UK COAST TO COAST ADVENTURE JOURNAL | Day 1

posted in: Outdoors | 1

I kicked this adventure journal series off with a blog post all about the couple of days leading up to starting my UK Coast to Coast hike. Consider this chapter two. In this post, the adventure really starts, as we go paddling in the sea at St Bees, tackle our first steep descent (and ascent) of the 200 miles, and pitch our tents in a pub garden.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Hike - In the Irish Sea
Splashing in the Irish Sea at St Bees – all photos of me taken by Jenni

I admit I did not have a particularly restful sleep at The Manor, St Bees. A combination of being a bit warm, there being nothing to my pillow, and all those worries I mentioned at the end of my day zero post swirling around in my mind, meant I was restless. But such is the way of things, and good sleep or poor sleep, it was time to get hiking.

After breakfast, consisting of coco pops (I couldn’t resist), eggs and beans, orange juice and lots of tea, we packed up our stuff, laced up our boots, and headed to the beach.

UK COAST TO COAST HIKE ADVENTURE JOURNAL

Day 1 | Sunday 10 October | St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge

It is traditional at the start of a UK Coast to Coast hike, to do two things in St Bees before getting on the trail. The first is to dip your toes in the sea. And the second is to find a small pebble to carry from the West coast over to the East.

Thankfully, the weather was much kinder on Saturday morning than it had been on Friday afternoon. Actually, it was a stunningly beautiful morning, the best we could have hoped for in early October. We spent around an hour enjoying the large beach. Basically, we spent an hour being kids. And it was wonderful.

Splodz Blogz | The Official Start of the UK Coast to Coast Hike
Stood at mile zero.

Paddling in the North Sea

We paddled and splashed in the sea, with boots and socks off and trousers rolled up, in order that we may begin things properly. The water was oh so cold, but it was fun none-the-less. You’ve got to start adventures with giggles, right?! I was very grateful I thought to carry my little Pacmat sit mat and my tiny travel towel in my day pack; perfect for moments just as this.

We spent a little longer than we perhaps needed to looking for exactly the right pebbles to carry with us. We picked out two each (for security), and placed them in our day packs for safe keeping, hoping we wouldn’t lose them along the way. That would have been pretty disappointing when we reached Robin Hood’s Bay, but it was very possible. Maybe I should point out now, right at the start of this series, that we did both manage to keep hold of those pebbles the whole way. Phew.

And of course, we took a bunch of photos by the Coast to Coast mile zero sign, and some in the water. We wanted to mark this occasion with something we could treasure, even when our minds become a little hazy later in life.

Eventually we decided it really was time to go. We set off up onto the cliff towards St Bees Head and the lighthouse at around 10am, with 14 miles in front of us before we could say day one was done.

Splodz Blogz | Pebble at St Bees
My pebble of choice.

Trailblazer Coast to Coast Guidebook

My chosen guidebook for the UK Coast to Coast was the version published by Trailblazer, written by Henry Stedman and Stuart Butler. There are so many to choose from; at the time of looking this one came recommended to me, so I went with it. The pages include lots of useful descriptive text, route maps with added hints and tips, and notes on places to stay and eat. It did its job very well indeed.

I spent hours in the run up to this hike studying its pages, using it alongside other information online and from friends to help Jenni and I plan our itinerary. That amount of study wasn’t entirely necessary, I know that, but reading this guidebook and using it to plot and ponder was a hugely enjoyable part of the getting ready process. Preparing for an adventure, even just dreaming up adventure ideas, is exciting in itself; the pile of guidebooks on my bookshelf help to always fuel that flame.

While it added a bit of weight to my pack, I chose to carry the guidebook on the trail. Jenni and I made looking at the following day’s description part of our evening routine, to help us know what we were in for, but also to make sure we didn’t miss any of the interesting sights along the way.

If you are looking to do the Coast to Coast, I would recommend the Trailblazer guidebook. I can’t compare it to other guidebooks, such as this one by Cicerone as I only used the one, so if you’re about to take on this hike, it’s worth having a look around to find the best one for you.

Navigation on Trail

The first section of the UK Coast to Coast route is signposted well, taking us up from the beach onto the cliff for a short section on the coast path. It was nice having some company for a mile or so, but then Paul and Helene had to head back, and it was down to Jenni and me to take control of this journey. All we had to do is put one foot in front of the other, for a meagre 200 miles, and we’d be done. Easy-peasy.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Sign
Coast to Coast Signpost near St Bees

While I was worried about getting lost or going the wrong way, one of those things that kept me awake that night, I am reasonably confident in my navigation skills. The UK Coast to Coast isn’t a National Trail in the same way that the Pennine Way or West Highland Way are, so while it is signposted very well in some areas, route finding would take more effort in others. For example, there are hardly any C2C signposts inside the Lake District National Park.

I quite liked the drawn maps in the guidebook for planning and preparation, especially as the authors had incorporated extra information such as shops and cafes which don’t appear on an OS Map. The notes on boggy sections, difficult descents, and popular alternative routes were also useful. But for navigating ourselves along the trail itself, we used the OS Maps app.

One Day at a Time

Rather than having just one massive 200-mile route, I plotted each day as a separate route in the app, and both Jenni and I downloaded those onto our phones for offline use (so it doesn’t use any mobile data). I’m a great believer in “one day at a time”.

It should be said that while the guidebook was excellent for preparation, and the OS Maps app was perfect for checking location, path junctions, distances, and alternative routes, these did not replace the need to carry a map (and compass). Instead of carrying a handful of folded maps, which would take up far too much space, I printed out the relevant Ordnance Survey maps for each day with our preferred route marked up (you can print out in your chosen ratio with premium membership of OS Maps). Each day I carried the specific pages relating to that day, discarding used sheets into recycling bins as we went along.

Splodz Blogz | UK Coast Path
Fleswick Bay, St Bees Head

The First Few Miles

The cliff-top walk passed Fleswick Bay, through the RSPB Nature Reserve (St Bees Head), and around St Bees Lighthouse, was glorious. I love a cliff-top walk, they have the kind of scenery I like best, gnarly and rugged, with the sight and soundtrack of the sea in the background. It remains one of my life-long hopes to circumnavigate Great Britain via the coast path – definitely a one-day kind of goal.

Soon, though, it was time to turn our backs to the coast and head East. I mean, we’d be heading East-ish (very ish!) for days and days, so there was no surprise there.

The first village we walked through was Sandwith. There was a pub, but it was a bit too early for lunch. Had we realised there wouldn’t be an open shop to resupply until the very end of the day, we should have at least seen if they served sandwiches. But you know, we couldn’t really justify stopping for a long lunch just an hour or two into a two-week hike! 

Splodz Blogz | Wainwright Passage
Wainwright Passage

A Disappointing Passage

After walking through a few more fields, all the while following Coast to Coast signs (and smiling at one particular farm where there were ALL the signs), we walked through Moor Row and then along the famous Wainwright Passage. Featured on every Coast to Coaster’s Instagram feed, this short and somewhat disappointing alleyway alongside Cleator Cricket Ground could do with a bit of a spruce up. I don’t know, I think I was perhaps expecting something a little more pretty.

It was in Cleator we’d been promised a village shop, but it was closed. We were carrying supplies, of course, but a sandwich or pork pie wouldn’t have gone amiss. Just after the village, at about the nine-mile mark, and before we began the climb up Dent Hill, we came off the main trail and stopped by a brook for a proper break.

It was a pretty perfect place for sit down and rest; soft grass, running water, and a couple of inquisitive sheep. We dined on cuppa soup, tea, cereal bars and flapjack, while allowing our feet to rest (boots off, always), and checking the guidebook for details on what was to come.  

Splodz Blogz | Lunch Stop near Cleator
Our lunch time view, just outside Cleator

Up Dent Hill

Our route up Dent Hill started through Blackhow Wood, then out onto on open moorland. It was beautiful with an even path underfoot, but it can only be described as a hard slog. The guidebook notes Dent Hill as a “long and sweaty climb”, and that it was. At 353m, it was only a patch on what would be facing us over the next few days, but a pretty steep reminder that the Coast to Coast hike isn’t a walk in the park.

It was absolutely worth the effort. Just stunning. It could have been a clearer day, but we could still see for miles. When not dodging boggy sections of path across the top (very grateful for those big stones to help with the worst bits), we enjoyed fantastic views of the sea where we’d started our hike, over to the Lake District ahead of us, and the countryside all around.

Splodz Blogz | View from Dent Hill
View from the Cairn on Dent Hill

Down Raven Crag

What goes up, must come down, and on Sunday afternoon that was via Raven Crag. Not originally in Wainwright’s route, this very steep grassy hill is now considered the main Coast to Coast path.

My knees and thighs were a bit stunned by the steepness if I’m honest. But while it was steep and uneven, it was such a beautiful descent, and was at least over quickly. I should probably have taken a minute to grab my walking poles from the side of my pack, not sure why I didn’t, but I made it down the hill in one piece without them. Good job, really.

Splodz Blogz | Raven Crag
Jenni looking down Raven Crag

Dent Hill conquered, and feeling confident in the decision that my Meindl Bhutans were the right boots for the job, we arrived in the valley at Nannycatch Gate ready for the last stretch of the day to Ennerdale Bridge.

It might only have been day one, but even several months later I would say that this winding path through the valley was one of my favourites of the whole hike. We strode along for a couple of miles alongside Nannycatch Beck, a really fabulous bit of walking, allowing us to stretch out our quads after that steep descent, and enjoy the sheltered, quiet life of long-distance hiking.

Splodz Blogz | Along Nannycatch Beck
Alongside Nannycatch Beck

The Fox and Hounds Inn, Ennerdale Bridge

We arrived at the Fox and Hounds Inn at Ennerdale bridge, a smidgen inside the Lake District National Park boundary, just after 4.30pm, having been met by Paul and Helene for the last mile or so. We’d done 14.2 (ish) miles in 6.5 hours including stops, which we felt was pretty decent. This wasn’t meant to be a speedy hike, and while we were keen to get to our chosen destination before sunset each day, we were here to enjoy the trail and the scenery, and make the most of being out.

Splodz Blogz | Fox and Hounds, Ennerdale Bridge
The Fox and Hounds, Ennerdale Bridge

The Fox and Hounds Inn is a hiker friendly pub which allows camping in their garden. We’d contacted them ahead of time to make sure this was okay, to positive notes from the staff, but on arrival it all felt a bit weird. I don’t know why, not unsafe or anything, just a bit strange. Still, we paid our £5 to camp and £3 for a key to a decent hot shower at nearby The Gather, set up our Vango Banshees where instructed, and got ourselves sorted out.

While the pub was busy with people eating and drinking, we were the only hikers camped in the garden. We were able to use the toilets in the pub until closing time, and that key to The Gather meant we had a loo overnight should we need it.

Splodz Blogz | Tents at Ennerdale Bridge
Camping at the Fox and Hounds pub, Ennerdale Bridge

Refuelling

The real benefit of camping in a pub garden, over and above it being a cheap and convenient place to sleep, was the pub dinner it gave us the opportunity to eat. I didn’t note what I ate in my journal, which is unlike me – it might have been steak pie and mash, that sounds like something I would choose. What I do remember is it being a very large portion, and very tasty.

We planned to eat as many pub meals as possible along the way. Each of us had packed some Firepot meals, and expected to need them some nights, but you can’t beat a proper refuelling when the opportunity presents itself.

And, of course, the other benefit of camping in a pub garden was that we could spend the whole evening enjoying the warmth and comfort of the open fire in the pub. Given that we were hiking in October, and the sun was set by 6.30pm, it afforded us the luxury of not having to sit on the ground outside our tents in the dark.

Splodz Blogz | Walking by Nannycatch Beck
Happy me hiking along Nannycatch Beck

Day One Reflections

The first day on my UK Coast to Coast hike was a good one. We had decent weather, got to play in the sea, had lovely views the whole day, navigation was easy, and the trail itself was delightful – even if there was a teeny bit of bog on the summit of Dent Hill.

My knees were a bit sore on the descent down Raven Crag, but that discomfort ended when the terrain flattened out. All in all, it felt like a pretty good first day on the trail, and like this thing might actually be within my abilities.

Splodz Blogz | Walking towards Ennerdale Bridge
Walking towards Ennerdale Bridge

But then I’m no stranger to day hikes of around 14 miles, taking in a hill or two, and in some ways day one was just like having a nice Sunday out walking with a friend.

As you’ll read as I publish more posts in this series of adventure journals, this first day, even with the not insignificant ascent and descent of Dent Hill, might have lulled me into a false sense of security. But I’ll leave the next part of that story for another day.

What do you think? Comment below...