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 1 - Preparation and First Day

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About the Walk

Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk is a 190 mile route following existing rights of way from St. Bees Head, through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors National Parks, to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire Coast, thus encompassing a wide variety of beautiful scenery. It is not an official long distance path, but has almost become one by its popularity.

There are a number of places where there are optional routes to cater for the weather and/or the relative fitness of the walker. There are many alternatives for overnight accommodation and daily mileage, but most people do the walk in about 13 or 14 days. The popularity of the walk has made it possible for services to be provided to ferry luggage from one night's stop to the next and many walkers, particularly the older ones, take advantage of this facility.

Most of the route follows good paths, tracks and roads, and in most parts the walking is relatively easy, especially for those who omit the high route alternatives. In many parts the route is well signposted with Coast to Coast signs, but in others, particularly in the Lake District, there is no mention of this and the only indicators are normal footpath or bridleway signposts.

The original pictorial guidebook was produced in 1973 by Wainwright himself and published by the Westmorland Gazette in Kendal. It was entitled A Coast to Coast Walk (St Bees Head to Robin Hood’s Bay) A Pictorial Guide. Since the first edition there have been a few revisions to take account of problems of disputed access and other factors which have resulted in modifications to the route. There are also strip-line maps of the route available by Harvey, and Footprint Maps. Since Wainwright’s death in 1991, a number of other guides have been published; some of them with other route variants, so the route followed by different people can vary somewhat in places. There are a large number of websites with information about the Coast to Coast walk and all the services, guides and maps, so I will not attempt to include them here and will just concentrate on my own personal experiences of the walk.

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Planning the Walk

Having decided to repeat some of my favourite walks now, in the absence of any others that appeal to me, this year’s choice was Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk, which I last did in 1992. The basic route is approximately 190 miles, but with a few detours for accommodation and high-level alternatives, it is a bit over 200 miles.

When I did the walk last time I, and several other people that I met, thought that it would be better to walk east to west rather than the west to east route preferred by Wainwright. Conventional wisdom has it that the prevailing winds are westerly; so it is best to walk with the wind, and sometimes rain, from behind. However, in early summer, this is not true, as the prevailing winds are easterly. I found this in practice last time when I faced strong, cold, easterly winds approaching the Yorkshire coast. Wainwright’s other argument is that it is far more natural to follow a map from left to right, like reading a book. This may be true, but it is not a very significant factor compared to many others involved in a long distance walk.

My main reason for preferring to walk in the opposite direction is because of the terrain and scenery. When walking the conventional way, the most spectacular, mountainous scenery is encountered in the first few days of walking through the Lake District. After that the remainder seems a bit of an anticlimax. Beautiful as much of the scenery may be in other areas, it is of a more gentle nature and, in my opinion, can be appreciated better if it is encountered earlier in the walk, before the grandeur of the Lakeland Mountains has been encountered. Also, from the fitness aspect, the first few days of a walk are spent building up to the rigours of carrying a heavy pack for long distances day after day. It is, therefore, better to tackle the easier walking in the east first, leaving the more strenuous mountain walking until later, when a higher level of fitness has been reached, especially if high-level alternative routes are to be undertaken.

Now that the walk was decided upon, it was then just a matter of fixing a start date and booking all my accommodation. The schedule I followed last time was, in general, quite satisfactory, so I decided not to make too many changes. As my accommodation guide was many years out-of-date, I obtained a new one from Mrs Whitehead in Keld. In theory, the Coast to Coast is served very well by youth hostels, so I renewed my membership of the YHA for £15, thinking that this would save me money instead of the other option that is now available of paying an extra £3 per night as a non-member. I reckoned on staying at 8 youth hostels and the rest of the time in B&Bs, but when I came to book, about two months before the start of the walk, it was a different story. Many of the hostels were already fully booked, probably by school parties, which abound at my preferred time of early June, or they were closed on the nights I wanted. These days, the YHA never publish closing days of hostels as they used to do. I assume that this is to allow flexibility if large groups want to make bookings and might be deterred if they think that a hostel is closed. It is only by contacting individual hostels that it is possible to find out if they are open on any particular day. Out of my 8 hostels, I was only able to get into 3 of them. In the case of one other hostel, Patterdale, I was able to book an alternative hostel, Helvellyn, which was not too far off my route. As I do not use hostels at any time other than on my annual long distance walks, I would have been £3 better off by booking as a non-member.

As for the rest of my accommodation in B&Bs, this didn’t present too many problems, though there were a couple of places that presented some difficulty. One of these was over the North Yorkshire Moors, where accommodation is scarce and often involves considerable detours off the route. Here, The Lion Inn at Blakey is ideally situated directly on the route, but is a little more expensive than most B&Bs, especially for single occupancy. There is some other accommodation just across the road, but that was fully booked, so I opted to pay the higher price. My other problem was at Keld, where the youth hostel was full, as were the two B&Bs in the village, so I had to make a detour to Muker. This, however, was not such a bad thing, as the detour was down a beautiful part of Upper Swaledale, which would be an added bonus on the walk. The other advantage of Muker is that it has the only pub in the area, where I would be able to get a meal and drink. Although youth hostels and some B&Bs now provide alcoholic drinks, they do not have quite the same atmosphere, nor the choice of drinks, that a pub can offer. The walking distances either side of Keld were quite moderate, so the extra few miles would not cause any problems as far as that was concerned.

The Helvellyn Youth Hostel option meant taking a slightly different route up Helvellyn, which presented no problem and would actually give me a head start on my way up the mountain. The other difference from my previous schedule was that I decided, instead of staying at Longthwaite Youth Hostel in Borrowdale, I would continue further to Black Sail Hut in Ennerdale, as this is a hostel that I love because of its beautiful position in the heart of the mountains. This would then give me the option of making the next day into even more of a mountain walk than Wainwright’s High Stile alternative by taking in Great Gable as well, weather permitting. My next night’s accommodation could be at Ennerdale Youth Hostel, where I stayed last time, but this didn’t seem right, as it was only 4 miles from Black Sail Hut along the valley, notwithstanding that it would be a lot further than this by my planned route. I, therefore, decided to stay 5 miles further on at a B&B in Ennerdale Bridge. This turned out to be the only decision that I regretted in the whole walk, as the mountain walking was very slow and it left me running behind schedule and rushing to reach Ennerdale Bridge in reasonable time.

For route finding, I already had a copy of Wainwright’s guidebook from my previous walk, though I had often found this difficult to follow, as the route did not stand out clearly from the rest of the detail in black and white. This was considerably improved by the use of a highlighter, but still left the problem that there were no OS grid lines shown and very little detail of the area surrounding the route so, if I should stray off somewhere, not only would I have nothing to which I could relate a grid reference from my GPS, but I could easily stray beyond the area shown in the guide and have no means of knowing where I was. This was remedied by printing off sections of 1:50,000 OS maps from the Internet and producing a strip map for the whole route with the exception of the Lake District, for which I already had 1:25,000 maps, two of which covered the route and would benefit me with any mountain detours off the route. I also had a map of one half of the North Yorkshire Moors, though I decided not to carry this, as the route was quite straightforward and sufficiently covered by the guidebook and my strip-line maps.

In my copy of Wainwright’s guide, he had to hurriedly draw up an alternative route on roads around Orton because of rights-of-way issues over his original route past the Beacon Hill Monument. I devised a route using footpaths to cut out a lot of the road walking, but then discovered from looking at the latest OS maps that this area is now access land, so it should be possible to follow the original route over limestone pavements without access problems. I would keep an open mind on this until I could see the lie of the land and then decide which route to take.

Last year I raised money for our local hospice by obtaining sponsorship, so I decided to do the same thing again with this walk, though the statistics of the Coast to Coast look rather tame compared to those of the Cambrian Way, even when the high level options through the Lake District are included. The Cambrian Way's total ascent is about 63,000 ft, whereas the Coast to Coast has only about 22,500 ft via the standard route, and 32,000 ft when taking all the high level routes plus a few extra bits of my own.

My start date was set for Monday 5th June and I would drive over to Robin Hood’s Bay on 4th June along with my daughter and her partner, who would take the car back home after spending a night in the area. To save my daughter the trouble of picking me up from St Bees, I thought that I might get the train back, so I made an online timetable enquiry for trains on Sunday 18th June. The first train was at 07.57 on Monday 19th June, so that soon put an end to that idea – so much for public transport.

This year, not having so many other things to do, I had managed to get out on more local walks around Snowdonia in the build up to my walk, so I hoped that I wouldn’t suffer some of the problems that lack of training can bring about, such as aching muscles and general fatigue. My boots were well broken in and coming towards the end of their life, so I hoped that I might avoid too many blisters. As for the problem of aching feet, I had remedied this to a fair extent in recent walks by making some arch supports to spread the load over a larger area of my feet. My original ones made from fibreglass filler had now started to disintegrate, so I made more out of pieces of an old nylon chopping board. These were roughly cut to size with a saw and then trimmed into the right shape using a wire brush on an electric drill. This worked remarkably well and the resulting supports were of a far more durable material that would not crack into pieces by flexing. They slotted between my insoles and the footbed of my boot and didn’t need anything to hold them in place, as they were self-positioning by virtue of the fact that their profile matched that of my instep.

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Diary of the Walk

Day 0 - Sunday 4th June

Home to Boggle Hole Youth Hostel

After a lot of very wet weather in May, the wettest May on record for many years, I was pleased to see that it had turned warm and sunny for the few days leading up to the start of my walk, with a good outlook for the following week. The journey by car from St Asaph in North Wales to Robin Hood’s Bay was pleasant and we passed by a number of places such as Kirkby Stephen through which I would be passing later in the walk. There were also many other places we passed through or were signposted nearby that I had visited on other walks such as the Westmorland Heritage Walk as well as the Cleveland Way and Pennine Way, and these all brought back happy memories as we drove by. For quite a number of miles from Kirkby Stephen onwards, we saw large numbers of gypsies, their horses and ponies grazing by the wayside as they made their way towards the big event of the year, the Appleby Horse Fair, which attracts horse folk from far and wide.

The weather was a little overcast across the moors and there were a few spots of rain, though visibility was still good. We stopped at a pub in Ravenstonedale for lunch, another place at which I had stayed on the Westmorland Heritage Walk and which I would pass within a few miles of on this walk. The journey took somewhat longer than I had anticipated, partly because the roads were not so good towards the East Coast and there was a lot of Sunday afternoon traffic, but mainly because it was further than I had thought. I had it in mind to drive to some point further down the coast from Robin Hood’s Bay and then walk back up to my first night’s accommodation at Boggle Hole Youth Hostel, just south of Robin Hood’s Bay. By the time we reached Whitby, however, most of the afternoon had gone, so it made more sense to just drive around some of the local sights such as the Whalebone Arch and the Abbey in Whitby, then Robin Hood’s Bay before I dropped off at Boggle Hole and my daughter and her partner went off to do their own thing.

Click to Reduce

Robin Hood's Bay towards Ness Point
Robin Hood's Bay

After dropping my things off in the dormitory and ordering my evening meal, I walked up onto the cliffs above Robin Hood’s Bay and sat for a while overlooking the bay with the cloud gradually clearing and brightening up the scene with sunshine. The peace was shattered for a while by a woman on the beach below having an argument with someone at the full strength of her voice, so that everyone within about a mile could hear. According to her he was the most selfish and despicable person that ever walked the earth. Eventually, when she had vented all the wrath that she could muster, she walked off and peace reigned again over the lovely tranquil scene.

From where I was, I had a signal on my mobile phone so reported back home before returning to the hostel for dinner. The menu choices had looked rather uninspiring when I ordered, so I had opted for soup, smoked mackerel salad, and bread and butter pudding, but when the meals appeared, they were very well presented and looked far more interesting and substantial than had been suggested by the menu, not that I particularly wanted a big meal, as I had not yet started walking. The cost was £5.80 for a main course or £7.90 for three courses.

There were a reasonable number of people having dinner, including a chap called Tom who was sharing my dormitory, having just completed the Coast to Coast. I sat with him and heard his tales of all the rain, wind and even sleet that he had battled through in the earlier part of his walk through the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. The last few days had been very sunny, but one day was also very humid, making it bad for walking. His schedule had been one of 11 days, with one or two days being quite long – as much as 25 miles. There was a 14 year old girl walking alone and following a similar schedule, and he kept meeting her along the way.

After dinner I had intended to have a stroll into Robin Hood’s Bay for a pint, but back in the dormitory I lay down on my bed for a while and fell asleep. For some reason, I was feeling rather weary, possibly because I had a bit of a cold coming on and had just developed a sore throat, so by the time I woke up again I didn’t feel like going out and just settled for an early night.

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