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, and with 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 that took in three national parks and, just as importantly, 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 those hours, weeks and months 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.