(Cumbria Way. 15th March 2014 – 15½ miles)
Today was my final day on the Cumbria Way and the one I was least looking forward to. If you ever walk from Ulverston all the way across Cumbria and into the centre of Carlisle, I’ll sympathize if you think that the last fifteen miles is a little low-key; a tad dull. Not bad, not especially boring nor ugly but after the previous four days, it is an anti-climax. And that is my strongest argument for walking the Cumbria Way south from Carlisle. As a first day, it works well; breaking you in gently with nothing too strenuous; progressively better as it pulls away from Carlisle and with the promise of fantastic walking in the days ahead. As a last day, well – it’s a bit of a yawn.
I had a stroll around Caldbeck before returning to the Rectory for poached eggs and blueberries with yoghurt. (Health, health, health). I chatted to Anne and Tim about life in Caldbeck, running a B&B and my walk. They were kind hosts and I liked sitting in their warm, comfortable kitchen rather than alone in an empty dining room. They did glance at me with disbelief on hearing that I was walking beyond Carlisle and on to Berwick. But then I was getting used to that look.
Today was one of only two or three during my fortnight when the sun was a no-show. It was grey and flat as I set off at 9. Tim accompanied me for the first mile or so on his morning dog walk and it was nice to practice my chatting skills (I’d done precious little in the previous four or five days). I tried not to gabble.
I glanced over at High Pike. The summit was still shrouded in cloud and that made me feel better: I would have felt cheated had it been bathed in sunshine.
Initially, the path from Caldbeck runs across cow and sheep fields, before diving into woodland.
Apart from a few little climbs, the ‘Way is pretty flat to Carlisle.
Early on it touches the banks of the River Caldew and then follows it for most of the day.
Ranks of daffodils cheered me along as I approached Sebergham church, and nodded politely as I passed.
After the excitement and thrills of the previous four days, this was a fairly humdrum walk of handsome churches,
farmland, more sheep,
and riverside walking. For my first stop of the day, I found a boulder to sit on (it can take me a while to find the right one) and peeled an enormous orange carried every step from the Old Dungeon Ghyll (no wonder my pack was so heavy). As I ate, I absently looked up into the curious eyes of a red squirrel about six feet away.
With sticky fingers, I slowly reached for my camera but before I could focus the squirrel shot off, across boulders and quickly disappeared from view. A few days later I saw another in Northumberland but couldn’t photograph that one properly either. I’m despairing of ever taking a decent red squirrel shot – short of visiting a bird-table with semi-tame visitors.
Shortly afterwards, I entered a small conifer plantation (prefect red squirrel habitat) and walked slowly with my camera at the ready (like Corporal Jones with rifle in the closing credits of Dad’s Army) hoping for another photo – but nada.
A little later and I passed Rose Castle, palace of the Bishops of Carlisle until 2009. I was relieved that it wasn’t burning. Robert the Bruce burnt down the first tower in 1322. Rebuilt, it served as a prison during the Civil War until, that is, it was burnt again in 1648 by Parliamentary troops. And in 1745 it nearly got destroyed during the Jacobean rebellion. Violent place. Let’s move on.
Actually, there isn’t a great deal to relate about day 5.
I was on a well-defined and well-signed path that quickly ate up the miles but there wasn’t a great deal to see.
As I approached Dalston, I salivated at the thought of a pub lunch. The only shop in Caldbeck hadn’t received its sandwich delivery when I’d stopped by earlier. I was seriously, gnawingly hungry and becoming sad, when I saw that ‘The Bluebell Inn’ was open and serving food. An embarrassingly short time later, a pint and steak sandwich had disappeared in a loutish feeding frenzy.
After Dalston the ‘Way does what it doesn’t do at the start: trudges past industrial estates, a sewage farm and schools. The long tarmac path is popular with cyclists and dog walkers – and with the latter came all the trappings you might imagine.
By about 3pm I neared Carlisle and the end of the first of my three paths.
It is a desultory, unsatisfactory end and Carlisle City Council haven’t made any effort – whatsoever – to welcome walkers who have just marched 70 miles across Cumbria to reach the Border City. It’s not as if I was expecting a brass band and bunting but, unlike Ulverston, there is no ‘start/finish’ sign, no information board, no mark. So thanks for that CCC.
Suddenly, I was thrust into the centre of a large and noisy city. On a busy Saturday afternoon, I felt incongruous with my muddy boots and wild, dishevelled Man-of-the-Woods look. After I’d booked in to my B&B and had a short kip, I ventured out into Saturday-Night-Carlisle. How brave am I? Not very as it happens – I didn’t stay long. There was a drunken edge to the city centre which I found intimidating; restaurants were crammed and every pub was standing room only, often overflowing into the streets. I grabbed something to eat and scurried back to my room, thumbed through the small DVD library, slotted ‘How Green was my Valley‘ into the player and collapsed on my bed. I hadn’t seen John Ford’s film in 40 years and it was perfect; just what I needed (as a 51-year-old on a Saturday night). The film was dated, overly sentimental and sometimes unintentionally funny but enjoyable. And, after a while, I even managed to accept Maureen O’Hara’s atrocious stab at a Welsh accent.
In the morning, I would head off eastward to follow the line of Hadrian’s Wall for three days and link up with the start of the St Oswald’s Way. The Cumbria Way had been a beautiful, very satisfying trek in almost perfect weather. I’ve said before that the mark of a good path is whether it warrants re-walking. Having completed the CW twice, I can easily see myself walking it again.