Walking With Dad & Wainwright: Hiking the Coast-to-Coast

I have a hazy memory in the mid 1980’s of my parents watching  Alfred Wainwright and Eric Robson amble across England. This was my introduction to the Coast-to-Coast walk, a 191 mile hike across the north of England. I grew up knowing that my Dad wanted to hike this route and always assumed it was something people had been doing for many many years. It therefore came as quite a shock later in life to learn that the route was only devised by Alfred Wainwright in the early 1970’s and given to the world in 1973 with his first C2C guidebook. Another surprise was that 191 miles is actually quite a long walk and not something that most people will do in their lifetime. As I grew from child to youth my interest in the Coast-to-Coast never really waned. The desire to walk it has only got stronger with age.

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Alfred Wainwright… a man of great style as well as substance

I always assumed that one day me and my Dad would walk the Coast-to-Coast together. It was never in doubt. But then I entered the world of work and fell into the same vacuum most poor sods find themselves floundering in; that dark place where you’re ruled by money and where spare time doesn’t really exist. Dad got older and despite both our retirements we both got busier. Then in 2009, as I was out of work simultaneously failing to find another job and preparing to cycle the America’s, I decided to give the route a go. In those days I hiked hard and long and always carried far too much. Starting out from Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire coast I intended to do the walk backwards so as to finish in my beloved Lake District. Carrying all my gear and camping I expected the hike to take me 10 days. If I’d kept going it would have done, but unfortunately I fell foul of a bad footwear decision (mountaineering boots felt comfortable on mountains!) and gave up in Shap, about two-thirds of the way across. The soles of my feet were too bruised to continue. That failure was embarrassing and it hurt, but it was in many ways necessary in my development. Giving up taught me more than a few big lessons that have really helped my expedition mindset evolve into the sustainable approach I now harbor.

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Here I am on the Coast-2-Coast back in 2009. Not quite as stylish as AW… give it time!

Long distance bicycle touring gives you plenty to keep your mind occupied but it also affords the luxury of real and genuine time to think and ponder. A dominant theme that regularly managed to claw its way out of the mire of girls, football and philosophy that swamps my mind was the Coast-to-Coast walk. At points I found myself obsessing over my previous failure to finish. I had to go back and do it again and I had to do it soon before Dad got too old. So when the decision was made to return home for three months I knew that it was time. I floated the idea and with a bit of diary juggling Dad could see a way to make it happen. A few days later I got word that he’d taken himself out on a 22 miles hike and suddenly it became real. We were going to do it.

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Expedition organizer, hiking partner and Dad

As I was off gallivanting through the USA and then Europe, all organisation fell to Dad. His research led us to an organisation called Pack Horse who can be employed to carry hikers luggage between night stops. With some good training under his belt and the knowledge that he’d be carrying only a day-pack, the prospect of hiking nearly 200 miles soon became a very obtainable goal. Although half my Fathers age at 33, I’ve been suffering lower back issues that made a day pack pretty appealing to me too. Confident we’d make it, Dad booked all our accommodation and planned our itinerary. The hike was to take us 16 days, including a day-off in Reeth. Everything was set. So on the 24th of August we boarded a train and hurtled up the country to the small seaside town of St. Bees.

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The Coast-to-Coast route as it appears in Wainwright’s guides

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For those unfamiliar with the British Isles… they’re the islands at the center of most sensible world maps

As rain raged in the south of England where we’d come from the previous day, we awoke to a glorious sunny morning in St. Bees. After a big B&B breakfast, a few worries about exceeding the Pack Horse weight limit on our bag and lots of pictures, we made our way to the coast and started our journey across country.

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All told, roughly 9,000 people hike on the Coast-to-Coast path every year. Although not officially recognized as a long distance route, there is an official start point

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But for us there was only one true start… we walked down to the Irish Sea and wet our boots

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Then it was a steep climb up onto the cliff tops and a hike north along the coast

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Day 2 saw us enter the Lake District, arriving in style past a glassy still Ennerdale Water

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Then up Ennerdale valley over which towered Great & Green Gables, two mountains I’d only climbed a few weeks before

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Climbing out of Ennerdale, views opened up of Buttermere. We climbed up over the summit of Hay Stacks, Wainwright’s favorite fell

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From the summit of Hay Stacks we passed the incredibly peaceful (and fantastically named) Innominate Tarn, the final resting place of AW

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After an exciting day in the Lakes we finally started the descent down to Seatoller

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Day 3 started as you’d hope to in the Lakes, with a nice climb up Greenup Gill towards Greenup Edge

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After lunch up on Greenup Edge we continued on the ridge taking in Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Cragg (pictured) before descending down into Grasmere

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Day 4 was a short one but made up for its mild distance with stunning vistas. It started with a hike up Little Tongue Gill and then Tongue Gill towards Grisedale Tarn

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Grisedale Tarn is a veritable junction of enticing route options. We took a route over St. Sunday Crag (the lump on the right here)

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Climbing up towards The Cape on St. Sunday Crag we were afforded mind-blowing views of Grisedale Tarn behind us

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Then once over The Cape we were left a stroll down into Patterdale

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Day 5 started as they all do in the Lakes, with a climb. We hike southeast up out f the valley, leaving Ullswater behind

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Before long we were skirting Angle Tarn. I consider this tarn one of the most beautiful places I have visited and one day long in the future would like my ashes spread here (pretty considerate of me considering how easy it is to access)

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From Angle Tarn we thoroughly enjoyed hiking up and over The Knott

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Before reaching Kidsty Pike, the highest point of the recognized route at 2560 ft.. We’d actually reached 2756 ft. the day before on St. Sunday Crag

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From the summit of Kidsty Pike we descended to the man-made Haweswater Reservoir around which we skirted to reach Bampton

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Day 6 and we were out of the Lake District. Time enough to look back on mountains that hold so many memories

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An amble up hill from Bampton took us through Shap with its Lime works and over the M6 motorway

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After the noise of the M6 the tranquility of the walk into Orton was much appreciated

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Orton, the perfect place to rest… it has a pub and chocolate factory!

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Day 7 took us into the Yorkshire Dales with their characteristic stone barns

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The archetypal English view

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Although lacking the dramatic edge of the Lakes, Rayseat was still beautiful

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As we closed in on Kirkby Stephen we encountered this Sheep on a wall. Clearly stuck we elected to leave it… how were we to know which side it came from!

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Tramping downhill into Kirkby Stephen my mind was filled with thoughts of the Indian restaurant that awaited

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Day 8 started with the climb up Nine Standards Rigg

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Atop the Rigg sit the Nine Standards themselves. As with so many old things in the UK, no one really knows why they are there. The strong winds on the summit had us both laughing

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Once over Nine Standards Rigg we descended down Whitsun Dale towards Ravenseat and then Keld

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Day 9 out of Keld gave us some tremendous views of the Yorkshire Dales

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Keld is on the junction of the Pennine Way and Coast-to-Coast and therefore gets a fair amount of hiking traffic. Looking back on the tiny village makes the heart glad of the opportunity to rest up there

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Soon the rolling greenery around the River Swale was replaced by the scared landscape of mine country

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Between Melbecks and Friarford Moors there is little but spoil heaps and crazy old men

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On our way down to Level House Bridge we crossed the 100 mile mark

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Old Gang Smelt Mill on Mill Gill, lays bear the industrial past of this area of Yorkshire

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Day 9 ended in Reeth where we took a day off to relax and recoup

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The views around Reeth were quintessentially Yorkshire

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Day 11 and we were back on the trail. The route out of Reeth first took us through the village of Marrick

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And then the beautiful little village of Marske

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As we start to follow the River Swale into Richmond a short climb up to Applegarth Scar affords more amazing Dales views

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Richmond, the largest town on the route didn’t look particularly large as we approached

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But it was big enough for us. And famed for its castle

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After a stop for lunch and coffee in Richmond we carried on down the Swale to spend a forgettable night in Catterick Bridge

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Day 12 is what I’d called a utility day. A long flat trudge between the Yorkshire Dales and Moors. We saw plenty of this…

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… a fair amount of this…

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… climbed loads of these…

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… saw more than a few farm animals…

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… and generally meandered our way from sign to sign. But with a blazing hot sun the day was still an enjoyable one

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As was forecast, we awoke on Day 13 to torrential rain. The rain was heavy all day, sometimes falling down and sometimes sideways, but always wet and cold.

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Our first day in the Yorkshire Moors I know from my previous trip that we missed out on some fantastic views. We saw nothing, but survived. You can’t expect to hike in the north of England in September without getting a bit wet!

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On our 14th day we set out from Beak Hills farm in mist and fog but were informed that if it was ‘misty by 7 it would be clear by 11’. And it was.

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Finding our way back to the C2C route from Beak Hills farm required a little bit of freestyling

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Once back on route we were immediately met by the imposing Wain Stones

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Sure enough the mist lifted to reveal the true majesty of a walk along the edge of the Yorkshire Moors

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Climbing up Carr Ridge onto Round Hill gave us plenty of opportunity to embrace our new moorland environment

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Lack of accommodation opportunities took us on a detour down into Rosedale. It was well worth it as we spent a very comfortable night here, in Rosedale Abbey

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The hike back up Rosedale on Day 15 was gorgeous and fascinating. Again we encountered evidence of mining and the scars of industry past

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One last look down Rosedale and we popped up onto Glaisdale Moor

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Many years ago someone decided to lay flag stones on the path across Glaisdale Moor. This made our return to the main C2C route infinitely easier

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Back on the main route we were soon passed Great Fryup Dale and heading down to Glaisdale

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We spent our last night on the trail in Grosmont, a village famous for its operational steam railway

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Heads full of weather forecasts of potentially heavy rain showers we started the climb out of Grosmont. Day 16 and our final days walking on the Coast-to-Coast

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The grade of the slope out of Grosmont was over 30%. Sometimes it feels good to be on two feet and not a loaded bike!

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As we rose up onto Black brow the sheep were still asleep. Never in my life have I seen as many sleeping or plain lazy sheep as I did in that 16 days

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Descending down to Littlebeck the North Sea became clearly visible behind the town of Whitby

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A charming little walk up May Beck through Great Wood bought us to this, The Hermitage. For no apparent reason a chap called George Chubb decided to hollow this shelter out of the rock in 1790. Good for him

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Our final lunch was eaten on Normanby Hill Top. Must have been a good apple!

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After moving through High Hawkser Robin Hood’s Bay started to feel close

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And there we were, we’d reached the North Sea and had walked across England

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All that remained was a few miles stunning coastal walking

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Before we could see the end… Robin Hood’s Bay

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Another descent, but this time we have steps! Only the charming town of Robin Hood’s Bay now separated us from the end of our amazing walk

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The North Sea is getting closer…

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And we’re there. I dip my toes in the water just as I did 16 days previous in Irish Sea

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We made it! With no problems and great company I couldn’t have asked for a better experience on the Coast-to-Coast. A very different walk to last time I tried it

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That’s two happy Haley’s

As you can see from the pictures we had a fantastic few days hiking on the Coast-to-Coast path. Although recognized as a 191 mile route we took a few detours that bumped our total distance walked to a shade under 200 miles. Aside from one day of heavy rain as we entered the Yorkshire Moors, the weather was fantastic and treated us kindly. I have to give great thanks to my Dad for organizing our trip so well, being fantastic company and paying for the bulk of everything. We both satisfied a deep craving, took an opportunity by the scrap of the neck and made a dream come true. Now a yearning has been replaced by precious memories that will never die. Thanks Dad.

For the full photo diary of our hike please click here

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