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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.