Coast to Coast Walk 1992

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 Day - St Bees to Ennerdale

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About 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. 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 many alternatives for overnight accommodation and daily mileage, but most people do the walk in about 13 or 14 days.

The popularity of the walk has made it possible for a "Pack Horse" service to be provided to ferry luggage from one night's stop to the next and many walkers, particularly the older ones take advantage of this facility.

Most of the route follows good paths, tracks and roads, with few of the peat bogs which are so prevalent on some sections of the Pennine Way. In most parts the walking is relatively easy, especially for those who omit the high route alternatives. In some parts the route is well signposted with "Coast to Coast" signs, but in others there is no mention of this and the only indicators are normal footpath or bridleway signposts.

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In contrast to my Pennine Way walk of the previous year, where I embarked on a zealous training programme and seemed to end up doing more harm than good, I set out on this walk having done no actual training. For the last year I had kept reasonably fit by doing a good long walk every few weeks for pleasure, but had not set about slogging around at full speed carrying a full pack purely for training. In fact, as I set off, I was carrying my new rucksack for the first time ever, and my boots had not been worn for about five weeks. I had done some coastal walking during that time, but that was done wearing trainers.

Planning and organising this walk was not as easy as it was for the Pennine Way, as there was no YHA booking service, so all hostels and B&Bs had to be booked individually. The hostels presented no problem, but the gaps in the hostel chain presented a number of problems in attempting to find accommodation which was close to the route and with convenient daily mileage, particularly across the North Yorkshire Moors. However, once I found out about the Coast to Coast Accommodation Guide produced by Mrs. Whitehead in Keld it all became easy, with a good selection of reasonably priced B&Bs on, or close to, the route.

The main considerations in planning each day's walk were to keep the distance to less than 20 miles unless walking over easy terrain, and to have shorter mileage in the Lake District to allow plenty of time for the high route alternatives to be taken plus any other detours to enjoy the scenery. The intention was also to use as many Youth Hostels as possible, both to minimise cost and because the hostels are better equipped for walkers, with drying rooms etc. This resulted in a walk of 13 days using 9 Youth Hostels and 5 B&Bs covering about 200 miles with options and detours.

Equipment for the walk was based largely on the same list as I had for the Pennine Way but with a few reductions to save weight. The new rucksack that I had bought saved about 2 lbs compared with the old one with its external frame. The other advantage of the new rucksack was the waist strap which allowed much of the weight to be taken on my hips, thus reducing the weight on my shoulders, which had tended to give me problems in the past. I also decided to do all the walking in shorts to avoid having to carry an extra pair of trousers for walking. The total weight of the rucksack finally came to 15 lbs plus food and drink for each day of up to 7 lbs.

For route finding I decided that I could manage with Wainwright's Guide plus an old 1" map of the Lake District to cover any detours in that area. The cost and extra weight of the maps for the rest of the route, I considered were not justified, provided I took care not to wander far off the route in the Guide. Before setting off, I checked on the locations of the B&B accommodation and marked them on Wainwright's Guide, where necessary. This proved perfectly adequate for the walk, the only difficulty in route finding being the rather confused maps and mass of closely written text in Wainwright's Guide. If I had gone over this with a highlighter beforehand to pick out all the important bits of route finding information it would have made it much easier and quicker to follow.

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Diary of the Walk

Day 0 - Saturday 6th June - Travelling to St Bees

Accommodation - Fairladies Barn Guest House B&B 10.

I had a lift to Newcastle from my daughter Amanda, who was travelling back to university, and caught the 14.24 train to St Bees changing at Carlisle, at a cost of 11. There is a regular train service round the coast to Whitehaven but only a limited number of trains go beyond there, the last one being the 16.54 from Carlisle arriving at St Bees about 18.10. I had about an hour to wait in Carlisle, so I looked around the town which has a castle and Abbey and even had a brass band playing in the town centre in the lovely afternoon sunshine. The train to St Bees consisted of a single carriage which was bursting at the seams with shoppers returning home, and people with luggage and bicycles were having difficulty in getting on. However, quite a few people got off within the first few stops so it soon became more comfortable with seats available. I expected that I might see several people with rucksacks, but saw very few and wondered whether there would be many doing the walk. When I got off the train at St Bees, none of the other people getting off looked at all like Coast to Coast walkers.

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St Bees Church and School
St Bees Church and School

The Guest House that I had booked was at the top end of the town and easy to find, but there was nobody there when I arrived. I had written to say that I would arrive at about 7 p.m., so I phoned home and looked around for places to eat (a few pubs doing bar meals) before returning to the B&B where the owner had just returned from the beach. As I was the only person in that night he put me into a twin bedded room instead of the bunk house accommodation that I had booked, so I got a 15 B&B for only 10.

I walked down to the sea and up to St Bees Head to look at the start of the walk. The Lake District mountains were visible with good views of High Stile and Scafell Pike etc. The Sellafield nuclear plant can also be clearly seen a few miles further down the coast. St Bees itself is a pleasant little town with its church and school built of the local red sandstone. I called at the Queen's Hotel for a bar meal of steak & kidney pie at 4.25 and Theakstons bitter. So far I had only seen one or two people who looked like walkers, the place being mainly occupied by families enjoying a sunny day at the seaside. On the way I passed a field full of entirely black sheep and lambs, presumably a local breed.

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Day 1 - Sunday 7th June - St Bees to Ennerdale - 19 miles

Accommodation - YHA Low Gillerthwaite 13.65 with full meals + packed lunch.

I started out from the B&B at 8.45 arriving at the starting point at 9.00 where I met the first group of 5 Coast to Coast walkers consisting of one couple and two female friends who were doing the whole walk, plus a boyfriend who was only doing the first few days. They all appeared to be in their twenties and were a little less friendly than most walkers, later earning them the nickname of `The Yuppies'. Dipping the boots in the sea is the customary start to the walk, so I duly walked out to the sea at low tide - the walk from the B&B and to the sea and back added about a mile and a half to the 19 mile walk.

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Start of Walk towards St Bees Head
Start at St Bees Head
Fleswick Bay and St Bees Lighthouse from St Bees Head
Fleswick Bay
Saltom Bay and Whitehaven
Saltom Bay and Whitehaven

The day was beautifully sunny and, as I made way along the first few miles of pleasant cliff scenery, I started to meet several other groups of Coast to Coast walkers. The initial walk along the coast is followed by a less interesting walk heading inland, passing by a few industrial areas. I stopped for lunch just before Cleator and then, as it was very hot, called for a pint of nondescript, pressurised beer in a dump of a pub on the main road in Cleator. The only place to drink the beer was standing on the narrow pavement by the busy main road next to a rowdy group of youths - I didn't stay long.

After the coast, the first place of any merit is Dent hill which, after a steady climb, reveals good views of the Lake District mountains and back towards the coast. The weather started to cloud over a little, but was still very warm - I had been walking most of the way without my T shirt. I met up with a group of three who were in the process of revising Wainwright's guide book with recent changes to footpaths. There have been some off-road routes negotiated near Orton and some route changes to avoid erosion near Nine Standards Rigg.

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Ennerdale Water from Angler's Crag
Ennerdale Water

From Dent the route drops down to the very pleasant valley of Nannycatch before joining the long road walk to Ennerdale Water, where there were diversions to the route due to work on the dam. I climbed up over Angler's Crag, partly by mistake, but it was well worth it for the view of the lake. By this time my feet were starting to get sore with one or two blisters starting, possibly contributed to by the hot weather and the hard surfaces under foot. My shoulders were also a bit painful from carrying the rucksack, but were greatly helped by the fact that the waistband on this new rucksack took quite a lot of the weight away from my shoulders. After attending to the blisters, I set off again at 5 p.m. with two and a half miles to go along the very stony path by the lake and along the forest road to the Youth Hostel, where I arrived at 6.20 p.m. There were a few other groups of walkers including a group of three Londoners from a running club. They were great characters and nicknamed themselves GBH (Graham, Brian and Henry). They were following a very similar schedule to mine, so I was to see quite a lot of them during the rest of the walk. The `Yuppies' did not arrive until half way through the evening meal and seemed to expect waiter service from everyone else, rather than doing their bit. The three girls never seemed to smile and I was not sure whether it was because they were finding the walk an ordeal, or whether they were always like that. As several people had ordered vegetarian meals, dinner was curry soup, vegetarian goulash and treacle sponge.

It was a beautiful evening but, being in the forest, we were plagued by midges so, after a while I returned indoors. The hostel, being so remote, has no electricity so the lighting was from mantles supplied by bottled gas. I didn't get a very good night's sleep as it was so hot with the hostel heating still on despite the hot weather.

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