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The Coast to Coast Walk - Summer 2000


In July 2000 I found myself at a loose end when my holidays came round. My house was on the market, so I'd not planned a holiday abroad just in case I needed to move in a hurry. On the Friday evening when work finished I sat in the sun at the table in the garden and wondered what I was going to do for the next 3 weeks. Out of the blue, I suddenly had the brilliant idea of doing the Coast to Coast Walk!

The C2C spans 190 miles from St. Bees in Cumbria on the West coast of England to Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire on the East coast. It was carved out of existing footpaths and rights of way by the famous Alfred Wainwright back in the 1970s, and is probably now the most popular long distance walk in England. I'd set off to do it with tent, sleeping bag and almost everything except the kitchen sink some 5 or 6 years earlier, but had managed to hurt my knees descending a very steep hill at the end of the first day. I'd pushed on almost to Kirkby Stephen, but then had to give up and go home to consult an orthopaedic surgeon! This time round I decided I'd stay in B&Bs and small hotels, and maybe it would actually be fun... :)

I dug out my walking books and checked on the net, and discovered that the Coast to Coast Packhorse was still in business. These are people based in Kirkby Stephen who allow walkers to park their cars and then transport them with their kit to the start of the walk in St Bees. They'll also transport luggage from A to B on a daily basis if required, leaving the walkers to carry just a day sack. When it's all over, they drive exhausted walkers back to their cars in Kirkby Stephen. I rang them up and arranged to be at their place early on Sunday morning to catch the minibus. How exciting!!!

It's possible to do the walk in a week (or less, if running!), and at the other end of the spectrum it wouldn't be difficult to spend 3 weeks about it, if taking days off and splitting the longer days into 2. However, most people seem to take between 12 and 14 days, and I've set out below the route I followed. Rosthwaite to Patterdale, and Richmond to Ingleby Cross, are both quite a slog, and many people stop off overnight in Grasmere and Danby Wiske respectively.

The Route
Day 1: 14 miles
St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge
Day 2: 14.5 miles Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite
Day 3: 17.5 miles Rosthwaite to Patterdale
Day 4: 16 miles Patterdale to Shap
Day 5: 20 miles Shap to Kirkby Stephen
Day 6: 13 miles Kirkby Stephen to Keld
Day 7: 11 miles Keld to Reeth
Day 8: 11 miles Reeth to Richmond
Day 9: 23 miles Richmond to Ingleby Cross
Day 10: 12 miles Ingleby Cross to Clay Bank Top
Day 11: 18.5 miles Clay Bank Top to Glaisdale
Day 12: 20 miles Glaisdale to Robin Hood's Bay

Although my decision to go was very much a last minute affair, I was already quite an experienced walker and so I already had the necessary kit. It's very important when embarking upon any walk in potentially inhospitable surroundings, and particularly a long one like this, to be well prepared, and to make sure you have the right kit. That mainly means the kit that will keep you warm, dry, safe and comfortable. If you get off to a bad start, you can hurt yourself on Day 1 and spoil the rest of the walk. If you're really daft or unlucky, you can even place your life (and that of potential rescuers) in jeopardy. So, do make sure you've got what you need before you set out.

I've set out below the basic kit that I would recommend for any C2C walker. Some is essential and other bits are optional, but they're all things that made the experience more fun for me :) I've made some links to the brands I like best, but lots of manufacturers make great stuff.

The Kit
Boots It may sound obvious, but a good pair of boots is an absolute essential. You should make sure that you've worn them in properly first in order to avoid blisters. Start off with blisters at the beginning and you'll probably be dogged by the blasted things all the way to Robin Hood's Bay. Blisters used to be regarded as an almost inevitable occupational hazard for walkers, but for most people these days they're just Not Necessary. My own capacity to do stupid things never ceases to amaze me :) Flushed with enthusiasm for the walk the day after I'd decided to go, and feeling that I was entitled to a preparatory shopping spree, I drove into Liverpool where I purchased a pair of hybrid boots/trainers, thinking that they'd be ideal for the days when I was walking on grassy surfaces. The bloke in the shop assured me they wouldn't need wearing in - I should have known better... The first hot spots started about half way to Ennerdale Bridge, and by the time I got there I had 3 little blisters that didn't fully heal up until I got home. So, learn from my stupidity - don't take new boots of ANY description on a long distance walk!
Compeed That cautionary tale takes me neatly to Compeed, voted Best Bit of Kit by just about every walker I encountered last year. There are lots of blister remedies on the market, but IMO Compeed leaves the rest of them standing! They're thick, padded blister dressings that you stick right onto your blister/open wound, and you leave them there for days to do the job. They look disgusting after a while, but they heal your foot and they take away the pain. You can get them at all good walking shops and large chemists, and even some of the smaller shops on the C2C were stocking them last year. Don't leave home without them...
Rucksack A sturdy and comfortable rucksack is a must. The size depends upon whether you plan to carry all your kit or just a day sack, but make sure you have one that works well for you. None of them are truly waterproof (although Macpac come closer than any others I've encountered), so make sure to wrap your kit in a series of plastic bags inside. I used a Lowe Alpine Contour Runner that I've had for years. It's a great little day sack, and because I can put my flask and water bottle in the mesh pockets at the sides I don't have to take it off when I want a quick drink.
Water Bottle You don't have to take a water bottle - many people just buy a bottle of something nice from a shop each morning - but I like to take one because it's sturdy and I stick it in a sock and then it doubles as a hot water bottle when necessary. I use Sigg water bottles - they're light and bombproof and go on for ever.
Waterproofs You'll definitely need these. All sorts of things are available at a whole range of prices, but a bit of extra money spent on breathable waterproofs is money well invested. There'll be times when it's not actually raining but you'll want to put the top on to keep you warm. If it's not breathable, you'll soon be soaked in sweat. Yuk... and you'll be on the way to a cold. If you can run to the extra dosh, try to get one of the modern breathable fabrics that packs down really small as well. Do take the trousers too - if it's really cold and wet, you'll need them.
Hat Some implausibly large proportion of body heat is lost through heads, so don't leave your hat at home. My favourite wet/cold weather hat is the Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap. Insensitive people have been known to snigger when I'm wearing it, but it's waterproof with ear flaps for rainy weather, and you can fold up the ear flaps and just park it on your head when you just want to conserve a bit of heat. Great hats :)
For sunny weather, I like baseball caps. They're easily clipped to the front of your rucksack so you can get at them easily, and basically they just look so cool :)
Gloves Don't forget your gloves either. You probably won't need them much, but when you do need them you'll REALLY miss them if you've left them behind.
Fleece Some sort of fleece is more or less essential, to go over your base layer when it's getting chilly. Also ideal for evenings in the pub. Try to get something that packs down small, and keep it near the top of your rucksack.
Trousers/Shorts You need trousers that will dry out easily if they get wet. Jeans are a disaster... All sorts of things are available, so get something comfy that packs down small.
Unless it's very cold, I like RonHill Tracksters best. If it *is* very cold, I like Sprayway 20/20 Line Polartec pants - they're fleecy lined and lovely.
I prefer to walk in shorts, though. On the C2C I wore some old yellow shorts for the whole trip, and didn't get into my Ron Hills at any stage (though I did put my waterproof pants on once). They were pretty mucky by the time I'd finished, but they've walked every step of the C2C :)
Socks Make sure you get good walking socks - you'll be spending a lot of time in them. Some people like to wear an inner and an outer sock, feeling that this reduces the risk of blisters, but I've not found that it makes much difference to me. I wear Thorlo socks. They come in a range of weights and exciting colours, and I have fun each morning deciding which colour scheme to go for :)
Base Layer A light and wicking base layer is best. Wicking means that if you get wet (sweat, leaks etc) the fabric will help transport the water away from your body (where it's cooling you down). If you've got the breathable waterproofs mentioned above, the water will then leave your clothing and float up to join a cloud :) Or at least that's the theory... It does work, though, so choose carefully. Having said that, I wore sleeveless T-shirts because I wanted a tan. They worked fine as well :)
First Aid Kit This is essential. You can make one up yourself, or buy one ready made. I have a Gregson Pack that I bought years ago. It's yellow, so you can't easily leave it lying on a rock, and it comes with all sorts of useful things (including a whistle - essential). Make sure you re-stock your old one before you go. Don't forget the painkillers and compeed.
Maps No matter how good your guide book, don't go without a map. It's possible to buy strip maps for the C2C, and that's an attractive idea when you're wondering how you'll get all the kit in your rucksack. However... if disaster strikes and you walk off the strip (as I did), your map is suddenly useless. I wouldn't take a strip map again. I'd recommend the OS Outdoor Leisure 1:25,000. Just cut off the unnecessary bits, and they'll fold up small(ish).
Map Case Not everyone carries one - you can get the OS maps mentioned above in waterproof material - but I like to take one because otherwise I have to unfold the whole map each time I need to consult it. When you're as challenged at reading maps as I am, that's lots of unfolding... The Ortlieb map cases are one of the best bits of kit I've ever used. They're truly waterproof and almost indestructible, and if you squash all the air out carefully then you can tuck them into the belt of your rucksack for easy access.
Incidentally, Ortlieb also make a range of little waterproof pouches in which you can store things like money, cheque book etc.
Compass A compass is another essential. On the C2C you may not need it often, but there will almost certainly be times when you'll need to take a bearing. I've always been an enthusiastic map-reader, but for some reason my brain stubbornly refuses to grasp the essentials easily. If I don't practise often, I forget simple principles. This means that I like to have a compass that makes life as easy as possible for me: a good plan, I feel, in what could turn into a survival situation. Therefore, I've got a Silva sighting compass. This is more sophisticated than the average Silva (and therefore a fair bit more expensive) because everything is made easy. I just have to hold it up and look through the little window to get my bearing. When you're cold and tired and running out of daylight, there may come a time when you really have to rely upon your compass. At moments like that, it's easy to make a mistake, so money invested in a good compass is money well spent. Choose your compass carefully to suit you, and make sure you know how to use it before you leave :)
Guide Book There are a few C2C guide books around. I took the Paul Hannon book ("The Coast to Coast Walk", published by Hillside Publications) and it was excellent. Others took the Wainwright, and they were very happy with that too. No guide book is a replacement for a map and compass, but a good book gives you a good idea of where you're going and what to look out for on the way. The Paul Hannon has a nice topographical profile at the start of each chapter, giving a good indication of what lies ahead during the day. The Wainwright has (IIRC) a running total of miles covered, which is another very comforting feature when you're cold and wet and wondering whether it's worth plodding on. If you have room, or go with a companion, think about taking them both.
Music Some people get quite steamed up at the idea of taking music on a walk, but my own feeling is each to their own. I love walking and listening to music - it gets me up the steep bits and enhances the magical moments. I used to take a personal stereo with me, but on the C2C I took a Sony minidisc player with some discs that I made up in advance. It was absolutely excellent. It's small and light, and the minidiscs take up hardly any space. So, think about taking one if you like walking to music, particularly if you're setting out on your own. Try to find a water/bash proof pouch for it in advance, and then you can clip it to your belt.
Mobile Phone If some people get steamed up at the idea of taking music, then others get positively apoplectic at the idea of mobile phones on the hills! I suppose a great gathering of people shouting noisily into mobiles on the hilltops could spoil things for others, but fortunately I've never come across that. On the C2C, mobiles can be great for booking accommodation from the pub if you've not booked it all in advance. They might also be helpful in a crisis, although you mustn't rely upon that because there isn't coverage all the way.
GPS These are becoming more popular, and I bought one in Grasmere when I succumbed to a toy attack :) It's capable of all sorts of sophisticated things, but what I used it for was taking a position when I was unsure. For that, it was easy and reliable. I got the Garmin eTrex Summit.
Book Don't forget to take a book to read in bed and when you stop for lunch breaks. I quite like reading expedition books when I'm walking, to remind me of just how much harder things could actually be :)
Travel Guitar OK, so I didn't have one last time, but I'm hoping to take one on the Pennine Way :) I'm planning to get a Larrivee Parlour guitar with a hardshell case from First Quality Music Supplies in the States, and I'll get the Sherpa people to carry it from A to B for me each day.
The only disadvantage of long distance walking is being parted from your guitar for a couple of weeks - this is the ideal solution :)
Red Bull Red Bull?? I'd not heard of this before the C2C, but I'd drunk a fair amount by the time I'd finished! This is an energy drink, and believe me - when you're really tired and there are still many miles to go, you'll feel like trying anything that makes it easier to get to your B&B! When you encounter that moment, give old Red Bull a try :)
Accommodation Guide The Coast to Coast Accommodation Guide is absolutely invaluable. It's a slim and tiny volume that costs about 4.00, and you should be able to get it in decent bookshops. It's published by Ewen and Hazel Bennett of Ingleby Cross, and you'll see people poring over it in pubs throughout the walk. Although it's advisable to book your accommodation in advance, it doesn't seem to be absolutely essential (with the exception, perhaps, of places like Keld and Clay Bank Top, where accommodation is thin on the ground).
Sandals If you've got room for a pair of sandals in your rucksack, then they're great for evenings in the pub. It's nice to get out of those boots for a while!
Flask I like to take a flask for hot drinks during the day. You can get them filled at your B&B, or you can do it yourself with those little sachets of coffee and milk that you'll find in your room. It only takes a minute or so to do, but it makes a big difference to morale at break time, even on hot days. Coffee and oatcake - yum yum!!
If you're buying one, get a nice lightweight unbreakable model. I have a titanium flask that I bought in Grasmere more than 10 years ago. I almost had to take out a second mortgage at the time, but it's still with me and going strong. It keeps drinks hot all day, and each of the little dings in the side tells a story :) I've not seen the titanium ones in the shops for years now, but there are lots of other models available at very reasonable prices.
Camera Take a camera in a robust pouch. It's not the same without photo's to look forward to afterwards :)

There are a number of things that I'll bear in mind when I do my next long distance walk, all culled from my happy (and particularly the not-so-happy) experiences on the C2C. I've set them out below.

Top Tips Details
Packing your Rucksack Organise kit into categories, and pack each in a separate plastic bag inside your rucksack. Think about where things ought to be (spare clothes, waterproofs, food, painkillers etc should be near the top) and get into the habit of packing them in the same way each day. You'll pack up much faster, and find things much more easily on the walk.
Compeed I've already mentioned this, but it bears mentioning again. Don't leave home without it :)
Happy Snacks Take along some nice snack food and put it where you can get at it easily. This'll help to get you through the low spots, and unless you're very unusual there'll definitely be some of those.
Accessibility There are different schools of thought on how to pack stuff. I like to have my compass, camera, map, drink and minidisc accessible without taking my rucksack off. You can get small karibiners from walking shops for a couple of quid each, and clip things in pouches to D rings on the front of your rucksack. Try it - maybe it'll work for you too :) (Make sure they're not waving around in the wind, though, or they'll drive you mad.)
Accommodation I wouldn't have believed before doing the C2C just how far 100 meters can seem 7 days into a 12 day walk... Try as hard as you can to make sure that your accommodation is actually on the route - I promise you won't feel like walking half a mile in the wrong direction to find it once you get to the end of the day... If you can find a B&B next to the best pub, then you're laughing :)
Valuables Keep your money, cheque book, credit card etc in a waterproof pouch where you can easily get at it in your rucksack. A top/side pocket is ideal, if you've got one. You won't feel like unpacking everything when you get to the sandwich shop or the pub.
Lunch Box I like to take a litte tupperware lunch box for my lunch. On the one hand, it can be a bit of a pain packing a hard, rectangular object. On the other hand, it saves finding cheese savory and bananas plastered all over the inside of my rucksack ;) It also helps prevent "eyes bigger than stomach" attacks in the shop in the morning, as there's a limit to what will fit :)
Walking Pole Take a collapsible walking pole. Lots of people find them very useful for rocky and uneven bits of the walk, and some people feel they've saved them from what might otherwise have been a nasty fall.
Walking Pole Don't take a bloody walking pole! Those people who like them are just plain WRONG, and all poles do is poke people in the eye and get in the way! :) (In fact, I hate them myself, but live and let live and all that... :)
Luggage Transport Just about the Toppest Tip of all :) There are a number of different luggage carrying services available for C2C walkers. I tried the Packhorse and Sherpa, and I liked Sherpa best on a day to day basis. Needless to say, there's absolutely nothing wrong with carrying everything yourself from start to finish, and it's a very satisfying and rewarding thing to do. Just be aware, though, that these services exist for only a small daily fee, and you can use them on an ad hoc basis. Just ring them the night before and they'll collect your kit and carry it to your next B&B. They'll carry your whole load or just a couple of bits and pieces - whatever you want. If you get tired and your pack is too heavy, please don't allow ego to get in the way of actually enjoying the walk. I've been there myself... (remember the reference at the top to the orthopaedic surgeon?? :-)

Now we've reached the bit where I'm supposed to tell you what I did each day. It should be nicely illustrated with photographs, but Hey! - it's only 8 months since I got home, and I've not had them developed yet :) As soon as I dig the camera out of a packing box (I did finally move house) I'll get them developed and put them here. I find that I've exhausted myself with all that talk of lovely kit, so I'll have to defer my description of the actual walk to a later day. Coming soon... :) In the meantime, though, many thanks to Mark, Sue, Les and Matt for making it the unbeatable experience it turned out to be! The best walking companions in the world :)




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