Wainwright invented this superb walk in the early 1970's. It is not an official 'National Trail', but is probably the most popular long distance walk in the country. Not to say that you will find hordes of people walking along it - on the contrary, there are enough people walking it at any one time to make it a pleasant social experience, but not too many that you lose the peace and quiet you're coming for.
I shall describe the route as we walked it, which varies only slightly from the 'official' route.
The route starts from St. Bees, on the western edge of the Lake District, and starts with a few glorious miles along the coast, before heading inland. After a few miles of fields, some small communities, the route takes you over Dent, the first of many climbs. In our case, Dent was closed for logging, and so we had to take a route over Flat Fell instead. Ennerdale Bridge was our first night's stop.
From Ennerdale Bridge, the Lake District walking starts in earnest, with a long walk along the shores of Ennerdale Water, through the forest and a steep climb up Loft Beck. From here there are superb views over Buttermere, before you drop down via Honister Pass to Rosthwaite and Stonethwaite, where we made our second stop.
From Stonethwaite, the route climbs up Greenup Gill through marvellous mountain scenery to Greenup Edge. From here we walked along the superb ridge which ends at Helm Crag, high above Grasmere, which was our third destination.
Our fourth day's walk took us up Tongue Gill to Grisedale Tarn. Another superb walk in the mountains. From the tarn we descended the long valley of Grisedale, and finished our day's walk in Glenridding. This is not normally on route, Patterdale is the usual destination, as described by Wainwright.
The normal route from Patterdale/Glenridding is to climb high over Kidsty Pike. Unfortunately, in our case, the weather was poor, so we took the low-level route along Ullswater and over Moor Divock to our fifth's night stop at Bampton Grange. This is not too much of an disappointmemt, as it is a fine walk in itself. As you cross onto the moor, the scenery suddenly changes from typical Lake District scenery to moorland. It is worth noting that Wainwright described it as A Coast to Coast Walk, not The Coast to Coast Walk, and he actually encourages you to find your own route. So there is no concept of cheating, all that matters is that you get from one coast to the other under your own steam.
From Bampton Grange, the route passes through Shap, and then onwards to the pleasant village of Orton, our sixth stop. This is Limestone country, and although it is not as grand as seen previously, it is still very enjoyable. From Orton, the route carries on over the moors to Kirkby Stephen, one of the larger places on the journey, and our next overnight stop.
From Kirkby Stephen, the path crosses the Pennine watershed by climbing over Nine Standards Rigg, the Nine Standards themselves being nine massive cairns on the top: a memorable part of the journey. The route over the mountain varies according to the time of year. We found the descent was very boggy, through the remote valley of Whitsundale, and were glad to get to our bed and breakfast at Keld.
From Keld, Wainwright's route takes a high level path through old mining country. We decided to take a leisurely day along the valley of the River Swale instead, and really enjoyed this: the first part in particular being very scenic. Also we were able to visit the pub for a lunchtime pint, which was an added bonus. Reeth is the next overnight stop, being an interesting little town clustered round a large green.
The next leg takes you across more dale country to Richmond, which is the only large town on the route. Some people take a rest day here, because there is quite a lot to see. Others, like ourselves steel themselves for the least enjoyable part ot the journey, through the Vale of York.
This part is very pastoral, and very pleasant, but it is 23 miles of very flat walking, with quite a bit on road. Some Coast to Coasters like to get this over with in one day, and do the twenty three miles in one day, but we decided to break after 13 miles, at Danby Wiske. This turned out to be a good move, as we had a great night in the pub there.
It was a relatively short flat walk the next day to Ingleby Cross. As you progress, the Cleveland Hills in the distance get larger and larger, and you look forward to gaining some altitude.
Finally you climb the Cleveland Hills from Ingeleby Cross, and what hills they are. The next few miles are a roller coaster ride: up and down, up and down. The scenery is quite magnificent, with fantastic views and gorgeous heather-covered moors. Accomodation is scarce at the end of this stretch, so we went a couple of miles off route to Urra for the night.
The next stretch apparently has great views. I'm afraid I can't comment, because we were stuck in a thick pea-soup fog all day. Once you are onto the moor, the walking is easy because it follows an abandoned railway line. It wasn't too far to our next stop, at Blakey House, right opposite the Lion Inn.
From Blakey, the walk continues over moorland and ends with a lovely ridge walk down to Egton Bridge. From here you walk down to the river and through the woods to end up at Egton Bridge. The final days walk starts from here, with a pleasant walk to Grosmont, where there is a preserved steam railway, followed by a climb back onto the moors.Dropping down to LittleBeck, a few miles of woodland wslking follows, then a final climb back onto the moors, with sight of the sea ahead.
Finally you leave the moors, and drop down the the coast itself, and finish as you began, with a few wonderful miles of coastal scenery. Finally, you hit the bustle of Robin Hood's Bay: quite a shock after so many quiet miles, and it's time for that celebratory drink in the Bay Hotel!
If that has whet your appetite, maybe you would like to read my illustrated Coast to Coast Diary. It contains a detailed day by day account of the journey with lots of pictures.
Of course, A Coast to Coast Walk by A Wainwright, is the book that started it all off, a work of art, and is essential reading for the prospective Coast to Coaster.
We didn't actually use Wainwright's book for day to day route-finding, preferring to keep it dry in the suitcase, and read it at night. Our route navigation was done with Paul Hannon's Coast to Coast Walk (Hillside Publications, ISBN 1 870141 55 5) which is an excellent guide, too, and more up to date than the Wainwright book.
Ordnance survey used to do two Outdoor Leisure Maps (nos. OL33 and OL34) which covered the whole of the walk at a scale of 1:27777, i.e. 2.25 inches to the mile. These do not appear in the current O.S. catalogue and so they are hard to get hold of. Our tour company (Contours) provided these for us and they are great.
However, OL33 and OL34 only cover a strip of country a short distance either side of the standard route, and so they are no use if you have to make a variation, or have to go a long way off route to your accomodation. Therefore it is important to have full maps covering the walk area also. I found I needed half a dozen or so Explorer maps to cover the area. These really came into their own between Glenridding and Bampton and between Keld and Reeth because of our alternative routes.
I got most of my GPS waypoints from Guy Wilson's excellent site at http://www.guy-wilson.co.uk/c2c.htm, making a few modifications to suit our own route. This site does not seem to exist any more. The waypoints on his site were provided in Microsoft Word .doc format, which would normally entail a lot of typing to enter them into the GPS. I therefore wrote a program to parse the information and create a file which I could load into the MapSource program, and thence into my Garmin GPS.
You can download my waypoints from here. Right-click and use Save Target As... or the equivalent in your browser. To load them into MapSource, you have to use the Import facility in the File menu, because they are in PCX5 format. You should be able to use the excellent GPSBabel program from http://www.gpsbabel.org to convert to file formats suitable for other makes of GPS receiver. (This may also be needed for later versions of MapSource, which I understand do not import PCX5 files).
More information about the Coast to Coast and other walks can be found in the great site that is the The Walking Englishman. It covers not just long distance paths but lots of shorter walks too.