The Coast to Coast was originally described by Alfred Wainwright in his 1973 book A Coast to Coast Walk. Due to legal restrictions on certain stretches of the path, increased traffic on some of the road sections, and erosion, the exact original route followed by Wainwright is not recommended. Wainwright's book has been revised a number of times in recent years (most recently in 2003) to provide a route that avoids trespass. Wainwright's book describes the route in 12 stages, each of which ends at a settlement with at least some overnight accommodation nearby. If one stage is walked per day, with one or two rest days, the route makes a two-week holiday, and web logs of coast-to-coasters seem to indicate that this is the most common way of walking the route. However, Wainwright explicitly states that he did not intend people to necessarily stick to these daily stages, or even to his route. For instance, the majority of Wainwright's stages start and end at low level with a single up-down during the day: many walkers split the Borrowdale–Patterdale stage at Grasmere in order to maintain this pattern and avoid having two major uphill sections in one day. Splitting two or three more of the longer stages, and adding a further one or two rest days, reduces the average day-length to 10 or 12 miles and makes the walk a much easier three-week trip with time to "stand and stare", an activity much approved of by Wainwright.
" I want to encourage in others the ambition to devise with the aid of maps their own cross-country marathons and not be merely followers of other people's routes: there is no end to the possibilities for originality and initiative. "
— A. Wainwright, A Coast to Coast Walk
Although unofficial, the Coast to Coast Walk uses public rights of way (public footpaths, tracks, and minor roads), permissive paths and access land; it is one of the most popular of all the long-distance footpaths in the UK. Despite this it does not have National Trail status. In 2004 the walk was named as the second-best walk in the world according to a survey of experts.