The British Isles are blessed with some of the finest countryside and coastal views in the world, not to mention the magnificent variety of such views. We are also doubly blessed to have a wonderful system of public footpaths and rights of way that allow everyone access to this beautiful land. Last year, I took the time to explore one famous trail that crosses northern England: Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path.
You can’t really talk about walking in Britain without mentioning Alfred Wainwright. Born into a poor Lancashire family, Alfred left school at the age of 13 and worked as an office boy. He was a keen walker from an early age but his life changed at the age of 23 when he saved up for a week’s walking holiday in the Lake District. He fell in love with the area, and spent the rest of his life exploring the fells and trails of Britain.
In 1973, he published A Coast to Coast Walk which traced his route from St. Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. In the book, Wainwright split the route into twelve segments and many walkers still follow those. However, Wainwright himself encouraged people not to stick to his exact route but to find paths for themselves. So yes, at times I diverged from his exact route. My goal was to enjoy myself and the landscapes.
The Coast to Coast Path
As so often seems to be the case with trails such as this, there seems to be some slight disagreement about its length. Some guides will say it is 190 miles (306 km), while others will say 192 miles (309 km). Honestly, by the time you reach Robin Hood’s Bay, you’ll be reveling in the sense of accomplishment and the views. A mile or two will make little difference.
Despite experts voting it the 2nd best walking trail in the world in 2004, the Coast to Coast still has no official National Trail designation. It follows public rights of way and footpaths. But the lack of official designation means some parts are unmarked – bring a map, guidebook, and compass. No-one wants to get lost on the moors.
The route passes through three National Parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors. In other words, the scenery is often breathtaking. Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t one point where you may find yourself walking past a sewage works in the rain wondering what you’re doing. But I digress….
Planning to Walk the Coast to Coast
When making plans to walk all or part of the Coast to Coast, ask yourself what your goals are. Do you want to stick to Wainwright’s exact path? Or do you want to follow the trail but make allowances for your own side trips? Do you want to treat this as a racing challenge or do you want to enjoy the meandering?
Wainwright broke the trip into 12 stages, but many people suggest taking a little longer, perhaps two or even three weeks, to allow for a day or two off. On the other hand, I met one gent who did the entire thing in 10 days.
Do you want to walk the entire route or half? Many walking companies divide the route into two main segments, with some dividing at Kirkby Stephen, others at Reeth. You might want to do part one year, and complete it the next.
While the West to East route is more popular, you may decide to do the reverse. It’s up to you.
You can choose to do all the planning yourself, or you can choose to plan your trip through one of the many walking holiday companies. I did the latter. Note this doesn’t mean a group holiday (unless you want it to be). Many of the companies simply take care of the planning – accommodations, baggage transfer, etc. I walked on my own, at my own pace, to each night’s destination. And since I went late in the season (October), I saw very few people.
I planned my trip with Absolute Escapes. This is not a paid plug – I was thoroughly impressed with their service. Baggage transfer is a godsend, knowing that I don’t have to carry my backpack with me all day, but that it will be waiting at my lodgings each night. The accommodations were excellent. The staff at Absolute Escapes were incredibly helpful, and they provide maps, guidebooks, and emergency contacts. I loved the fact that I could simply get up every morning and walk without having to worry about anything else.
Another quick unpaid plug – however you choose to plan your trip, I highly recommend the Coast to Coast Path guidebook by Trailblazer. The little hand-drawn maps detailed every route and offered tips for what to see, where to stop, and so on.
Be sure to check back in over the next few weeks as I share highlights of my walk along the Coast to Coast Path.