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The Coast-to-Coast Walk consists of walking across the width of Northern England.  Nowadays, it isn't confined to a single designated route, although many hikers prefer the original "Wainwright" route, as documented by artist and walker Alfred Wainwright many years ago.

Wainwright lived in The Lake District, so his 190 mile walk started there and went through the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.  His "official" route started at St Bees Head on the west coast and ended at Robin Hoods Bay on the east coast.

North Yorkshire Police contacted Cleveland RAYNET Group and requested assistance with safety communications to co-ordinate a 190 mile Coast-to-Coast walk from east to west.  The walk would be a sponsored event to raise money for the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA).

North Yorkshire Police weren't organising the walk.  They were acting as local liaison for London's Metropolitan Police Serious Fraud Squad, who would be doing the walk.  The Met would be equipped with two donated cars, several vans to carry bags or equipment and a 17 seat minibus.

The walkers would carry the minimum survival equipment.  The support vehicles would leap-frog the route, to be waiting for the walkers as they crossed each public road.  At the end of each day, they would transport the walkers to a local pub or other place to stay overnight.  Some of the designated sleeping locations were: GDBA Training Centre in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire Police HQ in Kirby Wiske, Catterick Garrison, Tan Hill Inn (the highest pub in England), Warcop Army Camp, Cumbria Police HQ in Penrith and Sellafield UK Atomic Energy Police (Ukulele police).  The next day, the walkers would be transported back to where they had left the route, to walk another section.  Some escorts chose to walk the entire route.  Others chose to walk alternate sections.  After day two, some dropped out for a few days after developing blisters on their feet.

Comms. would be required with each vehicle and two or three RAYNET walkers needed to be with the walking group over the entire route.  As Cleveland RAYNET Group is only a small group and we are all volunteers, the prospect of getting so many members to be available and taking time off work over two weeks for a non-emergency situation was rather daunting, if not impossible.

The interesting aspect was that as the sponsored charity was the Guide Dogs for the Blind, the main people doing the walk were blind.  The Met police were organising, supporting and escorting, but the main walkers were blind.  Hiking and navigating across the 190 miles width of Northern England, over rough moorland tracks, up hills and down dales, across tiny becks and a few raging rivers, is an impressive achievement.  Doing it whilst blind confirmed to us that these people were lunatics, but we would try to help.

Part of the planning was to have kennel maids in the support party with the Met Plods (Plod is a colloquial name for a police officer - one of the more polite terms).  It was considered too unsafe and cruel to allow the guide dogs to walk on the event, but was apparently alright for the blind guys to do it.  The blind guys would walk without their guide dogs, but would meet up with them at most crossings of public roads.

Using the Amateur Radio Packet Data network, messages were typed asking for assistance from other RAYNET groups.  One of the first packet messages can be seen by clicking the hyperlink here.  Cleveland RAYNET Group planned the comms. aspect of the event and allocated route sections to each RAYNET group involved.  Richmond RAYNET Group provided an HF radio station to help with "instant" liaison between the different groups.  The Packet Data network was used to pass long and detailed liaison messages to other groups.

On day one of the event, we rendezvoused with the walkers and support teams at Robin Hoods Bay.  True to form, a perfect plan of attack always falls to pieces at the first contact with the enemy.  We were told that one support car wanted to visit North Yorkshire Police HQ and would appreciate having a RAYNET operator to keep them in contact with the walk.  This was news to us.  A RAYNET operator was allocated.  Maps were opened.  A RAYNET mobile was allocated to a high point to act as a relay between the walk and the car going to police HQ.

Because we had many months in which to plan, and because so many other RAYNET groups gave up their time and facilities to help us, the event went very well.  Cleveland RAYNET Group were told of the successful conclusion of the event in packet data messages which can be seen by clicking this hyperlink and that one.  We were also told of strange events here.

Some conversations on the event were amusing:-

The Cleveland RAYNET Group Controller transported a few of the support team in his Range Rover to buy food in a nearby village.  A car in front stopped quickly without warning and blocked the road, waiting to turn right.  Controller:  "Silly fellow."  Met Plod: "Why don't you blast your horn at him, for making you brake like that?"  Controller:  "That would serve little purpose and inappropriate use of an audible warning device would be a moving traffic offence against the Road Traffic Act."  Met Plod:  "If you like, we can jump out of the car, drag that driver to the ground and slam the 'cuffs on him.  That's what we'd do in London."  Controller:  "No, thanks."  Met Plod:  "You're a funny lot, you people from up north."
At a level crossing point of a private steam railway, a train crossed the road.  Blind man: "Oh look, if I'm not mistaken, that steam engine is a two-six-two loco class 48.  Not seen one of those for years.".  Met Plod: "I thought you were completely blind?".  Blind man:  " I am.  Just kidding.  I heard somebody behind me say it."
In a pub, the walkers removed their rucksacks and piled them in a corner, then went to get drinks.  When it was time to leave... Met Plod:  "I've got my rucksack.  What colour was yours?".  Blind man:  "How would I know?  I can't see."
Approaching Richmond, they crossed the River Swale on a wooden bridge.  The Met Plods told the blind people that the situation was very dangerous.  They were to hold the shoulder of the person in front and to walk in a very straight line.  As they could probably tell by the feel and the sound, they would be crossing a raging river on a narrow plank of wood and to fall off the plank meant instant death after a hundred foot drop.  They reached the cobbled square in front of Richmond Castle.  Blind man:  "That was a bit of a risky situation back there."  Met Plod:  "Where?"  Blind man:  "Crossing that river on a narrow plank of wood."   Met Plod:  "Oh that.  We were only kidding.  It was a normal large wooden bridge  and there was no danger at all."  Blind man:  "Thanks  a lot!"

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Page updated on 09 January 2017

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