Saturday, 4 June 2016

Coast to Coast - Day One

Day One: St Bees to Ennderdale (14 miles)
David seems to have brought a lot of stuff. He has a large case, carefully packed by Joyce, which will become harder and harder to close as David's packing and repacking displaces its contents, also a large day pack, which is also full and rather heavy (I now understood the need for a very small pebble). When he was strapping on gaiters after breakfast, I wondered if I had packed too light.
This is where it all starts - the beach at St Bees
First job was to wet our boots, but we'd only gone 100 yards when I put my hand in my pocket and found the key to the B&B. Thank goodness I found it there and not at Ennerdale! After that false start, it was a straight to the sea for a paddle and then the first steps on our journey.
Unfortunately, those first steps are steeply uphill. A gentle stroll along the shore would have helped my breakfast go down, but we soon realised that Wainwright loved nothing more than a steep, uphill climb, unless it was an even steeper descent. If that man saw a hill, he had to climb it.
David and I had done a few training walks around the village, In Rutland and Norfolk and we have a similar pace, but we had not done any serious hill-climbing because there are no serious hills to climb. I found that David walks uphill slightly faster than me, so the trick is to get in front and set the pace if it's a steep climb.
The coast is quite stunning with steep cliffs and lots of nesting birds packed onto ledges. We'd been going a couple of miles when we were passed on the coast path by a man and woman, who we were later to get to know much better, called Karen and Jess. That first section along the coast took much longer than expected which was the story of the walk. A couple of miles around Toneham takes 40 minutes, but on the walk, we'd see a sign saying one mile to a particular point and after half an hour we might see it in the distance. Cumbria and (especially) Yorkshire miles seem twice the length of Cambridgeshire miles.
The path eventually turns inland through a couple of villages and then along an old railway track for a couple of miles. We found old railway tracks a little haven of easy walking later in the journey and this one allowed us to put on some distance with minimal effort. As we approached the first village (Sandwith) we were passed by two men and a woman, who were steaming on. As we came around a bend, I found a pair of gloves on the road obviously dropped by the woman. They were just about in earshot and she came jogging back. It turns out they were walking the C2C for the fourth time having already done it twice west to east and once east to west.
David is good with a map. His life as a farmer seems to have given him an appreciation of the countryside and he manages to get his bearings better than I do. We successfully navigated our first bog and ate some lunch at the church in Cleator sat in a little cloister on a stone slab. David went to his pack and pulled out a couple of foam pads to sit on - he is well prepared! We'd got a packed lunch from our first landlady and it was clear we were not going to manage to eat it all. I have found before that on a long day's walking, all I want in the middle is an energy bar or a biscuit and some fluids. Four rounds of ham salad sandwiches is too much.
The landlady at St Bees had told us there was a single woman called Juliet who would be completing the walk that day from east to west and so we spent the whole day looking (in vain) for Juliet.
David at the top of Dent Hill
After Cleator, we had our first major climb of the walk. At 344m, Dent Hill is not much of a challenge, but everyone talked about it. I enjoyed the walk up - a long, even climb with the views opening out around us. We had a good view of the sea, Isle of Man, the nuclear plant at Windscale and the Lakeland fells where we would be walking for the next few days. Frustratingly, after five hours walking, St Bees still seemed only a stone's throw away. On top of Dent Hill, we met two Liverpudlian women in their early 50s, who were doing the walk.
If the walk up Dent Hill had been comfortable, the walk down at the side of Raven Crag into the steep valley of Nannycatch Beck was less so. It is very steep and there's no clear path. Thankfully, the weather was dry and sunny; in the rain it would be a nightmare. David's right knee was hurting. He'd tweaked it on the walk down into Cleator before lunch and it was now troubling him badly. He had insisted on bringing his favourite walking stick with him, a beautiful long, heavy wooden stick with a twisted wood handle and brass tip. It's great for carrying around the farm, but (in my view) too heavy and unbalancing for long-distance walks. I lent him my poles for the descent and we made it down OK, but an injury like that was a worry on day one of the walk.
The last four miles into Ennerdale are an easy walk along the side of Nannycatch Beck and then alongside a minor road for a while. I stopped to talk to a woman with an old springer spaniel. She was providing some support to her son and daughter-in-law, who were doing the walk but camping and carrying (hardcore). She and her husband had a camper van and were providing the odd tent-free night for them. She was quite anxious that they hadn't passed two footsore old men as they were "very good walkers" and we left her worrying like only a mother can. Half a mile down the road, dad was sitting on a bench. "They'll turn up soon," he said.
In Ennerdale, the first building we came to was a new cafe that had opened only a few weeks earlier. We had been heading for the pub, but we decided a cup of tea would be better. The cafe would not have been out of place in Shoreditch, with more types of fancy tea than you could imagine and no tea-bags allowed. Teapots with a little pouch for loose tea were delivered (slowly) to your table and each came with a set of fancy sand-glasses which you turned over as the tea arrived. There were three timers, for weak, medium or strong. I'd have liked a spoon to give it all a good stir! Infusion needs agitation in my book.
That night we were staying at Rowrah Hall, about three miles from Ennerdale and the arrangement was that we'd call from Ennerdale and be picked up. Our landlady (Maggie) arrived in a Jaguar estate and we gave the two Liverpool girls a lift to Rowrah where they were also staying (in the Swan). Rowrah Hall was a lovely place and Maggie (another Liverpudlian) was living the good life - she kept hens, bees, grew her own veg and made her own cakes, biscuits and granola. Our accommodation was self-contained at the side of the main building and comprised a lounge and kitchen downstairs and bedroom plus bathroom upstairs. It was probably our best B&B of the trip. That night, at Maggie's recommendation, we ate at The Hound Inn (prawn salad) and downed a few pints of Black Sheep.
Rowrah Hall - possibly the best B&B of the trip