Walking The Coast To Coast. East To West

The Coast-to-Coast path, which crosses the whole of Mag North territory, is to be officially designated a new national trail. Penny Short tells us about her 192-mile journey, unconventionally from east to west
August 17, 2022

Fifty years ago when Alfred Wainwright first wrote about walking from coast to coast he suggested that we should find our own way. So when I decided to embark upon this journey I decided to walk east to west, against convention, risking the weather in my face but with the promise of heading towards a grand finale in the Lake District. 

Setting off across the North York Moors with some trepidation about the journey ahead, I soon wondered if it was a terrible mistake to assume that west was best. What a glorious area over on the east coast! From the moment I turned my back to the sea and headed inland I found myself turning around and taking in the wonderful view that west-to-east coast to coasters would be met with - absolutely stunning across the moors and looking down to Whitby. Why had I never been here before?

I soon settled into the stride and the state of mind which accompanies a long walk in solitude, watching a group of men gossiping on the village green, the very chatty school party walking through the woods alongside May Beck, the steam train (and the wonderful smell) at Grosmont attracting the attention of young and old alike, lemon curd ice cream, and chatting to the few people I met along the way who were coming to the end of their journey. The look in their eyes! Would I feel like that at the end of my journey? Eventually I arrived in the beautiful village of Glaisdale and into the bar of the Arncliffe Arms, hot, tired and ecstatic to truly be on my way.

One For The Body. One For The Soul. One For The Mind

I was treated to more moors the next day, walking from Glaisdale, so beautiful that there were many breaks to stop and stare across the landscape. So many stops that it took three hours to walk the first four miles that day. It became apparent that each day at around lunchtime I would start coming face to face with those walking in the opposite direction, and this became a real highlight each day, each individual at a different stage of their journey, each having been touched by different aspects of their walk. And each with the coast to coast look in their eye which I had started to recognise. 

The North York Moors presented me with everything that I love about walking. Far reaching views, the most beautiful contrasting colours, heather against blue sky, the smell of warm greenery. I needed a rest so I stopped at The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge for my holy trinity of refreshments - a pint of water, a pint of squash with lemonade and a pint of shandy. One for the body, one for the mind, one for the heart  and soul. This has now become what I call my traditional nutritional. Food is a huge part of my enjoyment of a multi-day walk, the hearty full English breakfast, the planned lunch stop and snacks, the thought of what the evening meal might consist of and which beers might be available as accompaniment. I love to take plenty of liquid and fruit stops while walking and for some eccentric reason I like to name my fruit before eating it, something which always amuses me, possibly the madness of walking alone, but today was a satsuma called Zac eaten at the trig pillar at Botton Head, a short diversion of the path where I was promised some excellent views. And excellent they indeed were. At the end of another long day I arrived at Beaks Hall Farm, totally in love with the Cleveland Hills and their view north. 

Trig Point

The walk from Beaks Hall to Osmotherley the following day was to be one of my favourites, and I knew this within minutes of setting off after breakfast. Views from the edge of Carlton Bank across to Middlesborough were incredible and caused me to pause and catch my breath frequently. The first three days walking across the North York Moors National Park exceeded all expectations and as I took  the leafy descent into Osmotherly, passing D of E groups and teachers/leaders, and a man trying to run coast to coast, I wondered how the rest of my journey could possibly compare. There was plenty of time for reflection that evening as I enjoyed pizza and beer and my first experience of staying at a youth hostel; it felt like my youth was being  reinstated.

A good job because I had a long day ahead, onwards to reach the end of my first third, off the North York Moors and across the flatter landscape to Brompton in Swale. A very hot day, requiring a lunch time stop at the White Swan in Danby Wiske  followed by a trudge onwards taking a few deviations until coming alongside the River Swale, contemplating what facilities would be available at the bunkhouse before stripping off for a skinny dip, just in case there were no showers. I headed underneath the A1 which felt like a good psychological milestone and checked into a bunk barn, shattered. 

While the first third of this journey had been such a wonderful surprise, I had high expectations for the middle third as I have explored some of the Yorkshire Dales area and we often have family holidays there. It was nice to know there was some familiarity ahead. I set off with great excitement in Richmond and then onwards to Grinton for the very best black pudding scotch egg and Yorkshire Dales Swale Trail Pale and a night at the Dales Bike bunkbarn - I will be back. Great place. The next day took me up through Reeth and a detour to take in the view from Calver Hill on Reeth Low Moor with my freshly baked pork pie from Reeth bakery. This was a  stunning walk, views of Swaledale, exploring disused mine workings and stopping to enjoy my Wensleydale cheese and spring onion roll and soak my feet in a waterfall pool at Gunnerside Gill. Reluctantly I had to keep moving onwards but with excitement as my destination was Keld, a special place and the cross roads with the Pennine Way. 

I had probably reached about halfway by now but I didn't want to think about that; the days were passing too quickly and Keld to Kirkby Stephen was no exception. For this section I had the privilege of meeting up with a Pennine Way and Coast to Coast legend Tim at Nine Standards Rigg for a brew and plenty of chat as we walked down into beautiful Kirkby Stephen. Tim pointed out and named all of the surrounding high points, our eyes constantly being drawn towards the North Pennines, Cross Fell and the Pennine Way. We crossed Franks Bridge and found a pub for a couple of beers and some more discussion about long distance walks and  our shared love of the north before saying our farewells.  

The following morning started with a trip to the bakery, an iced finger for breakfast and a bun for later in the day. With my freshly washed damp clothes swinging from my bag I set off, excited for this section of  unfamiliar territory. Shortly before Smardale I met a lovely couple sitting on their mobility scooters in a layby admiring the view towards the North Pennines. Everyone seems to have their head down and forgets to look at the view, they said. Not them. The day involved lots of looking at the map, not because I couldn't find my way but because I was trying to orient myself between the Yorkshire Dales, the Pennines, and the Lake District which was fast coming into view. Smardale was beautiful - another note made that I must come back. A pit-stop highlight was found at Sunbiggin Farm where a friendly Australian hiker made me a coffee but then told me I had to wait there for the next person so I could pay it forward. I enjoyed this lovely place to rest before moving onwards into Orton where I'd promised a friend I would find her grandparents’ old house and take photos. Achieving my task with the help of a friendly post office lady, I rewarded myself with some Coast to Coast chocolate from the lovely shop. The weather was warming up; I wondered how long the chocolate would survive. It was delicious.  

On a day where I had spent so much time looking around me I was rewarded later that afternoon as I crossed Crosby Ravensworth Fell - an incredibly magical moment looking back to High Cup Nick, lit up by  the sun. Breathtaking. Onwards towards the gentle buzz of the M6 and the realisation that just four days ago I had felt amazed at the milestone of reaching the A1, and now the crescendo was here.

From Shap to Haweswater, through meadows and falling arse-over-tit alongside the reservoir, unable to right myself due to the weight of my backpack. Really must work on my core. A long trek up Kidsty Pike and the rewarding view ahead - this is the Lake District. This is all there is between me and my destination, the coast. We all know that the Lake District is absolutely stunning and this was why I had wanted to walk in this direction, such beautiful scenery towards the end of my journey and despite it being such a popular place to visit, so quiet and peaceful. During my evening stroll down into Patterdale I didn't see a soul, the sun starting to descend in the sky, bathing the hillside in  the most wonderful glow. The next three nights I would be staying in Youth Hostels again and I started feeling that perhaps a long walk is all we need to help us feel young and full of life again.  

A beautiful slow day from Patterdale to Grasmere followed, a much needed short day of just a few miles but I used every minute of the day to cover them, adapting my pace to snail slow and making extra effort to  ensure I appreciated all of the surroundings. I met up with a wonderful  lady, Ann-Marie at Grisedale Tarn. We had never met before but she was there waiting for me like a guardian angel, with coffee, snacks, a hug and smiles. A new friend found and made, we chatted all the way down  into Grasmere where we found a pub for some refreshment. It is funny how these opportunities find us and how we can always find connections with people. Reminds me that we are more alike than not and there is something reassuring about that. So many genuinely good and incredibly interesting people in the world. 

Happy In Easedale

Everyday was  becoming a favourite day. Climbing up Easedale the next morning with the  smell of damp bracken, I couldn't believe my good fortune to have this place to myself. I could have sat there and marvelled forever but those steps weren't going to walk themselves so on to Greenup Edge and down into Stonethwaite for another triplet of drinks from the pub there. The afternoon had me going up and over Honister, stopping to eat some gifted home baked goods which made me emit sounds that I can only apologise for - there was no hanky panky on Honister, just me and a fruit scone. Once over the top past Drum House my breath was taken away by the views over to Buttermere and Crummock Water - a vision I had seen in photo form many times but brought tears to my eyes to be standing there, utterly in disbelief at the landscape in front of me. The wind was  blowing, the skies were blue, the views unbelievable, my legs amazingly still going, the feeling that nothing could ever beat this moment.

But of course the best was still to come, despite my insistence that every moment is the best moment, the descent down Loft Beck and on to Black Sail hostel. A magical overnight there in the company of the most wonderful people; three ladies whom I hadn't met before but shared my excitement of staying at such a unique place, alongside a group of teachers from the Midlands and a selection of mountain bikers. We devoured the very best sausage and mash that has ever been created, followed by lemon meringue pie, we laughed, we chatted and we sat in shared silence, we woke early to a silence like I have never heard  before.

Black Sail Hostel

I set off on my final day with excitement and some concern - I had a long and hot 25 miles ahead all the way to St Bees but as expected it went in a flash and before I knew it I could see the sea. It's always exciting when you get to see the sea, isn't it? But this was something very special; I had walked across the north of our most beautiful country from coast to coast and I breathed  in deeply, filling my lungs with the warm evening air before descending  along the coast path into St Bees, kicking off my boots, depositing my backpack on the beach and heading straight into the sea where I rolled around ever so slightly demented, cooling my sun scorched and rather tired legs, overjoyed to have completed the journey, with a tinge of sadness that it was now over.

The landscapes that I walked through were wonderful and I treasured every moment, every view, every hill and valley, all beautiful in their own way, so many memories and so many places that I know I will be back to visit again. Even more special than that, though, were the people that I met along the way, every B&B, pub, shop and hostel I visited, all with friendly faces, smiles and encouragement and all the walkers who stopped to share stories. Despite walking on my own I had never felt alone and that is a rather wonderful feeling.

The End For Penny