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Coast to Coast Path: St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay

Coast to Coast Path: St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay

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Practical information for the walker


Contents | Introduction | About the Coast to Coast path | Practical information for the walker | Itineraries | Using this guide | Sample route guide: St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge


Route finding

The presence of signposts and waymarking varies along the path. Once over the Pennines and into Yorkshire the trail becomes fairly well signposted and finding the way shouldn’t be a problem. In the Lakes, on the other hand, there are few Coast to Coast signposts and you’ll have to rely on the descriptions in this book to find the way. For much of the time the path is well-trodden and obvious, though of course there are situations where there are a number of paths to choose from, and other occasions where the ground is so boggy no clear path is visible at all. Misty conditions are another problem, particularly in the Lake District. In these instances a compass or GPS will help you move in the right direction or follow the correct path. (See the box on pp91-3 for more details.)

In the Lakes in particular there are a number of high-level alternatives to the main route, and on a clear day fit trekkers should consider taking them. Though obviously more tiring, the rewards in terms of the views and sense of achievement are all worthwhile.



GPS
I never carried a compass, preferring to rely on a good sense of direction... I never bothered to understand how a compass works or what it is supposed to do ... To me a compass is a gadget, and I don’t get on well with gadgets of any sort. Alfred Wainwright

While Wainwright’s acolytes may scoff, other walkers will accept GPS technology as an inexpensive, well-established if non-essential, navigational aid. To cut a long story short, within a minute of being turned on and with a clear view of the sky, GPS receivers will establish your position as well as elevation in a variety of formats, including the British OS grid system, anywhere on earth to an accuracy of within a few metres. These days, most smartphones have a GPS receiver built in and mapping software available to run on it (see p46).

One thing must be understood however: treating GPS as a replacement for maps, a compass and common sense is a big mistake. Every electronic device is susceptible to battery failure or some electronic malfunction that might leave you in the dark. GPS is primarily a navigational aid or backup to conventional route finding and, in almost all cases, is best used in conjunction with a paper map. At its most basic level a GPS stops you exacerbating navigational errors and saves you time in correcting them. Newer units may come with some inbuilt mapping, but while it’s possible to buy digital mapping (see box p46) to import into a regular GPS unit with sufficient storage capacity, it might be considered as practical as having internet on a mobile phone – you still end up scrolling and zooming across a tiny screen.

Using GPS with this book – tracklog and waypoints
The easiest way to avoid getting lost is to install a tracklog of the route on either a GPS unit or a smartphone running GPS. A tracklog is a continuous line like a path that appears on your GPS screen; all you have to do is keep on that line. If you lose it on the screen you can zoom out until it reappears and walk towards it. To download the GPS tracklog on which this sixth edition’s maps are based, see the Trailblazer website – www.trailblazer-guides.com.

Where a tracklog is a continuous line, waypoints are single points like cairns. This book identifies key waypoints on the route maps. It’s anticipated you won’t tramp along day after day, ticking off the book’s waypoints, transfixed by the screen on your GPS or smartphone; the route description and maps are more than adequate most of the time. Only when you’re unsure of your position or which way to go might you feel the need to even turn on the unit for a quick affirmation. You’ll find more waypoints across bleak mountain and moorland sections where the walk can degenerate into a prolonged stumble through thick mist.

The book’s waypoints correlate to the list on pp258-63 which gives the OS grid reference and a description. You can either simply read off the nearest presumed waypoint from the list as and when the need arises and work out where you are in relation to it or, less confusingly, key it in as a new point and press ‘go to’. As there will probably be only a handful of times you need to do this, for most that will suffice but, with less margin for keystroke error, you can download the complete list as a GPS-readable .gpx file of grid references (but with no descriptions) from : www.trailblazer-guides.com

Using GPS with this book, be it a tracklog, all the waypoints or just the key waypoints, is an option. Without them you could find yourself staggering around a mist-clad moor, or ambling confidently down the wrong path. With GPS, when the need arises, you can reliably establish your position in relation to the path, or quickly find out how far and in what direction it is to a known point on the trail.

It’s worth repeating that 98% of people who’ve ever walked the Coast to Coast did so without GPS so there’s no need to rush out and buy one – or a new GPS-enabled smartphone. Your spending priorities ought to be on good waterproofs and above all, footwear. However, correctly using this book’s GPS data could get you back on track and dozing in front of the pub fireplace or tucked up in bed all the sooner.

For more on how not to lose your way, see pp91-3.

Accommodation

From one coast to the other, businesses and families alike today owe a lot to Wainwright’s inspired concept. Smaller towns and villages as well as isolated farms far from the reliable Lakeland honeypots have come to rely on accommodating and feeding the seasonal flow of coastbound walkers.

The route guide (Part 4) lists a fairly comprehensive selection of places to stay along the trail. The three main options are: camping, staying in hostels/ bunkhouses, or using B&Bs/pubs/hotels. Few people stick to just one of these the whole way, preferring, for example, to camp most of the time but spend every third night in a hostel, or perhaps take a hostel where possible but splash out on a B&B or hotel every once in a while.

The table on pp36-7 provides a snapshot of what type of accommodation and services are available in each of the towns and villages, while the tables on pp34-5 provide some suggested itineraries. The following is a brief introduction as to what to expect from each type of accommodation.


Camping
It’s possible to camp all along the Coast to Coast path, though few people do so every night. You’re almost bound to get at least one night where the rain falls relentlessly, sapping morale; it’s then that most campers opt to spend the next night drying out in a hostel or B&B somewhere. There are, however, many advantages with camping. It’s more economical, for a start, with most campsites charging somewhere between £4 and £8. Best of all there’s rarely any need to book, except possibly in the very high season, and even then you’d be highly unlucky not to find somewhere, even if it means camping discreetly in the woods. The campsites vary and you get what you pay for: some are just pub gardens or a farmer’s spare field with basic toilet/shower facilities; others are full-blown caravan sites with security access codes and sparkling ablutions blocks and a few spaces put aside for tents. Showers are usually available, occasionally for a fee, though more often than not for free. Note that most youth hostels on the Coast to Coast path no longer accept campers (Borrowdale does). Note, too, that some of the bigger towns such as Richmond and Grasmere do not have recognised campsites, with the nearest being at least three miles away.

Wild camping (ie camping not in a regular campsite; see p79) is also possible along the route but please don’t do so in a field without first gaining permission from the landowner. Some good wild camping locations include the level areas surrounding mountain lakes such as Innominate Tarn (on the high route to Borrowdale), Grisedale Tarn (out of Grasmere) and Angle Tarn (two miles from Patterdale). Further east old mine ruins, such as those on the high route to Reeth, provide good shelter and ‘cover’ as well as patches of level grass and nearby running water. Beyond there, wild camping might be misconstrued as ‘vagrancy’ so woodland or plantations will be your best bet.

Remember that camping, wild or ‘tame’, is not an easy option, especially for a solo walker. Walked continuously, the route is wearying enough without carrying the means to sleep and cook with you. Should you decide to camp at campsites, consider employing one of the baggage-carrying companies mentioned on pp28-9, though this does mean the loss of spontaneity which is the whole point of camping, and of course they can’t deliver to Angle Tarn!

Bunkhouses and camping barns
A bunkhouse and a camping barn are different things. In most cases a camping barn is pretty much what it sounds like: an old barn in the corner of a farmer’s field with a couple of wooden benches to sleep on; sleeping bags and usually sleeping mats are thus necessary, though bedding is provided in many of the YHA-franchised camping barns. A camping barn is probably the nearest non-campers will get to sleeping outside, while at the same time providing shelter from the elements. Note also that camping barns are sometimes booked for sole occupancy and thus it is essential to call in advance to check availability.

Bunkhouses can be much more agreeable places, with fluffed-up bedding, bathrooms you’d be happy to show to your parents and even kitchen and lounge areas. The description ‘bunkhouse’ is often used in place of ‘small hostel’ or ‘independent hostel’ to distinguish a private enterprise from lodgings under the YHA banner (see below) which can sometimes be huge properties with scores of beds, hyperactive school groups and, depending on your age, unhappy memories of a long-gone institutional past.


Hostels
Youth hostels are plentiful along the Coast to Coast path and if you haven’t visited one recently – and thus the words ‘youth’ and ‘hostel’ still conjure up images of limited opening hours, crowded dorms, lousy food and staff who really wish you’d move on – we advise you to take a second look. Hostels, whether owned by the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) or independent, offer some of the best-located and most interesting accommodation along the path. In fact there are now as many independent hostels as YHA ones along the Coast to Coast path, several having passed from YHA into private ownership in recent years as the YHA reviews its portfolio of properties.

Despite the name, anyone of any age can join the YHA. This can be done at any hostel, or by contacting the Youth Hostels Association of England and Wales (tel 01629 592700 or 0800 0191 700, www.yha.org.uk). The cost of a year’s membership is £20 for an adult (£15 if you pay by Direct Debit), £10/5 for anyone under 26. Having secured your membership, youth hostels are easy to book, either online or by phone through the contact details above. Since non-members have to pay £3 more per night it is worth joining if you expect to stay in a YHA hostel for more than six nights in a year. You’ll also get free wi-fi.

Hostels come equipped with a whole range of facilities, from drying rooms to washing machines, televisions to pool tables and fully equipped kitchens.   Some have a shop selling a selection of groceries, snacks and souvenirs and may even have internet access. Many offer breakfast and/or dinner (of varying quality), some offer a packed lunch, and several have a licence to sell alcohol. They are also great places to meet fellow walkers, swap stories and compare blisters.

Weighed against these advantages is the fact that even though many hostels now have rooms with two to four beds you may have to share your night with a heavy snorer. A couple of the hostels also suffer from uncomfortably small dorms when they’re full. Some rooms now have en suite facilities but in others you have to share a shower room and in a couple of cases facilities may be limited. Nor is it possible to stay in hostels every night on the trail, for there are some areas where hostels don’t exist and when they do they’re occasionally at least a mile or two off the path.

If you’re travelling out of the main season (particularly between November and February) you may find some hostels are shut to walkers during the week, or completely. Even in high season some are not staffed during the day and walkers may have to wait until 5pm before checking in, though you may be able to access the kitchen and leave luggage in a secure room before 5pm. And finally, the cost of staying in a hostel, once breakfast has been added on, is in many instances not that much cheaper (from £17-27 for YHA members) than staying in a B&B, especially if you’re walking with someone.

Bed and breakfast
Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) are a great British institution and many of those along the Coast to Coast are absolutely charming, with buildings often three or four hundred years old. Older owners often treat you as surrogates for their long-departed offspring and enjoy nothing more than looking after you.

As the name suggests, they provide you with a bed in a private room, and breakfast – a hearty, British-style cooked one unless you specify otherwise beforehand – though they range in style enormously. Most B&Bs on the route have en suite rooms – which usually mean there’s a bathroom attached to the room. Where a room is advertised as having private facilities, it means that the bathroom is not directly connected to the room though the nearby bathroom is reserved solely for the use of the room’s occupants. Shared facilities mean that you share a bathroom with other guests. With private/shared facilities there may be a bath, which is what most walkers prefer at the end of a long day. These rooms usually contain either a double bed (known as a double room), or two single beds (known as a twin room). Family rooms are for three or more people. Solo trekkers should take note: single rooms are not so easy to find so you’ll often end up occupying a double room, for which you’ll have to pay a single occupancy supplement (see below). Smoking is banned in all enclosed places open to the public in England but places to stay are able to designate rooms for smokers, so do check this if it’s important to you. Some B&Bs provide an evening meal; if not, there’s often a pub or restaurant nearby and, if it’s far, the owner may give you a lift to and from it.


B&B rates and booking

B&Bs in this guide start at around £30 per person for the most basic accommodation to well over £50 for the most luxurious en suite places in a popular tourist haunt like Grasmere. Most charge around £30-35 per person. A typical single occupancy supplement is between £10 and £20. An evening meal (usually around £10-20) is sometimes provided, but you’ll need to book in advance. Packed lunches are often available too for around £5-6. Some B&Bs have their own website and offer online/email booking but for the majority you will need to phone. Most places ask for a deposit (about 50%) which is generally non-refundable if you cancel at short notice. Some places may charge 100% if the booking is for one night only. Always let the owner know as soon as possible if you have to cancel your booking so they can offer the bed to someone else. Larger places take credit or debit cards. Most smaller B&Bs accept only cheques by post or payments by bank transfer for the deposit; the balance can be settled with cash or a cheque.


Guesthouses, hotels, pubs and inns

A guesthouse offers bed and breakfast but should have a better class of décor and more facilities such as offering evening meals and a lounge for guests. All of which make guesthouses sound very much hotels, of course – except, unlike a hotel, they are unlikely to offer room service. Pubs and inns may also offer bed and breakfast accommodation and tariffs are no more than in a regular B&B. However, you need to be prepared for a noisier environment, especially if your room is above the bar. Hotels do usually cost more, however, and some might be a little displeased by a bunch of muddy trekkers turning up. That said, most places on the walk, particularly in the quieter towns and villages, are used to seeing trekkers, make a good living from them and welcome them warmly. Prices in hotels and pubs start at around £35 per person.

 

Airbnb

The rise and rise of Airbnb (www.airbnb.co.uk) has seen private homes and apartments opened up to overnight travellers on an informal basis. While accommodation is primarily based in cities, the concept is spreading to tourist hotspots in more rural areas, but do check thoroughly what you are getting and the precise location. While the first couple of options listed may be in the area you’re after, others may be far too far afield for walkers. At its best, this is a great way to meet local people in a relatively unstructured environment, but be aware that these places are not registered B&Bs, so standards may vary, yet prices may not necessarily be any lower than the norm.

Coast to Coast Path: St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay

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