Planning a trip on the Coast to Coast
Published 22 October 2010. Last updated 21 November 2013
If you've been reading my Coast to Coast posts, there's a possibility that you've been inspired to walk it yourself. Either that or you've watched that Julia Bradbury do it on the telly and thought "that looks great!" Or maybe you've just picked up the book and decided to have a go.
Whichever way you've come to the Coast to Coast doesn't matter. What matters is that you've thought "Yes, I could do that! Sign me up! How do I do it then?" You have, haven't you?
You have? Great! So what do you need to know to plan your trip walking from one side of the west of England, to the east?
Inside This Guide
- What is the walk like?
- Planning an itinerary
- Finding and booking accommodation
- Getting to/from the Coast to Coast
- Guide books and maps
- Know how to use a map and compass
- And finally, and any questions
It has been on TV and was created by a walking superstar, so the Coast to Coast is quite a famous route. And it's popular. And that means people sometimes think it's going to be easy - like walking in the park.
It's not. It's 190 miles long, and there are some difficult bits, especially in the Lake District. And if the weather is bad, well it can be very difficult indeed. And I'm saying that as an experienced walker who has been up to his knees in bog on the Pennine Way.
I don't want to put people off doing the Coast to Coast, because it's a very rewarding route and in many parts it's nice and easy going. I've heard of those who in their 70s and 80s who have done it. So if you've done some hill walking you should be fine.
However do not underestimate the Coast to Coast. To do it successfully you will need to be fit, have good walking boots and be very competent with a map and compass. Preferably you'll have done some long distance walking before too.
That said, what should you expect? Well the Coast to Coast is an amazingly varied route, and no two days are the same. There's fells, moorland, fields and mining history. In creating the walk Wainwright really went out to make it interesting. It really does seem to cover everything you could ever possibly want in a long distance walk.
Unless you're camping, you need to work out your itinerary in advance and get it booked. As the Coast to Coast goes through many small villages, and is a very popular route, accommodation is very limited and booked up early.
The Coast to Coast could be walked all year round, however navigation and conditions can be difficult in poor conditions. As such, it is best walked in the period of May to October.
There are a couple of different possible itineraries and I have listed three: 12 days, 14 days and 15 days. Based on my experience I recommend the 15 day one. The 12 day version includes some very long distances and is recommended only for fit and experienced walkers.
The towns and villages listed in the itinerary below have been selected as they all have facilities - every one has a pub, and most have shops too. Where there are no shops, pubs and B&Bs will be able to provide packed lunches. Locations with a railway station are marked with a *.
|12 Day Itinerary|
|1||St Bees *||Ennerdale Bridge||14||22½|
|5||Shap||Kirkby Stephen *||20||32|
|6||Kirkby Stephen *||Keld||11||17¾|
|10||Ingleby Arncliffe||Clay Bank Top||11||17¾|||
|11||Clay Bank Top||Glaisdale||18||29|
|12||Glaisdale||Robin Hood's Bay||19||30½|
|14 Day Itinerary|
|1||St Bees *||Ennerdale Bridge||14||22½|
|6||Orton||Kirkby Stephen *||12½||20|
|7||Kirkby Stephen *||Keld||11||17¾|
|11||Ingleby Arncliffe||Clay Bank Top||11||17¾|||
|12||Clay Bank Top||Lion Inn||9||14½|
|13||Lion Inn||Grosmont *||12½||20|
|14||Grosmont *||Robin Hood's Bay||15½||25|
|15 Day Itinerary|
|1||St Bees *||Ennerdale Bridge||14||22½|
|7||Orton||Kirkby Stephen *||12½||20|
|8||Kirkby Stephen *||Keld||11||17¾|
|12||Ingleby Arncliffe||Clay Bank Top||11||17¾|||
|13||Clay Bank Top||Lion Inn||9||14½|
|14||Lion Inn||Grosmont *||12½||20|
|15||Grosmont *||Robin Hood's Bay||15½||25|
- As a big town, Richmond is an obvious place to stay overnight. However doing so means a 23 mile slog the next day. To avoid this, from Richmond continue walking the 4½ miles to Brompton-on-Swale. Then either stay overnight in Brompton or catch the regular bus to Richmond and return on it the next morning. The next day you will be seriously thankful you did.
- Clay Bank Top is simply a road pass and there are no buildings here. Accommodation can be found in nearby Great Broughton (2½ miles north up the road) and at Chop Gate (2 miles south.) The road is busy but if you ask nicely and in advance, B&Bs and pubs may pick you up and drop you off.
If you haven't got time to do it all in one go, you can break the Coast to Coast up in a few ways.
The most sensible place to split the route is half way at Kirkby Stephen which is on the Settle to Carlisle railway link.
Alternatively you can do it into three sections by breaking at Shap and Richmond. Neither have a railway station, however local bus routes connect both with railway stations. Buses run from Shap to Penrith, and from Richmond to Darlington, both of which are served by mainline services.
Due to limited public transport services on other parts of the trail, there are no other easy ways to split the Coast to Coast up.
Walking 12-15 days consecutively may sound a lot, although if you keep your daily mileage reasonable, you'll find it easier than you may think. However you may want to plan in some places where you can have a day off.
If you're going to take a day off hiking, then you might as well do it at a place where there's plenty to do. The following suggestions are all worth considering:
- Grasmere - very early in the Coast to Coast, however Grasmere is a walkers paradise and a lovely village to boot. You can potter around the shops, stroll in the nearby hills or maybe buy some gingerbread.
- Kirkby Stephen - almost half way through your trip, this little town is in the beautiful Eden Valley, and is on the Settle to Carlisle line if you fancy a trip on an iconic train line. There's also a bike hire shop and craft shops to explore.
- Richmond - the largest town on the Coast to Coast, Richmond is a bustling place with a castle and lots of history to explore. It's an ideal candidate to rest before pushing on for a very long day the next day. However after all that walking in the relative piece and quiet, this can be a rather disorientating place and even though we only stopped there for less than an hour, I personally couldn't wait to get out!
- Grosmont - with only a few miles left to Robin Hood's Bay, Grosmont might seem a bonkers place to stop. However Grosmont is home to the North York Moors Railway which means steam trains! It's a lovely little line with lots of places to potter around and get off and walk through moorland and forest. Seriously recommended, but do - of course - check the railway is running on your visit! Trains operate daily in the summer school holidays, however at other times their operating patterns vary.
The Coast to Coast is very busy and in the Lake District in particular, it can be very hard to find accommodation. Advance booking is pretty much essential if you're walking in the summer.
Whilst Doreen's guide provides excellent coverage, it is not exhaustive and you may need to search online for alternatives.
Hostels and bunkhouses
With one exception, all of the hostels on the Coast to Coast sit firmly in the Lake District. The hostels on or near the route are:
- YHA Ennerdale - note that this is a few miles beyond from Ennerdale Bridge
- YHA Black Sail - iconic remote hostel four miles on from YHA Ennerdale.
- YHA Honister Hause - about three miles before Rosthwaite
- YHA Borrowdale - just outside Rosthwaite
- YHA Grasmere Butharlyp Howe - YHA hostel in the village
- Thorney How Independent Hostel, Grasmere - former YHA hostel on the edges of the village
- YHA Patterdale
- Kirkby Stephen Hostel (formerly YHA Kirkby Stephen, now independent)
Many people who walk the Coast to Coast do so with a tent and the trail is very well served for campers. There's some campsites, but many pubs and farms offer space for walkers to pitch up and there's a few camping barns too. Doreen's accommodation guide (noted above) includes information on camping.
There's no legal right to wild camp in England, although it is tolerated in some areas, especially in the Lake District which has a plethora of excellent wild camping spots. However unless you're an experienced wild camper, we'd recommend staying on proper facilities.
Because the route takes you from one side of the UK to the other, the most sensible way to arrive and depart is by public transport. St Bees in Cumbria is on the Cumbrian Coast Line which is a bit slow although rather nice - trains run from Carlisle or Lancaster - the route Lancaster route is, I'm told, the most scenic. Both Carlisle and Lancaster have excellent rail links with the rest of the country.
Robin Hood's Bay no longer has a railway station, however there's hourly buses to Whitby or Scarborough operated by Arriva North East. Whitby is nearer although there are more trains from Scarborough and the bus journey is not much longer. Scarborough trains go via York, which also has excellent rail links.
Alternatively if you have a car, the Coast to Coast Packhorse runs daily minibuses from Kirkby Stephen and they have car parking facilities at there. Some B&Bs may also allow you leave your car there for a fee.
The popularity of the Coast to Coast means that there's a huge number of guide books, in several languages. The following are our recommendations.
The obvious book to mention when talking about the Coast to Coast is the original A Coast To Coast Walk by Wainwright himself. It's the book that started it all off and we carried a copy with us at all times. It's full of history and information as well as detail of the route, set out in Wainwright's handwritten style complete with his line drawings and occasional doodles.
The Second Edition of the book was updated by Chris Jesty, and published in 2010.
Although Wainwright wrote his pictorial guide in such a way that you can navigate using it, you'll probably want to plot your route out on a map as well. We tended to use Wainwright in the evenings to see what we'd done, and it does make a great memento of the trip.
Most people prefer to use a more modern guide book for day to day navigating and the popularity of the route means that there are many.
Based on previous experience we recommend Aurum Press's The Coast to Coast Walk (Recreational Path Guide) by Martin Wainwright (who is no relation).
The Aurum guides are clear and interesting reads, and always include Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale mapping. They also show a good area around the route, just in case you get lost.
If you prefer just to use maps, then there are two options. Firstly, there is the A-Z Adventure Series Coast to Coast Map book.
The excellent A-Z Adventure Series includes Ordnance Survey mapping for the whole route (at the 1:25,000 Explorer scale), as well as an index to help you find places. The book is a similar size to a map and will fit neatly in a map case, and is a lot easier to fold in wind! It has a small, compact size.
Alternatively you might want to consider Harvey's two maps of the route. These are traditional paper maps, with Harvey's own mapping at a scale of 1:40,000, so are less detailed than the A-Z maps.
Finally, if you'd prefer to take a stack of Ordnance Survey maps with you (and it will be quite a stack), you will need the following:
- Landranger (1:50,000): 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 99
- Explorer (1:25,000): OL4, OL5, OL19, OL26, OL27, OL30, 302, 303, 304
On a lighter note, if you've got a Kindle, you can get a copy of A Coast to Coast Journal, by Catherine Redfern. It explores the Coast to Coast in cartoon form, complete with guides of what to do with walking poles! Oh and it stars me too.
Want to watch the Coast to Coast and see what it's like from the comfort of your living room? Well you can. In 2009 Julia Bradbury walked the whole trail and had a camera crew with her as she did it. On her way she sees the sights and talks to those with a connection to the route.
Originally broadcast on BBC Four, Wainwright Walks: Coast to Coast is available on DVD.
And finally, in 1990 Wainwright himself was persuaded to star in a TV series about his own creation. Presented by Eric Robson, Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk was released on DVD in 2004, giving you insights to the trail from its creator.
As the Coast to Coast is a completely unofficial route, waymarking is variable. The Wainwright Society has waymarked much of the route, and some community groups and individuals have placed their own signs to help the walkers. However the Coast to Coast is not a trail that you can navigate using just waymarks alone.
As such you will need a guide book with good quality maps in it (such as the Aurum guide book detailed above), or you will need maps. You'll also need to know how to use a compass.
The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Whilst we were walking the Coast to Coast we saw some people who were woefully unprepared. Don't be the man we saw who was navigating through the Lakes with a laminated A5 card that showed next to nothing other than a wiggly line with some place names. Had there not been other people around, chances are that he would have got very lost. There's not a year that goes by when local mountain rescue teams don't have to rescue lost Coast to Coast walkers.
Make sure you have a good map and compass, and know how to use them. So if you, or one of your party doesn't know how to use a map and compass together, I'd learn. Better still, make sure everyone in the party knows. You will need those skills.
There are several online guides like How To Use A Compass, and you may also find training courses in your area - many YHA hostels host such events.
Knowing how to use a map and compass together will really help you and will (hopefully!) stop you getting lost. And if you do get lost, you'll stand a chance of finding your way again.
Hopefully now you're now raring at the bit ready to go so there's little to do other than offer you some sage advice. Take some good, comfortable, well broken in boots and some good breathable waterproofs - it's often wet in the Lake District especially.
And where it's wet, wet boots inevitably follow. A tip which many walkers don't seem to know about boots wet inside is when you take them off, fill them with balls of newspaper. The newspaper soaks up the water from inside the boot, thus drying them out. It works a lot faster than letting them air dry. Try checking and replacing the newspaper after a few hours to help.
On a related wetness note, if there's one thing you should pack, it's waterproofing wax for your boots. Waterproofing on hiking boots does wear off (something people often don't realise) and we had problems with boots getting soaked inside because of it even though both pairs were relatively new (that said, they had gone in many bogs and things...)
At the outdoor shop at Kirkby Stephen the owner recommended Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather. From experience it works very well, and you can apply it even to soaked boots. I tend to slap it on every few days just to make sure - it does work, and maintains the boot's breathability if the boot is lined with something like Gore-Tex. If you don't have leather boots, consult your local outdoor shop as similar products exist for other boot types.
Still it doesn't always rain. Take your suncream and insect bite cream as well and you'll be covered for all occassions! And if you are thinking of doing it, why not let me know in the comments box below? Also don't hesitate to ask any questions too.