There is the easy way, the hard way and the Wainwright way.
C2C v Grand Canyon
As I finished the walk I knew I would eventually have to answer the question about which was more difficult, the Coast to Coast or the Rim to Rim walk across the Grand Canyon. The latter is much shorter but presents a different set of challenges. Even the most hardened English hiker would be challenged by the extreme heat and altitude in the Canyon. Dehydration and the need to keep eating to keep energy levels up are bigger issues in the Canyon than in the milder climate of England.
The C2C is an endurance test of a different kind. The day I walked from Ingleby Cross to Blakey Ridge was as long as the entire Canyon walk of four days. The big difference was that my load was much lighter on the C2C. The Sherpa luggage service meant I wasn't carrying a 35 pound pack every step of the way. Heavy packs are incredibly tough on your knees when going down hill and they raise your center of gravity which makes going over rough ground and stones more difficult. I could not have completed the C2C with a 35 pound pack.
The weather in the Canyon is usually dry and hot. On my C2C walk, I was lucky that I only experienced rain, sleet and high winds on a few days. Other walkers are not so lucky.
If I was told that I had to do one or the other of the two walks again, I would pick the C2C. However there are many other great walks in this world so I don't intend to do C2C again.
B and B accommodation
I really enjoyed the Bed and Breakfasts. Before I decided where to stay along the way I had read quite a few reviews and most had recommended the B and B over the hotel. When you think about it, the reason is simple. When you arrive in the late afternoon, the hotel is getting ready for the evening rush of drinkers and diners. People staying the night are an extra on top of what is already making them busy. The B and B owner by comparison usually only has to lead you to your room, prepare a pot of tea and some snack such as a scone and then prepare breakfast the next morning. Of course they are also very good at offering comforting and encouraging words to walkers who have struggled all day over hill and dale.
Some of the owners are more quirky than others but I welcomed the different personalities. I will always remember the conversation with the bloke at Patterdale as well as the grandmothery woman asking me if I would like a cold beer when I arrived at Shap. But the others all had something interesting to say and were very friendly. Each B and B had some aspect that was interesting or really good.
I used the Sherpa Van site to review the accommodation and to reserve the rooms.
I asked one owner if she ever remembered any of the walkers and she said no. There is a constant stream moving through every day and there are just too many people to remember.
I only had the full English breakfast on two occasions. I kept simplifying what I ordered until usually all I was having was scrambled eggs and toast. Most places also offered yogurt and fruit and I would also have some of that. I only ordered the packed lunch a couple of days when I knew the day would be long and hard. Usually the lunch turns out to be much too large. When I was with other walkers, I would stop for lunch when they stopped but not eat anything. Otherwise I would generally just keep on walking taking a few more swigs of water.
Speaking of water, I carried about 1.5 liters in one big bottle and two smaller bottles. I like to have a small bottle readily available whenever I feel thirsty. The weather did make a difference. I drank much more water on the fine, relatively hot days.
I enjoyed the evening meals at the various pubs along the way. The standard of food is pretty good, particularly the traditional offerings. After walking all day it is great to have a big feed of something delicious. I weighed myself sometime during the trip and I had already lost 10 pounds. By the end of the walk I had taken my belt in two notches.
Sometimes at the end of a day's walk I would have cider at a pub instead of beer. It was very cool and refreshing. Of course I tried all kinds of real ale along the way. Some were better than others but none were bad.
The baggage transfer for seven pounds a day made the trip possible. I used Sherpa and they were fine. My little orange backpack from LL Bean worked well for carrying my wet weather gear, packed lunch, and also change of clothing for the latter part of the trip. It was very light weight and also served to make me more visible when I had to walk on roads.
My boots worked fine except when my toes were damaged on the first day going down the steep Dent Hill. Some people said they were too small, others that they were too big. In any event, I believe that I should have tightened up my shoe laces before descending the hill. After a long day's walk the laces had probably loosened a lot.
The sandals that I replaced the boots with were these from Source, the Gobi model. They enabled me to finish the walk because I don't think I could have gone on much longer in the boots. They had good grip and I had no problems in the steep terrain and bogs of the latter part of the trip. I think you would need to have strong ankles since they offer no ankle support, but if you have weak ankles, you probably should not be doing this walk. By the way, he one disadvantage is that they pick up small stones which get lodged between your foot and the sandal. It does feel wonderful to be able to fully waggle your toes without the encumbrance of a boot. These sandals will be what I wear on future walks.
The water proof socks came from Sealskinz. They are really waterproof and I emerged from the bogs with dry feet. My feet felt the cold of the water but they were dry and after a minute's walking they felt normal again. I did wear a normal pair of socks under them as well. The other advantage is that you don't have to wear gaiters.
And of course, you do look like a total dork while you are wearing the socks and sandals. But remember, nobody knows who you are.
My little umbrella was brilliant. It is so small and lightweight but worked perfectly on the rainy days. Even the wind on the day that it sleeted did not bother it too much. The brand name is Dainty and it is the smallest they make.
The 24 times zoom on the camera was quite useful for certain shots. I was amazed at how well the photos taken with my smart phone (LG Optimus Elite) turned out even though I could barely see on the screen the image I was taking. It's a great backup.
The maps in Stedman are very helpful, particularly with the details such as turn right and go through a gate at the other end of a building. Nobody doing this walk for the first time should be without this book. I noticed that I was not the only one who tore the map pages out of the book to lighten the load.
The GPS in my smart phone was incredibly useful. I used a free app called Viewranger and a track of the route that somebody called Ian Roy had uploaded. IanROY0001
The route was not completely accurate to the yard but it was close enough for me to quickly tell that I had gone the wrong way. I found it useful to check the GPS track before I came to a turn and after I had done the turn. It only takes a few seconds. Occasionally Ian Roy would take a different route to the one I had planned but the Viewranger app also showed a dotted line of the route I planned to take.
I recorded my track with Everytrail and you can see the map of my walk that this app produced at the start of each day's blog entry.
I carried an external battery pack in case the phone battery ran out. It ran out just before I walked into Kirby Stephen and the recharger worked fine. It would be even better to carry another smart phone with a GPS.
Most groups had one person carrying the Ordnance Survey maps in a large plastic folder or bag. From what I could tell these were difficult to use, particularly on top of a mountain where the wind is blowing a gale and it is raining. On one occasion, the group I was with were trying to use a big map that was flapping about in the wind and were getting the wrong results at times. I could tell them where they were wrong by using my GPS and show them where they needed to be. Eventually they were checking with me to make sure they were on the right track.
Which leads to the absence of signage in the Cumbrians. There are paths all over the place up in those mountains and it is so easy to follow the wrong path, particularly if you see somebody walking ahead of you who you presume knows the way. The GPS solves these problems. I still think that the 'no signage' policy is elitist and dangerous.
Your fellow walkers are wonderful people. You have to be wonderful to do this walk. There is a camaraderie among those who do this particular walk because all who attempt it know how good it is and how tough it is. Since I was travelling by myself it was easy to join up with other groups or couples. Couples in particular seemed to enjoy the change of having somebody else to talk to for a while.
There were some days when I was completely by myself all day while I walked. Those days were good too because I had to navigate with no help from other people and there is something about striding along a path on a lonely moor. It gives you a good chance to brood as Robin said to me.
My accent really intrigued people. The English would pick up that there was a bit of Aussie and a lot of American so I was often asked where I was from.
Finally, the people of England along the way were very friendly and very helpful. The Coast to Coast walkers bring in a tremendous amount of money to the towns and villages along the way and the local people appreciate it. The walkers also provide enough patronage to keep village pubs open and these pubs are the social center of the villages.
Should you do it yourself?
If you have the time, energy and the money I would thoroughly recommend it. I was really glad I had organized rest days after every three days of walking. It gave my body a chance to recuperate from the constant walking but more importantly, my brain needed a day with something else to think about. After I had my rest day I would start off the day feeling really refreshed both mentally and physically.
Many English walkers had only two weeks of vacation to do it all and couldn't take rest days. The walk was much more difficult for them.
As a single, the B and Bs cost about 45 or 50 pounds, occasionally more or less. Pub meals were generally about 10 pounds and pints of beer were 3 pounds. It works out to be about $100 per day.
The effort is enormous, but you get to write your name in a book at the end and you write it with pride.