The Coast to Coast: A guide to the trek
Walking guides - see all our background pages
The Coast to Coast is a walking trail running for 313km (195 miles) across Northern England. It was devised by Alfred Wainwright and set out in his book A Coast to Coast Walk in 1973.
Most often walked West to East, the route starts at St Bees on the Irish Sea and ends at Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea. In between are the three National Parks of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
The highest point reached by the standard route is 792m at Rampsgill Head in the Lakes. The terrain passed through is a mix of mountains, upland moors and low-lying farmland.
Trekkers completing the whole Coast to Coast take around a fortnight. The route also lends itself to walking shorter sections, for example a week or a weekend.
The Coast to Coast has its fair share of natural wonders. Sandwiched between the cliffs near St Bees Head on one side and the cliffs between Hawsker and Robin Hood's Bay on the other, wonderful sights include the tidy barns of Swaledale, Richmond Castle - and almost everything you come across in the Lake District. However, the thing with the Coast to Coast is not so much the famous sights as the overall sense of exploration.
Most enjoyable stages
For those looking to make the most of the Lakeland mountains and ridges, the two days from Grasmere to Shap give huge scope. Big draws are Helvellyn and its sharp rocky ridge Striding Edge, and the broader mountain High Street. For a day of quiet reflection as you amble along, Richmond to Danby Wiske is underrated.
Once you've got into the swing of a long-distance path, sometimes the most enjoyable stages aren't the ones with the obvious natural features but are those with the more hidden, esoteric sights that somehow strike a chord. If the particular line-up of climbs and descents just clicks with you one day, and you feel like you're bounding along, that stage can stick in the mind for a long time. For these reasons we love Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale, Keld to Reeth, and Clay Bank Top to Grosmont.
Is it for me?
Long distance paths
The UK has a wealth of long distance paths: trails on which your multi-day walk becomes your personal mission for the duration. The Coast to Coast can be right for you if you would enjoy the sense of achievement in completing a famous walk.
Can I manage it?
The Coast to Coast is a manageable trek for regular walkers who are used to full-day walks in the hills. With careful choice of where to stay each night, there need not be any particularly long days. As well as the distance, however, the terrain and weather can combine to create another challenge - navigation on the Lake District stages can be tricky in mist, and anyone who is used to climbing hills in the Lakes will have an advantage. In any case it will greatly help your enjoyment of the walk to arrive fit at the start, used to days of similar distance and height gain to those that you are about to face.
If the whole trek seems too much to bite off at once, start with a week, a few days or a weekend along part of the distance. The Eastern half is generally less challenging and avoids the high ground of the Lakes. We know all the options for short treks on the Coast to Coast, including the accommodation and transport that ties it all together. Join us for a short trek; it will give you a good feel for the walk and probably leave you wanting to complete the whole route!
What's it like underfoot?
Wainwright planned his Coast to Coast walk by joining up existing footpaths, bridleways, lanes and other rights of way. Decades on, the route remains a real mix of ground underfoot. This is one of its charms! Deep, squelchy mud is confined to a very small distance on the route, in particular on Nine Standards Rigg in the Dales. Most often you'll be walking across fields or down reasonably solid woodland trails. The open hillside is also a significant feature, especially in the Lake District. Stiles and gates are very common over some stretches, sometimes tricky for dogs; our routecards and notes explain more.
Is the route obvious?
The Coast to Coast is not marked throughout on the ground, especially in its tougher stages in the Lake District. Typical! Regular walkers in Britain will know that a lack of signposts is just the way of life here. Visitors from other European countries might be surprised. Some places have signs, but no mention of the Coast to Coast, while other places have no signs at all. Some signs show the Coast to Coast clearly. This sporadic signposting combined with the way that the route weaves its way across England's network of normal trails, makes a map and an idea of the route essential. A compass and the skills to use it are also essential on high ground if the clouds close in.
Is it technically difficult?
The Coast to Coast's emphasis is on distance rather than steepness. There is no climbing or scrambling, but there are some steep rocky paths, especially in the Lake District. It is all par for the course in the sphere of hill-walking in the UK.
When to go?
Alpine Exploratory's Coast to Coast season runs from the start of May until Mid September. We set this period to avoid the worst of the winter weather. For the warmest temperatures choose the high summer months of June, July and August. Earlier in the year, in the Spring, there can be spells of wonderfully warm and dry weather, but as this is the British Isles there are no guarantees. September brings quieter trails but shorter daylight hours and generally colder weather. Blustery, cold showers or crisp, still days, these Autumn months can be good fun.
Of the better-known trails in the UK, the Coast to Coast is perhaps the one with the biggest variety of accommodation. As with most routes, it's possible to stay in some smart small hotels and some superbly welcoming and comfortable guesthouses. However, where the Coast to Coast excels is in the quiet, rural, out-of-the-way corners of Northern England with accommodation to match. Sometimes eccentric, these places are thoroughly charming and can be the highlights of your journey.
Here we describe the whole route of our Coast to Coast holiday. Our routecards follow Wainwright's route from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay; in some places we give alternative paths too.
Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale
The morning's main event on leaving Ennerdale Bridge is the wild walk along the entire length of Ennerdale Water, the lake. There is a sense of walking into the mountains here: it's spectacular and involving. Further down Ennerdale, a heavily forested valley, pass the Black Sail Hut and begin climbing over the hills to Honister Pass. Paths aren't always clear. Lastly, the trail drops down to Borrowdale after some clever twists, arriving among the nearby hamlets of Seatoller, Longthwaite, Rosthwaite and Stonethwaite.
Borrowdale to Grasmere
Climb to 610m on this walk over the pass of Greenup Edge. It's a simple day starting with this climb from Borrowdale before an afternoon descent through the valley of Easedale. Alternatives are available in descent, along a knobbly ridge to Helm Crag or to a picturesque spot that we won't divulge here! Grasmere is a well-connected village of decent size and can make a sensible stop for a rest day.
Grasmere to Patterdale
Leaving Grasmere the Coast to Coast climbs to Grisedale Tarn (540m), a high lake among mountains. Patterdale is then reached by a long walk down the length of Grisedale valley. Today's route is a fine one to vary with ascents of Helvellyn or St Sunday Crag; both of these options are substantially tougher than the normal path. Patterdale and nearby Glenridding are small villages at the tip of Ullswater.
Patterdale to Shap
Today is your final day in the Lakes. It's a fitting end, combining high ridges, water, and wild remote scenes. The trail starts by climbing steadily to Rampsgill Head (792m) and Kidsty Pike, the highest points on the main Coast to Coast route. The major peak locally is High Street. A long descent to Haweswater follows. Haweswater is a reservoir where once there was a village in the valley floor; its Northern shore carries the CTC route. Field paths lead from the end of Haweswater to the village of Shap.
Shap to Kirkby Stephen
From Shap the path crosses the M6 motorway, a symbolic staging post on the trek East. On to the Dales! The hamlet of Oddendale arrives before moorland miles and a worthwhile detour to Orton. Low moorland and limestone scars are the terrain of the day. Pass Sunbiggin Tarn and the ancient settlement of Severals. Kirkby Stephen is reached, the largest and most useful village on the Coast to Coast so far, and a super little place on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.
Kirkby Stephen to Keld
Nine Standards Rigg (662m) is the big feature of today's stage from Kirkby Stephen. This is a moorland hill of gentle slopes. The standards are tall stone cairns that make the summit ridge easy to identify from many points in the area. The descent towards Keld is also the likely location of the deepest, wettest mud on anyone's Coast to Coast walk. Keld appears after further walking through valley fields and is a beautiful little hamlet among folds of hills. Well, after today's walk you are half-way to the East coast and have completed all the properly high hills. Well done!
Keld to Reeth
Keld is well sited at the top of Swaledale for the onward trek. The main route explores old mine workings and low moorland above Gunnerside before droppng to Reeth. There exists a good alternative route in the valley, linking the Swaledale vilages of Muker, Ivelet, Gunnerside and Healaugh to arrive in Reeth. The large village green in Reeth is its famous feature, and it is not a place short of watering holes.
Reeth to Richmond
Reeth and Richmond are linked by a relatively easy stage through fields, woodland and villages. The route first passes Marrick Priory, an old abbey, before climbing through woods to the scattered village of Marrick itself. Paths through fields with long rolling views take the Coast to Coast walker to Marske, another small village. East Applegarth and Whitecliffe Woods come and go before Richmond finally appears as a fine prospect below. The town is the only one of its size on the Coast to Coast walk and is the place to rest and prepare for the final stages.
Richmond to Osmotherley
This long, low stage never regains the altitude it loses on leaving Richmond. It can be split into two leisurely halves at Danby Wiske if the distance seems too much. The day is a series of paths beside rivers, quiet country lanes and field paths, with a great little section of woodland to finish. From the map this might look a less than inspiring walk, but on the ground it is full of its own charm and unlike any other Coast to Coast stage. The verdant Vale of York, near Northallerton, is prime farming country. Osmotherley is a pretty village on the well-defined edge of the North York Moors.
Osmotherley to Clay Bank Top
On departure from Osmotherley there is no easy introduction to the North York Moors. The day starts as it means to go on, with a climb to the top of a moor (long views over the plains) and a descent to the start of the next ascent. It's a tough but rewarding day. Cross Live Moor and pass Carlton Bank and its famous cafe. Clay Bank Top is no more than a road crossing on the CTC route but it is the point at which accommodation can be reached. Ahead lie remote moorland miles.
Clay Bank Top to Blakey Ridge
The section from Clay Bank Top to Blakey Ridge might come as a surprise. Over this long a distance, there can be no simpler moorland crossing in Britain. Wainwright plotted his route to follow the old mining railway. The track twists around the curving edge of the moorland plateau and presents easy walking underfoot. Many will carry on from the famous Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, down to the valley, but an evening spent in this wild setting is one to remember. It's surely a stop on anyone's itinerary of the remote pubs of Great Britain.
Blakey Ridge to Grosmont
Gentle gradients and smooth walking underfoot characterise the miles from Blakey Ridge along and then off the moors to the valley. The height is lost gradually amid wide and wild views. The Coast to Coast drops into the village of Glaisdale and then picks up an enchanting course through the valley past Egton Bridge to Grosmont. Grosmont is a village surrounding the junction of the main railway line with the North York Moors Railway. Steam trains add much to the scene.
Grosmont to Robin Hood's Bay
By this stage you might be willing the coast to arrive as soon as possible, or you might be yearning for more! There is much terrain to cross before the final coastal stretch. The climb from Grosmont to Sleights Moor is steep, the descent to Littlebeck gentle. Woodland walking of the highest order follows before another moorland stretch to the coast near Hawsker. In an echo of the coastal start at St Bees, Robin Hood's Bay lies beyond another awe-inspiring stretch along cliffs. As a peaceful, charming destination and a fitting end to your trek, Robin Hood's Bay seems almost made to measure.
"I loved it all really. The variety of accommodations was great, the people along the way. Oh, the walk? Well, even though it was the toughest, my favorite stage might have been the peaks especially heading into Grasmere. Thank you so very, very much for the trip of a lifetime!!"
The Coast to Coast relative to other walks
The Coast to Coast occupies a neat position in what can be thought of as the big three mountainous paths in the UK, the others being the West Highland Way and the Pennine Way - of middling length and with exceptional variety and beauty of scenery.
Compared to the Pennine Way, the Coast to Coast is about a week shorter but more importantly is much more varied. The Lake District sections add huge interest, but throughout its route the CTC seeks out some intriguing and enchanting spots. Wainwright is to be thanked for this. The Pennine Way is more wild and more bleak; not always a bad thing!
Those who've done the West Highland Way will see a big contrast in the trails underfoot. The Coast to Coast is nothing but a series of pre-existing paths, bridleways, open routes on the hillside and country lanes. The West Highland way is much more of a planned, prepared, uniform trail - less muddy underfoot but more wearing on the soles.
Hike the Coast to Coast with Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory offers three self-guided options on the Coast to Coast: the East, the West or the full route. We're also happy to book shorter or longer sub-sections of the routes according to your available dates. Please contact us to discuss options. We would recommend a minimum of 3 or 4 days; these work nicely.
Our self-guided holidays give you what you need to complete the route under your own steam. We book your accommodation in a mix of B&Bs and hotels and we give you our detailed routecards, the local maps, and lots of notes. Our private guided trips are similar but give you the benefit of an Alpine Exploratory leader to show the way.
Please ask us any time for more details. Please feel free to describe your walking experience and preferences, and we'll suggest which trek you might enjoy most.
Coast to Coast enquiry form