Best England Trip: Walking Coast to Coast

For ISLANDS magazine, contributing editor Ted Alan Stedman traveled to England, where he embarked on the historic Coast to Coast Walk. Over the course of about three weeks, he saw the island as few travelers -- and few Brits themselves -- have seen this country. Below is how his story begins, but to really appreciate the scope of this trek, click on the "view larger map" and zoom in on the detailed route:
Queer fish, the local fellow calls us. Which is odd because about 7,000 hopefuls like us set off from St. Bees Head every year. But even here in the Coast to Coast Bar the night before our departure, we can't convince one Englishman that our English adventure makes sense. "Why?" he asks, meaning why would we put ourselves through this. It's the prevailing question. Addled from trans-Atlantic jet lag, plus an English ale or two, I present my best case: "Our goal is to cross England, and we hope the experience enriches our souls." I'm not sure he buys it. At dawn the next day, we follow Dandy Walk path through an emerald pasture where neighing horses scatter into a gauzy morning mist befitting of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. A ways on, the eastern edge of the Irish Sea laps at our feet. With my gal, Tami Van Meter, I'm setting out to traverse England on its premier walking route. Plotted in the early 1970s by guidebook author Alfred Wainwright, the Coast to Coast Walk, or C2C, undulates across the isle's narrow midsection. The official tally from decades past pegs the distance at 190 miles, although a recent remeasure with modern gadgets supposedly fattens it a bit. We'll do it in 19 days. Or so we've been told. We make good on the C2C custom of wetting our boots in the froth and collecting a pebble that hopefully we'll toss into the North Sea. The symbolism of this act -- linking sea to sea one step at a time -- smacks us. "I hope we can do this," Tami says. I give a pep talk and avoid mentioning how roughly 15 percent of C2C walkers drop out from sprains, weather or worse.

View Larger Map| |Still, this won't be some hardened death march -- no damp tents, finicky camp stoves or freeze-dried foods -- but a proper British walk. We'll enjoy fresh beds, warm meals & cold pints at each day's end, staying at country B&Bs and small inns -- all C2C traditions, patently English but accessible to anyone with fortitude and sensible shoes. (To read the full story, get the digital version of the June issue.)Plan Your Trip: England * Fly into the Manchester Airport (MAN), the closest international gateway to St. Bees Head at the start of the C2C. British Airways has direct flights from New York, Los Angeles and many other major U.S. hubs. britishairways.com * Stay at Frenchgate Guest House in Richmond, a charming town right in the heart of the North Yorkshire countryside. Sitting on a hilltop overlook, the Victorian Frenchgate lies within short walking distance along ancient cobbled streets from the historic marketplace, Richmond Castle and nearby Easby Abbey. Rates from $95. 66frenchgate.co.uk * Eat at La Piazza Pizzeria, a slice of Old Italy perched right above Richmond's marketplace. Run by an Italian family, this busy, friendly eatery serves pizzas, pasta, meat and seafood dishes, a welcome variation from the standard English fare C2C walkers subsist on. Try the Milano baked seafood dish combining salmon, sea bass, prawns and mussels. Complement your meal with wine or Italian Peroni beer. * Visit the Richmond Castle, whose first stones were laid in 1071 by the Norman French. Stroll the grounds, climb the towers and learn what daily life was like inside one of England's oldest castles. Open daily. richmond.org.uk * Relax after a long day of walking with a traditional Theakston ale at the very English Lion Inn pub on Blakey Ridge in North York Moors National Park. A very English rainstorm outside only redoubles the sense of cozy calm by the grand, crackling fireplace. And a helping of Old Peculiar Casserole will fuel another pleasant all-day stroll tomorrow. lionblakey.co.uk * Hire Coast to Coast Packhorse for accommodation packages and door-to-door baggage transfers. This out- fitter also provides basic services and support for independent travelers handling their own accommodations. Standard 15-night B&B packages start at about $1,200 per person, including airport transfers. c2cpackhorse.co.uk * Pack comfortable, quick-dry, non-cotton hiking clothes. A waterproof jacket and rugged Gore-Tex-lined walking boots are essential. Also carry water bottles, a compass, a multi-tool, sunblock and a well-stocked first-aid kit. * Study your route. The best C2C maps are the waterproof, two-map set (west and east) from Harvey, harveymaps.co.uk. The up-to-date guidebook Coast to Coast Path by Henry Stedman (no relation) details the route. trailblazer-guides.com * Learn more at visitbritain.com.|