(15th March 2013 – 14 ½ miles + 1 mile from St Bees + 2 unintentional miles)
My big fear for my first day on the Coast to Coast was that it would rain; and then continue raining for the next twelve days. Sure enough, on waking at my St Bees B&B, yawning, scratching my head, throwing back the covers and blearily pulling back the curtains, it was absolutely … tipping … it … down.
I sighed, dressed, ate breakfast, looked out of the window (still raining), tied up my boots, hauled on my waterproofs, sighed, fastened the rain cover onto my rucksack and walked to the beach and the Start Of The Walk.
I dipped my boot in a salt-water pool (a tradition suggested by Wainwright – to be followed by a dipping at Robin Hood’s Bay), found a small pebble to throw into the sea at RHB (a tradition started by … who knows), put the pebble in my pocket. It clunked against metal. I fished about and found my room key. I sighed, walked the mile or so back to the B&B, returned the key, sighed, turned about and walked back to the beach.
Right. Three miles under my belt and ready to start.
I stopped by the information board at the official start, took a deep breath
and studied the route. Goodness, but what a long, long way stretched before me. Today, the first twelfth of the route, would only get me as far as Ennerdale Bridge. Barely a finger length.
I’ve walked this first stage of the C2C before, in similar weather, and I can’t honestly say that the prospect of walking it again enthralled me. It’s an OK day’s walk, I think, but hardly an OMG-this-is-amazing kind of day. Still, less moaning more walking (and actually I enjoyed it more than I had expected).
Initially, and after a quick climb, the path follows the cliffs northwards to St Bees Head – a slippery, slidey path that slowed me right down and, on one occasion, sent me sprawling in a cloud of foul language.
The rain continued to fall as I traipsed along the coast, splattering my lens whenever I stopped to take a photo.
There are several RSPB viewing stations on the cliffs. From one I looked down on a guillemot colony clinging precariously to the cliffs. Doesn’t seem much of a life.
I’d not seen guillemot before nor hipster razorbills, both unfazed by my presence.
The last time I walked this stretch of path between St Bees and Dent, I got a little lost. Today, I consulted my guidebook often and was grateful for the occasional signage too.
After leaving the cliffs, the path turns abruptly to the right and heads off in the proper direction: eastwards towards Robin Hood’s Bay. But as cheering as that might have been, I still had the dreary towns of Moor Row and Cleator to get through.
I popped into a shop in Cleator, which despite the sign outside, boasted a large tray of freshly baked pies on the counter. I worried about their advertising acumen but didn’t like to say anything. Being English. If you’re in need of pie in Cleator don’t believe all that you might read.
All that rain had turned parts of the path to soup; soup with another helpful sign.
Beyond Cleator, and after about 11 miles, I began the first long climb of the walk: Dent Hill (1131 feet). My back began to ache with the weight of my 30lb rucksack.
With plenty more mud
and enclosed by dark, dank Forestry Commission plantations this was warm, slow work.
But at last, I emerged from the close conifers onto the open flank of Dent. The rain had stopped and I even had views: back to the Irish Sea and the miles I’d already covered.
From the summit of Dent, the view forward to the Lakeland fells is a fine one. But not today. As I approached the summit, I walked into low cloud and lost those shortlived views. This was my second ascent of Dent and my second in mist with no views whatsoever. And then in December 2014, I climbed Dent for a third time … in thick mist.
After the summit, I came back down below the cloud layer to descend the far, steep, slippery slope into Nannycatch Valley – but try as I might I couldn’t. She was fleet.
The walk alongside Nannycatch Beck is a pleasant one and, as it was only about 3.30pm, I slowed down as I approached the end of the first day,
following more unofficial signs.
With my day’s walk almost complete, as late reward, the sun came out and showed me the way ahead tomorrow: through that gap in the fells to Ennerdale and Lakeland proper.
I walked into the pretty village of Ennerdale Bridge and booked into The Shepherd’s Arms – my comfortable stop for the night. And if that evening, my room hadn’t filled with cooking fumes from the kitchen below, well it would’ve been perfect.