The latest travel news, interviews, traveller reviews, inspiration & advice on cycling and walking holidays in the UK and Europe..
Return to Blog Home >>
Ennerdale Bridge to Stonethwaite - Will Copestake - Coast to Coast Day 3
Fuelled on the biggest fried breakfast I have had in a long time I left the Shepherds Arms hotel with more of a waddle than a walk. Almost immediately I was walking alongside another, he was on his way to work on maintaining the trail ahead. Several people had advised along the road to take the northern side of Ennerdale water and follow the forestry track, the south trail (the original route) is terrible they would add with warning. There were a large group ahead and a steady procession of fellow hikers in procession to the southern side, ignoring the warnings I joined them.
Contrary to advice the track was superb, it was wide well gravelled and initially very dry. A few hundred meters along the loch was an optional fork ascending 100m to the top of a small spur, it would mean detouring a tiny fraction off the trail but in reward a spectacular vista awaited.
The track on the way up
Sure enough from the top where the grassy slope gave way to craggy buttresses and near shear drops to the track below the view was remarkable. Looking to the far end of Ennerdale lake which shone dazzlingly bright under beams of sunlight striking through the cloud I could see the valley to which I would walk. Below hikers wandered like ants along the little trail toward the end.
A short stumbling slide back to the path and I was again walking in company. Filtering between groups of young cadets, D.O.E groups, middle aged hikers and young ramblers there was always the chance to seek social hiking rather than alone. A steady stream of Thank yous were passed to the maintenance team as we teetered past in turn.
Following in gentle undulations the trail followed the waters edge, it gently lapped on the shore and scattered in cats paws under gusts from above. From a sheltered vantage in warm dappled sunlight beneath a birch wood the cool water looked inviting. Thankfully the endless puddles and already soggy boots were a keen reminder of how cold it really was.
Arriving at the end of the Lake I sat to enjoy a snack and make a tough choice. Ahead the trail would split into two equally enticing options. Option A: The lowland route, or Option B: The high route.
My instinct urged to clamber high and relish the views over the valley from the craggy ridge line, unfortunately there would be no view. The ridge was a thick band of cloud shrouding the summit out of view, it would of course be more challenging than the valley but also would leave little but mist to the memories. Instead I opted to tackle the forestry trails leading through the woods, the original and more trekked alternative.
The route described in the guide a ‘a long plod’ seemed to under appreciate a different beauty in the woodland walk. Keenly glancing through the mossy trees in search of a red squirrel which remains in a final stronghold in the Ennerdale valley I ambled on.
Although no squirrels appeared I was delighted to see a Jay fly past with a burst of blue in its wing, waterfalls rumbled through gaps in the trees. The Pillar, a huge rocky buttress and popular climb dominated the skyline above through wisps of mist, there was a certain temptation to try and reach the top but I reminded myself there was still quite a way to go.
Fun for the whole family
Again in company with a group of friendly middle aged hikers I emerged from the trees to settle in the shelter behind Black Sail YHA. It is one of the more remote youth hostels and had a wonderfully wild feel about it, the small stone home reminded me of the much loved Scottish Bothies. Sipping a cup of tea from my flask I gazed around at the mountains, they seemed to surround us entirely looming over the valley floor with their craggy scree covered slopes.
Of course the steep surrounding slopes meant one thing, it was time to climb. A short section of steep ascent on superbly laid steps lead upward to the northern ridge. As I climbed I was delighted to watch the cloud suddenly part before disappearing entirely from the ridges to the west. I could see delighted walkers one by one scrambling down the high route ecstatically looking around to the view.
I too was high upon the ridge, the rewarding view from the steep ridges down to the lakes below was well worth the effort to climb the steps. It was somewhat similar to Scotland only more vibrant in colour. Cairns lead the way ever five to ten meters, it would be difficult to get lost along the wide and well trodden trail leading toward the descent to Borrowdale.
Strung out in little groups were numerous other walkers to lead the way down to Honister quarry. Grass turned to slate underfoot as the path widened. Far below black and white sheep dotted the fields which in the words of one young girl looked ‘like rice crispies and coco pops.’
Honister quarry was filled with cars, people and the sound of still running slate cutters slicing through the rock behind closed doors. Filtration pools, shattered stone and a small iron train dotted the carpark outside. To my surprise there was a cafe inside which prompted a cheeky stop for tea and cake.
Contentedly refuelled I set off with nothing but a gentle amble down the hill to the valley floor before reaching camp. I joined another Duke of Edinburgh group who were also heading to the grass below for a well deserved rest. It was a pleasure to walk and talk while taking in the increasingly stunning views as the little town of Seatoller approached.
Seatoller was a quiet little town, its white walled stone houses nestled amongst the trees as if they had belonged there as long as the landscape itself. We giggled at the sight of some baby lambs in the field,amusing not for their playful bounds but for their attire. You can tell it is one of the wettest places in England when the lambs wear raincoats…yes really, little orange raincoats! Check out the pic at the top of this post.
We parted ways and following the road along tall stone walls I ventured onto a final gravel track into Stonethwaite itself. A small narrow road wound between the tall stone farm houses, above the crags hung over the town which seemed tiny in their impressive stature. The Knott B&B was where I sheltered for the night, a wonderfully rustic country house which more like a home than a hotel. Just down the road was the Lanstrath Country House Inn which waited for a well earned pint and the best barman sense of humour I have ever seen.
St.Bees to Ennerdale Bridge Will Copestake on the Coast to Coast Walk: Day 2
Rain pattered on the windowsill outside Fairladies barn. Devouring a full English breakfast to prepare myself for my first days walk I scanned my route on the map at the table.
My day would begin following the coast to St.Bees lighthouse before heading inland toward the lake district hills. Despite the rain the visibility was good, after so long in the hills I was excited to follow along cliffs and take in the salt air once more.
I crammed on fresh dry boots and flung my wonderfully light bag onto my shoulder, it was the first time I had ever had the luxury of baggage transfers between 'camps' beaming ear to ear I thought, I could get used to this! as I left.
Leaving Fairladies Barn in the rain
Following along the same road I had wandered the night before I passed the Queens pub and splashed through puddles past the Priory. It's red sandstone walls which had stood since the 12th century poured rainwater from high above onto mossy gravestones in the gardens. This was the turning point to the coast and where I would leave the roadside.
Just 1km into my journey and my boots were blissfully caked in a thick red mud. Hopping onto the coastal promenade I clattered through rounded pebbles as I aimed toward a narrow ribbon like path leading to the top of the cliffs.
Out at sea waves rolled in with a rhythmic thunder over a wide expanse of sand. Far in the horizon the Isle of Man drifted to and fro from the mist. As per tradition with some hikers I grabbed a small pebble to carry with me on the journey ahead as I past the "Mile 0" mark on the map.
Looking back to St. Bees
From the higher vantage of St.Bees head I looked out to the south to what seemed an endless ribbon of surf on the shore. Looking inland rolling green pasture gently undulated into a deep blue cloud far on the distant horizon. The towering cliffs at the edge of the trail reach up to 90m (300ft) high, far below fulmars, guillemots and Cormorants soared through the rain between exploding waves over rocky platforms beneath. I was escorted from my final view of the start by a ewe and her lamb, from here on I was aiming toward St.Bees lighthouse ahead.
Last view of town.
St.Bees lighthouse stood white like a pearl on the thin ribbon of cliffs, I have always like the look of the traditional stone lighthouse, it reminded me of its counterpart on the Mull of Galloway which on a good day would be visible to the north across the Solway Firth. The lighthouse serves as a a mark to warn ships to change their course, for the coast to coast hiker the prominent structure signals the final stretch of coastal cliffs and the time to turn inland.
The smell of salt in the air was quickly swallowed with pasture and farmyards. I wandered along a narrow track into the rolling hills to arrive at Sandwith the first small settlement since leaving St.Bees. I was not alone, a large group also walking the trail had joined from behind, they were attempting the entire crossing in 12 days to raise funds a Golden Ambulance Appeal. Soon after we met another couple also walking the trail. Compared to Scotland this suddenly felt like a busy road, but this was by no means a bad thing. We were all doing the same way, and could filter between each other to enter each as strangers but all arrive at our destination as friends.
Our newfound partnership became somewhat useful as we navigated a particularly boggy section known as Stanley's Pond. We split into two groups and I with the couple headed off on route toward a nearby track while the larger group forged their own trail elsewhere. We laughed, joked and sang 'Mud glorious mud' as we squelched our way onto the disused railway track leading to Moor Row.
Seeking the path least boggy past Stanley's Pond
Regular yellow arrows marked the route wherever I went making navigation easier. Occasional signs or large spray painted boulders read C2C (Coast To Coast). Hopping over a few fields via some wide gravel tacks I stopped in the next town of Cleator for a steak pie at the local Family shop.
A more rustic approach
It was time to tackle the first hill of the journey. Dent stood 346m high over the rolling fields all around, in my head I told myself it was the same as the average difference between two Scottish Munros on a ridge and plodded upward toward the woods.
To my delight as I entered a thick forestry plantation and crunched my way along the gravel road I watched the mist ascend from the summit above. Hope of a view suddenly rose.
Passing through the lush woodland.
Emerging from the dense canopy onto the final hundred meters of open grassy ascent I was amazed to find sunshine had appeared as if by magic. A cacophony of Skylark fluttered over the fell as if to sing my journey upward. Stopping to admire the view near the summit I gazed out to the Isle of Man and along the coast to the gigantic industrial complex of Sellafield power plant. The view out to the west spanned the route I had taken around the headland and across the pastures, each town seemed tiny in the vast expanse of green. St.Bees looked satisfyingly far from where I sat.
Near the summit
One by one the groups re-appeared from the woodlands, we were soon all chatting over the cairn. A new pair of hikers had arrived in tow and eager to continue we set off together down the far side of the hill.
As described in the guidebooks a steep style took us over a tall deer fence and onto a steep grassy descent from Raven Crag hill. Still wet from the rain my descent was closer to a sloppy attempt at skiing than walking.
Steep slope down
The bottom of the valley at Nannycatch we headed due north up a narrow valley. The river which had swollen vastly in the heavy rainfall seemed to have taken over much of the track and gurgled with a glittering tranquility in the sunlight. The colours had changed in the landscape too, there was less green and more rustic browns as steeper slopes gave way to brackens and shrubs.
The shelter from what breeze there had been meant that the valley seemed remarkably warm, for the first time in months I was walking in a t-shirt.
The path was gentle and wound along beautifully crafted stone walls between the gurgling beck and tall birch trees. Wrens and Robins skipped along the rocks at the tracks edge hoping to find a worm dislodged by our boots. This was the home stretch to Ennerdale bridge and nearing the end of our days hike.
Following the walls
Emerging from the valley into the open fields once more I caught a glance at the Lake district hills for the first time. They looked wonderfully familiar to those of Scotland, they were tall, steep and covered in craggy boulders, scree and heather. In the sunlight they were inviting to venture forth and climb, for now however I was ready to descend to town and rest for the day.
First view of the hills
Following a trail at the side of a small single track road I descended into the quiet town of Ennerdale Bridge.
Track into Ennerdale Bridge
The views from town itself were stunning. Ennerdale seems to sit in a hollow surrounded by hills and mountains alike, watching the sun shining on their faces seemed the perfect way to finish the first and somewhat soggy day.
View Behind Ennerdale Bridge
I arrived at The Shephards Arms hotel to a wonderful welcome, inside my bag delivered while I hiked was waiting in the lobby and behind the next door the bar with a cool pint to end the day in the last of the sunshine. The barman gave promising news The weather in the morning looks like sunshine!...
Arrival in St. Bees - Will Copestake on the Coast to Coast Walk: Day 1
The now popular coast to coast route is the legacy of Alfred Wainwright. Unlike other long distance trails which might follow existing boundaries such as Hadrian's wall or Offa's Dyke his path has no dependence to a single route. The freedom to vary route along a whole range of public rights of way allow an option for whatever mood or when the weather may dictate.
Whisked from my Machair to Munro expedition in the Scottish highlands by train and taxi I arrived in St.Bees to tackle the coast to coast trail. The evening sun lit the little coastal town in a hazy warmth, surf rumbled in the distance and newborn lambs frolicked in the fields nearby. Compared to the cold winter browns of the Scottish Moors the lush green English pastures seemed positively tropical...not to mention the sun!
Taking a short stroll in the evening light to stretch out my legs I ambled to the top of a small hill nearby. The red walls of the local priory stood tall over the narrow streets along the road.
Quiet streets of St. Bees
With a warm welcome by owners Will & Nicola I settled into the Fairladies Barn, the luxurious room far trumps my little green tent.
Searching for somewhere to eat I was directed by Will to The Queen’s Hotel, ‘ Turn right, If you can’t find it you probably shouldn’t be walking the trail’ he chuckled. Sure enough a few hundred meters down the road I stepped inside for a cool ale, surf and turf seemed the perfect way to start the coast to coast.
The Queens Pub
Surf and Turf for a journey from Sea to Pasture
I returned under the glow of the streetlights to the Fairladies with an excited spring in my step. In the morning the hike begins.