The Coast to Coast Walk Across the UK
Earlier this year, I idly picked up Travel Magazine in the supermarket, and an article on the Coast to Coast Walk through northern England caught my attention. As a lover of walking and exploring, I was immediately drawn to the adventure. I realized the expedition could be a great fundraising opportunity for my charity, Garden Route Children’s Trust (GRCT). I set to work persuading my husband and two keen friends to join me in crossing the country. They agreed! Not only did we complete the 200-mile challenge while marveling at beautiful scenery, but we also raised over $20,000 for GRCT.
The children on the Garden Route in South Africa are fed with e’pap, a balanced meal of a soya and maize porridge that fulfills all the body’s micronutrients requirements. E’Pap was originally developed by a South African scientist as a means for supplementing nutrition to poor AIDS patients and children. I visit our beneficiaries in Africa annually and can vouchsafe for the transformation in the children’s health and well-being. Walking for 4,500 children and those who feed them made this walk extremely meaningful to me.
Equipment and Gear
The Coast to Coast Walk is one of the most popular long-distance treks in the world, attracting over 10,000 walkers each year. In 1972, the famous walker and guide book writer, Alfred Wainwright, devised a route across the UK that starts from St. Bees and ends at Robin Hood’s Bay. It goes through three National Parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors.
Although there are several good guide books available (particularly Wainwright’s and a more recent one by Henry Stedman), we found that a GPS, compass, and good maps were essential—especially since the Lake District is devoid of good signposts. Remember, high rainfall in this region is typical and part of the experience! Using the correct gear makes wet situations manageable instead of miserable. Comfortable waterproof walking boots are vital. Gaiters that cover your feet will keep your socks and shoes relatively dry. We were fortunate that out of our 13-day journey, only three were met with continuous rain.
We booked B&Bs in advance to ensure a good night’s sleep. Hot baths, when available, were much appreciated as were drying facilities for our wet clothes. Our accommodations added to the rich tapestry of the experience. We stayed in widely different billets, ranging from a 300-year-old farmhouse to a modern bunkhouse.
Our bags were transported to our overnight stops by Packhorse, a company that drives West to East on a daily basis. There is a limited amount of luggage that can be taken. Apart from our walking gear, we only needed jeans, comfortable shoes, and a warm fleece for visits to the local pub for fish and chips. Dinners provided the opportunity for good food and company—we often met other walkers who exchanged news and banter about the day.
The scenery on this trip was varied greatly: from valleys to high peaks, Yorkshire Dales to misty heather-clad moors, coastal headlands to quaint villages, fields of black-faced sheep to fast flowing streams. Walking off the beaten track enabled us to see the kind of scenery we would have missed from the windows of a car or train. Knowing that every step meant more food for hungry children was a motivating incentive when our energy levels were depleted.
Sunshine in the Lake District
The trip was not all gloomy weather—the sun shone brightly on the splendid scenery of the Lake District through which we walked during the first week. It was wonderful to view the lakes and tarns from on high.
Hiking the many ascents and descents of the Lake District was quite challenging. There were, on occasion, easier alternatives that made safer options when the weather was bad. We had an exciting moment when we got lost in thick mist at the top of Loft Beck. Fortunately, we met other walkers in the same predicament and managed to find a way down to Hollister by using our GPS. On our fifth day, we reached the highest point of the original Coast to Coast route, Kidsty Pike, with breathtaking views that made the hard slog worthwhile.
James Herriot Country
It was fascinating to spend a night in the village of Reeth where the James Herriot film, All Creatures Great and Small, was filmed. It was easy to imagine stories of the country set there. We walked into the village on a sunny Sunday afternoon when the local brass band was entertaining Sunday trippers.
Yorkshire Warmth and Kindness
Despite our action-packed daily hikes, we still managed to visit one or two of the ubiquitous Yorkshire institutions: old fashioned English tearooms! With all the calories we were burning, we could eat cake with impunity. There were refreshment points put out by kind locals that dotted the countryside in areas where there were no shops of any kind. These points usually included an honesty box to accept payments. One in particular that we fondly remember was located just before an arduous series of steep uphills climbs and wet boggy moors. There, by the side of the road, was a basket containing freshly baked flapjacks full of energy-packed ingredients. It was gladly partaken and paid for by us!
We Made It!
There is an Alfred Wainwright tradition whereby each walker dips his feet in the Irish Sea at the start of the journey and does the same in the North Sea at the end. In addition, we each carried a pebble from the Irish Sea shore and cast it triumphantly into the North Sea upon our arrival 13 days later.
I hope my story offers an insightful snapshot into the experience and encourages others to try the Coast to Coast Walk. Every walker will experience different highs and lows over the 200 miles. You will discover the warm companionship of other travelers as well as a superb sense of achievement when you arrive at Robin Hood’s Bay almost two weeks later. My journey felt like a pilgrimage, enriched further with the knowledge that our trip was related to the worthy cause of helping feed children in South Africa.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Penny Fleming grew up in South Africa where she studied and worked for many years. She moved to London 20 years ago when her husband, Patrick, was transferred to his company’s head-office. In recent years, Penny and Patrick have pursued travel by foot in Europe, including week-long walks in Switzerland, Austria, and from the French Pyrenees to the sea in Spain.
Penny has had a varied career teaching English, lecturing in Communication, being a church pastor, and counseling for a doctors’ general practice. Most recently, she was inspired by her friends and a sense of duty to found and run GRCT. The charity trustees have been amazed and delighted by the donors’ and supporters’ great generosity. Since 2006, GRCT has been able to send more than $300,000 to South Africa to help impoverished children. Learn more on how to help here.