If you’re an aspiring long-distance hiker, chances are you’ve heard of the Coast to Coast walk. It is without a doubt one of the UK’s most popular long-distance walks; an epic journey across England.
The Coast to Coast walk is an iconic path that will take you across three National Parks (Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North York Moores). You’ll cover a wide variety of terrain and see some of the best scenery England has to offer. It is, however, a tough trek and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. You’ll need to know what to take, what to expect, how to prepare and where to stay.
This complete guide will give you all the information you need to go on your own Coast to Coast adventure. And what better time to start planning than during the Corona lockdown. Let’s get cracking!
What is the Coast to Coast Walk?
The route as we know it today was first mapped out by fell-walking legend Alfred Wainwright in 1973, when he had the idea to walk across England. Wainwright illustrated and published a guide book to his route, which is still in print today and carried in many a Coast to Coaster’s rucksack.
Wainwright encouraged people to use his hike as an inspiration to create their own variations. Paradoxically, most people choose to follow in his footsteps and walk his original route, though it has been amended and updated over the years to avoid private land and busy roads.
The Coast to Coast walk is 192-miles long, starts at St Bees on the Cumbrian coast and ends at the seaside town of Robin Hood’s Bay. Although you’ll be traversing England, you will only pass through two counties; Cumbria and the vast expanse of Yorkshire.
You’ll adventure through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks. You’ll climb mountains, walk through fields, cross rolling moorland, pass attractive villages, explore the remnants of Yorkshire’s mining past having trundled from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. What’s not to love?
How Difficult is the Coast to Coast walk?
Because it’s so popular and you’ve seen Julia Bradbury walk it on television, film crew in tow, it’s tempting to think that the Coast to Coast walk is easy. Don’t be fooled. It’s a tough old trek and should not be underestimated. Some sections are high and exposed and navigation isn’t always straightforward. Add to this the unpredictability of the British weather and it’s easy to get caught out.
When the cloud comes down over the hills, visibility can be poor. You’ll need to be confident in your ability to navigate or bring a mate who knows a thing or two about contours and back bearings. You will face some steep climbs and descents along the way and risk losing your boots in some notoriously boggy sections. Barefoot is all the rage these days...
It’s not all tough going though, you’ll also find quintessential England with gentle fields, easy tracks and quiet roads. Just be warned - the Coast to Coast walk is not a beginner’s hike. If you’re new to long-distance walking, cut your teeth on an easier path first.
There’s also the risk that the Coast to Coast will spoil any further walks for you if you do it too early in your walking career - no other hike will quite match up to it!
If you’re a regular hillwalker, reasonably fit and experienced in navigating, the Coast to Coast walk should be perfectly achievable.
How Long Does it Take to Walk the Coast to Coast?
Most people walk the Coast to Coast over 14 or 15 days. It’s possible to do it faster, but you will be walking long distances each day so you’ll need to be a fit and experienced hiker. Taking a little extra time will make your experience much more comfortable and gives you a chance to explore and really get into it.
With a schedule of 14 days you’ll still face some pretty long jaunts. If you’re worried about your ability to keep going day after day it might be an idea to build in at least one rest day. You could stop anywhere along the route, but it makes sense to choose somewhere with a bit going on. The most popular places are;
Grasmere- a busy little gem of a village. Proper old school England. It's full of tourists but lots to see, including the Wordsworth family graves and the lake. There are shops, cafes and the gingerbread is to die for.
Kirkby Stephen- an attractive town with plenty of facilities and shops, plus the opportunity to ride on the famous Settle-Carlisle train line.
Richmond- lots of history to explore, and loads of cafes to sit and watch the world go by..
Deciding how far to walk each day will depend on your preference, the time you have available, your fitness levels, and what vibe you like on your walking holidays. A typical 14-day schedule without a rest day looks like this;
Day 1- St Bees to Ennerdale 14 miles - Lake District - (Irish Sea side)
Day 2- Ennerdale to Borrowdale 15 miles - Lake District
Day 3- Borrowdale to Grasmere 9 miles - Lake District
Day 4- Grasmere to Patterdale 9 miles - Lake District
Day 5- Patterdale to Shap 16 miles - Lake District
Day 6- Shap to Kirkby Stephen 20½ miles - border
Day 7- Kirkby Stephen to Keld 13 miles - Yorkshire Dales
Day 8- Keld to Reeth 11 miles - Yorkshire Dales
Day 9- Reeth to Richmond 10½ miles - Yorkshire Dales
Day 10- Richmond to Ingleby Cross 23 miles - border
Day 11- Ingleby Cross to Clay Bank Top 12 miles - North York Moors
Day 12- Clay Bank Top to Blakey (Lion Inn) 10 miles - North York Moors
Day 13- Blakey (Lion Inn) to Grosmont- 13½ miles - North York Moors
Day 14- Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay 15½ miles - North York Moors (North Sea side)
It’s possible to break up the longer days if needed. Days 5 and 6 (when crossing over from the Lake District to the Yorkshire Dales) can be split into two or three days by staying in Bampton and/or Orton, both about 1½ miles off route. Orton also has its own chocolate factory… just saying.
Day 10 is the longest, when you’ll cross the flat expanse of the Vale of Mowbray to reach the Cleveland Hills. This is often considered to be the boring stretch, but you’ll be walking through farmland and along quiet roads so it’s relatively easy going.
If 23 miles is too far, you could walk an extra five miles from Richmond to stay in Brompton-on-Swale, making day 10 a more manageable 18 miles. A regular bus service between Brompton and Richmond allows you to travel back to Richmond for the night if needed. Alternatively split it into two days by staying at Danby Wiske.
If you are short of time, it’s possible to cut a day by walking from Rosthwaite to Patterdale (Lake District) in one stretch. Think carefully about this though. It’s a tough, tiring day’s walk. Keeping your days in the Lakes short gives you the option of tackling some of the higher route options on offer.
A better idea would be to walk either the 21½ miles from Keld to Richmond or the 22 miles from Ingleby Cross to Blakey in one day.
You might be forgiven for thinking the Coast to Coast walk is just one route - it’s not. There are a few days when you’re faced with a choice;
Day 2 (Lake District) - instead of walking to Black Sail Hut Youth Hostel and climbing Loft Beck onto Haystacks, the alternative climbs Red Pike and follows the ridge along High Stile and High Crag. This involves a lot more climbing and some steep descents but gives great views over the Buttermere valley. Jam sarnie and a selfie anyone?
Day 3 (Lake District) - instead of descending into Grasmere by Easedale, the alternative route traverses a ridge route to Helm Crag. This is undulating but not difficult and the views over Grasmere are worth it.
Day 4 (Lake District) - has three options. The original route follows the path down Grisedale Valley into Patterdale, but you can either turn left at Grisedale Tarn to climb Helvellyn and traverse Striding Edge or turn right to climb St Sunday Crag. If you haven’t done Striding Edge before you’re in for a treat - it’s an iconic walk, but it’s an exposed, narrow rocky ridge which needs care. Maybe not an option for vertigo sufferers!
If you’ve already done it, St Sunday Crag is worth considering for the views over Ullswater - (voted the best on the whole Coast to Coast walk route).
Day 7 (Yorkshire Dales) - there are three signposted routes over Nine Standards Rigg according to the time of year. The green route stays low and doesn’t visit the Standards but is recommended in poor visibility.
There’s a choice of routes from Keld to Reeth, known as the ‘high level’ and ‘low level’ routes. The high-level route is Wainwright’s original and does what it says on the tin. It climbs steeply onto the moors, through the evocative remains of Swaledale’s lead mining industry. The lower route follows the River Swale through several villages and is considerably easier.
The route you choose will depend on the time you have, how you’re feeling and visibility. It might put you off tackling one of the higher options in the Lakes if there’s no view to reward your slog.
If you’re short of time, could you split the Coast to Coast walk into two or three sections to complete chunks of it at a time? Good places to break it up are Shap, Kirkby, and Richmond (all Yorkshire Dales), which all have good public transport.
Another option if you’re particularly timestrapped is to complete the ‘highlights’ of the Coast to Coast walk. The sections from Ennerdale to Burnbanks (Lake District), Kirkby to Reeth (Yorkshire Dales) or Ingleby Cross to Grosmont (North York Moors) are seriously impressive and could be walked over a long weekend.
Most people walk the Coast to Coast west to east - the theory is you’ll have the wind at your back throughout the route. Guidebooks tend to be written west to east, but some renegades choose to set off from the North Sea side at Robin Hood’s Bay finishing up on the Irish Sea at St Bees. This saves the Lake District as a fitting climax, so is worth considering.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Walk the Coast to Coast?
The best time to walk the Coast to Coast is between late April and September. Days are longer and the weather is generally more settled. I say 'generally' as it’s perfectly possible to experience a fortnight of rain in June - this is the UK after all!
There can be some surprisingly good weather in April, but days are shorter and there is a chance of snow on higher ground, especially in the Lake District.
July and August are the busiest times for National Parks due to school holidays in England. September is usually dry and a great time to experience Autumn colours, but the later you go the shorter the days will be.
If you’re an experienced walker with the right kit (and know how to use it), a winter crossing of the Coast to Coast walk could be a real adventure. Bear in mind though that facilities may be closed.
Where to Stay During the Coast to Coast?
The Coast to Coast walk is a very popular path and accommodation can be limited, especially in the summer months. There are three choices when booking your accommodation. Walk independently and book it yourself, use the services of a company to secure your accommodation for you or join a guided tour who will arrange everything, including a group to walk with each day.
Whichever option you choose depends on your own preferences and circumstances, but if you’re booking your own accommodation you’ll need to plan well in advance. If you’re struggling to find accommodation, try neighbouring villages just off the Coast to Coast route.
The place you’re staying may agree to collect you and drop you back next morning. Another top tip is to avoid starting your walk at the weekend. The majority of Coast to Coasters begin Saturday or Sunday, so they’re all chasing accommodation for the same nights. School boy...
Camping is the cheapest and most flexible. There are plenty of campsites along the route, plus many farmers will also let you camp in their field for a small fee.
Some choose to wild camp along the route and this can make for a more immersive experience. This is not technically legal in the UK, but generally speaking, it’s tolerated as long as you pitch late, leave early and leave no trace...drink. More on this in our ultimate guide to wild camping.
If you camp, you’ll need to lug a lot more gear, unless you take a strong mate. We think the experience is all the more special when wild camping so would nudge you to at least consider sleeping out but realise it isn’t for everyone. Putting up a tent in a howling gale and driving rain after several hours walking isn’t everyone’s idea of fun though!
Next up the cost scale are Youth Hostels and Bunk Barns. These are generally cheap, but a good night’s sleep may be variable if you end up with a snorer in the dorm. And as we all know, there’s always a snorer. A few extra drinks before bed might just do the job and is cheaper than a hotel.
There are fewer hostels on the second half of the route, so you’ll need to think about other options.
Bed and breakfast/guest houses and hotels are the most expensive option (especially in the Lake District) but offer a greater deal of comfort at the end of a tough day’s walking. There is something to be said for a warm shower and a comfy bed. There’s also the lure of a fully cooked breakfast to set you up nicely for the day. Hash browns and beans all round!
Doreen Whitehead’s online guide is a good starting point for finding accommodation. You can also buy a printed version which is updated regularly.
You should be able to get a meal each evening as you’ll be staying in towns or villages well used to the unreasonably large appetites of hungry hikers on their walking holidays. If you’re staying in Keld, you’ll need to book a table at Keld Lodge or Butt House as there are no other options in the village. You’ll be able to buy lunch at most of the larger villages and towns.
Stretches that may cause problems are Ennerdale to Borrowdale (Lake District), Keld to Reeth (Yorkshire Dales) if you take the high route, and the last day if you’re not staying at Grosmont (North York Moors). Your B&B will be happy to sell you a packed lunch if you ask them the night before.
How Do I Get To and From The Coast to Coast walk?
St Bees has a train station, which is accessed from Carlisle or Barrow-in-Furness. Unfortunately, Robin Hood’s Bay has lost its station, but there are regular buses to Whitby and Scarborough where trains can be caught. National Express coaches have stops at Penrith, Scarborough and Whitby with local bus services serving St Bees and Robin Hood’s Bay.
Alternatively, take advantage of the walking holiday services offered by the Coast to Coast Packhorse. They offer secure parking at Kirkby Stephen (almost half-way) with a bus shuttle service to St Bees and back to your car from Robin Hood’s Bay at the end of your walk. The bus leaves Kirkby Stephen for St Bees at 8am each morning and leaves Robin Hood’s Bay for the return journey at 4pm daily.
You can access your car as you pass through, which gives you the advantage of being able to drop off or pick up spare gear. Don’t breathe in too deeply on the drive home if you’ve dumped your soggy socks.
This means you’d need to reach Robin Hood’s Bay by 4pm on your final day’s walking. If this feels a bit tight, Intake Farm at Little Beck offers accommodation and an evening meal. This reduces the last day to 12 miles and means you won’t have to tackle the climb out of Grosmont first thing in the morning!
What Kit do I need for the UK Coast to Coast Walk?
What you take with you will depend on whether you will be carrying your own gear or taking advantage of the baggage handling services offered by walking holiday transport specialists Sherpa Van, Coast to Coast Packhorse or Brigantes. They will transport a main bag for you which leaves you free to walk with just a day sack. This is more costly but does make the walking easier and it’s a bonus knowing you have spare clothes and maybe a good book or two.
If you’re carrying all your gear, you’ll need to be ruthless with your packing. It’s tempting to add stuff thinking you won’t notice the weight, but those ounces all add up to a potentially spine-crushing load. You’ll need to forgo some of the luxuries and be prepared to wear the same outfit several days in a row. It’s not a time to worry about BO - it’s not an adventure until you’re at least a bit stinky.
There are a few things you shouldn’t skimp on. Here's an idea of a minimal Coast to Coast kit list:
- A good pair of boots. These should be worn in and comfortable. Lighter weight, more flexible boots give less protection from rocks but are better for walking day after day. Boots with a stiffer sole can aggravate tendons after a while. Bring whatever has worked well for you in the past.
- A decent set of waterproofs. Expect to be walking in rain at least some of the time unless you’re lucky enough to hit a heatwave. And let’s be honest, it’s almost certainly not going to be.
- Warmer layers such as a fleece and windproof shell along with base layers so you can layer up or down as needed.
- Gloves, preferably waterproof - if the cloud comes down and the weather closes in, temperatures can drop drastically on high exposed ground even in the summer.
- Walking poles - opinions are divided. Some people love them, others hate them. If you get on with them, consider taking at least one pole. They reduce fatigue when walking long distances and can help with balance - very handy for tricky stream crossings and lightsaber fights in lieu of TV.
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and insect repellent. Take a hat if it’s likely to be hot, preferably one which covers your neck. Just prepare for four season’s worth of weather and you won’t go wrong!
- Emergency supplies such as extra snacks, a basic first aid kit including a whistle and a survival bag - just in case. A phone is a good idea just remember you might not have signal.
- Cashpoints are infrequent and some establishments aren’t geared up to accept card payments so make sure you have plenty of cash on you.
- Consider taking a head torch in case you end up walking in the dark, especially if you’re walking early or late in the season.
Keep clothes and electronic devices inside waterproof dry bags and use a waterproof rucksack cover to keep everything dry in heavy rain. A soggy sleeping bag isn’t much fun.
If you’re a solo walker it’s a good idea to give someone a copy of your itinerary and accommodation details before you go. Agree to check in with them regularly when you have a signal. It’s worth noting that some parts of the route are notoriously bad for phone and Wi-fi reception. A spot device might be a bit overkill but if you have one, why not.
Make sure you’re carrying details for your accommodation so you can call them if you’re likely to be delayed as you might have signal to ring but not to search the interwebs for the number.
Is the Coast to Coast Walk Easy to Navigate?
The Coast to Coast is sporadically signposted. Interestingly the only place you won’t see any signs is the Lake District, presumably as it’s not actually an official route despite its popularity. Signposts are useful in letting you know that you’re going the right way, but they can’t be relied on. You’ll need a guidebook, maps, a compass and phone to avoid getting lost.
A quick note on phones for navigation - they are very convenient but it’s always a good idea to bring a paper back up. Paper doesn’t run out of batteries. It also feels more of an adventure using a proper map. Unlike some countries, England is very well mapped so take advantage.
If you’re not sure how to use a compass, learn before you go. There are some excellent online tutorials or find an outdoors company offering navigation courses. It’s a useful skill to learn and could even save your life.
Some of the best Coast to Coast walk guidebooks are;
Trailblazer’s Coast to Coast Guide - the most popular choice, it contains detailed, hand-drawn maps and route details, information on facilities and local transport networks.
Cicerone’s Walking the Coast to Coast guide comes complete with a separate booklet containing OS mapping, route details, information on flora and fauna plus accommodation.
Wainwright’s original pictorial guide of the route has been revised and updated by Chris Jesty, who has retained his famous hand-drawn maps and sketches.
You’ll need to take a map as well, or at least a GPS device as a back-up. Harvey’s have produced two 1:40,000 maps covering the west and east sections of the Coast to Coast walk, which would save you carrying a whole stack of maps.
How do you Prepare for Coast to Coast Walking?
If you’re already a regular hillwalker or have been on long distance walking holidays before you should be fine. If your normal exercise routine is limited to the local streets rather than rugged fells, you’ll probably need to improve your fitness before you go.
Ideally start training at least 6 months before you intend to step onto the beach at St Bees. The best way to train is to build up your long walks gradually until you’re able to cover at least 15 miles comfortably. Get away from tarmac and find rough, steep terrain - this will help you cope with the mountain and moorland tracks you’ll encounter along the route.
Get active. Any exercise such as running, cycling, swimming - even taking the stairs at work - will all help improve your fitness and stamina. Strength training will build up your core muscles which will help your body cope with carrying a rucksack.
Get used to carrying your backpack on your walks and increase its weight gradually in the months before you go. Do some back to back walks to prepare your body for the challenge of walking day after day. Completing a shorter path over a few days would be ideal preparation for the Coast to Coast walk.
Get out there whatever the weather. Get used to being wet and miserable - you might not have the option of sitting out a wet day in the Lakes.
Your training walks are ideal for testing kit and breaking in those boots. It’s a good idea to do a dress rehearsal, ideally over a fairly long distance route. Walk with your rucksack packed with everything you’re going to take. You’ll feel ridiculously overdressed if you’re walking local trails, but who cares? It’s a great way to make sure everything’s comfortable before you set off.
A couple of weeks before you go, taper your training to give your body time to repair itself and gather strength for the challenge ahead.
A Bit of Parting Advice to Make the Most of Your Coast to Coast Walk Across the Best of England
Last but not least, enjoy and savour your Coast to Coast walk. It will be a truly special experience, and there is a camaraderie that seems to exist on no other trail in quite the same way. Once home don’t be surprised to find yourself wanting to do it again… and again.
Here's a great intro to get you inspired for walking the Coast to Coast
Not sure if wild camping along the way is for you? Or maybe you just want to learn a bit more about it before you try it out. Our wild camping guide has everything you could want to know and more.
Or if you like the idea of joining a (socially distanced) group then we'd love to have you join on one of our wild camping trips like wild camping Snowdonia.