West is Best: Walking the Western Section of Wainwright's Coast to Coast
Devised by Alfred Wainwright and published in his book “A Coast to Coast Walk”, the Coast to Coast walk in its entirety now attracts somewhere up to 10,000 keen walkers every year. Though the full 199-mile walk spans the Lake District National Park, the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the North York Moors National Park, hiking the width of the country in one go isn’t for everyone. So why not take a week to enjoy the best part of the walk? The part which will challenge you physically, but will reward you with breath taking views, the part that will have you putting your feet up at the end of the day in front of a fire with a tall, cold glass of the local beer, the part which will redefine your ideas of walking in the English countryside…The West.
Sandstone Cliffs outside of St Bees
“I want to encourage in others the ambition to devise with the aid of maps their own cross-country marathons and not be merely followers of other people's routes: there is no end to the possibilities for originality and initiative” - A. Wainwright, A Coast to Coast Walk
Though I’m sure Wainwrights words aim to inspire, and I’m sure there is almost no end to the various routes from St Bees on the west coast to Kirkby Stephen, it would be much less practical and probably much less enjoyable for everyone to forge their own path, especially when the Wainwright route covers some of the most spectacular parts of the country. Though the West does offer beauty and wonder, it does come at the cost of physical challenge.
Day one will give you a good opportunity to enjoy the sea breeze and look out over the sandstone cliffs that rise up from St Bees. As you move inland the day is a pleasant walk, allowing you to stretch your legs and get into your groove. The highlight of the day is the walk up Dent hill, not too far from your destination, where on a clear day you can see all the way back to St Bees.
Day two will really work up a sweat and will be a tough, but equally rewarding day. For experienced walkers I would advise taking the route up to Red Pike, the ascent is tough and the trail along High Stile and High Crag is no walk in the park either, but the views from the top are incredible and were my personal highlight of the trip. If you’re more of a casual walker don’t feel like you’ll be missing out! The path soon joins back up at Haystacks, which was Wainwright's favourite part of the Lake District and is a fascinating labyrinth of rocks with amazing views down to Buttermere.
Ennerdale Water on Day 2
The next few days offer a similar cocktail of ascents, views and surprises. Though the walk to Grasmere is a visually stunning one (As are most of the walks, and it never gets old) it’s a much shorter day and this is a great opportunity to head into the village and either relax with a nice cold drink, or, depending on the weather, maybe a cup of tea and some of the local baking in one of the towns many pubs or cafes.
If you’re looking for a rest day Grasmere is ideal, there are good transport links for a day out, lots of local attractions and smaller walks and plenty of restaurants and cafes to recharge after your first few days. If like me, you find yourself needing to buy a new hat, or any outdoor equipment actually, there are a good selection of shops in town where you can stock up. After an evening with some new Coast to Coast friends and a few relaxing drinks in the walker friendly village pub, my fourth day began with me feeling as groggy as the weather. Admittedly the rain was a welcome change after walking in the intense heat, and the low clouds and darker days changed the character of the lake district, giving it a far more dramatic feel than the blue skies of the previous days.
In good weather I would again suggest taking the route up to Helvellyn, it would be a shame to come so far and to miss such a great opportunity! On this day I decided to carry on the main path, following the valley and the increasing number of waterfalls the wet weather had now created. Once down from the hills I recommend dropping in to the White Lion, where on a day like mine, an open fire will be waiting for you to warm you up, and the friendly staff will be more than happy to suggest one of their delicious hearty meals to accompany one of their local beers on tap.
High Stile from High Crag
Patterdale to Shap is the day you say goodbye to the lake district, but not before really getting stuck into its charm one last time. The day begins with a long, but not very difficult ascent towards Kidsty Pike. This is the highest point of the Coast to Coast trail (Unless you took the Helvellyn route) and gives you plenty of time to look out onto the peaks of the Lake District and reflect back on your journey so far. From Kidsty Pike it’s a steep scramble down off the mountain with views out onto the Yorkshire Dales, your next destination. From here it’s fairly flat and easy walking all the way to Shap, with plenty of opportunities to get acquainted with the local farmyard animals as you cross the fields to your next stop. So far it’s been a tough, but rewarding week, so why not treat yourself to some fish and chips from the massively popular chip shop in town before turning in for the night and getting ready for your final and longest day.
Waymarking is pretty good on the route
As you leave Shap your path will take you off into the Yorkshire Dales, across wild moors and off towards the distant peaks of the Pennines. Though today is the last of your week long adventure, it’s much easier terrain with very little change in elevation. The day is a great way to unwind and let your now pro-athlete leg muscles relax a little. With no real detours available on this section, it’s definitely worth your while to make a quick stop in Orton, mostly for a visit to Kennedy’s Chocolate Factory. That’s right, chocolate factory. After far too long and way too much chocolate, the rest of the walk to Kirkby Stephen is easy going and is a great chance to spend one last day walking with any new friends you might’ve made along the way.
The Coast to Coast West really is one of the most remarkable walks I have ever done. I’ve done a lot of walking in Scotland and really couldn’t see how the Lake District could offer me anything I hadn’t already seen, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Every day was something new and exciting, the constantly changing terrain and equally, the constantly changing views made the walk really special. The Coast to Coast West will stretch the limits of even the most experienced hill walkers, but the rewards for all that hard work make it worth every moment. It’s easy to get caught up in covering those miles and climbing that hill, but don’t forget the best part of any walking trip…to take the time to stand and take it all in. For more information on walking the Coast to Coast, you can get in touch with our destination specialists who will be more than happy to help you out.