Tackle one of the UK's most varied and challenging long-distance walks - the 192-mile coast-to-coast route through three of northern England's most scenic national parks
Despite not making the official list of national trails, northern England's coast-to-coast route remains one of the most popular walks in the UK.
Passing through the Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors, the sheer variety of the route reveals its popularity.
Its challenge should not be underestimated, though. Remote stretches mean days of walking more than 15 miles are not uncommon. But it’s essential to go at your own pace and those of us who aren’t paratroopers needn’t worry about completing it in seven days. If you do get all the way across though, the sense of achievement will be something that stays with you forever.
Travelling from west to east has its advantages. Not only will the prevailing wind usually be on your back, but you’ll soon encounter The Lake District. From the starting point of St. Bees on the Cumbrian coast, leave the Irish Sea behind and head towards Ennerdale Bridge. The YHA hostels at Ennerdale and Black Sail make great overnight stopping points.
Given Black Sail’s dramatic and isolated location, be sure to book well in advance as the limited numbers of beds soon fills.
Visit the historic slate mine at Honister (www.honister-slate-mine.co.uk) before dropping down into the glorious, green landscape around Seatoller and Rosthwaite, which also claims two well-located youth hostels. If it’s been a while since you last visited a youth hostel, you may be in for a surprise. Tasty three-course meals, hot showers and comfortable beds wait after a long day's hike. And you don’t even have to do the washing-up.
Upon arrival in Grasmere, prepare yourself for the shock of seeing throngs of day-trippers going about their business. After days in the wilderness, you may be keen to press on past the mighty Helvellyn to Patterdale, where your sanity is restored in this still, pleasant village on the shores of Ullswater.
The rugged mountain tops of the Lake District are soon left behind, and via the town the Shap you’ll soon be seeing the dry-stone walls and rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales. The combination of moorland and gentle valleys make such a wonderful area to explore on foot. The YHA hostels may start to dry-up after Kirkby Stephen, but there many good B&Bs offering reasonable rates. A figure of £25 per person, per night is a good sum to have in mind for B&Bs along the route.
Into the magnificent Swaledale through Keld you’ll come to Reeth. Enjoy a stay at the homely Walpardo B&B and see why this town was used for location shoots of All Creatures Great and Small. Civilisation waits in Richmond (the biggest town on route) so ensure you utilise the wealth of shops, hotels and food options well.
The open farmland and flat tracks from Richmond may not offer the same visual impact as the Lake District. But console yourself with the fact that the marvellous North York Moors await. From the YHA hostel at Osmotherley, head onto the dramatic moorland with superb views across north-east England.
A natural resting point comes at The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge. Its sheer isolation and yet warm and welcoming atmosphere make it a must stop for coast-to-coasters.
From the moorland you enter the Esk valley, with stretches of glorious woodland and the pretty villages of Egton Bridge and Glaisdale. The sound of steam engines will greet you when you reach Grosmont as The North York Moors Railway passes through here. Have a look around the station and see where scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed.
Out of the valley and the North Sea begins to loom large. Reach the finishing point in Robin Hood’s Bay via one last invigorating stretch of coastline around the headland, into the town itself. Have your picture taken and smile through gritted teeth, as your weary limbs have made it! Now it’s just a question of walking home.