Endlessly curious, whilst he spent much of his time walking and drawing the Lakeland fells, the day came when he set out east, drawn by the allure of walking from sea to sea. By 1973, he had created and published a brand new guide, detailing the now famous Coast to Coast route in a suggested 12 stages.
Known as a profound soul who cared deeply about the places he described, as well as one who found solace in the company of the hills, Wainwright was in many ways ahead of his time. This is only shown further by the fact the Coast to Coast route he proposed was technically illegal when he first suggested it, as it had to cross through private property. Uproar ensued until the right to roam was established in 2000, confirming the general public's right to access certain public or privately owned land, lakes, and rivers for recreational purposes.
Wainwright saw something that most at the time didn’t - that the UK’s natural journeys should be open to all. It took 25 years, but his Coast to Coast route was now officially possible. Fast forward again to 2022, when the route became one of the recognised national trails of the UK, and it’s clear to see this iconic journey is something truly worth seeing.
What does the Coast to Coast route entail?
The Coast to Coast starts from St Bees in Cumbria on the west coast and finishes at Robin Hood’s Bay on the Heritage Coast of the North Walk Moors. The walk is a good distance at 192.2 miles (309.3km) long – and offers a serious challenge with 6,077, (19,933ft) of ascent.
Typically it’s completed over roughly 2 weeks (self-guided or with a guide and small group), though there are variations possible where you can complete it in segments or 18-day ramblers too.
Whilst there’s something special about completing the entire route, crossing the width of an entire country on foot, there are definitely highlights, which means it’s more than possible to enjoy some of the best bits by completing just a portion of the route from the west coast too.
Walkers can choose either direction to complete the journey in, but we recommend west to east. Not only will you be following in Wainwright’s footsteps, who intended the route to be walked this way, but you’ll get the serious ascent and descent of the Lakeland fells out of the way early on while you’re fresh too. You might even take advantage of the weather, as prevailing winds from the Atlantic give you a helping hand on your way east.
Where do you stop along the Coast to Coast?
The journey begins in St Bees, a stunning little coastal gem on the northwest coast. To commemorate the beginning of this epic journey, walkers dip their hands or wet their boots in the Irish Sea, pick up a stone to drop in Robin Hood's Bay and stop by the famous C to C monument found by the lifeboat station.
From there, cliffside tracks and paths through fields ease you in before you the fells start in earnest. Travelling through green foothills, the path heads through Ennerdale, one of the UK’s most beautiful and quiet valleys, before crossing over Wainwright’s favourite hill, Haystacks. This section in the Lake District is definitely the hardest of the trek, but it’s also one of the most beautiful too. The route takes low-level paths through the region’s most iconic fells, with options to reach the summits for the keenest hillwalkers.
Through Borrowdale, Grasmere and then under Helvellyn, the route brings you to Patterdale and then to the high village of Shap via a few more steep ascents and descents - and a beautiful walk along the shores of Haweswater too. Here the landscape changes, from the peaks of the Lake District to the dramatic limestone plateau of Westmoreland.
Dramatic moors and vast landscapes now sweep you up and over to the picturesque green troughs of the Yorkshire Dales. Entering Swaledale, the ascent and descent eases off as pastoral green countryside takes over. Grazing sheep and beautiful market towns are plentiful here, as you pass through Reeth and Richmond, before heading into the North York Moors.
A final challenge of the Cleveland hills followed by a warren of woodland paths, old coach roads and moors deliver you finally to the charismatic east coast, and your final destination in Robin Hood’s Bay. Reach the sea, nod your head to the plaque that commemorates the route's end – then quickly head into the Bay Hotel pub for your well-earned finishing brew.
How hard is the Coast to Coast trail?
The Coast to Coast is a respectable challenge, with any walker attempting it needing to take into consideration the ascent and descent that comes with the Lake District hills.
It’s full of variety however – expect a combination of stunning mountain trails, weaving up and down Lakeland fells, moorland tracks, pastoral paths through fields of rolling hills, wandering country lanes and tree-covered bridleways. This means there are paths all the way and it’s more than possible for most walkers, but the sections through both the Lake District simply mean you’ll want to be prepared for some decent ascent and descent along the way.
The other challenging factor is the weather. Naturally, being in the UK, you can expect a chance of rain and some exposure to the elements in the higher-altitude areas. But, it’s nothing you won’t be able to deal with, especially knowing that at your accommodation you’ll be welcomed by owners used to muddy boots and soggy raincoats in desperate need of a drying room.
What is the food and drink like on the trail?
Everything from hearty pub grub to modern fine dining can be found along the route, with plenty of choices as you go. As you’ll pass through so many unique places in the UK though, look out for the regional delicacies you’ll find along the way. Compare fish and chips from both coasts at the start and the finish; visit the famous Grasmere gingerbread shop and stock up on spiced gingerbread and Kendal Mint Cake to fuel your hikes; look out for pubs that use the famous Swaledale Butchers for some local beef, lamb or game; and of course, sample beers from independent breweries all across the north.
Before spending days in the rural countryside, it’s ideal to enjoy a city break first - especially one you can warm up for your walk with by exploring on foot. It’s a simple matter to get to your starting point in Cumbria via one of the west coast of England’s most fascinating cities: Liverpool.
Thanks to a recent period of committed urban regeneration, Liverpool has fast become an iconic place to enjoy a day – and night – out in the UK. A revamped waterfront, architecture dripping with industrial chic, an astounding variety of shops and restaurants and some famously friendly locals will make sure you’ll remember your visit.
Visit Albert Dock, and, after a coffee overlooking the water, choose from any of these iconic institutions to fill your morning: the Tate Liverpool, the Maritime Museum or the International Slavery Museum. It’s here you’ll get your first taste of Liverpool’s Beatles heritage too, learning about their humble beginnings through the award-winning museum, The Beatles Story.
Round your day off by a visit to Liverpool Cathedral to gain an insight even further into the past, before your evening begins. There’s plenty to choose from for your evening meal, from top-rated Turkish cuisine to trendy gastro-pubs, which thrive on local ingredients. And at the end of the day, a cocktail or two on the waterfront rounds off your Liverpool experience perfectly.
England’s Coast to Coast has clearly earned its famed place as one of the best long-distance walks in the world. Encompassing some of the finest sights and experiences the UK has to offer, it’s a challenge that comes with a guarantee it’ll be more than worth the effort.
There are plenty of added values when travelling with Walkers' Britain, like going pack-free on a range of affordable self-guided holidays and small group guided trips.