An account of the trail in northern England, starting in St. Bees on the Irish Sea and ending in Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea.



 

 


 

The beginning of the Coast to Coast Path is marked by a sign at St. Bees, on the Irish Sea along Cumbrian Coast of England.

The path ends 190 miles later on the North Sea at Robin Hood's Bay, just outside the Bay Hotel.

   Doreen Whitehead, the matriarch of Wainwright's Coast to Coast Path, was remembering growing up in Keld in the 1940s. Her husband, Ernest, lived at Ravenseat, almost a mile up the path toward Kirkby Stephen, and had to walk to school, rain or shine, sometimes arriving wet and cold and staying that way all day long.
   It was the during the wartime years, and she had the good fortune to live closer to school, but had to walk there most days herself. She was living with her grandparents, and her grandfather drove an old Morris. She rattles off the license number.
   "When it rained, he would sometimes drive me to school," she said, "but it had to be really chuckin' it down."
   Mrs. Whitehead owns Butt House bed and breakfast in Keld, the mid-point in the Coast to Coast Path. If you get the chance to stay there on your journey, take it. Her meal of salmon, new potatoes and several other vegetables, followed by homemade apple pie, was the best I had during three weeks in England.
   Her stories about her life were the best dessert, though. Mrs. Whitehead compiles the "Bed & Breakfast Accommodation Guide," which lists places to stay on the 190-mile path. She was encouraged to maintain the guide by the late Alfred Wainwright himself, who originated the path in the 1970s.
   Wainwright designed the walk after traversing the Pennine Way, determined to plan a route with "kinder terrain."
   "It would have to be in the northern counties of England, with which I was already familiar and personally preferred to other parts of the country," he wrote. "Secondly, I wanted the starting point and finishing point to be exactly defined and not a source of doubt; the obvious choices were the high-tide levels of the two seas bordering the north of England, the Irish Sea and the North Sea. By laying a ruler across the map, the route almost chose itself."
   The walk has been somewhat modified from the original, but it still begins in St. Bees on the Irish Sea and ends in Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea. In between lie three national parks of distinct individual beauty: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors.
   I chose to walk the path in 13 sections over a 15-day span, spending a rest day in Kirkby Stephen and another in Richmond. There are alternative routes, many of them over high ground, that add miles and lots of elevation for those who choose them. I took several of these alternative routes when the weather was clear enough to make them safe and enjoyable.
   I chose also to have my luggage transferred between bed and breakfasts by the Sherpa Van Project, which left me free to carry only a 15-pound day pack with essentials such as rain gear, food and water, and camera equipment. Many walkers backpack the route; some also camp along the way. But to my way of thinking, there's nothing quite like walking into a town at the end of a long day, having hot shower at a bed and breakfast, and retiring to a good pub for the evening.
   In fact, one of the hallmarks of the Coast to Coast Path is the camaraderie that develops among walkers. On my journey, I forged friendships with four British hikers, a couple from Newcastle, another from Melbourne, Australia, and another from Amsterdam. Oh, yes, and there was the group of Americans on a guided tour backed up by a transport team, and two women from Sydney, Australia, who doggedly made their way across, and two men from New Zealand. Others, too.
   We crossed paths many times along the way, met in pubs at night, sometimes stayed in the same bed and breakfasts, and grew to be fast friends. Our celebration dinner at the Victorian Inn in Robin Hood's Bay on the evening that we finished the path was memorable indeed, made more so by the shared experiences.
   On the Web pages linked to this one, you'll find recollections from each of the 13 walking days, along with about 100 photographs. I won't endeavor to describe the route in detail, as that's best done in the various published guides and maps.

 

 

Last updated 12/11/2010