First, let me give some history of the hike. It was devised by Alfred Wainwright and described in his 1973 book “A Coast to Coast Walk”. The route is 193 miles and passes through three national parks: The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and The North York Moors National Parks. It begins in St. Bees on the Irish Sea and ends in Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Approximately 10,000 people walked the trail last year, some doing only portions and others (myself, included) doing all 193 miles.
Most hikers take 14 days to complete the distance.
There are several popular methods to travel:
- Backpacking and camping along the way (a map and a compass are required to avoid becoming totally lost)
- Carrying a day pack and having luggage forwarded to hotels by a service (also require a compass and map)
- Fully escorted tour with guides, hotels, meals and shuttles. I chose this method because, at age 70, I do enjoy those creature comforts of a warm bed, hot meals and a bath/shower
My trip started with a few days in London with my friend Faye. We visited Windsor Castle, The British Museum, Churchill’s War Rooms, a play in London’s theater district, Hyde Park, and general sightseeing. I always try to include a few days at either the beginning or end of my adventure to take in the local sights and adjust to the time change.
After four days in London, we took the train to Penrith where we were picked up by our guides from Mt. Sobek and driven to our first night's accommodation. The walk began the following morning at St. Bees in the pouring rain and 30 mph winds gusting to 45 mph; an ominous start! Tradition is to put your feet into the Irish Sea and pick up a small stone to carry to the North Sea (where you once again step into the water and deposit the stone back into the sea). After quickly fulfilling this obligation, off we went along the cliffs where we were blasted by the wind and rain for several miles before heading inland, passing sheep, crossing streams, and getting drenched.
By the end of the day the rain had subsided, we had walked 16 miles and I was thrilled that my Oboz boots were dry inside, while my fellow hikers were stuffing theirs with newspaper and taking the hairdryers to them. It paid off to have truly waterproof shoes! Of mention, a barefoot man started his walk when we did, as he was raising money for children with cancer. We would cross paths with him several times over the 14 days and watched as his feet took a beating. So grateful for my comfy boots! (14 miles, 1,900 feet elevation gain)
The next day was sunny, then cloudy, great for walking in the lake district around the lakes and scrambling up and down the passes between them. Incredible views! Lots of sheep and stone fences, sounds of cuckoos and other birds. Tough long climbs, but beautiful. We passed a quarry, and noted that we would see several more along our walk that day. (14.5 miles, 1,800 feet elevation gain)
The third day was more long climbs up and down...rain, sheep, lakes, and very beautiful. Faye talked about leaving her boots in England as she thought they were waterproof but….mine are now covered with mud and no longer bright red but still dry inside. (9 miles, 2,200 feet elevation gain)
The fourth day we were still in the Lake District and took time for a tour of William Wordsworth’s house and Dove Cottage in Grasmere. No rain! But very cold and windy. Late in the day approaching our hotel, we see several police vehicles and media vans--it turned out Kate and William were there for lunch! We are able to check into our rooms and watch as their helicopter flew them away. (8.5 miles, 1,800 feet elevation gain)
On our 5th day the weatherman predicted 45 mph winds so we opt for a lower, more protected route and said goodbye to the lake district as we reached the highest point on our walk (Kidsty Pike). Stone fences and climbs from pasture to pasture. (17 miles, 2,800 feet elevation gain)
Day six comes with more rain but less wind, fields of heather not yet in bloom and MUD and MUCK that you can sink in up to your knees if you’re not careful. As we wound our way through the bogs, I’m sure we added a mile or two to our distance trying to avoid the deepest holes. By the end of the day, my shoes were no longer red…and we watched as the barefoot man climbed a rocky path. (16 miles, 1,200 feet elevation gain)
On day seven we began in the rain once again, and crossed into Yorkshire Dales National Park, climbing and descending (our guide described it as “a few ups and a few downs”). We stopped for photos at the 9 Standards Rigg, the highest point of the day, then descended past cows, sheep into peat bogs (more muck). (15 miles, 2.300 feet elevation gain)
Day eight dawns with dry pavement, but mid-afternoon it started to pour. Always carry rain gear when walking in England! We passed an old lead mine, more sheep, rabbits, walked alongside a river, through several fields of canola (pretty yellow flowers). (15 miles, 1,800 feet elevation gain)
Day nine took us past an old priory, more sheep and cow pastures to Richmond and a tour of an 11th century Norman castle. More rain in the late afternoon, but just after we had finished walking for the day. The towns that the Tour de France passed through in 2014 have bicycles mounted on street lamps to commemorate the occasion. (11 miles, 900 feet elevation gain)
Day 10 was clear, sunny, and flat. We walked along a river and through fields of oat, barley and canola. Of course, we see more sheep and cows. We passed by Easby Abbey but don’t go in - we had a long day ahead. My boots were muddier than ever - no longer any red visible! (16 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)
Day 11 - we left the Yorkshire Dales and head into the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and more climbs. We stopped to tour the 14th century Carthusian remains of Mount Grace Priory where monks once lived and worked. Cows lead us through several fields that day. Great views of trees and fields near and far before descending into next town. We saw our first view of the North Sea in the distance. (13.5 miles, 500 feet elevation gain)
Day 12 - rain and low clouds to start the day; so foggy we couldn't see the views. We passed by structures for shooting grouse - apparently a lucrative business for the area even though it is in a National Park. Eventually the sky cleared and the path followed the track bed of the old Rosedale Ironstone Railway to a stop at the Red Lion Inn, a 400 year old pub, for a pint. We passed more heather, none of it blooming. (14.5 miles, 2,900 feet elevation gain)
Day 13 - more rain and wind to start the walk, and a caravan of tractors, dozens in all, headed toward us. We passed views of the sea, heather starting to bloom, walked through several towns, visited a church, then rode an old steam train to our lodgings. (14 miles, 400 feet loss)
Day 14 - the last day. We walked through mud, stones, roads, fields and a beautiful stretch through trees and waterfalls, then the final three miles along the cliffs into Robin Hood’s Bay, then the ritual walk into the water where I tossed the stone I carried from St Bees 14 days ago. (15 miles, 1,700 feet gain).
This is a strenuous walk with rain, mud, rocks, long steep climbs up and down, not to be attempted without training, good fitting waterproof boots and clothing for all types of weather.
I thoroughly enjoyed my hike and once I got home and gave my boots a good cleaning. Now I’m ready to plan my next adventure!