Coast to Coast
(190 miles, 9/14 days)
The Coast to Coast walk is probably the most popular long distance walk in England. There are many reasons for its popularity; the recent publicity that Julia Bradbury gained via the BBC for her crossing and the recent higher profile received by the Alfred Wainwright guide books being two reasons. However the Coast to Coast is also the most aesthetically satisfying walk that there is being as it does simply go from one side of the country to another. Most long distance walks simply do a chunk of the country whereas the Coast to Coast has a satisfying start and a particularly pleasing finish which ever direction that is taken. The Coast to Coast also covers an enormous variety of terrain: taken from east to west, which is my preferred routing (despite the distinct possibility of a prevailing westerly!), the walk starts off at the sea, travels over the distinctive North Yorkshire Moors, the lowlands of the vale of York, Richmond town and the distinctive historical significance of Swaledale before clambouring over the watershed in to the bleak landscapes of the northern Pennines. From here the walk passes through the heart of the Lake District before dropping down to the coast at Whitehaven. It is enticing just to write about.
There are many opportunities to vary the route and I believe it is important to do so. I completed an East to West crossing (the other way) in 9 days towards the end of October 2010 and I have some ideas that I think could improve the traditional route, particularly through the middle Yorkshire Dales section. The temptations on the walk are to do too much; explore that little village, climb the fell that s only just over there or simply be contrary and go a slightly different way, but the aim should be to finish it, the great thing about our Outdoors is that it is always there and you can come back again and again.
Suitable For: Pretty much anyone. This is a good first long distance route to tackle, there is plenty of support in all but the wastes around Kirkby Stephen whilst the challenge itself, travelling from one side of the country to another is immensely satisfying.
The following 6 maps assume an East to West crossing, with some distances (approximate as walkers routes may vary) under each section. Non italics route is for the traditional and eminently sensible 12 days, with the figures in italics reflecting a more fool hardy approach (ie mine!).
Robin Hood’s Bay to Glaisdale. 19 miles OR
Robin Hood’s Bay to the Lion’s Inn, Blakeley 25 miles
Glaisdale to Clay Bank Top 19 miles AND
Clay Bank Top to Ingleby Cross. 12 miles OR
Lion’s Inn to Ingleby Cross 26 miles
Ingleby Cross to Richmond 23 miles
Ingleby Cross to Richmond 23 miles
Richmond to Reeth 10 miles AND
Reeth to Keld 12 miles OR
Richmond to Muker 19 miles
Keld to Kirkby Stephen 13 miles OR
Muker to Kirkby Stephen 15 miles
Kirkby Stephen to Shap 20 miles
Kirkby Stephen to Shap 20 miles
Shap to Patterdale 20 miles
Shap to Patterdale 20 miles
Patterdale to Rosthwaite 18 miles
Patterdale to Rosthwaite 18 miles
Rosthwaite to Ennerdale Bridge 14 miles
Ennerdale Bridge to St Bees 14 miles
Rosthwaite to St Bees 24 miles
Maps Required (east to west) . O/S 1.25,000. OL27, OL26, 302, OL30, OL19, OL5, OL6
Places to Stay
Some excellent places to stay enroute, all places I know
Lion Inn, Blakey 01751 417320
Church House Farm B & B, Danby 01287 669 303
Hackney House, Reeth, foot of village 01748 884302
Oxnop Hall, 1 mile outside Muker B & B 01748 886253
Kirkby Stephen Youth Hostel, central 0845 3719525
Shap. New Ing Lodge, bunk with breakfast 01931 716719
Rosthwaite Youth Hostel 0845 371 9624
Other excellent and convenient places to stay:
Rowleth End Guest House. Upper Swaledale
http://www.coast2coast.co.uk/ This is the Sherpa Van website for those who want their baggage moving, otherwise it is a useful accommodation index
http://www.walkingenglishman.com/coast2coast.htm The best account and explanation of the Coast to Coast I have come across
Why: I have fancied doing the Coast to Coast for a while; ever since the Southern Upland Way I have been hankering after another long distance walk and the Coast to Coast fitted the bill. For a start it was local to me, it was something I could fit in round my home life, it has a high profile at the moment (due principally to our Julia but I was more inspired by some of the web commentaries) and there is something pleasing about walking from sea to sea. Having made the decision to do it I fitted it in over October half term so that the family could be involved and join me for a couple of days and Alistair (conveniently based in Osmotherley) was able to give me a lift to the start at Robin Hoods. Going east to west was no concern and just seemed ‘right’ although obviously there was an element of gamble on the weather.
What to take; I had already decided that camping was out – to be honest it is not a very appealing prospect anyway on the Coast to Coast as there are so many other options including good value youth hostels and bunk barns. The extra weight of carrying a tent/stove and food had nearly finished me on the Southern Upland Way; to be fair I enjoy back packing in Scotland and sleeping in a remote, wild spot but only for a couple of days then the comforts of a bed do beckon. What type of bed I just do not care – I tend to eat ‘out’ in a pub and then find a breakfast before heading out but where I actually sleep is very much, and always has been, price governed. So the pack I took included a bivvy bag and sleeping bag for emergencies, a change of clothes, waterproofs, maps and the Wainwright book, a torch, camera and that was about it! Travel light and fast was my aim.
The route: Once the decision to go east to west had been made I bought the updated 2nd Edition of the Wainwright book (well updated by Chris Jesty) , rolled my maps out on the floor and simply drew the route I expected to take. I then put the book in the pack and like his superb Lakeland guides used it as a read at night. The exception to this was the Ingleby Cross to Richmond section where I was too tight to buy the maps I needed as I was pretty sure I would not be walking there again (I was right). Following the book backwards took some getting used to but I only once got lost – the problem with the book (and any guidebook ) is that they tend to focus on an already chosen route and give no alternatives, the linear nature of the drawings stop any original thought or opportunity. To be fair to Wainwright he always encouraged varying the route so maps were absolutely essential. I varied the route quite a bit – I already anticipated missing out the 2 bays at each end (somehow I just never saw the point) and taking the low route through Swaledale – this for personal reasons as I had already spent much of the summer on the higher Wainwright route. Helvellyn was planned but Grasmere discounted but any other, relatively minor changes, I would make ‘on the hoof’.
Let’s get going: Wednesday night, after Mist’s puppy training , I hopped in the car and drove to Osmotherley where I stayed and Alistair kindly gave me a lift to the start. The day or 2 before a long walk does tend to play on the mind a bit and can be unsettling but this was my 2nd long distance walk, I was meeting plenty of people on route and most of the walk was in familiar terrain. The weather forecast looked ok for the first few days as well.
Random Thoughts on my return
Satisfaction: Two things jump out when you are sat at home watching the rain tipping out the grey skies. The first feeling is an immense feeling of satisfaction; an achievement that was hard work but largely enjoyable. The second feeling is a desire to do another long distance walk – to regain that feeling that comes after a few days continual walking of this is what I do! As every day passes after completing the walk the rose tinted spectacles become increasingly fixed; the pain retreats and the good bits become established and the norm. The storm and the winds of Lakeland and the dreich across the Vale of Mowbray are forgotten (or looked back on in fondness – no gain without pain and all that nonsense) whilst the cramps, blisters and simply battered feet have become long distant memories.
Pain: Whilst I was walking I remember splitting each day of the walk quite clearly in to 3 sections; the first 2 to 3 hours were thoroughly enjoyable, the next 2 to 3 I spent tiring and considering which bit of my body was going to hurt the most and the last 2 hours or so were purgatory as the miles and yards were counted off before I could sit or lie down. My days lasted anywhere between 6 and 9 hours and I stopped little; aside from sitting in the open to munch a pork pie or a mars bar I stopped for a cup of tea at Grosmont station, another at the (very good) pub at Danby Wiske and at Reeth. The reality is there are few places to stop without heading off route and I always walk with the end of the day in mind. Most of my pain comes in the feet. My back, which caused so much jip on the Southern Upland Way was fine as I was not carrying a tent or cooking kit and even in the wet weather I was able to keep dry. My legs ached with tiredness at the end of the day and I had cramps on day 2 in my right calf but my feet were a mess.
Feet: Choice of footwear is so important on long distant walks; I had walked all summer in some Berghaus comfy ’trainers’ with vibrum soles (always sounds good) and my Scarpa leather boots had never been on. The ‘trainers’ were comfy but sadly coming to the end of their life but I went with them anyway. My feet were ok for 2 days but then crossing the Vale of Mowbray they were wet at half 9 in the morning and I walked in damp shoes for the remainder of the day. My feet churned up with great lumps of skin hanging off them but I persevered for another day before they were binned at Muker. The Scarpa leather boots went on, partly because I had nothing else but also due to the terrain which was only going to be wetter and more rugged the further west I went (starting with the bog which is Nine Standards). It was the end of October as well. The boots did give some blisters to my heel but nothing plasters and replacement skin could not sort out but what they did do was bruise my feet. I felt like the lads in the army must feel after an enforced march in slightly ill-fitting boots – my feet just ached and throbbed however many socks/footbeds I had on. I think Scarpa are probably too narrow for my dropped arch feet but they felt like lumps of iron towards the end of the day. Finally I abandoned them with Helen on the final day at Ennerdale Green and finished in ‘gym shoes’ which I use for indoor 5 a side. I would say that getting footwear correct is as important as anything on a long distance walk – boots/shoes may be ok for a day walk but a few days in to a longer walk any niggles become a major problem – I certainly know people who have failed to complete walks due to their feet.
Be flexible: I had not done the Coast to Coast and however much I read up the reality is always different. Listen to others as well. My brother knows more about the Yorkshire Moors than me and suggested I made it to Blakey on day 1 thereby making Day 2 achievable, particularly the very trying ups and downs of the 10 miles from Hasty Bank to Ingleby Cross. I was going to stop at Glaisdale but no I carried on up to the Lion Inn and welcome it was too. The next morning I ambled along the tops with no time pressure and it was one of the best bits of the walk. Later on I was unsure how to play it from Patterdale to St Bees. In the end the weather dictated for me and I stopped at Rosthwaite and finished with a long walk out over Honister and Scarth Gap as the wind tore in from the south west. There is only so much planning that can be done.
Meeting People: I walked the Coast to Coast on my own, most people have companions. I have always liked walking on my own but prefer company in the evening! I did tend to meet people during the day and often stopped for a chat – over the Moors most seemed to be doing the Coast to Coast (the Lion Inn was riddled with them) but day trippers were more common in Swaledale and the Lakes where as I met no-one walking in the Vale of Mowbray or from Nine Standards to the summit of Kidsty Pike aside from the psychopath on the limestone plateau above Orton. There is always something uplifting about meeting people on the hills – a sense of shared goals and love for the outdoors – and this is accentuated on a long walk. Those who I met doing the Coast to Coast were to a man and lady friendly and interesting (aside from the psychopath) although I do worry about my Spanish mate from Rosthwaite who was somewhat shocked by his first few days in ‘English’ conditions. The other thing that comes out from meeting people on the actual walk was how difficult it was to do. Many were doing only sections, some were giving up at some point and would complete maybe another time and others were weary but determined. I did wonder how many have actually completed the walk – certainly the Julia Bradbury programme makes it seem considerably more interesting and easy than it is…. Tv can only ever be a snapshot in time.
So in conclusion: I did the Coast to Coast in 9 days in October, the other way. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although the walking was hard towards the end of the day. I enjoyed the variety of landscape and the way it changed, almost daily. The weather I had was ok, actually fairly good for October and when it was bad I look back with some fondness as though it was part of the challenge. I definitely back my decision to go east to west (yes there was more prevailing wind and in many ways I am sure it felt more against the grain) but ending in the Lakes was absolutely right and I would recommend this to anyone (aside from the irritation of next to no signage except when you have just completed a section!). 9 days and October was what made the walk hard work and probably meant I did not explore as much as I would have liked. Missing out the bays at either end was no problem to me (they do not really fit with the walk in my opinion) but I would have liked to take the walk a little slower, particularly at the beginning and the end – 11 days seem right for me but this really is a choice everyone should make depending on their own wants and desires. Finally though my advice, as ever, is to stop thinking of reasons not to walk the Coast to Coast and just do it – you will have a feast of memories and experiences which will enrich your life.
Day 1 Robin Hood’s Bay to Lion Inn, Blakey
26 miles. Depart 9.15, 8 hours
Alistair, my brother, gave me a lift to the tablet of stone at Robin Hood’s Bay which marks the ‘End’ of the Coast to Coast. Joining me for the first half mile or so he then headed off to work in Stockton on Tees leaving me with a long walk which I intended to complete in 9 days. I had made two route decisions the night before which were related; I wished to get to the Lion Inn at Blakey that night, not Glaisdale as originally planned, but this would entail missing out on the circuit of the headland that leads north to Whitby (saving myself a good 4 miles. The rest of the day I planned to follow the traditional way.
The day really splits in to 3 sectors; the initial up and down to the station at Grosmont, a riverside walk to Glaisdale and then across the moors to Blakey ridge. The section to Grosmont holds little memories; some wet moorland crossing which struck me as pure ‘road avoiding’ and more up and down than I anticipated. There was a nagging wind on the high ground but I felt good, was able to keep my feet dry and soon left the coast behind (but never out of site as the coast north cuts sharply westwards from Whitby to Teeside).
I stopped off at Grosmont for a mug of welcome tea in the station café and messed around watching the steam trains and, equally fascinating, the train spotters who out-number the passengers here. It is a pretty line and feels like stepping back in history – Jenny Agutter and the Railway Children never far from your thoughts. There appeared to be a lot of railway maintenance staff though (also having some tea in the cafe)and I could not help feeling that cut backs and profit may effect the service going forward – I hope not. The next stage to Glaisdale follows the River Esk and is lovely (and flat). The river winds its way through pretty woodland and passed the lovely hamlet of Egton Bridge with its beautiful church and hall. A popular reputation with visitors is well deserved.
Glaisdale kind of emerged on me as I exited Arncliffe Woods and the pub sprang out on this odd sprawling village which creeps around some steep hillside. I bought a pork pie from the butchers and munched happily sat on the bench outside. I still felt good and I was in plenty of time; stopping now for the night would have been somewhat frustrating. Breaking out of Glaisdale the scenery dramatically changes and moorland is properly encountered for the first time. I love this type of walking – striding out with wide open and empty views with just the wind (sadly) for company. The views are immense, the whole of this section of north Yorkshire/Teeside laid out around. I have only walked this before on one occasion, when I completed the Lyke Wake Walk about 10 years ago and I remember enjoying exactly the same feeling of pleasure and freedom then. The tracks up here are generally excellent, although they would no doubt deteriorate after an extended period of rain, and I was happy to follow them rather than the harder tarmac of the empty roads. Crossing the head of Great Fryup was a delight and not only because the Lion Inn appears soon after the loneliest barn in the country called Trough House. Ancient boundary stones are all else that break up this empty landscape.
I was tired and relieved to reach the Lion Inn and spent a pleasant relaxing evening in the pub; there is little as satisfying of literally falling out of your room in to the bar! There was a party of coast to coasters in the pub who were clearly doing the walk for charity and had only a day and a half to go – 9 had started off and 5 were remaining and had entered that hyper state that any long distance walker knows as the end approaches. Aside from this party I passed 7 obvious coast to coasters with only one couple doing the entire route. What struck me about them was how friendly and happy they seemed to be – they clearly had been through the pain and just were happy to be there, as I was.
Day 2 Lion Inn Blakey to Ingleby Cross
23 miles. Depart 9.30 7 3/4 hours
I knew there was nothing but moorland between the Lion Inn and Ingleby Cross so I set off armed with a pork pie, bottle of water and 3 mars bars! No tea stop, nothing to break up the day. This was a bad day as many 2nd and 3rd days are. I felt rubbish all day (as though I had a hangover but I did not) and ended up with severe cramps in my left foot. Maybe I was dehydrated on the day before and never really re fuelled and one of the obvious recommendations I always have is keep rehydrated – one of the best bits of advice I have ever heard is “if you are thirsty it is already too late”. I carried a 1 and a half litre water bottle but still did not drink enough – maybe the constant wind took more out of me than I anticipated. I was certainly shattered by the time I was picked up at Ingleby Cross.
Having said that the first 9 miles of walking from the Lion Inn to Clay Bank Top is probably the easiest walking in the country. The wide track, which for much of its length follows the old Rosedale Ironstone Railway, is superb with wide open views and long valleys to study. I met a lovely couple (you can spot people from miles away) who had stopped over at Clay Bank and described a totally mad B & B owner in Great Broughton (no more details) who insisted that breakfast in the morning was a cook yourself option which involved getting the eggs from the hens outside whilst she carried on sleeping upstairs! I was intrigued by a high mast in the distance to the south west which never seemed to get any closer, I was sure I would pass it but it always seemed on the next hillside.
Just after the road at Clay Bank I stopped for my pork pie and mars bar – I had to as I felt wasted. I put the radio on which I carried thinking that I might use it whilst walking and was overcome to hear Wayne Rooney was signing a new contract at Man Utd. As a Newcastle season ticket holder it underwhelmed me as it had been clear all weak that the press were being stitched up and he was always going to sign – Ferguson tears, I think not. The views ahead were starting to deteriorate with Teesside drawing the eye as I climbed the first of what seemed like an endless series of hills. I have to say they were not appreciated, I had forgotten what a rolling landscape this end of the Yorkshire Moors actually were. Detouring for a few 100 yards to ‘tick’ a couple of Marilyns was limited compensation, the fact my mate would have to come back to do them though cheered me up temporarily but before long the afternoon was lost in a fug of pain and disillusionment. It was not a question of giving up, just a question of surviving till Ingleby Cross and a long bath and food at Alistair’s, who conveniently contrives to live in Osmotherley.
I had made a decision to leave the moors at Swainby which I did therefore avoiding a further hike up Beacon Hill. Staggering through the village of Swainby and the final 2 miles along the main road which leads to Whitby was not pleasant but eventually I reached Ingleby Cross, Alistair was there to pick me up and that was that for Day 2. A nice meal with Alistair and his wife Helen in the Golden Lion recovered the spirits, the weather forecast did not. Still I had walked 50 miles already and was well in to the Coast to Coast.
Day 3 Ingleby Cross to Richmond
24 miles. Depart 8.30 8 ½ hours
Football training for Rhys meant (for me) an early start which was damp and showery. The day was not one I was looking forward to, the crossing of the farmlands of the Vale of Mowbray was not even worthy of me buying a map – I was going all Chinese (or is it Arabic?) and reading the copy of Wainwright’s guide book backwards. I was right, whichever way you dress this up the first (5) hours to Bolton on Swale are the worst of the entire walk; wet and muddy flat farmland with the only interest being the crossing of rail lines and whether the bull in the field was going to attack you. One did. I took a wrong turning on a farm track and was confronted with a field of cows from which emerged your charicature bull complete with a large, shiny ring in his nose. His many lady friends surrounded me and I had to push one, shout and wave to create a gap between them before legging it to the nearest (barbed wire) fence. It was classic James Herriott. Cows and bulls have never bothered me before but I will not be entering that field ever again.
Blood dripping from my hand I then enjoyed a pleasant half hour in the wrongly maligned White Swan at Danby Wiske. The new owner is good company, the pub had 2 roaring fires and the tea was fine – it is the only place of any civilisation on the land between Ingleby Cross and Bolton on Swale so stop and enjoy. However half an hour soon passes and I was back in the mud but happily improving weather. Sadly my trainers were sopping and I was dreading revealing my feet after 8 hours in wet shoes. Aside from the White Swan the highlight of the day was a fox which appeared, completely unafraid soon after Danby Wiske and lolloped alongside me for a good 5 minutes before disappearing over the fields. After years of walking this was the first fox I have ever had the pleasure of observing at close quarters and a beautiful creature it certainly is. A pest it may be to some farmers but the ridiculous hunt that appears to be needed to kill one really does put ‘Englishness’ in a rather poor light.
Eventually Bolton on Swale is reached but a full 6 miles is still needed to gain the town of Richmond and the start of better lands. The A1 is significant but the crossing in Catterick Bridge unpleasant. The whole area is dirty, loud and just needs moving on from as quick as possible. The land improves a little before Richmond but I was tired, I could not get any proper reception on the radio for the Saturday afternoon football and I just wished to get there. The River Swale is welcomed but is not attractive at this stage and Colburn and Bolton on Swale both promise more than they can deliver – I guess if they were at the start rather than end of the day I would have appreciated them more but the last 2 hours of most days are really only about getting there which may not please the purists but to me was a reality. My Helen and the girls were at Richmond to meet me and Charlotte walked a couple of extra miles out of the town so that we could enjoy the next day a little more with less miles which needed to be done. Getting a family room was impossible in Richmond so we squeezed in to one in Reeth – the pubs though are great and much appreciated, as was a 2-1 win at West Ham!
Day 4 Richmond to Muker
19 miles. Start 9.45 7 ¼ hours
The weather was great and the day promised to be a good one. I like Swaledale, particularly beyond Reeth and I was looking forward to the riverside route I had chosen to take rather than the upland one through the old mine works. Partly I chose low so I could do some walking with the girls and dogs, partly because I was less familiar with the riverside route. However myself Charlotte and Mist headed out from just beyond Richmond for an enjoyable section through woods and farms and under Whitcliffe Scar to the pretty village of Marske. All enjoyed the walk and I have included it within the Top 100 Dales walks as I did the riverside section of the River Swale beyond Reeth. Mist joined me for another section later in the day along a track but disgraced herself by chasing a rabbit over a wall into a field of sheep. Thankfully and surprisingly she returned straight away on my call – there may be hope yet for her!
The pretty villages of Swaledale stole the day – Marsk and Marrick are lovely and there is an enterprising farmer between the 2 at Nun Cote Nook who serves a good tea and cake to break the journey up if required. I passed Marrick Abbey, now an outdoor centre before lunching at Reeth. Being a sunny Sunday there was plenty of folk out and walking the river at Reeth – it is a lovely stretch of riverside walking with a good and varied path leading out for 3 miles before the road intervenes. Swaledale was looking great in the low sun, the colours and the shadows have a remarkable effect on the villages, barns and walls on the valley sides; a photographers dream I would have thought. Taking good photos is relatively easy now in the digital age and I must admit to enjoying it; the standard is not top quality but due to the amount of time I have been out this summer I am more than happy with a lot of the stuff that I have got.
Swaledale narrows as it moves west and the steep sides leave little room for the large farms that dominate Wensleydale to the south leaving smaller farmsteads and pretty villages. For the last 2 and a half hours I was walking on the south side of the valley mainly on narrow lanes and later on the road itself. My feet were hurting as the day progressed, not particularly through any blistering but more just aching. Every night I used to sit or lie there and just feel them throbbing away but I guess this is just the consequence of many days of 20 miles plus walking some of which is on tarmac. However with the terrain changing tomorrow the trainers were being ditched and the leather boots back in. Still I was feeling much better than the previous two days and by the end of the day I felt I had completed half the total mileage which was really satisfying. We stayed in a farm near Muker that night and ate in the Farmer’s Arms in Muker. It was a very cold night.
Day 5 Muker to Kirkby Stephen
15 miles. Start 9.45 6 ½ hours
The weather was set fair for the day, I was passing the watershed and the first section of the walk from Muker to Keld is one of my favourite walks in the Yorkshire Dales. Both Charlotte and Lucy joined me and Mist for this section and it was lovely, the colours and the easy walking meant a lazy start to the day but it was a short day so I was not bothered. Girls and dogs left me at Keld (not to be seen again until St Bees) but fortunately drove over to Kirkby Stephen to drop my pack off at the youth hostel where I was staying that night. Fortunate because the crossing of Nine Standards Rigg can be an exhausting tramp and so it proved.
Leaving Keld is a culture shock. Suddenly I was surrounded by all that can be described as bleak Pennine moorland. Ravenseat farm occasionally sells tea and cakes but was not doing this day – I am sure I would have taken advantage – and there was nothing else to delay me before striking up the peat hags of Whitsondale. If there is a bleaker place in England I would like to see it, this is simply a long boggy tramp, an endless sea of peat, mud, ups and downs on an intermittent track. I kept to the signs which splits the route in to 3 depending on the time of the year – I guess in an effort to control the erosion. Frankly the mountain would be a right mess if it was more popular. Desolation rules here. I was pleased to be in proper boots for this section as they did protect me from the deeper plunges in to bog and peat but they felt like walking in concrete for much of the time. I have never found boots comfortable to walk in but these Scarpa boots were borrowed permanently from my mate and are a size larger than I would normally wear. Despite footbeds and thick socks my feet still swilled around a little and over the forthcoming days they became distinctly battered and bruised. I have a verucca on the ball of my left foot as well!
Reaching the outrageous summit of Nine Standards Rigg is a cause for celebration; the watershed is reached, the Lake District is in view and it is only downhill to Kirkby Stephen. The weather was holding as well so I leisurely strolled the 5 miles to the largest town since Richmond with shops and choices and ‘things’. I was staying at the Youth Hostel which was shut up when I arrived (best of luck to Paula who runs it – she is attempting to break away from the YHA and go independent because she dislikes the changes that they are bringing in, all rules, regulations, standardisation which is surely not the thing!) so I dived in to a pub for a cup of tea before retiring for a couple of hours rest and contemplate the dire weather warnings for the following day. Later I ventured out and had a curry which was very good and a pint or two in the Kings Arms.
There was some interesting people out and about even though it was a Monday night. I was sat with a local couple in the Indian Restaurant (very good) who were bemoaning the curtailing of the Tourist Information Centre and the damage it would do to the town. Public sector cuts are going to hit such places very badly there is no doubt and information may become difficult to obtain for visitors for the area. Inevitable as it is someone needs to stand in and promote and advise for this town and many others – I have never felt though that TICs did a particularly good job but they are certainly better than nothing. Later on I was pressed by this trendy young scally to listen to some music. He was a promoter (apparently) and had a few singers on his books and he asked me for my opinion on some music he needed to review. Flattered I agreed till he followed it up with “you look like a Radio 2 listener, that is who I am targeting”. Actually it was fine which, I guess, says it all.
Day 6 Kirkby Stephen to Shap
20 miles Start 9.45 7 ¼ hours
I woke up to heavy rain so I lay there avoiding the moment of truth. I wandered off to find some breakfast and then was forced to buy some waterproof trousers as I had sensibly sent them home (accidently) with Helen the previous day. Fortunately I got lucky and the weather was better than I could have hoped. I think I was in a warm sector of a frontal system which meant the rain was not heavy, dreich the Scots call it, and in fact stopped for large parts of the day. Still it was dark and full of foreboding for the full day, threatening to deluge at any time which fortunately it only did as I was walking the main street of Shap at the end of the day. By god it rained then.
There is nothing between Kirkby Stephen and Shap – good, easy walking in the main but no possible excuses to stop for long anywhere. Farmland and large tracks of limestone pavement mix in this land that time forgot. I admit to enjoying the day. Part of this was relief that the weather was ok but the walking really is excellent in all bar a few farmyards near Orton. The climb out of Kirkby Stephen is long but easy sloped with nothing to concern. It is an ancient landscape with many signs of older settlements and it is unspoilt. Many times I felt in the middle of nowhere, the last sole on earth but at other times the freedom to just stride out was really pleasurable. From Orton Scar west there are some spectacular outcrops of limestone pavement and limestone scars; a Roman Road passes through and there is a cairn to mark Robin Hood’s grave; all interesting enough. I was dithering on a junction near the grave when this figure merges out the murk ahead striding purposefully towards me. Where we were and the size of the pack must mean he was a Coast to Coaster. Despite him veering to avoid me I cut him off and stopped him. Each question I asked was answered with a monosyllabic grunt and a fierce stare. “You doing the Coast to Coast” “ Urgh”. Where did you stay last night? ”urgh banks of haweswater” “Where are you aiming for tonight? “urgh” as he looked longingly over my shoulder in to the far distance. “ Oh well best of luck” Silence greeted this, he stared at me ferociously again, daring me to ask any more trivial questions and then with no farewell he turned and headed off. As he soon disappeared in to the gloom I wondered if I had actually met him at all and then maybe I had got lucky and he was some kind of maniac with an axe out to maim any other walker he came across; the reality though was that he was a single minded individual attempting the crossing in a quick time, carrying all his kit and food, camping out and basically completing the route in surely the most pure form of all of us.
A strange noise had been gradually increasing for half an hour before I realised I was close to the M6. I felt again this was significant as I crossed the foot bridge; Lakeland ahead and then the finish. I have never felt the need to stop in Shap before and the reality is I am unlikely to again but I do wish the young lad who is running the excellent Ings Farm guest house and bunk all the very best. He has a great set up there and if he cannot make a success of it, it will be nothing to do with his efforts.
Day 7 Shap to Patterdale
16 miles. Start 9.15 6 ½ hours
A strong wind was blowing as I woke in Shap but the rain had gone. The Ings is at the best end of the village for us east to westers and I was at Shap Abbey in no time at all. Shap Abbey did not hold my attention for long so I pressed on and got lost. For the first time I was genuinely confused as to where I was, nothing serious as the area I was lost in was not too large but it was not until I stumbled across an old railway track I was confident of where I was. Gradually the terrain improved and there is a lovely stretch of woodland near Burnbanks which surrounds the outflow river of Haweswater. Burnbanks is a funny little place which was built initially for the workers on the dam at Haweswater 50 years ago. Now it is a series of unobtrusive bungalows with retired folk although one of the cottages has taken the initiative to offer tea in the summer months.
Then, having been spotted 2 days prior on Nine Standards Rigg, the Lake District bursts on to the scene with the miles of Haweswater spread out in front and proper mountains enclosing the lake/reservoir. Going east to west it is a good moment (actually leaving the Lakes is probably equally significant for those travelling west to east) and I sat for a while soaking in the area I probably love beyond all others. Later in the day I was cursing the eroded path to Patterdale but that is just typical of the extremes of long distant walking. The weather was fine and the summits clear, the autumn colours still clinging to the hillsides as the bracken put on its best coat. The lakeside track of Haweswater sadly does not stick rigidly to the shoreline and for 5 miles undulates alongside the lake becoming increasingly eroded as it goes. Wainwright spends a lot of time in his book bemoaning the loss of the old valley but I would be less critical of the Manchester Corporation. I never saw the valley as it was before and actually find Haweswater, particularly towards its head, a pleasant place to be.
The climb up to Kidsty Pike is steep and the wind was strengthening so I took shelter and started searching for the elusive eagles which nest in the valley below. I had seen a few walkers on the track but it was only when I popped on to the summit of Kidsty Pike that I hit real Lakeland with walkers heading off in a variety of directions. For once though I was not peak bagging (there are many Wainwrights within a mile radius or so of Kidsty Pike, probably the most concentrated set of summits in the Lake District). The long, badly eroded track to Patterdale made me suffer. For whatever reason I was exhausted and grumpy. I had to keep sitting down, my feet hurt and for the first time I popped a couple of Anadin down to see me through. Angle Tarns are one of my favourites but I hurried past without a backwards glance and practically fell down in to Patterdale and the Patterdale Hotel where Alistair was picking me up. Odd but I felt worse than I had felt at any time since coming off the Yorkshire Moors. Part of the issue is that it is simply harder work walking in the Lake District; I reckon in the Lakes I was walking at roughly an average of 2 rather than 3 mph due to the ups and down and the rough and often eroded paths. I think I under estimated what I thought would be a straightforward day and I was fighting a strong wind throughout. We retired to Threlkeld for the night.
Day 8 Patterdale to Rosthwaite
14 miles. Start 9.30 7 ½ hours
A day that can simply and clearly split in to two halfs. Helvellyn beckoned in the morning, partly because I saw little point in heading over to Grasmere but also Helvellyn via Striding Edge is an excellent climb and Alistair was keen his 8 year old son earned his ‘badge’. The summit was attained in reasonable, if windy, weather – any view that is available over 2,500 foot is good and we reached the summit before the weather closed in. Rhys did fine on the climb and we both thought he was enjoying Striding Edge until he uttered the immortal line “this is the worst day of my life”. Work in progress. However he was more in control than this older fella who attached himself to us and clearly had no idea where he was or which way to go. Alistair led him off the summit towards Patterdale but it is no wonder many have to be rescued on the Lakeland fells.
Helvellyn is one of the most popular fells in the Lake District and deservedly so but there is definitely two sides to the mountain. The east side overlooking Patterdale has endless excellent routes epitomised by Striding Edge. This time we took the lower path which circuits safely under the ridge but normally I would enjoy the airy scramble over the crest before the final steep and very eroded pull to the summit. However the Thirlmere west flank is simply a long dreary pull. As a descent it is bearable, as an ascent it is almost a waste of time. The track I descended from the Wythburn Church car park at the head of Thirlmere is unremittingly steep and for almost its entirety has been repaired with big slabs of rock. No criticism to the Park authorities at all but I just wonder why so many take this ascent. I passed probably 30 people trailing up the path and, aside from the fact they had clearly not noted the weather forecast, they all seemed to share one common feature; they were miserable. How many of these 30 (which included children) would return to the hills has to be debateable, a small number is my guess, and it is such a shame – someone somewhere is doing a shocking job at trying to encourage people on to the fells.
I had noted the weather forecast and the rain started as I munched a Mars Bar on the bench at Wythburn Church, The next 3 hours were epic. I can only say that a storm hit the Lakes and I had the misfortune to be walking straight in to it, at least till I passed over Greenup Edge into the valley above Rosthwaite. Part of the reason I had taken this route though the Lake District was that I would go up the Wythburn valley, which is one of the very few places in the Lake District that I had not been to. Well it was dramatic as the rain swept down, creating torrents not just of the beck but of the paths and hillsides around. The path peters out in the Withburn basin and it was simply a case of heading through a swamp towards my best guess of Greenup Edge (no compass!). On page 26 Wainwright makes a light hearted comment “Let’s do a ridge walk” – no chance, I may have done if the weather was half decent but I needed to adapt the route for my safety or at least sanity. Abruptly the wind ceased as I passed Lining Crag (although the rain did not) and I passed two young lads coming up the track carrying their bikes and clad in biking lycra. Cheerily they waved and I could do nothing but admire their tenacity and can do attitude. Arriving at the impressive Rosthwaite Youth hostel was a relief, it was one of those moments when you have battled the elements, come through it and feel exceptionally pleased with yourself. Walking in weather is really not a problem,,,,once in a while.
Day 9 Rosthwaite to St Bees
25 miles. Start 8.15 8 ¾ hours
The night before, the conversation in the youth hostel revolved around how bad the weather was going to be – gale force winds were in the offing and the summits were deemed to be dangerous. The crossing I was going to make via Moses Trod (directly in to the south westerly, lacked any appeal so I almost committed myself to a visit to Buttermere and over to Ennerdale via Scarth Gap. There was a tough looking Spaniard in our room who had just started his Coast to Coast and was somewhat shell shocked by the weather – he was clearly tough, could take the cold but the wet was already proving challenging. He was also operating on a shoddy guide book (no mentions here) which gave him no alternative routes. I hope he made it but I am not convinced he will/did but I was pleased to see him buying some maps from the excellently stocked YH shop.
I walked up Honister and was blown back – it was one of those occasions where the gust comes in, I braced myself, and then ran forward after it stopped. The road was awash and the water in the river was being flicked upstream by the wind – it was challenging. Even going down to Gatesgarth the wind was blowing me back up the hill. The route to Scarth Gap had mercifully some shelter but I could hardly stand at the col. I really would not have fancied it any higher. Battered I made it down to the trees in Ennerdale, just below Black Sail, but I was soon cursing the fact that many of the trees had recently been cut so the wind howled down much of the valley length. However the walk was easy from then, just long and increasingly dull. My Mountain Leadership training course was held at Lower Gillerthwaite so I have fond memories of Ennerdale. It is much maligned due to forestry but it is an excellent walking based. Many argue it is the finest way to ascend both Pillar and Great Gable and I certainly think it ids better than Buttermere for the High Stile Range. The perceived problem is there is nowhere to stay (aside from the youth hostels)and the valley is certainly out of the way but I would advise anyone to drive as far as you can, particularly if staying in the northern Lakes around Keswick.
Ennerdale takes a bit to round but the riverside path is pleasant enough. However the village Ennerdale Bridge marks the end of the Lake District and on a day like today seemed to mark the end of the world….clearly the place had shut up shop for the winter. Helen and the girls met me there so I relieved them of both pack and Scarpa boots as I preferred to risk what can only be described as ‘gym shoes’ which I use for 5 a side football for the remainder of the trip. The rain had stopped but the wind was not relenting. From Ennerdale Bridge the route tries to avoid the worst of this area of Cumbria and certainly Dent and Flat Fell are welcome but there is no disguising that this is a poor section of the walk. After a very long day (my longest since the first) being battered by the wind I eventually breasted a hill and St Bees was lined up in front. I was coming directly from the east and had not taken the detour round St Bees head, so this was the first site of the Irish Sea. Helen was waiting in the car park do I dipped my feet on the slip way, got in the car and drove to Braithwaite for a pie and a pint….it was over.
I have loaded more photos of my on to flickr which you can access from here