UK Coast2Coast Walk

Affectionately known as the C2C, this walk was a 12-day fundraiser for MS Research. I organised and planned the walk with friends joining me for various sections of the walk originally created by the great British fellwalker, guide book writer, and illustrator Alfred Wainwright.

St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay

Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors

12 days walking 188m (303km)

Wainwright’s route begins at St Bees in Cumbria, on the Irish Sea. It crosses the West Cumbrian coastal plain and the Lake District and enters North Yorkshire as it crosses the Pennines. It then crosses the Yorkshire Dales, the Vale of York, and the North York Moors to reach the North Sea coast at Robin Hood’s Bay.

‘’Alfred Wainwright devised this classic long-distance walk in 1972. It has rightly become one of the most popular long-distance walks in the British Isles. There are several reasons for this. First, the walk has distinct starting and finishing points as it starts on the west coast of Northern England and finishes on the east coast of Northern England. Hence the obvious title ‘Coast to Coast’. Second, the walk makes its way through three of the finest national parks in the country, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. Each park is distinctly different. The Lake District is rocky, with the highest hills and largest lakes in England. The Yorkshire Dales are covered in a mixture of limestone and gritstone with challenging hills of its own. The North York Moors are predominantly heather moorland with rolling hills with dales of lush greenery. The Coast to Coast is 190 miles long depending on the variations chosen on some legs. Most walk it in 12-15 days. Accommodation on the walk is readily available as the popularity of the walk has encouraged the growth of guest houses, bed-and-breakfast, bunk houses and camping facilities along the route. If you are going to do one long distance walk and you are undecided, I recommend you choose this one. It will give you the drive to do others.’’ from Walking Englishman Blog.

Who walked with me?

The original five from the Mudgee2Sydney walk signed up without hesitation. It confirmed their confidence in my leadership and organisational skills and reassured me my earlier fundraising walk held fond memories for them. So much so, they convinced their friends to join us. And the MS community with whom we had tirelessly worked over several years had eight participants, two walking with MS and others undertaking a walk possibly beyond their skill level.

With personal training encouraged for those living in country regions and an extensive 12-month training program for the Sydney participants, I knew we could do this challenging long-distance walk in September 2014. There were 20 all-the-way walkers, 17 Australians, 3 Britons and several part-of-the-way participants. Five Britons provided guiding help on several tricky navigational sections such as the Lake District and the peaty bog terrain just outside Kirkby Stephen.  

How long did it take us?

13 days, averaging 25kms a day. I initially thought we’d walk continuously to the end, but other walkers did not see the fun in testing their body’s upper limit. I found it hard to believe they preferred to stroll without pain. They had worked their butts off in the lead up to this event with the myriad of fundraising activities we undertook. The walk should be a reward, not a burden. I scheduled a rest day in Richmond on Day Nine. Looking at their faces on Day Eight as we trudged into town, I knew I had made the right choice. In summary, 12 days walking with one rest day.

Day 1 St Bees to Ennerdale 23.5kms – 6 hours

This day begins with a cliff top walk along the Irish Sea and ends with a high-level view from Dent Hill across the brooding western fells of the Lake District. It concludes with the first of many pretty Lakeland villages in Ennerdale Bridge.

Katrina and Mike Hemingway – Organisers C2C Walk for MS Research

The inspiration for this walk was my husband, Mike, the walkers Debbie Bird and Dianne Ramsay, and the three million people worldwide known to live with Multiple Sclerosis. I aim to give them hope that a cure is not far away. While they are still able, I want to take them to those high places to bank positive memories that they can look back on fondly. It is at this point that my husband calls it a day and returns to the support vehicle. Debbie enthusiastically leads us away from St Bee’s headland.

“Heigh-Ho Heigh-Ho It’s off to work we go.”
C2C Walkers and UK guides at Dent Hill

With Yvonne Booth, organiser of 10in10challenge Charity Walk

I am indebted to Yvonne Booth and her friends for offering to guide us for several days of the walk. She is a celebrity in her own right having created and arranged the 10-in-10-challenge as a fundraiser for the MS Society UK acknowledging her husband, Duncan Booth’s, own struggle with MS. The aim of the walk is to reach 10 peaks in the Lake District within 10 hours. I do this horrific walk after walking Britain’s toughest trail, The Pennine Way, in July 2019. Nothing has compared since, apart from sections of the High Sierra in California on the Pacific Crest Trail.

These Brits who live amongst the fells are a sturdy and resilient breed. And Yvonne and her husband are the most inspiring people, not letting illness stop them fundraising for a cause so dear to both of our hearts.

Meeting the local chooks
Different birds of a feather flocking together

Day 2 Ennerdale Bridge to Stonethwaite 26.5kms – 8 hours

C2C walkers assemble outside Shepherds Arms Hotel

This area has the record for recording England’s highest rainfall figures. But not today. Without rain or mist on the horizon, route finding is easy with the added help from Yvonne Booth and her guides. The trail hugs the expansive shore of Ennerdale Water, enters Ennerdale Forest at the valley’s head, and then climbs over open fell country to reach Honister and the most beautiful of valleys, Borrowdale. A quick photo with walkers and guides outside The Shepherds Arms Hotel before we head towards Ennerdale Water.

Most of the walkers who choose the Lower Route

Here are some photos of the brave five below who choose the High Route via Hay Stacks and Innominate and Blackbeck Tarn. Ably led by local Lancastrian Chris Townsend, we enjoy sensational vistas on this most epic of days.

High Route Walkers reach Hay Stacks
A day doesn’t go by without spotting a sheep. Old White Herdwick Sheep, Lake District

Day 3 Stonethwaite to Patterdale 25.5km – 7 to 8 hours

After an interesting stay at Langstrath Country Inn, reminiscent of a Fawlty Towers episode, the walkers prepare to tackle another magic day in the Lake District.

Stretch those legs girls!

Weather permitting, most savour this incredible landscape in two days, but I’ve set the girls a cracking pace and we will cover this stretch in one day. One must negotiate a series of long ridges which run north and south across your line of march. This zig zag approach introduces two beautiful locations, Grasmere where you can visit Dove Cottage, the childhood home of the romantic 19th century ’poet of nature’ William Wordsworth, and Patterdale where our B&B, Old Water View, awaits us.

Well, at least I can spot one fast walker amongst us. Look closely bottom right for the rest of them. Meanwhile you can’t keep the smile off Deb’s face as she completely forgets she is walking with Multiple Sclerosis. Brave soul. It takes terrific guts and determination to take on this walk.

Gate leading towards Grasmere
Boggy traverse towards Grisedale Tarn
Stile crossing in the middle of nowhere

Day 4 Patterdale to Shap 26kms – 6.5 hours

A lofty crossing of the last mountain barrier of Lakeland in the east. A serious long-haul trekking day with a long climb up to Kidsty Pike, the walk’s highest peak at 780m (2,560 ft). Together with the gnarly descent to Haweswater and the undulating trawl along the lake’s edge, we manage over 1300 metres (4400ft) of total ascent. This crossing of the last mountain barrier of Lakeland in the east does not disappoint. We observe a shift in dramatic scenery from sombre fells to a pastoral, park-like, limestone landscape.  

Patterdale Village
Looking back towards Patterdale
Angle Tarn
Heading towards Kidsty Pike
Resting at Kidsty Pike
C2C Team photo at Kidsty Pike, the highest peak on Wainwright’s Coast 2 Coast Walk
Haweswater Reservoir
Parish Crag Bridge – Packhorse bridge at Swindale Beck near Shap
Shap Abbey
Black-headed Sheep

Day 5 Shap to Kirkby Stephen 33.8km – 7 hours

This day is a recovery day of sorts. A steady undulating transit over field and moorland as you flank the little-known Howgill Fells. No one disputes its length. Fortunately, there are no prolonged gradients.

More dangerous wildlife
Smarsdale Gill Viaduct

Day 6 Kirkby Stephen to Keld 24kms – 6 hours

Walkers congregate in Kirkby Stephen Town Square

With another fine day, we collide briefly with the Pennine Way at Nine Standards Rigg. In inclement weather avoid this pathless walk without landmarks in favour of the B6270 road and a flat moorland path to Nateby. Today blesses us with fine weather and we head straight for the hills.

There is no higher ground than Nine Standards Rigg for the rest of the journey. We cross the main Pennine watershed and enter Yorkshire at this point. Time to gaiter up for the much-feared peaty bogs. Rivers and streams, which flow west to the Irish Sea, now flow east to the North Sea and we walk with the watercourses.

If you are wondering what the purpose of these lofty columnar cairns is, no-one knows. The origin of the nine “stone men” on the summit of Hartley Fell remains a mystery. According to Wainwright, they are very ancient and appear on 18th-century maps. One theory is that the Roman army constructed them to mimic troops from a distance.

Heading to bog territory
‘Stand on the rooshes’

Famous last words from our local leader, Chris Ainsworth. I pay zero attention to this advice, select my route, and promptly get wedged, trekking poles included, in thigh-high, squelching, quicksand-sucking peat. I could not stop laughing at my demise as Chris gratefully leans over the edge, holds my pole, and pulls me free. It may have been a different story if I were out here alone. It is desolate; the weather can quickly change and there have been many a story of solo hikers meeting their end after getting stuck in a bog. Fortunately, I live to walk another day.

Famous Stone Yorkshire Barns

This afternoon we visit ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’ Amanda Owen and her husband, Clive, at Ravenseat Farm for a scrumptious Yorkshire tea and scones. At the time she was juggling running a farm, a cottage business, and their six children. Since then she’s added three more to her brood famously claiming ”It sort of just happened’. It was a welcome diversion from getting stuck in a peat bog earlier in the day and having to beg Chris, our unflappable and competent leader, to save me.

Leaving Ravenseat Farm unfazed by the cows

As we near Keld, we meet the finest and most northerly of the Yorkshire Dales, Swaledale. Dotted with white sheep amongst the gently undulating green meadows and fellside fields, we see fine examples of drystone walls and large old limestone field barns.

Day 7 Keld to Reeth 20kms – 4.5 hours

A Day to Remember in more ways than one. There are two routes to choose from today. Many of the girls are keen to walk the supremely delightful low route, the royal way to see Swaledale, enjoying a tea break at the little town of Muker.

Together with another five adventurous souls, I choose the high-level route for its historical significance. It has a grim and eerie atmosphere. We pass several lead smelting ruins, fully stabilised now, dating back to the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries. It is sad to see the large, scarred hillsides with Gunnerside Gill being a prominent example here.

Lead Mine Route observing Miners’ hushes on far slopes
Blakethwaite Ruins near Gunnerside Beck

The devastating impact on the landscape is because of hushing, their preferred method for lead extraction. The method involves building a dam near the top of the cleared area, allowing water to collect from natural streams, rainwater, and diverted water. When they have enough water, they break the dam, allow the water to scour away the topsoil to expose veins of lead for extraction from the surface. Hundreds of years later, the landscape still shows no signs of natural regeneration.  

Old Gang Smelting Mill Ruins

With such a grim picture, is this sad history delivering us an omen? Our support vehicle will meet us at Reeth, but Mike won’t get there if we cannot find the key to the van. Our room at the Keld Lodge, a former Youth Hostel, is cosy. Typical of most Bed & Breakfast (B&B) accommodation, its dimensions resemble a cupboard. We can only open our two suitcases if we lay them on the bed. When not in use, we must store them closed and upright. Where could the blasted key have gone? Every walker knocks on our door and ransacks the room to hasten our departure. They strip the bed of its sheets, to our embarrassment, shake everything out, but the key remains hidden.

I suggest to Mike that he ring Volkswagen to see if they can locate a spare key. We risk relinquishing our support vehicle. An unfortunate outcome, but we cannot waste any more time. I need to get Day Seven started, split the groups into High and Low routes, and hopefully meet Mike in Reeth later in the day.

The logistics of the walk are enormous. I am coping admirably, but Mike’s MS disease is rearing its ugly head and he doesn’t need any debilitating symptoms intruding now. I kiss him goodbye, commiserate with him, and hope for a favourable outcome. Long story short. Mike is not in Reeth when we arrive.

Our tour operator transporting our luggage between B&Bs each day has deposited our cases. Another hiker and I have another search of their contents. As before, we find no key. For the sake of thoroughness, we check my backpack.

I shake out the contents together with the key. Eyes popping out at one another, we cannot believe our find. Shortly afterwards, we retrieve the car, and a frazzled Mike, from Keld Lodge. We resume the festivities, celebrating brave Debbie Bird’s birthday at The Kings Arms Hotel. What a day to remember in more ways than one. Mike and I retire early, sleeping like logs the rest of the night.

Celebrating Deb’s birthday at The Kings Arms Hotel, Reeth

Day 8 Reeth to Richmond 20kms – 4.5 hours

Reeth Village Town Square

For our only time on the trail, we awake to drizzle and grey skies. Looking on the bright side, it is the perfect opportunity to try out our rain gear.

This is a short, easy stage with no significant undulations. In complete contrast to the bleak crossing of the lead mines, this stage is usually a scenic delight with the Swale River and its wooded valley in sight or close by throughout.

Katrina and Tansey don rain gear for the very first time.

Debbie shows off her birthday present from the Hotel – a bright yellow t-shirt in memory of the recent running of a leg of the Tour de France, in Yorkshire, of all places. The locals painted their old bikes yellow to celebrate this event, and Debbie walked away with a great memento.

Nothing like some British Crisps to boost your salt intake
C2C Walkers get ready for MS Society UK welcome at Richmond Railway Station

The MS Society UK Richmond branch welcome us and acknowledge our fundraising efforts. Yawns aplenty, we look forward to a welcome rest day tomorrow.

Day 9 Richmond Rest Day

For those still with energy, the Richmond branch of the MS Society kindly arranged a morning guided tour of this delightful market town with a castle and fortification.

For the musically inclined, the MS Society hosts a wonderful afternoon choral performance in our honour at The Georgian Theatre Royal, Britain’s oldest Georgian theatre playhouse in its original form. They sing walking and inspirational songs as we sit in minuscule theatre boxes. We are all knackered. It takes every bit of will power and concentration to avoid nodding off as the town celebrates our fundraising efforts. Most of the walkers summon the energy to join Mike and me for dinner in the evening to celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary.

Richmond Castle

I assure you, the walkers had downtime for private rest and recreation. I’m sure I annoyed them A LOT, but they know I love squeezing as much as one can into a full itinerary. I did reiterate to them participation in these extra-curricular activities was optional. Some girls even manage a massage and foot spa. I suspect I’d have a riot on my hands if I had continued the Coast2Coast walk without this well-received rest stop.

Day 10 Richmond to Ingleby Cross 37kms – 9 hours

It takes endurance and blister-free feet to get through this day, but I recommend you get it out of the way in a single day. The vale of Mowbray lies between two national parks. While lacking the high ground of the Dales and the lofty Cleveland Hills, the vale is a quiet rural setting of green fields, contented cows and sheep, and scattered farmsteads.

For walkers keen to get from A to B in double quick time this day should prove a satisfying one. If the others don’t agree with me, I still see this day as one of personal individual achievement. The busy A19 road crossing on tired feet brings us promptly back to life.

White Sheep
Scary crossing of A19 as we near Ingleby Cross

Day 11 Ingleby Cross to Blakey Ridge 34kms – 8 hours

There are many ascents and descents on the Cleveland Hills. The first half of the day is a rollercoaster of inclines but once you climb onto Urra Moor, 19.5kms from Ingleby Cross, it remains blessedly level as you follow the course of a dismantled railway. The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, isolated but busy, awaits you on a windswept moor.

Heather-clad, unenclosed, uninhabited, and remote from industry and noise, the North York Moors are a magnificent territory for walkers. It is wilderness crossed by few roads but many ancient tracks, a plateau high above the valleys, yet of sleek and rounded slopes and easy gradients where one can wander at will and enjoy complete freedom.

View from Alec Falconer Memorial Seat – North York Moors

With plenty of food left over from last night’s sumptuous feast prepared by our B&B hosts, Mike hobbles up to join us for a wonderful lunch at the Wainstones. A few of the girls consider a shortened day and hitching a lift back with Mike to our next town, but once we have eaten we are all ready and eager to continue our walk.

Lunch at the Wainstones

Dismantled Railway Track on Urra Moor to Blakey Ridge

Our day ends at the cosy Lion Inn, but few of the walkers have accommodation here. They grab a drink in the cosy bar and head out to various B&Bs for the night. Our intention is to meet up again tomorrow at some point convenient to each walkers’ B&B host.

The Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge

Day 12 Blakey Ridge to Grosmont 22.5km – 5 hours

We cross the watershed, leave wild moors behind, and descend into Eskdale valley.

Accommodation is sparse on this stretch and it spreads the walkers out, forcing them to nab any B&B accommodation they can find. It proves difficult for many of them to backtrack to the Lion Inn, so they resume their walk where their kind hosts are prepared to drop them.

For those of us who stayed at The Lion Inn, on Blakey Ridge, we have a short walk to Fat Betty, a medieval, white-painted cross. Tradition has it that travellers leave and take offerings. We trade our sealed Brookfarm fruit and nut snacks for Kendall Mint and boiled sweets.

Liz leaving food offering at Fat Betty

Soon we return to houses and shops. But not before we meet a scared horse in a laneway who has escaped its paddock. Our horse whisper, Denise Temisgian, does a fine job calming the horse before the locals come to its rescue. This is the best day for easy walking, combining long views, classic moorland in autumnal hues, a richly wooded landscape, and an active railway in Grosmont.

Denise, the Horse Whisperer
North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) and the Fat Controller at Grosmont Station

I arranged a wonderful catered meal in the evening at the Geall Gallery. Lots of singing and drinking was had as we revel in our achievement and make preparations for the walk’s epic conclusion.  

Day 13 Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay 25kms – 6 hours

Geall Gallery and B&B Accommodation

A long stretch with enough difficulties to make sure you arrive suitably disheveled in Robin’s Hood Bay. The 230m climb out of Grosmont is a great heart starter. The scenery is similar to what has gone before us: desolate moorland punctuated with quick road stages culminating in an echo of the first day, with three miles of magnificent cliff-top footpath along the coastal cliffs overlooking, this time, the North Sea. A most pleasant surprise awaits us with the transit of Little Beck Wood. Nestled amongst this narrow belt of heavenly woodland, we enjoy a relaxed morning tea at Falling Foss Tea Garden.

More Black Headed Sheep above cloud inversion leaving Grosmont

We assemble in the local cliff top caravan park as we prepare to walk into Robin Hood’s Bay as a single unified walking group. The MS Society UK, with banners flapping, is there to greet us. It is an exciting moment. The fatigue and effort to get everyone to the finish line has been exhausting, but it has been worth every minute. What a fine bunch of women and men that stand before me.

MS Research Australia & MS Society UK unite at top of Robin’s Hood Bay

Once we had taken the celebratory photo and consumed our first glass of champagne, we have three remaining tasks. We need to dip our feet in the ocean and throw the small pebble we each carried with us from St Bees on the Irish Sea into the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay, in any way we like.

Then we head to the Bay Hotel’s main bar for another celebratory drink, sign their Visitor’s Book and receive our official signed and numbered Coast to Coast Completion Certificate. 

Doug and Liz celebrate The End at the Bay Hotel, Robin Hoods’s Bay

Everyone is elated with our efforts. We all complete the walk with only Tansey having a few days off in the Lake district because, unbeknownst to us, she broke her ankle slipping on her very first day. I cannot get over the stoicism and resilience of these female walkers and our token males. Walking aside, we unanimously agree it was the most thrilling thing we have ever done in our lives. The training and fundraising was a huge and rewarding part of it, each walker contributing to our final fundraising total of $230,000.  I am so proud of myself for having created this event, enrolling so many walkers, and working with them every step of the way to make it such a successful fundraising event with lasting friendships remaining.

Logistics

The Australian walkers independently flew to London and then chose train or hire cars to get to St Bees in Cumbria for the start of the walk. You can camp if you choose, but we preferred comfort and stayed in small hotels, guesthouses and other Bed and Breakfast (B&B) establishments.

This meant we paid less attention to the weight of our gear, could take more changes of clothes and other extras than any true ultralight backpacker. I did not want to make the walk any more challenging for these active women who liked their creature comforts. They were fit and active, but they fancied no more discomfort and sacrifices.

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk is a well-established route with an international reputation for being one of the most scenic walks in the world. With these accolades come many support businesses designed to make your experience more enjoyable. Several tour operators can plan your whole itinerary and book your accommodation.

What did I learn?

Helping the walkers reach their individual fundraising target of A$10,000 and navigate them safely across England from St Bees on the West coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the East coast became the least of my worries. Many of the girls had never attempted such a challenging walk, but they came on board. They just needed encouragement. I thoroughly enjoyed watching women, including myself, learn new skills, overcome our fears, and build self-confidence and self-belief in our ability to complete the 303km Wainwright’s Coast2Coast walk.

As you can see below, I enjoy solitude to photograph the landscape, but being with such a motivated group of walkers was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

The power of teamwork was exhilarating. When someone needed a few words of gentle encouragement everyone chipped in and played their part. We laughed at our failures and revelled in our triumphs. We put the ‘fun’ back into fundraising and had a wonderful time. Not bad for a bunch of old geezers with many of us well past our fifties. Many of the participants came to thank me for giving them one of the best and most gratifying experiences of their entire lives.

I knew the camaraderie that forms on these lengthy walks can intoxicate. I saw it clearly with my 2010 Mudgee2Sydney Walk for MS Research. Six of the girls who joined me on this walk backed up their performance there with a repeat effort in England. I guess they trusted me enough to deliver them another memorable walk.

Everyone deserves recognition for their efforts, and I believe we received this on the actual walk, being blessed with sunshine for 12 days.

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson

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