- DATE OF WALK: Tuesday 16 – Monday 29 May 2017 (14 days)
- START: St. Bees coast (marker)
- END: Robin Hood’s Bay coast (marker)
- LENGTH: Officially 192 miles. My route including alternative path via Helvellyn (Day 4) and enforced detour near Catterick Bridge (Day 9) was 195 miles.
[LEJoG progress at start of this sidetrack: Day 3, Portreath]
SUMMARY OF STAGES
- St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge (14 miles) – 16 May
- Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite (15 miles) – 17 May
- Rosthwaite to Grasmere (via Helm Crag, 10 miles) – 18 May
- Grasmere to Patterdale (via Helvellyn, 10½ miles) – 19 May
- Patterdale to Shap (15½ miles) – 20 May
- Shap to Kirkby Stephen (21 miles) – 21 May
- Kirkby Stephen to Keld (13 miles) – 22 May
- Keld to Reeth (via Swaledale, 11½ miles)- 23 May
- Reeth to Catterick Bridge (via Richmond, 17 miles including forced diversion) – 24 May
- Catterick Bridge to Park House, Ingleby Cross (18 miles) – 25 May
- Ingleby Cross to Clay Bank Top (11½ miles) – 26 May
- Clay Bank Top to Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge (9 miles) – 27 May
- Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge to Grosmont (13½ miles) – 28 May
- Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay (15½ miles) – 29 May
Numerous blogs and websites provide advice on the Coast to Coast walk. You can’t go wrong if you Google it, but these were my main companions as planner and walker:
- Trailblazer guide to the Coast to Coast path. I’m an OS traditionalist where maps are concerned, but the Trailblazer hand-drawn maps are genuinely excellent and an enormous help, particularly for the inexperienced fell walker. The advice on accommodation and preparation is comprehensive and invaluable.
- A to Z Adventure map of the Coast to Coast walk. Best one-stop-shop OS map, saves money on purchasing separate sectional maps.
- Yer actual Wainwright, obviously.
And this is the ideal door-stopper/conversation starter/coffee table book, either for whetting your appetite or provoking memories of a job well done (or both). NB: in 2017 it was available for £5 from a book shop at the Lake District Visitor Centre, Brockhole (off the A591 between Windermere and Ambleside).
SUMMARY OF ACCOMMODATION
(Note: Day 11 corresponds to Day 3 of the Cleveland Way)
Eve – Seacote Hotel, St. Bees
- Shepherds Arms Hotel, Ennerdale Bridge
- Royal Oak Hotel, Rosthwaite (Borrowdale)
- Little Inn, Grasmere
- YHA, Patterdale
- Kings Arms Hotel, Shap
- Old Croft House, Kirkby Stephen. Note: this is one of only three B&Bs I have ever given 10/10 to on booking.com. If tea and warm cake at the end of 21 miles – followed by the proprietor booking your evening meal at a local restaurant – sounds good to you, then get on it.
- Keld Lodge, Keld. Look out for the ‘Halfway’ sign on the wall.
- Kings Arms, Reeth
- Old Brewery Guest House, Richmond. Right next to the Sherpa Van headquarters if, like me, you need to arrange for your bags to be carried at short notice.
- Park House, Ingleby Cross
- Wainstones Hotel, Great Broughton (NB: By prior arrangement you can call hotel from the actual Wainstones when approx. ½ hour from Clay Bank Top. Wait in huge layby/picnic spot. Driver will take you approx. 2½ miles to hotel. Arrange drop-off for following morning.)
- Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge. Justifiably legendary. Essential Coast to Coast stop, not least because it gives you a sub-10 mile (and flat) day from Clay Bank Top. BOOK EARLY. I booked in September 2016 for a May 2017 walk, and there was one room left.
- Grosmont House, Grosmont
- Grosvenor Hotel, Robin Hood’s Bay (also stayed for Day 7 of the Cleveland Way)
I’m writing this nearly two years after completing the Coast to Coast, based on some sketchy notes and stats written up at the time in Word and whatever memories might be jogged by Wainwright’s prose and Derry Brabbs’ wonderful photos from the book linked above. Unlike the Cleveland Way piece, where I had a clear theme in mind throughout, I found this a bit of a drag to put together. You may find it a drag to read, though my disclaimer on the ‘Sidetracks’ page does recommend the proper guidebooks.
Honesty is the best policy here: I am writing the ‘Sidetracks’ retrospectives first, simply to practise and get into the writing groove before blogging on LEJoG and mental health. This is probably going to show, in that I haven’t written anything at such length with other potential readers in mind since university. By all means skip to the short review at the end to get an overall flavour of where I’m coming from, and dip into the rest as you see fit.
A year after we scattered my grandmother’s ashes (see the Cleveland Way sidetrack), the family returned to Tarn Hows to mark her 85th birthday on 14 May 2017. This having been planned for nearly a year, I had long since decided that it would be the ideal time for me to tackle the Coast to Coast route. After a bright weekend, Monday 15th May brought hideous, incessant rain and high winds. Not a great omen. I was dropped off at a deserted, forlorn looking St Bees and spent a quiet evening in the Seacote Hotel. My sole venture to the shops for cash and energy drinks coincided with another deluge.
The official Coast to Coast starting point, as seen on 15 May
Day 1 (Tuesday 16 May)
Yes, I indulged in the twin traditions of wetting my bare feet in the Irish Sea and selecting a pebble to carry all the way to the North Sea. Then, at 10:45, it was time for business. The wind and rain had subsided just enough since Monday to preserve morale. The first few miles, heading north up the Cumbrian coast, are not especially taxing. The only proper descent/ascent comes at Fleswick Bay, around halfway. Heading inland you pass through Sandwith, Moor Row and Cleator before the first major Lake District summit: Dent Hill. I was tempted to walk east to west and “save the best till last”, finishing rather than starting with the Lake District, taking on its undulations after nine days getting fitter. But, as I said, the visit to Tarn Hows made it far more convenient to head west to east.
Dent, then. Dent’s elevation is only 1,131 feet: for comparison the highest point of the walk at Kidsty Pike (Day 5) is 2,560 feet. But a) it seems never-ending when you hit it on day one having barely climbed anything since Fleswick Bay and b) on this particular day it was incredibly misty, with visibility down to around 30 yards. I do carry a compass and know how to use it, but this was an early lesson in taking absolutely nothing for granted in the Lakes. The mist also meant that I missed what Wainwright describes as “the sudden revelation of a glorious prospect beyond”. I could barely see a thing until descending to Nannycatch Beck.
From there, an easy valley path takes you to the road into Ennerdale Bridge. The road is reasonably well-used by motorised traffic, but there is a clear walkway on the left hand side and it is only necessary to cross when you are in the village. Total walking time today was 6½ hours, which included around 30 minutes of breaks. Weather was overcast and cloudy all day, brightening on the approach to Ennerdale Bridge.
Day 2 (Wednesday 17 May)
The first section of Day Two is dominated by Ennerdale Water, as the C2C path takles you along the shore of the most westerly of the lakes. There are terrific views (thankfully not obscured by mist today) of the Pillar range. And then, having reached the head of Ennerdale Water, well…
Wainwright warns you – at some length – that the flat, five-mile trudge through the man-made Ennerdale Forest is a low point for the entire walk. For “energetic walkers” he recommends a high route over Red Pike, High Stile and his beloved Haystacks. Though I consider myself reasonably energetic, the weight of my full pack caused me to take the low road. And yes, it is tedious. Also, it coincided with the warmest weather thus far, the surrounding forestry rendering this section cloying and humid. The eventual reward is lunch at the remote Black Sail youth hostel, nestled between imposing peaks to be ticked off another day.
Upon resuming, you have 10 minutes or so to limber up before tackling the long climb up Loft Beck. Here I bumped into several walkers who had been staying at the same accommodation on Tuesday night – they expressed some surprise that I was carrying such a large rucksack, and I did begin to wonder if I was asking too much of myself. Now traversing Grey Knotts and Brandreth, the mist returned, thwarting the promised view of Buttermere and easing only on the descent to the Honister slate mine. From here the going is steady all the way to Rosthwaite, capital of Borrowdale.
About 6½ hours walking again: weather bright but cloudy all day, barring the humidity in the forest and the mist on high ground.
Day 3 (Thursday 18 May)
A deceptively easy start, with a gentle footpath to Stonethwaite and the foot of Eagle Crag. Then comes by far the toughest work of the first three days of the Coast to Coast: climbing Greenup Edge, passing Eagle Crag and scaling Lining Crag. On what was also by far the warmest day, I had to stop for lunch before tackling the latter. Frankly I was disheartened to see it at all. I’m sure it must be playing tricks, but memory seems to tell me that climbing Greenup Edge was no less arduous than walking from Wasdale Head to Mickledore on the way to Scafell Pike a year later. All this is to say: even if I am exaggerating, don’t underestimate the first half of day three.
It’s worth it though, for now you reach the head of Far Easedale and can look down on Grasmere. Doesn’t matter about the tourists, this is a moment to appreciate a true English idyll, the inspiration for one of the country’s most revered poets. You can take the quick and easy path from here, or stay up on the ridge and conquer Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag. On such a beautiful day, I chose option two. In fact, I’d recommend that option in anything but the foulest weather. Three summits, none especially difficult, glorious views, and even with that extra time and effort this is the shortest day of the first week (4 hours 50 minutes walking).
Grasmere, viewed from Helm Crag
Day 4 (Friday 19 May)
My favourite day of the Coast to Coast, for one reason: Helvellyn. Recently voted Britain’s favourite walk, it surpassed this first timer’s expectations and its very name still conjures up happy memories and a smile of quiet satisfaction.
That said, the start of the day was lousy. Didn’t sleep until 2:35am on Thursday night (excitement? or just plain insomnia?). This, combined with the total absence of any breeze on Friday morning, made for a dreadful, stop-start climb up Little Tongue. At least I had arranged for my rucksack to be taken to Patterdale by C2C Packhorse: no way was I allowing even the slightest chance of that stopping me reaching the summit.
At Grisedale Tarn there is a choice of routes: vanilla (direct descent) or deluxe mint dark choc chip (Helvellyn). Mr Wainwright says that “the Helvellyn alternative is for walkers who consider themselves supremely fit and are encouraged by weather conditions”. While understanding the note of caution about the weather, I really wouldn’t use the word “supremely” here (and from memory I think the Coast to Coast guidebook agreed). Reasonable fitness is enough. Basically, if you’re sat by the Tarn and you’re daunted by the prospect of climbing Dollywaggon Pike right across from you, consider vanilla. Otherwise, just indulge yourself. Smear that deluxe ice cream all over your face.
No getting away from it: Dollywaggon Pike does look like hard work. It’s certainly steeper than Little Tongue, and for an inexperienced fell walker (as I was at the time) it’s hard to credit something even higher sat behind it. But your curiosity about that higher purpose will drive you to the top. Once you reach Nethermost Pike, the sense of wonder and awe begins to take over. For it’s around about now you see the outline of what must be the summit of Helvellyn… and what looks like a fearful drop to Striding Edge. This is when I wondered what the hell I’d let myself in for.
Atop the summit, I spent half an hour taking photos, recording panoramic video on my phone or reading both the stone tablet about a plane landing and the Gough Memorial. Some of this was just to delay my assault on the (in)famous Striding Edge. Finally I plucked up the courage and started down that “fearful drop”. Really it’s just a lot of care and sliding around on your backside – it was also nice to engage with people heading the other way. Once on the arête proper, I found myself concurring with Wainwright’s verdict that “its dangers are more apparent than real”. Mind you, that’s easy for me to say: I never took on the crest of the ridge, preferring to stay several feet below on easier paths. Regardless, it was a thrilling quarter of a mile or so and probably the highlight of my distance walking career to date.
The remaining descent to Patterdale is clearly marked, steep in places but familiar terrain for anyone used to walking in the Peak District moorlands. Finally, you cross Grisedale Beck (long after first sighting it), pass farmland and make your way to Patterdale via roads and fields. Total walking time was a little over 5 hours today; weather cloudy and cool all day, with virtually no wind even on the summit. The rain started to come down in Patterdale though.
I stayed in a private room at Patterdale YHA. Not sure the privacy premium was worth much: bathroom and toilet still shared, cramped, very small radiator. Did enjoy two pints of Helvellyn Gold bitter. At the time I ranked it as the best beer I had on the Coast to Coast, but found it underwhelming when I ordered some from home a few months later. As with the mountain itself, I guess you really had to be there.
Day 5 (Saturday 20 May)
The Coast to Coast guidebook suggested that this was the hardest day of all. I read this with scepticism. It’s only 15½ miles, I thought: there’s a longer day tomorrow. After about half of the journey you’re out of the Lake District with no further summits, I thought. There’s a long walk by the shore of Haweswater: pleasant views and an echo of Ennerdale Water, I thought.
The guidebook was spot on.
First let’s deal with the weather. I started at 10am and the first four hours were atrocious. Unrelenting rain, occasionally very heavy. Strong winds, particularly between Angle Tarn and The Knott, and on Kidsty Pike (the highest point on the C2C walk). There was hail. It was always cold, even after the rain eased. Mist on Kidsty Pike. In a word, grim. The wind actually knocked me right over when I was crossing some boulders approaching The Knott. And I had my pack on again. Frankly at one stage I felt miserable enough not to climb The Knott and Kidsty Pike, and idly looked for alternative routes. However, some sort of competitive instinct or sheer bloody-mindedness kicked in after a group of cyclists passed the other way and made jocular references to being out in this kind of weather. I guess it was a shared moment that tells you this is what you came for.
It’s tough, this stage: it still ranks as one of the two or three hardest days’ walking I’ve done. Straight outta Patterdale, you’re climbing quite steeply towards Angletarn Pikes and the eponymous mountain lake. Looking back to the NW, “A glorious outlook to Patterdale and Grisedale backed by the Helvellyn range” would spur you on… if it wasn’t for the rain and cloud. The route was also at its busiest, with at least thirty other walkers on this section at the same time, including two large groups. I stopped briefly at the tarn before making the aforementioned assault on the two major summits of the day. The gusts were extraordinarily strong on Kidsty Pike, and there was little incentive to dwell on the Lakeland fells left behind.
Pressing on for Haweswater, the path downhill is obvious, with some minor scrambles towards the end and a very steep grassy section to the lakeside. Here I stopped for lunch, hoping for a break in the weather. Gradually it came, with light rain and a brightening sky characterising the Haweswater section. Oddly enough this was actually the most demoralising part of the walk – it seemed to go on even longer than the Ennerdale Forest path, there were some very unwelcome little ups and downs, and horrendous mud in some areas. Worst of all, even after reaching the end of Haweswater, with the dam and Burnbanks village, there was still two hours’ walking to come.
And little of note in that two hours, apart from the ruins of Shap Abbey and the long overdue warmth of a spring Saturday evening. Walking time was around 7¾ hours: the average speed of 2 miles an hour tells its own story.
Day 6 (Sunday 21 May)
The Trailblazer guide has Richmond to Ingleby Cross (23 miles) as its longest day. This was mine, but compared to Day 5 it really was easy like Sunday morning.
Shap is best known as a historic stop for road traffic in the days when the A6 was the main road to the north west and Scotland. Within a mile of leaving the village, you cross the M6, the road that transformed Shap for better or worse. Thereafter the walk is largely along clear paths and wide open fields, ticking off places such as Oddendale, Crosby Ravensworth and Orton. Somehow I lost the path for the first and only time about a mile before Orton, ending up walking through a farm half a mile south of where I should have joined the road. As someone who takes pride in navigation, this sort of thing annoys me disproportionately, although leaving my compass at home was the original sin.
I recommend the books listed at the top of the page if you want more detail on this stage, because my memories are entirely bound up with place names (Sunbiggin Tarn, Smardale Bridge) and what I was listening to at the time (the Kermode and Mayo film podcast). Otherwise it really was all just fields around here, I’m afraid. Perhaps it was the inevitable comedown from five days in the Lakes. I do remember a nice winding path down to Smardale Bridge and the valley, and that the climb out wasn’t too arduous even after about 18 miles.
Really, Sunday was all about the Old Croft House (see accommodation listed above). You can’t ask for better R&R ahead of another pretty testing day.
Day 7 (Monday 22 May)
Today you enter the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and your eventual destination of Keld marks the halfway point of your trek. But it’s really dominated by Nine Standards Rigg. First there’s a very long climb to reach it, then you see it (along with the surrounding Yorkshire/Cumbria panorama), then you have to cross the peat bogs to get away from it.
The climb was the hardest part for me. Again with the full pack, I was now starting to feel overworked and getting prematurely tired on the sort of ascents that in all honesty don’t really compare to those in the Lakes. If you’re reading this as an inexperienced distance walker, then yes it will be hard not to pack heavy when you’re on the road for 14 days. But even if you do: use the Packhorse (see day 4) or Sherpa Van (see day 10) services as much as you can. The small cost is well worth the substantial increase in enjoyment.
The cairns themselves were of less interest than the panorama, and particularly the viewing platform that helped you identify distant Pennine and Lakeland landmarks. And so we come to the peat bogs. For many years an absolute nightmare, the stuff of morbid dread and rural legend, the crossing was made far easier by a major four year project that was completed shortly before I set off on the Coast to Coast. Not entirely without danger: there is still some unpleasantness to negotiate without the aid of flagstones. But you shouldn’t lose any sleep over it anymore. Unless the weather is appalling, in which case you might take an alternative road route anyway. My only additional advice is to stick to the route which is recommended for the time of year (in my case the Red route, in force from May to July).
Once off the moor, there is a clear road/path to Whitsundale and Raven Seat, followed by a less distinct but easy field crossing to the road that approaches Keld village. At Keld the C2C meets the Pennine Way. British distance walkers are nowhere more likely to find like minds than here.
Day 8 (Tuesday 23 May)
There are two choices for the journey from Keld to Reeth: a high route via lead mines and a low-level route through Swaledale. The rucksack made my decision for me: really couldn’t face any more climbs with the full pack. Also, a riverside sojourn sounded more appealing anyway.
However, this was the low point of the two weeks. There was a climb out of Gunnerside which I found thoroughly demoralising. The weather was warm and dry all day, which seemed to make the pack even heavier. Finally and most significantly, the mild shin pain that had been giving me low-level concern since Sunday now became difficult to manage. In the evening I found it difficult to flex my left shin and started taking paracetamol. Even after a short day (4½ hours) I finished the stage at my most irritable and had begun to question whether I was fit enough to finish. I think I found it especially galling to have got through the hardest part in the Lake District, but was now struggling on relatively flat ground.
Fortunately, International Rescue had arrived in the form of my parents. They were staying in Reeth and Richmond with me for the next two nights, and would take my backpack for days 9 and 10. This evening we had a meal at the Buck Hotel in Reeth, before I went to my room early to rest the legs.
Day 9 (Wednesday 24 May)
Left my backpack and jacket with my parents, used suncream and bought a protective cap. For today was very warm, sometimes hot, and I had to protect my shin from the pack weight and face from the sun. As with most of the mid-section of the Coast to Coast, particularly the Vale of Mowbray, this is a fairly flat and undistinguished stage: pleasant enough but offering little that stands out in the memory. The highlights are Whitcliffe Wood, on the approach to Richmond, and the views of Richmond Castle which greet you soon after emerging from the wood.
Richmond is, I think, the largest town on the entire route. It is the natural end of the stage, but in order to avoid a 23-mile plod through low-lying land on Thursday, I walked another 5 miles to Catterick Bridge in late afternoon. There was a diversion near a major A road which added a sixth mile to this extension. This is the sort of thing that can exasperate the distance walker, but the reason and directions were clearly explained so it was a minor hiccup (far worse is when a marked right of way is unaccountably blocked or non-existent). The last few hundred metres were along that A road, which wasn’t great. I think some potential walkers might be surprised how much of the Coast to Coast is shared with motorised transport, diversion or not. And some of those roads have no pavement.
My stepdad picked me up from Catterick Bridge – the parents stayed in the Old Brewery with me. We enjoyed one of the best meals of the fortnight at the Black Lion in Richmond this evening. The shin was about 80% as painful after paracetamol.
Day 10 (Thursday 25 May)
So, an 18-mile plod was in store today. And this was by far the hottest day of the fortnight, cloudless with only occasional breeze. Once again the jacket and backpack were dropped off. Before checking out of the Old Brewery, I went to the Sherpa Van HQ next door to book luggage transfer for the last four days of the walk. At this point, £8 per day was a bargain.
I was driven to Catterick Bridge, and reached Danby Wiske (possibly Wainwright’s least favourite place on the walk) after about three hours, a depressing proportion of that on roads. Indeed Wainwright confirms that there are eight miles of relentless road walking between Ellerton Hill and Oaktree Hill. My suncream fell out of my bag somewhere near Streetlam, meaning that my sun hat was doing all the hard work. The second half of the walk was slow going, partly due to the shin, partly the sun and partly the 10 minutes it took just to cross the A19…
About 10 minutes before reaching Park House, I met up with my parents, picked up my backpack and left some spare clothes & fleece for them to take home. Even though I wouldn’t be carrying it any more, it was over-stuffed in the first place.
Park House was the most social accommodation en route: all residents were doing the walk, and all ate their evening meal together after ordering on arrival. I’m not quite saying that all human life was there: probably no-one under 40 for a start. However, on the one hand there was a retired couple in their 70s who started their first C2C the same day as me, and on the other a group of three men who’d not only done the walk both ways at least once before, but were getting up at 4:30am to walk more than 20 miles to Blakey Ridge.
Day 11 (Friday 26 May)
I’ll keep this one short, because – apart from the initial climb being from Ingleby Cross rather than Osmotherley – the walk is exactly as described on Day 3 of the Cleveland Way. So what was different?
- The weather: only slightly cooler than yesterday, with breeze on high ground but nowhere else.
- Refreshments: had to stop at Lord Stones Café for a cold drink (along with seemingly everyone from Park House bar the early risers!) before taking on the ascent of Cringle Moor.
- My experience: able to tell the other first-timers that this was an excellent walk they should savour.
- Unfortunately, my shin: due to those frequent uneven descents, the pain was as bad as Tuesday. On removing my socks for a bath at the Wainstones Hotel, there was visible swelling. Went into Great Broughton to look for ibuprofen, but no luck. I should say that my boots had long been broken in and had seen me through 1000 miles a year since 2015 with no issues. So I can only conclude that this stemmed from the repeated stress of long walks on consecutive days. I’m writing two years later, and this C2C remains the last time I walked for 10 consecutive days or more.
Just a little warning: you may have no problems with fitness, and you may have the right kit, but you might still find yourself affected by overuse injuries. Now, I admit I probably didn’t help myself by carrying too much weight in week one, but given that some years ago an overuse injury led to me being told to stop distance running, I decided almost immediately to exercise more caution with distance walking in future.
Day 12 (Saturday 27 May)
I looked forward to this more than any other day of the C2C. The first hour up to Urra Moor and Bloworth Crossing would be familiar from Day 4 of the Cleveland Way, and then instead of the gruelling 20 miles to Slapewath, there was just a flat couple of hours and you could spend the rest of the day grabbing R&R at the Lion Inn.
And that’s how it turned out. Thunder and torrential rain was forecast “between 1pm and 4pm” but apart from a couple of thunderclaps and a heavy shower around 12:30, I got away with it. I was at the Lion Inn by 1:40, probably my earliest ever finish on any stage by stage walk. Had a bath while listening to the FA Cup final, then a late afternoon drink in the beer garden. The promised thunder and rain had never arrived.
My aunt, uncle and grandad were at the house in Skinningrove for the weekend and fancied eating at the Lion Inn. Knowing that it was a renowned refuge for walkers and other outdoor types, as well as being hugely popular with families, I thought it would be too short notice to book a table for four on a Saturday. They visited for a drink after I’d had my (fabulous, three-course) evening meal. They were so impressed by the menu that we booked a table for four the following night – my accommodation in Grosmont was B&B only, so this worked out beautifully.
Shin still visibly inflamed, but pain down to 60-70% of peak.
Day 13 (Sunday 28 May)
One of the most under-rated days on the Coast to Coast I think, at least once you’re off the roads after the first few miles. These are wide roads with good verges though, and on this sunny day there was plenty of morning activity. Two attractive cyclists asked me to take their photo early on, and we had a brief conversation about our respective challenges. Once off road and on Danby High Moor, there are splendid views of Great Fryup Dale, and a lovely walk along Glaisdale Rigg, gradually descending into the Eskdale valley and the village of Glaisdale. Here, C2Cers and cyclists had already taken up all available lunchtime space at the main pub; I pressed on uphill to East Arncliffe Woods before stopping for lunch.
The last few miles through Egton Bridge and into Grosmont include some more road walking, but nothing as remotely enervating as Day 10 in the Vale of Mowbray. I was an hour early for check-in at my B&B and whiled away the time at Grosmont’s main attraction, the steam railway station. It’s very well kept and obviously popular, though I confess I’m much more of a Eurostar, ICE and sleeper man – this website has inspired all of my most exciting train journeys since 2008.
After a couple of hours in my room, I was picked up by my uncle and the family returned to the Lion Inn for an evening meal. Just the one beer: the final day is quite a long one and not to be jeopardised by a hangover.
Day 14 (Monday 29 May)
My aunt, uncle and grandad promised to meet me in Robin Hood’s Bay as I finished. An old schoolfriend had also been staying nearby and said he would come along too.
No getting away from it: there is a steep climb out of Grosmont to start the day. Without doubt the steepest road of the whole fortnight. The weather had turned again by now, and at the top of the hill, Sleights Moor was shrouded in mist. According to AW, you should catch your first sight of the North Sea from the A169 – not today though. Probably the most attractive section of the final day follows, from Littlebeck, climbing through trees and following the Falling Foss Nature Trail (named after a 67-foot waterfall en route). Leaving behind the Falling Foss visitor car park, you return to the roads before entering Sneaton Low Moor and eventually the village of High Hawsker. Here you will see a sign saying that Robin Hood’s Bay is only two miles away…. but you still have four miles to walk. The C2C route takes you all the way to the east coast (via a caravan site, from which you can see the sea even on a cloudy Bank Holiday Monday) in order to finish the way it started, on the coastal cliffs.
The last three miles or so are also part of Day 7 of the Cleveland Way. As coastal paths go it is relatively easy, with few troublesome ups and downs. On reaching the top of the village itself, I passed my hotel and relatives in the car park opposite and they joined me for the last half mile. My schoolfriend made it just as I reached the official finish at the Bay Hotel. Some of the Park House crew, including the retired couple, were already there and offered congratulations. I threw my pebble into the North Sea, there were some photos with family and a ‘Well Done’ balloon, and my parents sent a short video message from home.
Had a celebratory beer in the Bay Hotel, checked in at the Grosvenor, showered and returned to join family at the Bay for a meal. After that I went back to Skinningrove with them for the evening and was driven back to my hotel at 10:45.
Sign on the wall of the Bay Hotel
A review of the Coast to Coast Walk
The first thing to say is “just do it”. If you’re thinking about doing the Coast to Coast, don’t let anything put you off, make the arrangements and do it. A genuine sense of adventure will spur you on and there’s a real sense of achievement when you reach Robin Hood’s Bay. The highs will outnumber the lows, I promise. This isn’t literally true of course, as you begin and end at sea level. But spiritually and visually it is unquestionably true. Physically and mentally? I think so, but no-one can guarantee that – you will need to draw on your mental strength at times, and you will probably experience some tough physical challenges. I walked alone (with iPod or phone), although you will keep bumping into the same people and having little chats. I can easily imagine that overcoming challenges is easier with friends who can motivate each other when the chips are down, e.g. when it’s pissing down or hailing and blowing a gale into your face on Kidsty Pike with 10 miles still to go.
Which brings us to the advice section. Notwithstanding the urgings above, please bear in mind the following:
- As the Trailblazer guide points out, this is a hard walk, and especially if you’re intending to complete it in 12-14 consecutive days. Don’t even try it without proper footwear.
- The Lake District is without doubt the most difficult (but also exhilarating) section, and if you can walk east to west and don’t mind walking into the prevailing wind, I would seriously consider leaving it for days 10-14.
- Patterdale to Shap is the most challenging day. Yes, physically (the climbing) and mentally (the seemingly endless drag towards Shap). Just be ready for it.
- The Vale of Mowbray is irredeemably dull. Sorry, but even the illustrious designer of the route admits this. However, if you’re heading west to east as most people do, it makes Ingleby Cross to Clay Bank Top/Blakey Ridge even more glorious and welcome.
- If you are inspired (as I am) by hills/mountains/fells and high moorland rather than rivers, farms and woods, you may also find the four day stretch from Shap to Richmond less than delightful. This is very much a personal preference: you may appreciate the contrast. And a lot of it is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park after all. I just found it a day or so too long.
- There is more road walking than you might expect, often without pavements.
- Expect and prepare for all four seasons in one fortnight.
- USE THE BAGGAGE TRANSFER SERVICE! (Or at least pack light)
Enough of the well-meaning concern. Helvellyn alone destroys any lingering doubts or caveats. Add to that Grasmere, the views from Ennerdale Water or Black Sail, the undulating North York Moors, the Lion Inn, Glaisdale Rigg and the cliff top walks at beginning and end, and you have more than enough reasons to dip your feet, grab your pebble and demand the best of yourself for 14 days you will never forget.
Would I do it again? Yes, but preferably east to west and in company. And there are so many other walks I want to do for the first time instead…
Picture (16 May) shows my pebble, taken from the beach at St. Bees, held in front of the ‘Start of Coast to Coast Walk’ sign. Thirteen days later it was thrown into the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay.