Coast to Coast

Day Zero - 21st April 2011: Home to St Bees

Day Zero started with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. As a child I had been given Wainwright on the Pennine Way by my mother. A seed had been sown regarding walking a long distance path but I never thought I would actually do one. But as the years past, walking, and a love of mountains and the countryside, along with a wife that shared my love of all these things, it was only a matter of time before we would push the boundaries a little more. We had become fairly experienced hill walkers, the Lake District and Scotland having almost become our second home, visiting as often as time and money would allow. We had the SDW under our belts but this walk was double the distance. But now the daunting task of walking across England had well and truly arrived, there was no going back.

We were carrying all our own gear so everything had to be pared down to a realistic minimum. We were aware that there were bag carrying operators but we had always carried our own and we enjoyed the freedom it brought. We felt that as long as our fitness was good enough, the fact of carrying all our own gear would give us an additional sense of achievement. We would be staying at B&B’s or pubs along the way rather than camping so not totally mad!

The previous evening had been spent collecting up all the items we would need for our walk. We had already completed many dummy packs and for the last few full day training sessions we had carried exactly what we would be carrying on the trip – even down to toothbrushes! Some would say that this was a little over the top but our reasoning was that at least there would be no nasty surprises (weight wise) when we packed for the real thing. The packing itself had become second nature to us but even now, as we checked and re-checked the list, the thought was still there as to whether we had missed anything vital. We had checked the immediate and long range weather forecasts and although both were good we would still pack everything in Dry Bags, so again, the ability to pack on autopilot was instilled from day one.

So, on the morning of departure we very quickly packed our packs and in no time at all we were ready for the off – or were we? On packing my t-shirts I realised that, somehow, although it had been washed, there was a stain. There was nothing for it but to get it washed and quickly. With the stain removed, it was hung out to dry. Surely this quick drying, wicking piece of material would dry in time; we had a couple of hours, no problem. I was taking 3 technical t-shirts, which was quite fortunate, as that was all I owned. Therefore, I had no option but to get it washed as we didn’t know what opportunities we would have to do any washing on the route. There was absolutely no point in taking something dirty which we might not ever be able to clean, we just didn’t have that luxury.

Breakfast was filling but we also tried to make it relatively healthy. The reports we had read, constantly mentioned the Full English and although being a fan, thought it prudent to put them off until we were faced with the inevitable. Stomach’s charged we had one further thing to do. We had decided to make a video diary, of sorts. We had done the same on the SDW and while it did make us cringe a little, it was certainly worth doing. We didn’t want to make it too stiff and starchy and hoped that as the days progressed we would become a little more natural. But, on that first morning, we decided to pose and speak directly to, the camera. Self conscious yes, tongue tied certainly, but we did it. We would of course improve, we told ourselves.

One final check of the house, a quick good-bye to Freddie the cat and Dave our 22yr old son, who unsurprisingly was still in bed, and we were on our way. The walk to the station took all of 15 minutes. We felt comfortable with our packs and boots; they had grown to be part of us over the past few months of training. About half way to the station I realised that the washed and still wet (so much for quick drying material) t-shirt was still hanging up in our house. Panic set in, as we definitely had to make the train, or else all our connections would fail. We continued walking to the station and called our son from our mobile who, eventually, woke up and answered the phone. He would have to grab the t-shirt and a plastic bag (as it was still wet), jump in his car and drive to meet us. We didn’t hold out too much hope, as we were getting very near the station but then there he was in his Gti pulling up along side us. After another set of goodbyes and a great many thanks, we arrived at Haywards Heath station, found the right platform and awaited the first of 5 trains that would take us to our destination of St Bees.

Being used to the packed daily commute is was nice to be able to relax in a carriage that was relatively empty. We arrived at London Victoria on time and then had to sort out our tickets for the underground to get us across London. This being the Thursday before Easter the concourse was packed and all ticket machines and offices had queues a mile long. We decided to try the Underground ticket offices and joined the crowds. The queues were only marginally better but in reality it wasn’t too long before we had our tickets and we were off again. I was starting to worry a little as we didn’t have that long to get across London and pick up the next train from London Euston. In the event we had plenty of time and I was chastised for my barely concealed panic from Rachel. Arriving at Euston we were met with a promotional freebee of a couple of corner yoghurts each – result! Feeling peckish we had one each and saved the other for later.

Back in commuter mode I was champing at the bit for the Euston to Lancaster train to arrive. A queue had formed at the gate and I felt that we should be at the front of it. Rachel didn’t feel the need, especially since we had reserved seats, so to be fair she did have a very good point! The train arrived and they were off. Passengers started running along the platform as if their life depended on it, trying to bag the best seat. So, did I join them? Put it this way I was walking very fast, Rachel was some way behind me trying to catch up, but I was not running, promise. Having found our seats we deposited our packs in the luggage racks and settled down for a relaxing trip to Lancaster. All the seats in our carriage were reserved although a few were empty.

However, our peace was shattered when a family arrived, breathless, angry and dragging bags into our carriage. It appeared that they had not booked any seats and walked through the whole train to try and find some. In desperation the father decided that he was going to occupy the 4 remaining (albeit reserved) seats in our carriage and that, was that. He then proceeded to rant and rave about the system and why he hadn’t been told to reserve seats. When we left at Lancaster they were still in the seats, whether they made it all the way to their destination without being ejected, we will never know. It made us laugh and provided us with some entertainment.

The train arrived late and we missed our connection to Carlisle. There was quite a bit of confusion and station staff seemed unable to tell us what was going on. Eventually a train did came in and we clambered aboard what was an already very full train. Fortunately, at Oxenholme a large quantity of passengers, all clasping back packs and a selection of bikes, left the service and we could all spread out a bit, but we still had to stand. Our slow progress eventually brought us to Carlisle where a long wait ensued as our schedule was now well and truly up the creek. The train we were waiting for was the last train of the day to St Bees so we really did need to get on it. On time, the 2 carriage train came into view. Then to our amazement one carriage was removed, we would be going to St Bees in a one carriage train! However, we would have to wait a little longer as a man had been taken unwell in the train and we were unable to board. After about 15 minutes he was removed from the train and appeared to be rather drunk, as opposed to unwell. We were standing at one end of the carriage by a door which was locked so when everyone started boarding the other end we thought that we would have to stand the whole way. Miraculously a local lad felt underneath the carriage and found a manual override and so our doors opened and we managed to get a seat.

Our little train chugged its way around the coastline, stopping at every station until we reached our destination of St Bees. We had been struck by just how different the area from Carlisle to St Bees was compared to the touristy areas of Cumbria. If there was ever an area in need of regeneration it was here. It had been an eventful day and we had made it just before 7pm about an hour and a half late. No harm done but we were ready for a chance to relax a little before finding somewhere to eat.

We found our accommodation at Stonehouse Farm very easily and were shown to an attic room which was fine giving great views through the dormer window looking out over to St Bees Head, our first climb in the morning. We subsequently found out that we should have been allocated another, larger, room but it wasn’t a problem. After freshening up we had a wander up the hill to find somewhere to eat and decided upon the Queen’s Hotel which ended up being very good. When fully fed and watered we returned to our B&B and turned in for the night.


Stonehouse Farm

 

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