Coast to Coast - East to West 2006

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 2 - Days 1 & 2 - Robin Hood's Bay to Lion Inn, Blakey

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Day 1 - Monday 5th June - 15.5 miles - 1,800 ft ascent

Robin Hood's Bay to Grosmont

I woke up to a reasonable day – a little overcast but still fairly bright. Breakfast was only Continental and served from 8.00 to 9.00, but with quite a good selection of things to choose from. I sat with Tom, who was going to catch the bus from Robin Hood’s Bay to Scarborough and then to home in Birmingham.

It was 8.45 when I started out up the steep cliff by the hostel on the coast path to Robin Hood’s Bay. It was a quick awakening to the walk as I climbed up about 200 ft within a very short distance, carrying my pack for the first time. For some reason, my pack didn’t feel as heavy as it normally does at the start of a long distance walk, so it made me wonder if I had forgotten to pack something, but apart from the battery charger for my camera and GPS batteries that I had forgotten, everything else was there.

I dropped down into Robin Hood’s Bay at 9.00 to dip my boots into the sea in traditional fashion, and to pick up a pebble to carry to the opposite coast. By all accounts of the number of Coast to Coast walkers coming from St Bees, there should have been a small mountain of pebbles to choose from, but I had to hunt around for a while before I could find one. It did make me wonder if it were one that someone had brought all the way from St Bees and that I was now going to undo all their efforts in bringing it here!

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Start of Walk at Robin Hood's Bay, looking towards Ness Point
Start at Robin Hood's Bay
Maw Wyke Hole, where the path turns inland from the sea
Maw Wyke Hole

After walking up the steep hill to the top end of Robin Hood’s Bay, I called in a shop for some sandwiches and a few other things for lunch before embarking on the cliff walk, following the route of the Cleveland Way. The views were rather obscured at first, but improved further along, round Ness Point and then towards Maw Wyke Hole. The cliffs generally average about 200 ft, but rise to about 300 ft at one point and, as is the case along much of the east coast, there were signs of erosion with path diversions around parts that had become dangerous. At Maw Wyke Hole, I made a slight mistake with the route. In my highlighting of the route in the Wainwright guide, I had accidentally highlighted a short bit of the path to Whitby at the top of the page instead of the path inland towards Hawsker. This made me continue along the coastal path for a short way before I realised I was wrong and quickly returned to the correct path, up through the caravan park, and then onto the road into the picturesque village of Hawsker.

The weather was still overcast with an occasional ray of sunshine and a chilly NE wind, which helped to keep me cool in the otherwise rather warm and humid conditions. Once I reached the road, my views were rather limited, with occasional sightings of Whitby, the town and Abbey clearly visible in the distance. For the rest of the time, I kept myself amused by looking at the wild flowers on the verges, trying to identify some of them, which is not my strongest skill. There were buttercups and red campions, as well as other flowers that I resorted to photographing for later identification (Field Mouse-ear and Herb Robert, I think), and the hawthorn trees and hedges were still in full flower.

Progress was quite good and easy, but it was about time to take a break. The roadside was not the best place for stopping, so I waited until I had turned off up a lane and onto open moorland before I took my rest. I had walked about 6 miles from Robin Hood’s Bay, so had already made a good inroad into the first day’s walk of about 15.5 miles. From where I sat, I had another good view across to the coast at Whitby and was able to pick out a lot of things, and many more including the whalebone arch, when I looked through my small binoculars. Meanwhile, the weather was gradually improving with more blue sky and patches of sunshine lighting up the countryside around.

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Whitby and North Sea from start of moorland
Whitby and Sea

At 11.45 I set off again, now over heather moorland, which can often look very bleak, but there was now sunshine to brighten it up and there were still views across to verdant countryside and to Whitby and the coast. Seven miles into the walk I reached a point where the guidebook showed that it was just two miles to Robin Hood’s Bay by road. The route had done three quarters of a circle by following the coast for three miles, which didn’t bother me, as I would rather take a longer route with better scenery than a short one without. For the beeliners, who are only interested in getting from A to B, this can be rather galling. There was an easy, gradually ascending path up the moor and eventually the view of Whitby was lost and, a mile or two later, the view of the sea and coast too.

In one or two places, I wasn’t quite sure which moorland path to take and started to use my GPS, but was soon reassured by a Coast to Coast marker post, and was kept on track by several others as I went along. After joining the Guisborough road for a short way at Greystone Hills, the path headed over Sneaton Low Moor to New May Beck Farm. Here I met a couple of Coast to Coast walkers coming the other way. They had started out at the same time as Tom, but when questioned about the terrible weather for the first half of the walk, they dismissed it as nothing, saying that they didn’t consider that the weather had been bad. It had rained for about five hours in total, some of it being very heavy, but on one occasion when they had got soaked, the sun came out and that, along with the wind, dried them out in half an hour. It all comes down to individual perception, some people taking things in their stride, whilst others dwell on all the negative things.

Shortly afterwards, I met two more couples doing the Coast to Coast. This was about the halfway point to Grosmont, so I had expected to meet a few people around this time. By now the weather was beautifully sunny with a refreshing breeze to stop it from getting too hot. After following the road down to May Beck car park, the route followed the beck northwards along the wooded valley with the sun streaming down through the trees. It was 1 p.m. and about time for a lunch break, so I found an open space in the sun just off the path, where I settled down to eat and then did a spot of sunbathing. My feet were doing very well after about ten miles, but I removed my boots and socks to give my feet a good airing, as I always find this to be a good way of helping them to relax on a long walk, weather permitting.

At around 2 p.m. a group of about ten people came by. I suspect that they were the Australians that Tom had mentioned, but I didn’t speak to them, as I was a little way from the path, and I saw them again a little later as they doubled back from the car park up the road above me. By about 2.30, it was time to make a move, so I set off again along the delightful May Beck, with the sun still streaming through and sparkling on the water. I am not always very keen on walks through woodland because of the limited view of the surrounding countryside, but in these conditions it was a very enjoyable walk. Further along was Falling Foss, partly obscured by trees, but still an attractive waterfall. It is possible to climb down to the bottom to get a better view of the waterfall, and last time I did so, but there is a rather steep and slippery climb to get down there, so I gave it a miss this time.

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Wooded valley of May Beck
May Beck
The Hermitage, a refuge carved out of solid rock in 1790
The Hermitage
The village of Little Beck on the stream of the same name
Little Beck

Climbing obliquely further up the steep sided valley, I reached the Hermitage, a shelter carved out of a huge boulder and dated 1790, thence down to Little Beck, a picturesque hamlet at the end of the nature reserve, sitting in the steep sided valley. The route from here entailed a fairly steep climb up a minor road and then a lane to cross the A169 road on the way to Sleights Moor. Here I met a couple who were taking 18 days to complete the walk, allowing them time to do other things, such as take a ride on the steam railway. They also said that the weather had not been too bad.

I thought I had seen the last of the coast but, lo and behold, there was Whitby again, a little farther away now, but still plain to see. I had the feeling that the moorland path I had picked up from the road crossing was not leading me in the right direction and, sure enough, when I checked with my GPS, this was confirmed. There were no real landmarks to head for, so I set a waymark of where I should cross the minor road at the top of the moor and headed across the open moorland in that direction, passing the trig point on top of the moor, and then finding a path to take me to the road. The guide shows a detour from the road to visit High Bride Stones and Low Bride Stones, but I could see no footpath that way and suspect that most people take to the road as the easier option, either that or maybe later guides omit the stones. I headed across some way along, always preferring to walk off road if it is practicable, and I think I managed to stumble across Low Bride Stones, even if I wasn’t quite sure about the other ones.

As I Rejoined the road for the final walk down into Grosmont, I noticed that there was also a view of Whitby and the coast from here. Wainwright makes a big thing about being able to get the first sight of the North Sea from the top of the moors at Flat Howe, whereas it can be clearly seen a mile or two before that – perhaps the visibility wasn’t as good when he was writing the book.

As I reached Grosmont, a steam train was just arriving at the station, the last one of the day, so I walked along onto the platform where the locomotive was decoupling from the carriages before going off to the engine sheds through the tunnel. My B&B was just down the road, so I checked in there and had a bath and change of clothes before making for the Railway Tavern for something to eat, calling at the phone box on the way to report back home, there being no reception on my mobile phone. For the minimum charge of 30p I was on the phone for 20 minutes and my money had still not run out. The same call would have cost a few pounds on my pay as you go mobile, and would certainly have cost far more when I last did this walk 14 years ago.

I enjoyed a pint of Jennings’s Cumberland bitter on the veranda of the Railway Tavern, whilst waiting for meals to start at 7 p.m. A chap who was walking the Coast to Coast and staying there came to join me. This was his first long distance walk and he was very enthusiastic about the whole thing. We had a couple more pints together as well as a meal when they started serving, mine being a very good steak and ale pie with lots of meat. He was keen on visiting the engine sheds in the morning, before finishing off the rest of the walk, which he reckoned would take him about five hours. This surprised me a little, but it seems that he didn’t stop for any rests and just carried on walking. That would not do for me, as my feet tend to object every couple of hours and need a good rest to face up to the next stretch. In any case, I use my rests to write up my diary, otherwise I would have forgotten half of the things by the end of the day, and so I conveniently kill two birds with one stone.

I was pleased to find that my cold had not developed too badly and that I was managing to fight off the worst of it. My sore throat had gone and I was just left with some fairly mild symptoms, though I had the feeling that it was making me feel more tired than I might have been as I made my way back to my B&B for an early night.

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Day 2 - Tuesday 6th June - 13.3 miles - 1,650 ft ascent

Grosmont to The Lion Inn, Blakey

I awoke to another fine day with a good weather forecast for the next few days. Breakfast was at 8.30 down in the basement, which opened up into the main part of their business, the Tea Rooms. These extended from the basement through covered areas into some very attractive gardens with additional outdoor seating for fine weather. I had a full English breakfast and chatted to the proprietor for quite a while, as I was not in a rush to set off. He elaborated his rather jaundiced views on the great British public and the joys of running your own business for an average of about £2.50 an hour.

Deciding I may as well pay a quick visit to the engine sheds, I saw the first steam train of the day setting off from the station as I made my way to the tunnel, claimed to be the first known passenger railway tunnel in the world, which was now a pedestrian walkway to the engine sheds. Entrance to the sheds is free, but donations are invited. The famous locomotive the Sir Nigel Gresley was being refurbished there. This was named after its designer and built to the same design as the Mallard, taking the post war record for steam of 112 m.p.h. in 1959.

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First steam train of the day leaving Grosmont
Steam Train at Grosmont
River Esk at Egton Bridge
River Esk

It was 10.00 before I finally started out on my way, following the Esk Valley. I had a little bit of confusion about the route just out of Grosmont and took the wrong road for a short way before I realised that it must be wrong because it started to go up a steep hill. The detail in Wainwright’s guide is sometimes a little confusing and, of course, I would not have made the same mistake from the other direction. However, with the help of my OS map sections I soon got back on the right road and then followed a private road (the old toll road) to Eamont Bridge with the river on one side and the railway on the other. It was a beautiful, sunny day making for a very enjoyable walk amidst the rolling hills and woods of the Esk valley, with the air full of birdsong and the verges full of wild flowers. Passing the fine building and grounds of Egton Manor, I emerged onto the road at Egton Bridge, meeting a few other Coast to Coast walkers along the way.

After following the road for about a mile, the route headed through East Arnecliff Woods, along a ridge that climbed quite high above the river. There was a strong fragrance of wild garlic and even more birdsong than before, with the River Esk visible from time to time, though it could be heard more than seen most of the way. The ridge dropped down then rose again before emerging onto the road by Beggar's Bridge. Again, I had some confusion with the route, but I soon got back onto the right road, which led past Glaisdale Station, then up the hill to Glaisdale village, high up the hillside. It was hot work climbing upwards in the sunshine, but higher up a cool breeze helped to make things more pleasant.

It was about time for a rest, so I stopped above the village, overlooking the Esk Valley, just by the start of the open moors. There was a steady procession of Coast to Coast walkers coming past, which I suspect will be the case every day of the walk. The route over Glaisdale Rigg followed the ridge on a good moorland track, with a very gentle ascent, gaining about 200 ft every mile. Although walking was fast and easy, the scenery changed very little, making it rather tedious, though there were distant views of the moors to either side. I stopped at about 1 p.m. for a lunch break at about the halfway point of the day, with a bit over six miles to walk to the Lion Inn.

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Looking back towards Eskdale and village of Glaisdale from Glaisdale Moor
Glaisdale from Glaisdale Moor

I found a nice spot off the route to the north, overlooking Great Fryup Dale, where I wouldn't be disturbed by passing cars or walkers and settled down by some stones. It was very peaceful, with hardly any sound to be heard other then the buzz of the occasional fly and the distant buzz of a mower somewhere in the valley. A few clouds had gathered now, and they took away some of the heat from time to time, and there was a gentle, cooling breeze to make it very pleasant as I relaxed and sunbathed. Contrary to popular belief, heather doesn't make a very comfortable bed. The new growth of heather is not too bad, but all the stubble from the dead and burnt heather is the problem. It is marginally more comfortable than a bed of nails, but only just. However, after a session of removal of some of the dead heather I managed to get moderately comfortable, although more cloud gradually drifted over to block out the sun. By this time, however, it had managed to dry out most of the sweat from my clothes, making them more comfortable to wear for the rest of the way. In hindsight, I would have been better choosing some thicker growth of heather to give a better cushion, rather than some thin, new growth.

Continuing along the moorland road was, again, rather tedious, until the track turned off to go round Great Fryup Head. Although the scenery passes just as slowly, the track meanders around, and there are stones, potholes and puddles to avoid. This requires some mental activity, just for the act of walking, so the miles seem to pass more quickly. There were some good views down Glaisdale to the left and Great Fryup Dale to the right, as I continued my way to Trough House, a shooting box high up on the moors. Here I met a solitary Coast to Coast walker who was heading for Glaisdale for the night. He had done the walk 19 years ago, which beats my own walk of 14 years ago. I stopped there for a drink of water and a short rest, as I was getting rather hot again, even though the sun wasn't shining as much now.

When I met up with the road a short way further on, I could see my destination for the night, The Lion Inn, across the valley on the ridge opposite. The route goes in a loop round the head of the Rosedale valley, partly following the road and partly taking short cuts on paths across the moor, in one part joining company with the Lyke Wake Walk. There were some fine views down Rosedale as I made my way around, with the sun coming out more and more. The last mile was along the fairly busy road, but the verges were reasonably wide, so it was possible to walk along them, although I was rather taken aback when a van came whistling close by as it overtook another vehicle coming from behind me.

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Looking across the head of Rosedale from near the Lion Inn, Blakey
Head of Rosedale
The Lion Inn at Blakey, dating from 1553
Lion Inn, Blakey

At last, over the last little rise, the Lion Inn came back into sight - a haven in the middle of nowhere. It is a very popular place, especially on a fine day, and has been extended considerably with a large restaurant. Whilst most rural pubs struggle to survive, this place seems to go from strength to strength, though the trade must be very dependent on the weather. On this part of the Coast to Coast, most other accommodation is a long way off route, so the Lion Inn are ideally placed to cater for a lot of walkers, even though the rooms are more expensive than most B&Bs.

I checked into my room, which was a very nice double room with bath and, after washing off all the sweat and grime of the hot day, and washing out my walking clothes, I had a much needed pint of Theakston’s best bitter sitting in the beer garden in the warm evening sunshine. As might be expected, there were quite a few other Coast to Coast walkers around, some staying in the inn, some camping in the nearby field and some just in for food and drink. There was no signal on my mobile phone, though some networks reputedly work from the beer garden, so I called home on their payphone, then ordered an Old Peculier Casserole and another pint of Theakston’s.

As it was still such a beautiful evening, I decided on a stroll along the old Rosedale railway to the south. It is strange that I didn’t find this tedious like some of the walking earlier, but I put this down to a number of factors.

  1. I was just ambling along with no particular destination in mind and I could turn back whenever I liked.
  2. Rosedale has a lot more things of interest in the valley – farms, patches of woodland, old railway workings etc., so there is more to look at whilst walking along.
  3. There is quite a steep drop down from the railway, so a lot more can be seen closer to hand rather than just having views of distant moorland and this adds to the impression that the scenery is changing more rapidly.

After a mile or more I turned back, as I didn’t want to use up too much energy, with a long walk of over 20 miles ahead of me tomorrow. Coming back off the railway at Farndale Bank, I was just looking at a roadside sign saying SLOW - 150 SHEEP KILLED ON ROAD LAST YEAR, when a lamb on the opposite side of the road from its mother was frightened by an oncoming motorcyclist and did what they always do – ran across the road to its mother. This caused a squeal of brakes from the motorcycle and nearly added one more to the casualty statistics. Back at the Lion Inn, I had a pint of Old Peculier to finish off the evening before going back to my room. I wasn’t as tired as I had been for the last couple of evenings, so I watched television in my room for a while before going to sleep.

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