The “Coast to Coast Walk” is a 192-mile unofficial route across the north of England — from St. Bees Head in the west to Robin Hood’s Bay in the east. The route was first mapped out in 1972 by Alfred Wainwright, with, as he wrote, “four main objectives”:
- to avoid towns;
- to link together three National Parks;
- to keep to high ground, wherever practicable;
- to use only rights of way and areas of open access. (A Coast to Coast Walk: St. Bees Head to Robin Hoods Bay, A Pictorial Guide, 2nd. edition revised by Chris Jesty, London: Francis Lincoln, 2010, xv)
Since 1972, the route has become extraordinarily popular; it has been called “the second best walk in the world” (I can’t find what’s been rated the “first best”!) and attracts large numbers of walkers each year.
Wainwright’s book is a gem: it’s pocket-sized, hard-covered, and printed in a type that resembles handwriting. And it’s filled with his evocative pen-and-ink drawings of the landscape and distinctive sites along the route. Early on, Wainwright explains his worldview:
“One should always have an objective, in a walk as in life–it is so much more satisfying to reach a target by personal effort than to wander aimlessly. An objective is an ambition, and life without ambition is . . . well, aimless wandering. The objective in this book is Robin Hood’s Bay, on the Yorkshire coast: doubly satisfying because it is not only an attractive place to finish a walk . . . but also very definitive: here land ends and sea begins. You can’t walk on water, and Robin Hood’s Bay is a definite full stop, a terminus absolute.” (iv)
I’m not sure I entirely agree with Wainwright — I’ve very much benefited from my times of aimless wandering — but for now, I’m happy to have this objective: to follow in his footsteps, to walk across England, and to explore the areas that were home to some of the best writers in the English language.