The Coast to Coast Diary: September 16, 2023

In early August 2022 I decided that, as a 50th birthday present to myself, I was going to walk across the whole of England, from the Cumbrian Village of Saint Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire, following the path of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast. I began a journal of the preparation and, hopefully, completion of that trip at around the same time. As it’s getting very long I decided to start posting individual entries, but all entires will still be available in the massive, original post as well. 

September 16, 2023: It’s Coast-to-Coast Eve. I’m in my B&B in St. Bees. I’ve spent the last hour making sure everything I will need on the trail is in my backpack, everything I don’t need is in my duffel, and that I have everything necessary to navigate in my head, on my devices as a backup, and in hard copy form as a backup to the backup. I begin walking tomorrow.

I woke up in Manchester and had a sausage/egg roll at Greggs. Greggs is the farthest from what most people would consider good food or good coffee but it’s a total guilty pleasure of mine. It’s just efficient, dammit, and I figure that I had enough great food during my first two days in Manchester that I could afford an efficiency move. It got the job done.

I was on the train and pulling out of Piccadilly station at 10:20. My route took me through Preston, up to Carlisle, and then back down along the coast on the milk run to St. Bee’s. Last year the kids and I planned to take that train on up to Edinburgh but, due to a perfect storm of mechanical failures, threatened labor action, and a series of trains that were dangerously overcrowded, we got stuck in Preston, unable to go any farther north. We ended up going back down to London instead, missing Scotland. That all worked out pretty well but in the moment it was the single worst travel day I’d ever had and I was thus dreading hitting Preston station again. I held my breath as we got there and didn’t exhale until the train began moving out of the station. With the exception of one little delay later that’s not even worth mentioning I made it down to St. Bees by about 3:30. Phew.

I’m staying tonight at a place called Stone House Farm which is the lovely Georgian-era farmhouse pictured above. Because I’m booking single accommodations I expect to get the smallest rooms in most places I stay and that’s certainly true here, but it’s a charming attic space with it’s own bath that is perfectly fine for my purposes. The skylight window in the roof in the photo is my room. There’s a cat running around here too — I saw it briefly — but it’s staying in the innkeeper’s part of the house so I can’t go find it and give it scritches and tell it “pspspspspsps.”

The Stone House only does breakfast, not dinner, so I ate down the street at Queens Hotel. I was back here by 7:30. I hope to be in bed by 10:30 or so. Breakfast is at 7, after which I begin my walk. Tomorrow will be a little over 14 miles. There’s some pretty big elevation gains right off the bat as I leave the coast. I’ll know by lunchtime if my training was sufficient.

I’m a little nervous, but I think the nerves will be gone as soon as I dip my boots in the Irish Sea and then set off around St. Bees Head. At the moment I’m thinking of the entire walk and that’s sort of daunting. Once I get going I’ll be doing what one has to do to accomplish such a thing: think only about putting one foot in front of the other.

Some photos and some observations from the day:

This is the little cafe/refreshments room in the Carlisle station where I waited while transferring trains. I took this photo for two reasons.

First, if you replaced some of the furniture and the sorts of food and drink they serve at that counter, you could almost squint and imagine it as the refreshments room at the train station in the 1945 David Lean/Noel Coward movie “Brief Encounter,” which is a favorite of Allison’s and mine. I tried to see if black and white made it work any better, but I suppose it’s only marginal.

Anyway, anyone who has seen the movie knows that the refreshments room is the most important setting in the film and the clock on the wall — like the clock here — is super important as well. I imagined the lady in the center chatting off the ear of the man next to her as he tried to say goodbye to his lover. Again, if you know you know. And yes, I realize that there is no one at that table to fill the Celia Johnson role, but that’s what imaginations are for.

Worth noting: the train station scenes in “Brief Encounter” were filmed in Carnforth Station, which is on the route between Manchester and Carlisle but my train did not stop there. They have apparently made a little tourist attraction out of the refreshments room, having done it up like it appeared in the movie, but I didn’t get a chance to go.

The second reason I took that photo is that the place where I was sitting is at the extreme northern end of the room, sits about 25 yards north of where I got off the northbound train from Manchester, and about 50 yards north of where I got on my second train, on a different platform, to head back down south/southeast toward St. Bee’s. Which means that where I was sitting when I took that photo was the farthest north I have ever been, geographically speaking, in my life. The previous best was inside an Aldi in Preston back in 2018, but again, the less we speak of Preston the better.

For what it’s worth, the farthest south I’ve ever been was somewhere in the Bahamas or Key West. It’s hard to tell because I’m not sure how far south the cruise ship I was on went on the Bahamas trip. Either way it’s close and either way I’m gonna break that mark in January when Allison and I go to Mexico. For completeness sake: the farthest east I’ve ever been is Murano Island just off of Venice and the farthest west was Cape Mendocino in California. Both of those are gonna hold for the foreseeable future.

A view out of my train window somewhere south of Carlisle along the Irish Sea, looking west. It got very, very gray once we got into Cumbria. There was a brief moment of sunshine not long after I got to St. Bees but it went away quickly. I feel like the sun is going to be an occasional-at-best visitor for me over the next couple of weeks.

My train went out of service at a town called Workington and I had to wait an hour for a replacement. It was actually kind of fun because the Workington station is sort of a time capsule. The signage and a lot of elements of the station are very old and they seem to have consciously preserved them, some with little historical notes next to them, some as-is with no explanation. This sign, which a bored station attendant told me was about 100 years old, is the latter, but it was a necessary sign until shockingly recently, as trains before the early 1990s used to just dump piss and shit from the toilets right onto the tracks. Which, British Rail decided, was perfectly fine while barreling between stations but icky if the train is just stopped at a platform. Now almost all trains have closed sewage systems and dump them, sanitarily, at end stations. The sign is pretty sweet, though.

St Bees Priory. It’s currently the Anglican parish church for the area but it’s been a church or a monastery of some form or another since before the Norman Invasion in the 11th century. All that is left of the pre-Norman site is the shaft of a cross that bears design elements from the era during which the Vikings were converting to Christianity and bopping back and forth between Ireland and the northern English coast. There is a massive Norman-era door on the west side that I stupidly did not take a photo of because I was unaware of what I was looking at until I got back to my room and looked it up. There are gothic elements from its pre-Reformation days when it served as a Benedictine monastery. Henry VIII decommissioned it and everything else Catholic in the 16th century and it’s been various levels of Anglican since. At times it has fallen into relative disrepair and there have been a number of renovations and patches of various stripes. But because it was never really important enough to raze in anger or to renovate in any comprehensive or utilitarian way, there remain a hell of a lot of super old and fascinating design elements.

It has a pretty badass graveyard too. These graves are not terribly old — a couple hundred years — and you can see some 21st century graves in the still active cemetery up on the next level in the upper right of the photo. There is a plaque on a cornerstone of the church, however, marking where the remains of a 14th century knight from the area was entombed after he was killed off on some crusade. His body was uncovered during an 18th century renovation, examined, found to be in shockingly well-preserved condition, and was re-entombed.

After checking out the Priory I walked back up the street to have dinner at Queens hotel. They were out of Guinness and steak pie, so I had the fish and chips, some mushy peas, and a pint of bitter. OK, two pints. And, yes, they spelled my name “Creeg” when I reserved my table a couple of hours earlier. When in St. Bees, etc. I should’ve kept the little placard and tied it to my backpack.

Tomorrow Creeg begins his 192-mile trek.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.