So I'd made the decision. I was going to walk Wainwright's Coast to Coast. This walk of approximately 192 miles (give or take how lost you get) starts in St Bees in Cumbria and ends in Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire Coast. Or vice versa.
I knew the start and end points. Everything else was a blank canvas. I used the brilliant Trailblazer book to help me plot out my route, find accommodation and used it as the map for the actual walk. I couldn't have done it without the book frankly.
Decision one: East to West or West to East?
Most people walk it West to East i.e. St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay. Because the prevailing weather is at your back. And because most of the books are written that way so if you did it East to West you'd have to be pretty good at interpreting the route (and if you're like me, interpreting the route going the right way was hard enough.)
Another good reason to go West to East is because most people do, so you get to meet more of the same faces as your journey progresses. We only bumped into one couple walking the other way, which must make it pretty lonely.
The downside of going West to East is that you start with the must stunning scenery first but also the most brutal sections, without having time to get fit. Be warned. There is no gentle introduction. Your calves, quads and buttocks will be screaming obscenities at you by day 3.
All in all, I'd go West to East but hey, feel free to try it the other way.
Decision two: How much time do you have?
Apparently the shortest time taken to do the coast to coast on foot is 2 days. But I can assure you that the people who did that were either being chased by a pack of wolves the entire way or were extreme athletes. We met some people doing it in 8 days. They still, in my mind, fall into the category of certifiable. But if you like striding out really fast for roughly 30 miles a day, crack on.
Sensible people (like moi) do it in 14 days. That's still quite punchy by some people's standards as it doesn't allow for a rest day and will involve at least two days of over 20 miles. But I'm not a fitness freak and I managed.
Others take a more leisurely 15 - 18 days, with a couple of rest days or breaking up the longer legs into shorter days with plenty of time for tea, scones and sightseeing. (I'm looking at you retirees....)
And some, like an 81 year old man I shall speak more of later, was doing it in his own sweet time. He carried a tent on his back and would walk as far as he could and if he didn't make it to his destination, he'd pitch his tent or thumb a lift. He was still a legend in my eyes.
Decision three: When to go
The coast to coast season is typically from Easter weekend/April till late September, when most of the accommodation shuts down. I wouldn't do it in winter - frankly I don't think you can. We did it in August, which meant it was busy. Don't let that put you off. By busy I mean you may see other walkers from time to time, rather than being completely on your own. And the bonus of doing it in August, you get to see the spectacular heather on the moors. May is another good month for flower fans as the bluebells will be out.
Decision four: Type of accommodation
If you have firm views on the type of accommodation you want to stay in, the way you break up the route will be affected because not all destinations have a big variety of places to stay. You can camp, either carrying your kit with you (barking mad but supreme flexibility) or have a transport company do it for you, but that kind of defeats the spontaneity of camping. You can stay in bunk barns or youth hostels, pubs or B&Bs or if you're really going all out, hotels (where available).
Most people pick a mixture. The independent youth hostels we stayed at were brilliant, but then again, some of the B&Bs we stayed at were incredible and almost the same price. Just because something is called a hostel, don't turn your nose up. Our most disappointing stays were at pubs, but even they weren't bad, just not quite the same level of personal attention.
Decision five: Carry your stuff or have someone move it for you?
When I first thought about doing the Coast to Coast, I imagined me carrying a backpack with everything I needed, including a tent, being completely self-sufficient. And then my ex-military husband laughed and laughed and laughed at that idea and I realised that he had a point. Camping for a night is fun. Camping when you're wet and knackered and in dire need of a warm bed and hot shower, is not.
And so I figured, why bother carrying stuff at all other than what you need for a day? Just get a company to move your bag from place to place. Job done. So I did. Coast to Coast Packhorse is who we used. But Sherpa Van is another excellent alternative.
Decision six: Who are you going to do this with?
I was originally going to do this on my own (you know, back when I romanticised carrying a full pack and tent). In hindsight, that would have been a very dumb idea. There were people doing it on there own. Mostly men, but there was the odd single woman every now and then. They looked a bit glum.
The thing is, there are one or two genuinely quite dangerous bits of this walk (glares at Angler's Crag...) and there are MANY places to get lost. There is something very comforting having someone else with you who also doesn't know the way. It goes from being a scary thing to a funny thing.
If you do walk with someone, make sure they are roughly as fit as you, walk at roughly the same pace as you, and have roughly the same expectations as you do. I can highly recommend walking with a cousin who you haven't seen in years and therefore have plenty to talk about.
Decision seven: Organise it yourself or use a company to do it for you
Using the companies mentioned above - and many others - you can simply tell them how far you want to walk each day and they'll sort your accommodation for you and move your bag. Or you can do what I did - use their handy free planning tools on their websites and online accommodation guides and book your own accommodation. I simply used their baggage moving services, saving myself roughly £400 by sourcing my own accommodation. It did however take me an entire day, but that was more down to route planning than anything else.
Decision eight: The route
This is the bit that takes the most time. I used the Trailblazer guide written by Henry Stedman called 'Coast to Coast Path'. It had many useful suggestions based on how much time you have, where you'd like to stay and how fit you are. I also used the planning tool on the C2C Packhorse website to try figure it all out. Slowly and surely I began to piece it together. Take your time doing this. Once you've booked your accommodation it's very difficult to change your plans mid walk so be sure to spend time in advance figuring out how far you want to walk each day based on the terrain and facilities.
Here is the route we took should you want a handy snapshot. It includes the places we stayed and a few comments I'd made after reading the book, but without any real insight into what awaited us. I wasn't far off!
In future posts I'll explained what worked and what didn't, but in general, I'd keep this mostly the same bar the last few days. P.S. the distances given were those given in the book. They were mostly a lot longer....