memorial (pictured). The following ascent into Osmotherley was a nice reminder of how to go up hills before the more tricky 20 miles of up and down tomorrow...
A fairly short blog entry today, then, but that reflects a fairly uneventful day's walking. Expect more tomorrow - as long as we're fit to type after that leg!
Quote of the day (an elderly woman to James): "You may be tall and thin, but you've got great legs!"
Well, we always knew today was going to be tough: long, lots of climbing and descending, and a real test of endurance. It is with an air of relief that I can report we all survived the 20 mile trek with no major problems.
The route started with a decent uphill, then downhill, then long uphill stretch. Fortunately the forecast rain did not materialise, and we were blessed for most of the day with "middling" (or "ideal for walking") temperatures, and virtually no rain at all (for the fifth day in a row, no waterproofs were needed!).
After another downhill stretch, we found ourselves 7 miles in at the Lord Stones Café, where we not only played, but had some industrial strength tea and incredible black pudding sandwiches to perk us up.
There followed three peaks in quick succession, each with steep 100m (or so) ascents and descents. On the third of these, we found a rather spectacular crag, where we played Mendelssohn's "Lift Thine Eyes" (pictured).
After lunch, a further climb was followed by about 9 miles of relatively flat walking, much of it along a dismantled railway track. Although this was easy in some respects, it was certainly wearing on the feet, and it was a huge relief when after about three hours, the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge came into view.
So that's the most difficult day over: 165 miles completed, just two more days and 27 miles to go. The end is getting closer...
Quote of the day: "We saw you ahead of us: it was like a ghost moving through the fields!"
It's fair to say we all found yesterday rather tough. Aching feet, aching backs, sore joints and muscles, and overall exhaustion were very much the order of the day (or evening).
I thought it worth adding this extra blog this morning, though, just to say a few things. First, we're all feeling somewhat refreshed this morning, albeit with a slightly lesser spring in our step than some mornings over the last two weeks. This was due in no small part to the wonderful hospitality of the Lion Inn, where the food was delicious and plentiful, the beer wide-ranging, and the bathrooms actually had baths (hallelujah!).
Second, we discovered last night that we'd been mentioned on radio 2 on Tuesday evening. That's the kind of boost that is very welcome at this stage of the trip!
Third, Jeremy and James played cricket with a cello last night...
Nearly there. Just one day (and fifteen and a half miles) to go. The end is in sight!
But, of course, we had today's walk to negotiate to get to this stage. In truth it was a relatively straightforward day - in comparison to yesterday, anyway - and the 13.5 miles were mostly along a gentle overall decline, across a mixture of roads, farm tracks and footpaths.
Aching limbs and joints following yesterday's marathon meant that speeds were varied, but an overall walking speed of around 3mph showed that we have obviously got into a good rhythm by now. The only surprise walking-wise was that we got a good rain shower at about midday - the first time our waterproofs had to come out since day seven, last Friday.
A much nicer surprise this morning was finding out that Stephen Fry had tweeted about us - and made a substantial donation himself. This led to quite a few others donating, and by early afternoon we had comfortably passed the £4,000 mark in overall donations received. At the time of writing we've not had phone reception for a few hours so we don't know if this has gone up since then... but we'll keep you informed!
After lunch in Glaisdale we played at the beautiful Beggar's Bridge, had the only (short) steep climb of the day, before a gentle descent through Egton Bridge into Grosmont. We played for a short time by the steam railway (see picture) before finishing for the day. Just one to go now... all being well we'll have finished it this time tomorrow!
Quote of the day: "Don't overdo the vibrato! xxx" (from Stephen Fry)
Wow, what a day, and what a trip overall. I don't know how to describe it really, as the mix of emotions is pretty incredible, and even though I'm writing this the following morning, we're still buzzing.
We were joined for the final 15.5 miles by three more friends - Laura, Alistair (13) and Robert (11), the third time on the walk we've been joined by kids, and each time it's given us a welcome boost. Thanks to all who've joined us along the way!
The morning comprised mainly climbing and falling, but to a much lesser degree than we've had before, and the decent weather made it very pleasant. We found a woodland natural cavern where we played, and gave a few walkers a surprise (hopefully a nice one!).
After a lot of crossing of fields, we finally found ourselves at the cliff top, and began the three mile coastal walk to Robin Hood's Bay. As we got closer the excitement built, and as we eventually entered the town all thoughts of aching feet were expunged by a quite wonderful welcome. People were clapping and cheering us all the way down to the beach, including some fellow walkers, but others who had just heard about us from friends or people they had met. It was fantastic!
Of course we dipped our feet in the sea, to mark the cross-country route being finalised, and threw our west-coast pebbles into the North Sea too. Thereupon we found a "seat" (well, a bit of brick jetty) just by the beach to play, and gave a concert lasting the best part of an hour (joined for some pieces by Alistair on the violin). This went down very well and the cheery crowd gave generously to help boost our total.
When we finally departed (having done a brief interview and played on Radio 5Live), we went off to Whitby to celebrate with fish and chips and collapse into bed.
And so, there we are. Some stats for you about the trip:
Distance walked - 193.8 miles
Locations performed at - 38
Pieces performed - 24
Time spent walking - 74 hours 28 minutes
Average walking speed - 2.6mph
Calories consumed - ???!!!
Money raised - £4,500 and counting...
Just a final thank you to some people. Ashley, Chris, Rachel for acting as Sherpas throughout, and Mary, Helen, Paul and Jo for doing it part of the way each; Angela for driving so fantastically to ensure our overnight stuff was always where we needed it when we needed it; and of course to everyone who's donated - I know the charities really appreciate it, as do we. And also to you, the blog readers - I've even constantly surprised by the number if people who've told me they've been following us - it makes it all worthwhile, as there have been several days when typing a blog entry was the last thing I wanted to do after a long walk!
Quote of the day: "Last one there's a viola player!"