Day 1: Sun shone down on the WT hikers as they took their first steps on the 12-day trek from the coastline of the Irish Sea on England’s west coast to the North Sea on the east coast. Known as the ‘Coast to Coast’ adventure, or C2C by its hikers, this route passes through three of England‘s finest National Parks. First walked and written about by Alfred Wainwright in 1973, the C2C is rated England‘s most fabulous and scenic long distance route! Naturally, the group was keen to get going. First, however, they had to complete the hiker’s ritual: dip a boot toe in the Irish Sea and collect a pebble from its shore. Once the trip is successfully completed, hikers return their pebbles to the sea on the other side of the country. Then, we were off. Through woodland, rhododendron forests, past a castle and an old church, we soon reached the summit of Muncaster Fell. Here, we took a moment to soak up the view of majestic forests and high mountains in Lake District National Park, just ahead of us. I overheard one WT hiker exclaim that she hadn’t expected this trip to be so beautiful right from the very start.
Day 2: After a memorable night in a 16th century coaching inn, we continued up the tree-lined banks of the River Esk. The Vikings came to this region from Norway in 800 AD, and Esk is one of the many names that these northern invaders left behind. In the Norn language, Esk means river, so the WT hikers walked up the River ‘River,’ crossing it by bridge and stepping stones.Dave King, the miller at Eskdale Mill gave everyone a guided tour of the oldest working water mill in the Lake District – it dates from the 1500s! The two large wood water wheels turn the stone wheels that grind the grain and operate the wooden shakers, which sift the resulting milled flour. Above the noise of all this activity, Dave captivated us with his stories of the millers’ life of old, including their importance in the local communities and their habit of thieving grain to ensure that their families never starved. He also assured us that today’s millers are much more honest!
Wastwater, the deepest lake in England
Day 3: The sun continued to shine as we made our way past Wastwater, the deepest lake in England. Today’s route took us through a high mountain pass nestled between Great Gable and Scarfell, England’s highest peaks, and then past the delightfully named Sprinkling Tarn, a cool freshwater lake. Later we crossed Stokley Bridge – its fine stone arch over Grain’s Gill proved a perfect spot for a group photo. On arrival at our destination, we were lucky enough to witness one of the most important local activities: the annual sheep shearing. As summer temperatures rise, the animals are herded off to the mountains, where they forage for food and have their thick winter coats shaved off. Ben, a local farmer, happily shared stories with us about the hardships of being a sheep farmer, never stopping work as he talked.
Day 4: The next morning, we took a walk through Borrowdale, which is (in)famous for being the wettest place in England. Not a drop of rain fell today, however, so we saw why the route was once lovingly described by Wainwright as ‘a walk in heaven.’ Climbing higher through the lush green dale, we caught a final glimpse of the Irish Sea in the distant west. Once on top of Lining Crag we did some mountain spotting to identify our route through the Lake District. It was very satisfying to see how far we’d traveled, and the photographers went wild! Partway through our trek through the moorland, some of the group decided to descend into Easedale Gill for tea and scones. In true English fashion, they dined on the lawn of a country hotel once visited by such literary giants as Wordsworth and Dickens! The more energetic group members stayed on the high trail, an undulating ridge along Calf Crag with a phenomenal view of Grasmere and Windemere lakes shimmering in the sun. Eventually, the “high hikers” met up with the “tea drinkers,” and the former had to forgo scones… they’d proved so tasty that the last was already gone!
WT adventurers celebrating an ascent at Lining Crag
Day 5: We started the day off with a visit to Dove Cottage, where renowned English poet William Wordsworth lived for eight years with his wife, sister, and children. It was very cramped or very cozy, depending on how you looked at it, and the small oak-lined rooms and stone flag floors fostered a damp, dark atmosphere. Our guide explained that the open fire was the most vital feature of the room, as it was used for cooking, heat, and light, as well as being a place to socialize. Later that day, the hottest of the tour so far, we reminisced about the house’s lovely cool temperature on the hike to Grisedale. How some of us would have loved to be back inside Wordsworth’s nest just then! We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Tarn‘s edge, where a couple members of the group cooled off with a delicious swim in the mountain lake. Today’s high hikers strode out to the summit of St. Sunday’s Crag, the highest point so far at 2758 feet. We took the opportunity to enjoy the views down to Ullswater, our destination, as well as an afternoon snack of fresh raspberries and strawberries, the best in the region.
Gazing down on Ullswater
Day 6: Before beginning the day’s walk, the WT hikers marveled at the 3000 year old stone circle at Castle Rigg and the splendid mountains that encircle this ancient site of worship. Soon, it was off to Patterdale and our final day in the Lake District, up and over high moorland to Kidsty Pike, a rocky knoll 2500 feet up. The weather was perfect and the views outstanding, but there was a hint of sadness in the air with the knowledge that we were departing this beautiful corner of England on our quest to reach the North Sea.
The famous cairns of Nine Standards Rigg
Day 7: Today we passed the half way point of their Coast to Coast trip, and though tiredness crept up on us the walking didn’t stop. In the morning, the terrain was gentle and lush, passing through animal pastures and over the 14 arch Smardale Viaduct. The railway line opened in 1861 to transport lime for use in the steel industry, but it closed 50 years ago when the steel factory shut down. In the afternoon, it was back up onto moorland for a visit to the Nine Standards Rigg, nine large stone cairns sitting at 2000 feet that can be see for miles around. Nobody knows who build them there or why, but the experts’ best guess is that the cairns were used to fool the invading northerners into believing there was a vast army camped on top of the moor and discourage their advance.
Smardale Viaduct, constructed in 1861 as part of the old railway
Day 8: We’ve spent two leisurely days at The Yorkshire Dales National Park in arguably its finest dale, Swaledale, through which the river Swale flows. Its name is derived from the word ‘Suala,’ meaning swift or fast flowing. After three rain-free weeks, however, its waters have a more relaxed pace (which really mirrored the speed of our progress). We walked through flowering meadows and mown meadows, sheep fields and cattle pastures, each new space reached by going over or through a gap in the ancient stonewalls that divide the landscape. One WT hiker managed to keep a count as we progressed east and at the end of the walk declared that we’d crossed 72 walls.
Historic Easby Abbey
Day 9: We also managed a visit to the scenic ruins of Easby Abbey, on the banks of the Swale. Built in the 12th century, this rich Abbey was eventually destroyed in the 16th century when Henry VIII left the Church of Rome and dissolved the monasteries.
Heather of the North Moorlands
Days 10-13: The third and final National Park on our Coast to Coast journey was the North Yorkshire Moors. The Moors’ high plateau is famous for its vast swathes of heather, and we were lucky enough to see bell heather in full purple bloom all along our trail. The trail itself was paved with large stone slabs taken from the floors of old Yorkshire textiles mills. The slabs were laid to prevent erosion, a clever new use for them and a reminder of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, which nearly emptied the countryside of people as everyone moved to London for work. To break up the walk, we visited a folk museum and took a ride on a steam train past the “Hogwarts” station, though sadly we saw no child wizards. All too soon, the final walk into Robin Hood’s Bay was upon us. The weather gods continued to be kind, and we started out under a cloudless sky, the North Sea glistening in the distance. To reach it, we walked along a disused railway line, through fields of sheep, cattle and some surprising white ducks. The final stretch into Robin Hood’s Bay ran along a cliff-top path with wonderful views of the village and out into the merging blue of sea and sky.
Completing the hike at Robin Hood’s Bay
Finally, we reached the sands, dipped our boots in the North Sea, and tossed our pebble talismans to the waves to seal the completion of our long walk from sea to sea. It was time to retire to the Bay Inn for some hard-earned celebrations.
Photos and text by WT trip leader Skye McDonald, England Coast to Coast
Editor’s Note: Future departures may follow slightly different itineraries.