Set off from Llanelli with the usual chaos and anxiety of lost taxi. (They always stop at the bottom off the hill). Two phone calls and much pacing by the gate later, we eventually get to the station with a few minutes to spare. It begins to dawn on us that the suitcases are 1. Large and 2. Heavy. It takes some doing to get them on the train and into a luggage rack at the end of the carriage. After that… GREAT… Straight through to Crewe. Pleasant train. Space. Nice morning. Wales looks lovely as we speed almost silently through Cwmbran (never been there before), Abergavenny, and border towns.
Crewe is hot and we have the suitcases to cope with again. There are loads of people waiting for our train on the platform, but it will be fine won’t it. We’ve got reserved seats… Yeah right but someone’s luggage is already in them. Modern trains do not have space for normal sized suitcases. I cuddle my suitcase all the way to Carlisle. Somehow on the 2 hour journey Virgin Trains lose 25 minutes, although they don’t tell anyone, so that we miss our connection.
Carlisle station is unmistakeably northern. Why? Not sure, but its stones are dark grey. The weather has turned to rain clouds. It is busy and very long goods trains keep passing through noisily clanking in both directions. There is a separate platform area for the Settle to Carlisle trains (maybe we should have thought if coming that way), and another separate platform area for the Cumbrian Coast route that we will have to take. There is a buffet with tables on the platform, all a little uncared for. We decline the buffet scones as quite a few flies seem to have got there first. A lady is looking for someone to hold her large enthusiastic dog while she goes to get a cup of tea. Luckily she does not choose me. Enormous fast trains with 4 or 5 First Class coaches apiece slide in and out on their way between Edinburgh/Glasgow and London. Ray goes over the large footbridge/ramp to explore. There is no ticket barrier. You can just walk out into a litter strewn square with a castle. A poster advertises “The Famous” Carlisle Railway Station Ghost Tours.
Without announcement we become aware through psychic presentment that our train is there. It is one of the busy trains of the day. School children, shopping returnees, people leaving work at 5.00. We pick them all up and drop them off as the train heads first north west, and then turns south to run along the Cumbrian Coast. The little stations have excitingly northern names, Dalston, Wigton, Aspatria (what was that again?). We are really somewhere different now. We’re on holiday. We reach the coast at Maryport. Flimby, Workington, Parton, Whitehaven. Unfortunately its still quite grey and unfriendly outside. There is an enormous windfarm, and in the distance can be seen the coast of Galloway and Dumfries. My god. Scotland. We are a long way North!!
I am surprised how flat the scenery is since we are supposed to be starting the walk tomorrow on a cliff path. Whitehaven seems to be a prettier town though, and shortly after we plunge through a tunnel to emerge in a lovely little village station. St Bees. It looks promising.
Fairladies Barn, our first B&B, is a long way UP a main street, past the Post Office Stores, the Coast to Coast Bar, and a couple of pubs. The suitcase dragging is not the best, and Ray has to carry his. “Its easier to wheel it!” advises a cheerful child cyclist. Thus we are introduced to a feature of the walk… everyone speaks to you.
Later that evening, after we have checked in to the friendly but slightly ramshackle accommodation, wrestled the suitcases up the first of many awkward staircases, noted the view of St Bees head from our room, and headed out again in search of food, everyone we meet has a cheery “Good evening” or “Hello” to share with us.
St Bees. What a lovely little village. Handsome houses. Quite large. Not really rural. Set back quite a way from the sea. A group of probably girl guides are out playing rounders on the village field with Arkela or whoever it is.
A quick Hiya to the statue of St Bega (alleged Irish princess/ seafaring hermit and local good egg). A wave to the1583 Grammar School. A visit to the church… red sandstone, Norman entrance, and, again a feature of the trip…, OPEN , even though its now about 7 o’clock on a Monday night. It is well lit. Well cared for. There’s a history of the Church and the Village, all well presented. Interesting. Feels like a real community.
It is hard to fit in eating but we do our best, stopping in the Queen’s Head for a pint of Jennings Bitter and a Chicken and Leek pie. During the meal yet another trip feature presents itself. Other walkers. Across the pub restaurant two enthusiastic and slightly nerdy young men have seized on a red faced loner who it seems has finished the walk this very night, in the east to west direction. There is much talk of what has been done before by the young men. General talk about what is to come, which personally I would rather not hear, although its very difficult not to listen. Mention is made of, was that right, “Swansea”. Then I’m sure I heard “medicine”. Make a mental note to tell Ray when we get a quiet 5 minutes. However, events take over when as we pay for the meal they rush up enthusiastically to Ray. “Are you one of the Lecturers at Swansea Medical School???” It transpires that they are getting their final results tomorrow, and are doing the walk with camping gear. So far and yet so near it seems.
We have forgotten the alarm clock. Set the mobile for 7.15. (It stays at that time for the rest of the trip.) Sort out the walking gear. Repack the suitcase ready for the off.