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Coast to Coast Walk

July 2, 2016

Coast to coast is a really good walking challenge and gives a marvellous perspective on the diverse landscape and social history of this slice of northern England. I’m recently back from completing it along with my longstanding friend, Chris.

St Bees Head: the start of the walk

St Bees Head: the start of the walk

Leaving St Bees on the West coast, it starts with a short stretch of coastal path then gradually begins the crossing of the Lake District, taking in three high passes alongside some of the area’s major mountain peaks. It then follows a limestone plateau to reach the northern Pennines winding down Swaledale before crossing the Vale of Mowbray  and tackling the northern side of the North Yorkshire Moors, ending with another stretch of coastal path to reach Robin Hood’s Bay on the East coast. I was already familiar with some areas visited but doing it this way gave a fresh perspective seeing the landscape gradually change and approaching moors and valleys from a new direction.

Alongside the beauty and variety, the walk is hard work and at times the emphasis needs to be on ‘pushing on’ and reaching the day’s destination rather than exploring and appreciating the surroundings. Totalling nearly 200 miles, completing in twelve days means 15+ miles a day sometimes covering difficult, if not technical, terrain. The part through the Lakes is the most dramatic and toughest going with steeper ascents and the hard stony ground putting pressure on feet and joints. Several of the days involved 8-9 hours walking although a few were almost half that. I had my 69th birthday on the second day; I’m a practised fell walker but not an athlete!

The route in brief

This is to give an idea of the walk’s appeal and variety- there are many guides  to provide detail and find the route; guide authors often have their own idiosyncratic take on the walk and what are the best bits. I used the Cicerone one which worked fine; it uses extracts of OS maps and includes useful contextual information.

Western coastlands: along the coastal path for a few miles with fine views of the Isle of Man and Galloway, leaving it at a quarry, the distinctive red sandstone having been used for many local buildings including the church and school at St Bees.  Then following paths and lanes across agricultural land and former mining villages; gradually the terrain changes and the Lakeland mountains come into sight.

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The west doorway of the Church in St Bees, dating from 1160 and built from locally quarried stone

 

 

 

The Lake District: begins by skirting Ennerdale Water and then a slow ascent to Black Sail pass and Youth Hostel. The days in the Lake District include several long ascents and descents with excellent views of some of the main peaks and groups of fells including the highest, stoniest and sharpest central fells and the gentler grassier slopes of the far eastern fells.

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After Black Sail there is a splendid view of Great Gable and Pillar (see pic) and later (having climbed by Loft Beck) the Western fells and Buttermere and Crummock Water. After Borrowdale a steep ascent to Greenup Edge and a long descent to Grasmere before ascending to Grisedale Tarn (with Dollywaggon Pike one side and Fairfield the other) and then down to Patterdale. The last day in the Lakes ascends the far eastern fells towards High St (with good views back to Patterdale and Ullswater if the mist allows), heading East before reaching the summit and heading east for Kidsty Pike (the highest point of the walk at 780m) and then descending to Haweswater, a reservoir.

Limestone country: for the time being the steep climbs are over and the route crosses milder limestone country with views of the Lakes to the West, the Pennines to north and east and Howgill fells to the south. The terrain is not flat but undulating with dry stone walls, sheep grazing, limestone escarpments and valleys. It is much less busy than the Lakes where there are always plenty of walkers, whatever the weather. The route goes through two market towns – Shap and Kirkby Stephen – that were on important historic north-south trade routes.

Pennines and Swaledale: from Kirkby Stephen the route goes across the northern Pennines (later crossing the Pennine Way at Keld)

Standing Stones

firstly ascending to the Standing Stones (above) (and lies on the watershed of Britain) and then with classic Pennine walking across marsh, peat bogs and grouse shooting terrain to  reach the head of Swaledale.

Pennine view

Swaledale towards Ravenshead

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Swale is followed for twenty plus miles with a pleasant mix of riverside, field and moorland walking; gradually it becomes less remote, gentler and more populated reaching the prosperous market town of Richmond. For the first half, as far as Reeth, there is an alternative high level route that takes you though the former lead mining area; tougher – especially in bad weather – but rich in evidence of the valley’s industrial importance in the 19th century.

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Swaledale high route in misty weather

The Vale of Mowbray

The crossing from Richmond to the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors at Ingleby Cross is 24 miles mainly of field walking with some minor roads, including a detour to cross the A1 (being widened) and a scary crossing of the A19 right at the end. The vale is flat and can be covered quite quickly (10 hours including breaks and one or two minor detours). For many this is a ‘push on’ stage although some may appreciate a predominately flat and agricultural stretch.

North Yorkshire Moors

A fine stretch of walking initially with a lot of ups and downs and then long stretches of higher moorland following tracks and disused railway lines surrounded by heather with views across the moors and down valleys.

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The perspective from Cringle Moor, weather permitting,constructed in memory of a local pioneer of long distance walks on the North Yorkshire Moors

 

 

The final stretch, from Glaisdale, leaves the main moor behind and mainly follows valleys before ending with a short walk along the coastal path to reach Robin Hood’s Bay. It includes a wooded walk along Littlebeck passing the magnificent waterfall, Falling Foss: scenic but very muddy following rainfall.

Nuts and bolts

This is a popular walk and you meet many others on your way including lots from North America and Australia as well as the UK. It’s reassuring to check the route with others (many now use GPS) and hear the different attractions and backstories that led people to do it. We met many fellow ‘baby boomers’ who thought it ‘demanding but doable’ and particularly liked the variety of landscape passed on the route.

We did it in twelve walking days with overnight stops as follows: Ennerdale Bridge, Rosthwaite, Patterdale, Shap, Kirkby Stephen (+ rest day), Keld, Reeth, Ingleby Cross, Claybank Top, Glaisdale.

A number of organisations assist with the logistics such as transporting your main baggage, booking accommodation and safe car parking. We used Sherpa Van Project for baggage and booking and the service was faultless. B&B, pubs and small hotels en route have benefitted from the steady stream  of coast to coasters and in turn cater well for walkers. Some a few miles from the route will pick you up and return you to the path.

Some brave people backpack and camp.

How many days? People we met varied between eleven and sixteen days walking. It’s quite common to take four days from Ennerdale to Shap and stop in Grasmere, perhaps including a few peaks between Borrowdale and Patterdale. Some cross Mowbray Dale in two days usually stopping at Danby Wiske. We did meet some, particularly backpackers, who said they’d take ‘as long as it took’- backpacking gives extra flexibility but at the cost of carrying a substantial weight.

Glimpses of industrial and social history

Today much of the rural economy on the route is based on agriculture and tourism but you see ample evidence of a different social and industrial landscape during the industrial revolution and Victorian times. There were large mining communities in the West (coal), Swaledale (lead) and Rosedale (iron ore) as well as quarrying for stone and slate; there’s a large slate quarrying visitor centre at the top of Honister Pass. In addition there are many disused railway lines that had connected mines to urban centres.

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A former lime kiln near Orton, Cumbria; these were usually at the edge of a limestone outcrop with the lime being used mainly for agriculture and also buildings

 

 

 

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Remains of smelting mill by Gunnerside Gill, Swaledale. Lead was mined here from Roman times peaking in 18th and 19th centuries. The last mine closed in 1912. Several thousand miners worked here; they were mostly self employed and supplemented their income with agriculture and knitting

 

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Machine formerly used in lead mining

 

 

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The walk across the North Yorkshire Moors includes a five mile stretch of the former Rosedale railway line. This was built to transport iron ore from the busy Rosedale mines (peak production of 560,00 long tons in 1873) to the main railway line and then on to Durham smelting mills.

 

 

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