Coast to Coast

Day One – 22nd April 2011: St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge – 14.5 miles

So the time had come. There wasn’t any apprehension as we gathered our bits and pieces together. We were totally focused and were keen to get going. We had reached the point of no return, there was no going back, the point of commitment had come and we relished it. All those months of planning and training were now to be tested. Did we feel confident? Yes we did. We didn’t know what lay ahead of us but our preparation could not have been better and so we had every chance of success. So many people do complete the Coast to Coast, but an awful lot don’t and that, for the most part, is due to lack of preparation or knowledge of what they are undertaking. We would meet one or two in the coming days.

Packing complete, we went downstairs for breakfast which was extremely good with a large variety of produce to choose from. As our first Full English passed our lips we struck up conversations with a couple of other walkers. One guy (Single Man) was on a tighter schedule than us, but, we would meet him a couple of days later in Borrowdale, but after that we would be out of sync, I hope he made it. Another rather well to do couple in their mid thirties were taking their dog and they had a special harness for the dog so that he could carry all his own food and water. They had done very little training and seemed blissfully unaware of the terrain they would be travelling over. They seemed to think it would be a doddle and were rather surprised when we began to talk about the route in more detail. We never saw them again and no one else we met on the route mentioned them, so we suspect they didn’t make it.

After a final check of the room and water bottles filled, we made our way out of the B&B and walked up the road to the local store. Our intention was to buy enough supplies to last until Borrowdale as there are no shops in Ennerdale Bridge.

St Bees Post Office & shop

Suitably re-supplied we walked back down the hill, across the railway line and headed towards the sea. After a brief stop to photograph the statue of St Bega we continued roughly west and shortly arrived at the beach. The sun was out with a slight breeze blowing, what a great start to our expedition - and then we realised the tide was out. Tradition dictates that boots are lapped by both the Irish Sea and the North Sea. As we started to walk across the sand, we very soon came across quite a large puddle. I suggested that, as it was bound to be salt water, it was job done, but Rachel was having none of it. It took us ages to get to the waters edge but on turning to one side we were met by another couple (hereafter known as Ebony & Ivory) doing the same thing. After obligatory photographs we set off back across the beach to start the walk proper.

Ready for the off!

But no. We now had to choose our pebbles that we would ceremoniously carry across England before depositing them in Robin Hoods Bay. So we were off. No. Next was the photograph of each of us at the Coast to Coast sign. All this had taken over an hour since leaving the B&B and we were now eager and ready to get on with the task in hand.

We crossed the little footbridge and started the climb up to St Bees Head. There were probably 20 people all making their way upwards, stopping occasionally to catch their breath or take a photo. We too turned around and took a look at St Bees below us, in the distance.

St Bees from South Head

At that point it really struck me that we were actually doing the Coast to Coast, we had started, and this was now very real. We passed a couple of guys, one of which we were to later find out was called Colin. He was doing the walk for Cancer Research with the intention of camping. His pack was huge and he was so small, already he was suffering. At every gate or stile he would have to take his pack off and he and his friend would manhandle it through only for the exercise to be repeated all over again a few hundred yards later on. We would meet Colin again and the signs would not be good.

We made our way down to Fleswick Bay, quite a steep little climb in and out of the gully, before ascending again to reach the lighthouse on our right.

North Head

In the distance we could see Whitehaven but our attention was drawn to the path that went very close to the edge on a number of occasions. Having passed the ‘loneliest seat’ as Wainwright called it, we soon passed the quarry and finally turned inland. We were at last going East but we were still further West than our start point. On reaching Sandwith we decided that our first break was in order. We feel that to keep spirits and energy levels high we would stop every 5 miles or so depending on terrain and conditions. This wasn’t carved in stone and we varied it to suit but it served us well. So Sandwith was our first stop. We found a seat on the green and took out our supplies and happily munched away as tractors trundled by going about their business. As we are seasoned walkers we have got in to the habit of taking our boots off each time we stop. Just a few minutes without boots can make such a difference. It releases the tightness of the boots on feet; it airs and cools your feet as well as drying boots and socks. We needed to make sure that no grit or dirt entered the boots when putting them back on but this very simple technique served us very well and our feet felt re-juvenated each time we put our boots back on. Neither I nor Rachel had any hotspots or blisters for the whole duration of the walk and we are convinced that this regime helped greatly.

Suitably refreshed we arrived at Bell House and could see across the valley in front of us with Dent hill looming large in the distance. We made our way down the hill and under the railway line and past Stanley Pond. This area was a slight worry as many had said that it could be very boggy and route finding a problem. For us, the recent weather had been good and so the ground was firm and the route was easy to follow. We went under the disused railway and arrived at the A595 and the Coast to Coast statue at Moor Row.

Coast to Coast statue

After the obligatory photo we passed through Moor Row village, resisting the charms of the walker’s café and carried on to Cleator. As we got closer we decided that it might be an idea to have a swift half at the pub but on finding it closed continued down to the River Ehen. It was while in Cleator that we met Ebony & Ivory again. They too had met Colin (the big pack man) and were really concerned about his welfare. We all felt that if he was struggling now he would have no chance when he got into the Lake District proper.

Having crossed the river we started the ascent of Dent. Just as the path turns off left to go into the woods we stopped for our second food stop. Boots came off again as we sat in the shade of a tree, the sun having been with us most of the day we were now getting quite warm. A couple of walkers passed us, stopping momentarily to pass the time of day and then were off – we would meet them again later. Rachel had been suffering with a rash to her ankles for the last couple of weeks which was heat related so with our boot regime it certainly helped. She had also been given some cream that needed to be used for the first few days of the walk. Having applied the ointment and socks and boots put back on we returned to the fray. The first part goes through woodland and the path was very boggy in places which needed a detour or two but soon enough we were out of the confines of Blackhow Wood and onto open fell side. Those not used to hills struggle on Dent but after 15 minutes and a bit of a pant the summit cairn was reached. As the crest was reached, the view over Lakeland opened up before us and was so enticing. On a good day like ours the full array of peaks lined up before us and was magical. Behind we could trace much of the route we had taken and we could see St Bees our starting point. But we couldn’t linger as the wind was strong and quite biting although still sunny. From the top we could see our route to Raven Crag via the high, deer fence ladder stile.

Looking back to St Bees from Dent Hill

Lake District from Dent Hill

The infamous decent into the Nannycatch valley (which was re-named Fannythatch – for no particular reason other than we found it funny at the time) lay before us and were eager to see what the problem was – could it really be as bad as everyone says? In a word no, not really. It is steep, but we did have one trekking pole each to help but even so, if taken sensibly, it is no harder or steeper than a lot of hills. On arrival at the bottom we stopped at Nannycatch Beck for a short while and took the opportunity to have a paddle (sans socks and boots) in the stream. It was freezing but fantastic all at the same time, and to be recommended to all, bliss. The same couple that had passed us at the start of the ascent up Dent, caught us up after their rest stop, as we were paddling in the stream. He did make quite a valid point, which was that every time he had seen us we had our boots off and he asked whether some sort of fetish was going on. After some reassurance that we were not completely barking mad we bid them farewell – we would see them just one more time. After a final snack of the day we continued along, up and out of the wonderful valley and soon joined the road that would take us into Ennerdale Bridge.

Nannycatch Valley

Sheep in Nannycatch

We were staying at the Stork Hotel at Rowrah which is a couple of miles away due to the facilities at Ennerdale Bridge being somewhat lacking. The Stork provides a free pick up and return the next morning but we had to remember to phone just before Ennerdale Bridge as mobile reception in the village is non-existent. Having made our call we wandered around the village and found our pick up point, and right on cue our minibus arrived, what service!

The Stork Hotel Rowrah

We had completed our first day of walking and felt in good shape. As we were driven to our B&B thoughts turned to what it would be like, had we made a good choice? We were shown to a room overlooking the road but it was quiet and so didn’t pose a problem. The facilities were good and clean. Our boots were white with dust and not a single lump of mud, they would stay like that for the next fortnight. We unpacked and decided that we would take the opportunity to rinse through a couple of items. We had brought a couple of spare boot laces with us and these were to serve as a makeshift clothes line on more than one occasion. Having scrubbed ourselves and changed our clothes we headed down to the bar to have a pint and peruse the menu. As the alcohol reached our muscles, the tiredness started to creep in, just enough to make us realise that we had just walked 14.5 miles. Our food arrived and we were shown into the dining room. The food was plentiful, hot and tasty. We were eventually joined by a couple of other walkers but by that time we had decided to call it a day and headed to bed. We packed as much as we could and settled down for what would be a good night’s sleep.


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