Although the day begins beautiful and hopeful, it turns out to be a rather discouraging enterprise. The sun is out when I catch the bus from Whitby to Staithes. I love the fact we’re riding across the moors. They are so vast and empty and stunning. I’d love to go walking there one day.
After climbing up the steep hill to the coast path the view back to Staithes is mouth-watering beautiful. Such a lovely, quaint little harbour town. But consequently also very busy with tourists. So when I reach the cliff top, I’m relieved to be the only person who decided to walk the coast path today. I take my time to look at the sea and breathe in its fresh, salty air. This is why I love to walk here, on my own. This space, this freedom, the endless horizon, the ever changing seas and coastline.
I know it’s going to rain around midday, but the weather man said it would be just a shower, so I’m not in the least daunted by the prospect. Besides I have my waterproofs in my rucksack. Also, I hope to reach Runswick Bay to find some shelter from the worst of the rain and eat my lunch there. But as misfortune would have it, after a light drizzle, the full force of the shower starts when I have to turn West, inland to reach Runswick Bay and face the wind and rain head on. Not cool!
The tarmac road down to the beach, where the coast path leads me, is a very steep, 25-30% gradient descent. And what I hoped to find near the beach, a bit of shelter is not available. No cafe or pub, not even a dry bench to sit on. While I stand leaning against the wall of a – during winter months – closed cafe under a small protrusion, a couple climbs up from the beach looking for some shelter as well. We huddle together and start a conversation. They walk these parts of the coast regularly and helpfully point out to me where I have to head up the hill at the other end of Runswick Bay beach. ‘Mind you,’ they say, ’there is no sign there, you just have to find your way along the little stream. It’s very slippery, especially in these wet conditions. You’re lucky the tide is out, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get to the path at all, as the high tide overflows the stream and path next to it. But even so it’s not easy, you really have to watch your step. Also, the climb up the bank is the steepest of all ascents on the Cleveland coast path.’ After maybe half an hour the rain starts petering out. I decide to get going again, before my legs get too cold from standing still. Armed with their expert opinions I head for the stream with renewed energy, although I didn’t have a chance to eat my sandwiches.
They were absolutely right about the slippery path along the stream. The rail which could have given support, lies broken aside. I slip and almost fall down, but manage to stay upright and get safely to the bridge over the stream. Then the muddy steps up the steep river bank follow. And the rain starts pouring again. I find some shelter on the way up underneath thorny buckthorn bushes and small trees. But once at the top, where the wind has free reign, it feels like the flood gates of heaven have opened. I am already wearing my waterproof jacket, and am in doubt as to put on my trousers as well. Trouble is, they don’t have zips at the side, so I’ll have to pull them over my already wet and very muddy boots. Which will result in the inside of the waterproof pants getting very dirty and wet as well. I decide not to go through that trouble and hope (and expect) the rain will soon stop.
The thing with a headland is, it’s very open and wind swept. Although I have the wind and rain at my back, I still get soaked. The coast path is a mud nightmare, so when I see a gravelled farm track I walk on that as far as the tiny hamlet of Kettleness. It takes me maybe 20 minutes to get there, and still the rain hasn’t stopped. Again there’s no a shelter in sight, so I have to continue on the mucky coast path. I try to avoid the mud as much as possible, taking short cuts, crossing fields diagonally. But the inevitable happens, I slip and tumble to the ground rolling over my rucksack to a stand still. With mud on my face and hands, trousers and jacket I damn this day, this rain, this walk and my entire existence. I cry out to God, to help me out, but nothing happens. I’ve had enough of this, I hate it and I’m raging with anger against everything, the weather, the path, the universe and God, that seem to be plotting against me. Furious I pound on, crossing every boundary I can, my vision blurred by rain and tears. And even though the rain deminishes after a while, I don’t stop walking. Though my legs are numb with cold and I can hardly feel my sore feet anymore I press on till I’ve reached Sandsend. 16 km underfoot (10 of which non-stop through rain and mud and what not), drenched, dirty and drained.
The village lies basking in the sun as if nothing has happened and there isn’t a care in the world. It’s as if I’ve just descended from another planet. One full of turmoil and uproar into an alien peaceful world. ‘Wits End’ is the cafe I find right where the coast path comes down into the village. Very appropriate, because that’s exactly how I feel. My heart starts to thaw, when I drink the cafe’s excellent coffee and eat some cake sitting on a bench in the setting sun.
I’m grateful I have made it, but I also feel out of my depth. I realise I’ve been fighting against myself and the elements. Many times staring into a black hole, imagining falling of a cliff, or sliding down on a landslide. Seeing the headlines and hearing the news in my head about a woman missing after a bit of cliff collapsed. Too often during this walk I have looked death in the eye, sometimes even beckoning me. I don’t want that anymore. I realise I have changed and I know now what matters most to me: the love for my husband and children and I don’t want to loose them. Or leave them behind in grieve. I want to live! Who says I have to walk the entire, crumbling, slippery, coast path along a precipice? No-one and I’m not doing it anymore. I take a bus back to Whitby. I don’t care about no coast path no more. The only thing I want right now is a good rest and a hot shower. I’ve had enough.