This week’s dream
A coast-to-coast walk across England
My wife and I didn’t know what we were in for when we set out to hike all the way across Northern England, said Carl Meuser in The San Diego Union-Tribune. “But that, really, was the point of it all.” Following a patchwork of trails first outlined in 1973 in A Coast to Coast Walk, a book that created a popular pastime, we covered all 194 miles in 11 days. Starting at St. Bees Head on the Irish Sea and walking eastward with the wind at our backs, we ambled through countless sheep pastures, passed through three national parks, and followed ancient Roman roads and even older paths that date to the Neolithic ax trade. Although our feet were raw by the time we reached Robin Hood’s Bay, on the North Sea coast, we regretted only that we hadn’t given the journey three more days.
The first national park you encounter is the Lake District—rugged, hilly, unkempt land that climbs to the journey’s highest peak, 2,500-foot Kidsty Pike. But don’t underestimate the sections of the walk that connect the parks. The right to walk from place to place has held for a millennium, and as we followed our compass, map, and guidebook, “we met wonderful people, saw beautiful ruins, and even ate good pub food.” Of course, it rained often. But the sun came out for us in bucolic Yorkshire Dales National Park, and we got even luckier farther on in North York Moors National Park. Because it was August, “the heather was in full bloom, and the purple blossoms lit up the high, rocky ground.”
Why make the trip? “For me, what made it worth it was the eccentricity of it all.” The walk revealed, at eye level, how history and geography “shape the character of a nation.” And if you’re open to pleasant surprises, you’ll have many. On a route shared by backpackers, day walkers, and people like us who were having a porter service ship our bags from one B&B to the next, “we didn’t meet a single person who wasn’t warm and engaging.” Once, we enjoyed flapjacks with several wonderful strangers when we stopped at a barn serving hot tea. “You can’t pay a tour company to set up such happy happenstances.”
Contours Walking Holidays (contours.co.uk) offers a coast-to-coast porter service.