Looking back along the Cleveland Way

If you have been following my blog you will know that I recently completed a walk along the Cleveland Way national trail. As a newbie to long distance walking I put a lot of planning into the walk and, having successfully completed it, thought it might be useful to look back on the experience so as to encourage (or forewarn) other would-be trail walkers.

Let me first set the scene. As a reasonably fit but irregular day-walker the notion of a linear walk attracted me on a number of levels:

Time in the great outdoors with a wide variety of scenery
The opportunity to meet interesting people
The freedom associated with ten days on the road
A physical challenge beyond my normal boundaries but within my capabilities
Motivation

It is important to be clear about your objective. My primary recommendation for any potential trail walker would be to be clear about your motivations and decide what you want to get out of the walk. This will be helpful while planning and packing because when it comes to trade-offs (there are plenty: time, money, physical, etc) you should be able to make decisions that best support your aims.

Before I even began to make any plans I decided I wanted to be able to take in my surroundings each day and not feel rushed, nor to be overly focussed on chalking off miles (given my nagging history of lower body ailments I was worried about some part of me breaking en-route if I pushed myself too hard). I also wanted to have time each day to write a blog entry.

Planning

Here’s what I did
There are an increasing number of recognised long distance walks in the UK. I chose the Cleveland Way for several reasons:

As a designated National Trail the route would be superbly maintained and sign-posted
It is one of the easier National Trails – relatively short at 108 miles and forgiving terrain for the most part
The equal split of moorland walking vs coastal path would provide variation and interest

I devised a relatively sedate 10 day walk schedule (some people do it in 7 days) plus two rest days for a little exploration and to allow my body time to recover from any strains.

On some of the National Trails organisations like Sherpa Van will ferry your bags between overnight stops for a fee. I considered this option but decided against it because you still have to lug a day-sack around with waterproofs, camera, lunch, water, etc. Instead I focussed intently on weight reduction

I decided not to camp in order to keep weight down. Most of my nights were spent in B&Bs with just a couple of hostels thrown in. All accommodation was booked in advance and I booked the small villages first because they had least choice of places to stay and so the dates of availability here would shape the schedule for the rest of the walk.

Large destinations like Whitby and Scarborough are likely to have plenty of rooms available most days of the year.

Before committing to the walk I went on a 2 day trial walk in Devon carrying my full rucksack in order to learn any lessons prior to the completion of planning.

I researched the route online (the National Trails website is a great resource) and purchased the official walk book which includes O/S maps for the entire route. Resources like these are invaluable for planning. For instance, the guide book recommended walking in late summer to see the best of the moorland heather in bloom.

I created a day-by-day walk planner logging actions/options for accommodation, food and cash. This might sound extreme but some places have nowhere to eat in the evening or no shop where you can stock up on lunch for the next days walk so you may have to obtain a lunch 2 days in advance. Also most B&Bs don’t take plastic nor are their cash tills in many villages so make sure you know where the ATMs are and withdraw all the cash you will need.

In case I couldn’t walk one day for any reason I downloaded bus timetables between my overnight stops onto my phone. My entire itinerary including B&B contact details was also saved online (I used TripIt) to negate the need for paper reservations.

While not by any means relying on google maps it is useful to have access to them for finding my accommodation at the end of each day. I pre-cached the North Yorkshire area on my tablet computer so that I would have access to the map even if no data connection was available. Also on my tablet I downloaded podcasts relating to the region as well recent radio programmes for listening on the way.

My thoughts after the event

The Cleveland Way is a great choice for a first long distance walk as I had hoped
If time allowed I wouldn’t walk more than 4 days without a day off for rest and exploration
My thorough approach to planning paid off, allowing me to make the most of my time on the walk
It’s just a shame that you can’t practically find accommodation as you go. You are compelled to book in advance which takes away some of the flexibility and spontaneity of travel from the pre-internet days.
Packing

Here’s what I packed
The following table lists my inventory. It goes without saying that everything was chosen to be as light as possible and that liquid volumes were based on need. In order to further reduce weight I only took 6 sets of clothes for 11 nights with laundry stop after the 5th night.

Category Item Notes
Travel  Rucksac  Treated with waterproofing spray
Travel  Super light day-sack  For evenings and days off
Travel  Rucksac waterproof cover
Travel  Compass
Travel  Plastic bags to line rucksac  Charity bags or bin liners
Travel  Sleeping bag liner  Instead of a sleeping bag at hostels
Travel  Sun cream
Travel  Foam sitting mat
Travel  Mini-LED torch
Travel  Eye mask and ear plugs  In case of light or noisy hostel room
Travel  Transparent map case  For the guide book (not taking maps)
Information  Cleveland Way guide book
Information  Booking information  On paper and online on TripIt
Information  Public transport info  Between overnight stops
Personal  Wallet & selected cards & stamps  I dumped all those superfluous cards!
Personal  Phone, charger & USB battery
Personal  Cheque book  Some B&Bs are happy with a cheque
Personal  Glasses & wipes
Personal  Sunglasses
Leisure  Headphones  Light small ones
Leisure  Notepad and pen x 2
Leisure  Camera, charger & small tripod
Leisure  Tablet computer  Sharing the phone charger
Leisure  Charity shop book  Dump after reading
Food & Drink  Water bladder and tube
Food & Drink  Tupperware & travel cutlery  For lunches
Food & Drink  Emergency nibbles  Dried fruit and nuts
Food & Drink  Bottle opener
Food & Drink  Plastic 500ml water bottle  For filling water bladder
Food & Drink  Tea bags (green/ginger)  I get board of breakfast tea
Toiletries  Super-light travel towel  For hostels & mid-walk
Toiletries  Toiletries  In small containers
Domestic  Medical kit  Including complead plasters
Domestic  Utility card  Tiny wallet card with sharp knife
Clothes  Walking boots
Clothes  Walking sandals  For evening use
Clothes  Waterproof jacket
Clothes  Soft shell jacket
Clothes  Walking socks x 6
Clothes  Normal socks x 6
Clothes  Underwear x 6
Clothes  T-shirts x 6
Clothes  Long sleeve T-shirt x 2
Clothes  Walking trousers x 2
Clothes  Shorts
Clothes  Linen trousers
Clothes  Pyjama shorts  Naked + hostel = arrest

A lot of deliberation went into this list! There’s no jumper – just a light jacket or long sleeved T-shirt if an extra layer is needed. My non-walking boots are sandals, but what if I’m wearing them in the evening and it rains? I get wet feet – better than taking heavier water-tight footwear. The only luxury in this list is my Nexus 7 tablet computer (weight 332g) as without this I can’t blog.

My thoughts after the event

We have all been on holiday and returned pondering all the unused-items we took with us. I nailed it this time – there were no unused items (!) apart from those for contingency or that weighed nothing.

There is just one change I wish I had made to this packing list. I wish that one of my pairs of walking trousers had been made from breathable waterproof material so that on the wash-out day my feet and legs might have been better protected.

The Walk

This is the route that I took…

…and these are my trail stats according to my GPS gizmo

Daily Stats
Route  Helmsley to Filey
Distance  119 miles Speed  3.1 mph
Lowest  0ft Highest  1647ft
Ascent  7013ft Descent  7878ft

My daily pre-walk routine

I found that wearing a pair of walking socks over a pair of everyday socks worked best for me
Check the latest weather forecast. Prepare accordingly, including application of sun cream if appropriate
Consult my Cleveland Way guide book to familiarise myself with the basic walk profile
Fill water bladder prior to walk – 2L for longer day, 1.5L for shorter
Perform some calf/achilles stretches prior to donning my rucksack
Start the Endomondo android app on my tablet PC to log the days walk via GPS

During the walk

Proactively act on any foot soreness by applying breathable tape or Complead plasters to stop rubbing
Keep an eye on any strains and take ibuprofen if really necessary
Keep hydrated

Immediately after the walk

Stop the Endomondo application
Take a shower on arrival but use cold water on calves and feet
Perform post-walk foot-care as appropriate
Dry boots if wet. Remove insoles and laces for quicker drying

In the evening

Refer to my day guide to ensure I obtain any money or food required for coming days
Repack as much as possible with attention to weight distribution and general accessibility
Check twitter for any comments relating to tonight’s destination and tomorrow’s route. I found accounts like @NationalTrails, @ClevelandWayNT and @NorthYorkMoors to be a regular source of interesting and useful tweets.
Blogging

Preparation
I wanted to try and blog each day, subject to time and connectivity. What I didn’t want to do was spend my evenings just staring at a screen so I did everything possible to prepare prior to starting the walk so that the act of blogging became as simple as possible.

I developed a generic blog template which would consist of three sections; words and pictures for the day, walking statistics (from Endomondo) and a google map of the days route
The google map for each days walking was created in advance
I created a WordPress draft blog entry for each days walk based on the generic template with the correct map pre-inserted
With no guarantee of internet access I installed Evernote as a primitive text entry application and Photoshop Express for offline photo manipulation.

Composing each blog entry

My motivation for blogging comes from inspiration in the day’s events. By allowing plenty of time each day for not walking I was able to stop and explore things or spend more time talking to people I met without worrying about the schedule. Whenever I stopped for a break I would take out my little notepad and record the events that had caught my attention, before my notoriously poor memory let them slip.

Also I tried to take more photos than I would normally do so just for myself. On a 10 day walk it would be easy to take hundreds of path and landscape photos which is going to get boring in a blog. Any feature, detail or macro subject helps to provide visual variety and interest to a walking blog. It’s also surprisingly easy later in the walk to get into a rhythm where you forget to take any photos.

Publishing each blog

I tended to find myself in a pub most evenings – a conducive environment for publishing plus the potential for high speed WiFi Generally speaking I typed entries from my notebook into Evernote, refined them and then copied the text into my pre-prepared draft blog for that day in WordPress. Then I would review my photos for the day, choose the ones I wanted to include and perform any basic post-production editing in Photoshop Express.

For the most part I scaled down the resolution in order to decrease file sizes as high resolution photos on a web page look no better than lo-res but for a few panoramic shots I retained the large files so that the images could be clicked upon for a larger display.

Then there’s the business of uploading the photos and placement into the narrative. I try to ensure that photos support the surrounding text but sometimes I realised I had an image I wanted to share that did not chime with any text. In these instances I would add supporting text to assist with the incorporation of the image and retain the narrative flow.

In an ideal world you finish writing your blog and review it several times before sleeping on it and reviewing it again in the morning. My schedule didn’t allow for this final step and I tried to go live with a blog on the day of writing where possible.

Finally I published links to my blog on Facebook and Twitter. I am grateful for all the retweets I received that brought my blogs to a wider audience who were generous with their comments. That’s one of the joys of twitter – instant feedback on what you are doing laced with suggestions and advice from lovely people you have never met.

How well did all of this work?
My 7 inch tablet PC is not ideal for blogging over such a long time. I installed a Swype keyboard to speed up typing but it’s no substitute for a proper keyboard and mouse. I had researched this prior to the walk and other bloggers said it was doable. It was doable (I did it) but it was much slower than normal and altogether messier. The Android WordPress app is slick but lacks some of the features I rely upon so I found myself battling with the web GUI which was a real struggle on the small screen.

On some days you have the time and energy to produce a blog and others you don’t. I chose to progressively fall 5 days behind rather than slog on which would have meant missing out on the “real world” and producing what would no doubt have been poor(er) writing.

I learnt this lesson after committing to blog every day of the 2010 world cup which was totally overwhelming and exhausting even though it was huge fun and produced some of my best writing. Not again!

The walk stats I published came from the Endomondo GPS application which captured distance, speed, altitudes and ascent/descent. Using this was no more than an experiment really which is just as well and I’m not entirely convinced in its altitude accuracy. How for instance can it be right in saying the lowest point in a day was 120ft above sea level when I walked along the beach for half a mile? Hmmm…

Cleveland Way Recommendations

So I have written in some detail about the pragmatics of long distance walking but I haven’t really touched on my thoughts on the Cleveland Way itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to any walker regardless of experience. All you have to do is plan thoroughly and then take that first step.

Here are some personal recommendations although you should take them with a pinch of salt because travel should be about making our own “discoveries” and not copying somebody elses…

Accommodation

Helmsley The Youth Hostel really is first rate and less than a 5 minute stroll to the market square
Osmotherley Anne runs her modest B&B at 4 Belle Vue Cottages (01609-883435) without the aid of a website or even email. However, it’s a snip at £25 and Anne is the most caring host with an formidable knowledge of distance walks.
Chop Gate Forge House solves the thorny problem of sleeping near Clay Bank. Host Robin is worth the fee alone and breakfast may well be your best meal of the walk. The fine pub is yards away, there’s a lift back up to the trail in the morning and you may get to ride Nellie the cow if you are lucky 😉
Kildale The camping barn at Park Farm is great value considering the facilities and you are right on the trail. The views here are stunning and my stay here will last long in the mind.
Robin Hoods Bay Fern Leigh Guest House is just one of many in RHB but I mention it because it’s a lovely old period house and I really liked the engaging landlady who served many home made items at breakfast. Just when I was getting tired of B&Bs Fern Leigh restored my faith in them!

Food

Helmsley Auntie Anne’s Castlegate Bakery at the start of the walk provides a great place to stock up on freshly baked goodies!
Sutton Bank The Hambleton Inn cooks fresh food using local ingredients and I had a great meal here. Just be sure it’s open before you go
Chop Gate The Buck Inn serves fresh local food plus German specialities. I would avoid the pasta however on the basis that this is neither from Yorkshire or the landlady’s homeland
Whitby This is a cheat. I didn’t actually visit Fortune’s Kippers but having been before a visit/purchase from this legendary smokehouse is a must if you have the chance!
Robin Hoods Bay Wayfarers Bistro is renown for quality seafood and I had a very good meal here. It’s a little more expensive than pub prices but decent value for the quality so I considered this a treat. Booking advisable.

Drink

Chop Gate The Buck Inn serves great beer as well as food and the old stone building is loaded with character.
Saltburn Oh this torments me. There’s a heavenly tea room next to the train station close by Sainsburies but I can’t remember the name and it’s off limits to google maps being in the pedestrianised precinct. Seek it out for loose leaf tea in assorted old china tea pots with an assortment of the best home made cake. Yes – this is tea and not beer but it’s still a drink!
Whitby The Duke Of York stocks some decent ales but my recommendation is based on the view over the harbour. Grab a bay window seat at this wooden beamed pub and it almost feels like you are aboard some sailing vessel.
Robin Hoods Bay Another cheat because I didn’t drink here this time but Wainwright’s Bar in the Bay Hotel is akin to a pirate’s den decked out in wood and stone with the sea just a walls width away. Marking the end of the C2C it’s also a great place to meet jubilant walkers and down a top Yorkshire ale.
Scarborough North Riding Brew Pub hasn’t won town pub of the year for the last 5 years for nothing. Fabulous range and quality of ales, some brewed on the premises, plus unpretentious ambiance make this my top tipple of the tour

Places

I started to make a list of places I was enthused about and realised I had just catalogued most of the Cleveland Way! Here then are a few possible less obvious points of interest…

Rievaulx Abbey Even if you don’t pay to go in it’s worth the minor detour to see the remains of this imposing structure
Sutton Bank Visitor Centre A trip to this impressive facility will heighten your appreciation of the walk along Sutton Bank to Osmotherley
Saltburn Pier Walk to the end, turn around 360 degrees and take in the scene. Your first taste of the sea at the half way stage of the trail.
Sandsend Beach Approach Whitby along this endless sandy beach if the tide allows
Ravenscar Explore the exposed cliff-top site of the abortive town-that-never-was
The Spa A Scarborough icon and great for people-watching over a cuppa
Filey Coble Landing Evocative slipway from which fishing vessels are still launched. Also gateway to an extensive promenade with panoramic views of Filey Bay

 

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