Coast to coast is a really good walking challenge and gives a marvellous perspective on the diverse landscape and social history of this slice of northern England. I’m recently back from completing it along with my longstanding friend, Chris.
Leaving St Bees on the West coast, it starts with a short stretch of coastal path then gradually begins the crossing of the Lake District, taking in three high passes alongside some of the area’s major mountain peaks. It then follows a limestone plateau to reach the northern Pennines winding down Swaledale before crossing the Vale of Mowbray and tackling the northern side of the North Yorkshire Moors, ending with another stretch of coastal path to reach Robin Hood’s Bay on the East coast. I was already familiar with some areas visited but doing it this way gave a fresh perspective seeing the landscape gradually change and approaching moors and valleys from a new direction.
Alongside the beauty and variety, the walk is hard work and at times the emphasis needs to be on ‘pushing on’ and reaching the day’s destination rather than exploring and appreciating the surroundings. Totalling nearly 200 miles, completing in twelve days means 15+ miles a day sometimes covering difficult, if not technical, terrain. The part through the Lakes is the most dramatic and toughest going with steeper ascents and the hard stony ground putting pressure on feet and joints. Several of the days involved 8-9 hours walking although a few were almost half that. I had my 69th birthday on the second day; I’m a practised fell walker but not an athlete!
The route in brief
This is to give an idea of the walk’s appeal and variety- there are many guides to provide detail and find the route; guide authors often have their own idiosyncratic take on the walk and what are the best bits. I used the Cicerone one which worked fine; it uses extracts of OS maps and includes useful contextual information.
Western coastlands: along the coastal path for a few miles with fine views of the Isle of Man and Galloway, leaving it at a quarry, the distinctive red sandstone having been used for many local buildings including the church and school at St Bees. Then following paths and lanes across agricultural land and former mining villages; gradually the terrain changes and the Lakeland mountains come into sight.
The west doorway of the Church in St Bees, dating from 1160 and built from locally quarried stone
The Lake District: begins by skirting Ennerdale Water and then a slow ascent to Black Sail pass and Youth Hostel. The days in the Lake District include several long ascents and descents with excellent views of some of the main peaks and groups of fells including the highest, stoniest and sharpest central fells and the gentler grassier slopes of the far eastern fells.
After Black Sail there is a splendid view of Great Gable and Pillar (see pic) and later (having climbed by Loft Beck) the Western fells and Buttermere and Crummock Water. After Borrowdale a steep ascent to Greenup Edge and a long descent to Grasmere before ascending to Grisedale Tarn (with Dollywaggon Pike one side and Fairfield the other) and then down to Patterdale. The last day in the Lakes ascends the far eastern fells towards High St (with good views back to Patterdale and Ullswater if the mist allows), heading East before reaching the summit and heading east for Kidsty Pike (the highest point of the walk at 780m) and then descending to Haweswater, a reservoir.
Limestone country: for the time being the steep climbs are over and the route crosses milder limestone country with views of the Lakes to the West, the Pennines to north and east and Howgill fells to the south. The terrain is not flat but undulating with dry stone walls, sheep grazing, limestone escarpments and valleys. It is much less busy than the Lakes where there are always plenty of walkers, whatever the weather. The route goes through two market towns – Shap and Kirkby Stephen – that were on important historic north-south trade routes.
Pennines and Swaledale: from Kirkby Stephen the route goes across the northern Pennines (later crossing the Pennine Way at Keld)
firstly ascending to the Standing Stones (above) (and lies on the watershed of Britain) and then with classic Pennine walking across marsh, peat bogs and grouse shooting terrain to reach the head of Swaledale.
The Swale is followed for twenty plus miles with a pleasant mix of riverside, field and moorland walking; gradually it becomes less remote, gentler and more populated reaching the prosperous market town of Richmond. For the first half, as far as Reeth, there is an alternative high level route that takes you though the former lead mining area; tougher – especially in bad weather – but rich in evidence of the valley’s industrial importance in the 19th century.
Swaledale high route in misty weather
The Vale of Mowbray
The crossing from Richmond to the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors at Ingleby Cross is 24 miles mainly of field walking with some minor roads, including a detour to cross the A1 (being widened) and a scary crossing of the A19 right at the end. The vale is flat and can be covered quite quickly (10 hours including breaks and one or two minor detours). For many this is a ‘push on’ stage although some may appreciate a predominately flat and agricultural stretch.
North Yorkshire Moors
A fine stretch of walking initially with a lot of ups and downs and then long stretches of higher moorland following tracks and disused railway lines surrounded by heather with views across the moors and down valleys.
The perspective from Cringle Moor, weather permitting,constructed in memory of a local pioneer of long distance walks on the North Yorkshire Moors
The final stretch, from Glaisdale, leaves the main moor behind and mainly follows valleys before ending with a short walk along the coastal path to reach Robin Hood’s Bay. It includes a wooded walk along Littlebeck passing the magnificent waterfall, Falling Foss: scenic but very muddy following rainfall.
Nuts and bolts
This is a popular walk and you meet many others on your way including lots from North America and Australia as well as the UK. It’s reassuring to check the route with others (many now use GPS) and hear the different attractions and backstories that led people to do it. We met many fellow ‘baby boomers’ who thought it ‘demanding but doable’ and particularly liked the variety of landscape passed on the route.
We did it in twelve walking days with overnight stops as follows: Ennerdale Bridge, Rosthwaite, Patterdale, Shap, Kirkby Stephen (+ rest day), Keld, Reeth, Ingleby Cross, Claybank Top, Glaisdale.
A number of organisations assist with the logistics such as transporting your main baggage, booking accommodation and safe car parking. We used Sherpa Van Project for baggage and booking and the service was faultless. B&B, pubs and small hotels en route have benefitted from the steady stream of coast to coasters and in turn cater well for walkers. Some a few miles from the route will pick you up and return you to the path.
Some brave people backpack and camp.
How many days? People we met varied between eleven and sixteen days walking. It’s quite common to take four days from Ennerdale to Shap and stop in Grasmere, perhaps including a few peaks between Borrowdale and Patterdale. Some cross Mowbray Dale in two days usually stopping at Danby Wiske. We did meet some, particularly backpackers, who said they’d take ‘as long as it took’- backpacking gives extra flexibility but at the cost of carrying a substantial weight.
Glimpses of industrial and social history
Today much of the rural economy on the route is based on agriculture and tourism but you see ample evidence of a different social and industrial landscape during the industrial revolution and Victorian times. There were large mining communities in the West (coal), Swaledale (lead) and Rosedale (iron ore) as well as quarrying for stone and slate; there’s a large slate quarrying visitor centre at the top of Honister Pass. In addition there are many disused railway lines that had connected mines to urban centres.
A former lime kiln near Orton, Cumbria; these were usually at the edge of a limestone outcrop with the lime being used mainly for agriculture and also buildings
Remains of smelting mill by Gunnerside Gill, Swaledale. Lead was mined here from Roman times peaking in 18th and 19th centuries. The last mine closed in 1912. Several thousand miners worked here; they were mostly self employed and supplemented their income with agriculture and knitting
Machine formerly used in lead mining
The walk across the North Yorkshire Moors includes a five mile stretch of the former Rosedale railway line. This was built to transport iron ore from the busy Rosedale mines (peak production of 560,00 long tons in 1873) to the main railway line and then on to Durham smelting mills.
It’s great that leading experts recognise the importance of adult and further education in combating health inequalities; this is highlighted in one of nine contributions to ‘if you could do one thing…nine local actions to reduce health inequalities’ produced recently by the British Academy.
The authors, Tarani Chandola and Andrew Jenkins, draw on extensive published research to show the positive link between participation in education and improved health. Importantly they suggest that improvements are greatest amongst adults with the least educational qualifications and that vocational, qualification-bearing and ‘leisure’ courses all play a part. Provision needs to reach different disadvantaged groups including unemployed as well as employed and old as well as young. They stress that to be successful adult education must address the barriers amongst the least well off; this includes financial and accessibility issues as well as confidence and the need for education to be seen as relevant. Their study concludes by summarising two successful initiatives, one training staff in care homes to provide educational activities for residents and the other enabling doctors to prescribe access to an educational adviser for some of their patients.
The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) is excellently placed to work in partnership with local authorities who wish to further develop their work in this field. Whilst we recognise that resources are tight, initiatives such as these can greatly benefit residents, support local authority priorities and lead to significant savings on health and social care.
Our own follow-up ‘impact research’ supports Chandola and Jenkins’ conclusions. An in-depth study of former students undertaken in 2013 found ‘Nearly all respondents (98 percent) reported a positive social or health impact as a result of doing their course. The majority (87 percent) noted the course had kept their mind and body active which rose to 94 percent in those with a long-term physical or mental illness.’ In addition there were hundreds of individual stories attesting to how WEA education helped students work through life crises (such as bereavement), overcome isolation and depression, develop healthier lifestyles and manage existing conditions.
We strongly agree too about the necessity to target and shape educational initiatives around the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society. Importantly, adult education recognises and can build on existing knowledge and understanding, a ‘community asset’ approach rather than a deficit model. We have a long and successful tradition of working with community leaders and organisations to engage local people in education that’s useful and relevant to them. Examples include Tandrusti and similar projects in the urban West Midlands that involve thousands of adults, mainly from BAME backgrounds, in tailor-made physical activity and health educational programmes.
For example during 2007-2012 over 95% of participants in our Tandrusti programme reported health maintenance or one (or more) health improvement , for example in reduced blood pressure, weight loss and waist circumference. Measurable improvements in confidence, mental health and community cohesion are also frequently recorded.
The impact extends beyond course participants as it’s cascaded to family members, friends and others in the local community.
WEA educational programmes work well in partnership with local authority health and well-being priorities such as reducing the incidence of obesity and diabetes and increasing physical activity in the local population. The impact on the individuals is often long-term improving ‘health literacy’ and enabling people to manage their health and life styles more effectively. Benefits accrue to the local population as a whole reducing pressure on GP surgeries and A&E departments.
The WEA is the UK’s largest voluntary adult educational organisation and volunteering can play a vital part in health improvement education. A recent project in partnership with St Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth saw the WEA train and support volunteers and Hospice staff in providing an imaginative and widely praised programme of ‘creative well being’ education. This model is recognised as being widely transferable.
There is a rich experience and expertise here that can greatly assist local authorities’ efforts to reduce health inequalities.
Some useful links:
British Academy report: http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/Health_Inequalities.cfm
WEA impact study: http://www.wea.org.uk/download.aspx?id=980
Blog on health education:
A good starting question is: ‘Do lectures have a place in pedagogy of adult education?’
Lots of adult education classes, particularly in the arts and humanities, are lecture based and they’re popular with some classes and particularly older students. A well presented lecture gives students an opportunity to hear and see an enthusiastic expert, even a celebrity, develop an argument that can engage and stimulate a serious interest and debate in the subject. The presence of the web has greatly increased the availability of lectures. Many MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) provide a series of lectures as their core; TED offers an attractive playlist of virtual lectures, many by well known experts; etc.
Lectures are an important part of adult education but in my opinion they can only form part of a learning programme especially given the student centred ethos of adult education.
Early WEA tutorial classes included a lecture, class discussion and independent work by the student producing an essay which in turn received assessment and feedback. In most educational settings (Universities, FE colleges etc) this sort of mix would be the case: lecture, seminar, essay or other assessed work. However in much of post-war adult education, student written work withered on the vine; tutorial classes became shorter (one or two terms rather than three years) and the requirement for written work was dropped.
Writing is about learning as well as communicating. It gives the opportunity to take hold of ideas and arguments and refine and develop one’s own understanding and perspective. The process of drafting and redrafting (admittedly often painful and time consuming) enables this to take place as well as producing a piece of work for individual feedback from the tutor.
It’s true that many adult education students have continued to do independent work outside the classroom, quite a considerable amount in some cases including researching, preparatory reading, visiting museums and galleries, and getting involved in local societies and organisations. And, from the 1970’s there were new opportunities, such as the Open University and expanding adult provision (like Access courses) in Further Education, for adults seeking an accessible and academically challenging education.
Discussion was always an important part of the tutorial class tradition, very effectively used by historians like Tawney to draw out students’ experience and enrich their and his understanding of the subject. It is interesting too to see how the young Raymond Williams (who became an eminent Marxist cultural theorist) approached this as a WEA /Oxford University literature tutor in East Sussex in the 1950’s. He abandoned the existing approach based on literary criticism and instead asked students to read and discuss the texts, or extracts from them. Complaints were made about Williams because he would often remain silent until a student instigated discussion rather than speak himself.
Discussion-based learning is an essential, if not sufficiently appreciated, part of the core of adult education practice that requires considerable skill amongst tutors and students. In my experience, some of the main teaching, learning and assessment issues are:
- ensuring inclusive participation in what are often very mixed groups
- discouraging deference either towards the tutor or towards knowledgable students
- encouraging independent and critical thinking
- developing the learning skills and confidence to enable students to benefit from course discussions
- drawing out the experience and ideas of students and incorporating their particular learning aims
- giving feedback to individuals to help them develop their understanding
- getting feedback from students and securing an accurate sense of what learning is taking place
- managing the discussion and ensuring adherence to ground rules
Adult educators have accumulated a vast amount of experience in addressing these sorts of issues through class discussion and particularly through the use of small group work. The latter gives greater opportunity for each student to participate, ask questions and test out ideas and doubts. It’s a good way to draw out students’ experience and existing knowledge and skills. It can be used to develop listening, summarising and reporting skills and enables the group to put forward collective responses. Reporting back enables the tutor, and other groups, to give feedback and comment. Used effectively it can shift the tutor/student power relations towards a more collaborative effort and enable the course as a whole to have ownership of things like ground rules.
Returning to the original question, I think lectures are best used to spark and shape student engagement, encouraging questions and an exploration of the information and argument provided. A mini lecture (10-20 minutes max) can set the scene, outline an argument (or range of arguments) and then present questions for students. This approach could be extended to virtual lectures and learning circles using group discussion methods to explore and respond to the issues raised in the lecture.
The role of the lecture is still a live issue in adult education, including the WEA, and I would be interested in other people’s perspective on this.
I’ve been reading British Social Attitudes 30 and found much of interest and encouragement for adult educators interested in active citizenship and social purpose.
The survey has been done annually since 1983, allowing us to see change over time, and it probes attitudes on a number of subjects. I’ve mainly looked at politics but there is fascinating material too on gender, welfare, devolution, lifestyle and other topics.
The results confirm the decline in voting in elections and affiliation to a political party. Voting in both General and Local elections is falling along with the number of people who feel it’s ‘everyone’s duty to vote’ (down from 76% in 1987 to 62% in 2011) and -no surprises here- there is a growing scepticism about politicians.. The number of people who identify with a political party has gone down too, from 87% (1983) to 76% now. There is interesting material also showing how the alignment of social attitudes with party identification is weakening. In the last 25 years, for example, the proportion of Conservatives agreeing that ‘government should redistribute income’ has increased whilst the proportion of Labour supporters agreeing with this has fallen. There’s still a significant gap but it’s narrowing.
But this is not the whole story by any means. The evidence of the survey points to an increased interest in politics, greater participation in non-voting political activity (such as contacting an MP, signing a petition, going on a protest or demonstration) and a stronger belief in ‘personal efficacy’ (that is the individual’s capacity to influence events, in this case the political process). It’s particularly encouraging that there is a significant fall (from 1986 to 2012) in the proportion of respondents agreeing ‘people like me have no say in what government does’ (down from 71% to 59%) and ‘politics is too complicated to understand’ (69% to 57%).
The evidence does point to a growing and worrying age gap; younger people being less likely to particpate in electoral and non-electoral politics although the point is made that the survey doesn’t pick up on some forms of informal political action such as consumer boycotts. Growing engagement in politics has been stronger amongst people with fewer educational qualifications although this may partly relate to age (older people having fewer formal qualifications than younger ones).
Another interesting question is how far attitudes are changing particularly as a result of the onset of the ‘Age of Austerity’. Here the data on attitudes to welfare are relevant. There is some tentative evidence to support the view that declining public sympathy for supporting the unemployed (clearly evident between 1983 and 2007) is beginning to reverse. For instance, between 2007 and 2012 there was an increase (from 7% to 11%) in the proportion of people considering benefits for the unemployed one of their two main priorities for extra welfare spending. Not all the evidence on attitudes to unemployment pointed in this direction though.
In my mind this raises the question of the relationship between experience and attitudes: is a greater awareness of unemployment (self, friends, family, neighbours) leading to attitudinal shifts?
The emerging picture then is complex; a shift from the big picture of elections and political parties to a more fragmented and individualistic one. There are though grounds for optimism and points of connection for adult education.
Firstly the greater interest and confidence in being able to make a difference must provide some sort of springboard for an educational response. There is room for classes and discussion groups specifically on current affairs, U3A often run these as do some WEA regions.
The previous Government had a commitment to political or civic education supported most notably through funding ‘Take Part’, ‘a distinctive approach to learning that enables people to make an active contribution to their communities and influence public policies and services’. Much valuable and innovative work arose from this, involving WEA regions and other adult education organisations. There remains a legacy of experience and practice from this and other projects that can be drawn upon. The current government has launched a ‘Democratic Engagement Fund’ although the funding for this is quite modest.
There are many opportunities to introduce elements of political education into many community learning programmes identifying ways to take up issues that arise on courses for instance by signing or initiating a petition, contacting a councillor or MP, organising a local campaign or joining a local pressure or interest group. It would also be interesting to run short activities based on some of the survey questions and contrast responses of students with the survey outcomes. Most importantly, adult education can explore the relationship between students’ experience and attitudes to social and political questions.
None of this is new of course. I’ve written the blog mainly to highlight the findings that suggest that we are not living through apathetic and apolitical times. On the contrary, there is plenty of interest and confidence; the challenge is connecting with it.
If you have time, have a look at the survey report yourself.
Link to Survey report