Sometimes, when we have a crazy idea, we look back and wonder what on earth we were thinking but that’s not the case with this particular crazy idea. This was a crazy idea that resulted in a bunch of new friendships, a glorious (if at times rather soggy) 2 week hike, loads of excellent memories and, of course, a book – but it didn’t start out like that…
Back in early 2017 during a hike with my lovely husband Steve, I’d pondered if it was possible to walk all the way around Cumbria connecting all the distilleries and liqueur producers. We discussed the idea of adding beers to the mix but quickly realised that there were so many micro-breweries that we’d be unlikely to make it around in one piece. His mind moved on to other things while mine continued to ponder the possibilities. I began mentally creating a route and searching out distillers online and on social media and then I got Karen’s letter about how she was looking for a mad walk and the whole thing grew from there.
You can read all the details of what happened in the book, but there was a lot work that went on behind the scenes to pull it all together and, looking back on it now, there were a lot of producers and accommodation providers who really took a chance on us when this was nothing more than a crazy idea. We earmarked 2 weeks in early September to complete the walk then got cracking on figuring out just how we’d do it.
First of all we contacted all the producers we could find to see if they were up for getting involved and, thankfully, most of them said yes. No-one said “no” but a few people didn’t reply and, honestly, I can’t blame them – it was a mad idea, with no guarantee of a book deal at the end of it. The folks who stand out in my mind for leaping in from day one were Shed 1 Gin, Gilpin’s Gin, Kin Toffee Vodka and Kendal Mintcake Liqueur – in fact Matthew Gilpin was so keen to get involved that he dispatched a bottle of gin within days to launch the project in style; what a nice man!
After that came the route planning and grovelling emails to accommodation providers. We put out a plea on social media, mainly to help us manage costs. We had no guarantees of generating any income whatsoever from this so we needed to control the outgoings as best we could; 12 nights B&B for 2 people in Cumbria in September could easily run to well over £1200 and then there were the lunches and dinners to buy, as well as the drinks… Again, a number of people leapt in to help us – Craig and Louise at Virginia House in Ulverston pitched in with a room and dinner for our first night, Sarah and Stewart at Crumble Cottages offered us a room (which for various logistic reasons we couldn’t actually use in the end), Sally’s Cottages offered us an entire cottage for the night and the lovely Jan at Kendal Hostel immediately offered us space there for our visit to Kendal. All we had to offer in return was our eternal thanks, a good plug on social media and a big mention in our book, if we ever got a contract!
The route went through dozens of different versions before we ended up with the one you can now follow. Right up until a couple of weeks before we set off it was going to end in Cockermouth at a pub called The Bitter End (it seemed appropriate!), but then we decided it made more sense to push on to Whitehaven to visit The Rum Story and then turn it into a circular walk by hopping on the train back to our start point at Ulverston.
The name also went through a number of changes – on social media I’d called it The Spirit Trail (in fact if you check #SpiritTrail on Twitter you’ll still find the original Tweets from our adventure) but the problem was that too many people thought that a Spirit Trail would be about ghosts, so we changed it. The publisher came up with Gin, Cakes and Rucksacks, which describes the whole thing perfectly.
We did all of our route planning on Viewranger as it was relatively easy to share the route information with each other. Remember Karen was still in Cyprus and we’d still never even spoken at this point – absolutely everything was done via email and instant messenger. We did plan to phone each other at one point but then thought we’d got so far that we may as well push it the whole way and have no verbal or visual contact until day 1 of the hike, which is where the bizarre and (looking back on it) hilarious exchange of emails at the start of the book came from.
There were some very complex, colour coded, spreadsheets and some very patient and flexible producers and accommodation providers who didn’t grumble as we tweaked the route and changed the occasional time and date. Originally we’d hoped to spend more time around Skiddaw visiting Langton’s and Bedrock but, as both were proving hard to pin down, we had to shift our plans around a couple of times.
Once we set out it all went more or less to plan and there were no major problems. The biggest issue we had was with the weather; the day before we set off it was glorious sunshine but from day 1 of the walk it rained on and off pretty much the entire way around.
So what about me and Karen? Well, you’ll need to read the book to find out all the details but, by and large, we got along fine. Yes we had our ups and downs and yes, we did turn out to be very different to each other but, reading back through the book, I think that’s a good thing as it gives each chapter two very different tones of voice. We both noticed different things or felt differently about whatever it was we were doing and I think it was this which ultimately helped us land a book contract as it definitely made things more interesting.
Would I do it again? Yes, and I have another crazy plan already bubbling away – all I need to do now if find another willing victim to drag along on the adventure!