Top 10 Highlights of Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk
By Mark Wright
Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk is a perennial favourite with Mickledore walkers. The route runs for approximately 192 miles, from the sea cliffs of St Bees on the Irish Sea, to the fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. It’s a superb walk that will take you through three national parks and over a real cross-section of England’s most dramatic landscapes.
On your journey you’ll walk among the highest fells, alongside the largest lakes, through delightful woodland and over windswept moors. To help whet your appetite, we’ve compiled our top 10 highlights of this classic long distance trail.
The first highlight of Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk comes right at the beginning. As the starting point for this iconic long-distance trail, St Bees provides an awe-inspiring introduction to the journey. Primarily due to its splendid coastal setting on the Irish Sea. The rugged coastline, combined with the tranquil ambiance of this charming village, never fails to impress. Many walkers choose to dip their boots in the Irish Sea before setting off. The dramatic cliff walk over St Bees Head offers breathtaking panoramic views across the sea to the Isle of Man and Scotland. The magnificent St Bees Lighthouse adds to the picturesque landscape. For some, St Bees is a place for contemplation, for others excitement, and probably for most, anticipation, as they take their first steps on their epic cross-country adventure.
Ennerdale is revered for its remote and unspoiled natural beauty. Nestled just inside the Lake District National Park, this secluded valley is often less frequented by tourists, providing a tranquil atmosphere for those who visit. Here walkers are treated to a picturesque trail that winds along the lakeshore, flanked by rugged fells and dense woodlands. Pillar, Red Pike and High Stile just some of the magnificent fells standing guard over this glorious valley. The unspoiled character of Wild Ennerdale is a stark contrast to some of the more tourist hot spots in the Lakes, allowing walkers to connect with nature and appreciate the serenity of their surroundings. It’s a peaceful place, a place to enjoy some quiet before heading into the central Lake District.
Haystacks is the final resting place of the celebrated fell walker and guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright and many walkers will choose to take the High Level alternative onto Haystacks to pay homage the creator of this epic cross country walk. Wainwright himself wrote of Haystacks, “All I ask for, at the end, is a last long resting place by the side of Innominate Tarn, on Haystacks, where the water gently laps the gravelly shore and the heather blooms and Pillar and Gable keep unfailing watch. A quiet place, a lonely place. I shall go to it, for the last time, and be carried: someone who knew me in life will take me and empty me out of a little box and leave me there alone. And if you, dear reader, should get a bit of grit in your boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me.”
The walk through Grisedale towards Patterdale is a thrilling and visually striking experience. As you follow the trail past Grisedale Tarn and down into the valley the imposing presence of Striding Edge and Helvellyn gradually comes into view. Striding Edge, a renowned knife-edge ridge, presents an exhilarating challenge for adventurous walkers and a fascinating spectator sport for those walking the Coast to Coast. Spend a little time tracking the tiny figures gingerly making their way along the edge. Do however, watch where you are putting your own feet. Helvellyn is England’s third-highest peak, and is complimented by the neighbouring fells of Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike. Up to your right is the magnificent St Sunday Crag with its protruding fin of rock, Pinnacle Ridge. It’s a privilege to walk among these giants on your way to the charming village of Patterdale.
Nine Standards Rigg
The Nine Standards Rigg is a distinctive and fascinating feature on the Coast to Coast walk. Located on Hartley Fell near the boundary between Cumbria and North Yorkshire, this collection of stone cairns, known as ‘the standards’, are a subject of mystery and folklore, adding an air of intrigue to this unique location. One theory is that they were constructed by the Roman army to look like troops from a distance, another is that they simply marked the boundary between Westmorland and Swaledale. Whatever the reason, they’re pretty remarkable. Walkers are rewarded with panoramic views from this elevated spot. The rugged, untamed nature of the North Pennines providing a stark and wild beauty that contrasts with the lush greenery of the valley floors.
The rugged and atmospheric setting of Gunnerside Moor and its old mine workings delivers a blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage that makes for a rewarding and thought-provoking stretch of the Coast to Coast. The disused workings add a layer of historical interest, allowing walkers to delve into the region’s industrial past. The remnants of mine shafts, smelt mills, and hushes serve as tangible links to a bygone era, providing a glimpse into the hardships and determination of the lead miners who toiled here.
Celebrated for its countryside charm, Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales is a particularly enjoyable stretch of the Coast to Coast. The walk through Swaledale is a journey through a picturesque landscape characterised by hay meadows, field barns, drystone walls and charming villages such as Reeth. This section of the trail serves up a quintessential taste of the Yorkshire Dales’ rural beauty. The valley is graced with the meandering River Swale, quaint farmhouses, and sheep-dotted pastures. The traditional architecture, welcoming locals, and tranquil atmosphere create a sense of stepping back in time, ensuring Swaledale is a much cherished memory on the Coast to Coast route.
The historic market town of Richmond is much anticipated destination on the Coast to Coast walk. Having made their way through peaceful Swaledale, walkers now find themselves in a charming and bustling market town with cobbled streets, picturesque architecture, and a vibrant atmosphere. Richmond Castle occupies a commanding position, dominating the skyline. Dating back to the 11th century, the castle offers a glimpse into the region’s rich history. Richmond’s central square is surrounded by quaint shops, tearooms, and traditional pubs, making it a perfect place to rest and refuel. The combination of a fascinating history, scenic beauty, and the warm hospitality of the town makes Richmond a favourite stop for many Coast to Coast walkers.
North York Moors
The North York Moors is a captivating landscape characterised by its vast heather-clad moorlands, deep valleys, and undulating hills. The sense of solitude and tranquility felt in this region is profound. The North York Moors’ heather moorlands burst into vibrant purple blooms during late summer, creating a magical sight. The unspoiled nature of these moors conjures up a real sense of timelessness. Walkers traversing this wild and remote terrain, will without a doubt experience a deep appreciation of the untamed beauty of the British countryside.
Robin Hood’s Bay
The Coast to Coast walk ends in the picturesque fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay. The narrow, winding streets are lined with traditional red-roofed cottages, creating a picture-postcard scene. Walkers will often complete their walk by dipping their boots in the North Sea, marking the symbolic conclusion of their Coast to Coast adventure. Robin Hood’s Bay is steeped in history and folklore, with legends of smugglers and pirates adding to its allure. The maritime museum, provides a fascinating insight to the village’s colourful past. Here is a place where coastal beauty, a sense of achievement, and cultural richness combine to create a memorable and rewarding conclusion to the Coast to Coast walk.
As you can see, Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk offers a diverse range of landscapes and experiences, making it one of the most celebrated long distance trails in the United Kingdom. For further information on the Coast to Coast and to book your 2024 adventure email us [email protected] or call us on 017687 72335 to speak with one of our walking holiday experts.