It started with an Old Specked Hen in St Bees and finished with a pint of Courage Best Bitter on the shore of the North Sea in Robin Hoods Bay. Thirty-two different hand-pumped cask ales over 192 miles on a pub-crawl across a skinny part of England.
Such delightful names: Yan T’Yan Tethera, Doris’ 90th Birthday Ale, Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, Marston’s Merrie Monk, Lancaster Bomber, Tirril Brewery Old Faithful, Greene King IPA, Black Sheep Best Bitter, Theakston Old Peculier, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Daleside Blonde, John Smith’s Magnet. I even had a pint of Giddy-Up at the Blue Bell in Ingleby Cross. The pub was packed with a friendly busload of punters on their annual outing to the local horse track.
The Kings Head Pub at Gunnerside.
There were other delightful pubs, too numerous to remember. Although, when finally I staggered stiff-legged, sore-footed and blister-toed down the last half mile for the traditional celebratory pint at Wainwright’s Bar in the Bay Hotel I did pause at the tiny Laurel Inn first for a restorative before the open-hearth fire.
The Farmers Arms at Muker.
What was a 60-something-year-old man doing on a pub-crawl across England? It was my slightly younger sister’s idea. Kate talked to my wife, Wendy, who is practically a professional walker (see Wendy’s account of a 751-kilometer encounter with Spain’s Camino de Santiago in the Travel with a Challenge feature article collection), and I thought I’d tag along for the good English beer.
So in mid- May 2008, when the blue bells and ransome were in bloom and the trail wasn’t too crowded and the weather wasn’t too risky, the three of us headed East from St Bees on the Irish Sea towards Robin Hood’s Bay 192 miles away on the North Sea along the classic Coast-to-Coast walk. It is also called Wainwright’s Way because of Alfred Wainwright’s hand-written and beautifully-illustrated A Coast to Coast Walk published in 1973, updated in 1992.
As they say, “It’s not a walk in the park!” Actually, it is a walk in the park, three of them, all national parks: Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors. But it is definitely not the place to test a new knee, a hip replacement or your recent coronary bypass surgery.
Wendy and Kate compare blisters.
We were of average fitness and averaged 2 miles/hour, inclusive of lunch, dawdling, stopping to taste the ransome, gazing into the distance and hunting for a pub. The 192 miles are horizontal, but there are also a lot of vertical miles on the way! In the first five days from St Bees to Shap, we covered 62 miles and climbed over 9,000 feet. In the 20 miles between Osmotherley and the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, there were six “bumps” which totaled 3,200 feet of ascent and descent. And the long hill out of Grosmont was a 33% grade.
I often had to reassure myself that the tightness across my chest was the straps on my pack and not the plaques in my coronary arteries. We covered 12 to 13 miles per day for 15 days with Day 13 being our longest, 9 hours and 20 miles from Osmotherley to Blake Ridge. In the last few days there was a cumulative fatigue that even a few pints and a good night’s sleep didn’t completely erase. We stayed in a mix of inns, pubs, small hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs which we booked through Sherpa Van Project (see Facts box). Prices ranged from £22 to £35 per person and all included the “full English breakfast” (one even had fried bread). Some provided evening meals. It was a long walk but, between the breakfast and the beer, I didn’t lose much weight.
We’d heard that if the weather is bad it’s not hard to get lost in the clouds and mist or lose a boot in a bog. Our mid-May weather was great with only one day of light rain. We were at the tail end of daffodil season but the primroses, blue bells and ransome were blooming in profusion. Ransome is edible, tasting like mild garlic.
Black Sail Youth Hostel on the Coast to Coast trail.
The route is not well signposted! I carried a descriptive route book, an annotated contour map and a compass. If it is raining or misty or foggy, you can get lost in a big hurry. The compass was needed to orient the map. Even so, there were some places where we got seriously off the trail and even off the map and out of the book.
I hate heavy backpacks so we assigned the task to Sherpa Van. For £7 (about US$12.50) per bag they will pickup and deliver 50 pounds of weight from place to place. Travelling light, Wendy and I put both our bags into a big duffel and saved enough to pay for most of the good English beer each night.
A steep path between Ennerdale Bridge and Rosthwaite.
I did carry a small daypack for rain gear, guidebooks, lunch and a water bottle. I definitely needed water. One warm day, I was into my third pint of good English ale before my kidneys finally came back to life. My daypack was designed for adventure running with extra straps to prevent bouncing; it allowed me some great runs across the fells and in some beautiful meadows and pastures.
Wainwright wrote that his way was not the only way so we often varied from the map route and were glad of it. Osmotherley, a slight detour, is an attractive village of terraced Georgian workers’ cottages and a pleasant walk through woods of the Cleveland Forest. It is also the mother lode for pubs and beers! Three arranged at the corners of a triangle surround the tiny village green.
Park Bridge and stile near Keld.
A valley viewpoint from the top of Carlton Bank.
It was a steep 1,300-foot climb out of Patterdale to Kidsty Pike, the highest point on the C2C and the official route immediately descends to a path that has been eroded by boot and rain on the edge of Haweswater Reservoir. We however, followed the excellent advice of a local farmer and stayed on the top and made our own virgin paths across a mix of spongy moss and springy grass which made the footing soft and sure and the running great.
Author Steve is visibly delighted with the completion of his 15-day Coast to Coast Walk across England.
Even though Keld is publess, I’d stay another day there to explore Wainwright’s recommended high route with its mine ruins and devastated, desolate countryside so vividly described and beautifully illustrated in his book. It must be a stark contrast to the low route we followed with its green pastures, crumbling stone walls, abandoned farm buildings and profusion of wild flowers.
I would also spend an extra day in Robin Hood’s Bay, not just to check out a few more pubs but also to visit nearby Whitby whose cathedral spire beckoned temptingly on the long walk down toward RHB. There are always pubs not far from the communion rail. Finally, I would ring the door bell of the Crossing Club in Grosmont. Grosmont is known for old steam trains but is a bit of a disappointment pubwise – only one. It opens late and closes early and doesn’t have much of a selection. That fact had been noted by the proprietor of our B&B, a founding member of the Crossing Club, a discrete private club with an excellent variety of cask ales only a few steps away from our B&B. You just ring the bell and a member will sign you in. Maybe next time!
Motorcyclists and C2C hikers rub shoulders at Lord Stones Café.
Coast to Coast Walk description, map and mileage details, www.coast2coast.co.uk/.
Sherpa Van Project offers a baggage moving service on the Coast to Coast Walk and on other British walking trails at a cost of £8 (about US$10) per bag per day, maximum 50 pounds or 22.5 kg in weight. They will also book and confirm all route accommodations selected from their comprehensive data base on each route, and provide directions on how to reach your chosen hotel, hostel or B&B from the trail.
Steve’s favorite C2C reference: A full description of A Coast to Coast Walk by Alfred Wainwright is on the publisher’s website.
Also check out Steve’s entertaining account of Australia’s Great Victorian Bike Ride, covering 580 kilometers in nine days. He did this with intrepid wife, Wendy and 8,000 other participants on a route fit for seniors.
Travel Fusion flights comparison
Over the past 25 years, liver specialist and serious journal keeper, Dr. Stephen Sullivan, has used his profession and love of good beer to explore the world on three-month to three-year medical assignments in Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, Saipan, Oman and remote areas of Canada. He and his wife of 50 years, rarely say “no” to a challenge. They headquarter in Victoria, British Columbia.