COAST TO COAST
COAST TO COAST
A two-week Trans-England marathon
covering almost 200 miles and three national parks
A two-week Trans-England marathon
covering almost 200 miles and three national parks
Coast to Coast: The Basics
WHERE IS THE COAST TO COAST PATH? From one side of the country to the other across northern England, beginning on the Cumbrian coast and ending on the North Yorkshire ‘Riviera’! The exact line between the two coasts was deliberately chosen by author Alfred Wainwright for the beauty and wonderful walking that you encounter on the way.
WHAT’S THE LENGTH OF THE PATH? 190 miles
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WALK THE COAST TO COAST? Possible for the super-fit to complete in 11 days, but most people take 14-15.
WHERE DOES IT START? St Bees, a fairly sprawling seaside village on Cumbria’s lonely shores.
AND WHERE DOES IT END? Robin Hood’s Bay, a few miles south of Whitby on North Yorkshire’s holiday coast.
IS IT A NATIONAL TRAIL? Not yet, though there have been a few (fairly half-hearted) campaigns to have it designated as such.
HOW HARD IS THE COAST TO COAST PATH? Tough, particularly at the beginning as you traverse the Lake District. The walking is rarely flat on this section, and signposts are few. But make it to Shap and I think there’s no reason why you can’t complete the entire trail. Having said that, there are still some challenging sections. For example, there’s the climb over the Pennines, and the lengthy 23-mile day to The Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge.
To many people’s mind the Coast to Coast, though not a National Trail, is the most beautiful and rewarding long-distance path in the UK.
There’s a reason for this. Look at the list of National Trails: Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Ridgeway, Hadrian’s Wall, Offa’s Dyke, North & South Downs, South-West Coast Path, Pennine Way etc.
All of these follow a topographical or man-made feature of the countryside. As such, it seems that those in charge of designing the path were somewhat restricted by where the trail could go. Because it simply had to follow that feature as closely as possible.
So, for example, the Hadrian’s Wall Path tries to follow the original line of the Roman wall through its length. And because of this, it may take you to some places where you would not usually contemplate trekking. For example, there’s the slightly rundown suburb of Wallsend in Newcastle, and the outskirts of Carlisle.
It’s the same for most of the National Trails. There’s the former oil refinery at Milford Haven, for example, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. The sprawling city of Plymouth on the South-West Coast Path. All National Trails are beautiful, no doubt, but on most of them there is a stretch which is, shall I say, less than picturesque….
However, the genesis of the Coast to Coast path was different. Designed by that legend in a cloth cap, the author Alfred Wainwright, it was deliberately put together with aesthetic considerations to the fore. In other words, it was restrained by none of the restrictions that beset National Trail designers.
So Alfred Wainwright could sit at home, spread his OS maps out on his kitchen table, and draw a line running west-east across the country. It was a line that took in three national parks. Just as importantly, it avoided any less picturesque areas. It is perhaps for this reason that Wainwright himself said that he always ‘… finished the Pennine Way with relief, the Coast to Coast with regret.’
So how good is it? Well, let’s just say that in places, you’ll rue all that time you spent sleeping, eating, going to school and work, watching telly, playing sports etc etc etc…. Time that seems simply wasted when it could have been spent on the Coast to Coast.
Small wonder that it’s Britain’s most popular long-distance trail.
If you were to take a look at a map of England, you’ll see there are three national parks lying in a row from west to east. Those three parks are the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, and Wainwright’s route crosses through all three.
Of course, it doesn’t require any great insight to plan a trans-Britain route that crosses all three; that’s not genius, that’s just common sense. But the beauty of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast is in the detail: it’s not that it passes through three national parks, but the route that he chose for his path through those three parks that is so clever.
Deciding to cut through the Lake District via the gorgeous valleys of Borrowdale and Patterdale, and the tourist hot-spot of Grasmere, not only enables trekkers to sample some of the prettiest places in the Lakes, but also to conquer some of its most famous summits too, including High Crag, Haystacks, Greenup Edge, Helm Crag, Helvellyn, Striding Edge and Kidsty Pike. These names may not mean much to you now – but trust me, on the route, when you’re climbing them, nothing else will matter.
Similarly, the choice to route the trail via Kirkby Stephen not only gives trekkers a chance to refresh supplies and enjoy a night in a decent-sized town before the haul over the Pennines, but also enables them to make that crossing via the mysterious Nine Standards Rigg, before dropping to exquisite Swaledale, where the scenery is, if anything, even more enchanting than in the Lakes.
For the North York Moors, much of Wainwright’s work was done for him thanks to the Cleveland Way, which already traces a route through the park’s best bits. But Mr W was clever here too, opting to borrow the best bits of that horseshoe-shaped trail and combine them together to form a path that resembles a greatest hits package of the Cleveland Way, while also offering a more direct route to the coast – and the finish line – than the national trail does.
Even when trudging through the ‘gaps’ between the parks, Wainwright did his best to make it interesting for his readers, finding the most interesting route through the duller parts. In the last few years other (inferior) guide books have attempted to improve on his original trail to prevent their readers from having, for example, to trudge for 3.5 miles along a road (as those who follow Wainwright’s trail religiously have to at one point). But their attempts to do so have met with limited success, at best, and for Coast to Coasters who have already traipsed across the Lakes and Dales, this stretch of road walking is actually something of a relief and a chance to eat up the miles at a pace.
In other words, despite all these efforts, it’s hard to improve on Wainwright’s original plans.
And so the path continues all the way to Robin Hood’s Bay, a cute little fishing village that tumbles steeply from cliff-top to sea. At the bottom of the main road through the village is the Bay Hotel, in front of which countless trekkers have dipped their boots into the sea to mark the end of their trip, before retiring to the hotel’s bar to celebrate their achievement, sign the book and buy certificates to commemorate their achievement.
Such a beautiful trail does, of course, attract a lot of people and this is one of the Britain’s busier trails. But that does nothing to detract from the Coast to Coast’s charms. Indeed, it only adds to them: this is one of those trails where you bump into the same people night after night (the accommodation options are not always plentiful en route so people tend to follow much the same itinerary), and the camaraderie that builds up between trekkers is one of the highlights of any walk on this route.
So that’s the Coast to Coast. On this website I pride myself on highlighting the negatives of the various trails, to give walkers a proper idea of what awaits them on the trail. But with the Coast to Coast I really struggle to find fault.
It’s that good.
Should you walk the Coast to Coast?
Useful info for Coast to Coast walkers
Transport to and from the path
Getting to and from the path is fairly straightforward but, for those of us who don’t live in the immediate area of either St Bees or Robin Hood’s Bay, rather protracted. Assuming you’re travelling from west to east, for St Bees there is a train service that’s very useful (usually about 10/day, though less frequent on Sundays) – but it’s on a branch line from Carlisle so you’ll probably have to travel there first to catch it. Thankfully, Carlisle is on both the main line between London and Glasgow and is also served by Transpennine Express from Manchester so there shouldn’t be much hassle.
Getting from Robin Hood’s Bay is a bit more convoluted and for most will involve the X93 bus from the top of the village (the only public transport serving the Bay) to Whitby, from where you can catch a train to Middlesbrough, where you may need to catch another to Darlington for your onward train. Alternatively, from Robin Hood’s Bay catch the X93 heading in the other direction, to Scarborough, and from there catch a train to York and continue onward from there.
Transport along the Coast to Coast path
Transport along the Coast to Coast is not brilliant. True, many places on the route have some sort of public transport serving them. But these services are often very infrequent, and seldom link to other places on the trail – so in order to get from point A on the trail to Point B, which is also on the trail, you’ll often have to travel via Point C, which isn’t on the trail at all.
There are two exceptions to the above: Kirkby Stephen and Richmond, the two biggest towns on the path, are public transport hubs and do link with other points on the trail.
Walking along the Coast to Coast path with a dog
Daisy has completed the Coast to Coast path and has the certificate to prove it. She loved it, as she does all the walks she’s completed; but she suggests I point out a few tricky places before you set off in her paw tracks.
Firstly, it’s a tough walk so, as with all the trails described on this site, do make sure your dog is up to the challenge of walking for a dozen miles of more per day for at least two weeks. And that she enjoys it too. That’s only sensible.
You will also be walking through a lot of fields with sheep, cows and horses in them – so you’ll have to keep your pooch on a lead for much of the trail. (See the following link for details on what to do if cows or horses ‘attack’ you when you’re with your dog.)
Secondly, you’ll also have to keep your dog on a lead for long stretches when you’re tackling the moors and other open ground because of ground-nesting birds, particularly in the first half of the year. Look out for notices dotted along the trail about this.
Given the above, it’s probably wise to walk with your dog later in the year, when there aren’t so many lambs gambolling in the fields and the ground-nesting birds have done their nesting (which usually stops around July).
Another thing to be wary of: there are adders on the trail. I’ve seen them on the North York Moors and it’s reasonable to assume they’re elsewhere too. Dogs always take an unhealthy interest in snakes and though, for their part, the snakes will try to retreat when a dog approaches, just as they do when humans approach, dogs are more tenacious, more curious and, as a rule, less sensible than their owners. And a bite from an adder could be fatal. So take care – and maybe keep your dogs on a lead when walking in ‘snake country’.
Other annoyances: well the number of B&Bs, pubs, bunkhouses and campsites that accept dogs is not bad, but as usual you won’t be able to find any youth hostels that allow dogs (save for guide dogs). It’s the same everywhere so this isn’t specific to the Coast to Coast; the only problem is that the hostels on the Coast to Coast are usually in very useful places and the hostel buildings have some character to them – so it’s a shame that dog owners can’t stay there if their pooch is walking the walk too.
Another problem is the lack of bins around in which to deposit any faecal matter that you, as a responsible dog owner, has picked up from the trail; this is particularly true in the national parks – and you’ll be spending a lot of time in national parks. As such, expect to end each day with your rucksack festooned with filled poo bags.
So where might I get lost? It’s easy to get lost on the Coast to Coast Path – indeed, it’s almost part of the experience. Nearly everybody who loses the trail does so in the Lake District, during the first three days of the walk. The lack of signage, the sometimes poor visibility and the number of distractions – the beautiful views, and the effort it takes to climb the slopes, for example – means it’s easy to lose concentration and get disorientated.
I think the number one place where people go awry is at YHA Black Sail, where a clear and popular path heads east from the bothy. Which is great – except it isn’t the right path to take. In the book I go to great lengths to point out the right trail at this point, and in other places too where people frequently wander onto the wrong trail. I also provide GPS waypoints for people using one. Nevertheless, people, even those with the book, will lose concentration and step away from the path. My advice: read the trail description in the book each morning before you set off, as this will give you a heads-up as to where you may get lost. Then when you get to those places, consult the book again to make sure you take the correct path.
Once you leave the Lake District it gets much easier, and the signage improves greatly too. Crossing the Pennines is always tricky – particularly finding the correct path once you leave Nine Standards Rigg – but trekkers do find their way down eventually, and some even manage to do so without wading through knee-deep bogs.
Camping and accommodation along the Coast to Coast
Camping along the Coast to Coast Path is straightforward. Wild camping is illegal, of course, though there are many who do so, particularly in the Lake District. Official campsites are many and mostly good and it is entirely feasible, with a bit of planning, to camp the entire length of the trail. Whether you’d want to is a different matter, of course, and if the weather closes in you may prefer to have the odd night under a roof; thankfully there are camping barns, bunkhouses and hostels too, so you need never have to splash out on a B&B if you don’t want to.
Speaking of hostels, bunkhouses and camping barns, the path is well provisioned with these too. Indeed, I can think of only a couple of places en route where you’ll need to book a B&B instead (Danby Wiske, and the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, are places that spring to mind). Remember it is important to ring ahead and book your place in hostels and bunkhouses; the path is popular and places do get booked up. Even out of season, when demand is not so great, some hostels are booked up with groups and closed to individuals. Ringing ahead to make sure there is a bed available for you at your destination could save you a lot heart-ache and hassle on the trail.
As for B&Bs, there are plenty along the Coast to Coast, though do heed my advice above about booking in advance. Do watch out, too, for a couple of things: firstly, many places in the Lake District may require a minimum two-night booking, particularly over a weekend; and secondly, there are a couple of places where you may need to walk a mile or two off the path in order to get to your accommodation. Check with the B&B owners if they’ll provide a lift from/to the path – it’ll make your life much easier.
Do also check out AirBnb which may have lost a lot of its magic since the early days – a lot of places that advertise on the site now are just regular B&Bs rather than people’s spare rooms or vacant properties – but it’s always worth a look to see what’s available.
Facilities along the Coast to Coast Path
Food and drink You’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to eat on the trail. The only possible difficulty is at Rosthwaite and Stonewaite in Borrowdale where there is only one place to eat in the evening – the Langstrath Country Inn – and it’s essential to book a table beforehand. (Though note that several B&Bs and the youth hostel offer an evening meal too.)
Shops, banks, post offices and cash machines As with almost every other aspect of your Coast to Coast book, you need to plan ahead to make sure you don’t run out of money or provisions on the trail. On the one hand, there are a few towns – Grasmere, Kirkby Stephen and Richmond – that are conveniently spaced out along the trail, where facilities are plentiful (including ATMs, post offices, trekking shops and supermarkets). On the other, that still leaves extensive stretches of the trail in between these towns where facilities are few. The section between Richmond and the end of the trail is a classic case in point, where there’s nowhere to get money out apart from ‘cashback’ at the store in Grosmont. So plan ahead to make sure you don’t run out of money or food on the trail.
Trekking companies and baggage carriers As one of the most popular trails, there’s no shortage of companies looking to convey baggage along the Coast to Coast. There are several guiding and self-guiding companies too. Given how important it is to book your accommodation in advance, these companies, which will book all your B&Bs for you, could prove priceless.
Dangers and annoyances
There are just a couple of potential hazards. The first is one that can apply to any trail in the UK: the weather. The UK is a notoriously damp place and the north of England is a famously wet part of that notoriously damp place. Furthermore, shelter can be hard to find on the trail and if you’re walking in winter, temperatures can plummet significantly, which could lead to serious problems. There is usually a road nearby, which should be the first place you head to if you run into difficulties; but it pays to be well prepared with warm clothing and good waterproofs.
The second warning is one I’ve mentioned already and specific to the Coast to Coast Path: the lack of signposts in the national parks and the ease with which you can get lost. At the risk of sounding like a salesman once again, I do genuinely think that having a copy of the guide book is the best defence against wandering off the trail.
Tips and hints
1) If you can’t afford to take the two weeks or more that it takes to complete the trail, then many people choose to break the walk into two, splitting the path at Kirkby Stephen. This makes a lot of sense: the town is approximately halfway and the transport connections are reasonable (at least, they’re pretty good when compared to those of many other places on the trail). If you need further proof, many of the trekking agencies also divide the trail into two, and all of them do so at Kirkby Stephen.
2) Other than that, there’s not too much to add to the advice already given above about planning ahead (so you know where, for example, you’re going to take out money so you won’t be left short on the trail), booking stuff (particularly accommodation) in advance because of the trail’s popularity and, for the avoidance of getting lost, buying a copy of the guide book; and do note that in other places on this site I am not so pushy about buying the book – but because of the ease with which you can get lost on this path, it really is a good idea to get the book).
The Coast to Coast Path: Further info
‘The most complete guide – with all the detail you’ll need for a walk in Wainwright’s footsteps’ The Sunday Times
‘The maps are clearer and more easily read than Wainwright’s.’ Backpack Magazine
‘With highly detailed pathways, and truthful accounts of overnight stays, this has to be the most definitive guide to this route so far.’ Escape Magazine
The all-in-one, practical guide to walking the Coast to Coast Path across northern England. Fully revised 8th edition of this bestselling guide to the classic 190-mile walk from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. The guide includes:
* Coast to Coast Path map – plus 109 detailed walking maps (1:20,000) plus separate plans for the towns and villages en route.
* Detailed accommodation guide with brief reviews of B&B’s, hotels, hostels & campsites.
* Informations about facilities on the way Shops, cafes, pubs, cash machines, post & tourist offices, foods stores – it’s all in here!
* Taking a dog – experienced advice on walking the path from Daisy, the author’s dog, who has walked the entire trail.
* Coast to Coast walks with a range of itineraries including one-day walks around the Coast to Coast.
* Public transport information including how to get to and from the Coast to Coast Path – and how to travel along it.