I finished my second C2C at the start of October, walking to Keld then pushbiking the rest while checking the Trailblazer maps for next year’s edition.
One thing I soon appreciated: it sure was fun when you had an idea which way to go - virtually no blundering around this time...
I only had about 10 days notice before starting but got most of the accommodation I wanted, only paying over the odds at Cleator and Keld.St Bees to Cleator shop - 8.8m - sunny
I trained into St Bees about 2.30 with plenty of time to walk the 9 miles to Cleator. I actually think this isn’t a bad way to start your C2C: if you can get from where you live to Manchester Picc for around 11am, you can be in St Bees by mid-afternoon and knock out the not so exciting pre-Lakes stage. And for me it was also interesting to see a new corner of the country around Grange over Sands and Barrow.
Ennerdale Country House Hotel: £68 - the most I paid. Nothing special for that money but this is Cleator.Cleator to Borrowdale YH - 19.6m - sunny
With some sandwiches from Cleator shop, I set off to sweat up Dent Hill and noticed the first scaling error in the map, not that it would get you killed. Down into cute Nannycatch Beck and up to the road. One of my ideas to spare the feet and speed things up had been to carry a lightweight kick scooter and this road would have been a great place to hop on one. But I soon discovered that while 12-year old can do somersaults on them, anything with proper brakes - and not just a plate you press on the back wheel - weighed nearly as much as an MTB. My g-friend had laughed at my scooter idea - I think she was right.
By some miracle the £1 white bread egg mayo butty from Cleator gave me a power surge and I stomped alongside Ennerdale Water and up the valley, despite the unusual east wind which was to blow over the walk for a week.
I hung on for a rather overdue break at Black Sail, watching the workmen doing the place up. It won’t be any bigger but I suppose might be better equipped inside and what a great place to stay - like a Scottish bothy. From here I knew all about the right way to Loft Beck and which way to go on top, but either my pace, the warm weather, headwind and perhaps the ill-timed feed before a steep exertion took their toll. I crawled along and didn’t recover until I approached Honister where another coffee and cake were required to fuel me down to Borrowdale.
Borrowdale YH is probably the best on the C2C. Better food than some pubs and an A-OK packed lunch.Borrowdale to Patterdale - 16.9m - still sunny
My instructions were to check the high Helm Crag and Helvellyn routes which meant today was going to be quite a haul. Up on Lining Crag I made the same mistake I did last time in probably the same place too. I let the bogs and lack of cairns steer me left towards the first crag-top fence post on Greenup Edge. But from there it’s actually easy to walk southwest along the edge of the Edge to the twin cairns marking the route down. I walked back to see where I’d gone wrong and could see the cairns OK from this angle, but going the way I did was as easy and bog free.
My pack was annoyingly heavy as I’d forgotten to offload my pushbiking kit so I was experimenting with not carrying water and instead drinking out of a cup from streams (and later, farm taps). It was working OK, but I should have taken a big drink out of Wythburn creek before tackling the high route. It was a warm weekend so plenty of casually dressed day walkers, young and old were out and about. I don’t envy them that climb up to Helm Crag, by the time I got to the bottom of it I was a sweatier mess than normal and a bit parched. No one in at Thorny How YH and no outside taps to be seen, so a bit desperate, I took a swig out of a cattle tank from the farm up the road which at least tasted better than the surrounding pong.
At the A591 and no doubt about it, I was flagging - dehydration, too fast, who knows. Halfway up the Tongue I stopped for a luxury 15-minute lunch rest, hoping that would perk me up. Helvellyn was looking a long way off now and annoyingly the book didn’t clearly state how much further/higher/longer it was. Again, like yesterday, the forgotten steepness of the final ascent to Grisedale did me in - must try and not eat before these climbs! At the far end of the tarn I had another Zero and a wash, looked at the maps and did some calcs: it was now 3.30 and it had to be four hours via Helvellyn summit back to Patterdale which put me in after dark. I was amazed to see some young MTBs bouncing down Dollywagon Pike and scooting off round the tarn. That might be me soon but the state I was in then, it would only take a light breeze to blow me off Striding Edge.
I did St Sunday last time so settled on the valley route which itself drags on a bit when you’re weary. The sweepers will have to check the Helvellyn maps. With my old broken foot pumping out one of its periodic throbs, I missed the stile off the road for the back way into Patterdale, though soon corrected it and found that going back up hill fixed the foot. One thing I noticed was that apart from blisters, unspecified acute foot and leg pains seem to come and go on an LDP; you just hobble on through the pain and it seems to lose interest.
After nearly a 10-hour day I staggered into the shop just as it was closing and sat on the bench opposite with a fat Magnum. My advice: if doing Borrowdale to Patterdale in a day, consider at least one low route option to save your strength, otherwise it's a lot of climbing for 17-odd miles.
Patterdale YH wasn’t serving evening meals but Old Water B&B next door was within hobbling distance. Nice service, but food wasn’t the greatest. I flicked through a Wainwright C2C guide while waiting. Never looked at it before but he nailed the Helvellyn info in one line: + 2000’/2 hours/2 miles. Scanning the book you can see why people enjoy his writing style and the lovely old design, but the maps would be hard on my eyes.
No wifi at the Y, no mobile signal either and a shower that looked like it had been dragged out of an old submarine. But no complaints about the brekkie or packed lunch. Patt to Shap - 14.5m - still sunny but windier
The haul up to Boredale Hause wasn’t so bad as you know it’s the last big one in the Lakes. On this walk I used a walking staff which I’ve been using these last few years. I tried cheapo walking poles on the PW once, but wasn’t convinced that investment in a pair of Lekis was worth it. My staff is actually the shaft from my carbon 4-part kayak paddle with a slip-on, ally-tipped nib to take the ground mashing. For me it’s so much better than a flimsy walking pole. With no wrist strap and a secure grip wet, dry or cold, you can slide you hand to any height and when needed, can really put your weight on it coming down steep slopes, support the knees on climbs, prod the bogs, vault ditches and streams. I’m sure a Leki would buckle or collapse with that sort of use. On the flat it breaks into two and slips behind the belt or under a shoulder strap. My balance is a bit shot and it saved many a stumble exacerbated by my basic pack hanging high off the shoulders (not resting on a hip belt) and besides sparing the legs I’m sure it reduces fatigue but conserving the energy the core puts into balancing on steep, gnarly terrain.
Last time we camped at Angle Tarn, but even later in the morning the view back west towards Helvellyn and all the rest has to be one of the best in the Lakes if not on the whole C2C. From this point the book’s maps seemed to make a meal of what was a straightforward track up to The Knott; I’m pretty sure they’ve regraveled the path or something since last time. Up on top a cold east wind was howling and Kidsty Pike was getting periodically misted out. But elsewhere down in the valleys it was probably the last warm sunny Sunday of the year so a lot of walkers were out and about, including three speedy C2C-ers.
My old Meindls were on their last walk, the soles and stitching were going but after the stony LDNP tracks and Hawswater, the feet really appreciated treading across lush level grass again. I was using Gorilla tape (chunky duct tape) to deal with a small heel blister; the key is a shiny surface on which a sock slips rather than rubs. It was doing the trick at a fraction of the cost of Compeed and within a day or two the blister subsided.
It may only be 14 miles but New Ing at the top end of Shap was a welcome sight and I got the lovely big room with the magnetic bath and later a fab evening meal. As I recalled from last time, brekkie was better than your average FEB too, and the spread of OS maps on the wall covering the whole C2C is a nice touch. Shap to Kirkby - 19.8m - sunny, cool east wind
Once clear of the motorway I still consider this to be one of the best days on the C2C. I noticed AW called it the ‘Westmoreland Plateau’ which seemed a fitting description: a flattish 20-miler over well-drained limestone sprinkled with isolated hilltop trees and plantations seemingly trimmed with a scalpel. This would have been a great stage on a bike but I knew that tomorrow a bike would become a burden.
The warm days were over now and on the far side of Ravenstonedale Moor I aired the aching feet and nearly allowed myself to doze off over lunch in the lee of a wall. The price of no bogs was a scarcity of flowing water but the old guy at Biggins farm gave me a cup full to see me through to Scandal Beck. From there it was up the hill back into the wind and down into Kirkby. In the chill it was nice not to arrive a dripping wreck for a change.
Denise at the old chapel hostel gave a warm welcome and over the road the Co-op had all the components for a seafood salad on reduced. Result! - one of the best meals on the walk. That night I thought I’d try a paracetamol or whatever the other one is called, as I’ve seen old people habitually do so to deal with aches and pains. But all it seemed to do was give me insomnia. In future I’ll just hang on for a Radox bath or a shot of morphine.Kirkby to Keld - low route 12.5m - low cloud, cold east wind
Low route was fine by me today, but jeez that road slog out of town goes on and on and on. The moor stage along the wall was actually pretty easy to follow as long as you took care not to get blown down a sink hole. My trusty staff was dead handy here. Lunch was in the lee of the black ’grouse’ hut on Ney Gill after the backroad stage. Do they release grouse at this time of year for the shooting? There seemed to be tons around from here onwards, kicking up with their distinctive clucking as you passed by.
I could have used a brew at Ravenseat Farm but like last time it wasn’t serving, so I plodded on past the stone barns. Just like last time I missed the turn off before Cotterby Scar, but dutifully backtracked from the gate at the road. To be fair there’s no post or marker at all now, but leave the track under a sycamore and you soon get to the narrow path, for what it’s worth.
Park House was taking an end of season break but booking into cushy Keld Lodge was no torment. Nice rooms, a bit of wifi and great food. Here the owner told me about the Wainwright Society’s plans to waymark the C2C from c to c, though he said he’d not seen any sign of them. Scott at Shap had mentioned this too. In the end I saw two AW waymarks - one near Catterick and one at Hawkser on the last day. There may have been more but the logos were on different backgrounds and merely replaced existing waymarks, so as things stand, I can’t see them making any difference to the C2C’s enduring nav issues. To be fair this wasn’t the Wainwright Soc’s intention, it was more of a 40th anniversary promo.Keld to Brompton on Swale - 27m - rain and wind
The good weather broke but I’s had a good run. My lovely bike was wheeled out of the barn, and with mudguards forgotten it was time to get covered in Muker. I knew well from last time that just down the road, the climb up out of Swinner Gill and the next one out of Blakethwaite ruins were going to be hard yakka carrying a bike. Scott at Ing had given me some pipe lagging to carry the bike cyclo-cross style and this worked very well. Unfortunately, I was still repeating my mistakes and followed the lower, gnarlier path alongside East Grain while the cag dripped inside and out with rain and sweat. At one point on the climb I was stuck on a bank, feet here, hands gripping clumps there and unable to move - until I cheated and used a knee.
Up on the moor the rain lashed in my face until I dropped down into Blakethwaite. On a tall bike with the heavy pack I wasn’t taking any chances riding steep single track and found scooting or backwheeling the bike ahead like a wheelbarrow useful. Bunton Hush gully was another slippery cyclo-cross scramble that cost me a faceplant and a gashed shin. But once on top, although drained and drenched I knew there were no more major carries until Applegarth later in the day so for the moment I enjoyed the rush down to Surrender Bridge. From there a bit of boggery led to Crinkley Bottom (now steps and a bridge) and a great a ride to Reeth. Sadly the bakers there was shut, but the shop wasn’t and the bus shelter was handy lunch spot.
Now back on farmland, heaving over the narrow stiles were going to be a pain, but it gave my arms something to do. Up the slippery Nuns’ Steps, in and out of Marrick, more maddening stiles and lashings of cow shit splattering everywhere. A swift downhill spin into Marske cleaned the wheels (all over my face). Then back onto the grass and past some sinister cows before slithering down to Paddy’s Bridge, up to the white cairn and a longer, muddier and ‘uppier’ stage than I hoped before grabbing a drink at Richmond’s West End Store around 4.30. It took another hour and a quarter to cover the 5 miles of fields, woods, stiles and splat to Catt’ bridge, and by the time I reached the Barn I was well and truly pooped, covered in poop and of course soaked through.
Rather disappointingly my moving average was only 4.3mph, compared to the 3.1 I managed out of St Bees, or 2.9 to Shap. I guess those gully climbs and stiles all took their chunk.
Apart from drunk workmen rowing at 11.30pm, the Barn at Brampton sure beats a frilly B&B in Richmond.Brompton to Lion Ridge - 36m (38 via C2C) - cloudy then downpour
Thinking the flat first half would pass swiftly, this was an overambitious distance. A puncture with the wrong pump out of Danby took an hour to sort out, and the pace and the stile slalom was getting to me. Some shaky, slippery double-stiles either side of a narrow plank bridge, complete with a hawthorn awning and a side dish of barbed wire really weren’t made for bike lifts; that’s where I probably got the flat. Some farmer noted ‘I see you’re doing it the hard way’ (pushing along the book’s trails, not adjacent roads). He was right, but I wanted to get a precise tracklog and regularly annotating the now soggy book all broke the flow. I filled up off the tap at Wray Hill farm and took a breather once over the rail tracks, alongside another challenging double stile.
Exelby services, only halfway in but I was shagged, partly due to the bum pain made worse by cycling with a 12kg backpack (panniers would have made the bike too heavy to lift). Walking was becoming quite a rest.
Out of Ingleby I knew what followed was 12 miles of moorland ups and downs with not much cycling before the rideable 9-mile run over Urra Moor to the pub. I’d really been looking forward to that bit but at this pace would get in well after dark, if I made it at all. So I elected to leave the sweepers another stage and took backroads to Great Broughton, had yet another feed then walked up the road to Clay Bank. I shouldered the bike up the slabs to the top; amazed how briefly tolerable the combined weight was, as long as an end was in sight and the ascent easy.
Up on top the wind was howling and soon the clouds dropped their load into it. Urra wasn’t quite as flat as I recalled either, but I hacked head down into the wind, passing first one then another sodden, full-pack C2C camper also heading for the Inn. No baggage service for these heroes!
I walked with one guy until as we neared the Inn. Viz was less than 100 feet but we could hear occasional cars so knew we were close. I couldn’t be bothered dragging out the book which was hours from disintegration, but the chap’s bearing up a side track looked right and first the shed and then the pub loomed out of the murk. On a night like this the Lion sure is a haven; I pitied the campers crawling into their tents huddled against the wall.
Nearly 40 miles and probably 40 stiles, but my moving average speed was only double that of fast walking. It had been another tough old day.Lion to RHB - 29m - showers then sunny
Last day and it turned into a good one. With skilful use of radiators and other appliances everything dried overnight but what with my homework, I didn’t get going till 10am. The mist was thick on the road and I felt a bit vulnerable on the bike, but after the Fat Betty turn off I got under the cloud and had a great ride down to Glaisdale, through the woods and pulled up for a snack in Grosmont station cafe crowded with steamy enthusiasts. A day’s walk in two hours; that’s more like it. Then that killer climb out of the village - what were they thinking? Near the top I met some American coasters who were on an easy schedule and as a result appeared calm, clean and relaxed - not like me. Cut over the moor and down to walk through Littlebeck Woods. At the ford after the tea room I gave the bike an overdue wash and picked up some more water as the sun came out nearer the coast.
I made a complete mess of Greystone Hills last time, but in fact it’s pretty clear if you keep your nerve as far as the plank bridge. Then up to the pathless field, down the rocky ditch and along backroads to the North Sea, catching up with other hobbling C2Cers also on their last lap.
Maybe it’s that ‘end of term’ feeling but like last time the cliffs here look a lot more impressive than St Bees, 8 and a bit days ago. In RHB I left the bike up the top and walked down to the Dock to log off the GPS. The heavy swell was pushing the high tide up the cobbles and a rainbow arched out over the North Sea. Job done.
It had been fun fast-forwarding bits of the C2C on a bike, but doubling the speed didn’t really halve the effort and I really was quite cream crackered.
Fyi the whole walk cost me around £550: £120 in full price rail fares, £270 for 8 nights accommodation and £150 in food and drink.
I met at least ten C2Cers, including that American couple, another solo American, a father and son from Adelaide (all baggage vanning) and passed a couple more.
I suppose this debate never ends but once the tracklog’s ‘stationary hunting’ fluctuations and occasional backtracks were edited out, this time I recorded 189.5 miles following the book’s routes mentioned. So within half a mile of AW’s original distance, two less than the common estimate of 191.5 but 9m less than in 2009, also with a GPS. Many of the current book’s distances were over by up to 10%, but a couple were spot on. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised to get a completely different figure next time or with another GPS device.
Overall my advice would be to try and slow it down rather than attacking each day – and consider a baggage van. I’ve never done either
I’d also say doing it again was much more fun than expected, chiefly as mentioned because having an idea of what’s ahead can actually clear the mind for other uses.
Hope there's some useful info there for future Coasters.