Walking for wildlife: Completing the Coast to Coast challenge

by ZSL on

Andy Davison Coast to Coast walk

After taking on an epic 192 mile walk between St Bees and Robin Hood's Bay, ZSL presenter Andy Davison describes his gruelling journey and everything he's learned.

It’s good to be back after the most incredible adventure! My Coast to Coast challenge has been defeated and I stand proud and incredibly grateful for everyone’s support that helped me smash my fundraising target.

The walk itself proved pretty brutal from the start and was a huge test of physical and mental strength that got me close to quitting three times. It was also a fantastic experience that led me through some breath-taking scenery, got me chatting to fascinating people from all around the world, and taught me that there is no such thing as effective insect repellent.

The Lake District

I arrived in St Bees on the 10th of June, full of optimism and train trolley sandwiches to be greeted by dark clouds and gale force winds. Of the five tents that were pitched in the campsite I stayed on, only two survived the night with all the poles still in their original shape and number (mine was one of these). The first night also taught me a valuable lesson - if you don’t bring a tin opener, at least check the tops of the tins you buy for ring pulls. After spending 45 minutes sawing into my dinner (which I suppose could be argued was excellent enrichment) I settled down for a delicious meal. I have reproduced the recipe below:

  • 1 tin macaroni cheese
  • 1 Pepperami (finely sliced)

Waking up on the first morning, I packed up and dipped my boots in the Irish sea (picking up a pebble on the way as tradition dictates). The first leg over the cliffs at St Bees introduced me to the idea that this was going to be a lot harder than I initially thought. My legs were taking a beating going up and down the inclines and my pack was acting as a sail which kept blowing me around at every opportunity. I traversed this section and moved inland however, and started to appreciate the scenery that the route has to offer. Climbing the mountains, along muddy, slippery paths was exhausting but the views from the top made me feel more like a member of the Fellowship than anything I have experienced before.

The peace and quiet was only interrupted by birds and the occasional swear word as I tripped over something. The views may have been inspiring but I still needed to be on my game to get through the mist, rain, disorientation and marshes. I feel fortunate to have only had one big slip which put me and my gear bum first into a stream. Luckily some other walkers saw my misfortune and came over, unfortunately it was only to say hello and walk past… 

Coast to Coast walk

The Yorkshire Dales

After the mountains of the Lake District came the Yorkshire Dales, and the 30 degree heat that accompanied them. This was a whole different terrain, gone were the steep, wet rocks to be replaced by beautiful meadows and forests. There were plenty of rabbits, butterflies and bees to help the loneliness, but it was in the Yorkshire Dales that I started to talk to my equipment like it was a real person.

Walking along chatting to my walking poles and bag straps, congratulating them on a good job made me wonder if my cheese may have been slipping off my cracker. As with any situation like this, I figured the best course of action would be to ignore it. The searing heat was the main hardship through this section of the journey, although after a 24 mile stage to Kirby Stephen, my quad muscle started bulging out of my leg which was alarming and was the second of the ‘Let’s quit’ scenarios. Fortunately it is amazing what can be fixed by a tennis ball, gritted teeth and plenty of Budweiser.

Despite being the site of my discomfort, Kirby Stephen won the illustrious prize of ‘campsite of the trip’ complete with library, dry room and shower room equipped with radio… such small luxuries make a huge difference on the road.

Coast to Coast walk

North Yorkshire Moors

The home stretch… quite literally! Having grown up near the end of the route, I felt pretty optimistic coming into the last third as I was entering familiar territory. The third stage did start with a 26 mile, 30 degree day which knocked the optimism pretty hard. Lying by the side of a river in Catterick, exhausted and dehydrated resulted in my third quit consideration, but support was always at the end of a phone and I pushed on through the longest and hardest day to reach Danby Wiske. This part of the journey did take me through the beautiful town of Richmond (home to some delicious fish and chips) and if you are ever in the area, well worth a trip.

The day after Danby Wiske provided my favourite evening, a stay at the Lord Stones on Carlton bank. It is near enough to my parent’s house to have been treated to a big pub dinner and the chance to speak to people I knew, who weren’t imaginary parts of my pack up. It was also the first time I really reflected how far I had come as I sat on the top of the hill, watching the sun set over the Pennines far to the west; I could see just how much walking I had got through.

The next couple of days passed in a blur, kind of like Christmas Eve, you just want to watch the Polar Express and have an early night so that it is Christmas Day. I just wanted to get the miles to Grosmont down for the final push.

I am unashamed to admit that I shed a tear when I crested a hill and saw the North Sea in front of me, it had been a colossal struggle through the elements and my own physical and mental limitations but I was finally there. I have often thought that a lot of pain is mental and it seemed to be the case as, knowing I was so close to the end, my body started to shut down almost entirely. Muscles in my ankles and my hamstrings became almost impossible to use and the last three miles lasted almost as long as the previous 190.

Eventually however I made it down into the pretty seaside town of Robin Hood's Bay to dip my feet and throw my pebble in the North Sea. Job done, ice cream earned and a decent wedge of money raised for ZSL’s work conserving animals around the world.

If you are still reading, thank you so much for all the support I received before, during and after the walk. It was a life changing experience and I am ready to take on everything I learned about myself.

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