The Coast to Coast

Walked in August 2008

Day 1 – Saturday 16th August

St Bees – Ennerdale Bridge (Low Cock How)
13.5 miles

I woke just before my alarm at 6.30 after a night of intermittent rain. A family in a nearby tent had been making a fair bit of noise last night so Darryl and I had used our ear buds. As I removed my ear buds I found the rain was back again, and falling quite hard. By the time I had dressed Darryl was also up and we convened to have a breakfast of baked beans followed by scrambled egg. The new gas canister I had bought for my stove had turned out to be the wrong type, so it was a good job Darryl had bought his stove too. This meant I’d be carrying dead weight, not a great prospect for the start of the walk, but I would find somewhere to jettison it later on in the trip.

Darryl walked into St Bees to find another cash point while I took my tent down and packed my rucksack. Half an hour later he returned with the news:

‘Shop was closed.’
‘Oh right,’ I said. ‘So did you get any money out?’
‘Oh. Why not?’
‘The cash point was inside the shop.’
‘Ah.’ This sounded quite reminiscent of the sort of luck we’d had on the Pennine Way, and I hoped it wouldn’t continue.

Once Darryl had packed all his kit away we left the campsite and headed down to the beach where we took a few photographs and dipped our boots in the Irish Sea. There were a few people around, some walking, some with dogs and even one person with a horse. The day had started fairly dull and overcast but over the next half an hour it brightened considerably. I chose a pebble from the beach to carry with me all the way to Robin Hood’s Bay – another Coast to Coast tradition, then we both decided we’d dawdled long enough and started walking across the beach and back up onto the sea front to cross the small bridge over the weed-covered Rottington Beck and then up the short but steep path that followed the coastline along St Bees Head.

We met an American couple, Denise and Stuart from the Shanandoah valley in Virginia, at the top of the climb and chatted with them for a few minutes. They were also tackling the Coast to Coast having already done the West Highland Way and most of the Appalachian Trail in America. Their kit was notably different to ours, the silver, fold-up sleeping mats in particular don’t seem to be a very British choice. We pressed on, finding the going surprisingly harder than we were expecting, though having not done any walking in a while and suddenly having those heavy packs to carry again may have contributed to this.

When we reached St Bees Lighthouse at North Head we stopped for a quick rest. It was roughly around this time that Darryl got out his little portable radio and tuned into the Olympics. It was quite a welcome distraction from the hard slog to listen to the Brits doing so well in the cycling events. Not long after St Bees Lighthouse the path started to get quite muddy and in some places runs quite precariously close to the cliff edge which in some cases meant we had to divert into nearby fields. A mile or so on we reached the quarry and the point where the path turns inland, but not before negotiating a very wet, muddy and overgrown path by the very edge of the cliff with disconcerting views of the lovely cliffs and sea below.

We turned right at the nearby cottage to head down a long lane toward Sandwith. We now had our first views of the Lakeland fells and they looked awesome. Neither of us had been to the Lake District before so we were looking forward to it. The fells loomed high in the distance, shrouded by cloud, and the path we were on seemed to be aimed directly at them.

There were no obvious shops or any other places to buy food in Sandwith, which was a shame as we were hoping to find something nice for lunch. Instead we parked ourselves on a picnic bench opposite the Dog and Partridge pub (closed) and ate some flapjack. Our legs and feet were already aching, and the first day which had seemed pretty easy on paper was beginning to seem like much more of a challenge.

After a good rest we hauled our packs back on and turned left just after the pub up the lane to a busy road which we crossed to join another lane on the other side which led to Demesne Farm. Shortly afterwards we were walking down a hill to Stanley Pond where we crossed a couple of very boggy, squelchy fields and another busy road. We found the Coast to Coast statue created to commemorate the walk and took photos of each other posing with it. A bird had relieved itself on the statue making it look like the stone walker had a runny nose.

To the right of the statue was an arrangement of shrubs that spelled out ‘Moor Row’ which was the small village just down the road. We hoped Moor Row might be a good place to buy supplies. It wasn’t. The newsagent was derelict and the post office had been boarded up and closed down. We saw a local man approaching and asked him if there were any shops. He replied with a simple and unashamed ‘bugger all!’ We sighed and continued on hoping we might have more luck in Cleator. Shortly after Moor Row we saw another, more unusual monument to the Coast to Coast Walk.

We didn’t have far to go before we were following Wainwright’s Passage alongside the cricket ground and entering Cleator by St Leonard’s Church. Thankfully there was a newsagents just down the road so we took it in turns to go in and restock our packs with Coke, chocolate and other essential goodies. It is a small shop so two hikers can’t really fit in there at the same time, and we preferred to have someone looking after the packs outside while the other went in (pack-less) to have a look around. I can’t imagine anyone having the strength let alone the inclination to steal a pack of such size and weight, but considering they contained our clothes, food, water and accommodation, we couldn’t take the risk, slight as it was, of leaving them unguarded.

When we were satisfied that we had enough snacks and liquid to be getting on with, we crossed the road and walked into the pub where we had a pint and a Cornish pastie each. The meal was welcomed, though the pasties were a little dry and I’m not a huge fan of pastry at the best of times. Still, the carbohydrates would come in handy. The Olympics were being shown on the TV in the bar so we took a little time to catch up, resting our bones at the same time. The Scottish barmaid said that a group of Belgian women had been staying there for the last few days celebrating a seventieth birthday. Apparently they’d been out walking every day and had gotten completely legless every evening. She said the few English words the ladies did use were particularly blue ones. Proof that no one really grows old I suppose. Through the window that looked onto the main street we saw the American couple Denise and Stuart catch up and pass us by, reminding us that we ought to be getting a move on.

We walked back down the street toward the path opposite the newsagent where the route continued toward Dent Fell. Darryl quickly nipped back into the newsagent to buy a large bottle of water and then we were off again feeling quite refuelled.

The route followed a gradually steepening road toward Blackhow Wood. While walking along a fairly overgrown section of path by a field I turned to the left to see a woman pulling her trousers up, presumably after having made a toilet in the hedge. She then promptly sat down next to a friend in the field as though nothing had happened. It struck me as very odd that she would do such a thing more or less right out in the open. Other people besides hikers were using the path, and anyone could have got an unwelcome glimpse. In fact Darryl had seen a little more than me and described the incident as ‘seeing an arse sticking out of the hedge.’ It probably wasn’t that bad but she had chosen an unfortunate spot, especially considering the pub in Cleator behind us was literally minutes away and would have served her purposes far better.

The weight of the pack was really playing on my mind now since my shoulders were hurting quite a bit. I kept adjusting the straps and holding them off my shoulders slightly but I clearly couldn’t do this for the whole trip so I hoped I would get used to it soon. We stopped a couple of times on the road up through the forest, then braced ourselves for the final pull up the steep bank to the top of Dent Fell. I really struggled here and when we reached the summit cairn at the top I flung my pack off and dropped to the ground exhausted and feeling my heart hammering in my chest. When I got my breath back I stood and took photos of the amazing view from the top. Even this felt like hard work though as I was wasted.

Denise and Stuart caught up with us again having stopped briefly earlier on the path. We chatted with them again before they continued on, and we caught them up again by a tall ladder stile somewhere down the mountainside. They were having problems finding the route using the book they’d bought which I think was a Cicerone guide (but don’t quote me). We showed them the Aurum guide we were using by Martin Wainwright and they wished they’d had something similar. We all discussed the way down the side of the mountain since it didn’t appear obvious to begin with, but then took a path to the left and set off in the direction of Nannycatch, being blown about in the wind and jogging in zig-zags at one point to avoid picking up too much speed in the steep descent. A man in the pub at Cleator had mentioned the legend of the Nannycatch witch, and although (sadly) we didn’t spot one, we did think the quiet valley was pretty impressive, even if the path was a bit up and down and wet. We were really starting to get weary now and were thinking about where we would be staying the night. We saw a homemade signpost for Low Cock How Farm that offered bed and breakfast and camping. I checked the accommodation plan I had brought with me and it seemed that Low Cock How wasn’t too far away. It was one and a half miles short of Ennerdale Bridge, but we were dog tired and right then didn’t really care about an extra mile and a half the next day.

We turned off the route and followed the path toward the farm after saying goodbye to Denise and Stuart who had booked themselves into bed and breakfasts along the whole route (lucky buggers). The woman at the farm welcomed us and showed us to a small grassy area where we could camp. It was actually a really nice place to pitch our tents. We had the area all to ourselves, and though it was windy there were trees and bushes to keep most of the wind away. We also had use of a small TV room (actually a shed full of junk with armchairs and TV) and the toilet and shower at the back of the farmhouse that was also used by the bed and breakfast guests. The farm had several dogs too. By my count there were two Border Collies, two Rottweilers and a cross-breed. Anyone crazy enough to drive all the way to Low Cock How to burgle the place would be mauled to pieces in seconds. We pitched our tents and the rain returned as we made a dinner of noodles and tinned mackerel followed by chocolate digestive biscuits. We showered then sat in the TV shed for an hour or so watching a Porridge film. It was actually a very relaxing evening and just what we needed after a surprisingly tiring first day. It was still raining a fair bit when we left the shed to head back to our tents for the night. We crawled into our bags aching and tired to read for a while before sleep.


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