Wednesday, March 13, 2019


We’re in Mexico at the special request of the president on a mission to persuade the good people here to pay for the wall. Not an easy task, I’ll admit. We are trying to convince them that the wall works both ways. It will stop Trump getting into Mexico.

It’s my first blog for a while so please bear with me. In fact, it’s been so long that blogs are now obsolete. I should be tweeting this in digestible chunks or using snapchat, whatever that is. There’s going to be lots of temples and churches as the tour can be summarized as first peoples and Catholics. I’ll try to keep to the highlights as I’m sure the actual experience of being here is probably a lot more interesting that reading about it from me.

We started in Mexico City, and what a city it is – a Megaopolis covering the basin and up high into the surrounding hills until it becomes too steep to build. It almost has a science fiction feel, a future city with no boundaries. When you gain some height and can see into the distance it really doesn’t seem real. The actual numbers are staggering; 9 million people within the city boundary, but it doesn’t stop there, another 14 million in the surrounding suburbs. I say suburbs but the concrete just keeps on going relentlessly. That might sound like a nightmare but we loved Mexico City.

The Aztecs founded the city. Anthropologists believe the first people in America travelled from Asia when the two continents were joined during an ice age in the far north where the Baring Sea is now. The Aztecs wandered the continent for hundreds of years looking for the sign of the Promised Land. This was meant to be an Eagle eating a snake on top of a cactus; obviously a rare sight. Unfortunately, the long awaited vision was found on a small island in the middle of a large lake. Personally, I think that the leader of the group must have been fed up wandering around. He must of spotted something far away in the island from the shore of the lake. “Doesn’t that rock look like an Eagle, and that twig must be snake, there’s a cactus somewhere.” Anyway, they settled on the island and soon went about enlarging it by reclaiming land along its shore to plant arable crops.

On our first day we drove forty kilometers north to the ancient city of Teotihuacan. Thought to be founded by Mesoamericans in around 100 BC who built a large city incorporating numerous ‘pyramids’ to worship the various deities that they revered. They left no record of their history, as they had no written language so there is a lot of guesswork and deduction by the anthropologists.  There is extensive evidence of human sacrifice. It is famous for its Sun and Moon temples / pyramids and the Avenue of the Dead.

On our walk to the ‘Sun Pyramid’ an elderly American couple asked our guide directions. 

“Which way to gate 2?” the lady asked. 
“Back the way you came,” replied Cesare.

Off they tottered to the sounds of “That’s what I told you back there you idiot. You never listen” as the lady explained the situation to her husband. Ah, married bliss.

Back to the city in the afternoon to visit Guadalupe, the second most visited Catholic site in the world after the Vatican. Here is housed the famous image of the virgin Mary of Guadalupe, who is said to have appeared to a local peasant Juan Diego three times in 1531.  She asked him to build a church in her honor. Juan went directly to the Bishop to report this who, perhaps understandably, was skeptical. Juan went back to the Virgin Mary who said that she would give him a sign. She asked him to gather flowers from the top of a nearby hill. Here Juan Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico. He gathered them in his cloak and went to see the Bishop. When he met the Bishop, he opened his cloak, the flowers fell, and revealed an image of the Virgin Mary imprinted on his cloak. This image is now housed in a magnificent church in the very centre of Mexico. We expected some kind of vague resemblance of Mary similar to the Turin shroud but it looks like a detailed painting (funny that). Anyway, if you’re going to claim a miracle you might as well go the full nine yards.

Next day was spent with a general wander around some of Mexico City’s more interesting streets and areas including the national palace and concluding with a visit to the anthropological museum. This is a great place full of native American treasures from the Aztecs, Mayans, Zapotecs etc. We took umpteen pictures so here’s just one as a taster.

Day 3 in Mexico City and a visit to the Museo of Dolores Olmedo, housing a collection of works from Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, both prominent artists of the 20th century. Diego was particularly influential in the muralist movement, and was also involved in the beginning of cubism along with Picasso. Today, his wife Frida has surpassed his fame, as she has become somewhat of a fashion icon, a kind of Mexican Monroe. Her image is everywhere. She reintroduced a lot of traditional dress into her wardrobe in the 1920s and 1930s. This has become very ‘now’ in Mexico with a lot of contemporary clothing and accessories incorporating some element of traditional patterns or design.

There was still time for a short visit to Xochimilco, where we embarked on a colourful boat called a trajinera to float along the pre-columbian canals propelled by an enthusiastic chap with a large pole. Here Mags bought some local jewelry from one of the many vendors that jump in and amongst the boats. There are scores of boats here navigating a small space, so collisions are frequent. It’s a vibrant scene where locals go to party with lots of boats having picnics.


A two hour drive took us to our next stop Puebla via a small detour to San Andres Cholula, a small village housing an extraordinary church adorned with colorful, childlike plaster work. (unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures). There was a Mass devoted to the patron saint of Animals and lots of villagers had brought their pets to be blessed. There was even a horse!

The Spanish liked to build their cities around a grid system, so navigation was relatively straightforward. We wandered around the city and had a fine lunch overlooking the main square near the Cathedral.

The highlight was our visit to the Amaro art museum that houses a fine collection including lots of pre-Hispanic pieces.

Here is Mags on the museum terrace with Cesar, our guide who left us in Puebla.


Next morning, we were met by Florencio, our new guide who drove us across country for five hours to our next stop, Oaxaca. The journey was quite spectacular crossing a mountain range and a huge protected ‘bioshere’ Lots of cactus including this one that was reputed to be 800 years old.

Finally away from the cities, the landscape looks a lot more ‘Mexican’ and we could easily imagine bandits on horseback being pursued by John Wayne.

We really enjoyed Oaxaca, a real ‘foodie’ city with lots of fine restaurants and bars all easily reached on foot from our central location. One highlight was our visit to a Mescal distiller.  Mescal is a spirit made from Agave, a plant that is abundant in these parts. There are many varieties, some of which can be cultivated. The most popular variety is used to make Tequila. However, most of the Tequila is exported as it is considered inferior by the locals as it only needs to be 51% Mescal, whereas other Mescals are 100%.

We drove out of the city to a visit a crusty old Mexican on his farm where he makes umpteen varieties of Mescal. Its quite a long process; the agave root has to be baked for a few days in an earth pit, then mashed up either by hand or with some mechanical help. The mash is brewed and then finally it is distilled in clay pots. We had a quick tour followed by a tasting. Here am I sampling one.

And here is our host.

Another highlight was our trip to the food market, lively and vibrant with an astonishing array of food from chilies to worms. We ate grasshoppers before having a barbequed lunch of pork and beef in, of course, tortillas washed down with a couple of cold beers.

But it wasn’t all eating and drinking in Oaxaca (although we would have been quite happy with that), we managed to squeeze in a couple of amazing temples. Mitla, a Mesoamerican site where the symmetry of the architecture is stunning, and Monte Alban, a huge Zapotec site built on top of a mountain with extensive views into the countryside.

We also visited a natural phenomenon, a petrified waterfall formed from a natural spring. It’s a popular spot as you can swim in a mineral pool there. Here is Mags dipping her toes in.

We did a lot more in and around Oaxaca, and had to leave with a lot we wanted to do but didn't;t have enough tine. We can’t recommend it highly enough.


We reluctantly left Oaxaca for Merida flying via Mexico City. Here, we stayed in an old Hacienda in the middle of nowhere, a quiet retreat from what had been a hectic schedule so far. There are a number of these grand colonial houses in this area built on the profits of Sisal that was extensively farmed here, made largely into rope and exported to Europe. The business was hugely profitable until synthetic fibers were invented. Our Hacienda has been converted into a palatial hotel that sits awkwardly adjacent to a tiny impoverished village.

It wasn’t all relaxation here by any means as we zoomed off to visit Celestun, a salt-water lagoon famous for its flock of pink flamingoes. We explored on a surprisingly fast boat.

And we also found time for the obligatory city tour of Merida, most memorable for a trip to a monument to Mexico’s past by the Columbian sculptor Romulu Rozo. The main problem with viewing it is that it is in the middle of a busy roundabout with no pedestrian bridge. We were pondering how we would cross the busy road when a friendly police car appeared and stopped the traffic for us.

We left Merida and drove three hours to Cancun via Cichen Itza, probably Mexico’s most famous temple site. It really was busy with thousands of tourists, and possibly even more vendors selling tat. Still it is an impressive site with a giant pyramid in the centre.

Finally, we reached Cancun where we met up with some friends at an all inclusive resort for two weeks of relaxing by the beach with a little bit of golf on the side.

Anyway, back to that wall. We weren’t very successful in our fund raising campaign so we’ve set up a crowd-funding site atwww.madmaninthewhitehouse.dik

Please give generously.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


We decided to take a mini break from our big break. This was prompted by British Airways writing to us informing us that we’d lose our air miles if we didn’t use them soon. We checked out destinations from City Airport and chose Stockholm. I hadn’t been this far north before and I could feel my hair becoming blonder as we neared our destination.

Sweden has a lot of trees - and water. As we descended towards the capital, I was expecting to see a few buildings and some urbanization but no, pine trees everywhere; we flew into a pine forest.

This year the weather has been following us, so of course we disembarked into bright, warm sunshine. I’m thinking of asking tourist boards around the world to pay us to visit them. We were soon ascending a bright functional staircase where Mags observed, “I feel like I’ve walked into a giant Ikea”

We whizzed into the city on an efficient express train and arrived at our Hotel just south of Gamla Stan at Slussen. We paid a little extra at check in to be upgraded to the executive floor where there’s a free bar from 6 to 8:30 every evening. The Swedes have taxed the pants off alcohol so this was definitely a good deal. After a few sherbets we headed into the historic old town for dinner. We’d uncovered a Swedish restaurant in the guide books that looked OK and we had a fine meal. Mags went for the reindeer so Santa may have a slightly harder job this year to deliver the presents. I had fish stew that was delicious.

Our primary purpose for coming was, need you ask, to visit the Abba museum. This was reached via a short ferry ride to Djurgarden, a large park to the east of the city. Great fun it was too, with plenty of opportunity for karaoke and singing on stage with simulated Abba cartoons. There’s lots of memorabilia including the original, gold, star shaped guitar from their historic 1974 Eurovision winning performance of Waterloo in Brighton.

Next attraction, also on the island, is the Vasa museum. Here an enormous 17th century wooden warship is housed. It was built by King Gustav II Aldof as the ultimate statement of power with 64 cannons on board. Unfortunately, after years in the making, it sank after fifteen hundred metres into its maiden voyage. I wouldn’t have wanted to be around the King that day. Fortunately for him, the shipwright had died a year earlier. An inquest was held to which no one turned up. I expect they thought they’d be lynched. Modern academics think it sank due to poor design and not enough ballast. It was raised by the Swedes in 1961 and lovingly preserved in a purpose built, environmentally controlled building. Very impressive it is too.

We lunched at Omermalmstorg Saluhall in the indoor food market at Lisa Elmqvist. This is a traditional Swedish seafood restaurant. It’s now or never, I thought, and duly ordered the pickled herring tasting plate. Six types of pickled herring came in various sauces coupled with rye bread and cheese. It was really good. No, honestly. Mags went for the safer Brill in lobster sauce that she said was superb.

We spent most of our remaining time wandering the cobbled streets of the old town admiring the beautiful buildings unmolested by modern development. Stockholm is often referred to as the Venice of the North, and I can’t help thinking that the comparison refers to the prices as well as the abundance of water. We couldn’t help taking to the sea so we jumped aboard the imaginatively named “Under the Bridges Tour” and spent a relaxing couple of hours cruising around some of the city’s fourteen islands. We strolled around Djurgarden for a while soaking up the Sunday sun and then kicked back in the late afternoon at “Mister French”, a chilled out restaurant / bar on the eastern shore of Gamla Stan, sipping wine while people and boat watching. Here we saw this lot taking a group selfie.

You may be wondering how we managed with the language but of course everyone speaks English. Stockholm’s a great little city for a weekend break and only two hours from City Airport. I think we’ll have to come back when we’ve saved up.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Coast to Coast

Due to popular demand, well I had one request anyway, here is the account of our trip across England on the coast to coast walk. This is a popular hike from the Irish Sea to the North Sea first put together by that famous fell walker Alfred Wainwright. I recorded this narrative as we went along but with intermittent internet, and just feeling knackered at the end of each day, I decided to publish it in one mega blog. Yes it’s long, as is the walk. I’ve really documented it to remind us of what we did in our approaching senility. Here it is anyway for anyone that might be interested.

Stage 1 St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge 23.5 km (14.5 miles)

First you have to get to the start, which is St, Bees on the Cumbrian coast. For us this was a fast train to Carlisle and then a two carriage country train that trundles along with the novelty of request stops. It ran into St Bees eventually after a pretty journey along the coast.

We checked into Stonehouse Farm and set out to explore. You have to like a place that has three pubs in close proximity; you could throw a blanket over them. We chose the Queens hotel where we had an interesting meal while watching England v Uruguay in the World Cup. I had pot roast beef that was sadly a little tough and both our meals came with what purported to be red wine jus that tasted spookily like watered down Bovril, although Mags’ had some mint thrown in as she had the lamb. The vegetables of the day were mash, carrots and peas. I’d opted for bubble and squeak that was actually just the vegetables mixed together; not much bubble or squeak there. Anyway, hard to grumble as it was very cheap and Mags’ lamb shank was tender. Louis Suarez, who was in a competition with Wayne Rooney for pin up of the World cup, broke English hearts with a brace and knocked us out. Still, it’s cricket season.

Next day, after a hearty breakfast, we set off in our brand new walking gear including my new, four wheel drive boots. Might as well as had a label saying “city folks”. We had a short walk to the beach to get to the official start. I jumped down onto the beach to retrieve a pebble to take to Yorkshire and walked across to the water’s edge to dip my fingers into the Irish Sea. The tide was out so we we’re destined to do every last inch of the journey from coast to coast.

We’d been very lucky with the weather yet again this year, and our first day was sunny and clear, the views along the coast and across the sea to the Isle of Man crystal clear. The first part of the walk took us along the coast north across St Bees Head, close to the cliff edge, past a colony of black guillemots, a lighthouse and a coastguard look out. We were immersed in beautiful scenery but after several hours began to feel a little uneasy; we were still on the west coast and, as the objective is to walk to the other coast, we hadn’t made any progress. Eventually, the path turned inland and we made our way to Moor Row. We’d earmarked this as our lunch stop as it reportedly had a bakery. This turned out to be little more that a lady selling pies from her front room. There was nowhere to sit so, armed with pasties, we searched for somewhere to eat. Moor Row appears to be particularly unfriendly to transient visitors, as we couldn’t even find a park bench, so we ate on the hoof and marched on. Soon we were at the next village of Cleator and began the long and brutal slog up Dent Hill, our first hill climb. Three hundred and fifty metres so the equivalent of climbing up the Shard. We puffed our way up a gravel path through pine forest that lent some welcome shade, and ploughed on up to the top disturbing the odd sheep on the way. We sat down and wheezed over the view which was magnificent; 360 degrees with the coast including Sellafield, St, Bees, where we’d started from, the large town of Whitehaven and the Isle of Man still visible in the distance, then west where the Pennines rose majestically and were beckoning us. Finally recovered we began the very steep descent toward Ennerdale Bridge, our destination. This really was a sharp gradient down and my knees were soon trembling trying to defy gravity. Mags was dong really well and I asked her “Doesn’t it hurt?” “Oh, it hurts all the time, you’re just not used to it.”

We reached The Shepherd Arms at around five p.m. and headed straight for the bar. We engaged some fellow walkers over restorative ale. They’d worked out that we’d each burned around two thousand calories. We quickly did the math and calculated that it equated to ten beers – happy days.

We had a very fine meal of linguine lobster and stuffed Aubergine that we shared before retiring to bed.

Walking time 7:30hrs

Stage 2 Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite 26.5 km (16.5 miles)

I breakfasted like a king on smoked haddock, and then we set off into another beautiful sunny day, A short stroll down to Ennerdale water, the western most lake in the lake district and usually bereft of tourists.

We traversed the length off it taking the southern rocky path. Here we met a couple of elderly Texans (How Y’all) who were a bit lost. We pointed them on the right path after a conference over the maps. We proceeded up the valley following the river Liza upstream, passing by some larch trees that were a stunning red colour. Unfortunately, this signified that they were diseased and dying. The forestry commission were culling and replanting. Up towards the source of the river we stopped at a small picturesque youth hostel where we munched in our pre-packed salad sandwich. Suitably refreshed we embarked on the long strenuous climb out of the valley to the top of Robin Hood’s chair. Another fantastic view with Ennerdale Water and Buttermere to the west. We continued east near a slate quarry and began our descent down a disused tram line (left over from mining). Here disaster struck as Mags jarred her knee and was in agony for the rest of the day. She bravely soldiered on though, the little Aussie battler. We passed the slate museum at the bottom that was busy with day trippers who’d motored out there. “Oh look’ Mags said “Cars, what a great idea.”

We limped on and down into Borrowdale and our destination, Nook Farm, in the pretty village of Rosthwaite. We were greeted by the farmer’s daughter who complained, “Awful hot isn’t it? I’m not good in the heat, me” It was seventeen degrees. We soon decamped to the nearby pub where we discovered that it was rammed with locals from the surrounding area who’d all just participated in a charity event for multiple sclerosis. We were a bit miffed as we couldn’t get a seat and we were out on our feet. We felt a bit foolish when we discovered that they’d all been part of ten peaks in ten hours. Eventually, we did gain a table as people left and had a pretty good burger and chips while being entertained by a young band.

We ran into the Texans (How y’all) in the pub again. They’d opted for the fried chicken which let’s face, was unlikely to be up to southern fried chicken standard. I asked them how it was and was informed “It was fast and it filled us up” Bless ‘em.

Walking time 7hrs

Stage 3 Rosthwaite to Grasmere 13.5km (8.5 miles)

Mags decided on a rest day to let her knee recover and hitched a lift with the luggage transport. This left me solo on the trek to Grasmere. A gentle uphill walk following Stonethwaite Beck soon became steeper and then a LOT steeper, finally clambering over rocks to reach Greenup Edge.
Great views back down the valley back towards Borrowdale and across to England’s highest peak, Scafell. There are two options at this point, a tougher, higher ridge walk or a relatively gentler descent down. Saving myself for future days, I took the easy option and had a couple of solitary hours wandering down alongside Easdale Beck with numerous waterfalls trickling away amongst some inquisitive sheep. So, a shorter day and I was in Grasmere with Mags by 14:30 where we had a quick snooze before dinner. Grasmere was the largest town to date and a mecca for tourists drawn by its idyllic location amongst the fells and as the burial site of Wordsworth who lived there for nine years. Mags had scouted the place earlier and booked us into Tweedies where I had a couple of fine ales before a lamb rump (just had to after seeing all those sheep) and Mags had duck breast, both superb. We stopped at a lively local bar on the way back to our B and B and possibly had one too many nightcaps but great fun watching Algeria beat South Korea 4-2.

 Walking time 5:30

Stage 4 Grasmere to Patterdale 12km (7.5 miles)

After a quick visit to the chemists to fix Mags up with a couple of knee braces, we left lovely Grasmere with its perfect stone cottages and set off into another sunny day. We climbed steadily up a long but gradual hill to Grisdale Tarn where we lunched by the water accompanied by a lone duck. The descent was less brutal than the previous three days and Mags managed with the help of two walking poles that two fellow walkers had gifted us at Grasmere. Thanks Bob and Gail. We found a hat on the path and picked it up with the intention of dropping it at the nearest pub, but a lady came striding down the path thirty minutes later searching for it so we were able to restore it to her. A fairly straightforward and level walk brought us into Grasmere with views over Ullswater, We had to pass two pubs to reach our B and B, so we just looked in to check out the beer. Our home for the night was Old Water View, nestled alongside Godrill Beck. The owner Ian had walked the coast to coast when he was twenty two and had a dream to open a place along the route, an ambition he achieved when he was thirty nine. He has all the items that you might need like blister treatment and maps and was full of advice. He recommended an alternate route for us to follow on the next day that would be a little easier on Mags’ knees.



Walking time 7:30hrs

Stage 5 Patterdale to Shap (19 miles)

We diverted from Wainright’s route to take a slightly lower path to Shap to save our knees. (Wainright seemed to be magnetically attracted to hills.) This actually made the trek longer and it was still a testing leg at 19 miles. We headed for Ullswater (Norse for bendy lake), and travelled along its Eastern shore. We picked our way up and down the path that cut through the bottom of Low Birk fell, always with the calm lake in view. We passed Howtown pier where a group of youths were orienteering. In fact we passed several school parties that day canoeing, sailing or mountain biking. As it was a school day, we assumed it must be part of the syllabus. As Mags said, “Youths today. They don’t know they’re born.” We were soon climbing (again) up Askham fell where Mags powered along leaving a trail of broken mountain bikers in her wake. Great views over the whole lake at the top, the ferries gently moving tourists along below. Being ‘off piste”, we were left with no detailed directions. We’d bought an ordnance survey map and were using that. We had a little trouble finding the path at Ketley Gate as the path evaporated near a circle of stones called a cock pit. We consulted with some friendly walkers and found the right way across Moor Divock. We located the road into Brampton and plodded on. Here, the fun had stopped and we were really starting to hurt but we had to keep going for another 5 kms. Head down, we moved through Brampton Grange where we had to force ourselves past the pub. Eventually we came to Rosgill where I spotted a more direct path into Shap. Unfortunately, this was not a well used route and not clearly marked. We had to plough through overgrown fields, hurdling stone stiles along the way, We came across a herd of cows that were in our path. Still, only cows so we approached expecting them to move aside. As we approached we moved to the left to go around them and they all started to move off too to block our way. We then moved to the right and again they moved to follow us. It was like a pasodoble. We were dancing with cows, wolves being unavailable. It was only when we got close that I noticed the bull, and then we could see that there were some calves too. A bull, cows and calves – not a great place to be. Anyway, we were too close now so just had to stare the bull out saying , “I’m too knackered to turn back. Its you or me, Bully.” Thankfully, they scattered and we quickly moved on. Eventually we rolled into New Ing farm in Shap. We met up with Bob and Anthony, a couple of scousers that we’d bumped into several times already, usually in the pub. We had a few beers with them watching England gain a magnificent point against Costa Rica. (At least that was one more point than Australia), and then lose in the cricket to Sri Lanka from the penultimate ball of the test match. Mags tested if they were real scousers by getting them to say “Chicken”.

Walling time 8:30hrs

Stage 6 Shap to Orton 12Km (7.5 miles)

A comparatively easy and welcome day which was just as well with a ‘short’ 12km hike across mostly level moorland. The peace was temporarily shattered as a fighter plane screamed past a hundred metres directly above us. We had to cross the M6 at one point and it wasn’t easy dodging the fast moving traffic carrying a backpack. We started late but still arrived in Orton by 13:30, so we had a couple of drinks in the George hotel before heading off to our lodging in The Old School, Tebay. A ramshackle place, a former hostel now turned B and B and occasional tea rooms. The owner picked us up from Orton as its several Kms away on a busy road. The only other guests were a retired Scottish couple breaking their journey to the old country.  The chap was not shy in sharing his political views. He’s a staunch bagpipe playing Scottish nationalist despite spending most of his adult life in England. Of course, as a result, he doesn’t get a vote in the referendum. Anyway, all very entertaining.

Walking time 3.30hrs

Stage 7 Orton to Kirkby Stephen 21km (13miles)

We continued on in the same vein as yesterday chiefly over open moorland. The walking was relatively flat and easy going. The weather had closed in on us, the sky slate gray, but still the rain held off. We lunched at a pretty little beck with yellow flowers sprouting along its border, a disused railway hut nearby and the Smardale Gill viaduct visible in the distance. We arrived in Kirkby Stephen at around 14:20, a metropolis compared to the other villages we’d stayed in. There were several pubs, two banks, a Chinese and Indian restaurant and importantly a launderette where we put ourselves on a quick cold wash. In the pub a couple of locals asked where we heading tomorrow. “Keld” we replied. “Are you going over Nine Standards?” We hurriedly checked the guide book and nodded in the affirmative. They just laughed at us. We dined on very fine local steak in the Black Bull and retired to our comfortable room at the Old Croft House.

Walking time: 5:50 hrs

Stage 8 Kirkby Stephen to Keld 24km (14.5miles)

Mags needed another day off to rest her knee so I headed off to climb Nine Standards Rigg. The ascent started immediately but was straight forward and not too steep, passing round the back of a quarry. Once on the exposed slopes, a chill wind came biting across from the west and I donned my fleece for the first time on the trip. The skies were leaden again but somehow the clouds managed to retain the water they held. The views from the top were fabulous. The ‘Nine Standards’ are nine stone pillars. No one knows who put them there or why. One local fable has it that they were erected to deter marauding Scotts who would mistake them for an English army from a distance. Somehow, that appears unlikely. We were promised boggy conditions and I duly put on my newly purchased gaiters. There were some patches but easily avoided due to the run of dry weeks. It was easy to see though that it must be horrendous at most other times. The descent was long and gradual and beautiful with spectacular views all the way. Eventually I left the hill and reached Ravenseat Farm where I met up with a couple from Perth, W Australia that we’d bumped into a few times and a chap from Yorkshire that Mags named the happy camper (not that he was particularly happy, but he was camping.) We all had cream teas that the farmer’s wife does as a side business. Scones straight from the oven, delicious. I headed on towards Keld mostly following a stream now heading to the North Sea as we’d passed a water shed on Nine Standards. Numerous restored stone barns punctuated the path. I passed Wainwath Force on the approach to Keld, not Iguasu but pretty enough, and a few signs offering parking and camping for the upcoming “Le Tour”.  Soon, I was warmly embraced by Keld Lodge where Mags was waiting to greet me. We had now crossed into Yorkshire or, as the natives say, God’s own country.

Walking time: 5 Hrs.

Stage 9 Keld to Reeth 18.5km (11.5miles)

A rested Mags was back in the game. A leisurely stroll down Swaledale following the river downstream. There was a bit of a climb after Gunnerside but generally an easy day. At this point I should really mention the poo. Fell sheep are poo machines and they like to poo everywhere. The cattle join in too, although not as frequently as the sheep, they manage to create a small tarn of poo each time. Walking and staring at the scenery is asking for trouble, so its head down to watch your step or stop and look up at the hills. Many of the villages had bunting and yellow bicycles displayed to welcome the Tour de France that was due to come through next week. Everyone was clearly very excited. We were given a very warm welcome by Bob and Denise at our B and B. There was only one other guest, Katrina from Germany. We dined in the Burgoyne hotel that was purported to be the poshest place in the village. Very fine it was too, although slightly surreal as we were served by a Jane Fonda lookalike.

There were a few language issues next morning at breakfast. Bob was from the North East and poor Katrina had no idea what he was saying “Whey Aye Pet, would ya like anoofer coop a coffeee like?” Mags interpreted for her.

Stage 10 Reeth to Richmond 20km (12.5 miles)

Another easy day strolling across mostly farmland on the soft rolling hills of Swaledale. We travelled a little further than necessary when I took the wrong road out of Marske causing us to backtrack a kilometre or so. Mags was not amused. We arrived in Richmond a 14:15pm, a veritable metropolis compared to our previous overnight destinations. We found some fellow walkers already enjoying a pint in the Kings Head so joined in. It was Sunday, so we went in search of a late roast lunch with Yorkshire pud and all the trimmings. We discovered that we were too late for most establishments but one local pointed us to the Unicorn where we had a disappointingly average nosh up. The Yorkshire pudding was good though.

Stage 11 Richmond to Danbe Wiske 24km (14 miles)

We left the Dales for good and began our journey to the Yorkshire Moors. This was a fairly uninspiring, flat leg over farmland. It became more interesting as we got lost (again) shortly after leaving Richmond, and were diverted as the original route was closed due to roadworks. We then got lost on the diversion so made the 24km walk a fair bit longer. It was a nice change to travel through some arable farmland, thus avoiding the need to be on constant poo alert. On the approach to Danbe Wiske (Yes, it really is called that), we encountered two horses in a paddock. The animals had worked out that if they blocked the exit stile, they had a good chance of wheedling out some food from the coast to coasters. We had no food to pay the ferryman, so to speak, so had to do some petting and maneuvering before vaulting the stile. We arrived to find most of our fellow walkers already in the village pub,. We met a couple of Kiwis there who had already walked across England along Hadrian’s wall, had turned round, and were now walking back along Wainwright’s route. Put us all to shame.

Walking time 5 hrs

Stage 12 Danbe Wiske to Ingleby Cross 13km (9 miles)

A similar day to yesterday walking over farmland to cover the remaining distance to the next national park. You would think that by now, with all this exercise that we’d be as fit and lithe as racing snakes, but with the cooked breakfasts, ale and pub grub, I think we’re actually putting on weight. And of course we’d been drinking gallons of Yorkshire tea. I was on the lookout for the tea plantations but to no avail. I think they must all be in the rhubarb triangle. The highlight of the day was crossing the A19 where we had to sprint across a fast moving dual carriageway. No casualties reported. We'd discovered that two other walkers had the same birthday as us, Greg from Melbourne and our happy camper Mick. We had early drinks in the pub to celebrate, as we were separating the following day.

Walking time 4hrs

Stage 13 Ingleby Cross to Clay Bank Top 23km (13.5 miles)

We started climbing after two days walking on the flat and were soon at Arncliffe Wood. We’d entered the North Yorkshire Moors national park (Oh, Heathcliffe), the third and last of the national parks on the route. A lovely stroll through the heather, some of it flowering early in a pink bloom, disturbing the odd famous grouse. We had expansive views east and north with Middlesborough in the distance and our first glimpse of the North Sea. We climbed up and over a number of hills, testing the old knees out, terminating with the Wainstones, a rocky outcrop on top of our final hill. We dined with Martin and Robyn from Western Australia and a couple of Yorkshire girls in the Wainstones Hotel, a courtesy car picking us up at Clay Bank top and depositing us there the following day to resume our walk.

Walking time 6:30 hrs

Stage 14 Clay Bank Top to Blakey Ridge 11km (7.5 miles)

I started the day with walker’s porridge for breakfast that included a shot of Drambue. Well, it was my birthday, Mags’ too. A real shot in the arm and in no time we’d made the short ascent and were back on the moor. An easy but spectacular walk today peacefully striding across the moors. Famous grouse everywhere and the odd sheep. We triumphantly strode into Lion’s inn a mere 3 hours later to start the birthday celebrations. The Kiwis arrived and sang happy birthday very loudly causing Mags to blush. The Lion really is an incredible pub perched high and alone on top of the moor. It was packed with walkers, cyclists and motorists despite its remote location. They bash out enormous portions of pub grub to hungry travellers. Mags had lamb that consisted of four huge chops and eight roast potatoes.

Walking time 3 hrs

Stage 15 Blakey Ridge to Egton Bridge 22.5km (14 miles)

We continued on the moor (Oh, Heathcliffe) finally descending into Glaisdale and then onto our destination for the day, Egton Bridge. There were tantilising views of the coast looking deceptively near. It was very windy ont moor (notice the Yorkshire accent there) and we had to concentrate to avoid being blown off course.

We heard a local tale of romance attached to Beggar's Bridge in Glaisdale. An inscription on the bridge suggests that it was built in 1619, and the initials TF refer to Thomas Ferries, the son of a moorland farmer. When he was courting he had to ford the river Esk to meet his young lady, Agnes, whose father considered Thomas too poor for his daughter. Thomas resolved to seek his fortune at sea but, with the river in flood, was unable to cross to kiss his sweetheart goodbye. Returning later, a wealthy man, Thomas married Agnes and built a handsome bridge on the very spot, so future young lovers would never be separated.

Walking time 4:30

Stage 16 Egton Bridge to Robin Hood’s Bay (25km, 15.5 miles)

I haven’t mentioned the weather for some time as it had been unbelievably completely dry and mostly sunny. On our last day however, we did wake up to a little drizzle. At least we were going to use the waterproofs I’d been carrying for fourteen days. Or so I thought, but we dawdled a little over our breakfast and by the time we put our boots on, the rain had stopped. The local news was buzzing with ‘Le Grand Depart’ of the tour de France that was leaving starting from Leeds that day. All the press were there leaving us short of journalists to witness our own grand depart. We soon came upon Egton Manor, where a donation box was positioned “Please help our Donkeys.” A tad cheeky I thought. They were the ones living in a stately home; they should have been giving us money. The last steep climb of the walk took us past the quaint Grosmont railway station and onto Sleights moor.  It was misty up there and we finally had a feel for the eerie, haunting and lonely vibe of the Yorkshire moors. We descended into Little Beck Wood where the sun broke through providing dappled views of the May Beck. We continued on with a yomp through Sneaton Low and Graystone Hills moors. We were heartened to see our first sign for Robin Hood’s Bay (our final destination and nothing to do with the man in tights), a mere 3 and half miles away; but Wainwright wasn’t about to take us the direct route so there was still some way to go. Whitby and its striking abbey were constantly in view lit up by the bright sunshine. We finally hit the coast and then walked south along a coastal path, part of the Cleveland way, into Robin Hood’s bay. Our accommodation was at the top of the village so we checked in and deloused before stumbling down the steep road to the bay. We duly dipped our toes in the water, threw the pebble we picked up at St Bess in to the sea and retired to Wainright’s bar in the Bay hotel. Never before has house wine tasted so sweet.

Walking time 7:20 hrs