England’s Coast to Coast walk is a classic long distance trail, an epic crossing of the country from St Bees in the west to Robin Hood’s Bay in the east. The route pioneered by famous fellwalker and guidebook author Alfred Wainwright runs 192 miles and typically takes around two weeks to tackle in a single go. This is a significant commitment and a serious undertaking. But what if you only had a day or two? Or wanted to get a taste of the Coast to Coast trail before signing up for a walking holiday across England?
Below, we’ve picked out some of the best day walks for every ability level on the Coast to Coast route. Our selection includes coastal rambles on both sides of the country, easy valley walks and longer loops.
Taste the thrill of starting an epic long distance trail by completing just a tiny fraction of it. From ‘Mile Zero’ on the foreshore at St Bees, you’ll ascend the dramatic red sea cliffs and follow a blustery cliff top path with expansive views, pausing at RSPB birdwatching observation points to watch the huge number of seabirds that swoop alongside and nest on the cliff faces. Sandwith, pronounced ‘Sannith’, is the first village of note along the route. Grab a pint in the pub here, and then gently retrace your steps to St Bees.
Day two of the Coast to Coast walk provides an excellent opportunity to explore an unspoilt lake and climb into the heart of the hills on a reasonably straightforward loop. Kick-off by following the Coast to Coast path as it treads along the southern shore of Ennerdale Water, one of the less well-known and more remote bodies of water in the Lake District.
The track is uneven and a bit of a scramble in places, but there are lovely views up the long Ennerdale Valley. At the end of the lake, pass through a dappled wood and climb up the valley in the shadow of mountains, including Great Gable and Pillar. At the head of the valley is the wonderfully remote YHA Black Sai. Today, the bothy operates as a hostel, but they are happy to let visitors use the toilets and kitchen facilities. The views from this site are superb. Once you’ve basked in their views, descend the valley on the same path to return to Ennerdale Water, then take the northern route to complete the circuit of the lake.
The section of the Coast to Coast walk from Grasmere to Patterdale is another classic outing in the Lake District, with the option to tailor the trek to your ability. At its simplest, the most direct route climbs from Grasmere to the heights of the pretty mountain lake of Grisedale Tarn. There is then a steady, straightforward descent of Grisedale Valley with views over Patterdale and Ullswater.
Alternatively, from the tarn, you can choose two high-level routes that summit either the top of Helvellyn – England’s third-highest peak – or scramble over St Sunday Crag, a rugged path offering some spectacular mountain and lake scenes.
If you’re feeling up to it and want to test your mettle, the route over Helvellyn is thrilling, with a vertiginous descent past Red Tarn and along the precipitous Striding Edge ridge to reach Patterdale. On the other side of the valley, the onward path via St Sunday Crag is less treacherous but delivers equally breathtaking vistas. The views back towards Ullswater are reputed to be among the best you’ll see on the Coast to Coast walk.
Once in the quiet village of Patterdale, you can stop here among some of the Lake District’s most magnificent scenery in search of the resident red squirrels. Alternatively, for a longer walk, return to Grasmere. If you choose to do this, perhaps combine the direct descent with the St Sunday Crag climb on the way back.
The charming village of Keld sits at the head of Swaledale and once stood at the heart of the local lead-mining industry. From here, the Coast to Coast walk continues via two routes. Wainwright’s original high-level route explores the moors, uncovering their industrial past by visiting smelting mills and ruins, with the opportunity to spot pheasants, grouse and deer on the open heath. In contrast, the low-level route follows the Swaledale Valley and is a scenic walk by the river through farmland with the chance to pause in pleasant villages like Muker, just off the trail, and Gunnerside. Your endpoint is Reeth, the self-styled ‘capital’ of Swaledale and an archetypal Yorkshire Dales village.
The short walk from Glaisdale to Grosmont is a gentle way to explore the pretty Esk Valley. From the village of Glaisdale sprawled across the slopes above the Esk, walk down the river to Egton Bridge, one of the most stunning spots on the Coast to Coast walk. Hop across the stepping stones here to an uninhabited island, admire the charming houses in the village and perhaps pause for a pint.
The final section is a leisurely riverside amble along an old toll road to Grosmont. If you time your arrival right, you can catch one of the North York Moors Railway steam engines puffing its way into the station. These locomotives featured as the ‘Hogwarts Express’ in the original Harry Potter film. If you’re looking to fill the rest of your day, it’s worth taking a short ride on the rails to the next station, Goathland, from where you can walk back. Alternatively, put your feet up and tuck into a cream tea at one of the delightful tearooms in the village.
The Coast to Coast finishes as it begins, with a stirring clifftop stroll. To get a feel for the elation that comes with completing the route, walk from Whitby with its ruined abbey and Dracula connections to Robin Hood’s Bay. The trail out of Whitby is on the Cleveland Way rather than the Coast to Coast path, but the two come together to curl south along the cliff tops for the last few miles.
There are plenty of places to watch seabirds and soak up the seascapes, while Wainwright’s masterful route planning means that the beautiful tumble of Robin Hood’s Bay is hidden from sight until the very last mile.
When you reach the village, follow the steep street down to the slipway on the North Sea shore, where a small sandy beach is exposed at low tide too. Celebrate with the Coast-to-Coasters who have completed the walk across England and nip into the Bay Hotel just above the slipway for a pint in Wainwright’s Bar – it’s up to you how far you tell them you’ve come!