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Northern England -- Hills, Dogs and Tea Rooms…

And did I mention sheep? And pubs. There’s a lot to love about northern England.

This is a trip I have had in the back of my mind for a few years. In fall 2016, I heard Delta was having a fare sale. I jumped on the internet to see what I could find. Pittsburgh to Edinburgh for $486! No way I was passing that up. So I booked the flights for September 2017 and figured I’d fill in the details later.

Our goal was to walk and enjoy pretty scenery. I zeroed in on the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall. Since we were flying into and out of Edinburgh, and it is our favorite city in Europe, we decided to spend a couple of days there too.

My biggest concern with this trip was that there would not be much variety. There kind of wasn’t. But we didn’t mind! The walking was wonderful with lots trails and beautiful vistas. It’s all very green, and there are lots of farms and villages. It’s also very hilly, but we have hills where we live so we are used to them. We saw endless sheep, and a lot of cows too. I don’t know why, but I am enchanted with cows and sheep. I am less enchanted with sheep doodoo and cow pies…but oh well. You have to take the bad with the good. And you have to watch where you step!

Outside of Edinburgh and the Lake District, we hardly saw any Americans, and most of the tourists we saw were British. The locals were very friendly, and seemingly everyone has at least one dog. We’ve never seen so many dogs. They take them everywhere – good for them!

We also saw endless tea rooms and pubs. There are lots of coffee shops now too. Personally, I think they should stick with tea rooms. I don’t drink coffee, and it just doesn’t feel British. The pubs definitely feel British! The beer is good, the food is good, and the atmosphere is cozy and convivial.

The weather was mixed. This was actually a relief, because the forecast called for rain, rain and more rain. But much of the rain we got was brief showers or mist, and we had plenty of sunshine. The clouds were fluffy and white or moody shades of gray, and we saw spectacular skies every day. The temperature was in the 50s and low 60s during the day, which is perfect for walking.

We did not rent a car. It stresses out my husband, and when he’s stressed, I’m stressed! We love the trains and find them much more relaxing. But they don’t go everywhere we wanted to go, so we had to take buses. I was a bit apprehensive about this. However, I shouldn’t have been. They were on time, they ran frequently, they were clean and comfortable, and the drivers were friendly and helpful. There was no need to buy tickets in advance; you could just hop on the bus and pay cash. Super easy.

Now for our stops:

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Edinburgh – This was our fourth visit to Edinburgh, but we had not been there since 2002. Is it still my favorite city in Europe? Maybe. It seemed way more crowded than I remember. And the Royal Mile seemed way more touristy than I remember. But it’s still a gorgeous city, and there are plenty of places to walk where there are no crowds.

After dropping off our luggage at the Howard Hotel in New Town, we headed to the Scottish National Gallery. We had to see The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (love this painting; we have a copy in our living room). Then we had lunch in Deacon Brodies Tavern on the Royal Mile – a bit touristy, but it’s a great pub atmosphere, and the fish and chips are delicious. It was fun to reminisce about when we ate here with our two boys in 2002.

After lunch we checked into the Howard. It’s in a great, quiet location about five blocks from Princes Street. Be warned: four of those blocks are pretty steep. The Howard Hotel is more formal than we normally like, but the service was excellent, and the price includes a good breakfast. After checking in, I wondered around the city while my husband napped. The sun came out around 4:00, and the light was excellent for taking pictures. For dinner we got sandwiches at Pret A Manger. How I love this place – great take-out food with terrific prices and selection.

The next day was a gorgeous day, perfect for a hike up to Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. What a treasure this is! Nature at its most beautiful, just a short stroll from the city. The views were tremendous. A nice young couple offered to take our picture, and we discovered they live very close to us in Pittsburgh. They each had a child on their backs – we guessed they were 3 and 1, if that. Yikes! Kudos to them for traveling to Europe with such young children. On the hike back down to the city, we saw runners flying down very narrow, rocky trails. These were trails we elected not to walk on because they seemed too treacherous. I can’t really say kudos to the runners, because honestly, we thought they were idiots. But very well coordinated idiots!

After lunch from Pret A Manger, my husband napped while I took a lovely walk through Stockbridge and Dean Village – with almost no people. We had a delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant – happy 42nd anniversary to us!

Rain, drizzle and mist greeted us on our last day in Edinburgh. We had reserved a tour of Real Mary King’s Close for that morning. It was pretty good, but kind of cheesy too; not something I would pay money for if I had to do it again. The guide talked a lot about the bubonic plague, and we are still scratching our heads that the gift store had little stuffed rats for sale. Just like the ones that spread the plague! When we told our oldest son about this, he said – imagine living through the plague, and then being told that hundreds of years from now they'll be selling cute little rat toys to commemorate the era.

After our tour, it was still raining, so we decided to visit the National Museum of Scotland. It’s quite a place. The buildings that house it are beautiful, but the layout is really confusing. Some of the exhibits were interesting, like the Lewis Chessmen, but on a nice day, I would skip it. We walked back to the hotel via Grassmarket, stopping on the way to pick up both lunch and dinner at Pret A Manger. I meant it when I said I love this place.

We ended our day with Cadies Witchery’s Murder & Mystery Tour, which was a lot of fun. I would not suggest doing this AND the Mary King’s Close Tour, as the commentary/history is very similar. The Murder & Mystery Tour was considerably more fun.

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Durham – On day four, we caught a late morning train to Durham. I bought all our train tickets online before we left. The savings were much more valuable to us than the flexibility we gave up. It was super easy to print the tickets at the train station. Just make sure you bring the credit card you used to pay for them along with the confirm numbers for each ticket. (I had all the confirmation e-mails saved in a folder in my email account as back up. This was good because I had written one of the confirm numbers down incorrectly.)

Durham was a one-night stand, which I think is fine every occasionally. I decided to stop there because my sister had done her student teaching there many years ago, and it sounded nice. We just loved it. It feels like a real town where real people live, and it has a fantastic cathedral. The Treasury in the cathedral is definitely worth seeing. It has the original door knocker, which I wanted to see because my sister had bought me a replica when she was there and it’s been hanging in my house for decades. The market square had the most gorgeous flowers, and it was a lovely place to wander around. For dinner we had take-out fish and chips, another favorite of ours.

Our one night’s sleep in Durham was remarkable for this reason – we slept in until 9:00! This was seriously remarkable as neither of us ever sleeps this late, and for both of us to do it on the same morning…well, it’s never happened before. Apparently, we had not totally recovered from jet lag. We had planned to take the 10:00 bus, but I got online and saw there was a bus at 11:00, so it was no big deal.

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Whitby – To get to Whitby, we took a bus to Middlesbrough, then changed to another bus to Whitby. When I told the first driver our route, he informed us that we could buy an all-day pass for 8 pounds, rather than spending 21 pounds for two separate tickets. Great deal! And the ride was beautiful.

We fell totally in love with Whitby. Consider this: it has a medieval old town with narrow cobble-stone streets, a picturesque harbor, a cliff over the town with the ruins of Whitby Abbey, another cliff on the other side of the town with a gorgeous view of the beach and the North Sea, the Dracula association, easy access by train to the North York Moors, and easy access by bus to other towns on the coast. There were neat shops, pubs, tea rooms, fish & chip joints, and restaurants. I could easily spend a week here. We had three nights.

We stayed at a small B&B, Abbotsleigh, on the West Cliff. It was a quiet and uncrowded spot a half block from the cliff over the North Sea. It was quite an uphill slug from the train station, maybe 15-20 minutes, but I believe you can also take a bus. If you have a car, you’ll find plenty of parking. It was a totally charming place with the nicest owners you can imagine. We enjoyed excellent breakfasts, and they put out delicious cakes and muffins out every afternoon.

Upon our arrival, my husband napped while I took a walk and snapped photos. It was a gorgeous day. You can walk most of the town, including both cliffs, in two or three hours. The main part of town was jammed with people (it was a Saturday), but if you head up the hillsides, it thins out dramatically. We had dinner at a fish and chips shop, then walked up to the Abbey and enjoyed a stunning sunset.

The next morning, my husband went for a run at 6:00 am (now you know why he needs those naps), while I stayed in bed. After breakfast, we caught the X93 bus to Robin Hood’s Bay, an old smuggler’s cove. It’s a tiny, charming town, and you pass numerous tea rooms and shops as you wind your way down to the beach. After a pleasant – and hilly – walk, we caught the X93 to Scarborough. It’s a much larger seaside town – a little bit schlocky and kitschy – with a castle on top of a huge cliff in the center. We took a long, breezy and quite chilly walk along the promenade and around the headlands before climbing up to the castle. You had to pay to get it, so we took a pass and headed back down to the bus stop. Our plan was to get off the bus at Robin Hood’s Bay and walk back to Whitby along the coast, but it started to rain, and we were tired, so we stayed on the bus. Back in our room, my husband napped while I had a cup of tea and muffins and read. The rain stopped, and the sun came out, along with a beautiful double rainbow over the Abbey. After dinner in a pub, we took our final walk up to the abbey after sun set.

On our third day in Whitby, we took the North Yorkshire Moors Railway to Grosmont and hiked back to Whitby. This rail line has the old steam engines and restored carriages, which are really cool and also really slow. Fortunately, the scenery is beautiful.

We talked with a couple from the area who asked us where we were from and why we had chosen northern England for our trip. After I raved about how much I loved northern England, the wife said, “I don’t know geography that well, but isn’t where you come from a lot like this – lots of green and hills?” Hmm…I hadn’t considered this. After a pause I said, “You’re right. But it’s just not the same. We don’t have old stone houses and cobblestone streets. Or medieval churches and ruined castles.” I might have added that the people in Pittsburgh don’t speak with British accents either. I love Pittsburgh, but it just isn’t the same.

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Whitby (cont.) -- As for the walk from Grosmont to Whitby – it was pretty much a perfect hike. It was mostly hilly farmland – not too strenuous – with gorgeous views and spectacular skies. We saw tons of sheep and cows, and even a chicken crossing the road. It took 4½ hours, which is the ideal length for us.

That night we had dinner at the Thai restaurant by the train station, which was recommended by our hosts and was amazingly good.

On our last morning, we got up before sunrise. While my husband ran, I walked. I saw the sun rise over the abbey, which was stunning, then I walked along the cliff and down to the beach. The tide was up and the waves were crashing against the rocks – it was just beautiful! I felt as happy and relaxed as I have ever felt. After breakfast, we took a quick tour of the Captain Cook Museum, which was just okay.

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Helmsley – It was an easy trip to Helmsley – we took the North Yorkshire Moors Railway to the end of the line at Pickering, where we caught a bus to Helmsley. The bus stopped at a school to pick up students (aged 11-14?), who all climbed the stairs to sit on the top level with us. Fun.

Helmsley is a neat little town. We stayed at Helmsley Garden Cottage, which is a B&B with two cottages, one of which is an old rail car. We were in a stone cottage, which was full of charm and character, though you did have to mind your head a lot. There was a very low beam in the bedroom, which was particularly problematic (I’m talking shoulder-height). But who cares; it was delightful. For breakfast, the owner, Louise, cooked whatever we asked for. I ordered eggs benedict after having read so many raves about them on Trip Advisor. Wow! It was the most amazing eggs benedict I have ever had, even better than New Orleans. The fruit plates were to die for. Even though I make fun of people who take pictures of food, I took a picture of the fruit plates; they were so gorgeous. And delicious!

Our first full day in Helmsley, we walked to Rievaulx Abbey. The walk was just okay, but the village was pretty. We saw lots of cows and sheep and something new for me – pheasants! I became obsessed with getting a picture of them, which is way more challenging than it sounds. They are very elusive and take off as soon as you get within thirty yards of them. When I say they take off, I mean they run – on their short little legs. It’s a hoot. Searching for pheasants became a major goal for the rest of our trip. We decided if we ever open a B&B or pub, we are going to call it the Sly Pheasant. Isn’t that a great name?

The next day we took the bus to Kirbymoorside and walked to Hutton-le-Hole, which was a super cute village. This reminds me, I just love British place names. My favorite name was Tinley Garth, which we also sauntered through. From Hutton-le-Hole we took a circular walk to Lastingham and back. We saw a zillion pheasants! And half a zillion sheep. It was a neat hike, except it was really really muddy. My husband got scrapes from hedges all over his legs as he tried to avoid the mud puddles. I just gave up and plopped right through the puddles, since I was wearing waterproof hiking boots. The mud was really a drag, but we got to see moors and heather and all those sheep and pheasants, so I was happy.

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Grassington – Our most challenging transportation day was next. We took a bus to York, a train to Leeds, a train to Skipton, and a bus to Grassington. Despite some tight connections, all went well, and we arrived at 3:30. It was the Friday before Grassington’s annual 1940s Weekend. I didn’t know a thing about this when I planned the trip; it was just serendipity. My husband is obsessed with the forties, so he was thrilled. All the locals dressed up in forties clothing, and the town was decorated like it was during WWII. There were several events, and it was all quite fun.

Grassington is a really cute town, and there are a number of walks you can take right from the town. I just got on my phone and googled “hikes from Grassington” and found a lot of options. We saw somewhat fewer sheep and pheasants on these hikes, but just as many hills. The scenery was lovely, the skies were blue, and there were wonderful clouds making for stunning skies. Really great walking.

Our B&B was Grassington Lodge, and we loved it. They had delicious eggs benedict too, just a notch below Helmsley Garden Cottage. Twice we ate dinner at No. 5, which was recommended by our B&B owner. Excellent choice! We also loved Relish for take-out sandwiches. Grassington was definitely worth four legs of transport, and we would happily go back. I bet the Dickensian Festival in December would be fun.

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Hadrian’s Wall – This was a bucket list sight for us. We stayed in Haltwhistle at Ashcroft Guest House, which was a gorgeous old house with super friendly owners. It was a pretty easy trip – a bus to Skipton, then trains to Carlisle and Haltwhistle. When we arrived, the weather was not ideal – dark gray skies and threatening rain – but we decided to walk to the wall anyway. It was about two miles, much of it through woods along a river with water that looked like beer, complete with the foam. We found the Wall and walked on it for a bit; dream come true. It started raining as we turned back, so we decided to take the bus. We had dinner at the Black Bull Pub, recommended by our host. It was the quintessential British pub with a fire and tiny tables in a very small room – warm, cozy and delightful. My husband would rather die that sit at a tiny little table in a French café, but give him a beer in a British pub, and tiny tables are no problem!

We spent the next day, which was sunny and beautiful, with Peter Carney (recommended by Rick). We almost never book guides, but with no car and only two nights in Haltwhistle, it seemed the best way to maximize our time. Peter is knowledgeable and friendly, and we totally enjoyed our day with him. We visited the Roman Army Museum, Vindolanda, the Steel Rigg section of the wall, and a couple of smaller stops. There was digging going on at Vindolanda, and Peter explained that you have to enter a lottery to volunteer, and if you win you pay 100 pounds for the privilege. They found two swords the week before we got there, and they were already on display in the museum. It was a great day, followed by a great dinner at the Red Fort Indian Restaurant recommended by our B&B host.

The following morning, my husband needed to do laundry, so we walked around the town to kill some time. We bought some Peppa the Pig books for our granddaughters at a charity shop and tried to figure out why Haltwhistle thinks that declaring itself the “Centre of Britain” is an appealing come-on for potential tourists. Laundry done, it was on to the Lake District.

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The Lake District – We took a train to Carlisle, a train to Penrith, then a bus to Keswick, all very easy. The scenery became considerably more dramatic the closer we got to Keswick. We arrived at 4:00 and checked into our room at Howe Keld, which we just loved. Our room was great – with a view of Catbells – and breakfast was excellent, including pain au chocolate! It was in a great location between the town and lake.

We had three full days in the Lake District, with quite a bit of gloomy skies and a fair amount of rain. Our first full day we walked along the lake – Derwentwater – and it was quite pretty, even with all the gray. The forecast called for clearing skies, so we decided to have a very early dinner (fish & chips in our room), then head out to Castlerigg Stone Circle. The sun came out at 4:30 as promised, and we had an enjoyable walk through woods and farms. When we reached Castlerigg, the sun was low and the light was exquisite, so I got some beautiful photos. We love stone circles, and this was one of the best, with few people, plenty of sheep, and gorgeous scenery all around.

The next day we took a bus to Buttermere so we could walk around the lake. It was a nice morning, but the weather turned as we were circling the lake. When I say the weather turned, I’m talking about fierce winds, hard rain, and much colder temperatures. Perhaps it was not ideal, but we still enjoyed the walk. On the bus ride back, we came upon a woman who had backed her car a bit too far, so that her wheels were hanging over a cliff. Granted it was only a foot-high cliff, but she was in a pickle nonetheless (not to mention the embarrassment factor). A British guy on the bus said (with his wonderful accent), “Shall we give her a hand?” Another guy said, “Yes, let’s,” so the bus stopped, and all the men on the bus jumped out to push her car forward. Bravo! Needless to say, they got an ovation when they returned to the bus.

Our last full day in Keswick was fairly clear, so we decided to climb Catbells. We walked to Hawes End, instead of taking the boat, which was not our best decision of the trip as it turned out to be a pretty long hike. It was very easy at first but got steeper and more difficult as we went onward and upward. By the time we reached the summit, the skies were pretty gloomy, but we still had dramatic 360-degree views, just not the prettiest photos. All together it took us seven hours. We were pretty tired, especially since we did not take any food or water with us. Not one of our better decisions there either.

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Back to Edinburgh – Our trip was now coming to an end after three great weeks. We took the bus to Carlisle, then a train to Edinburgh. The only snag was that I discovered I had purchased the last train ticket for July 24 (the day I bought the ticket), instead of September 24 (the day we needed the ticket). I seem to recall having trouble with the website and having to start over. I must have forgotten to select the correct date again when I got back in. It cost me $71 for new tickets; not too bad. It hurt my ego more than my wallet.

We took a bus from Edinburgh to our hotel near the airport, checked in, then took the bus back into the city. One last chance to visit Pret A Manger! We ate our sandwiches at Calton Hill, then decided to climb up Salisbury Cliffs. It was overcast and drizzling, but we just wanted to get away from the crowds, which were even harder to tolerate after being out in the countryside. The last days of trips are rarely fun for us, and this was no exception. But we were happy that the trip had gone so well and lived up to our expectations. We can’t wait to get back to the British Isles for another walking trip. We could happily do this every year for the rest of our lives. But there are so many other places we’d love to see…

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Sounds like a wonderful,trip, Carroll. Thanks for a great read.

We love to walk. Our last trip to the U.K. Included Whitbey and the Lake District for three days each, with lots of walking, including the walk between Whitbey and Robin Hood's Bay. We were there on the last weekend of April, a bank holiday weekend, and people were moving supplies into their beach cabins, all lined up on the waterfront. Fun to peek in and see how they provision the tiny cabins. Lots of teacups and beach chairs!

In the Lake District we stayed right on Derwentwater, in a country house run by HF Holidays, and did guided hikes with them. By now it was late May and the weather was perfect.

Can't wait to go back. I will bet you can't either.

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Hi Carroll -

Glad you enjoyed your stay in my neck of the woods! You seem to have covered a great deal of ground in a short time! Was the rail trip to Carlisle from Skipton via the Settle-Carlisle stretch of railway? If so, that's one spectacular route, especially the section around Ribblehead and the enormous viaduct (actually seen better if you're not on the train, but....).

You picked some great places to visit, ones I might have suggested to you myself as a 'local', so your research and choices were pretty good!

Glad you had a great trip!

Ian

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Lola, I love those beach cabins! I got lots of pictures of them - very colorful. I looked into the place you stayed in the Lake District. It looked great, but I couldn’t make the dates work.

Ian, I have no idea what route the train took, but I don’t remember a viaduct. You may well have recommended some of the places we stayed. I asked for help and got some great suggestions on this forum.

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Like this trip report very much. It all my UK trips have been horribly remiss in seeing Scotland and the Lake District. Now I'm rethinking my next jaunt. Thank you.

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Congratulations on researching your train and bus transport so well in advance. I'm really glad for you that it worked out so well and that there were no strikes or unexplained delays to make you miss your connections. Well done! So much for those who will tell you that you won't be able to explore that area without a car.

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So, why was the chicken crossing the road? :-)

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Sounds like a great trip. I am envious. Hadrian's Wall is also on my bucket list. It is funny...A good Scottish friend told me about the Wall years ago. Her young son (now a big man) loved the wall because he could sit on the same loo hole that Roman soldiers did centuries earlier. I thought what a hoot but for some reason it caught my imagination, now I HAVE to do the same thing. How did you find the Delta sale? I need to get better at finding that kind of savings. Thanks for the detailed report. Loved it!

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Gee thanks, cgrichard, but I’m not sure I deserve congratulations after I purchased the wrong train ticket. I did spend hours researching transportation, especially the buses, and I did not enjoy any of it. Transportation is the only part of trip planning I don’t like.

I do agree with you that we were fortunate there were no disruptions. I tried to familiarize myself with all the options to get each place in case something happened.

I was really happy it was so easy to do without a car. I know some people would prefer the flexibility of a car and have a hard time with all the legs of transport but we didn’t mind at all. We stayed three night most places which made it manageable. I would not want to be doing that every day or every other day.

Jane, haha! It sppeared to us that she wanted to get to the other side.

Nancy, I found out about the sale on this forum! Some wonderful person (whose name I wish I could recall so I could thank him/her) posted about it. I think it was a two-day sale, so you have to check every day to pick these up. Hopefully, other people can give you better advice on how to find sales.

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Wonderful trip report! Thank you. I am impressed with your use of public transportation.

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Thanks for the information about getting along without a car in the lake district.

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Thanks for the information about getting along without a car in the lake district.

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What a great report! and this is a trip that is on my bucket list. Thanks for all the detail. I especially loved that you went to a lot of places that , while not remote, weren't just the usual suspects when planning a trip to UK. We are big fans of the Vera, Inspector Gently, Inspector Banks, and many other British detective shows and I would love to go to those areas .

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Great trip report! Thank you for writing it! An enjoyable read! It was also great that you went to Grassington because I have been there during the Dickensian festival! My UK friend,who I went with, had friends that lived there.

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Thanks so much. Re transportation: it was easy. If we could do it, anyone could do it!

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Carroll, I see that all your posts are within a few minutes of each other. Did you write up your whole report ahead of time and then just type it up? Or can you think and type it all that quickly? I have to think and re-think everything I write.
I, too love the names of the little communities in England. I know "quaint" can be overused when talking about those places, but it seems to fit. I also had a bad decision about hiking without water. We were at the horseshoe bend of the Colorado River outside of Page, Arizona. It was July about 3:00 in the afternoon and very hot. When I read the sign in the parking lot about the distance to the overlook it appeared to read 1/4 mile. I said to myself "That's not far, I can walk that and be back at the car in 15-20 minutes." We walked and walked and walked. I had no hat or water, so I would stop and rest periodically. I was very scared about heat exhaustion or stroke. When we got back to the parking lot we looked closer at the sign. It read "3/4 mile to rim". That meant 1 and 1/2 miles round trip. I downed 2 bottles of water when I got back to the car. I learned a lesson. If you can't see the end of your walk... Take water with you.

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Janet, I am a pretty fast typist, but fast thinker? - no way! My brain gets slower and slower each year. : ( I type my trip reports in Word and then copy and paste them to the site. I like to edit and re-edit many times before I post. Plus if I do them in Word, I can easily find them when I want to look at them.

July in Arizona is no time and place to be without water! I generally can go really long without drinking anything, but not when it's hot and the sun is out. We were in Arizona last August and never went anywhere without water. It's a good thing, because I started getting symptoms of heat stroke when hiking in Canyon de Chelly. It's scary to think what would have happened if I didn't have water. I was fine in the Lake District, but that doesn't mean it was a good idea. It was very cool and overcast, so we just didn't think about it. But we should know better. We were in Murren, Switzerland a few years ago (in September, a cool and foggy day) when we set out on the North Face Trail. This was an easy 2 hour hike that turned into a grueling 7 hour hike when we made a wrong turn. We had no water, no food and no map. I can't believe we were so stupid a second time.

By the way, I know exactly where you were when you were outside Page without any water. We did that exact same walk and misread the sign too! I kept saying, "Where is this place? I thought it was supposed to be a quarter mile." As I recall, the sign was written oddly, using a colon or something like that. But it was a beautiful vista when we finally got there. Arizona has so many gorgeous sites - what a great trip that was! Even in August.

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Janet and Carroll, we made the same foolish mistake when hiking the Cinque Terra trail. We know better than to go out walking or hiking with no water, but we misjudged how long it would take us. That was not a happy trail!

Never again. I now take a water bottle even if I'm walking on a cool day in my own neighborhood.