The best places to hike in the UK.
If you live in the UK, you’re in luck, because it is full of stunning scenery and hiking and camping opportunities. The best part? You don’t have to catch a plane to get to some of the most beautiful places in the UK. One example of such a destination, well actually more like a journey, is the Coast to Coast Walk. Even if you don’t live in the UK, this historical and legendary trail is worth experiencing no matter how far you have to travel.
What is the Coast to Coast Walk?
The Coast to Coast Walk is a 293-kilometre footpath stretching from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. It is an unofficial trail without many signs to point the way. It passes through tree national Parks: The Lake District National Park, the Yorkshire Dales national Park and the North York Moors National Park.
The route, although potentially hundreds or thousands of years old, is often attributed to guide-book author Alfred Wainwright., due to his original description of it in his 1973 book, A Coast to Coast Walk.
The walk according to Wainwright is divided into 12 stages, each stage ending in a town or village with overnight accommodation nearby.
In this article, you will learn about the first stage of the Coast to Coast Walk which takes place in the Lake District, beginning in the town of St. Bees.
St Bees Head
St Bees is located on the western coast of Cumbria, four miles south of Whitehaven. It is a popular resort with a long sandy beach and breath-taking views. St Bees Head exists on a red sandstone bluff, and forms one of the most dramatic natural land formations along the coast of North West England. Additionally, it has been designated as a Heritage Coast in order to protect the stunning landscapes.
A tried and true itinerary for the first day of the Coast to Coast Walk begins with a tradition started by Alfred Wainwright: Dip the toe of your hiking boots in the sea at St Bees, and select a small pebble to carry with you and toss in the Irish sea at the other coast, should you decide to complete the full Coast to Coast Walk.
While at St Bees head, there are some sights that you must see:
- St Bees lighthouse: St bee’s lighthouse is known for being an important landmark at the beginning of the Coast to Coast Walk. It sits on the top of the cliffs that form the North Head of St Bees. It was built in 1718 by Thomas Ludwig, and originally used coal burning fire to light the tower. Only in 1987 did the lighthouse become equipped with electricity.
- Foghorn station: After visiting the lighthouse, it´s worth making a stop at the St Bees Foghorn Station. This quirky little station used to provide audible warning to ships as they neared the headland. This was an essential function when fog made the light from the lighthouse impossible to see. The foghorn is no longer in use, but this building still stands as a nostalgic ode to times and technology passed.
- St Bees Village: The Priory Church of St Mary and St Bega was founded around 1120. The name St Bees comes from a nun named St Bega, who according to legend, asked the Lord of Egremont for some land to build a church, and he said he would give her as much as the Snow would cover the next day. It was the middle of summer so snow was unlikely. The legend goes that the snow fell the next day to cover the land within the priory.
- RSPB Reserve: St Bees Head is also home to England’s only cliff-nesting seabird colony, made up of the Black Guillemot. Certainly a site not to be missed by bird-watchers.
Fleswick Bay is the first official part of the Coast to Coast Walk, and is the only stretch of coastline designated as Heritage Coast in Cumbria. The beach is full of beautiful, smooth stones and is also a popular place to find semi-precious gems.
Soon after leaving St Bees head, and passing through the village of Lanehead, you will continue on to Dent Fell. At first it will only be a small spot on the horizon, but this seemingly little fell is the Coast to Coast’s gateway to the Lake District National Park.
Once you reach its base, it’s size becomes more apparent. It is 352-metres-high and on your way up you’ll see the lush green and breath the fresh scent of the conifers. Once you reach the summit, you’ll have 360-degree-views, including one of the coast from whence you came, at which point you’ll have a chance to marvel at the miles you’ve covered. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see the Isle of Man on a clear day.
After you’ve caught your breath and given your last look at the Irish Sea, you’ll turn your back on the Summit of dent and behold the view of the central Lakeland Fells. Vast stretches of rolling hills, cliffs and mountains, all blanketed in various shades of green and brown, will earn the respect and awe of even the most seasoned hikers.
On your way down from Dent Fell, you’ll see the rolling hills of the High Stile Ridge and probably be a bit startled by the not-so-pastoral views of Sellafield, a nuclear fuel reprocessing site. Although somewhat of an eye sore, especially given its setting, it provides a major source of employment for residents of the West Cumbrian Coast.
After crossing a deer fence, you will begin your descent into Nannycatch Valley. Your eyes will be treated to lush green in every direction. Nannycatch Gate is where Nannycatch Road and Uldale and Nannycatch valleys meet. From there you will enter Nannycatch Valley, sandwiched between Flat Fell and Blakeley Raise.
History lovers should keep an eye out for ancient standing stones between Nannycatch Gate and Near Thwaites. And if time permits, the valley serves as an idyllic picnicking spot.
Whether your trail stops here, or you’ll be continuing on to finish the traditional Coast to Coast walking route, you’re in for a much deserved rest. There are a couple of inns here, but if you feeling like roughing it, and you have brought the right gear, especially a comfortable sleeping bag and camping mattress, you can probably find a quiet place to sleep under the stars. The small village of Ennerdale Bridge is quaint and remote, a great place to get away. The Ennerdale valley around Ennerdale Lake is home to one of the largest forests in Cumbria.
If you feel like some more walking, Ennerdale Lake or Ennerdale Water has an easy-to-follow trail that goes all around the shoreline. Visitors comment on the great sense of serenity that the lake provides, especially given its very scant amount of visitors since swimming is not aloud.
Walking holidays are a wonderful option if your ideal holiday means being physically active and surrounded by nature. Additionally, outdoor activities are a great way to bond with loved ones. The Coast to Coast Walk is an especially good option for those who want to take the road less travelled, and for those who don’t mind a good challenge. Oh, and if you have a dog, don’t forget to bring him with you, dogs live for hiking trips!