A baby boomer fulfills a life-long dream to walk across England

One of our favorite topics at BoomerCafé is achievement — achievement by active baby boomers of endeavors our parents probably wouldn’t have undertaken at all. So it is with Joyce Zonana’s walk across England … A walk she makes all of us want to take.

I’ve always believed that life is a journey, but it wasn’t until I embarked with a friend upon Alfred Wainwright’s 190-mile “Coast to Coast Walk.”

Atop Live Moor, amid the heather.

It took me across the north of England this summer, so that finally I fully understood what that phrase “coast to coast” means. For twenty nights, every night, I went to bed exhausted, crammed with the complex experiences of a long day’s walking. For twenty mornings, every morning, I woke up filled with energy, eager for the adventure of the day ahead: what sights would we see, what challenges would we encounter, whom would we meet, where would we end up for the evening?

I had studied the brilliantly mapped-out route in advance—beginning on the west coast of Cumbria in northwest England, beside the Irish Sea, then moving through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors, all the way to the North Sea. But nothing could have prepared me for the variety and drama of the walk itself; nothing in my previous experience equaled either the struggles or the sense of achievement that were mine each day as I ascended magnificent peaks and descended into lush valleys, visiting ancient monuments, quaint villages, and crystalline lakes and rivers.

Smardale Bridge

We walked among sheep and cows and horses, through pastures and fields of golden barley, discovering ripe raspberries, bursting rosehips, and fragrant honeysuckle in overgrown hedgerows.

The sweet scent of heather, mingled with the salt of the sea, accompanied us for our last few days as we clambered over stiles and squeezed through kissing-gates, following the meticulous (though often ambiguous) directions in our guidebooks and maps. Only once did we get good and lost, and then it was on our last day, within sight of our destination, the North Sea.

Old sign marking the coast-to-coast path.

Along the way we met other walkers—some traveling solo, some in organized groups, but most like us in pairs, friends or siblings or spouses (and most, not incidentally, baby boomers well over fifty) — from Australia and Germany and the Netherlands and Japan as well as England and America. It was always a treat to meet someone more than once; for much of the journey we were crossing paths with Mike, a retired accountant from Derbyshire celebrating his 66th birthday, who cheered us with his unfailing good humor and enthusiasm.

About halfway through, I became almost crippled with pain—huge blisters on both feet from well-loved old boots that were now too tight, and a swollen knee that screamed at every downward step—and so I opted for an easy day, walking in sandals twelve miles along a lonely tarmac road rather than through a boggy hillside.

Joyce, weary but happy, at journey’s end.

After a rest day during which I bought new boots, applied blister plasters, and found a brace for my knee, I was ready to go onward—and so I continued for the next ten days with renewed enthusiasm and much less pain. By the last day, I was saddened to find that we had come to the end. I wanted to keep on walking. And so I will, wherever the road may lead.

Time to relax at Richmond.

Read Joyce’s story about the start of her walk across England. Click here.


  1. Joyce’s Zonara http://www.boomercafe.com/2012/08/01/and-did-those-feet-in-ancient-time-walk-upon-englands-mountain-green/ on BoomerCafé about her (then projected) epic hike across the north of England prompted me to read http://jamesandjoycewalking.wordpress.com/.I was hooked from the very first post and followed Joyce’s trip avidly, day by day. I was so impressed by Joyce’s courage in taking on a hugely challenging walk through some of the most difficult (and beautiful) walking country in England. I left what I hoped were encouraging and informative comments from time to time, and I really missed my vicarious adventuring once Joyce had come to the end of her hike.What I found so compelling was that Joyce was describing and photographing places Erica (my wife) and I are familiar with, having walked in the Lake District and in the Yorkshire Dales, and having visited the North York Moors. We’d even been to Robin Hood’s Bay, the east coast end of the walk. Joyce’s warmth came clearly through her writing, as did her enjoyment of the Bed &Breakfasts and Inns where she stayed. So many of her hosts were tremendously kind and helpful to them, that one couldn’t help feel that there is some light in a dark world!I followed Joyce’s route using Bing maps (which also give us access to the excellent UK Ordnance Survey maps) and Google Earth, walking with them vicariously!It’s fascinating to get a view through a sympathetic visitor’s eye of what is otherwise so familiar. It was a great privilege to be invited to share the thoughts and feelings of someone whom I’ve met only virtually. But what a blessing that we are able to meet and converse electronically!Joyce, now home in Brooklyn, has just emailed me to thank me for being a faithful follower of the blog (and thus of the adventure). She’s kindly extended an invitation to Erica and me to visit her if/when we visit the US. And we’ve invited her to visit us when she returns to England.So, thank you, Boomer Café, for facilitating a trans-Atlantic link!

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