Whatever the weather, the sight of the sea at Robin Hood’s Bay means triumph for walkers after 190 miles in Alfred Wainwright’s footsteps on the famous Coast to Coast Walk. Fifty years after Wainwright’s iconic book was published, Victoria Benn meets devotees who have walked the walk.


Tracing an ‘approximate beeline’ from one side of England to the other, the Coast to Coast, fondly known as the C2C, stretches from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in the North York Moors. Already accommodating more than 6000 visitors a year, its appeal is set to multiply further following its upgrade to National Trail status in 2025.

The 190 mile ‘walk’ was originally devised by Alfred Wainwright, renowned fell walker, author and illustrator who published it in 1973 as A Coast to Coast Walk, a beautiful little book, which is still printed as Wainwright intended with his own sketched maps and illustrations. Describing the route as ‘beautiful almost everywhere’, Wainwright also said, ‘The way you go and the time it takes matters not, the essence of the walk is the crossing of England from one coast to the other,’ which evokes his sense of wonder and thirst for discovery perfectly.

Great British Life: Outdoor legend Alf Wainwright whose Coast to Coast guide was published 50 years ago. (c) Chris JestyOutdoor legend Alf Wainwright whose Coast to Coast guide was published 50 years ago. (c) Chris Jesty

As a long distance walking route, the C2C is unique, traversing three National Parks and taking users over high fells and mountain peaks, through valleys and alongside rivers before its final leg across heather moorlands to the dramatic cliffs and stunning vistas of Robin Hood’s Bay. There is also some of England’s richest history en route, including iron age hillforts, mysterious cairns, medieval castles and the 10th century Yorkshire village of Ingleby Cross.

You might think the ultimate reward for walking, running or cycling through 190 miles of fresh air and nature would be fish and chips straight out of the paper overlooking the sea, but for some the experience has made an even bigger mark…

Great British Life: Claire Antrobus gears up for the weather in Keld. (c) Claire AntrobusClaire Antrobus gears up for the weather in Keld. (c) Claire Antrobus Claire Antrobus – ran it solo in 7 days

'Inspiration for completing the C2C came from finding an original copy of Alfred Wainwright’s A Coast to Coast Walk. It’s such a beautiful book and that cover where he’s drawn a line from one coast to the other just totally appealed. I’ve cycled coast to coast in the Pyrenees, but something about doing this one on foot really attracted me. It was also around the time that Jasmin Paris won the Spine Race so that inspired me to take it on as a solo challenge, although I also couldn’t think of anyone daft enough to do it with me!

After reading the book I basically chunked the route down into 20-28 mile a day sections – it also largely boiled down to stopping where I could secure accommodation. The first day I ran from St Bees to Borrowdale which was pretty straight forward. I was navigating old school style with a map and compass which was a little challenging on day 2 as there was low cloud and I could barely see ahead, so it was with great relief that I finally dropped down off the fells into Grasmere. At Patterdale I was hoping to meet my dad who was my support crew for the week. I’d planned it all meticulously because I didn’t want to run in the dark, but he kept saying ‘oh it will take longer than that’ and so developed this habit of turning up late, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time and eating all my food. Instead of being in Patterdale for lunch, I found him wandering around Grisedale enjoying the views!

Great British Life: Reaching the start of the NY Moors above Osmotherly. (c) Claire AntrobusReaching the start of the NY Moors above Osmotherly. (c) Claire Antrobus

At the end of day 2 dad drove me to Shap for the night as I’d been unable to find accommodation near Haweswater and I knew I didn’t have the extra four miles in my legs. Day 3, I stayed in Kirkby Stephen, but I recall being really disappointed as its fish and chip shop wasn’t open. I had to endure the same disappointment in Robin Hood’s Bay at the end too as the fish and chip shop had closed early because of the awful weather – so on that occasion I made my husband drive me to Whitby to get some.

Day 4 and Keld was the half way point for me. The heavens opened that day so I was grateful for lunch in a lovely little café in Keld. The Yorkshire Dales felt very boggy compared to the Lake District and then after that you cross the Vale of York which felt like running through endless fields of turnips. On day 6 I was joined by my friend Miyako, taking on the slightly white knuckle crossing of the A19 and East Coast railway line, but then you are into the North Yorkshire Moors which are just stunning with acres of purple heather. You also complete part of the Lyke Wake Walk in this section of the trail, which is a 42 mile old coffin route from Osmotherley to Ravenscar.

For the last day and final 25 miles it rained all day. I taught Miyako On Ilkley Moor bar T’at and we basically sang that all the way to keep our spirits up. It felt like we almost swam that last part as it was so wet. My dad and husband ran with me for the last mile of the trail which was lovely. Our finale was to run into the sea which we didn’t mind as we were already soaking!

Completing the C2C gave me lots of confidence to go on and have more adventures and do more things on my own. I also stepped into Wainwright’s footsteps again last year, completing all 214 of the Lake District peaks in his seven guidebooks.'

Great British Life: Robin Hood's Bay - a welcome stop for walkers after their epic C2C walk. Time for fish and chips and dipping achey feet in the water. (c) Charlotte Graham. Robin Hood's Bay - a welcome stop for walkers after their epic C2C walk. Time for fish and chips and dipping achey feet in the water. (c) Charlotte Graham.

Ian Harrison – walked it solo in 12 days

‘It was the idea of walking coast to coast, and also walking through three National Parks that I fell in love with and led to me completing the C2C. The experience also reconnected me to Swaledale, somewhere I knew well from my younger days. It also contributed to inspiring my wife and I to buy a house in the area, a deep connection that has evolved into us both becoming heavily involved with the Yorkshire Dales environmental campaigning charity, Friends of the Dales.

After I’d arrived in St Bees (on a dry August day) I picked my pebble off the beach, making sure it wasn’t too heavy as I’d to carry it with me all the way to Robin Hood’s Bay. The Lake District part of the walk was absolutely stunning, all these big hills and fells, and the views off the ridge walk from Red Pike to Haystacks were just incredible. I also opted for the option of tackling Helvellyn, only to experience such torrential rain as only the Lakes can provide. It was so bad I couldn’t even see one step in front of the other. I remember thinking Grisedale Tarn has to be around here somewhere and then suddenly I had my foot in it – so I aborted that route!

When you come out of the Lake District you pass Shap Fell which is now most notable for being the highest point on the M6 motorway. The section from Shap to Kirkby Stephen is in the newest part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and was a delight to discover, as its one of those areas that is off the beaten track and is absolutely beautiful.

Climbing out of Kirkby Stephen you reach Nine Standards Rigg, a series of stone cairns, whose eerie presence on the hill top has never been satisfactorily explained.

A big highlight for me was the whole section down Swaledale. The view from Crackpot Hall towards Muker has to be one of my favourite vistas anywhere. Taking the higher route from Keld to Reeth took me through fascinating, albeit unsightly, remnants of the local lead mining industry, including the Old Gang Smelt Mill near Low Row. From there you find yourself suddenly wandering down into the wonderful little market town of Reeth with its beautiful village green.

Possibly the one of best views of the walk has to be as you come down into Richmond − the whole town is laid out before you with castle, its massive Norman keep and the river winding around its foot.

On the penultimate day, day 11, I got my first glimpse of the North Sea along with an immense sense of satisfaction and realisation that I’d just walked right across the country! The trail takes you just north of Robin Hood’s Bay and then you walk down the coast to the village and throw your pebble in to the sea. My pebble only went a few yards and then was left behind when the waves went out, which was probably my only disappointment of the whole adventure!'

Great British Life: Debbie North reaches Robin Hood's Bay after her C2C expedition on four wheels. (c) Debbie North Debbie North reaches Robin Hood's Bay after her C2C expedition on four wheels. (c) Debbie North

Debbie and Andy North and Jonathan Smith – walked it in 13 days

'The C2C had always been a special walk for my late husband Andy and I. Before I was diagnosed with spinal degeneration, we’d walked it twice and the second time Andy proposed in the North Sea straight after we’d completed it. Wheelchair or no wheelchair it’s special because no two days are the same and for two weeks you can’t think about anything else except yourself. It’s a fantastic experience for escaping from real life.

In 2011 when my health started to decline I met Jonathan, spurred on by a tweet I’d made asking if anyone knew a walk in the Yorkshire Dales I could do in my (manual) wheelchair. Jonathan who owns and runs where2walk.co.uk, got in touch and suggested the route from Malham to Gordale Scar, offering to meet Andy and me and accompany us, which was the beginning of a life changing friendship. The experience made me realise I could still get out into the countryside, so soon after this I started fund raising for our first all-terrain wheelchair. This wheelchair’s at Malham Tarn and since then our charity, Access the Dales, has raised enough for eight others which are dotted across the Dales.

In 2015, the day we officially launched the charity, I announced I wanted to do the C2C. Jonathan initially said ‘You’re crackers!’, but by the time Andy − who’d nipped out − had come back, it was all sorted and we were doing it! Alfred Wainwright encouraged readers via his personal notes at the end of A Coast to Coast Walk, to ‘follow their own stars and find their own rainbow’s end.’ We stuck to the spirit of that, devising a route that enabled me to traverse some high, wilder terrain such as Coach Road and the highest point of the North York Moors, using bridle paths and quiet roads.

We used the C2C as an opportunity to raise money for the Calvert Trust and so had people joining us to support and walk sections. BBC Radio Lincolnshire also took a real interest, doing live radio broadcasts every other day. At 10.45am we’d get a call and then go live at 11am. On the twelfth day as we were going across the North York Moors, we were concerned we might lose our signal, so sat and waited. Just as the call went live a dog appeared out of nowhere and cocked its leg over my wheelchair and then straight after two geese appeared and were trying to bite my ankles. We had to cut the broadcast short as no one could speak for laughing.

Great British Life: Debbie North reaches Robin Hood's Bay after her C2C expedition on four wheels. (c) Debbie North Debbie North reaches Robin Hood's Bay after her C2C expedition on four wheels. (c) Debbie North

A couple of days earlier, as we’d headed into Swaledale near Ravenseat, this Landrover reversed and a woman stuck her hand out of the window and gave us £20. Transpires it was Amanda Owen. At the time I didn’t know her, but she was following our journey and now we’re good friends. We also have one of our all-terrain wheelchairs available to borrow at Ravenseat.

Completing the C2C was the start of a new personal journey for me. I am now recognised as an expert in accessing the countryside for people with disabilities. I was appointed by the Cabinet Office as its nationwide ‘Disability and Access Ambassador for the countryside’, which means I now work closely with National Parks, YHA, National Trust and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I’m currently pushing for standardisation and statutory guidelines in how we describe accessible routes, so wheelchair users can feel confident about what to expect when they arrive somewhere to walk.

With support from my husband and Jonathan, I did the C2C which means other wheelchair users can do it too. I’ve hopefully shown what’s possible and created a bit of hope – not necessarily for going up mountains (although you can, I have been up Skiddaw and others!) Just even getting outside into the countryside and fresh air can be life changing for people, including carers.'

access-the-dales.com has nine all-terrain wheelchairs available to borrow at the following locations: Bolton Abbey, Ingleton Nature Reserve, Leyburn, Kirkby Stephen, Malham, Malham Tarn, Ravenseat and Tebay.

Great British Life: Debbie North & Jonathan Smith above Kirby Stephen (c) Debbie North Debbie North & Jonathan Smith above Kirby Stephen (c) Debbie North Debbie and Jonathan’s C2C hints and tips:

• Know your wheelchair – make sure it has the capabilities to cover the terrain and do the mileage you plan to do each day.

• Plan your route and your accommodation in advance.

• Prepare for the elements. If you are in a wheelchair you are not creating any body heat, so you need to properly layer up and keep your hands warm.

• Most importantly – just enjoy it! It’s not a race, it’s a personal challenge, so take time to experience the awe and wonder of the nature all around you.


Great British Life: Take your binoculars - the wildlife is stunning - a curlew in the Yorkshire Dales. (c) Ann ShadrakeTake your binoculars - the wildlife is stunning - a curlew in the Yorkshire Dales. (c) Ann Shadrake

‘Leave Only Footprints’ 

‘Leave only footprints’ is the perfect mantra to remember when out walking in our moorlands, home to many rare flora and fauna and several species of critically endangered ground nesting and birds of prey. By following the guidance below you will play an active role in helping to protect our precious remaining native wildlife for generations to come:

• Keep to the paths – however muddy they are – as you can scare ground nesting birds such as lapwings, curlews and skylarks off their nests which are often located very near to paths. If that happens repeatedly, the birds will sadly abandon them.

• Likewise, keep dogs on a lead. Moorlands might look wild and free but a dog roaming off its lead will scare parent birds from their nests leaving chicks and eggs exposed to predators like gulls and crows. (It’s actually a legal requirement to keep dogs on short leads on open access land − most moorlands − until 31 July)

• Disposable BBQs are an environmental no-no because of the risk of wildfires. Why not pack sandwiches and enjoy the BBQ at home! Phone 999 if you see a wildfire.

• With crime against birds of prey on the up − through shooting, trapping, poisoning and nest destruction – please make a note of the RSPB’s hotline number and use it if you see anything suspicious (as well as taking photos and logging the exact location with the ‘What 3 Words’ app) Poisoned bait − which can also kill dogs − dead/injured birds of prey in suspicious circumstances or evidence of traps all need to be reported to: 0300 999 0101 or email: crime@rspb.org.uk

• Finally, always aim to leave our precious moorlands and countryside as you find it, with gates shut and all food waste – including orange peel − and belongings taken home with you.


Hints and Tips

• For the best chance of good weather and the widest possible range of accommodation, plan your trip between March and September.

• Most people walk west to east (St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay) as Wainwright suggested, to benefit from the prevailing winds pushing you along from behind!

• Be realistic about your capabilities – if you walked on average 13 miles per day it would take you 14-15 days.

• If you don’t want to carry your bags, then plan your route carefully and book your accommodation in advance along with a baggage transfer.

• Carry binoculars – you will encounter myriad bird life!

• Get in a little training before you start – walking six plus hours a day, across consecutive days is a challenge to those unaccustomed to it.

• Make sure you carry water, snacks, waterproofs, the appropriate OS maps and a charged phone with ‘What 3 Words’ downloaded for your own safety and security.

• Finally, consider joining one of the Facebook pages dedicated to those planning on doing the walk – a great place to ask questions about anything from accommodation recommendations to loo stops!

C2C devotees:

Great British Life: Julia Bradbury. (c) Natural England/Julia Bradbury.Julia Bradbury. (c) Natural England/Julia Bradbury.

‘Having walked the walk (and talked the talk!), and promoted its virtues on TV and in print, I know exactly why it is one of the great Alfred Wainwright’s most popular routes. Taking in the magical Lake District, to the heights of the Peaks and the rolling landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales and Moors – it is just stunning.’

Julia Bradbury, TV presenter

‘When I was 15 years old I persuaded my mum and dad to allow me to cycle the coast to coast with two friends. It was my first adventure, and definitely my first big adventure without parental supervision. Needless to say we got spectacularly lost (I remember crying with exhaustion high on Great Gable and miles off course), ate terrible food, and probably made all sorts of mistakes. But I will never forget the thrill of getting myself from one side of the country to the other under my own power, nor the astonishing beauty of the mountains, or the deep satisfaction of spending time in wild places with good friends.’

Alastair Humphries, adventurer and author

‘I remember battling Storm Bella that night, her fierce hand shoving us along. Sometimes my feet simply couldn’t go where I wanted and I’d be blown off on a tangent to then have to fight my way back to the path. Grisedale Tarn was raging with sea horses – I’d never seen it like that. The fields across from Burn Banks were all so waterlogged, it was like wading through soup and the roads to Shap weren’t much better as they were like swimming pools! I also fell into a deep bog just before Keld. Nevertheless, it was an amazing journey and fun adventure which I would recommend to anyone, whether you walk it over two weeks or run the Northern Traverse Ultra in a few days – my only tip would be to choose kinder weather!’

Sabrina Verjee, UK leading ultra runner