Walking the Coast-to-Coast: Blakey Ridge to Robin Hoods Bay

The last two sections of the Coast-to-Coast followed a rather circuitous route to the final destination of Robin Hood’s Bay. The penultimate day started with a long walk that followed a huge circle, keeping the Lion Inn in sight for a long time.

That day’s first landmark was Fat Betty, a mediaeval marker stone. The guidebook says that the tradition is to take one of the items of food left on this stone and replace it with something else. It was apparently a tradition to leave gifts at such places, but I’m not sure how this has shifted to the idea of exchanging items.

The penultimate day has some boring roads, but set in beautiful countryside, including the gorgeous Great Fryup Dale. We passed through Glaisdale, which was mostly closed, and we did not have time to visit the boutique Museum of Victorian Science. The Horseshoe Hotel had some great vegan options which seemed heart-breaking as I was too full to eat.

Despite being on the Coast-to-Coast, and being on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Grosmont had no decent options for food, so we ended up taxi-ing back to the Horseshoe Hotel, where the food was as excellent as it appeared.

The final day’s route was even more wiggly than that of the penultimate one. It started with a cruel climb out of Grosmont. During this stretch one of my toenails began cutting into a toe, drawing blood. I was lucky that Dave had some scissors with us for me to trim this. Something else to remember for future planning.

More road walking on the final day

The route took us into Little Beck Woods where we stopped for coffee at Falling Foss just as the heavens opened. We waited out the sudden storm with some excellent coffee and cake. The rest of the day’s weather was fantastic.

The route continued through boggy moorland and quiet roads. We got chatting with a runner who told us how he’d taken up running when he was 55 with a 48-inch waist, and was now into ultramarathons. Very inspiring.

The final stage of the walk took us across clifftops heading south towards Robin Hood’s Bay. We were blessed with perfect weather for this section – I’ve talked to people who found themselves finishing the route in thick mist. We booked to stay overnight, which meant we had to travel back through a rail strike, which was a frustrating end to a good walk.

Tradition dictates that you carry a stone from St Bees Head to Robin Hood’s Bay. We walked the route in three stages, but I somehow managed to keep track of my pebble through two house moves.

Having done five national trails, the Coast-to-Coast is the one I would most recommend. At 190 miles, it can be comfortably completed in under two weeks. It’s well-organised and extremely friendly. I think the Pennine Way is a better walk, but the Coast-to-Coast is much more engaging.

Walking the Coast-to-Coast: Northallerton to Blakey Ridge

This month I did the final section of the Coast to Coast, having walked the earlier parts of it in September 2021 and September 2022.

We rejoined the trail from Northallerton on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday. By the time we reached our starting point of Oak Tree Hill, my boots were damp. They stayed damp for several hours as we tramped through farms and muddy trails. Any long trail will have fill-in days that merely connect interesting parts, and the section from Richmond to Ingleby Arncliffe was an example of this. The landscape was flat and the route included a lot of tramping down roads, so I was glad that we’d chopped it into two. While it’s always good to be out hiking, some days are definitely better than others.

The Coast-to-Coast is by far the friendliest trail I’ve been on. Most of the venues along the way are friendly, both in terms of owners and other hikers. There are also a lot of honesty shops along the way, including a spooky one at Wray House Farm.

Our first day ended with a dash across the A19 at Ingleby Arncliffe. Apparently this section of the route was going to be diverted, which would have meant the closure of the Blue Bell Inn, but local MP Rishi Sunak persuaded the Treasury to fund a footbridge. The Blue Bell Inn is another excellent Coast to Coast venue, with various vegan options and lots of other hikers dining in.

Our second day was an epic 21-mile trek which I’d not broken up as I wanted to end the day at the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. We started with an epic climb through Arncliffe Wood, where we joined the Cleveland Way. There were some lovely moorland sections and we somehow avoided the worst of the weather on the flatlands below us.

We stopped at Lord Stones, which I’d expected to be a pleasant place to grab lunch. The staff were rude, the coffee was terrible, and outdoor speakers played grating music. Given the excellent welcome in most other places, this was a rare discordant note.

The middle of the day included a series of sharp climbs before a long road the wound out towards Blakey Ridge. The section ran along an old railway line and was a slightly dull end to a long day – Map 80 in my guidebook was almost entirely blank. I was tired and could feel myself slowing as the weather came in. We heard thunder, and I spotted some lightning, but the worst of the weather held off.

On the drive to Northallerton, I told Dave that I’d not called ahead to check about vegan food options. He laughed so much I thought he might crash the car. In the past I’ve had some underwhelming experiences, particularly for breakfast. Going to a remote pub did not seem like a great prospect for vegan food.

Well, I’m pleased to say that the Lion Inn is probably the best pub I’ve ever been in. We were warmly welcomed by lovely staff, there were seven vegan options on the menu, and the place was bustling. We were too tired for the public bar, but it was packed with people who’d driven out to the middle of nowhere on a Tuesday night. This is a place so good I’m considering coming up for a stay another time. It was the perfect place to recover from a long day’s hiking.

Pennine Way Stage 4: Hebden Bridge to Ponden

Stage 4 of the Pennine Way is a satisfying one. It rises from the Calder Valley to cross Heptonstall Moor, then passes a reservoir on the way to the ruins of Top Withens. The pathways are wild and empty, with some great scenery.

As much as I love the image of the Pennine Way as a thin path up the spine of the country, the way-finding sometimes feels wearing. The guidebook I follow describes the route closely (as Wainwright’s guides does), with little attention paid to the wider scenery. Wainwright himself compares this to following the path with blinkers on, having no idea of its context. It can also feel fussy to be looking ahead to the upcoming gates and the twists in the track.

Sometimes the path becomes very thin

One answer to this would be to switch to navigating from the OS map – which I keep in reserve in case I need to find a route away from the trail for some reason. But I’ve also been wondering about how the route could be divided up differently, and treated as a journey between waypoints. This would make navigation harder on some sections, but I like how this breaks things into sections. I think it’s also a better narrative, so I’ll try it with the description of this walk.

The day’s first stage was the climb out of the Calder valley from the canal. The climb starts with a lovely steep cobbled path. I considered buying a house next to this before I realised I did not have the energy to handle the renovations. The climb passes the ruins of a chapel with a tiny graveyard, and a sign that offers two paths, Wainwright’s preference and the ‘official path’. There is no one Pennine Way.

The second stage involved crossing a valley, down to the old bridge at Colden Water then following a rising path through Colden village. There’s a lovely little farmshop just off the path here, called May’s Aladdin’s Cave. It’s a good climb out, which continues to a cairn with a ‘good luck’ sign embedded in it. Here the path turns to the left and sets out on another stage across barren Heptonstall Moor.

The fourth stage follows a farm track then heads down through a tiny, pretty valley before rising towards a road. A short way off is the Pack Horse Inn, which is a good place to stop for lunch. The main route follows some quiet roads until turning off towards a reservoir.

The path around the reservoir is easy to follow, as long as you know where the turn-off is. There is a flagstone path out of the valley which descends near the ruins of Top Withens farmhouse. I love this ruin, which is famous for not actually being the sight of Wuthering Heights from the Emily Bronte novel. A sign says this building is not the one in the book here, but people still trek out here because the place is famous for not being the ruin, and people once confused the two. It’s a beautiful lonely place.

Top Withens from September 2021

From Top Withens its a relatively short downhill section towards Ponden Reservoir, which was my finishing point for today. From here, I had to trek back to Haworth, from where I could pick up the bus. The road took me past the Old Silent Inn, which is so named because Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed there on his retreat, and the locals did not betray him. The pub is, of course, rumoured to have a few ghosts.

Travelling from Ponden back home was a drag. I discovered that I had dropped my trusty coffee cup somewhere along the way. I’d missed the bus to Howarth by ten minutes, so walked. It was touch-and-go as to whether I could make the bus from Howarth to home, but I decided to wait for the next one and do some book-shopping. I’ve started collecting old guidebooks to the Pennine Way, and picked up an interesting one from the 90s, as well as a book on drystone walls with the portentous title Who were the Wall-Builders?


Pennine Way Stage 3: Standedge to Hebden Bridge

Reaching the point where I previously left the trail was a drag. It took 3½ hours, including a train, two buses, and my regular daily step count. Admittedly this did include stopping for a vegan breakfast at Huddersfield Wetherspoon’s, but it’s still a long time. (As much as I loathe Tim Martin’s politics, he is an excellent host. I know I can visit one of his pubs anywhere in the country and receive a vegan breakfast, which is no small thing).

The day’s route ran from Standedge to Hebden Bridge. There are no epic hills, some boring reservoirs and the M62 dominates one section. With the roads, planes coming into Manchester, and the proximity of Manchester and Rochdale themselves, this section rarely feels truly wild. It’s also busy – I found myself walking through an orienteering event after the M62; and the ridge towards Stoodley Pike is always full of walkers. But, while this route suffers in comparison with other parts of the Pennine Way, any day hiking beats being indoors.

The best section of the day was the rocky path above on Marston Moor, which also included some decent views. There were some isolated sections where the ground-nesting birds were incredibly loud – obviously unhappy about me passing close to their nests.

The route crossed the A672, where there was a friendly cafe, and shortly after crossed the M62. A brief section of moorland took the trail to the Halifax Road and the White House pub. From here, it followed a couple of reservoirs. While there were some nice backgrounds, the path itself was something of a trudge for a mile or so. Wainwright describes the scenery in this section as “nothing to write home about”.

After the reservoirs, there is a stretch of wilder moorland that rises towards Stoodley Pike. This monument, 37-meters high and at the top of a hill, is visible for miles around. It first appears on the Pennine Way five miles back at Blackstone Edge, where it directly ahead, with no real feeling of its distance.

This Landrover has been there so long that it appears as a landmark in some guidebooks

While the landscape wasn’t as epic as I’d have liked, this was a good walk. Being out in the countryside allowed me to leave behind the stress of the working week. My new coat kept the wind off. And the best thing about this section was that it ended a short distance from my house, so I could walk back along the canal. At the Callis community gardens, I passed a woman meditating, a sign inviting others to join her to promote world peace. If I’d not been so tired, I might have done so.

I previously walked this section in May 2017.

Pennine Way Stage 2: Crowden to Standedge

I woke in Glossop for my second day walking the Pennine Way, and I wasn’t sure that I could be bothered. I took my morning slowly, treating myself to a large vegan breakfast, allowing my enthusiasm to gather. I then took a taxi to my starting point, which turned out to be much more expensive than I had expected. I crossed the Torside reservoir and headed out on the day’s first climb.

Looking back down the valley towards Crowden

The second day opens with an incredible bit of walking, following a valley towards Laddow Rocks, then moving along the edge of the rocks, rising higher toward the valley’s watershed. The views back towards Crowden are impressive and the climb is a satisfying one.

Passing one fissure on the path I heard voices, and when I said good morning the men introduced themselves as mountain rescue, pointing to their patches. “We’re on an exercise,” they explained, telling me that if anyone asked if I’d seen someone on the path, I should say I hadn’t. But I never met the rest of their crew.

The route followed a good path past Black Hill, then across a long valley towards the A635, passing numerous people who were out for day trips. It’s interesting how these early sections of the Pennine Way change between deserted and relatively busy. On the other side of the road was a managed landscape where a valley led down to Wessenden Reservoir.

One last short, steep climb took me onto some moorland. The path passed a pair of reservoirs and I soon reached Redbrook Reservoir. Here, a route to the right led off towards Marsden, where I would find transport back home. The Pennine Way passes through some rugged and isolated country, which means that transport links can be tricky. It was a slow journey to Hebden Bridge.

I previously walked this section in May 2017: Pennine Way – Day 2

Some rules for hiking

Of course, there are no real rules for hiking, other than those that will help you to enjoy a walk. But these are some things I’ve learned recently hiking trails in the UK:

  • Menus in pubs can be judged by how well designed they are: never order a £13 burger from a badly-designed menu.
  • The only app that will tell you the weather accurately is a window.
  • Never rely on fell-runners to tell you if you’re on the path: their definition of a path is very different to a hiker’s definition.
  • Swearing at moody cows doesn’t help the situation.
  • Via Craig Mod: “Always eat your best thing. That way you’re always eating the best thing you’ve brought.”

I like that rule about eating the best thing in your pack. Deferred pleasure is fine – like putting money aside for the future – but it is not the best approach in all situations.

Coast to Coast Day 8: Keld to Reeth

Sometimes, when you’re walking a trail, you have a day that starts out as incredible then deteriorates to slogging along a tedious track. The walk from Keld to Reeth was an example of this. The first few hours were some of the best hiking I’ve done, with great views and curious ruins. Then we spent a few hours following a relatively boring track into town.

This was another day with a choice of routes. We took the high route, though the old lead-mining ruins. We heard from other hikers that the lower route along the Swaledale Valley was also pretty spectacular.

The route took us past into a series of valleys filled with the traces of lead-mining. It was obviously a grim and remote job, being some way from the nearest towns.

We stopped for lunch in the Blakethwaite ruins, by the side of the river. It was a fine place to linger for a break, since the day’s distance was only 11 miles.

The tone of the walk changed after we climbed out of this valley. We found ourself in an area where quarrying had stripped off the top soil. It was desolate, and one group of hikers we met had filmed videos of themselves pretending to be astronauts on the moon.

From there, it was a long slog along the track. Grouse hunters were out in force, despite the period of national mourning. There’s a long tension between walking and grouse-hunting, which reached a high-point at the Kinder trespass. Grouse-hunting seems an odd ‘sport’, with people paid to drive the animals towards the shooters, and others paid to reload the guns. Seeing the landscape taken over for such a vile activity is disappointing, and added to my frustration with the rather boring track.

We eventually made it to Reeth, which is one of the most beautiful villages I’ve seen. The central green is on a gentle slope with some amazing views, and the local ice-cream shop had an impressive vegan vanilla flavour. The town seems to have been hit by hard times, however, with a number of businesses for sale or even closed, despite there still being a few weeks to run of the season.

Coast to Coast Day 7: Kirkby Stephen to Keld

The 13-mile journey from Kirkby Stephen to Keld was an exciting one. It took us from the town up to the Nine Standards, a line of tall cairns; from there we crossed a boggy area before descending to Ravenseat Farm, and onward to Keld.

The guidebook made the marshy section sound imposing, describing it as looking like “a scene from the Somme, circa 1916”. It went on to talk about people getting swallowed by the murk, and someone who broke a wrist when their walking pole was taken by the bogs. It didn’t sound all that much fun. There is a choice of three routes on this section, dividing the path up by the time of year, and it was hard to get a grasp of which one was best.

But, before setting off, we visited the church in Kirkby Stephen, where there was an excellent 8th-century carving of Loki (disappointingly labelled as a devil by the superstitious peasants who ran that church). Kirkby Stephen also apparently has a flock of parrots but we didn’t see them.

The climb up to the Nine Standards was fairly easy, and the views from the top were epic. I’d seen them from a distance on the Pennine Way a few years ago, and it was good to be standing there.

The bogs were just tricky enough to be fun, forcing Dave and I to look for crossing points and occasionally leap over the mud. We mostly got through OK, although I managed to go in up to my shin. I could see how these might be tricky, and we met one person who’d had to quit the C2C the year before after pulling a muscle escaping the muck.

a scene from the Somme, circa 1916

From there we descended to a river that was followed to Ravenseat Farm. Not watching TV meant I missed the excitement of being at the Yorkshire Shepherdess‘s farm, although a selection of books and jigsaw puzzles were available at the drinks van. Sadly, vegan cream teas were not on offer.

Isn’t this a great view?

The day’s stage was relatively short, finishing at the Keld Lodge, where people were sat outside. Everyone who passed was encouraged to join for a drink and we all swapped stories about crossing the bogs. Dave and I stayed at Greenlands B&B, a little way out of town, where we were well looked after. The views from the patio across the valley were absolutely stunning, and the food was excellent.

Coast to Coast Day 6: Shap to Kirkby Stephen

One way I evaluate a day’s hiking is by seeing how many photos I took. Stage 6 of the Coast-to-Coast produced relatively few. According to the book, the hike was 20.5 miles, although I think that was a slight over-estimate. Despite the distance, the book described this as a ‘recovery day’, given the flatness and soft ground. Dave was convinced it was going to rain, but I insisted it wouldn’t. Fortunately I was correct.

The route included a number of historical sites – a couple of stone circles, and ‘Robin Hood’s Grave’, all of which we managed to miss. Otherwise, it was a fairly standard countryside hike – better than a day indoors, but suffering in comparison to the stunning views the day before.

Personally, I struggled with the day. I was wearing the wrong socks and had still not adjusted my new rucksack correctly. The walking was a slog and it was probably a good thing we didn’t have any hills. It was only the last mile or two when I finally felt comfortable.

At various points along the path we saw signs asking people not to pee along the route. And I can understand the sentiment here – nobody wants to be confronted by other people using the great outdoors as a toilet. But, at the same time, I’m not sure what the alternative is here. The route is a 7-10 hour hike with no facilities. Any adequate hydration is going to mean people need to stop at some point. I’m really not sure what the signs are meant to achieve.

I was relieved to arrive at Kirkby Stephen, and in time to buy some bath salts at the chemist. I spent an hour soaking in the bath, reading No Country For Old Men, and trying to soothe my aches. We ate in the local curry house. I was excited to see a Scotch Bonnet curry on the menu, and a little disappointed that they seemed to have used Encona sauce rather than fresh chillis.

Coast to Coast Day 5: Patterdale to Shap

After a year’s break, my brother-in-law Dave and I continued our walk on the Coast-to-Coast trail earlier this month. We’d finished last year’s leg in Patterdale, which meant starting again with a massive hill.

The walk from Patterdale to Shap was 15 miles or so, and the last section of the walk based in the Lake District. The walk to Angle Tarn was worth the effort, with some stunning scenery. I was definitely fitter than the year before, but I compensated for that by poor packing, carrying too much in a badly-adjusted brand-new rucksack.

Kidsty Pike was the high point of the day, with a wonderful panoramic view.

From there we made a steep descent to Haweswater Reservoir. It was striking how close the reservoir was to running dry. The guidebook cautioned us that the waterside path was not gentle, rather it would have us “panting like a hippo on a treadmill”. We did see a red squirrel in the woods though.

After that, some pleasant woodland walking followed until we reached the ruins of Shap Abbey. The village was only a short way beyond that, and it was good to be able to take off the rucksack and rest.