Coast to Coast - East to West 2006

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 8 - Days 13 & 14 - Ennerdale Bridge to St Bees and Home


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Day 13 - Saturday 17th June - 14.3 miles - 1,900 ft ascent

Ennerdale Bridge to St Bees

Breakfast was at 8.00, and I joined two other chaps staying there, who were walking the Coast to Coast in 16 days, but with quite a few of their own detours and variants, as they had done the walk before four years ago. I had asked for a packed lunch, which the landlady didn’t do, though she said that the pub would make one for me. However, on reflection, I realised that I would be going through Cleator at lunchtime, so there would be no need of one. When I set off at 9.15, it was overcast, but warm and with a few patches of blue sky here and there.

The route follows the road for one and a half miles but, for much of the way, there was a recently built footpath beside the road making it much better for walking. There was a gradual climb up to moors and to Kinniside Stone Circle with views ahead of Dent Hill, and behind to the fells around Ennerdale. From there a path leads down along Nannycatch Beck, an attractive little valley, before ascending Dent Hill. I had a short break overlooking Nannycatch, as I was already feeling hot and a little weary from yesterday’s exertions. Towards the end of yesterday’s walk, when I was pressing on at a fast pace, I started to feel very sore where the bottom of my rucksack was rubbing against my back. It was still sore this morning, but I was hoping that the easier day’s walk would not make it any worse. This is another problem that occurs when trying to go too quickly; there is much more strain on everything, and much more chance of doing harm or having an accident than is the case when progressing at a steady rate. Ankles can be twisted, blisters caused, slipping or tripping can occur, and muscles can be strained. Fortunately, however, my problem was only minor, and did improve as the day went on.

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Nannycatch Beck, at the base of Dent Hill
Nannycatch Beck

The climb up to the ridge of Dent Hill was very steep, so I took it steadily with several short stops, turning back each time to look at the view down into Nannycatch below and over to the Lakeland fells in the distance. At last the slope eased off and the rest of the way was much more gentle. As I reached the forest road near the top, I noticed that one of the Coast to Coast signs had recently been changed to point in the opposite direction, presumably to divert the route down an easier forest road rather than going the steep way that I had taken. At the summit I stopped for another look back to the Lakeland Fells, which I would not be visiting for some time, and across to my final destination on the coast, with the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant prominent further south and the towns of Egremont and Cleator Moor down below. It was rather hazy by the coast, so rather than seeing the sea, all I could make out was a grey void beyond the land. To most Coast to Coast walkers this is their first good sighting of the mountains ahead, though some of them can be seen from St Bees Head, whereas for me it was the reverse, as my walk was drawing to a close and it was time to bid them farewell.

There was a steady path down from the hill leading into the forestry plantation below, where a concessionary path had been waymarked, but was rather difficult to negotiate in places because of overhanging branches from nearby trees. As I reached the bottom, I put on my glasses to check the guidebook and found that everything looked blurred. One of the lenses had dropped out, presumably when I was setting off from Dent Hill. I could still use one eye, but it took some getting used to at first. I had a spare pair at home, and I would soon finish the walk, so it was not too much of a disaster, but still a bit of a nuisance.

Making my way into Cleator, I was pleased to see that it didn't look as grim as when I walked through here 14 years ago, there being some new housing developments and a facelift had been given to many of the existing houses. There was a shop there where I was able to get something for lunch. There was also a pub and, had it had a beer garden, I may have been tempted in to having a pint, as it was relatively easy walking for the rest of the day, but the pub faced right onto the narrow street, so I didn't bother. On towards Moor Row, where there was also a shop, there were a series of kissing gates that were definitely not designed with rucksacks in mind, and I had to twist and turn until I managed to find a position where I could squeeze through. I met a few Coast to Coast walkers on the way, enthusiastic on the first day of their walk, then it just dawned on me that I could ask someone to look for the lens from my glasses as they passed Dent Hill summit. It was just an off chance, but it was worth a try.

I stopped for a lunch break in a field near Stanley Pond, though it was difficult to see much of the pond from there. Three walkers came by, so I decided to ask them to look for my lens, giving them my address in case they managed to find it. Unfortunately nothing came of this, but it was still worth a try. By now, the weather was rather sultry with a few spots of rain but nothing worth worrying about at the moment. Another series of lanes led to the road into Sandwith, and thence along the lighthouse access road before branching off on a lane to the cliffs overlooking Saltom Bay and the Irish Sea. All that remained now, having reached the opposite coast, was to walk around St Bees Head to the finish at St Bees. Despite the distant haze, some of the hills of the Southern Uplands were just visible.

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Red sandstone cliffs towards Saltom Bay and Whitehaven
Cliffs towards Saltom Bay
Fleswick Bay from St Bees Head
Fleswick Bay
St Bees, the finish of the walk, from cliffs
Finish at St Bees

Though the section of the walk from Dent Hill to the coast had not been the most exciting, it was, nevertheless, quite enjoyable with pleasant countryside and views back to the Lakeland fells in many places. St Bees Head being a large, rounded headland, there were not very many places giving good views of the cliffs, though there were one or two bays and also a few viewing platforms, mainly intended for bird watchers. I stopped for a rest just before Fleswick Bay, where I met another walker, who was striding briskly up the hill with a large rucksack on his back. He was just looking for the camping barn at Sandwith and was linking up a series of long distance walks. Having just walked the Cumbria Way, he had come round the coast to join the Coast to Coast and then would join up with other walks. He had already done a walk round the coast of Britain a few years ago, which is a considerable feat. Fleswick Bay gave some good views of the very red sandstone cliffs of this area and shortly afterwards my destination came into sight.

There were a lot of holidaymakers about, some of them walking along the cliff path, and also a large gathering of smartly dressed people by the sea. No, it was not a reception committee awaiting my arrival, but some sort of baptism ceremony in which a girl was being immersed in the sea. I performed my own ceremony by dipping my boots discretely in the sea, but not too deeply, as they were at the end of their life and had developed a crack right through the leather. Searching everywhere for my pebble from Robin Hood’s Bay, I realised that I must have lost it somewhere along the way. There were plenty here already, so I decided against going back for another one!

After phoning home, I found my B&B, where I had a nice bath before going out for a few pints and something to eat. I had hoped that I might find some way to get out of St Bees tomorrow by public transport, but the system has conspired against anyone wishing to leave on a Sunday. It just meant that my daughter would have to come to collect me by car, and I couldn't even get part of the way to meet her. I went down the road to the Coast to Coast bar in the Manor House Hotel, where I had a very good and reasonably priced meal of chicken, bacon and mushroom pie followed by rice pudding, along with a few pints of Theakston's Black Bull to celebrate the end of the walk. There were not many who looked like Coast to Coast walkers in there, though there was one group of four who left shortly after I arrived. It was then back to watch television before falling asleep.


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Day 14 - Friday 18th June

Return Home from St Bees

Everything was very quiet in St Bees on Sunday morning, and I could easily have been late for breakfast, thinking it was still early because of the grey sky and lack of traffic. I had asked for breakfast at 8.30, and it was already 8.15 when I looked at the time. Nobody else was staying there, so I had breakfast on my own before making my way down to the seafront, where I watched a number of people setting off up the cliffs at the start of their walk in the cool and dreary weather. It didn't make me feel too bad about the walk being over in these conditions, whereas a nice sunny day would have made me want to carry on walking. I had quite a while to wait for my daughter to arrive, and the weather got progressively worse, so I adjourned from my position in a shelter by the sea to the nearby café for a pot of tea. Then I walked around to the church, which has a lovely arched entrance of local red sandstone.

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Ornately carved west doorway of Priory Church, St Bees
Priory Church, St Bees

Back at the seafront, my daughter finally arrived dressed in a flimsy summer dress, as it had been warm when she set off from Wales, whereas here there was the combination of a cold, strong wind and rain, so she had to make a quick dash to the nearby hotel by the beach, where we had lunch. The weather continued to get worse as we made our way back home, and I felt rather sorry for those walkers who were out in it, especially up in the mountains. I considered myself to be very lucky for having picked a time when the weather was so good for most of the walk.


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Afterthoughts

I think I made the right decision to walk the Coast to Coast in reverse this time, partly because of the build up towards the Lake District mountains and partly to make it a bit different from before. I felt I could fully appreciate the gentler scenery in the earlier parts of the walk, which I hadn’t done to the same extent when this came near the end. However, I tend to find this happens on the second time a walk is undertaken, as there are no false expectations of what is to come, as it has all been seen before and can be appreciated for what it is.

It was also quite true on this occasion that there were far more days when the wind was easterly rather than westerly, although it was also true that the westerly wind was more likely to come with any bad weather. In any case, I didn’t find the wind direction to be a significant factor, though it may have been different had I had more bad weather than I did. Wainwright’s other point was that it is more logical (unless you are Chinese) to follow a map from left to right, rather than right to left, which is true to a certain extent, but not a significant enough reason to influence the choice of direction, as it is quite easy to get used to going from right to left.

I was amazed at just how popular this walk has become, with Americans, Australians, Germans, Dutch and several other nationalities outnumbering the British walkers. I can only assume that the BBC documentary about the walk made some years before Wainwright’s death must have been televised in a lot of countries around the world. I often find this time of year reasonably quiet for walking, so what it must be like in the school holidays, I dread to think. However, there tends to be a different profile of person walking at this time of the year, generally retired and often over 60 or even over 70. Because of this, they tend to take the easier options, using baggage transfer services and staying at B&Bs, whereas in the school holidays there are far more young people walking, usually backpacking with camping gear to keep down the cost. Nevertheless, there were still some of the older people who were backpacking and walking considerable distances each day, despite having a lot of weight to carry.

One drawback with walking the opposite way is that most people are only encountered very briefly, without the chance of building up any friendship or camaraderie. At first, I tended to stop for a brief chat with many of them, but very soon got fed up and just gave most of them a cheery greeting and went on my way. The few people with whom I developed more of a rapport, were the few who were walking in the same direction as me, and whom I met on several occasions.

The weather was remarkably good for my walk, and a lot better than would normally be expected, though the heat became a problem at times, particularly in low lying areas. However, I would still rather put up with this for the difference that the sunshine made to the scenery and for photography. The only pity was that there was not so much sunshine in the Lake District, where it would have added a sparkle to the spectacular scenery, but even there I had a reasonable amount of sunshine at certain times. Throughout the whole walk, I only wore my waterproofs for about two hours, and most of that time the rain was not very heavy. The only time I was engulfed in mist was over Great Gable, and that was not on the Coast to Coast route anyway, and the only time I got my feet wet to any degree was when I slipped whilst crossing the River Swale. I didn’t suffer a single blister throughout the walk, and I think that having dry feet helped with that to some degree.

I thought that I had had a few problems booking accommodation two months before the walk, but found that many people had booked much earlier and still had problems because there were so many people doing the walk and only a limited amount of accommodation in many places. Some organised walking groups use minibuses to ferry people between the start and finish of each stage of the walk and accommodation, wherever it is available. This gives far more flexibility and allows the use of accommodation in larger towns, or at some of the youth hostels, where more is available.

I am still of the opinion that this is a very good walk, though it does have a bit too much road walking in places for my liking, but this is compensated for by some of the excellent scenery en-route, especially in the Lake District, where optional high level routes can be followed to make it even better, provided time is allowed to include this. I always feel that it is a waste to try to cross the Lake District in too short a time, as there can be much more enjoyment by taking a little longer to make the most of it. The walk is not about trying to do as many miles as possible each day, far better to walk it in more comfortable sections so that there is not the constant need to press on and on.

Upon my return to normal, everyday life, if you can describe running a hotel as normal, I entered the usual phase of weariness and lethargy that I have become accustomed to accept at the end of each walk. Whilst walking, it is possible to get up each morning and tackle another full, and often strenuous, day’s walk without too many problems, and this can continue for as long as the walk lasts. However, as soon as this comes to a halt, the body seems to go into a different mode whereby it decides to go on strike until such time as it feels fully recovered from its exertions. When I first started long distance walking, this recovery time would last roughly as long as the walk itself, especially if I gave in and didn’t do much exercise. In later walks, the recovery time has been reduced considerably, which I attribute in part to the fact I have got more used to these walks and am, in many ways, fitter than I used to be, but also to the fact that I try to make myself do some exercise, even if I don’t feel like it at the time. In this respect, the dog helps considerably as, having been deprived of walks whilst I have been away, he is all the keener to drag me out once I return. This year, my recovery period was about three days, after which I started to feel reasonably energetic again, with only occasional lapses into lethargy after that.

Another problem that is often encountered is that of overeating after a walk. During the walk, it is possible to eat a large amount of food without any worry about gaining weight, as all the calories and more besides can be burned off by the exercise. Upon completion of the walk, it is all too easy to continue eating in the same way without doing anything to use up the energy. The result can quite easily be a rapid regaining of all the weight lost plus more besides. I find, now that I am older, this is not so much of a problem, as I can no longer eat large quantities of food, even when I am using a lot of energy, but when I first started long distance walking fifteen years ago, it was a different matter, and I soon had to take steps to avoid putting on extra weight.


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