Coast to Coast

Information

Fitness

I suppose most people ask themselves the question, ‘Are we fit enough?’ The answer for most people is probably not but with the right training, you can be. Don’t under estimate the terrain or the mileages that will be covered, recognise the amount of effort required and then train accordingly.

Our training consisted of about 8 weeks of concentrated effort and centred on the South Downs and included as much ascent and descent as we could find. Our main goal was to make sure that we could walk 23 miles with a 28lb pack in 8 hours give or take. During the week we would make sure we would walk whenever and wherever we could. I would chalk up about 7 miles a day and Rachel 3-4. At the weekends we would do one long walk with a pack of a minimum of 8 miles to start with. Every week we would increase the mileage and the weight of our packs and for the last 3 weeks we would pack exactly what we would be carrying. We managed our longest walk of 21 miles the week before we set off, so we didn’t quite make our 23 mile goal. In addition we would do a secondary walk without pack mostly on tarmac of about 8 miles. This regime seemed to serve us well as we managed our schedule without too much problem, plus we didn’t suffer any injuries.

Attitude

This is a simple one really. You have to want to do it, firstly, and then secondly you must believe that you can do it. You must accept that to achieve it, it will require effort and training whether you have your kit carried for you or you carry it yourself. There is no place for armchair walkers on this trip!

There will be times on any walk of 200 miles that you will have enough and are fed up; sometimes you might actually want to give up. There will be times you have to dig deep, but if you believe you can do it, these dark times will be just about bearable and you will get through. I took a poem, The Quitter by Robert Service, with me – quite inspiring.

Route finding

Generally the route is easy to follow, there are exceptions but a good guide book will certainly help in these situations. Sign posting is rare until you get to the Dales so you need to be able to read a map and be good at interpreting guide books that are not always as clear as perhaps they might be. A good sense of direction to back up map skills will also help especially when in the mountains. I would say it is possible to do the entire walk using a book like Steadmans but this would assume good visibility at all times which is very unlikely. Buy the maps along with a compass and learn how to use them. We came across a lot of people in the Lakes that didn’t have maps or didn’t know how to use them and they got badly lost. GPS is great but use it as a back up. They use batteries that can die; they are not infallible and are only as good as the information that has been inputted. We did come across people who’s GPS’s had let them down. It is also worth mentioning that as the Coast to Coast is not a recognised path, the route is not specifically marked on the maps, like for instance, the Dales Way. Although it does follow footpaths, bridleways and rights of way for its entire length, you have to piece together how they all join up in conjunction with a guide book.

Terrain

The Coast to Coast by default covers a variety of terrain as it covers the width of Britain. It is mostly a high level route but that doesn’t mean it is all rocks and boulders. The initial part through the Lake District does, as you would assume, involve rocky hillsides and steep sections and the path underfoot can be unstable at times. However there are areas where the path is flat and even grassy in some sections. The centre section of the Dales is more moorland and rolling in nature but there are steep sections and again the paths can be rocky. In some areas the terrain is flatter and good speed can be made. Where the Dales give way to the Vale of Mowbray it is wholly farmland and fields with no climbing at all. This, to us, was quite a nice change, for a day. Level ground makes for easy walking, some might say boring but it reminded me of some walks we do at home, across the fields. The final part across the North York Moors was a whaleback of a ride with surprisingly steep ascents and descents as well as some good moorland paths that allowed speedy progress.

The weather

Just how good a trip you have will depend to a large extent on how good or bad the weather is. As we all know the weather in this country is variable to say the least and with the Coast to Coast being ‘up north’ and going through areas of very high ground, it is going to be changeable. Wind and rain should be expected at anytime, and snow in the lakes up until early summer. In theory the weather will be behind for most of the walk but we did experience significant head winds at times.

We undertook our crossing in late April and early May and didn’t have a full wet day. Most days were sunny and relatively warm but with a blustery wind on higher ground sometimes. We really had wonderful weather with only the odd spot of rain on Nine Standards. Although it had been quite windy on many days it was never so bad that you had to put all your layers on to keep warm. The sun shone most days but never too warm to be a problem. In short it was perfect walking weather. There were places where we did actually say to each other that we were glad the weather was so good otherwise at that particular point it would have been quite nasty due to the exposure. A couple of times we did have to shelter from the wind but only when we stopped for a food break.

Visibility can be a problem, even if not wet, as we found out on a couple of occasions. The old adage of preparing for the worst but hoping for the best is definitely true on this trip. We were definitely spoiled on our walk as it was ideal walking weather but another year it could, and probably would, be a very different story.

Boots and clothing

My boots were Zamberlan and were only 4 months old. My previous Zamberlans were still good and I wanted to take them. However, they were not Goretex lined and so I decided it would be prudent to get a pair that was Goretex lined just in case we had a monsoon fortnight. Rachel already had Goretex boots so we were fully prepared. In the event I could have worn my old boots as Goretex definitely wasn’t needed for our two weeks.

As we were carrying all our own stuff we didn’t have the luxury of multiple changes of clothing. We adopted the military regime of always having a dry set of clothes. We in effect took 3 sets of clothes, one to walk in, one unused (dry) and one worn in the evenings. These were rotated as and when required. Consequently, when our evening clothes had been worn a couple of times they became our walking clothes. Our old walking clothes got washed and became our ‘dry’ set and so on. We normally managed to wash something each day with a proper washing day as and when we could. All our clothing could be layered up or down as weather dictated. One pair of trousers had zip off legs so they doubled up as shorts as the need arose.

We also took a pair of trainers each, which although bulky and heavy, were essential for the evening or on our rest days. Another item that was invaluable was a Buff. Something so simple can be put to so many uses and weighs next to nothing. Hat, waterproof gloves and gaiters were a prudent choice but never used (even on Nine Standards), due to the fantastic weather – it could have been so different. Our waterproof jackets were only put on once on Nine Standards and our waterproof over trousers, not used at all.

Equipment

As already mentioned we carried all our own kit. Therefore we needed good packs of a suitable size without being too big. My pack was a Lowe Alpine Skyline 55 which although getting on for being 10yrs old never lets me down. It is quite heavy by today’s standards but it easily withstands whatever is thrown at it. Rachel’s was a brand new Lowe Alpine Airzone Centro 45+10 which had been fully tested before the walk and again was worth its weight in gold.
Platypus 2 litre bladders for water and an assortment of dry bags for food and clothing to keep everything dry.

Our guide book was Henry Steadman’s, supplemented with OS 1:25000 laminated A4 strip maps. The maps were printed off from Memory Map software for the Lake District but the other areas were scanned in from paper maps. The maps were printed off onto A4 paper and laminated back to back. Being laminated these were waterproof but I also took a waterproof map cases just in case. In addition we took a compass, which was vital on a couple of occasions. A first aid kit was also taken which was filled with relevant items for this sort of undertaking. We also took one anti-shock trekking pole each. We could have done without but they did help on many occasions, especially to relieve the knees and I would take them again. We also took good head torches just in case we got caught out or had to attract attention, plus a Swiss Army penknife each.

Food

We have always subscribed to the notion of grazing during the day rather than having one main stop in the centre of the day. Our breakfasts were a mixture of all the food groups, complex as well as simple carbs to give a mixture of energy release during the morning along with a little bit of cooked (after all we were on holiday!). We took the opportunity to eat as much as practical of the right foods but we also made room for the odd treat. We would aim to stop at least 3 times during the day. Each stop would be for about 20 minutes and we would have just enough to top up our levels. On the odd occasion it was not practical to stop so we would eat some sort of snack on the hoof. Using this method of little and often gave us three things. Firstly, we never felt hungry. Second, we were constantly feeding our muscles so tiredness was never a major factor even on the longer days. Thirdly, it gave us an excuse to stop, rest and air our feet!

Our evening meal (other than the celebratory last night) would just be a main meal with a drink. Alcoholic yes, but in moderation of course! On the odd occasion we did have a couple of deserts which did make a welcome change.

Our supplies during the day would be bought from village shops as and when we found them. On a couple of days we had to carry double or triple rations as shops were not available. On one occasion we had sandwiches made up for us but we supplemented these with other supplies we had already got.

We always drank water on the walk during the day via our Platypus hydration system. Boring yes, but we feel that if you eat correctly there shouldn’t really be a need for sports drinks or supplements. If the opportunity presented itself we would treat ourselves to a coffee or a hot chocolate during the day and of course at the B&B’s we normally had our own welcome tray to use.

Pubs

There is every likelihood that you will spend quite a lot of time in pubs, which, depending on your point of view, is either a good thing or a bad thing. But, one thing is certain; you will need to use pubs for your main hot meal of the day. We actually stayed in a couple and they were fine but not palatial and breakfast only adequate.

Eating in all the pubs for our evening meal was generally very good, with the odd exceptional meal, but we didn’t have a bad meal at any of them. Sometimes the prices were a bit questionable and the cheap prices mentioned by others, a couple of years ago, are no longer there, but on the whole it was standard pub fayre at normal pub prices.

Routine

We like routine, but many people don’t. Many find discipline and routine very un-enjoyable and would argue that it would ruin the trip – each to their own. It is vital that each does what works for them, otherwise you will always be fighting against a system that is not right for you. As I say we like routine and the walk does sort of dictate a type of routine whether you like it or not. We would always try to leave between 8.30 and 9am regardless of how many miles we had to cover. We were fortunate with the weather as we had no rain, so if we had a short day we could just take our time and have longer breaks. The latest we ever got to our destination was 5pm and that was after 23 miles. Once we got to our rooms we would unpack, shower and get into our ‘dry’ clothes. We might have a short time to relax and then we would go to the pub for our dinner. We would normally go quite early, say 6.30 to 7pm and would get back to the B&B by 9pm at the absolute latest. Most days we would be in bed by 9pm to 10pm getting a good nights sleep.

Other Coast to Coasters

Previous to the Coast to Coast we had never walked with anyone else apart from family and the thought of doing so left me cold. Don’t get me wrong, other walkers are fine, generally a friendly bunch and full of worthwhile information, but to walk with them…. no. How I have changed my mind now!

Inevitably you judge others when you meet them, it is human nature after all but when you do a walk like this you appreciate that everyone is different. They have different kit, different schedules, different fitness levels, different outlook on life and so on, but one thing we all have in common is that we are all in it to do one thing, to do the walk, and what works for one may not necessarily work for the other. It doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong – just different.
I was amazed at how I enjoyed the company of others but then again perhaps we were blessed with like minded people. Consequently, we didn’t stick to each other all day, we gave each other space.

The banter and gentle ribbing on occasions lightened the day sometimes, especially when tired and it was always interesting to catch up with what each had been doing and how they had got on.

Photography

We like to take photos and video so it was only natural to create a photographic diary of the walk. Rachel was in charge of the digital camera and I was in charge of the HD camcorder. This worked well and with the size of equipment these days took up very little weight or room. The camcorder was an HDD type so there were no fiddly tapes or cards to lose and with the drive being big enough I was never in any danger of running out of hard disk space. We took the opportunity to recharge the batteries whenever we could, not knowing what each day may bring. Rather than just take video of views we tried to talk to the camera whenever appropriate during the day rather than have a set time and sit and face the camera recalling what had happened during the day.

Wildlife

Much of the walk goes through sheep country and so it is to be expected to come across the fluffy things regularly. They never gave us any problem at all and will run in the opposite direction as soon as you get close. Cows, heifers and steers on the other hand are very inquisitive and will come and investigate to see who these brightly coloured objects are that are walking through their field. Generally they are quite harmless, as well as being quite skittish, and so a quick wave of the arm will soon shoo them away. There will in all probability be the odd bull but these aren’t the fearsome monsters that many think. Just give them a wide berth just in case they are having a bad day, and ideally don’t put yourself between the bull and his harem as he could think that you have designs on his ladies! With all animals don’t get between a mother and her baby as maternal instinct will win every time.
We also saw deer, grouse and even a lizard. Adders are worth keeping an eye out for especially in moorland areas but we didn’t see any on our travels.

 

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