England's Coast-to-Coast Walk: From the Irish Sea to the North Sea

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15650A, International

Highlights

  • Walk through some of England’s most scenic countryside
  • Tour ancient monuments and ruins and learn about England’s rich history
  • Enjoy charming English villages, their local pubs, and friendly bed and breakfast accommodations

Includes

  • All accommodations
  • All meals, entrance fees, and gratuities
  • Luggage transfers each day

Details

DatesJun 15–28, 2015
Price$3,575
Deposit$200
Capacity14
StaffDeirdre Butler

Trip Overview

The Trip

England’s coast-to-coast walk is a classic. The life ambition of A. Wainwright, A Coast to Coast Walk describes a 190-mile walk, in an approximate beeline, having a preference for the high ground and crossing some of England’s most stunning countryside. Our walk covers 90+ miles of the original route and begins at St. Bees Head on the coast of the Irish Sea. We will walk through three of England's national parks: the Lake District, renowned for its gorgeous lakes and craggy peaks; the Yorkshire Dales, with its gentle green valleys full of ancient stone walls and old farms, and popularized by the PBS series, All Creatures Great and Small; and the North York Moors, which is secluded and lush with heather, and ends at a picturesque coastline along the North Sea. Along the way we will stop in remote and quiet old country villages and hamlets to refresh ourselves in pubs and tearooms and we’ll also take time to wander through medieval ruins and monuments that give evidence of England’s ancient history.

Our adventure begins with a visit to Carlisle Castle, which has been standing guard for more than 900 years. Our luggage will be shuttled by van each day to the next B&B, leaving us free and unburdened to enjoy our day with just a day pack. Our walks vary in length from 7–13 miles each day and on occasion our van will transport us across sections of this classic walk.

We will be accompanied by some local ramblers on several walks and they will also join us for dinner, giving us insights into the rhythm of life in rural England. This part of England had a vibrant history in mining -- we’ll cross landscapes showing evidence of lead, coal, and iron mining reaching back into the early 18th century.

Itinerary

The following is a tentative description of our day-to-day activities, giving a flavor of what you can expect on this trip. Inclement weather or poor trail conditions could require necessary changes to the itinerary.

Day 1: Carlisle to St. Bees. Our trip officially begins after breakfast, when we meet to review the day’s activities, address any last-minute questions and then head off on a walking history tour of the castle and the town of Carlisle. After lunch our van will take us to St. Bees and our accommodations. This is about a one-hour drive away. After checking in, we have a tour of St. Bees Priory. The history of this site starts in the 7th century with a nunnery established by St. Bega and is succeeded by a Benedictine Priory in the 12th century. We regroup again afterward for dinner.

Day 2: St. Bees to Cleator (9 miles). After the traditional dipping of our boots into the Irish Sea, we will begin the ascent and traverse of St. Bees Head, a three-mile-long promontory that ends in cliffs that fall 300 feet to the Irish Sea. On a clear day, you can see the lakeland fells (hills) to the east and the Isle of Man to the west. Following lunch at a small village, we wind our way through a network of fields and lanes to Cleator. At the end of today’s walk, we take some time for well-deserved refreshments at a local pub before being transported to our B&Bs to freshen-up before dinner.

Day 3: Ennerdale Bridge to Honister (11 miles). We begin walking along the shore of Ennerdale Water, the westernmost lake in the Lake District, to Ennerdale Forest. After a lunch break at Black Sail Youth Hostel, formerly a shepherd’s hut, we have a strenuous 1,000-foot climb over Honister Pass. The ascent is overshadowed by the magnificent mountain scenery of Pillar (2,927 feet) and Great Gable (2,949 feet) and the rugged Haystacks, where Wainwright’s ashes are scattered. The path leads down to Honister Quarry, where we will visit one of the oldest slate mines still in operation. From there, we will board our waiting bus to our B&B accommodations at Borrowdale, a very picturesque Lakeland valley.

Day 4: Stonethwaite to Grasmere (8 miles; total elevation gain 1,950 feet). Our second day in the Lake District starts by walking into the secluded side valley of Stonethwaite, dominated by Eagle Crag. Next is Greenup Edge, the pass separating Borrowdale and Grasmere in the Far Easedale valley. Pending fine weather after lunch, we may elect to continue up to the summit rocks of Helm Crag, better known as “The Lion and The Lamb,” an amazing array of pinnacles and tilted rock slabs. Following our ascent, we’ll descend into the historic village of Grasmere, the birthplace of William Wordsworth. We will overnight in Grasmere.

Day 5: Grasmere to Patterdale (8 miles; total elevation gain 1,600 feet). Today we have a gradual climb up to Grisedale Pass, where we’ll stop to enjoy the view of Grisedale Tarn (lake) backed by Dollywagon Pike. Beyond the pass we descend to walk alongside the lake between Helvellyn Peak (3,118 feet) and St. Sunday Crag and onwards to Glenridding, where we will spend the next two nights.

Day 6: Howtown to Glenridding (7 miles). We deviate from Wainwright's classic route to see the gorgeous Ullswater Lake, the second largest lake in the Lake District and in the shape of a dog’s leg. We take a boat ride on one of the historic passenger vessels from lakeside Glenridding to Howtown. Afterward our return hike follows the lake shore back to our accommodation in Glenridding.

Day 7: Sunbiggin Tarn to Kirkby Stephen (8 miles). The day starts with a bus ride to shorten what would otherwise be a 22-mile walk. The hills in this area are gentler and our route less rocky than in the Lake District. After crossing near Rayseat Pike and the lower slopes of Crosby Garret Fell, we will see the site of the prehistoric village of Severals in the valley of Smardale, and the lime kilns on Smardale Fell. We'll continue walking to the old market town of Kirkby Stephen, where we will stay the night.

Day 8: Kirkby Stephen to Keld (12 miles). We will begin the 1,570-foot climb to Nine Standards Rigg, large cairns dating back to at least pre-18th century. Two important milestones are reached in this section of the walk; we enter Yorkshire Dales National Park, and we cross the watershed of the Pennines at the highest point of the fell -- 2,178 feet. We will descend to Keld for the night.

Day 9: Keld to Gunnerside (8 miles). We will follow the course of the River Swale along the valley floor. From Keld we will cross the river by a footbridge near East Gill Force (waterfall) and climb to the ruins of Crackpot Hall (a former lead mining area), then down to the path along the river. There are many old mines in this area, dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, together with evidence of lead extraction from the Roman time period. Then we walk on to Gunnerside, where we meet our bus and ride on to Richmond for a well-deserved rest day.

Day 10: Rest day in Richmond, North Yorkshire. Richmond is a large, historic town founded by the Normans in 1071 -– the castle and its keep still dominate the surroundings. The Georgian period, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, marked Richmond’s heyday, with much elegant architecture being erected around its cobbled marketplace, reportedly one of the largest in England. A walking tour is planned in the morning for those who wish to join. The rest of the day is free to explore the many attractions, parks, and gardens, visit Richmond Castle, or just wander along the River Swale to Easeby Abbey.

Day 11: Swainby to Clay Bank Top (9 miles). Before our hike begins, our bus will take us for a tour at Mount Grace Priory, a ruined Carthusian monastery dating from 1398. We are now in the North York Moors National Park. Wainwright described the moors as "unenclosed, uninhabited, remote from industry and noise and free from traffic -- a magnificent territory for the walker." We will pass the well-known landmark of the Wainstones on Hasty Bank, and then descend to Clay Bank Top, where we will be met by bus and taken to nearby Great Broughton for a night's stay.

Day 12: Clay Bank Top to Lion Inn at Blakey (9 miles). As we leave Clay Bank Top, the ground will rise steadily across Urra Moor, the highest point of the North York Moors. There are beautiful views of Bransdale, Farndale (famous for its daffodils in spring), and Rosedale. We will enjoy refreshments in Blakey at the venerable Lion Inn, which dates back to 1553. Our bus will then take us to the North Sea town of Whitby, where we will stay our last two nights.

Day 13: Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay (6.5 miles). Leaving Whitby, we’ll pass the dramatic Whitby Abbey, which inspired Bram Stoker to write "Dracula." From there we'll continue along the coast on the Cleveland Way a few miles until we rejoin the coast-to-doast track. Today’s walk will take us along the clifftops overlooking the North Sea and drop us into the picturesque smugglers village of Robin Hood’s Bay, where we will ceremoniously and triumphantly dip our feet in the North Sea, enjoy a walk through the charming and historic village, and eat lunch at a seaside pub. After lunch we will visit Whitby Abbey, founded in 657, and the town of Whitby. Following today’s activities, we will gather for our farewell dinner.

Day 14: Whitby to York. Our bus will depart at 9 a.m. for York, a journey of about two hours. We will say goodbye here, after having accomplished a remarkable feat. The trip ends at the York Train Station at approximately 11 a.m.

Photos

Details

Getting There

Our trip begins and ends in two different cities. Getting to our starting point of Carlisle is the responsibility of each participant. One option is to fly into Manchester airport and take a train to Carlisle.

Participants are encouraged to arrive at least a few days before our official start time to get through the almost unavoidable jet lag. Many take advantage of this extra time to visit historic Hadrian's Wall, which is just a short bus ride out of Carlisle.

Our trip officially ends when we are dropped off at the York train station before noon. There trains can take you to London or other destinations. If your schedule allows, it would be worth your time to tour the walled city of York and York Minster, northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral. Another attraction is the Viking-age village of Jorvik, depicted as it stood 1,000 years ago. The York Railway Museum, the largest in the world, is a special treat. 

Accommodations and Food

Our shared accommodations will be at B&Bs, country inns, and guesthouses, each offering a warm, friendly welcome. Same-gender roommates will be assigned to those traveling alone. Our luggage will be transported to our new accommodations daily by a carrier service. The trip price includes all breakfasts, lunches, and all dinners. Breakfasts will be hearty, with choices ranging from full English breakfasts to continental fare. Our midday meal may be a box lunch, a pub lunch, or food purchased at local markets. Dinners will be provided at our larger accommodations or at nearby pubs or restaurants. Vegetarian options are available at most locations. If you have any questions or concerns about accommodations, please ask the leader before signing up for the trip.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is designed for experienced hikers currently involved in regular hiking activities -- not just walking. The route will vary in difficulty with walking distances of up to 12+ miles and elevation gains up to 2,500 feet. All walks will be on trails or paths that could be on steep, rocky, or boggy terrain. Agility is needed to negotiate rocky trails, traverse small streams, and climb stepladder stiles over stone walls without difficulty.

Some rain is to be expected and can make any walk more challenging. Our luggage is shuttled to our accommodations each day; however, each participant must carry a day pack with lunch, drinking water, raingear, a warm sweater, and any other items needed during the day.

Participants should be accustomed to walking at a pace of 2+ miles per hour on level ground and be able to walk up steep grades at a slower pace without undue fatigue. Our walking is not difficult or rushed for a fit hiker; however, for safety reasons it is important that everyone be prepared to keep a similar pace. Please call or email the leader if you have any questions regarding your abilities before signing up for the trip. Your enjoyment of this trip will depend on your preparation and general fitness level. Regular hiking is the only activity that will totally prepare your legs, feet, and ankles for this trip. 

Equipment and Clothing

It can rain a lot in England. Even if it is not raining, some areas are very wet and boggy, so waterproof boots are a must. A two-piece waterproof rain suit, Gore-Tex or equivalent, is also necessary to keep warm and dry. The leader will make other suggestions about clothing in more detailed letters, listing what you may need for daytime and nighttime activities. We highly recommend using trekking poles for added stability on potentially wet and slippery surfaces.

References

Guidebooks:

The classic itinerary for this walk is contained in Wainwright's pictorial guide, A Coast to Coast Walk. Be sure to get a revised updated edition. This book is a must for anyone who wants to enjoy the walk to the fullest. Its 168+ pocket-sized pages are jammed full of valuable information, sketches of the area, and minutely detailed descriptions of the walk. Getting to know Wainwright, through his witty and thoughtful commentary, is a delight.

Other guidebooks that are excellent supplements to Wainwright's classic:

  • Stedman, Henry, Coast to Coast Path.
  • Hannon, Paul, Coast to Coast Walk.
  • Marsh, Terry, A Northern Coast to Coast Walk.

Maps:

The easiest method to find one’s way is using the “strip maps” specifically designed for the coast-to-coast walk in conjunction with one of the above guidebooks.

  • Coast to Coast (West): St Bees to Keld Scale: 1:40,000 - Harvey Maps
  • Coast to Coast (East): Keld to Robin Hood's Bay Scale: 1:40,000 - Harvey Maps 

Conservation

England has been heavily populated for hundreds of years and most of the land is utilized for human endeavor. Basically, its national parks are lines drawn around scenic areas, which are largely in private hands, to control development and non-conforming uses. Urban sprawl, intensive farming, motorways, and the demand for vacation facilities place heavy pressure upon open space and wildlife habitat. We will take every opportunity to meet with local conservationists and naturalists to discuss these problems.

Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad. 

Staff

Leader:

Born in the UK, Deirdre Butler grew up hiking and horseback riding in Dartmoor National Park, southern England. She lived and worked in northern England for a number of years and is excited to be returning to her old "stomping grounds" and sharing her love of the English countryside with you. Before taking early retirement, Deirdre worked in the medical industry and has traveled extensively throughout Asia and the Far East. Since 2001 Deirdre has been leading outings for Sierra Club in her home state of Colorado and is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

Associate Leader:

Wendy Van Norden has been leading backpacking and camping trips for more than 30 years, hiking with friends, and introducing her science students to the mountains and deserts of the Southwest. She is an avid naturalist who loves to beauty of nature as she tries to figure out why the land looks the way it does.

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