Coast to Coast – a Walk Across England, and Through The Centuries
Walking across an entire country is quite a feat in Australia, however in England, it’s a lot more manageable.
Wainwright was a meticulous planner, and suggested you dip your booted feet in the Irish Sea at the beginning, and the North Sea at the end. He was quite a solitary character, and known to be a bit of a curmudgeon in his later years – so you’d best be dipping your boots!
The Coast to Coast walk takes you through three of England’s most beautiful national parks. The Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors, however it also feels as if you’re walking back in time. You’ll experience untouched wildernesses, misty moors, ancient stone circles, historic villages and abbeys, and a real flavour of England across the centuries.
You’ll come across places that sound as if they belong in The Hobbit, or Harry Potter – like Helm Crags, the village of Shap and the mountain of Nine Standards Rigg. In fact you can take a ride on one of the steam trains used in the Harry Potter films, at Grosmont – just around the corner from Diagon Alley we’re told…
The Beautiful and Barren Lake District
While the English like to present themselves as having a stiff upper lip, they also love an eccentric, and Alfred Wainwright most certainly fitted the bill. This is what he wrote just a year before he died.
“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.”
~ Alfred Wainwright
Something to think about as you tramp across the mountains! And you’ll pass right by the Haystacks on the Coast to Coast, so you could indeed end up with a little Wainwright in your shoe.
He’s described it perfectly though. A quiet lonely place, as much of the walk is here. Dramatic, barren and beautiful, The Lake District was recognised as a World Heritage site in 2017, and this section of the walk is the most challenging. Rugged hills known as ‘fells’, are interspersed with picturesque lakes and lush green valleys dotted with sheep.
You’ll skirt Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak at 978m and you’ll cross the Kidsty Pike, the highest point of the walk at 784m.
Along the way you’ll stumble into Grasmere, right next to a valley called the ‘the fairest place on earth’ by William Wordsworth, one of England’s most famous poets. You can also visit Dove Cottage, where he was living when two of his children died, his brother was drowned at sea and his sister suffered a mental breakdown. Even still, the beauty of the countryside was enough to bring him solace, as he wrote his most famous poem while in residence…
‘I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.’
The Ancient Yorkshire Dales
As you leave the village of Shap and its 800 year old Abbey behind, you’ll enter into one of England’s ‘Empty Quarters’, where overgrown stone circles and burial mounds stand as testament to a forgotten past.
The Yorkshire Dales contain some of the finest limestone landscapes in the UK, and each valley (Dale) seems to have its own unique character.
Stone villages appear as they have done for generations, farm lands are dotted with old barns and the boundaries are clearly defined by long, beautifully assembled creations that really set the tone for this part of the world.
People have worked and shaped this land for thousands of years, and it seems they respect tradition, as the art of dry stone walling is obviously alive and well in the Dales.
You’ll cross the mountain range that runs up the middle of England, the Pennines, you’ll wade through notorious peat bogs (although there are proper paths now so you won’t get bogged!) and you’ll discover evidence of pre-historic lead mining, which again, has been a feature of the Dales for thousands of years. Roman ingots have also been discovered here, an intoxicating reminder of the Roman invasion, almost two thousand years ago.
And finally, just before you pass into the North Yorkshire Moors you’ll stop at Richmond,
a beautiful historic town with an ancient castle you simply must visit.
Richmond Castle was built in 1071, five years after a sturdy little Frenchman called William defeated the English at the battle of Hastings in 1066.
Much like the Romans before him, William the Conqueror – as he was now appropriately named – found the Northerners a little more feisty than those in the South, so he built this castle to help subdue the unruly natives.
This was a real turning point in English history, the castle itself is the third oldest in England, and you can feel the history seeping into your bones as you walk the grounds.
The Wild North York Moors
As you walk into the North York Moors, you’ll leave the cultivated and tended farmlands behind, and you’ll soak up the atmosphere of a wild, high, and untamed moorland covered with heather.
Ancient standing stones abound, medieval crosses appear now and again, as do 18th Century estate boundary markers. If you visit in August, the hills will be covered in purple and lilac blooms of heather, and you’ll often hear the territorial calls of the male grouse.
It’s a beautiful part of the world, and as you walk you’ll occasionally wander past a long forgotten burial site, catching glimpses of the North Sea in the distance if you keep your eyes fixed on the horizon.
Before you finally reach the coast, however, as an Australian you may be interested to take a little detour North, to visit the birthplace of a reasonably well known explorer, and navigator – Captain James Cook.
Born in Marton in 1728, Cook wasn’t the first European to discover what was known as ‘The Great Southern Continent’ but he certainly turned out to be the most influential. There’s a little museum in the town, which is well worth a visit.
If you don’t fancy the detour, just follow the trail along the Rosedale Ironstone Railway, which used to serve the nearby mines over 150 years ago, and eventually, you’ll reach the tall sea cliffs of Robin Hood’s Bay, also known as Smugglers Town.
After dipping your boots in the North Sea, of course, you can take a tour of the twisting alleys, and hear how the inhabitants of this tiny town smuggled millions of litres of gin, tobacco and tea into the country during the American War for Independence at the end of the 18th Century.
No wonder it’s called Robin Hood’s Bay!
And what a way to finish your journey.
192 miles across the breadth of England, taking in mountain peaks, misty moors, eccentrics, poets, legendary explorers, ancient traditions and barren landscapes, beautiful valleys and cultivated farmlands, priceless Roman ingots, Norman conquerors, stone circles, pirates and smugglers.
All combining to make this trip across England a heady mixture of the past and the present, across some of England’s most green and pleasant lands.