Coast to Coast
A jolly fine way to explore
the Green and Pleasant Land
Coast to Coast
One of England's most iconic walks
England’s 192-mile Coast to Coast walk, from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire, is a route devised by guidebook guru and rambler hero, Alfred Wainwright. The trail includes the glorious Lake District, the underrated Yorkshire Dales, the moody North York Moors and a whole lot more in between. It is arguably the most spectacular long-distance hiking trail in the UK, certainly in England, and the most diverse scenically as well. Most fit people manage it in 12 days.
- Trail length: 192mi
- Climb: 30233ft
Starting my walk across England
I was close to tears. My lowest point had arrived. And it was all the fault of a mad cow.
I’d clocked up around 17 miles that day with my 33lb pack, and as I set up my tent my bewailing lower limbs let me know exactly how they felt about that. I was looking forward to dinner, hot chocolate and bed more than words can express. But as water boiled – what sweet, sweet music – on the precariously placed gas stove in my tent porch, I hung my smelly, sweat-drenched socks on a fence to dry.
Returning to the tent – catastrophe! – I knocked the stove and managed to spill the hot water everywhere. Groan. I wearily got my kit sorted and took my wet items to the same fence where my socks hung. Only to find… them sticky and slimy with a thick layer of a cow’s gooey saliva – 100 giant snails couldn’t have created that amount of natural glue. Aaaaaaulllgggghhh!
Of course, at least half the dual disaster was due to my own fatigue-enforced clumsiness. But if anyone had lent me a gun at that point, dinner would have been a very big beef burger. I felt shattered. Defeated. Alarmingly close to shedding big pitiful tears.
About the trail and where to stay
The 192-mile (if you, um, stick to the route) Coast to Coast Walk is the brainchild of Alfred Wainwright, the Lake District National Park’s spiritual father who wrote the area’s definitive guidebooks. Wainwright’s original route, going west-east, is neatly divided into 12 sometimes-signposted stages, culminating most days in a village or small town with a B&B, hostel or campsite, and, on the better days, a classically northern cosy pub. UK-based Country Walking magazine named the Coast to Coast Walk the second best walk in the world (after New Zealand’s Milford Track).
Most fit people trek the long-distance hiking trail in 12 days: enough time to have forgotten all about the trivialities of the day job. It took me 10 days. Though it’s a shame to think of it as a race.
I took a tent and occasionally took advantage of campsites, but mainly wild camped. It’s not really encouraged, but it’s tolerated. You’re meant to seek landowner’s permission before pitching, but that’s not always practical in the dark at 10pm, so I made sure I left no trace and was always gone by first light. I turned the quick-pack into an art form. Realising you’re sharing a field with a bull can really help hone those particular skills.
The Lake District in England, day two in my Coast to Coast walk
The second day of the walk brought me to England’s most dramatic scenery and its largest national park, the Lake District. The rightly romanticised but demanding hills – or ‘fells’ as they’re called around here – are very much in at the steep end. I strolled high across the brooding hills, ridges and secret valleys, seeing the remains of Roman roads, expansive lakes and wild deer disappearing into the early-morning mist.
I prefer to do my treks alone – I do them to get away from people after all. But toward the end of the second day I found myself in an awkward situation. I casually greeted a fellow walker and he responded with an unexpected: “fancy some company?” I wanted to say, no. I was loving the solitude. But it felt unduly mean – perhaps he was lonely? And it felt rude. You shouldn’t be rude in England, the world capital of politeness.
It turned out Jim was surprisingly good company and a teller of many a fine yarn. I in turn shared my noodles, chocolate and tea with him as we camped by a large tarn, which perfectly mirrored the curvy hills at sunset, high up in the Lake District. The next day, between Patterdale and Shap, was the most spectacular of several spectacular days. It wasn’t so bad having a rambling buddy – it felt good to share the walk’s most memorable views with someone. But when we’d run out of things to talk about – and I wanted to go at a faster pace – we bade farewell on amicable terms.
The changing ways and hospitality of one of Englands best long-distance hiking trails
Over the next few days I watched England’s topography change; ironing itself out into flat farmland, then crumpling itself up again into undulating, bird-filled moorland. The North Yorkshire Moors were a close second best to the Lake District. August had painted them a sea of purple heather, seductively swishing in the breeze, like the silk sheets of a temptress’s bed.
The walk was a great reminder of England’s history. From mining remains – unsettling lunar landscapes and huts to hide in from occasional showers – to stone circles and other ancient marking posts jutting mysteriously out of the heather.
It was satisfying way to sample northern England’s greedy collection of excellent pubs and cafes, too. What better way to escape a wind-whipped moor, than for a fresh cream tea in a welcoming farmhouse-turned-cafe?
That said, Brits can seem reserved and comparatively unfriendly at times – some rebuffed offers of passing chit-chat like it was second-hand chewing gum (perhaps they were worried I was trying to tag along with them?). Yet other encounters were highlights of the trip.
As well as his anecdotes, Jim for example repaid his meals several times over, with pints of beer. In another Yorkshire Dales pub I shared drinks with unfit-looking Oxford students who were giving up the trail because (they said) they’d “run out of money”. On finishing – after dipping my feet in the sea as is the custom – as my blistered feet begged for mercy, I received an unsolicited lift to a campsite. Though in between that, in Wainwright’s Bar in Robin Hood’s Bay, I donated my guidebook to a fresh walker starting out without one. In turn, and despite my protests, he left enough money behind the bar to get me thoroughly tipsy.
Better still, at the end of my longest and hardest day, after I had idiotically spilled boiling water in my tent and found my socks caked in gluey saliva, a man, who must have seen my little melodrama unfold, invited me to share cake, strawberries and cream with him and his daughter.
So though their country is undoubtedly more beautiful than it’s usually given credit for, the inhabitants of the Green and Pleasant Land, as they like to call it, aren’t instantly super friendly. However, when I really needed help, the English quickly rose to meet my need. All, except those stupid, mad cows.
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