I’ve backpacked hundreds and hundreds of miles. I’ve hiked and climbed thousands of feet in the alpine. I’ve walked innumerable city blocks. I’ve trained for and run many a foot race. I rode my bicycle from Sandpoint, Idaho to Phoenix, Arizona.
So when I got asked to guide this trek in Europe, not only was I unbelievably stoked, I was completely unintimidated. I mean, walking town-to-town through the English countryside? Breakfast and Dinner served to us? Sack lunches prepared for us daily? Most of our gear shuttled to the next destination? Um…Yes, please!
Honestly, mentally, I prepared for this trek like it would be a vacation. Not because I didn’t take my responsibilities seriously. But more like because I didn’t really think it would be that challenging.
I was wrong.
All in all (and for various reasons) only two of us, myself and one participant, hiked every mile we set out to: 159 miles of walking in fifteen days.
The kind of tired that I experienced after this trek was truly unlike any kind I had previously experienced. Maybe it’s because I was guiding and taking my job very seriously. Maybe it’s because I worked my regular job right up until the day before we left. Maybe it’s because I was working with my girlfriend (which turned out to be awesome). Maybe it’s because I was just plain pooped. Who knows? What I do know is that it took me nearly the better part of two weeks to recover fully. The persistent bustle of daily travel, movement, walking, exploring is quite powerful.
As that persistent bustle has given way to the inertia of daily routine, I have had time to review photos and memories. I’ve finally integrated most of what happened on that trip, and I have come up with some of my favorite occurrences. They are as follows, and in no particular order.
Coin trees:Somebody, in the trail’s history, had the brilliant idea to start pounding coins into these fallen trees. We came upon two or three of them, all fascinating and delightful to see on the trail.
The creation and craft of these beautiful walls is an ancient and tested tradition and art. There are books published on the subject. They are such a permanent and prominent feature of the landscape in fact that they show up on topographic maps. And you can count on the accuracy and placement of the walls to help guide you through the countryside.
The Lake District is very obviously rife with lakes. The curious thing is that many if not most of the lakes are man-made. The engineering of these bodies of water is so calculated and seemingly divine, it was often difficult to tell which were natural and which were not. The one pictured below is no exception.
While somewhat grim, the headstones in this cemetery are absolutely fascinating. The gentleman pictured next to the stone below is the caretaker-cum-tour guide of Thornton cemetery, famous for two reasons. First, the Bronte sisters lived there. Second, it was one of the first areas outside of London to fall to the plague. Official estimates calculate between 60,000 and 80,000 bodies are buried in this cemetery, an area not much larger than a football field. The plague hit the town so quickly that entire families were buried in single graves, as many as seventeen deep. Shortly after the plague another epidemic hit the town, this time of cholera. The cemetery was directly above the city’s water source. A local magistrate finally put two and two together and the cemetery was officially closed.
Our guide told us all of this. We were standing about, reading a placard in awe. He approached us with a rake in his hand and work gloves on and said, “Would you like to see something interesting?” Gleefully, he swept us about the graveyard, cautioning us not to trip, brushing off headstones, and giving us the rich history of the area. Oh yeah, and the marker he’s standing next to: He lives in the house of the deceased! I digress.
The marker I chose to display below is fascinating for a plethora of reasons. First, it is TWO pieces of stone. Period. Save the picture and zoom in to get an idea of what that means. Seriously. This was one of the most ornate markers in the cemetery, though not because the family was wealthy. Our guide believes that the gentleman who constructed the marker was not even a stone mason, for he made no other markers in the graveyard.
He was a loving father. Look at the names. The third picture is a detail of a small turret on the lower right side of the marker. Note his name.
Bridges and Aqueducts:
A photographer’s dream. I may do an entire post on the shots I took here. Fascinating. It’s one of the most well-preserved castles in all of England. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here for something like six months.
What’s a castle without a hedge maze? I say, what are those monkeys doing there?
These kilns were part of a limestone processing plant. I don’t remember why exactly they fired the limestone, but it was part of the process. The thing was a gigantic oval the size of a football field. It had been closed for a number of years until the county bought it and turned it into an historical park.
I didn’t have a tripod, so the shot is kinda blurry. Oh, and the walls of the thing are actually white. The green is bleed from the plants that have grown up outside of each of the doorways. Pretty cool.
Everyone who’s every been to Europe knows about the monuments. There are monuments everywhere! This particular monument was our beacon on the very last day of the trip. When we started that day it was no larger than my pinky fingernail on the horizon. We commented to one another how far off it must be and that we’d never reach it. Little did we know.
Wensleydale Cheese Factory:
One final favorite, which I didn’t photograph, was the Wensleydale Cheese Factory. They garnered some fame from the Wallace and Grommit series. We arrived at closing time after walking something like fourteen miles, in the rain. The workers were busy covering cheeses in the tasting room. We’d go right up behind them and uncover them to sneak cheese we were so hungry and excited. I bought something like three pounds of cheese from them. And at it all that night. Oh, the joys of walking.
So there it is. My A-list for the trek. If anyone has anything to add about my favorites here, I’d love to hear from you. Have you been to Thornton? What about monuments? Do you know history or interesting stories about any of the places I’ve shown here? Please share!