Coast to Coast Walk 2018
Author: George Tod
This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
|Part 1 - Preparation and First 2 Days - Home & St Bees to Ennerdale|
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I must apologise for the fact that I have not put this on the website for over a year. The reason is that I have been so busy with rewriting the Cambrian Way Guidebook and getting it through the publication process. Once that was completed I then undertook a major revamp of the Cambrian Way website in preparation for the publication of the guide in July 2019, which means it is only recently that I have time to put the account together. At the time, I was sending daily e-mails to my colleagues at work and my wife back home, and these have provided the basis for the diaries, although as I was adding photographs and going through the e-mails, quite a few other things came back to mind so I have incorporated those as well. I have also looked up a number of details of things that I was unsure of online and included those. As web space and download speeds are much greater these days, I have included a much larger number of photos than usual, especially as the weather was so good for most of the walk.
Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk is a 190-mile route following existing rights of way from St Bees Head, through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors National Parks, to Robin Hood's Bay. It is not an "official" long distance path but has almost become one by its popularity. Television programmes about Wainwright have spread around the globe and the walk attracts many overseas visitors, particularly from America.
There are a number of places where there are optional routes to cater for the weather and/or the relative fitness of the walker. There are also many alternatives for overnight accommodation to cater for different daily schedules and for cost / standard of the accommodation, though the popularity of the walk means it is advisable to book things well in advance. Most people do the walk in about 13 or 14 days, but some choose to take it at a more leisurely pace or attempt to do it in a shorter time depending on the amount of time they have to spare and their physical fitness.
The popularity of the walk has made it feasible for luggage transfer services to be provided to avoid walkers having to carry heavy packs and many walkers are happy to pay for this facility.
Most of the route follows good paths, tracks and roads, and there are even places where trail markers have been erected, though these are limited and cannot be relied upon. In more remote areas, a few enterprising farmers or residents along the way have set up fridges with cold drinks and snacks with honesty boxes for payments to be made.
The original guidebook produced by Wainwright himself has been updated and several other guides have been produced by other authors. The route has changed somewhat in places to avoid Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) where there are rare flowers or wildlife habitats and also to take better paths or more scenic routes that have developed over the years.
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I had already walked the Coast to Coast walk twice before, the first time in 1992, walking the guidebook way from west to east, then in 2006, walking from east to west. There are various pros and cons about walking one way or the other making it difficult to say which is best. West to east is easier because the guidebooks are generally written that way and the theory is that the wind and rain mainly come from the west so are behind you, though this is not always the case near the East Coast. East to west has the advantage of having more gentle walking to start with, allowing you to build up strength to face the tougher walking through the Lake District towards the end. This also means that the scenery tends to get more spectacular as the walk progresses whereas in the normal direction the latter part of the walk can be somewhat of an anti-climax. Another factor to take into account is the direction that most others are taking. By following the normal direction of travel, you keep meeting up with the same people along the way and can compare notes and develop friendships, whereas walking the opposite way means that encounters tend to be just a brief 'Hello' as walkers pass by plus one or two who are going the same way as you.
Having toyed with both options, I decided to go back to the original route that I took in 1992 and, having found my schedule to have worked quite well for that walk, I could plan something similar this time. However, not all of the accommodation options remained the same, which is hardly surprising considering that 26 years had elapsed since then.
I decided against buying a new guidebook but instead used GPX files of the route to print off 37 A4 sheets of 1:25,000 O.S. maps with the route marked using my subscription to OS Maps. I also downloaded GPX files of each stage into my Garmin etrex10 GPS and, for additional backup, I took my original copy of Wainwright's guide.
Accommodation can be very expensive in popular areas such as the Lake District and parts of the Yorkshire Dales and this is particularly true for lone walkers who are often charged single supplements. However, there are several Youth Hostels along the way and also a few independent hostels and bunkhouses which can help keep costs down. As I had some flexibility in the dates when I could do the walk, I was able to check the availability of many of these online so that I could tailor my schedule to maximise their use. This resulted in me starting the walk on a Tuesday which meant I could get accommodation in most of the hostels. On a popular walk, it is often worth setting off mid-week as most people start at the weekend and everything gets booked up as they progress along the way. In fact, there were only a few places where I needed to use B&Bs, and these were not in expensive places.
Although Youth Hostels are cheaper than many other types of accommodation, especially in popular areas such as the Lake District, prices have increased a lot over the years even when allowing for inflation. The Bank of England figure shows that the RPI (Retail Price Index) inflation makes £10 in 1992 equivalent to £20.33 in 2018 - roughly double. In 1992 I was paying around £14 to £15 for a bed, full meals and a packed lunch in the more expensive hostels, wheras in 2018 this had increased to over £50 in the same hostels. In 1992 you had to be a member whereas now you do not, but you can get a discount if you are, though you have to stay at several hostels in a year to make the membership fee worthwhile. Even taking this into account, the prices have gone up way above the rate of inflation. Some hostels have benefitted from refurbishments, and there are often better choices of meals as well as the fact that alcohol, which was banned from the premises in 1992, is now freely available which makes them more attractive places to stay. The sale of alcoholic drinks is now a lucrative business for the YHA and strongly promoted in all but the most basic hostels.
I made a few amendments to my 1992 schedule for various reasons. Firstly, I found the first day from St Bees to Ennerdale Youth Hostel quite long for the start of the walk and decided that, as I should arrive in St Bees by train early in the afternoon, I could walk part of the way before stopping for the night. Unfortunately, convenient stopping places were either full or expensive, so I took the option of detouring to Whitehaven where there were more options. This did break up the walk but also added a few miles in the process.
My other stops through the Lake District were as before and I planned on taking the same high-level options as previously including a detour up Great Gable and back for old times' sake (that is where I proposed to my wife in 1972).
The Youth Hostel near Reeth was full, but the Black Bull pub offered B&B at a reasonable price and was directly on the route, unlike the hostel. I was able to use the bunkhouse in Brompton-on-Swale instead of one I had used in Bolton-on-Swale previously meaning there was a different split in the mileage. This made the next day to Osmotherley rather longer than I would have liked at nearly 21 miles, but this is mainly on the flat so was not too difficult.
The next section to the Lion Inn at Blakey was problematic as they had no room, and the little B&B where I had stayed before was no longer a B&B. The best option was to stay in a B&B in Rosedale East with a package that included transport to and from the Lion Inn. I normally prefer to walk all the way, but there was no point in being pedantic and pushing myself too hard when there were a few long days in this part already.
My previous stay in Grosmont was replaced by a B&B in Littlebeck with my final destination of Boggle Hole Youth Hostel as before.
As I have never done any of my walks using baggage transfer services, I did not even consider this when planning the walk, though it is the option that the vast majority of walkers take, and I felt myself to be very much the odd man out in carrying my own things.
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I was sent off from Rhyl station by my wife Jean, my younger daughter Jen and my 12-month-old granddaughter Margot. I had booked my train tickets online in advance and had been hearing about disruptions on the rail network caused by ill planned imposition of new timetables, and this was supposed to be particularly bad in the northern region. However, I was pleased to see that my train to Warrington arrived in Rhyl at 9.15, spot on time.
Everything was going well until we were nearly in Warrington when an announcement came that those going through to Manchester would have to get off and walk to the other station in Warrington due to major signal failure. No problem for me as I was changing in Warrington to get the Glasgow train to Carlisle. Everyone got off and were then told to get back on again as fault was presumably fixed. My Glasgow train was expected on time but then there was a flurry of announcements about delayed trains saying that the earlier Glasgow train would be arriving instead. It wasn't quite clear whether I could get on that, as I had a cheap advance ticket which was non-transferable. However, it was already a few minutes later than the one I had booked so I chanced it and got on. Nobody checked the tickets until we were nearing the Lake District. The girl studied it for a while but said nothing, so all was fine.
The journey to Carlisle was smooth and fast but I then had to change to the slow train down the coast to St Bees. I arrived in Carlisle only a few minutes later than I had expected but with only a couple of minutes to catch the next train to St Bees, which I was told would be on platform 2. I arrived on platform 1 but couldn't find any signs for platform 2, only for several other platforms so I went around in circles, over the bridge and back again to find that Platform 2 was hiding near the other end of platform 1 but was out of sight of it. The only signs to platform 2 were when approaching from the opposite direction. By the time I found it, the train had departed and there was an hour to wait for the next one. At least I had an open ticket and was not too pushed for time, so I ate my packed lunch and then had another look around to check if I had missed a sign previously. There was definitely no sign from the platform 2 side, only from the other direction. Having some time on my hands I decided to mention the problem to the 'Team Leader' as Station Masters are now called, and he said he would look into improving it.
The next train was now in and waiting but the passengers were also waiting as the doors wouldn't open. Somebody made the suggestion that we go further down the platform where we found that the last two carriages had been uncoupled with only the first two going onwards, again with nothing to indicate this to passengers, though we may well have been informed before the train departed if we had not already found our own way.
At last I was then on my way and due to arrive at 2.30, later than planned but still early enough for the walking I had to do. It had already been a saga before I had even started walking! At least now that I could get started I would only have to depend on my own devices and only myself to blame for any delays.
The train ran to schedule, I arrived in St Bees at 2.30 and I reached the official start by the sea at 3.00. The customary thing is to dip your boots in the sea at the start and finish, which can add a mile if the tide is out. Fortunately, it wasn't very far out so it didn't take me too long. Despite bring very hot there was a cool breeze from the sea which was very welcome though it disappeared in some sheltered places. The first day with a heavier pack than usual is always a bit of an effort, which is why I didn't want to do 19 miles to Ennerdale and opted for a half day to Whitehaven which is a couple of miles off route.
There were a number of walkers along the path over St Bees Head but nobody that obviously looked like a Coast to Coast walker, which was not really surprising as this was an unusual day and time to be making a start. Generally, it was very calm and peaceful apart from some screeching seagulls protecting their chicks along the cliff path. There are some good views from the cliffs, which are a bit over 300ft high, looking back along the beach by the start. A week ago, the coastal path was closed because of grass fires but it was now open again, though there were large areas of grass and vegetation that had been scorched. This hadn't been helped by the hot dry weather, which was forecast to last for some time. I managed to keep going at a reasonable pace despite the heat though I was getting soaked in sweat in the process.
Start of Walk towards St Bees Head
St Bees Head charred by Recent Fires
St Bees from St Bees Head
After about a mile and a half along the cliffs is the inlet of Fleswick Bay where the path drops down almost to sea level before climbing up again and heading for towards the westernmost headland of North Head with the lighthouse set back on higher ground away from the cliff edge.
Towards Fleswick Bay, St Bees Head
Back across Fleswick Bay, St Bees Head
Lighthouse, North Head
Soon, the coast swings sharply round to the east bringing my destination of Whitehaven into sight across Saltom Bay. After about another mile the route heads east by Birkhams Quarry where sandstone has been quarried since the 18th Century. The stone has been used in a number of famous buildings including Carlisle Castle and Cathedral and Liverpool Cathedral. Operations have now slowed down and the area is gradually being restored to heathland by re-introducing native flora and fauna. My route, however, followed the coastal path to my B&B in Whitehaven - an easy path with an amazing display of wild flowers for part of the way.
Towards Whitehaven from St Bees Head
Wild Flowers on Path to Whitehaven
I found my B&B very easily using the route programmed into my GPS, though it would not have been difficult from the map and I arrived at 5.45. It turned out that, despite being some way off the route, Whitehaven is very much a Coast to Coast town, not for walkers but for the Coast to Coast Cycling route, as one of the optional starting points is from here. After a very welcome shower I headed into town, which was not far away, to have a couple of pints and a meal.
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After a very hot night's sleep, most of the night with no cover on, I had a full breakfast and set off at 8.50 to negotiate the rush hour traffic which was surprisingly busy for an out-of-the-way place like Whitehaven. I didn't intend to pick up the path where I left it yesterday but planned to cut off the corner and join it further on at Moor Row (this part is not very interesting and, having done the walk twice before I was more interested in having an enjoyable walk than sticking to the exact route, though I did intend to follow a continuous path from one end to the other). There didn't seem to be any reasonable paths shown to avoid the roads so there was not really much option but to head steadily up the hill, progressing along the pavements and having to keep stopping at junctions to wait for traffic lights to change. As I progressed up the main road out of town to Hensingham, the road joined a dual carriageway where the A595 had been made into a bypass and it looked like there was no pavement after a short way, so I diverted along the old route of the road which was a much quieter road though the suburbs at the top of the hill. At some stage I needed to head eastwards to rejoin the proper route so a look at the map showed I could follow quiet backroad through Rosebank to eventually reach the open countryside. At last I got out of the urban area and into open country within sight of the distant Lake District mountains, albeit with rather hazy views.
The weather was already hot but at least there were occasional breezes to make things better. The next objective was Dent hill, the highest point of the day's walk at a bit over 1000ft. This is not normally difficult but in the heat of the day it was rather taxing, and I was already wondering whether I would have enough to drink with two and a quarter litres. Eventually I reached the summit and had my packed lunch and a rest sunbathing in the baking sun.
Cairns on first Summit of Dent Hill
Lake District Fells from Dent Hill
Blakeley Raise from Dent Hill
The views were very good with views back to the coast and a faint view of the Nuclear Reprocessing Plant at Sellafield. I am old enough to remember back to 1957 when the original nuclear power station at Calder Hall had a fire in one of the reactors, spilling radioactive waste around the area. It was the worst nuclear accident ever in Britain with a rating of 5 out of a maximum of 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This was at the time when there was a race with Russia to build up the nuclear arsenal and safety was very much an afterthought. For many years the surrounding land was unsuitable for farming until the level of radioactivity reached safe levels.
From the rounded summit over to the east it is a steady descent into the attractive valley of Nannycatch. As I progressed along the valley, I came across a lady and her dog sheltering from the sun under a tree. She was supposed to be meeting up with some friends to walk a few days of the Coast to Coast but had news that one chap had taken a tumble and his companion had to take him to A&E. After a chat, I headed on my way along the valley with foxgloves brightening up the hillsides. Further along was a clear looking stream with a good display of orchids nearby, so I decided to chance having some drinks from there to supplement my supply. Generally speaking, the streams around the Lake District come from springs and are fairly safe to drink from, but there is always a slight risk especially when there has been very little rainfall. For many years I carried water purification tablets but never ever used one so have not bothered with them since. However, there are many moorland areas further east where it is much riskier to drink from streams without having a water filter or using tablets and I would have benefitted had I still been carrying some.
Towards Nannycatch Beck down Dent Hill
Foxgloves near Nannycatch Beck
Great Borne and Ennerdale Water
The walking was quite easy, and I was pleased to see that there is now a footpath running beside and above the minor road into Ennerdale Bridge, which has hidden bends and no verges for most of the way. As I reached the village I was still thirsty and concerned about my water supplies so I called in the pub for a pint of lager shandy with ice, which was very refreshing. There then just remained the walk along the southern side of Ennerdale Water to the youth hostel. I remembered from before that the path was very stony but didn't remember just how bad it was, nor how long it went on for. I took the higher route over Angler's Crag which gives better views across the lake albeit rather tortuous in places. The lakeside walk is a beautiful walk spoiled by a horrible path. There is little chance to appreciate the scenery because you spend all the time looking down on the ground to avoid tripping. The path seemed never ending until the end of the lake came in sight and the path started to improve. I was a bit later than expected reaching the hostel at 6.15 and my GPS said I had walked 17.1 miles rather than the 15.6 miles that had been calculated from online maps.
Great Borne and Ennerdale Water
Great Borne and Ennerdale Water towards Angler's Crag
Pillar from beyond Ennerdale Water
There is a magnificent view from the hostel with Pillar towering over the valley.
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