On the 4th August 2015 Karen Armstrong and Edward Jackson started the infamous coast to coast walk in the UK. This walk takes in the Lake district, Yorkshire dales, North York Moors and everything in between. Internationally recognised as a beautiful but challenging walk they both set off excited but somewhat apprehensive. This is a diary of their trip with a few photos along the way.
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St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge
Having dipped our boots in the Irish Sea as Coast to Coast tradition dictates, we headed off to the not-so-gentle introduction of a climb up to the coastal path around St Bees Head. The weather was at least eventually helpful in that round the bend of the coast, it was in our favour and pushed us on to Sandwith and Moor Row. Our guide book described the climb up Dent Hill as a ‘long and sweaty’ climb which was correct and whilst the wind didn’t once relent, the sun did at least make an appearance. This was one of the times when the description of the journey to come was accurate and to be believed in the commentary of the walk. After the boggy woodland walk, Nannycatch Beck was a pretty amble towards Ennerdale Bridge and the end of day one. Wood stove, tea and food all welcomed greedily.
Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale
We set off in drizzling rain, passing through Ennerdale Bridge itself and heading for Ennerdale Water (the only Lakeland lake not to have a road alongside it). This is the first lake encountered on the walk and is the first proper sight of most people’s idea of Lakeland scenery. As it is wet, the paths are slippery until they spread out in the forest. There are several YH en route, happy for us to take a pit stop, including Black Sail which has the honour of being the most remote YH in England. It’s our welcome rest stop for lunch before the climb up Loft Beck and heading off to Honister and its slate mine. Seatoller, a village built for the miners, and a National Trust site all of its own, leads you to Longthwaite and a scramble around the rocks at the edge of the beck, with nothing but mountain goat skills and a metal chain to grasp onto to help. Rosthwaite, warmth and food, is at the end, a short distance further, thank goodness!
Borrowdale to Grasmere and Patterdale
A tough day because most of it is spent climbing up, up and up. The weather was unsurprisingly damp to start with as we are leaving the wettest place in the country. This stage needs our strongest inner mountain goat qualities, climbing up small waterfalls and constantly walking through the streams and becks that the uneven paths have become. At the top of Greenup Edge, the mist means we can’t see where we are going so a friendly fellow walker with GPS data to compare is welcome. Once we are up, we have to go down. More inner mountain goat skill is required to master the further becks and leaps of faith across ‘wider-than-you-would-like’ streams. Needless to say at the end of the day, hot food, hot water and brewed hops are very much welcomed.
Patterdale to Shap
We’re slightly out of place due to the location of our accommodation so have the pleasure of walking along part of Ullswater in the sunshine. There’s a hill climb (not a surprise) to start the day and then a long trek across the open fells towards Bampton. En route there are lots of stone circles and pillars to look out for amongst the bracken. Bampton provides a tea room, sadly not open on the day we pass through, so our journey to Shap continues alongside the local river then across farmland. Shap is the biggest place we have walked through since the start of our adventure and to us, foot weary, has the longest possible main street ever! Accommodation has great food and a bath so relaxation and recovery is five star today.
Shap to Kirkby Stephen
It’s getting a little harder to rally the leg muscles to movement each morning now but no blisters acquired so the sunny start to the day sends us uphill again to cross the footbridge over the M6. The guide book says this is a ‘recovery day’ despite the length of the walk because there are no prolonged gradients. Hmmm... There’s still enough up to know we are going up! There’s lots of walking across open fells and some boggy bits but the views are great for the soul and 20 miles pass quickly. Kirkby Stephen is now the biggest place we have visited on the walk – there are proper shops and a bank. Once again, there is good food and some comfy beds to aid the day’s recovery.
Kirkby Stephen to Keld
Today we cross the Pennines and head from Cumbria into Yorkshire. There’s a climb up to Nine Standards Rigg to do first before the rain sets in and the wind picks up. No-one really knows why the nine cairns are there but they are an impressive sight and a great way-marker to help us reach the top of the ridge. Then there is the joy of traversing the vast extent of bog as you head back down into the valley to reach Keld. The jeopardy of where to place your foot to avoid sinking is great fun until you lose and have a boot full of smelly bog water to accompany you for the rest of the day. What spurs you on though is the chance for afternoon tea at Ravenseat Farm. Who can’t resist a warm scone and cup of tea in a barn, out of the elements, and with friendly company, to spur you on your way? Keld is smaller than small, in the middle of nowhere it seems but has everything a walker could need. So with food, bath and access to a tv to catch up on tomorrow’s weather, it’s perfect.
Keld to Reeth
We are over half way between the coasts and now have less to walk than have walked. Walking with others completing the same adventure is good for covering the miles without realising. The scenery is beautiful through the Swaledale valley and there are lots of beautiful views to stop and admire. It’s the Glorious 12th tomorrow so there are local rangers about near Gunnerside checking on the grouse and willingly answering all the questions we ask. The guide book says the numerous thin squeezes and stiles in this area can upset one’s composure if you are leg weary. I can see the point but it’s ok and we are even given the excitement of a wall as a right of way to walk across. Healaugh does exist despite seeming to take an age to reach but Reeth, thankfully, appears quite soon after. The best food on the walk, live music and brewed hops taken with a view of the village green and the hills beyond end the day very satisfactorily.
Reeth to Richmond
The weather has a great effect on the mood of the day and today it is buoyant. Following the river to Richmond makes navigation easy today. There are a couple of priories to admire and the 375 Nun’s Steps to ascend and then before we know it, we are descending into Richmond with its castle a clear focal point on the horizon. It’s such an early arrival, there’s time to clean up and explore the now biggest place on the adventure. There are shops to replenish supplies of snacks and to pick up precautionary plasters and a chance to eat fish and chips, al fresco, in the market square. Tomorrow the back-to-back long walks begin!
Richmond to Ingleby Cross
Leaving Richmond in sunshine gives us a chance to find our correct route out of town easily. The guide says that today is a long trudge – and it is – but it’s not without its pleasant views at times. There are minor roads to hike along and the A1 to cross (another footbridge, thankfully) in this stage, but it is tempered by the chance to stop off at the church in Bolton-on-Swale for a self-service cup of tea and a chance to decide if Henry Jenkins, commemorated there, really did live until the age of 169. From there, it’s a journey on to Danby Wiske and then on to Ingleby Cross. Nothing of great note to remark upon until we have to ‘dash’, if our legs are willing, across the four lanes of dual carriageway of the A19. When we’ve patted ourselves on the back at our safe passage, it’s just half a mile to Ingleby Cross, that ever so important calorie readjustment, hot water and comfy residence for the night in order to consider tomorrow’s next lengthy walk.
Ingleby Cross to Blakey Ridge
The memories of today are tainted by the fact that being soaked to the skin from about an hour or two into the walk doesn’t bode well for the most comfortable adventure. Rights of way being diverted, David Bellamy style searches for paths in the undergrowth, boggy ground and fallen trees all feature in the first half of the day. And still it rains. The ‘Extreme Risk of Fire’ warning on the gate to the climb onto Clay Bank Top and Carr Ridge provides welcome amusement in the mist and rain and that mist and rain hides the length of the climb and the sheep along the route. Urra Moor and Farndale Moor are supposed to be ‘great views’ but as we can only see about 10 – 20 metres in front of us, we have to create our own ideas of their beauty. When the rain stops briefly, the wind pounds. The mist is ever-present. So when eventually the inn we are looking for appears out of the mist, we have to pinch ourselves that we have actually reached our destination. Spirits soon lift – you’ve guessed it – hot water, hot food and brewed hops. Good news, tomorrow is a shorter day and the weather forecast is good!
Blakey Ridge to Grosmont
As the weather has changed for the better, we can see what we were missing yesterday and can agree how beautiful the moors and the purple heather carpeting them are. There’s a trek along the road to reach Fat Betty and to offer her something edible to bring good luck for the rest of the journey before we head across Great Fryup Dale for a chance of a first glimpse of the North Sea. There are several walkers in view throughout the day and chances for pit stops in several villages before reaching Grosmont mid-afternoonish. Sir Nigel Gresley and the NYMR are great entertainment and provide opportunities to rest a while and watch the hustle and bustle of tourists on the steam trains. Good food and company allow for refuelling, ready for the last blast onto Robin Hood’s Bay in the morning.
Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay
A 1-in-3 climb is not the easiest way to start a day’s walking but we have to do it if we want to leave Grosmont and head up onto Sleights Moor. It’s walking along a road but that doesn’t make it any easier. The guide book says we’ll end up at Robin Hood’s Bay dishevelled and that climb will certainly help. After a quick recovery at the top, it’s onto the moorland tracks towards Little Beck. Whitby is ever present in the distance so the abbey becomes a focal point to see how far we’ve travelled. Falling Fosse is a fairy glade oasis at Little Beck and has a convenient tea room, ready to boost the calories for the final push to cross Sneaton Low Moor and its somewhat boggy ground, to climb up to High Hawsker and then tackle the undulating path along the headland before heading down to Robin Hood’s Bay. The bay is out of sight for so long that when it final comes into view, it’s hard to believe it is there and then the previous two week’s walking rushes headlong into mind in a jumble of memories. The walk down to the actual beach, the actual end of the walk when we dip our toes in the North Sea, goes on for e-v-e-r but it is a welcome relief that the tide is in and we don’t have to go too far to complete the adventure and the final traditions of wetting our boots again and throwing the pebble we’ve each carried 190 miles, or there abouts, across Northern England into the sea. We give ourselves a pat on the back and take a sip of the fizzy stuff - we are two of the 10,000 fools who do this every year. And then it is time to find food!
Goathland to Grosmont
Alex and sue completed their own special walk and a diary of their exploits will be available here very soon.
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