St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge
I'd decided to leave my car with the Coast to Coast Packhorse people in Kirkby Stephen and take a lift with them to the start, and so I spent Saturday on the purchase of some last-minute items, and desultory packing, and I left home at about 0630 on Sunday morning to drive up the M6 to Cumbria. The morning was dry, and I reached Kirkby Stephen and located the Pennine View Caravan Park without incident. Which felt like a very positive start, given my long established and well-proven navigational deficiencies.
Uncharacteristically, I was the first to arrive. Shortly afterwards, though, the Packhorse minibus pulled up, and soon after that a large car filled with a group doing the walk for charity, and then another car containing a couple. I later learned that they were Helen and Robert. We all piled into the minibus, and not long after 0815 we were on our way!
There wasn't much inter-group chat in the van, and so I read a bit initially and then sent a few texts. After that I fell asleep, and then I read a bit more. I'm always surprised by just how long it takes to get to St. Bees from Kirkby Stephen, but eventually the coast hoved into sight and just before 10am we were decanted into the car park next to the public toilets. The bunch of charity walkers didn't get out, in fact, as they were planning to start on Monday and the driver was taking them to their overnight accommodation, but Helen, Robert and I jumped down and started making last-minute adjustments to our kit. I paid the driver my £21.00 for the lift from Kirkby Stephen and then retired to Hartley's Tea Rooms for a warm drink of some sort. From there I watched from a distance as Helen and Robert completed their preparations and set off towards the foot of the cliffs.
Implausible as it may sound, on each of my previous attempts at this walk I've had difficulty finding the correct route from the tea rooms to the foot of the cliff, and so I watched with interest and made a careful mental note of the route that Helen and Robert took. (I was actually tempted to sketch a quick map on a napkin, but I felt that might be going just a little too far...) In any event, when I set off about 20 minutes later I followed their lead and dropped down to the left, towards the sea, rather than attempting to find my way through the car park as I've done on previous occasions. First I needed a photo, though, and so I set up my camera on its cunning little stand, adjusted the self-timer, pressed "Go!" and sat down on a bench.
Inevitably, perhaps, a friendly man came up to chat just as I was trying to arrange myself noncholantly for the photo. He asked where the rest of my group was, and looked concerned to learn that I was walking alone. (Perhaps he'd seen me watching the others whilst toying with the pen and the napkin in the tea rooms? Hmmm...) He told me that his daughter had done the walk, though, and we chatted for a few minutes before I jumped up to retreive my camera and set off towards the beach.
It was still a dry day, but increasingly dull. I was tempted to dip my toe into the Irish Sea, but since I was wearning a pair of comfy but semi-knackered Inov8 Roclite trail shoes with holes in the toes, rather than hefty, but waterproof, leather boots, I decided against. I made a second attempt at a "Peewiglet at the Start of her Great Adventure" photo, though, and this time I managed to look at the camera. It's possible that if I'd tried a third time, for luck, I might also have managed to open my eyes, but I suppose that now we'll never know.
The start of the walk up the foot of the cliff is actually quite steep, although it doesn't go on for long. I rather enjoy short but steep pulls up hills, though, and so I settled into it quickly, and near the top I experienced a frisson of smug satisfaction in passing a couple of day trippers out for a stroll.
The walk along the cliffs lasts for only a couple of miles or so, but it's rather up and down. You might think it's impossible to get lost following a coastal path, but previous experience had taught me different, and I was anxious not to miss the correct path to Sandwith.
It soon became evident that navigation was going to be a bit of a problem, though. Before leaving home I'd printed off a series of 1:50k maps from my Anquet Great Britain North, but it now turned out that since I last used Anquet maps (which must have been on The TGO Challenge last year) my eyesight has deteriorated to such an extent that I can't actually read them any more. Sigh... and all those hours wasted, printing out the blasted maps!
I also had a copy of the Trailblazer guide - Coast to Coast Path by Henry Stedman - but it's rather chunky and I didn't really want to carry it in my hand, as it felt more like a brick than a portable route guide. Therefore, I took a quick look at it, made a note that the turnoff should appear at some stage after the lighthouse, tucked the book back into my pack and pressed on. I also made a mental note to buy the Coast to Coast Harvey maps at the first opportunity--I'd rejected them as a sinful waste of money in Waterstones earlier in the week, on the assumption that Anquet would still do the business for me--and send the big book home.
The path drops quite steeply to allow for the attractive Fleswick Bay after a mile or so (or something like that--remember my book was in the backpack)...
...and that provided me with an opportunity to nip behind a rock for a quick loo break. I can no longer bring myself to make long detours from the path when I need to nip quickly to the loo, but on a path like this there's always the risk that an unsuspecting hiker might suddenly appear around a corner. This helps to prevent me from getting bored :)
On the other side of the dip I stopped to take a picture. The golden crop abutting the path was a testament to sunshine earlier in the season, and it seemed a pity that the sun was absent today. In fact, clouds were beginning to lower, and tiny spots of something that felt suspiciously like light rain were gusting inland from over the sea, and so I pressed on, unwilling to get into my waterproof jacket but hoping not to be caught out in any sort of significant downpour.
I'm no longer sure whether it was before or after I encounted the wheat fields that I managed to make some sort of navigational glitch and miss the path as it curved slightly to the right, descending instead to the left and finding myself with no obvious route to take. I was determined not to be lost for long, though, and so I pressed back up through a grassy, bumpy field and at the top I saw the point at which I'd gone wrong. I'd passed Helen and Robert some time earlier, and I was relieved saon after my diversion to see them heading along the path to my rear, as it seemed likely that they knew where they were going.
The turnoff to Sandwith did eventually appear, and I took it. It developed into a pretty lane between steep ferny banks.
Shortly afterwards the lane forked and I guessed left, not wishing to dump my pack and dig around for the book again. Fortunately left was the correct choice, and fairly shortly after that I arrived at the Dog & Partridge...
...and went in to buy my first beer of the crossing. The rain had blown over, and so I sat outside at a table on a patch of grass, with half a pint of some sort of beer (filled with carbs, it's good walking fuel. Really!) and my first cheese & onion pasty of the trip. Yum!
The sight of my headphones dangling in the photo reminds me that one of the things I was most looking forward to on the walk was an opportunity to listen to recordings of several of Patrick O'Brian's wonderful Aubrey/Maturin novels. I've read and listened to almost all of them before, but I've recently started re-listening to the audio files from the beginning, when out running and when cycling to work/around town. I therefore began my walk at St. Bee's Head with The Ionian Mission, and looked forward to getting through Treason's Harbour, The Far Side of the World, The Reverse of the Medal, The Letter of Marque and possibly even a bit of The Thirteen Gun Salute. The novels describe the relationship between Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, and their exciting
I completed my lunch and pressed on. Some time after Demesne, and as I was hovering nervously at the opening to a field of frisky-looking bullocks, I ran into Robert and Helen again. They came from behind and cleared a path through the bullocks, and I followed, greatly relieved. After that we stopped for a moment to consider the correct route down to the tunnel under the railway. We quickly worked it out, and I pressed on again.
Soon afterwards I rounded a corner in a field and saw a large group of people standing near some trees ahead of me. It looked as though somebody was making an adjustment to a boot, and the others were waiting. As I walked up behind them they turned to take a look, and we said hello. It turned out that they were a group of people from England, America and New Zealand on a Sherpa guided Coast to Coast crossing. I walked on with them for a while, chatting, but they stopped fairly frequently in order to make sure that the group didn't break up and therefore I pushed on alone again.
At the turning for Moor Row I encountered a monument that I haven't seen before, and stopped to take a piccy. As I was doing so, the Sherpa group arrived and also stopped to look.
It was an interesting monument to the Coast to Coast walk, erected by the Moor Row Residents' Association.
The figure bore what seemed to me to be more of a resemblance to an Antarctic explorer than to the average C2C walker...
...but it could of course be that the model was sensibly wearing a Paramo smock :)
I passed quickly through Moor Row on my way towards Dent Hill. Perhaps I looked unsure of myself, because an elderly man standing on the outskirts of the village pointed helpfully as I passed, and told me exactly how to get to Cleator. As always, I was glad to receive directional guidance, and continued with an increased degree of confidence towards a series of very small kissing gates. It seems clear that the people doing the kissing weren't intended to be carrying 50L rucksacks, and I had to climb to the top of the little fences each time in order to lift my pack high enough to enable me to swing the gate aside.
I think it must have been at that stage that I passed a weird sort of totem pole...
...which may well be the Millennium Milepost referred to in my guidebook. Either that, or aliens have apparently landed.
I negotiated Cleator without incident, and as I was making my way along the cart track towards the bottom of Dent Hill the Sherpa bunch came up again from behind. Either they had put on a spurt or I was flagging. Either way, we chatted again and I shared some of my ultra-delicious roasted salted corn, first discovered on a walking holiday in Spain during New Year 2005/6 with a bunch of cool people from OM.
John, The Leader, showed me the way to the correct path, and I set off for the top of the hill as the Sherpa people re-grouped below. The climb to the top was steep but fun, but by the time I reached the large pile of stones that marked the summit a bit of mist/low cloud was gathering, the temperature had dropped and the wind had risen. I soon began to shiver, and I dug around in my pack for my Fuera Smock before beginning the descent to the woods below.
I'd read in my brick that there were some confusing signs on and around Dent Hill as a result of some de-forestation that took place a few years ago, and it seemed to me that the sign pointing 'right' at the bottom of the hill should really be pointing 'left'. I went left in the end, and that turned out to be the correct decision. Despite that, I almost managed to miss the turning on the right for Raven Crag, which led to the extremely steep descent to Nannycatch Gate where I had done serious violence to my knees when I first crept down it fifteen or so years ago. I spotted it at the last moment, though, and after pausing briefly on the other side of the stile to take a quick compass bearing I set off along a clear path in the grass.
The path was level at first but the descent soon began, and it was just as steep as I remembered it. It seemed to continue endlessly, and as I made my way down I could see some people passing right to left beneath me.
I tried to spot an obvious path, as on each previous occasion I'd been comprehensively lost each time I'd tried to pass through Nannycatch Gate. I saw nothing obvious, though, and so upon landing eventually at the bottom I simply turned left and followed the path.
The Stedman guide made reference to keeping walls to my right, and so I decided to try that. That tactic led me eventually to the place from which I'd been 'rescued' in 2000, by a kind man who told me I'd gone the wrong way. This time I really couldn't see how it might have been possible for me to take any other turning, though, and so I pressed on, resigned to extra mileage but determined to follow the path to its end, and eventually came out at the road. John later told me that I'd arrived at the correct place, and so perhaps I wasn't lost after all back in 2000? Eep... it's all too confusing...
All that anxious toiling uphill, passing a poor dead sheep on the path and half expecting to come out at Bognor Regis, had tired me out, so when I reached the road I sat down on the grass and rested my back against a convenient wall.
I took a couple of precautionary bearings with my compass, crossed my fingers
In the meantime the wind began to rise again, and so eventually I deflated my little Thermarest seat, put away my Panadol Extra and shouldered my pack again.
As I set off along the road I pondered a couple of memories culled from earlier experiences of walking the same stretch. First, I remembered that I've never been able to find the stone circle that apparently exists on the other side of the road. I took another look this time, and again I failed to find it. To be honest, I've begun to wonder whether it's actually some sort of C2C Guidebook writers' joke. Maybe it's not there at all! Possibly they like to gather behind tussocks and giggle at the sight of frustrated C2C walkers searching futilely for a non-existent circle of stones. Either way, it refused to make itself known to me yet again, and so I pressed on.
The second thing I remembered was having more than once passed a sign saying (I think) "Ennerdale Bridge - 1 mile", and thinking as I continued down the road that that really must be the longest mile in the world. (Yes, even longer than that last mile along the road into Keld!) This time, though, I didn't see that sign at all because since I had last been there some kind soul has constructed an alternative path down to the village, along the top of the bank to the left of the road. Or possibly it was always there, and I simply didn't notice it. In any event, though, I took it this time and it was an absolute joy! Soft underfoot, and bordered on either side by interesting brambles, wild flowers and shrubs.
By the time the path came to an end I was almost in Ennerdale Bridge. I turned right at a junction (Note to the relevant Parish Council - a small road sign at the T junction would be a nice idea. I was almost reduced to flipping a coin...), and soon afterwards the first of the pubs came into view. It was the Fox & Hounds. I closed my mind to the idea of beer, though, and pressed on through the village, as I was aiming for the campsite.
I saw no signs for the campsite in the village, but my guide book suggested that it was along the road which leads to the lake. I therefore turned up there, tired now and very much looking forward to erecting my tent so that I could return to the pub for a celebratory pint and something to eat. No campsite came into view, though. I tried to ring the phone number listed in the brick but I got no reply, and so I rang the Fox & Hounds instead. There they told me that the campsite had closed down--uh-oh--but they said they took campers in their garden. Based on my Pennine Way experience, camping in the back garden of a pub is one of my worst nightmares. Beggars can't be choosers etc, though, and because I wanted beer and chips in a fuggy pub rather than Beanfeast and Smash in a field I went back.
As I passed back through the village large groups of walkers were arriving and searching for their various B&Bs. I pointed a bloke towards one that I'd stayed at in the past, and then continued along the pavement. Just as I drew level with the back of the pub something interesting in the low vegetation caught my eye. At first I thought it was a butterfly or moth chrysallis, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a very large and most interesting caterpillar. It was completely still, and I wondered whether perhaps it was preparing for its transformation.
I didn't know what species it was, but now that I've looked it up I'm pretty sure it was an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar. I took two further photographs the following morning, and (eye-like) markings that show up on those seem to me to make it clear virtually beyond doubt.
I was excited by my discovery but the Hare & Hounds was by now only round the corner, and so I rounded the corner, took off my pack and went in.
The almost universal charge for solo backpackers on proper campsites along the C2C is currently £5 per night, which includes showers and access to toilets, drinking water, a place to wash pots, maybe even washing machine and dryer etc. Pitches at the back of many pubs also cost £5, but they generally come without the shower, toilets, washing and other facilities, and normally without an external source of drinking water. That was the case here, and there was as much mud as there was grass in the 'garden'. Still, there was no longer any alternative, the campsite having closed, and so I put up the tent...
...changed into my slightly smarter evening trousers and a Helly long-sleeved top and then went inside to get something to eat.
There wasn't much available for a veggie, but there was a veggie burger with chips. That sounded good, but in my already irritated state (brought on by the lack of washing facilities) I was further irritated to see that at £5.50 it cost exactly the same as the beef burger provided for the carnivores. In fact, by the time I'd added cheese and mushrooms at extra cost (the burger itself was just potato and carrot and cabbage, I was told, which sounded rather bland), it was actually a more expensive option than the meat equivalent. I know the sums involved are not large, but the pricing policies for backpackers and veggie eaters rather soured the experience for me, even though the staff were friendly and the veggie burger was nice when it came.
Robert and Helen arrived as I was waiting for my food, and sat down at the next table. We tried to speak, but it was very noisy in the room and so conversation fizzled out. Robert and Helen played cards, and I wrote up my notes of the day and read a bit of the book I'd taken to read in the tent (Karen Armstrong's The Spiral Staircase). I was still hungry after the burger, and so I ordered some rhubarb crumble with custard (£2.95). That was pretty good - I love crumble :)
As I was waiting at the bar to pay for my meal the barman told me that September tends to be the busiest month on the C2C, possibly because the children have gone back to school. I was surprised by that, but certainly there did seem to be large numbers of walkers around.
As I made my way back to my tent there was some light rainfall. It wasn't a problem, though, and pretty quickly--before 9pm, in fact--I was tucked up in my sleeping bag, and I fell fast asleep over my book.
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