Wainwright’s Coast to Coast … In Winter

Only it wasn’t winter.  It was March, almost Easter, and a time, I’d supposed, of primrose lined paths, sparkling sunshine and hosts of daffodils.

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But in Northern England this year, March was decidedly still winter.

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Wainwright’s Coast to Coast is a tough walk; tougher still to complete in twelve days and tougher yet to complete with a thirty pound rucksack on your back.

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From above Eagle Crag looking down into Greenup Gill, Cumbria

Start throwing in day after day of snowfall and walking into an unremitting, scouring Siberian easterly and it could be brutal.

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Climbing out of Borrowdale

Each day brought new trials and obstacles: steep Lakeland passes; 24 mile days; navigating in poor visibility on paths buried in snow, following cairns covered in snow, and seeking landmarks and way-markers obscured by falling snow.  (To be clear, it snowed.  A lot).

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Pat in a ditch – won’t be the last time.

I wasn’t alone all the time: I met up for several days with another coast to coaster (hi Pat).

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“Gee Ma, I sure is having fun”

We staggered up to Nine Standards Rigg together (the highest point on the Pennine section), blundering about in another white-out and that ferocious wind;

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Pat trying to stay upright

a wind that grew even stronger on the North York Moors: that horrible, relentless, flaying, snowflakes-in-your-eyes, difficult-to-stand-upright-in, damnable East Wind.

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We had one good day – which helped remind me why I go walking at this time of year.

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On other days too there might be a fleeting moment of sunlight.

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Once or twice, I even saw that most inconstant and fickle of companions – my shadow.

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But too soon we were slogging it back up into the snow line, freezing cold and blizzards where visibility was down to thirty yards and we were navigating by compass.

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Wading through snow, uphill with a rucksack is very tiring (should you have wondered).

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On most of the 23 mile day’s march from Richmond to Ingelby Cross, there was no snow.  Just mud.

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One of two I saw

I saw plenty of wildlife including hares, deer and red squirrels (though you’ll need a magnifying glass to see the latter);

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dippers in the Swale

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and red grouse on the Moors.

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Not much of a life

On St Bees Head, I saw two birds I’d never seen before: guillemots

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and razorbills.

Kirby Stephen Macaws

And I also saw, of course, the free-flying macaws of Kirby Stephen.  Surreal, huh?  (The Guardian explains why).

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Stonethwaite, Borrowdale

I stayed in charming villages and hamlets;

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The Hermitage, Shap

at some excellent B&B’s (special mention goes to Jean at The Hermitage, Shap, Matt at the Keld Lodge, Keld and John at The Manse, Reeth);

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The Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge

and collapsed in warm, gemütlich pubs that, frozen as I was, had me weeping in gratitude on arrival.

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North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Grosmont

I saw splendid man-made things

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Localized frozen sea spray

and weird,

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alien things.

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There were cruel steps and stiff climbs;

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Squeeze stile, Swaledale.  Could just put up a sign – “No Fat Thighs Beyond This Point.”

gates, kissing gates, stiles, ladder stiles and squeeze stiles beyond count;

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those seemingly infinite, arctic North York Moors;

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moments of “I can give up now and be home in time for tea

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and others of “Marvellous.  Simply, Bloody Marvellous.”

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But mostly, I simply immersed myself in walking across beautiful England; conquering one cooked breakfast after another; carrying all that I might need; wondering what I might have for supper;

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looking about me

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and staring.

(As it isn’t a nationally designated path, way-marking on the C2C is non-existent in places.  Thankfully, people have improvised – bottom right requires a Geordie accent)).

Apparently 10 000 people from all over the world start the C2C each year – how many complete it, I don’t know.  Pat and I (and all the B&B owners and various walkers and others we met) didn’t know of anyone who had walked all of it this year and we were the first of 2013 to sign ‘The Coast to Coast Book‘ at

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(Left) Pat and his wife, Sue at The End

Wainwrights’ Bar, Robin Hood’s Bay.

As well as signing The Book, tradition dictates that you dip your boot into the Irish Sea on setting out from St Bees and dip it again into the brine at RHB.

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Me hurling

Tradition also requires that you pick up a pebble at the start, carry it all 200 miles and then hurl it into the North Sea – a bit pointless really but actually quite satisfying.  Unfortunately, as Pat did neither of these two traditions, I formally declared his C2C effort null and void.  He told me to get stuffed – which I thought rude.

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Do I regret walking the C2C in these conditions?  During the coldest March since 1962?  Nope, not for a moment.  It was physically the most challenging … er, challenge that I’ve ever done; the total cumulative ascent is equivalent to climbing Everest; it was Northern England showing off at its wildest and rawest; the satisfaction of completion was immense and, significantly,  we had the paths, fells, moors and mountains mostly to ourselves.  A rare honour.

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Heck, I even saw daffodils.

Do I rate the C2C as the second best walk in the world (according to one survey of ‘experts’)?  Well, I’ve formed an opinion but I’m not going to tell you what it is.

Walk Wainwright’s Coast to Coast yourself and see what you think.

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I have written a detailed, day-by-day account of this walk on my other blog – ‘The Walking Gardener’.

60 thoughts on “Wainwright’s Coast to Coast … In Winter

  1. I discovered your blog yesterday. It’s now lunch-time the following day and I have spent a blissful morning in bed, reading just about all your posts! No wonder you have won so many awards .. your writing is a joy to read and your photos make you want to get out there right now and walk or garden.
    I think I mentioned yesterday in a message, that I have recently walked the Thames Trail, which I just loved for its beauty, interest and variety. I wrote a blog .. nothing like as amazing as yours .. but an aide memoire, nevertheless. Would you mind telling me what sort of camera you use .. I wimped out and just used my phone. And boy, can you tell!

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    • Hello Jules, I’m very pleased you like my blogs and took the time to tell me! The C2C is one of the greatest memories of my life and looking back at this post, I’m reminded just how difficult, at times, it was. I use a NIkon D7000, a standard 18-55mm lens and I also now carry a (heavy) 70-300mm telephoto. Far too much weight really but taking photos is a big part of any walk for me. Dave

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  2. Pingback: Wainwright’s Coast To Coast Path | The Walking Gardener

  3. Oh, hats off, I am truly impressed, and you certainly earned every one of those spectacular views, not to mention the cooked breakfasts. You deserve a lot of smug points for persevering through all that snow, and worse, that dreadful easterly wind that feels as if it is exfoliating you as you go. Hope you returned feeling refreshed and rejuvenated in spirit, though I am assuming the body was a little in need of some rest and recuperation!!

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    • Hi Janet, well those breakfasts were as much a challenge as the walk but I did (smugly) beat each and every one. Surprisingly, after two weeks walking, my body had been beaten into submission and I could happily have continued walking – though I suspect my years of feeling like that after a long, long walk are definitely numbered. And please, put your hat back on – it’s not that warm yet. Dave

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  4. What an achievement. Well done and in those conditions…
    Such a great post I really enjoyed following your journey. The scenery looked amazing and though the snow made it much wilder than you had planned, it made for some good photos. Throwing that stone was very symbolic and a good way to end.

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    • Thanks Annie, I’m glad you liked the post. Having moaned about the weather, I now find I miss the walk and indeed, at the end, I would have been perfectly happy to have just kept on walking; yep, just kept on walking. Dave

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  5. I’m sorry we didn’t see you, but I love the Geordie C2C sign! I’ve never been a huge walker, but one day, very low and depressed I set out to walk. I walked and walked and walked. I didn’t know or care where I went, I walked in the dark in the mud and eventually I realised I had to go home. The rest is a long and humbling story. But out of the dark came some light. Walking, just putting one foot in front of the other is a therapy above all others. I never ever thought I might do the C2C but now I think I could.

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    • I’m glad you found some light. I find these long (mostly) solo walks terrifically therapeutic. My brain is swept clear of the usual, everyday banalities and the importance of just getting to the day’s goal is paramount (that and hopefully a pub for lunch). I am far more aware of my body; noting and analysing every new ache or pain as a possible impediment to completing my walk. And without a companion (and so not engrossed in conversation or matching pace) I stop and look about me far more. If ever you do decide to do the C2C – please let me know. I’d be very happy to share my experiences of accommodation, daily mileages and so on. Go for it! Dave

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  6. Well today me and the old man went for a walk on the cliffs at Clevedon. There were primroses and aconites and all manner of pretty things flora,l faunal and human enjoying the sunshine. And then we went home for tea….Not quite like your walk then. I am awestruck and that would be the understatement. I shall send your pictures to Billy so that he can see what he is missing.

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    • Hi Ros, well your walk is pretty much what I was naively expecting up north; especially aconites of which I’m very fond but can’t seem to grow at the Priory for toffee. Though two of the couple of dozen I’ve planted have thrown up a leaf each – so that’s a triumph. Say Hi to Billy – I wonder whether there is a Tongan long distance footpath? Quite circular I should imagine – and not very long. Dx

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    • Thanks Laura. I did see beautiful things – when I wasn’t blinded by snow. I didn’t get all the photos I wanted either because of a fault my camera developed or due to the weather. Glad you liked the account. Dave

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  7. Staggering – literally. Breathtaking photographs really capture some of your highs and lows, thank you for sharing them with us. And hoorah for completing the walk undeterred by the best Siberia could throw at you. July next year then?

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    • Nah, Sara. There’d be too many people about in July. It’ll be Feb/March again though I’m thinking further south: Pembrokeshire Coast path or part of the SW Coast Path maybe. I rather fancy two weeks of seaside walking. Plans are afoot – if only in my head. Dave

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  8. The cover of that Pictorial Guide makes the walk look so easy… False advertising, I’d say! I’m so glad you were able to enjoy the expedition, Dave, and that the weather didn’t prevent those spectacular moments from happening. One of my friends from Minnesota is fond of saying that “There is no bad weather; there are only bad dressers,” but she may not have been walking in white-out conditions and using a compass to navigate at the time. Your travelogs are always wonderful — this one no exception.
    P.S. Those razorbills are such hipsters.

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    • Hi Stacy, that little red line is deceptive isn’t it? Suggestive of a little stroll. Pah! And good advice from your friend though there are bad dresses too. Hipster razorbills should be their proper name, I think. Dave

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  9. As an Australian who did a walk in the Lake District some years ago (in September) and had one day when the rain did not stop from start to finish, I really don’t know about this walking in the snow! Wonderful photos and commentary thank you.

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    • Hi Christine, certainly had experience of Lakeland non-stop rain but thankfully hardly any on this walk. I have all the gear for wet weather walking but it is a pretty miserable experience. Thanks for commenting. Dave

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  10. You’ve certainly given me a new view of England’s green and pleasant land. More like Siberia. A formidable accomplishment and your good spirits and optimistic disposition make thought of the journey almost bearable.

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    • Hi Cathi, I was too tired in the evenings to blog – barely enough energy to lift a pint of Black Sheep bitter to my lips. I will be writing a detailed account of my walk on my new walking blog – The Walking Gardener – soon. Thanks for the link. Dave

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  11. I did think of you last week with all the awful weather and wondered if you were going ahead with your walk. Well done, not only have you don the C2C but you have done it in possibly the worst conditions.
    Love the photographs

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    • Thanks Helen. If I’d started out a few days later, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the walk. The horrendous snow that Cumbria suffered (that killed so many sheep) fell shortly after I had moved eastward and Keld in the Pennines had seven foot drifts two or three days after I left. I would have had to have given up in those conditions. Obviously. Dave

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    • Hi Paul, just had a look at your blog – and yep, you certainly had some fine weather and interesting that you had to detour round Kidsty Pike – me too. I had so set my heart on seeing the only English golden eagle. I’ll be publishing a full account of my walk on my new walking blog shortly. Dave

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  12. I’m glad you’ve survived the ‘challenge’. My husband would like to do that walk, but doing it a bit later in the year might be a good idea. You have got some stunning photos though. I’ve enjoyed seeing it all from a distance.

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    • Hi Karin, I hope your husband enjoys it but as I said to Christina below bad weather can strike at any time. I was also told about an American couple who completed the walk entirely in fog and mist! The lady was in tears at the end as she had so wanted to see all the views. Dave

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  13. Congratulations, you’ve done it! What an amazing adventure and journey you had there, coupled with fabulous photos as always! It was extra challenging, with the weather being uncooperative and all but the snow has added its own unique beauty to the scenery and journey (ok, easier said when the cold weather can be uncomfortable). An achievement to be proud of, well done!

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    • Thanks Boys. Part of me would like to do the walk again in fairer weather (I had to divert around one section because of the bad weather) but I don’t think it will be any time soon. Dave

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  14. What do I say, as a very fair weather walker I take my hat off to you (maybe not if I was walking with you – I’d need that hat!). I’m glad you enjoyed yourself in a very beautiful part of the country, I love Yorkshire, but I’ve never seen it like this. Great images that helpd me imagine I was with you. Christina

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    • Going walking anywhere in the UK at any time of year is a gamble, Christina. I met a dog-walker who walked the C2C last August and endured 14 days of non-stop rain. That was my fear, that I would just be tramping along in a constant downpour – give me snow and ice every time! Dave

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  15. That really was a challenge and I am glad you could enjoy all its glories undefeated. It doesn’t surprise me that you were the first to do the walk this year, some pictures were reminiscent of the Arctic. It really is a holiday to remember.

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    • Hi Amelia, some people I met looked at me in disbelief when I told them I was doing it for fun, for a holiday … and backed away warily. Poor old Pat – it was his first long distance footpath; quite a baptism of fire, or rather ice. Dave

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  16. What an amazing journey with scenery to match! Your photos are wonderful and will be a lasting memory of your walk in just about the worst conditions imaginable. Good to have you safely back in the freezing south!

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  17. Well done you – what an epic adventure with wonderful scenery and just as wonderful photographs – at least you have something to show for it other than chilblains and sore feet – whew I feel worn out just thinking about how far you travelled in dire conditions.

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    • Thanks Elaine. No chilblains but face rubbed raw by that wind and remarkably feet were fine – one small blister only. Achey muscles mostly from the rucksack – I wonder how many more years I’ve got before I start using a luggage transfer service (though these don’t operate at the time of year I like to go walking). Dave

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