10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Hiking England’s Coast to Coast Walk
The Coast to Coast Walk is a trail that crosses Northern England. The 192 miles pass through three vastly different national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors. The trail took us 13 days, with an average of about 15 miles per day. The longest day we hiked was 22 miles, and the shortest day was around seven miles.
As a disclaimer, I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2016, so my viewpoints might be skewed based on that experience.
1. Stealth Camping Is Difficult
Most people who hike the Coast to Coast (C2C) do so by means of walking directly from town to town and staying in hostels or B&Bs. There is even a Sherpa van company that will escort travelers’ luggage between towns. This enables walkers to travel lighter, but also forces them to stick to their itinerary. Since I was on a budget, I tended to lean more toward stealth camping. Stealth camping also gave me the freedom to move at a pace I wanted and I actually finished the C2C a day early.
In the UK, stealth camping is known as “wild camping.” I did not meet another soul doing the trail this way. Some carry all their gear, but they pay to camp in designated locations. I am of the firm belief that I am already carrying the weight of the tent, I will not pay to sleep in it. This made for some difficult searching and some not-so-fabulous locations. I did, however, save a good deal of money.
The downside of stealth camping is that you aren’t allowed to simply camp wherever you please. More than once I wanted to stop for the day, but had to push on three or more miles to find somewhere to set up. The places were often not one I would have preferred. I often kicked sheep poop out of the way to clear a space for my tent. I hoped I wasn’t on private property off some road, so I got up super early to clear out.
2. Lack of Switchbacks
The climbs on the C2C can be pretty tough. While they weren’t as difficult as the seemingly vertical ascents of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, what made them stand out was their lack of switchbacks of any kind. Anytime there was a hill it was a relentless, straight shot up until you reached the top. Thankfully, with many of these mountain climbs came wonderful views that made the leg aches a little more bearable.
I had no idea I would be walking through so many pastures—sheep, cows, and one field of ponies—but mostly sheep. Most hillsides, even those not fenced in, had sheep roaming around on open land.
With each pasture came an astronomical amount of poop. I couldn’t believe how much I was dodging and still stepping on more. I wasn’t prepared to be so vigilant. In all honesty, it became quite annoying.
4. Lack of Water to Filter
The only place we were able to filter water was in the Lake District early on the trail. We wanted to be safe about the water we filtered, so we tried to avoid all the animal waste. The few times we thought we were higher than any sheep and would go to filter water, we would quickly spot a sheep or two almost directly upstream of us. Luckily we were never sick.
After the Lake District, all of our water restocks were in the towns. Thankfully, all the pubs we stopped in never had a problem helping out walkers, and were always willing to let us fill our bottles up.
5. Ability to Eat in Town Every Day
I may not have had the perk of a B&B every night, but I got town food at least once a day. Often we would either camp right before a town to have a good English breakfast, or we would make it to a pub for supper and a pint. This often felt like a not-common-enough treat on the AT, but it was an everyday luxury on the Coast to Coast.
6. It’s No Green Tunnel
I didn’t really consider how much the green tunnel of the AT blocked the sun. In England, the lack of vegetation allows for uninterrupted views, and you don’t have to wait to hit tree line to see the surrounding area. At every stop to catch my breath I was able to look out and soak in English countryside. This also meant that the C2C has virtually no shielding from the sun. Like many Americans, thinking of England conjures images of overcast and near-constant rain. On this trip I was almost horribly lucky with the amount of sunshine.
When I say horribly lucky, I mean on day four in the Lake District, I got sun poisoning even though I had diligently put sunscreen on my face. On the AT, I rarely put sunscreen on my legs, and didn’t even think about doing so on this trail. I was on a ridgeline for two hours, baking in the sun, running off the spectacular views and joy of nearing a town. It wasn’t until a brief stop that I realized I was not feeling well and my legs were more than a little pink.
With some frustration I decided I could not go on farther. There was only one more short climb and a steep descent before the town, but I was done. We found a spot relatively devoid of sheep poop and made camp. As soon as the tent was up I crawled in without setting up my bed and lay down to fight off nausea. My legs were a deeper red than I had realized. My arms had been covered by my long sleeves off and on all day, and were less burned. I had put sunscreen on my face and it felt fine in comparison. But upon seeing myself in a mirror the next day, I realized my face was also burned.
I wore my base layers for the next several days. While not the coolest thing to wear, it protected me from worsening my condition. I learned to cover every inch of my skin with sunscreen or long sleeves, even on the overcast days.
I am not one for waterproof shoes. In the bogland that can be Northern England, however, I would recommend Gore-Tex footwear. We were very lucky when it came to weather. For the most part, our feet only got wet due to a few bogs and stream crossings. We improvised when we got to the boggiest section after the Nine Standers, like the innovative hikers that we are, and put plastic bags over our shoes so that we wouldn’t be muddy and miserable.
8. Public Footpaths
The amount of pubic footpaths in England and they way they work is astonishing. The footpaths are accessible to all that wish to walk on them, and what surprised me was the amount of private land they cut through.
This is partly why we were walking over so many pastures, though we also walked through people’s yards. There were signs asking us to close gates behind, but zero No Trespassing signs. No one chased us off their lawns and a few even set up little snack areas where, with a small donation, you could grab a snack and drink.
Public footpaths weren’t just on farm lands. They also crossed through property in towns and suburbs. I cannot image walking across someone’s property like that in the US, let alone having signs that exclaim that anyone is welcome to do so.
9. Minimal Hiker Community Culture
I always miss the community that surrounds the Appalachian Trail; the C2C made me miss it more. I was able to find some other hikers along the trail that I was able to talk about experiences with, but the majority of the time it was in towns and even then it didn’t hold the feelings of community that I was longing for.
While the majority of the C2C trekkers felt distant, there were a few fellow hikers I really enjoyed getting to know, ranging from an enjoyable couple from New Zealand to a Brit who had formerly been on a national game show.
10. Trail Magic Does Exist… If Only a Little
While there were no hiker feeds or roadside coolers, there was Jane. Now I cannot promise this to anyone else, but this wonderful woman named Jane picked us up from a pub and shared her home and hearth with us.
In many ways she was a kindred spirit to all thru-hikers. She is an avid traveler and ventures to the outdoors whenever she can, and had just gotten back from a canoeing trip in Scotland.
We traded stories as she tried to keep feeding us more and more. We slept in the shelter of her sunroom, protected from the night rain. In the morning we toured her property and helped feed some chickens. It was all so beautiful; especially in a time when we were nearing the end of our trail and growing tired of field and pasture walking. We were thrilled when she joined us in the morning to start our walk and sad to part ways.
Overall the C2C was a great trail. I would never try to dissuade a person from hiking the trail. However, I would recommend to anyone hiking the C2C to explore more of the UK as well. The C2C shouldn’t be the only reason to visit England, especially for anyone buying a plane ticket to get here. The trek can be done rather cheaply, so be sure to visit more that the UK has to offer.
To those planning a trip to the UK already; go and take a walk on the trail. It is a wonderful trail with so much natural beauty and history along the way.
To hikers who have already hiked a US long trail, it will not compare in the same way. The experience is different. Take joy in that, and let this trail teach you even more.
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