I had not previously given that much thought to doing the classic Wainwright Coast to Coast route. Not for any specific reason, although perhaps subconciously I had lumped it together with routes like the Pennine Way as appearing a bit lacking in interest. However I kept bumping into people all over the place who recommended it, and also I saw a couple of episodes of Julia Bradbury doing it on the telly. Plus some internet research revealed that it is apparently rated by walking experts as the 2nd best walk in the world. So I resolved to take a look at it, and booked a week off work at the end of July.
I got up to Kirkby Stephen very late on thursday night, and was then on the packhorse minibus from Kirkby Stephen to St Bees at 8am on friday morning. There were only two other people on the minibus, they had already walked the bit from the start to Kirkby Stephen and were now heading back to collect their car. Their week had coincided with torrential rain over much of England, some places had been so wet that they couldn't even see where the path went, as it was underwater. Very unlucky!
We got to St Bees at 10am. The driver dropped me off at the start first, so I could get going, before taking the other two walkers back to their car. It wasn't actually physically raining, but the skies were dark grey, and the roads looked very wet like it had recently rained very heavily. I should have got moving really, but it wasn't the most inspiring conditions, and instead I adjourned to the cafe to get a pot of tea and some beans on toast. When I got going half an hour later, it had lightened up a bit, and as I traversed the first lot of cliffs the sun actually came out. There were a few other walkers too. It was pleasant walking, good coastal scenery, and excellent views up the coast to Whitehaven, and further on to the other side of the Solway Firth.
The route soon turned inland, and there was some road work, with enticing views of distant peaks, followed by a nice bit crossing a very green valley past Stanley Pond. By Moor Row the sun had come out again, and I stopped for a quick cup of tea at the "pop in" cafe. After Moor Row the route really picked up, with superb views from Dent Hill, then a steep drop into the pleasant valley of Nanney Catch. Just before Ennerdale Bridge there was a short section through a wild flower meadow with some superb orchids. The traverse of Ennerdale water was a lovely stretch, quite a rocky path so slow going, but with great views of the surrounding peaks in the evening sun, and further on through little wooded bits with lots of small streams. I passed a chap with a large rucksac who was planning to camp further up the valley.
Shortly after the field centre, there was a route choice to be made, to stick with the low path, or to take the high-level option, which traversed Red Pike, High Stile, High Crag, and Haystacks, before rejoining the low route just before Honister. The various peaks on the high route came with high praise from Wainwright himself, which made the choice very easy! It was getting on a bit by this time, and I found a bivi spot about half way up Red Pike. It wasn't quite flat, but that was at least partially compensated for by the cracking views. With excellent timing, I had just finished cooking when there was a heavy rain shower and I was able to eat in the tent, nicely wrapped up in my sleeping bag.
Everytime I woke up during the night I had to move myself back up to the top of the tent as I gradually slipped down the slope! I got going early though, and was on the summit of Red Pike by 8am. There were excellent views down to Crummock Water, and I could see a solitary tent pitched up at Bleawater Tarn. The route between the peaks wasn't the sort of traverse that you could cruise along once you were up there, there was constant up and down, including a seriously steep descent after High Crag. But it was superb walking, especially crossing Haystacks where there were some slightly scrambly bits. At Innominate Tarn the book seemed to head off on a slightly imaginary route through bog and pools, and instead I took the more obvious route past Blackbeck Tarn to join up with the low-level route again at the tramway. On the descent to Honister there were great views of the old slate levels on the other side of the pass.
At Honister pass I stopped for a very welcome cup of tea and a bowl of soup at the Sky Hi Cafe. Descending to Seathwaite there were pleasant views of the very green Borrowdale valley. I had loosely arranged to meet up with my dad for part of this stretch as it was passing quite near to his place, and at Seathwaite I made a quick call from the phonebox to say that I would be in Rosthwaite in about 30 minutes! He arrived, together with my mum and brother, at the Flock-in in Rosthwaite about 30 seconds after me, and we adjourned to the very pleasant garden to sit in the sun with pots of tea and toasted teacakes.
After the prolonged tea break, I took advantage of the public toilet, and then pushed on up Greenup Gill. It was a lovely valley, fairly easy going, lots of little waterfalls and pools, and nice views back down to Borrowdale. My dad came with me to near to Lining Crag, and then headed back down. I went slightly astray at Greenup Edge Pass, I think I was concentrating more on the views than on the various cairns and fenceposts that I was supposed to be following, but a quick map check and compass bearing got me back across to the proper path across Wythburn valley. At the top of the Easdale valley I took the high route, and found an excellent bivi spot on the fellside, rather more comfortable than the previous night, on a nice flat grassy ledge, with superb views over Grasmere. I cooked up instant noodles with added cashew nuts for tea, then sat and watched the evening sun on Helm Crag and over the Helvellyn range.
There were more cracking views on the descent from Helm crag. I took Poets walk through the short section of forest, where I caught a glance of a red squirrel, although it was a bit too quick to get a photo, then past the front door and croquet pitch of the Lancrigg Hotel. It was a pleasant walk up to Grisedale tarn, nice green fern covered hillside, grassy path, and views that just got better and better as the path climbed higher. As I crossed Grisedale Beck on stepping stones, thick shoals of tiny fish scattered in all directions. I took the steep path away from Grisedale Tarn, which soon eased off, to give easy walking to Helvellyn summit. It was lovely sunny day, although there was quite a chilly breeze, which was ideal for walking. There were quite a few people about on the summit, including a rather enterprising chap who had a stove on the go in a tent, and was selling cups of tea or coffee.
There was a slightly loose rocky path down to Striding Edge, then the traverse of the ridge proper started. I tried to stick as close as possible to the top of the ridge, it was quite easy and very escapable, but still great fun. A few groups came by in the other direction, but it was easy to get past, so there weren't any hold ups. After the edge, I passed lots of people heading up, and stopped at the stone wall for a sit down and to send a few updates from my phone. From the stone wall down to the valley was out of the wind, and quite hot in the sun. I got to Patterdale about 3pm. I hadn't passed any decent shops since the start, so I stocked up with quite a bit of stuff, more noodles, energy bars (all the same flavour unfortunately), various nuts and trail mixes, and two bars of dark chocolate with ginger (as a litte treat). I also got a spicy bean burger, and sat and ate it sitting in the sun, whilst apprehensively eyeing the steep ascent to Patterdale Common that came next.
As expected, the ascent was quite slow going, and I felt distinctly weary in the full heat of the afternoon sun. But I was soon up on the common where there was a slight breeze, and the path was very easy going all the way to Angle Tarn. There were nice views back down into Patterdale valley, and ahead to Brothers Water and Kirkstone pass. I passed a few people camped at Angle Tarn. From there the character of the terrain seemed to change a bit from the previous bits of the Lake District, less rocky and a bit more rolling peat moor. The turnoff to Kidsty Pike had quite an obvious cairn, which I almost breezed straight past on auto-pilot, but at the last moment I remembered to make the turn. At the summit I stopped for a few minutes to just take in the final views of some of the earlier Lake District peaks, sillhouetted in the evening sun, fantastic.
I stopped half way down Kidsty Pike and cooked up some noodles for tea, followed by a pan of earl grey tea. Two mountain bike tourers carrying camping gear in rucksacs went by, they had gone a bit off-route, ended up with a bit of a slog, and were now descending (mostly on foot) down to Haweswater to find a spot to pitch up. After tea I dropped down to the lake then pushed on for a while, until I found a nice bivi spot up on the hillside with good views down to Haweswater below. Just before getting into my sleeping bag I had a weak moment, and ate all the ginger chocolate, which was supposed to last for two days! I also removed a sheep tic from my leg, which from the size of it looked like it had been there for a while.
I got a reasonably swift start, and was rewarded by nice early morning views across Haweswater, very still, with just the slightest dappling on the water. In the little forest stretch after Burnbanks I spotted a red squirrel, although as usual it was too quick for me to get a shot. The route traversed some pleasant grassy meadows alongside small streams, before arriving at Shap Abbey, where there were a few people milling around. I passed through Shap fairly quickly, just a swift public toilet stop, although I did bump into a chap who was doing the mountain bike version of the coast to coast route, which sounded interesting.
Soon after Shap I crossed over the M6, which seemed like a good sign of walk progress. After a quarry there was some nice moor traversing, with the path crossing small limestone pavements occasionally. It was sunny and quite warm going, so I stopped for a very welcome lemonade and snack in the pleasant surroundings of Scar Side farm, sheltering from the sun under a large gazebo. After pushing on a bit more, I debated whether to stop at Bents farm camping barn, but I still felt reasonably fresh, so I decided to push on. I gave the Kirkby Stephen campsite a quick ring, they had plenty of space, but reception was only open until 7pm, so I headed on without delay. There was a nice stream crossing next to the old railway line at Smardale, and then excellent views looking back to old viaduct. Followed by a final descent, with superb views across to the next days terrain of Nine Standards Rigg. If you have exceedingly good eyesight you might just make out the nine little cairns on the skyline. As I neared Kirkby Stephen I was pleased to find a little back route to the campsite, just after Green Rigg farm, which saved a bit of walking along the main A685 road.
I arrived at the camping at about quarter to seven, just in time for reception, and got checked in, including the all essential code to get into the shower block. The camping area was fairly quiet, although somebody next door informed me that I had just missed a group of four other east-bound coast to coast walkers the previous night, all with identical tents that apparently looked exactly like mine. Instant noodles for tea again. I felt a little dehydrated, it had been quite a warm day, and for the last couple of hours I hadn't been drinking enough, so I made a large pan of earl grey tea too. Followed by a hot shower and shave, which was highly appreciated after three nights of wild camping.
I got a reasonably early start, and did the short walk from the campsite back to the centre of Kirkby Stephen, getting there about 8am. There were a couple of coffee shops open and a small Co-op supermarket. I topped up the food supplies, including a couple more dark chocolate bars as evening treats, and then sat on a bench in Market Square and had a crusty bread and banana sandwich for breakfast. I got moving about 8:30am, there was quite a long road section climbing out of the town, past a huge quarry, but eventually it turned into a track, which quite quickly reached the Nine Standards. There were a few people at the standards, and I took a photo for two blokes who were standing in front of the biggest one, then treated myself to a bag of root vegetable crisps from the Co-op.
The next bit sounded like there were some serious peat bogs, so I put on my waterproof socks and waterproof trousers, to keep my feet dry and stop my trousers getting covered in mud. There were quite a few boggy peat-ravines to cross, that required a combination of skirting round the side, cunning route finding through the middle, or walking pole-assisted leaps. All in all it wasn't actually too bad though, even despite the heavy rain of the previous week, I think the moors were a lot drier than they could have been. At Keld I had a soft drink and snack from the small cafe, and had a quick chat with a chap who I had spoken to back at the the Nine Standards.
After filling up with water, I pushed on towards Gunnerside Moor. There was a nice waterfall immediately on leaving the village, then superb views down to the lower route which went down Swaledale Valley. After the Swinner Gill mine ruins there was a very pleasant steep climb up East Grain Beck, passing lots of little waterfalls, before popping out on easy track. The next section was even better still. There were some excellent ruins of an old smelting mill at Blakethwaite, with a backdrop of steep rocky ravines. Then a steep and loose rocky climb through the old mining scarred ravine of Bunton Hush, possibly one of the more memorable sections of the entire coast to coast for me, before topping out on a bleak wasteland of spoil as far as the eye could see.
After Bunton Hush it got less interesting, there was a very long section of four wheel drive track, with occasional work trucks going past, although there was another interesting ruin at the Old Gang smelting mill, with a whole family of Italians enthusiastically clambering over all the ruins. Just to top it all off, the final descent into Reeth took a delightful narrow path, hemmed in by drystone walls on either side, and skirted with thick grasses and flowers. At Reeth I adjourned straight to the campsite, it was a very pleasant site, set in an old orchard, with small apple trees inbetween the caravans. The camping area was right at the end, and there already pitched up were the four identical tents that had been mentioned to me the previous night. I got tea on straight away. After four nights of instant noodles, I was starting to get really jaded with them, it was a bit of a struggle, and in the end I couldn't even finish off what I had cooked. I resolved to find something a bit more interesting the next time I came across a decent shop!
I woke up quite early, before the alarm, and was on the go just after 7am. The route started out easily enough along the river. There was some slight confusion nearer to Marrick Priory, where an entire section of path seemed to have disappeared, but I soon reached the interesting nuns steps which climbed up through a small wood towards Marrick. I crossed a cow field where some cows and calves were loitering around the gap through the hedge that I was supposed to go through, but thankfully there was an alternative gap nearby. There were good views up to Applegate Scar, followed by a short climb to traverse under the scar itself. I passed through a farm, where I stopped for a quick chat with a cheerful farmer.
Eventually Richmond appeared, and excellent views of it as I descended to the town. There were facilities galore, and I stocked up in the large supermarket, including investing in some spicy cous cous to try and perk up the instant noodles! I bought a bit too much stuff, egged on by the guidebook, which gave dire warnings of a lack of shops for the next few days, and my rucksac felt a lot heavier after leaving the supermarket. I adjourned to a cafe for a pot of tea and a snack and watched the comings and goings in the town centre for a while.
I left Richmond at about midday, and dropped down the steep road to Richmond Bridge. There were good views of the castle after I had crossed the river. I don't remember too much about the next bit, apart from lots of field traversing, and a very busy road at Catterick. There was a long road section before Danby Wiske, which was hard going on the feet, although at least it was quiet, and there was a decent grass verge for some bits of it, although not all. After the road bit, I sat down at Streetlam on a grassy bank, and took my shoes off, to give my feet a bit of a breather. An older chap breezed past, who recognized me from back at the Nine Standards the previous morning. He was also heading for Danby Wiske and had booked bed and breakfast at the pub.
After all the fairly flat walking, and road walking, it was nice to finally reach the pub. The camping area was a bit of a surprise, I expected a small area, but the barman took me round the back, and through a fairly normal looking metal gate, which opened out, like the fictional "secret garden", into a huge grassy area, which I had all to myself. Nice hot showers too, in a special washroom for campers on the outside of the pub, a good setup.
I got going nice and early, about half past 7. It was strange weather, mist hanging over everything, I couldn't see that far ahead, and everything was very wet from the dew. The paths went through tall grasses that held a lot of water, which they deposited on me as I pushed through, so I put waterproof socks on, and rolled up my trousers to stop them getting soaked. Gradually the mist burnt off, and by 9am it was a very hot sunny morning. The terrain was still a bit limited, but views of the Cleveland hills tempted me on. I wasn't looking forward to the crossing of the A19, but it was fine, there were plenty of gaps, and I didn't have to wait for longer than 30 seconds crossing either carriageway.
A long winding forestry track climbed up to meet the Cleveland Way. From the top, there were views back down across the flat landscape of the Vale of Mowbray, that had taken me the best of a day to get across. From the radio masts at the top, the proper moors started and the quality of the walking improved no end. There were great views ahead to more moors in the distance, plus the spiky peak of Roseberry Topping. It was very hot though, I was going through the water very quickly, and by Huthwaite Green I had run out completely. In the absence of other sources I reluctantly refilled from the stream at Huthwaite Green, it didn't look that inviting, the water was about the colour of pale urine, and I put a purifying tablet in just to be on the safe side!
As it happened I made it to Lords Seat fairly quickly, before I had to use the strange coloured water, so was able to replace it, and also refill all my other bottles. I adjourned to the inside of the cafe, to get out of the heat of the sun for a little while, and ordered beans on toast, and a pot of tea, from the very friendly chap behind the counter. There was a flyer on the wall entitled "Walkers - Had Enough?", which gave a phone number of a taxi to get you back home! Thankfully I hadn't quite got to that state yet. On leaving I was a bit worried about water over the next stretch, it looked like we were in for a hot evening, so I bought two extra small half litre bottles of water, to give me a total of three litres, just to be on the safe side.
It was still hot and sunny when I reached the top of Kirby Bank, with good views of Roseberry Topping, and more industrial type scenery further in the distance. As I pushed on though the weather changed quite dramatically, cooling down a lot, and a strange cloud blowing in and reducing visibility. By the Wain Stones the cloud had really settled in, and it gave an interesting effect as the stones gradually revealed themselves out of the mist. At Clay Bank Top I bumped into two people sitting on a bench who were in the middle of doing the 40 mile Lyke Wake Walk. It is customary to do it as a single long walk, in less than 24 hours, and they had set off at 4am, and only had another few hours to go to get to the finish at Osmotherly. They looked quite fresh, and still sounded surprisingly cheerful, given how long they had been on the go. Then a couple of minutes later I bumped into the chap that I had met at Danby Wiske. He seemed to know a huge amount of detail about the whole coast to coast route, and eventually revealed that over the years he had already done the trail a total of sixteen times! He was bed and breakfasting nearby, and went off to find a signal to ring the B&B to come and collect him.
I pushed on to Urra moor. I couldn't see much in the strange cloud that had enveloped everything, but the path was very obvious so the navigation was easy. The book mentioned an old milepost with a strange face carved on it, and I was quite pleased to find it, given the limited visibility! Despite the thick cloud, it had been bone dry, but now it started drizzling a bit, so I stopped and put full waterproofs on. The walking was quite easy, and it got even flatter and easier still after Bloworth when it followed the course of the old railway line across the moors, so I decided to push on to the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge. The old railway seemed quite interesting, perched up on the moor like that, high on embankments in some places, although I maybe didn't quite get the full effect with the limited views. The sign for the crossing footpath to Castleton appeared out of the mist slightly eerily, although it signalled that I was half way along the railway to the Lion Inn, then eventually the long final curve that got me to the Inn itself. I popped in and sorted out camping, a very reasonable two pounds fifty. There were three other tents already pitched up. It was quite late, about half past nine, so I pitched up straight away, and then got some noodles straight on, now with added cous-cous for extra interest.
It was a very windy night, but I was slightly sheltered by the dry stone wall surrounding the camping area, and I slept well. Yesterday had been quite a long day, so I had a bit of a lie in, and didn't finally get moving until 9am. There was a couple just heading off from the Lion Inn at the same time. There was a stretch along road to start with, in a big curve away from the Inn, but there was a decent soft verge to walk on. Looking back to the Inn, you could clearly see the ridge that it was perched on, in quite an exposed position, and in the other direction there was a superb view down the valley of the River Seven. Not long into the road section I came across an interesting very brightly coloured caterpillar.
Thankfully the route left the road eventually and traversed round a valley head, with more great views down Great Fryup Dale. Just after Glaisdale Moor, I met a west-bound coast to coast walker who was just about to set off on the wrong path, so she was quite pleased that I had happened to pass by at that moment. At Glaisdale itself, I got a pot of tea at a very new looking cafe, under the pub, at the bottom end of town. I soon arrived at the camping at Priory farm. It was definitely at the "cheap and cheerful" end of the spectrum, but perfectly adequate, and I pitched up and went into Grosmont village. There was a hive of activity round the station and the steam train, and I had a look around, including the workshop sheds, before adjourning to a very nice cafe in an art gallery for afternoon tea and some soup. There was a shop too, first I had passed since Richmond, so I stocked up on some choice items for tea, to give me a break from the instant noodles.
I got going quite early, and took the very steep (1 in 3) road that climbed out of the village. Some short bits of moor took me to Littlebeck, where there was a lovely stretch of forest, along a small stream. Unfortunately I reached the nice looking tea stop at Falling Foss about half an hour too early for opening time, so continued on. A little bit more moor traversing, with some final boggy bits, brought me down to a road, and then a caravan site, where I stopped for beans on toast and a pot of tea. Shortly after the cafe the path hit the coast, at which point it joined up with the Cleveland Way again. It was a lot busier all of a sudden, but pleasant clifftop walking, before finally popping out in a residential street at the very top of Robins Hoods Bay. Then all that remained was the descent, down the steep road, extraordinarily busy with people walking up and down, to reach the sea just before 3pm.
Robin Hoods Bay was a bit of a shock to the system, after all those days of lonely moor traversing, it was bursting at the seams with people. After walking down to the sea I didn't feel particularly inclined to hang about, but went straight up to the campsite to see if I could find a pitch. It didn't look promising, new people were turning up every few seconds, but it turned out that they had a very efficient "industrial-scale" operation and quickly got me booked in. The site spread over multiple fields, far bigger than it appeared at first, more like a mini-festival, it looked like half of North Yorkshire had decamped to RHB for the weekend! Facilities seemed reasonable though, and after a shower I walked back down to RHB to have another look around. It was much nicer in the evening without the crowds, lots of interesting little back streets and passageways, and it definitely started to grow on me a bit more. I even found a shop selling handmade dark chocolates, so got a few treats for dessert later.
The route as a whole is more hilly than you might think! Some interesting statistics:
I was incredibly lucky with the weather. The previous week had been torrential rain, to the point where it even made following the route difficult in places. In contrast, I got about 2 hours worth of drizzle (on Urra Moor) in the whole nine days. Overall I found it to be quite a pleasant trail, definitely worth doing, although I wouldn't go quite as far as the 2nd best trail in the world! There are some superb sections, particular highlights include practically everything in the lakes, the old mine scenery between Keld and Reeth, especially the cracking stretch around Bunton Hush, and the bits on the Cleveland Way. If I was doing it again (which I could possibly be tempted to), I would almost certainly go in the other direction, to have the Lake District to look forward to. Apparently the reason that most people don't do this is that the bag carrying services only go in one direction, however as a camper you can please yourself! I'm also now rather intrigued by the Lyke Wake Walk, and have bought the guidebook from Amazon, so watch this space for another possible future trip report!!