Pull the curtains back. Amazing. It looks like a good day.
“ Yous are lucky.” The landlady tells us at breakfast. “We’ve had nothing but rain for weeks, but its forecast fine for the next few days. I’m hoping its settled for the next few months!!”
Ah. The first cooked breakfast. A communal table in a cheerful room. Another walker who completed day one yesterday, but had to come back to St Bees for accommodation. He has left his car here at the B&B for a week. The first day was tough he tells us, but we should be OK. Mind you he met an Australian who vastly underestimated the undertaking and had had enough after the first walk. At least he survived day one I think to myself. Next the two medical students appear. They are staying here as well. They don’t seem so nerdy this morning.
This is a part of the Coast to Coast experience, where people appear and disappear, to reappear several days later, either on the trail or in accommodation somewhere. Once you realise you are not going to see the same people all the time, or every day, this is actually quite a plus. Its sociable and friendly – even encouraging – without being claustrophobic.
Walking kit on. Suitcases carried down to the hallway. We’re off. At least as far as the Post Office Store which apparently does a great line in pies. This proves to be the case, as the man behind the counter reels off a list of about 10 varieties. Suitably pied up we progress the mile to the sea where a coach party of OAPs is either getting off or onto a coach, and people are walking dogs. Although small, this part of the village definitely has that cool early morning seaside town feel. Its going to be a hot day.
We are supposed to dip our boots in the sea, but its not easy. The tide is in and the concrete lifeboat launch area is a bit slippery. Ray scrapes his knee getting off it. We can’t have injuries before we’ve even started, so the boot dipping is done gingerly and I forget the necessary pebble. Over by the zero mile marker the two students are trying to get their results. There won’t be much mobile signal today, or in fact for the next two days. Picture by the sign and away.
“Have you just finished?” Asks a fellow we shall meet again over the next 17 days. “Do I look as if I have?” Ray responds. They’re probably about our age, but his wife is wearing a turquoise fringed beach dress and looks as if she’s on holiday in Spain. Just shows how looks can be deceptive as we meet them again at several points during the morning. They’re obviously doing “it” too, but no one wants to give too much away.
“North of the foreshore at St Bees rises the lofty bulwark of St Bees Head,four miles of towering and precipitous cliffs of red sandstone veined with white..” (AW)
A short distance up the cliff path we meet the first path divide. This is not mentioned in the book. Rather unwillingly I go with Ray’s choice. He is of course correct, and I have to make sure I go with his choice now over the next few weeks. A lesson learnt. The coast path is a bit like Devon (red sandstone cliffs), a bit like the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (up and down). Views behind over St Bees, and as we continue, to Scotland and even the Isle of Man.
In a short while we descend again to Fleswick Bay (optional, but has to be done of course) so I can pick up some pebbles here.
I get several small red mottled ones. The bay is beautiful. Well worth the stop, though questions about how long we are taking, and will I be able to get to Ennerdale Bridge, flutter on the edge of concentration. That can’t be right. This is a walk, and we don’t have to rush. Long as we are there before 8 o’clock. I don’t think I could walk that long anyway. Questions such as these can only be answered by doing this.
There are a few bird watching points. Ray has brought the old binos. We are supposed to see black guillemots, but only manage ordinary guillemots, razorbills and seagull chicks.
Time to get on. We pass the coastguard lookout and the lighthouse.
Its getting hot and feels as if we have been walking for hours already. Two silent men pass. They sound Spanish or Italian. The only two of many here today who don’t seem cheerful. Whitehaven comes into view and we at last turn away from the coast. Are we going East yet? Not sure. A transit type van collecting rubbish comes up the lane towards us. It is so narrow we have to climb up into the hedge to get past. On to the first village, Sandwith. Amazingly the village pub is still not open. But then it is before 11.00, so we have hardly been walking for 2 hours yet. It seems a lot longer.
After Sandwith through farmland, some of which would be boggy were it not that everywhere seems dry underfoot.
Our first sheep. Dear old sheep. So quiet and reliable. Over a little stream, under a railway tunnel on to the Sustrans bike path – a disused railway. By now it is well hot, and past what feels like stopping time. I am sweaty and tired, maybe grumpy, though of course, haven’t said so. The cycle track seems to go on and on, and it feels as if we are doing some unnecessary extra distance to Moor Row. Coming up off the track we are on the lookout for the Walker’s Pop In Café, as recommended by the bloke at breakfast. Yay. There it is.
A woman has converted her front garden into a little business offering teas, cakes and sandwiches for a pittance. Perfectly ordinary woman. I have the overwhelming feeling, however, that she is running a social service here. It is all I can do to stop myself hugging her. It feels like an oasis in a desert, replete with toilet. I write as much in the visitors book which we have to sign. As with elsewhere on the route, it is full of Australian entries. Really, that was the hard point of the day over. Actually it wasn’t of course, but I didn’t feel as desperate as that again anywhere on the trip. Some kind of mental or physical barrier had been crossed. This is what we are going to be doing, and this is how it is going to be. Fine then. OK.
Leaving Moor Row we pass through many kissing gates between tiny wheat fields. In the first one a small tough looking Australian woman reminiscent of Margaret Ryan, dark haired, wearing a beanie hat, is confused by the gates (why?? Its definitely that one.) It turns out she doesn’t have THE BOOK!!! We look upon her in wonder. She’s trying to do it on her own with Wainwright and a Harveys Map…. Something of an optimist you might feel. Apparently she turned down a chance to purchase the one walk essential, and although now regretting it, there’s not much she can do about it till maybe Grasmere. Until then she will have to rely on people WITH the book. Anyway she’s here after completing The Compostela Pilgrimage, so maybe she’s got some inbuilt sat nav of her own. (This later proves to be more than a mere speculation.)
In a short while we are in Cleator, a mining village that gets a poor press from Wainwright and other Coast to Coast literature. But today the sun is shining and Cleator looks fine. Its even got a shop, and a view of Dent Hill , our next goal. It looks semi tree clad and not too bad from the Cleator perspective. However, when we start climbing, (just after going through a farmyard without barking dogs but with a smiling farmer who predicts good weather for at least three days) it is definitely steep, and the trees which I had hoped would provide cooling shade provide only hot trapped air and muddy paths. We stagger on upwards out of the trees, stopping on the open grassy slope to “admire the view”, but really to get our breath back.
Although the views are indeed fantastic. We can see the Scottish coast reaching out into the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man, and in the other direction the hills of the Lake District, a little dark and forbidding where the sun is not shining on them. You can also see Sellafield should it interest you.
After that struggle up, it must get easier. Well as every walker knows, yes.. and no.. What goes up has to deal with knee pain on the descent, and descending takes longer unless you are able and willing to take the kamikaze approach. We have a 14 foot deer style to climb over which effortlessly activates my panic response when going over the top. Just how high can deer jump for goodness sake? Followed by “one of the steepest descents on the entire walk” allegedly.
Raven Crag – a grassy path, a slow and painful loss of the height we struggled up such a short time ago. At one point my total concentration on every footstep is deflected by what sounds like some kind of steam driven engine or bellows. Looking up, (don’t move the feet now) almost next to me is a scantily clad heavily breathing fell runner coming UP this ridiculous path. You can only stare in wonder. I give him a round of sincere applause, acknowledged by a slight rictus.
It is now going on for 4 o’clock, and time for lunch!! Where are those St Bees pies? They are absolutely delicious and disappear in seconds sat by a stream in a beautiful steep sided enclosed probably limestone valley going by the glorious name of Nannycatch Gate.
Fuelled by pie we have cracked it. Up gently over common grazing land and down the longish road to Ennerdale Bridge, a lovely little Lakeland village where we check in to the Shepherds Arms. Boots off in the hall. Haul the suitcases upstairs. Shower and collapse into bed. It must be 5 o’clock. Quite a long day, but we made it here!
Later, whilst seeking pre dinner beer, we get into conversation with Glyn, a retired food technology expert who spent his working life establishing Waggon Wheel factories in the far flung corners of the globe. He is here with the Peterborough branch of the U3A (University of the Third Age). He is sociable in that way of people used to travelling alone, and wants to know about us. This is most unusual in our normal circles, but we are on holiday after all, we can cope. Whatever. There will be no need for an evening stroll tonight!