This is English hill walking and a long distance trail experience at its best: approx 315 km / 195 miles traversing three national parks with lots of interesting landscapes, varying terrain and old towns. It is amazing to think that this most famous of routes, totally eclipsing the Pennine Way in terms of popularity and variety, is still not classified as a National Trail. Starting at the tiny Cumbrian seaside resort of St. Bees on the Irish Sea we climb steeply heading east into the Lake district to pass by some of its most famous lakes and passes. Then it is on into the Yorkshire Dales and over the mystical Nine Standards Rig, before following the beautiful River Swale for a couple of days into the old market town of Richmond. There follows a marathon section to link up with the North York Moors National Park from where we roller coaster up and down around to the North Sea Coast to make a triumphant entrance into Robins Hoods Bay where a celebratory pint, bottle of Champagne or ice cream whilst standing in the sea is in order. Along the way you will be amazed at the variety of the dry stone walls, the charming little villages and just how much that you get to eat for a full English cooked breakfast! There are cozy small hotels, guesthouses and pubs to stay at on this tour and these, as well as the rich variety of the people that you meet enroute, reflect something of the great diversity of England.
An excellent level of fitness is required. The fitter you are the more you will enjoy the walk. An average of 25 km is covered each day with two long days of over 30 km. As a group you will be walking up to between 6 to 9 hours per day at a steady pace throughout the day covering 4-5 km per hour. This multiday walk has long days with back to back steep climbs and descents as well as some flatter sections. You must be comfortable climbing up over stiles, walking on steep rocky and coastal terrain. Mixed weather can be expected. We do not recommend the route for first time multiday walkers.
Make your own way to the starting point St Bees on the edge of the Irish Sea with views across to the Isle of Man. You should have time to visit the Abbey church, which has features on the local history and has a display on a mummified knight that was discovered in a lead coffin from the graveyard. If you have an extra night here, you can follow the coastal path or quiet inland roads to the attractive town of Whitehaven, with its marina and great museum. It is famous in the annals of the US navy as the site of an elaborate raid on the British mainland by one John Paul Jones during the American War of Independence. This evening you will meet your fellow walkers and guide for trip briefing.
Climb from the beach taking a footpath along red sandstone coastal cliffs of St Bees Head with England’s only breeding colony of Black Guillimots, then inland over hilly ground to the edge of the Lake District National Park. Dent Hill is the first real fell that we cross and will give you some indication as to whether you are fit enough for the pursuivant days! Although short, there follows possibly the steepest descent of the whole tour down to Nanny catch Gate and beck a delightful stroll along which brings us to the final descent to leafy Ennerdale Bridge. The day’s total ascent 780m / descent 665m.
A quiet and scenic footpath along the shore of Ennerdale Water, with a bit of an easy scramble under Angler’s Crag at Robin Hood’s Seat. A long walk on a forest track then continues to Black Sail Hut, which is the smallest Youth hostel and originally a shepherd’s hut. A steep climb follows up the Lowther Beck before traversing some of the Lake land fells, perhaps with views down to Buttermere. Finally you reach the ‘drum house’ which marks the descent path to the Honister slate mine workings with its useful cafe to Borrowdale; perhaps the most delightful valley in the Lakes with its crags and broadleaved trees. This is a delightful ensemble of hamlets, Seatoller (the wettest place in England), Longthwaite, Rossthwaite and Stonethwaite. Delightful riverside paths connect the places and their pubs, together if you have sufficient energy left of an evening. You might be interested to know that ‘thwaite’ is old Norse for paddock. The day’s total ascent 765m / descent 785m.
Classic Lakeland scenery over Greenup Edge to Easedale and Grasmere. Grasmere is one of Lakeland’s most celebrated villages, and hopefully there is time either this afternoon or tomorrow morning to visit the poet Wordsworth's home at Dove Cottage and drop into the famous Ginger bread shop! The day’s total ascent 750m / descent 760m.
A great walk over Grisedale Pass (609m/2000ft) and around the small mountain lake of Grisedale Tarn to Patterdale. In good weather if we are reasonably strong, the best option is to take the route up St. Sunday Crag, for some exceptional views down across Ullswater as we descend to Patterdale, possibly the most breathtaking of the trip. Add 2 miles and 2 hours if include detour via Summit of Helvellyn. Add 1 ½ hours for detour of St. Sunday Crag. The day’s total ascent: 900m / descent 805m via the recommended route over St. Sunday Crag.
Some would say this was the most difficult stage. The day starts with a steep climb up past pretty Angle Tarn, and then up and onwards to a critical cairn where you turn off the route to High Street to go up and over Kidsty Pike (780m / 2560ft), the highest point on the whole route and then descend steeply to walk along Haweswater, a huge body of water conceived in 1929 to supply Manchester with drinking water, drowning a couple of villages in the process. We then undulate through fields to Shap Abbey, the most easterly point of the Lake District National Park. This was the last Abbey to be founded in England in 1199 and the last to be destroyed in 1540. It nevertheless is a pretty place to pause with some new interpretation signs. After this we continue into Shap, the old granite mining town with several pubs and shops. The village offers an interesting insight to the history of the area, and the old Shap Abbey is nearby. The day’s total ascent 1174m / descent 1009m.
There follows a hilly section across Limestone Moors with limestone pavements in places strewn with ‘erratic’ boulders moved there by glaciers. Finally we drop into the gentler climes around Orton, a diversion of about a mile can be made to this quaint picturesque village with Kennedy’s Chocolate factory to lead you into temptation. Walking now between Cumbria and The Yorkshire Dales, there is a lot of attractive farmland to cross with a section of moors around Sunbiggin Tarn, which is an important site for birds. A steep descent to the Scandal Beck at Smardale Bridge makes for a nice late lunch stop. Then ascend over Smardale Fell for the pretty descent into Kirkby Stephens and attractive market town, with St. Hedda’s Church containing the 8th Century Loki stone relating to Norse Mythology. The day’s total ascent 808m / descent 950 m.
Climb out of town to the cairns of Nine Standards Rigg (661m / 2170 feet) with its array of obelisks. This is an ancient possibly boundary feature that no one has any real knowledge of. It marks the Watershed of England. Next we cross squelchy moors down to Keld in Swaledale If it is a wet and cold day we might relish a scone and tea made on the farm at Ravenseat, where they breed prime rams. The moors then become increasingly gentler as we walk into Keld with its many waterfalls and old stone barns. The day’s total ascent 780m / descent 575m.
There are two options today, the slightly longer higher alternative over wild moorland with long-abandoned lead mines, a magnet for the industrial archaeologist. If we have unfavourable weather or we just prefer a lower level walk, the pretty alternative route via Swaledale is a lovely option. There is a really nice pub in Gunnerside on this route. Our day finishes in Reeth an attractive Green Village which flourished at the height of the mining age and today does well out of tourism, hence a collection of pubs and tea shops. The day’s total ascent 838m / descent 911m via the higher route.
A morning walk through pretty Swaledale lined with limestone crags on either side, allowing time in Richmond for shopping (note most shops closed Sunday) and sightseeing. The extremely picturesque North Yorkshire town of Richmond, with its cobbled market square and Norman castle, is an ever-popular destination for visitors. We may also follow the swale to Town Falls, which are quite impressive when the river is in spate. The days total ascent 395m / descent 510m.
This is the longest and flattest day of the tour, bridging the gap between the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors National Parks. A gentle rural day, walking out from Richmond beside the River Swale and across the fields to Catterick Race Course, then threading our way to Brompton on Swale, an ideal first lunch stop in the church yard before trundling along beside tiny streams and quiet country roads reaching the village of Danby Wiske with its Green and sole pub at14 miles / 22.5km, 5hrs. We may stop for a second lunch to refuel. From Danby it is primarily a road walk although there are cross-country sections. There are two hills towards the end, a short climb to (what was) East Harlsey Castle, and then with the North York Moors pressing ever closer we have to carefully cross the main A19 road to take a lovely woodland footpath up the hill to Osmotherley. On the way we may visit Mount Grace Priory (built 1398) this is a ruin but there has been restoration work and there are remaining duck ponds and drainage features. Osmotherley is a quaint hill village with 3 pubs to choose from, and Britain’s oldest functioning Methodist Church 1754. John Wesley came to preach here. The day’s total ascent 375m / descent 292m.
A strenuous day with repeated ascents and descents in the Cleveland Hills, then across heather moors to Rosedale. This is a roller coaster walk. A steep stretch from Osmotherley introduces us to the North York Moors, sandy heather clad hills with areas of forest. After coming off Scarth Wood Moor, there is a long ascent up Live Moor and Carlton Bank (408m) before descending to Lord Stones Café, almost hidden in an off road embankment, ready for coffee time. There then follows the succession of Cringle Moor, Broughton Bank and White Hill all at or over 400m. You loose and then re ascend 100-200m between each one. White Hill has an area of sandstone boulders called The Wainstones that we thread through on the way up. Great views in clear weather, Roseberry Topping, Vale of Mowbray and back to the Pennines. From the road at Claybank Top, you then follow a moorland ridge up over Round Hill (454m) and maintain your height as the path follows the line of the old dismantled Rosedale railway line. The moor is bleak in bad weather punctured in places by standing stones some marked with inscriptions. There are enticing views at times into the fertile upper valleys of Farn and Esk dales, but especially if it is misty, wet and cold, the arrival at the ancient Lion Inn at Blakey is a great relief. The day’s total ascent 1021m / descent 880m.
After a bit of a road perambulation past a white cross called Fat Betty, there follows an easy undulating descent down to beautiful wooded Eskdale. We also get some views opening up to the sea. The latter part of today's walk follows a pretty path through the woodlands on the banks of the River Esk, where we come across the ‘Beggars Bridge’ a parabolic stone structure that has a story of love lost and love refound! Egton Bridge features a church with relics of the Catholic Martyr, Oliver Postgate. A really pretty setting, the river is famous for fly fishing and has some interesting stepping stones which enables you to hop between the two pubs faster than using the road. The day’s total ascent 265m / descent 616m.
Following a delightful private road to Grosmont, we might get there in time to see a steam engine pull out for Pickering. There then follows a very steep pull up across heather moors with views down to Whitby and its Abbey. But the sea and journey’s end is still tantalizingly far as the route abruptly changes course to visit the May Beck valley with its Falling Foss waterfall. A last area of high moor brings us to the coast, where the last 5 km/3 miles are spent on the coastal cliff path to Robin Hood's Bay, which appears almost by surprise as we near it. This is a village of red roofed houses clustered around its harbour on the North Sea coast marking the end of this 190 odd-mile crossing of England. We celebrate with a drink at the Bay Hotel and as tradition states, dip our toes into the sea. The day’s total ascent 775m / descent 770m.
Trip concludes in Robins Hood Bay after breakfast.
Highlights getting to the top of the mountains and seeing the sights. John the guide was the best, very helpful, way beyond duty. Thanks for a great trip.
B. Gibbons, London, UK, 04 Jul 2016
Per Person, Twin Share