Day 0. St Bees
0 miles complete. 192 to go
After all of the weeks of planning, tomorrow is the big day! We’re camped at St Bees and having tried in vain to locate an open chippy, we’re eating the heaviest of our emergency food supplies. Tomorrow, we’re off to Ennerdale Bridge.
St Bees Head to Ennerdale Bridge: 14 miles
14 miles complete. 178 to go
The day started with the traditional dipping of the boots into the Irish Sea, then we were off. The first few miles are slightly frustrating: after five miles of walking, you encounter signs that inform you that you are now two miles from where you started. At this point, you are also further west than the starting point. Wainwright mentioned this as “disconcerting”. Well quite.
The afternoon brought the first summit of the route. Dent is a fairly unassuming little foothill; really only a taste of what is to come. The views are pretty reasonable though – Scafell and Scafell Pike ahead, Ennerdale valley to the left, the Irish sea behind – even the Galloway hills are visible if you squint – and to the right, the rather less picturesque Sellafield Power Station. The last mile to Ennerdale Bridge was probably the hardest of the day; pounding tarmac is tough on tired feet. Fortunately, the Fox and Hounds was the reward – the first community-run pub in West Cumbria, recommended by CAMRA, and complete with a campsite behind the church. Now that’s what I call welcoming.
Ennerdale Bridge to Seatoller: 13 miles
27 miles complete. 165 to go
Completely exhausted. We left Ennerdale Bridge in glorious sunshine and had a pleasant walk along the shore of Ennerdale Water, but by the time we reached Robin Hood’s Chair (a huge, stony, grassy mound overlooking the lake), we were struggling against a serious headwind. Once we reached the Forestry Commission plantation, we were also facing sheet rain. Plod plod plod through miles of really wet forest, with the cold wind as our constant companion. The rain started to ease a little as we began the ascent of Loft Beck, but the sporadic gusts of wind and the slick wet rocks proved perilous. Near the summit, the driving rain resumed and the wind speed must have been around 100mph. It was enough to knock me off my feet several times, heavy pack notwithstanding. The cloud was low and it was impossible to see more than a metre or so in front of us. We both had some very low moments but kept each other going with the promise of a night in a B&B instead of the intended campsite. Ah, the healing properties of a hot brew, a hot bath and a hot meal!
Seatoller to Keswick: 8 miles
(Now off the normal route, 35 miles completed)
After donning our driest clothes and cringing at how damp they were, we decided to divert from the official route, as the highest priority now was to dry out all of our kit. We walked along the route to Rosthwaite but then branched off to Keswick, where we commandeered the campsite laundry facilities and spread everything else out (ourselves included) to steam gently dry in the sunshine.
Keswick to Patterdale: 11 miles
46 miles complete. 146 to go
We set out early this morning for Thirlmere, from where we climbed Sticks Pass, over the brilliantly named “Raise” hill, and up Whiteside to finally summit Helvellyn in time for sandwiches with a view. This also marks the point at which we rejoined one of the “official” routes, and the mileage of our detour is reasonably similar to the official route too. The descent from Helvellyn over Striding Edge, complete with a full pack was an exhilarating experience, but once we were “over the Edge”, the path down to Glenridding and on to Patterdale was relatively gentle and uneventful.
Patterdale to Bampton: 13 miles
59 miles complete. 133 to go
Today has been tiring, it feels like we’ve done a lot more than 13 miles. We had a reasonably early start from Patterdale, reaching Angle Tarn by about 9.30, by which point the sun was already fierce. After a little paddle in the cool water, it was onwards and upwards to Kidsty Pike, the last of the Lakeland summits. It seemed only right to stop and savour the view (and our butties) for a while. The descent was simple enough but very hot. We lingered awhile at the former village of Mardale, which is now submerged by Haweswater reservoir, before making our way along relatively level, gentle paths to Bampton. The storm that has been building all day has now broken; hopefully my tent won’t go the same way as the houses of Mardale…
Bampton to Shap: 5 miles
62.5 miles complete. 131.5 to go
Yes, today we have covered 5 miles. 1.5 of that was just to get us back to the main route, so we’ve only progressed 3.5 miles. The excuse is that it’s hot, we’re feeling tired and, frankly, we’re doing this for fun so we’re giving ourselves an afternoon off! We’ve pitched the tents in the back garden of the pub and we’re now going to make use of the facilities to replenish our fluid levels. Hydration is very important!
Shap to Raisbeck: 10 miles
72.5 miles complete. 119.5 to go
Soon after leaving Shap, we crossed the M6, which was a jolting reminder of how fast things usually travel; it’s surprising how dramatically a week of walking slows your whole pace of life! Limestone country is definitely easier on the feet than the Lakelands have been – we positively bounced our way through the velvety fields and pastures, reaching Raisbeck by early afternoon. The weather was closing in, so we’ve decided to call it a day.
Raisbeck to Kirkby Stephen: 9.5 miles
84 miles complete. 108 to go
The temperatures have been soaring again today and we’re both a bit pink around the extremities. The walking hasn’t been too arduous though, and we arrived in Kirkby Stephen by the middle of the afternoon, so there has been plenty of time for all the exciting things like shopping and laundry. The scenery isn’t as dramatic as the Lakeland sections, but it’s been very pretty.
Kirkby Stephen to Keld: 13 miles
97 miles complete. 95 to go (More than half way!)
The route up Nine Standards Rigg is relatively easy walking, although the final stages were a little boggy – the joys of Pennine peat don’t seem to have been reduced by the heat. It is suggested that the nine cairns may have been built to mark the boundary between Westmorland and Swaledale, or, in a rather more imaginative telling, they were built to scare away the Scottish Army. Impressive as they are, I don’t think angry Scotsmen would necessarily be too intimidated by the sight of some four foot high piles of stones.
Keld is the crossing point of the Coast to Coast and the Pennine Way, and also appears to be the meeting point for the World Bitey Insect Convention.
Keld to Reeth: 11 miles
108 miles complete. 84 to go
We had the psychological high point of passing the 100 mile mark today. Today we took the high level route up Gunnerside, across moorland, past old lead mines and derelict mining buildings. It’s truly isolated and we didn’t see another soul for most of the day, which added to the slightly spooky feel of the place. Then over Surrender Bridge (I gave up trying to find out why it’s called that) and across gentle farmland to the ‘capital’ of upper Swaledale: the attractive little town of Reeth.
Reeth to Richmond: 10.5 miles
118.5 miles complete. 73.5 to go
Last night, we hit upon the rather wonderful plan of leaving our camp set up, walking to Richmond with only a daypack, then catching the bus back to Reeth. Tomorrow, we’ll catch the bus into Richmond and carry on from there. Being virtually pack-free, we skipped and gambolled past Marrick Priory, former residence of Benedictine nuns but now home to an outdoor education centre and up through woodland and across farmland before dropping into the historic town of Richmond – easily the biggest settlement on the Coast to Coast. Wainwright wasn’t really a fan of urban areas, but you can see why he made an exception here. The easy walk and the freedom from heavy packs meant we had plenty of time to explore before getting the bus back to Reeth for the night.
Richmond to Danby Wiske: 14.5 miles
133 miles complete. 59 to go
We got an early bus to Richmond and picked up the path, which takes a meandering tour of the town’s river banks for sometime before crossing under the A1. I smugly contemplated who is having the nicer day; me, meandering gently through the countryside, steadily getting closer to the sea, or them, rushing to their office. Then I nearly stepped into a dead sheep… We stopped to eat our sandwiches in the churchyard of Bolton-on-Swale, where we contemplated the monument to Henry Jenkins, who was apparently born in nearby Ellerton-on-Swale in 1500, and died there in 1670. Impressive.
The final eight miles of the day were all on roads, which is hard work on the feet, and culminated in our arrival at Danby Wiske. Wainwright’s write up isn’t encouraging: “Danby Wiske… less attractive than it’s name …At 110 feet above the sea,… is the lowest point between the coastal extremities of the walk…” He adds, “To walkers whose liking is for rough places and high terrain, this will seem the dullest part of the whole walk; those who believe the earth is flat will be mightily encouraged on this section.” With so little to live up to, it’s turned out to be surprisingly pleasant!
Danby Wiske to Ingleby Cross: 9 miles
142 miles complete. 50 to go
After an early wake up call from the cockerel sharing our camping field, we set out for more road walking from Danby Wiske. It’s been a fairly unassuming day – roads, and farmland tracks. The day ended with the terrifying matter of crossing the A19: a busy dual carriageway, with no bridge and no warning sign to motorists. There are times to pay attention to the green cross code about not running across roads. This is not one of those times.
Ingleby Cross to Great Broughton: 12 miles
154 miles complete. 38 to go
We started the day with a steep climb up through forest to Beacon Hill, before joining the Cleveland Way. From here, we had a fantastic view across the Dales to the sea. Although the Cleveland Way is paved, it wasn’t the easiest going. It seems to have been built with little mind to this nonsense concept of going round obstacles so you seem to spend a lot of time yo-yoing from summits (ah, the view again!) into valleys. Up, down, up, down, then the final up of the day to the Wainstones, at which point the path becomes coy and goes into hiding. We picked our way between the rocks and down the steep slope to the road at Clay Bank Top, then off the route for a couple of miles to Great Broughton, where we are now camped behind the pub.
Great Broughton to Grosmont: 22.5 miles
176.5 miles complete. 15.5 to go
Getting back up on to Clay Bank Top was 2 miles of walking before we’d even started counting “Coast to Coast miles”, but although it’s been a really long day, most of the day’s walking hasn’t been too arduous. We rejoined the Cleveland Way for a steep climb up to Urra Moor, then it was just open moorland, winding through the heather on a disused railway track, occasionally being startled by a startled grouse: why do they wait until you’ve almost put a boot onto them before they take off, flapping and skrarking and generally scaring the bejesus out of the unsuspecting walker?
After partaking of midday refreshment at the pub at Blakey, we passed ‘Fat Betty’, a large rectangular stone with a circular top. Tradition dictates leaving an item (often food or coins) to give thanks for a safe journey. We left a cereal bar (perhaps not so traditional). The walking is pretty easy, as the railway builders, in contrast to the Cleveland Way builders, decided to follow a contour line. We had gorgeous views over Great Fryup Dale (actually derived from the Norse Goddess Freya and “hop”, the old English for valley, rather than eggs, sausages, bacon and black pudding), then down from Glaisdale Rigg into Glaisdale village and onwards alongside the river and through woodland to Grosmont.
Glaisdale to Robin Hood’s Bay: 19 miles
192 miles completed!
Before leaving Grosmont, we stopped and admired the steam trains for a while. It would have been easy to idle away a day watching all of the activity, but we could practically smell Robin Hood’s Bay now, so we embarked on the steep climb back up onto to moorland and were soon treated to views of Whitby Abbey in the distance. Descending back into Littlebeck, there were several miles of woodland, past Falling Foss waterfall and over some more moorland. Suddenly, we spot our first road sign to Robin Hood’s Bay, then soon we pass a caravan park and we’re ON THE COASTAL PATH! The sun is shining, the coastline is beautiful, there’s a huge smile on both of our faces as we spot Robin Hood’s Bay. There’s a certain sadness too – our target for the last 2 and a bit weeks is about to be achieved…so what now? As we reach the town, we head down the long, steep harbour road, already contemplating what the next adventure may be. For now though, a dip of the feet in the North Sea and a pint at the Bay Hotel will suffice. We just crossed England on foot. Wow!
By Kit Thrall