Wainwright’s Coast To Coast UK 2006
A slackpacking 307 km over 17 days.
Day 0, Tue April 4, St Bees.
This is our recovery day in St Bees after flying into Glasgow and catching the train straight down the coast. We sleep for 16 hours before emerging for breakfast at 8am. We have to do some last minute shopping for which we are able to catch a bus to Whitehaven, at least for an ATM and a UK power adaptor. It is early spring and the area is very drab, perhaps exaggerated also by the high residential density of uniform appearance. To our tropical Australian eyes, it looks like a bushfire had gone through.
On return from Whitehaven we take in the sights at St Bees’ beach, where hundreds of portable homes are lined up as a temporary town for holiday makers. Many families are on a mid-term break, with dogs and children playing on the sand and stone beach. A seal is also frolicking offshore. Dog poo collection is encouraged with plastic bags provided and a fenced dog toilet area, with a $2000 fine for ignoring the facilities.
We walked back from the beach via an old priory now undergoing massive renovation on its tower. The Benedictine priory was originally built from local red sandstone around 1150 and has been rebuilt several times since.
When we thought to do this walk, we decided that we would take a soft core approach (slackpacking) and pre-book all our nights into BnB accommodation. We spent several evenings sitting with our computer estimating how far we could walk and which of the many places to stay seemed to be most appealing. As none of them used email, we would then ring them from Australia and ask to make a booking. Only one of the places we stayed required payment by Visa with the early booking by phone. All the other places simply wrote us into their calendar, while two asked that we send them a written confirmation on a postcard. We would also call the day before arriving or earlier if we could, to check and confirm that we had a bed.
Day 1, Wed 5th April to Ennerdale Bridge. 22.9 km.
With little more than a change of clothes and wet weather gear in our packs, we feel very strange heading off into the wilds without tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear and very little food. Pack weights are below 10 kg, and much of that is due to the bomb proof Macpacs that we use.
It’s easy walking around the headland clifftops past St Bees’ lighthouse, initially looking down on the caravan park, but eventually reaching a red sandstone quarry with huge blocks scattered through the mud. This is presumably the source of the rock for the church and school at St Bees, as well as many other buildings in the region. The exposed coast put us in a freezing wind but with a blue and sunny sky, it is quite difficult to maintain a comfortable temperature while moving.
The trail is well marked and straightforward through several villages; Sandwith, Moor Row and Cleator, as well as wandering through some farm courtyards with cattle lowing at us from their shed stalls.
We have a clear view of Dent Fell for much of the day, so we are prepared for the gentle but steady climb up to the top. This is marked by a 3 m cairn which is under repair by a local walker in full army surplus gear with bits and pieces hanging off him everywhere. This included half a dozen carabiners, just in case.
The descent off Dent is very steep to a creek which we followed to its junction with a sealed road, where we managed to get confused and turned right instead of left. Two km later in the wrong direction had us angry and tired before figuring out what had happened and turning around to head down to Ennerdale Bridge. We managed to get lost on Day 1 of the GR5 in France as well, so we can say we’re consistent.
We recover well enough in the pub and even manage the 150 m back to “The Cloggers” BnB. With its tiny rooms, Digby feels like Gulliver in Lilliput. As the house was built in 1630, I guess everyone is now a bit bigger than they were then. The owners had taken the night off and simply handed us their keys, so we settled in as if we owned the place. Our only problem was that we had to figure out how to turn off the heater and open a window before we could sleep in the stuffy bedroom.
Day 2, Thursday 6th April to Stonethwaite. 23.9 km.
The track initially follows the shore of Ennerdale Water, climbing over Robin Hood’s Chair on very rough and uneven ground before a road bash to the Black Sail YHA hut.
The footpath then starts a long climb up Loft Beck to its headwater, where the weather shut down to 50m visibility with hail and rain. Many paths leading in all directions had us taking an obvious route down just to get out of trouble. We finally come out on a road at the bottom at Seathwaite, a couple of km further up the valley from where we should have been. A school group camped there were able to give us a lift into the Rosthwaite pub where we recovered with some cider before walking the final km back to Stonethwaite and Knotts View BnB.
We hadn’t ever before considered that little old England might have wilderness areas where you could get lost in difficult terrain. To make sure that walkers do take care, all signposts have been removed and track markers minimized, so these pathways through the Lakes District mountains are as wild as they can be.
Day 3, 7th April to Grasmere. 14.9 km.
Our muscle aches are diminishing and we don’t get lost today, so things are improving. We start with a long steady climb from the valley, finally topping out on Liming Crag before a gentle slope to Greenup Edge and spectacular views down to Grasmere.
The descent to the edge of a hanging valley is straightforward, if boggy, so we decide to take the high route following a range to Helm Crag with clear views and a biting wind before the drop to Grasmere. We arrive at Oak Lodge by 4:30, and so are able to settle in then wander the town. Alison decides to buy a walking stick, guaranteeing that the track will now be even. The bar in town is full of walkers with boots and jackets everywhere, so we spend several hours there just chatting.
Day 4, 8th April to Patterdale. 14.3 km.
As we organize to go in the morning, the sole falls off Alison’s boot, so it’s back into town for replacements. Goretex lined and soft, so no breaking-in required, we hope.
It is steady climbing up to the cirque rim at Hause Gap and Grisedale Tarn hidden behind. There is snow on the ground but visibility is good and the trail straightforward to the tarn outlet. Grand views from Hause Gap back towards the main range and Helm Crag covered in snow and forward on the high route possibilities for today. The high routes look tempting, especially along the St Sunday Crags, but reason prevails. Not for us in this weather, we’re staying as low as possible and head directly down the valley to Patterdale following the Grisedale Beck. This decision is reinforced by the memorial plaque at the Outward Bound hut for two staff climbers lost on Mt Cook in NZ.
We stay at the Noran Bank farm a km outside Patterdale, so very ripe smells outside around the byre where the calves are quartered with their mums. Our room has a tiny window looking up at our climb for tomorrow, which is a bit daunting given the weather. The best outlook is from the stairwell skylight of the range looming over the house. This house has not been built for the views. The farm had been in the family for several generations, with fox hunting being a major activity for the family heads with their photos on the walls everywhere. Our bed is very soft, with both of us clinging to the edge to avoid slipping down to the middle.
Day 5, 9th April to Shap. 25.7 km.
Despite all weather predictions, the morning dawns bright and clear, so we head off for the high route over Kidsty Pike and High Street, an old Roman road and the end of Lakeland and its mountains. We follow well marked trails along fence lines and footsteps in 15 cm of snow and climb steadily up past Angle Tarn and The Knott to Kidsty Pike.
The weather was bleak but occasional flashes of sunshine made for a wonderful day over and down to Hausewater reservoir. We were even getting a bit overheated, so stripped to t-shirts, just as a squall blew in and had us throwing shirts and jackets back on. The snow was blowing in our face while the sun made it glow from behind. Very strange.
We continue on along the water side to about 1 km from the dam wall, when a topless (male) walker came striding past looking for a dropped camera case. He found the case, then caught us up to chat and offered us a ride to Shap, saving 8 km of road bash. New Ing Farm for the night was under new management, with us being Angela’s second guests. We have a large room with shared showers and a very large lounge room incapable of being heated by the open fire. The Boar’s Head for dinner and drinks with the bar crowded but the dining room is empty. Roast lamb with Yorkshire pudding. We feel we could get used to this style of hiking.
Day 6, 10th April to Orton. 14.3 km.
We’re able to walk in shirtsleeves today with a windless and sunny sky. It is easy strolling down through Shap before the track strikes off through fields to a footbridge stuck out by itself, allowing us to cross the M6 and its 8 lanes of traffic to and from Scotland.
We indulge in handmade chocolates, but with 8 pieces for A$12, we don’t get too much. A pile of limestone blocks is labelled as “Robin Hood’s Grave”, but there are apparently several possible sites for this, and this could be just a pile of rock left over from wall building.
Day 7, 11th April to Kirkby Stephen. 17.9 km.
The highlight for the day is walking through a lambing paddock where all the ewes decide that we are carrying their breakfast. Over 100 ewes and lambs charge, all bellowing at the top of their voice. I think that’s the first time sheep have seemed to be a threat to either of us. We are told later that their owner brings their grain in bright yellow bags, just like our pack covers.
Our first moor crossing on boggy ground leads to some problems identifying the correct path from all the sheep tracks, bridle-paths and bypasses, but we manage to make it through without drama.
This area has been established as having at least one Bronze Age village, but there is no evidence to an untrained eye and even the many ‘giants tombs’ of grassy mounds could equally be moraine rubble and not of human origin. We also cross an old railway line with a delicate and beautiful stone viaduct visible further down the valley.
Kirkby Stephen translates as ‘the Church of St Stephen’ established in 1610 and still in use in the centre of town by the main square.
Day 8, 12th April to Keld. 20.5 km.
Today we enter Yorkshire by climbing over 9 Standards Rigg, but it is very early in the season so we are not permitted to climb up the top due to erosion issues, but instead are required to go around the hill on a long road bash. That’s good in some ways, as the ground is very heavy going on wet sphagnum and peat bogs, but the road seems to go forever. Some of the huge stone standards or cairns are just visible to us from below. We’re told that there are now more than 9, as visitors keep adding to the collection, but that their origin is unknown despite first appearing on 18th century maps.
We’re impressed by a new drystone wall going up as we walk past, but the rocks are a lot softer and more regular that the ones we used for our own walls at the Cape Tribulation farm. The builders can even roughly shape the stones before placing them and use a layer of mortar for the top course of pointy topped rocks. Our farm basalt defies any shaping tool.
The last km is off-route and uphill on a narrow and winding road to Greenlands BnB with Jinny and Mike Summer. They have also walked the track several times so they know what we’re going through. They have us join their family for dinner.
Day 9, 13th April to Reeth. 17 km.
Alison managed to severely twist her weak ankle during the night, falling over on a step in the bathroom, and has no chance of walking anywhere soon. After breakfast, our hosts decide to drive her into Reeth for a doctor’s visit, while I carry on alone. By the time I wander into Keld, she is snug in bed dosed up on Ibuprofen and wearing an ankle bandage. There is no permanent damage but she needs time to heal.
The walk for today is along the valley following the Swale River on Jinny’s recommendation, rather than the high route through devastated lead mining country. Beautiful views down the river with stone walls and visible flood damage along the banks. I arrive at Hackney House by 1:30 after a pleasant 4 hour stroll.
The hosts here are planning on going into Richmond tomorrow and can take Alison and the packs to our next BnB where we have 2 nights booked. Hopefully she will be ok to walk after a few more nights off.
Day 10, 14th April to Richmond. 16.5 km.
Digby is off and walking by 9, initially past Marrick Priory which is now an outdoor education centre, then up a flag stoned pathway through the very pretty Step’s Wood for a km or so up to Marrick village. The guide book tells us that there are 375 steps built by the nuns for access to the priory, but he doesn’t count them. Eventually the pavement gives way to soft paths leading through interminable gates, squeeze stiles and stepped stiles and climbs up to a major ridge line looking out over vast pasture lands. After an hour down to a river and another small village, Marske, the track climbs steadily through a wood to a ridge crest finally looking out over Richmond. The castle dominates the town, and its busy but narrow roads make for interesting traffic and exhausted pedestrians.
Day 11, 15th April in Richmond.
By morning, Alison is able to walk a little and we slowly make it up to the castle and wander the grounds and battlements. An archery competition is being set up on the green.
We head on down to the town market to discover a Georgian theatre under renovation to keep the style and keep it operating, but get it to comply with modern day workplace health and safety regulations. Challenging! The town has built up parasitically around the castle, and has consumed many of the castles stones during phases of disintegration, so many of the buildings have the same sombre feel as the castle.
We do a tour of the theatre and book in for tonight’s performance. Lunch is soup and a roll in one of the many pubs bordering the market square, and we decide that dinner is unnecessary after that. We snooze away the afternoon back in the Old Brewery and walk back up to town for the show. A folksy group produces good music and song, but the seating is very uncomfortable and crowded. We are able to move at interval to an empty area with a better view.
Day 12, 16th April to Danby Wiske. 22 km.
Alison is still not up to walking comfortably, so we book her onto the Sherpa Van service for collection with the bags and delivery to our next BnB. Digby walks on alone for a very boring day, still following the Swale, wandering along through paddocks with sheep and then a long road bash through crops. The excitement for the day was the first squirrel and a fox seen by the track, but not together.
The Ashfield BnB look after us very well, with soup and a roll for lunch, then dinner as well. The pub could not guarantee a meal but we do manage to get a drink there after dinner with a loud group of walkers and locals.
Day 13, 17th April to Osmotherley. 28 km.
Alison is able to walk well enough, so we put her pack onto the Sherpa Van and set off. The days walking is very easy again through fields, but with the challenge of having to cross through heavy traffic on the A19 into Ingleby, and then again across another main road on the other side of the town. We go on up through a couple of km of woods to the start of the moors and the ruin of a priory.
The Mount Grace Priory is quite lovely with green lawns and stone walls, but many tourists are wandering around making it seem crowded after walking on an empty path. One wall and a cell had been rebuilt to give an idea of the living space for the monks. The prior was the only person allowed out into the world; the other 25 monks lived as hermits. Latrines and clean water piped into every cell made life in 1400 better than it could have been outside anyway.
We climb on, back on the empty trail, up to the ridge crest then down to Osmotherley, which is very picturesque with stone houses lining the narrow road. The aesthetic is destroyed by the traffic, reduced to a single lane through town. We manage a full lunch in a tea room and are collected by Gillian Shepherd for a ride to her Old Mill House BnB a few minutes (by car) away. The mill has been in her family for 5 generations, but stopped being used as a water driven mill in the 1960’s.
We spend the afternoon sitting before a coal fire reading in the family lounge room. Their two dogs keep us company, providing the dog fix we both need. Lucy is a very active Welsh Spaniel, with a tight curly mop on her head looking quite odd. Mitti is a black lab in severe old age.
Then it’s out to feed the lambs, 16 of them, 4 of which required supplementary feeding with milk mixture in a wine bottle fitted with a large rubber nipple. The lambs are spooked by the strangers, so have to be held firmly for feeding, but Alison is not forceful enough and lambs are bouncing in all directions.
The mill workings are fascinating for those of an engineering bent. The main water driven wheel is about 5 m in diameter with a horizontal axle to a crown wheel. There are at least 3 take off points for driving machinery. One is for a winch to haul bags of grain up to the 3rd floor hopper feed into the grooved stone grinding wheels. These are about 1.2 m diameter on a vertical axle driven from the crown wheel.
Day 14, 18th April to Beak Hills Farm. 18.5 km.
Alison survived the walking yesterday, so gets her pack back today after 5 days packfree. Gillian was able to return us to the trail at the top of the town enabling us to start walking without a road bash. We are initially climbing gently to cross three moors in sunny shirtsleeve weather. It’s too early for the heather to be in flower, but the walking is still pleasant with clear views of yesterday, then as we round the hillside, the remainder of today appears.
We continue climbing gently, eventually reaching the main crest where we get our first view of the sea, still three days away. Then down steeply on slippery rocks as a storm rolls in, just reaching the road and a café before it hit. The ‘Lord Stones”’ is doing a roaring trade with walkers and car trippers, it’s a pity about the surly waitress.
We do a final climb and descent, and then sidle across from the main trail to our BnB, the Beak Hills Farm visible in the distance. As we enter the farm yard, the noise is deafening for all the farm ewes are in the shed near the house ready for lambing which is due any day now. The wellies lined up along the verandah entry tell us that the family are in and out all night watching out for the lambs arrival. We have a room in the family home, sharing their one bathroom, but we do have the best shower so far this trip. Dinner is shared with the family and we discover that they are concerned about another guest due to arrive, who had spent the previous night in a cell after being found drunk and disorderly. He fails to show.
Day 15, 19th April to Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. 15 km.
The excitement for the day is climbing through the Wainstones, having me singing the Rambler for the rest of the day. “I’ve been over Snowden, I’ve camped upon Crowdon, I’ve slept by the Wainstones as well”. More moors with ups and downs on footpaths with another sight of the sea from a summit near a gliding field. We can also look down onto an industrial landscape horror around Teeside, making us realise that the trail really is in a wilderness, compared to what’s surrounding it.
The moors flatten out and the trail moves onto an abandoned railway line, giving us a hard walking surface and little of interest in sight. Seven km later we stagger into the Lion Inn, feeling very sore and sorry for ourselves.
We have the inn in view for about an hour before arriving, so this must be the most isolated and lonely spot on the entire trail.
This 500 year old pub has really been built for little people, with seven foot ceilings and 5 foot 6 inch doorways, making it seem very cave like and perfect for Hobbits. Even Alison had to duck for some of the doorways. However they have the same shower as the Beak Hill farm, so this area must be served by a competent plumber at least.
Day 16, 20th April to Grosmont. 19 km.
We hit the road again by 9am for two hours of boring roads through moorland before reaching the highpoint. A footpath follows a steep valley edge for about an hour of splendid hiking before the road returns and we walk for another two hours to Glaisdale, a lovely village with 2 pubs and a shop.
It is a perfect time for lunch, but the shopkeeper agrees, and is closed. We miss the pub on the first pass, so we return and ask around to find that it has shut down. Pub 2 is another km down the road but it is also closed, with no hours shown. We head on down the valley regretting that we had turned down the full English breakfast this morning. It’s another 3 km to the Egton Bridge and its pub, only to find that we are now half an hour too late for lunch. So on we go, but it’s only another 3 km to our stop for the night at the Whistlestop Hotel at Grosmont. The pub has stopped serving food but at least the tea room is still functional, and we can get by until dinner. We have just about had enough chips and stodgy meals and are looking forward to our own cooking.
Grosmont is a major tourist attraction for Steam Train enthusiasts, with 29 km of functional track. It seems as if we’ve wandered into a Harry Potter movie, but for now we avoid walking into brick walls. The pub and three shops in town are fully devoted to providing steam train themed stuff. One shop sells model train bits and pieces and 50% of the bookshop’s stock is train related.
The publican seems delighted to have someone who doesn’t want to talk about trains, and he is hard to divert from his chosen topics. We spend breakfast hearing about how he has planned for the big influx of train people next weekend.
Day 17, 21st April to Robin Hood’s Bay. 23 km.
Again we start with a long climb, straight up from the village into low cloud with about 20m visibility. It is really scary, as the road is walled and we have to walk 2 km on the tarmac before heading on up onto the high moor. As we leave the road, we are accosted by a new-born lamb who is convinced we are her mother. We are at a bit of a loss to know what is the best thing to do, so we finally ran away, hoping that mum would hear the bleating.
The last 4 km of trail into Robin Hood’s Bay is along the sea-cliffs, which give spectacular views of the tidal platforms and reefs along that shore. The village is hidden from view until the last 5 minutes and we stroll into the top end before walking all the way down the valley to the Boat House BnB right on the waterfront. A good shower and a firm bed make this one of the better stays for the walk, although Digby barely fits inside the room.
Despite the cloud and, for us, cold weather, the beach is covered in people determined to enjoy themselves hunting for fossils, eating ice cream, building castles, walking dogs, playing cricket etc etc. The sea wall is an impressive 15 m high, giving some idea of what must happen in storm times.
Now we can have our celebration over the road at the Bay Hotel. We can relax and enjoy the scene before heading off for Edinburgh, then Glasgow, before starting the next walk along Scotland’s West Highland Way.