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Minimum impact for maximum insight
Man has suffered in his separation from the soil and from other living creatures ... and as yet he must still, for security, look long at some portion of the earth as it was before he tampered with it. Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water, 1960
Why is walking in wild and solitary places so satisfying? Partly it is the sheer physical pleasure: sometimes pitting one’s strength against the elements and the lie of the land. The beauty and wonder of the natural world and the fresh air restore our sense of proportion and the stresses and strains of everyday life slip away. Whatever the character of the countryside, walking in it benefits us mentally and physically, inducing a sense of well-being, an enrichment of life and an enhanced awareness of what lies around us.
All this the countryside gives us and the least we can do is to safeguard it by supporting rural economies, local businesses, and low-impact methods of farming and land-management, and by using environmentally sensitive forms of transport – walking being pre-eminent.
In this book there is a detailed and illustrated chapter on the wildlife and conservation of the region and a chapter on minimum-impact walking, with ideas on how to tread lightly in this fragile environment; by following its principles we can help to preserve our natural heritage for future generations.
In devising a walk that would span the north of England from the Cumbrian coast to the North Sea, the legendary fell walker, guidebook writer and illustrator, Alfred Wainwright, created an enduring concept that 40 years later continues to inspire hikers in ever-growing numbers.
Despite not being an official National Trail with all the support that entails, the Coast to Coast path has almost certainly become the most popular long-distance footpath in England. At about 190 miles (see box p18) it’s not the longest in the country and certainly doesn’t, as some mistakenly think, cross the country at its widest point. It makes no claim to being especially tough (though we can safely predict that those who attempt it in one go will find it sufficiently challenging). Nor does it, unlike the long-distance paths that run alongside Hadrian’s Wall or Offa’s Dyke, follow any ancient construction or border.
In truth, the Coast to Coast is but one of an infinite number of routes that could be devised by joining the various footpaths and byways to form a trail across northern England and in doing so providing those who follow it with a snapshot of the country.
But what a magnificent snapshot that is! Around two-thirds of the walk is spent in the national parks of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. These parks encompass the most dramatic upland scenery in England, from its highest fells to its largest lakes, some of its most beautiful woods and parts of its bleakest, barest moors. The walk also passes through areas alive with some of Britain’s rarest wildlife, including red squirrels and otters, and even skirts around the eyrie of England’s last surviving golden eagle.
Furthermore, where man has settled on the trail he has, on the whole, worked in harmony with nature to produce some of England’s finest villages, from idyllically situated Grasmere to unspoilt Egton Bridge. The trail itself is a further example of this harmony; these paths and bridleways have existed for centuries and though man-made, do not feel or look like an imposition on the landscape but are very much part of it.
While these paths and villages continue to thrive under the steady stream of Coast to Coasters, in other places nature has reclaimed the poignant ruins of mills and mines, ancient Iron Age sites and mysterious stone circles which between them bear witness to thousands of years of human endeavour. They punctuate the path and provide absorbing highlights along the way.
But the walker on the Coast to Coast path experiences additional, unquantifiable rewards. There is the pleasure of acquiring a developing level of fitness, the satisfaction of unravelling a route-finding conundrum and the relief when a hard-won day finally ends at the doorstep of a cosy B&B or in a centuries-old hostelry. Most memorably, it’s the cheery camaraderie shared by your fellow pilgrims bound for Robin Hood’s Bay and the window into the lives of the people who live and work in this fabulous landscape that stay with you as you transit the country from coast to coast.
- About the Coast to Coast path
- Practical information for the walker
- Using this guide
- Sample route guide: St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge
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