On the 14th September 2019 we began the second ever Thistle Trekking Coast to Coast. Last year we successfully trekked the western half of this famous route, but this year we were going all the way. So we assembled in St Bees with some new faces and some familiar. Most would be travelling with me through the beautiful Lakeland fells to finish in Kirkby Stephen. Rosie, would be with us for the full two weeks, continuing all the way to Robin Hood’s Bay in week 2. She would be joined by some of last year’s group, back to complete their Coast to Coast trek.
Alfred Wainwrights Coast to Coast, at over 180 miles, is no mean undertaking, but the reward for taking on this challenge is a route spanning 3 national parks and countless opportunities to delight in the wonderful scenery. Wainwright created his Coast to Coast long distance walk as an antidote to the Pennine Way, which safe to say didn’t really light his fire. His idea was to show that anyone could map out their own long distance trail using existing rights of way. He encouraged others not to follow his route but travel across our island, starting and finishing wherever they saw fit. However, Wainwright, as is his way, came up with such a splendid route and such a detailed account of it, that we all now follow his original ‘Coast to Coast’. Our group had travelled from Italy, Switzerland, Scotland and all points of England to walk Wainwright’s famous route.
Day 1: St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge
So we left St Bees on a windy morning with an improving forecast, having been promised a rainy start all week this was better than expected. In accordance with tradition we dipped our boots in the Irish Sea and happy to be underway we walked the impressive cliff tops lined with fellow Coast to Coasters. As the walkers dispersed, finding their own speeds and strides we stopped for lunch at a local cricket ground. We continued through gentle countryside and villages, making our approach to the Lakeland fells, very much in contrast to the mountainous days to come. A diversion was in place which prevented us going up and over Dent hill, but the alternative route wasn’t a bad one and we completed day one suitably warmed up for the Lake District National Park (and with a well deserved local pint).
Day 2: Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite
We began day 2 in perfect blue skies with the fells reflecting in the still Ennerdale Water. The conditions were perfect for what is quite a big day. We left the lake behind and continued up the Ennerdale valley, a conservation area known as “Wild Ennerdale”. We stopped at the remote Black Sail Youth Hostel and Roger boiled the kettle for tea to prepare us for the steep climb up Loft Beck – the first of 4 high passes that would become a theme of the next few days. We descended to the Honister slate mine and then further to Rosthwaite through mature oak woodland in soft evening light. A fixed chain hand rail around a rocky section of river bank added interest to the end of a full day on the trail.
Day 3: Rosthwaite to Grasmere
After a big day yesterday the idea of less than 10 miles was appealing and once again the weather gods were on our side. Becky arrived from Switzerland to join our trek and her friends already on the trail. We climbed steadily out of Borrowdale to be greeted by hundreds of Herdwick sheep being brought off the fells in a perfect Lakeland scene. Having given the large flock right of way, we carried on our climb towards Greenup Edge stopping for a lunch break on Lining Crag. This promontory provided fantastic views both of the mountains around us and the valleys below. Yoga poses were performed for the camera (this would become part of the daily routine for our Swiss contingent and source of much hilarity) before the last little ascent. Then it was downhill into the picturesque Grasmere for an ice cream. Three days in and the group were going along nicely – hard to believe we were half-way through the trek already.
Day 4: Grasmere to Patterdale
Another shorter day, another sunny day and our third high mountain pass. We climbed steadily out of Grasmere heading for Grisedale Tarn, the legendary resting place of the crown of the Kingdom of Cumbria. A quick detour to the Brothers’ Parting Stone and the tale of the Wordsworth brothers before lunch was taken looking down Grisedale. More yoga and attempted synchronised jumping pics provided the entertainment. We arrived in Patterdale in the mid-afternoon with plenty of time to spare for a pint in The White Lion.
Day 5: Patterdale to Shap
Day 5 is the toughest day on the western half of the Coast to Coast and with legs starting to feel those hills and miles a number of the group decided to join us from Haweswater. So, with reduced numbers we set off from Patterdale for the long climb to Kidsty Pike. Angle Tarn provided a truly stunning resting point but the flying ants on the summit of Kidsty Pike weren’t quite so welcome. It did, however, provide Becky with the opportunity to put her midge net to good use. Refueled we descended to join the others on the shores of Haweswater, and from here we left behind the lakes walked into limestone country.
Day 6: Shap to Kirkby Stephen
This is the longest day of the western section in terms of miles, but the going is good underfoot. The sun continued to shine on our final day and we couldn’t believe quite how lucky we had been. We ate our lunch looking across the dales to the Howgills and the Lune Valley. From here we picked up the pace – the prospect of missing our dinner reservation on our final day wasn’t worth contemplating. And, so under railway and through pasture we arrived in Kirkby Stephen. Corks popped and toasts were made – what a wonderful walk, with a wonderful group!