Considered by some to be the best long-distance walk in the UK, Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path has many remarkable qualities, but it’s the walker camaraderie that is my stand-out highlight of this hugely popular cross-country hike.

The scenery is at times stunning – looking at you, Lake District – but the sense of community you experience with fellow walkers is felt here on this walk perhaps more than on any other in Britain.

Dentdale yorkshire dales england uk

The Yorkshire Dales, a section of the famed Coast to Coast long distance path

Wainwright's Coast to Coast Path

The Coast to Coast Path

Distance: 190.5 miles (306.5km)

Duration: 14 days

Start point: St Bees

End point: Robin Hood’s Bay

Difficulty: Moderate to hard – very hilly through the Lake District stages; poorly waymarked in places, particularly over the Pennines; expect rain and boggy ground at times

Suitable for: Fit walkers with a sense of adventure

This is largely due to the fact that many, if not most walkers tackle the Coast to Coast Path in one go (or at least in two halves), rather than dipping in and out of it on day- or weekend-hikes as many people do for Britain’s other long-distance trails. The result is that you’ll bump into the same people again and again over the course of your two-week walk, in pubs, cafes and hostels along the route, where you can share a drink, and compare blisters whilst drying your bog-drenched toes in front of a roaring log fire.

Coast to Coast isn’t an official National Trail. Instead, it was the brainchild of the legendary fell walker and guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright, who in 1973 decided to plot a walk-to-remember across the width of the country which, as far as he knew, wouldn’t break any trespassing laws. Two-thirds of the trail is spent walking through three of England’s 10 national parks (The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors) and the route includes some of the most dramatic upland scenery in England. Prepare to be blown away by the beauty of some of the Lake District sections. Prepare also for quite a lot of rain.

Eng Robin Hoods Bay from Ravenscar

View of Robin Hood's Bay from Ravenscar, on Wainwright's Coast to Coast path

The Coast to Coast path route

Starting from the beach at St Bees, beside the Irish Sea, your first five days of the Coast to Coast Path are an undoubted highlight as you climb your way through the spectacular hills, lakes and valleys of the Lake District – so special it was awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 2017. Over the first couple of days, you’ll walk the craggy shoreline of Ennerdale Water, trot past YHA Black Sail, the most remote hostel in England, and climb up and over the rocky pass near Honister Slate Mine, before descending into the lush valley of Borrowdale, with its trio of stone-cottage hamlets.

The climb up and over Greenup Edge is challenging for sure, but the views are breathtaking, and it’s now just a short stroll into the pretty village of Grasmere, home to a plethora of teahouses, cafes, and B&Bs, a 150-year-old gingerbread shop, and Dove Cottage, where former poet laureate William Wordsworth once lived. The climb up the Great Tongue to the tiny mountain lake of Grisedale Tarn will leave you gasping, but it’s a pleasant walk down Grisedale Valley, under the shadow of 950m-tall Helvellyn, to the cute village of Patterdale, with its sheep-filled fields and walker-friendly White Lion pub.

Climbing out of Patterdale is a joy, up and over Angletarn Pike, where you sometimes see wild deer, and the even higher Kidsty Pike before descending to the huge Haweswater Reservoir en route to Shap.

Sadly, the Lakes are behind you now, but that means the walking gradients become easier so you can begin to cover more miles each day. Historic Kirkby Stephen is your next stop before you climb up and over the Pennines on a day often clouded in mist, or obscured by rain – the waymarking is hard to follow here – before you crawl, often exhausted, into lovely Keld, with its collection of ‘forces’ (waterfalls), for a well-earned rest. Pastoral Swaledale Valley leads you to Reeth with its welcoming pubs and numerous places to stay, then it’s on through farmland to centuries-old Richmond, the largest settlement on the path, and home to the formidable Richmond Castle.

The next couple of days are forgivingly flat before you hit the heather-covered North York Moors and climb up to remote Blakey Ridge, where a bed, a meal and a pint await at the 500-year-old Lion Inn, the walk’s most iconic pub.

You’re now just a hop, skip and a jump from the North Sea, via the lost-in-time village of Grosmont (steam trains, anyone?), the fairytale-like woods of Little Beck and the squelchy bogs of Sneaton Low Moor. Sweeping views abound as you follow the east coast of England south to Robin Hood’s Bay where a celebratory pint at Bay Hotel’s Wainwright’s Bar is the order of the day.

England Lake District Two sheeps on pasture at sunset

Sheep on pastures in the Lake District

Wainwright who?

Prolific mountain walker, author and illustrator Alfred Wainwright was the father figure of Lakeland walking. His 60-year-old guides to the fells are still definitive volumes for walking in the Lakes and he was instrumental in establishing the popular Coast-to-Coast route from the Irish Sea at St Bees to the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay.

Coast to Coast Path segments

Budget walkers rejoice – the Coast to Coast path has an abundance of youth hostels, meaning you can stay in cheap dormitory-style accommodation without breaking the bank.

There’s also plenty of opportunity to camp, particularly in the Lake District where so-called ‘wild camping’ may be tolerated in places. That great British institute, the B&B, is also well represented all along the route.

I'd break the route down into the following segments, walking from west to east. You can do it all in one straight shot, but lots of people break it up into weekend hikes.

Day 1: St Bees – Ennerdale (14 miles)

Day 2: Ennerdale – Borrowdale (15 miles)

Day 3: Borrowdale – Grasmere (9 miles)

Day 4: Grasmere – Patterdale (8.5 miles)

Day 5: Patterdale – Shap (15.5 miles)

Day 6: Shap – Kirkby Stephen (20.5 miles)

Day 7: Kirkby Stephen – Keld (13 miles)

Day 8: Keld – Reeth (11.5 miles)

Day 9: Reeth – Richmond (10.5 miles)

Day 10: Richmond – Danby Wiske (13 miles)

Day 11: Danby Wiske – Ingleby Cross (10 miles)

Day 12: Ingleby Cross – Blakey Ridge (21 miles)

Day 13: Blakey Ridge – Grosmont (13.5 miles)

Day 14: Grosmont – Robin Hood’s Bay (15.5 miles)

The extra mile

Instead of ambling your way down pretty Grisedale Valley to the village of Patterdale on Day 4, the more adventurous can opt instead for an ascent of Helvellyn (England’s third-highest peak; 950m) followed by a decidedly hairy descent of the mountain ridge known Striding Edge. It adds at least an hour onto your hike for that day and is certainly not for anyone who suffers from vertigo.

About the author

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path

Daniel McCrohan

Daniel is a prolific guidebook writer who divides his time between exploring Asia for Lonely Planet and Britain for Trailblazer. As well as writing close to 50 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, he has worked on more than a dozen Trailblazer walking guides, and has hiked and camped his way across many parts of the UK, China, Mongolia and India.

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