Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk
Day 1 - St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge
I woke up bright and early, refreshed after a good night's sleep, and ready for my first day of walking! After packing my bag, and filling in the Sherpa label (so that it would hopefully find its way to the correct guest house that evening), I went down to breakfast at 8.15am. A hearty full English breakfast, and the first of many to come throughout this journey! There were some other coast-to-coasters at breakfast, including an American mother and daughter that I would get to know well over these coming two weeks. But as far as today was concerned, I gobbled up my food, and quickly headed out - setting off in good time at 8.30.
The day began with a stroll through St. Bees, down to the coast where the walk officially begins. There's even a nice sign to let you know what you're letting yourself in for (which somebody was using to prop up their bike).
Of course, I couldn't set off without first dipping my boots in the Irish Sea, and as I went to do so, I bumped into Carl and Tony from last night (not literally)! I selected a fine stone to carry with me to the North Sea (another Coast to Coast tradition), after which I was ready to embark.
The coastal section is a great way to start, and I was really lucky to have such good weather. I decided to get a decent pace going to begin with, and I left Carl and Tony behind, passing a few other walkers including a family from Lincolnshire. After the initial climb out of St. Bees it was pretty easy-going, if a bit bumpy, and I felt quite at home. This was actually my first time on the Cumbrian coast, but having been brought up on the Yorkshire coast, this was just like old times!
I caught up with a nice Dutch couple, Arnout and Nicole, and we started chatting as we were going along. There's a fantastic sense of community amongst coast-to-coast walkers, and it's great to be able to just chat to random strangers without feeling weird or uncomfortable (as would be the case in a city). Since our pace was fairly similar (and my initial dash at the start had calmed down somewhat), I tagged along with them. I didn't realise it at the time, but we would end up walking together quite a bit over the next few days.
After passing the lighthouse and the Westernmost tip of the headland, we finally started bearing East - at last, making progress towards our goal (or, undoing the anti-progress of the last two and a half miles, depending on which way you look at it). Before long, the path turned away from the coast onto a country lane, and it was goodbye to the sea - at least, for another 12 days!
We navigated our way through the villages and farmland of West Cumbria, passing through the tiny village of Sandwith, and a number of small farms. As we passed Bell House Farm, the first glimpses of Dent Fell (the first real climb of the walk) came into view. We bumped into a rather weather-worn looking walker, going in the opposite direction, who was completing the Coast to Coast from East to West. He told us that the weather had been dreadful for the last two weeks, which made me a bit nervous - but nevertheless, we carried on, passing under a railway "tunnel", which was really more of a hole in the embankment.
At this point we encountered the first navigational difficulties of the walk. We were supposed to pass by the Stanley Pond (a substantial piece of water on the map), but we couldn't find it anywhere! In the end, we just had to trust our instincts, and as we were going the right way after all, everything was ok. We actually spotted the pond later in the afternoon, when we were climbing Dent - it turns out that it was hidden behind a thick bed of reeds! We soon reached a disused railway (now a cycle path), which we took to avoid some road walking, and passed by Moor Row, arriving into the village of Cleator at lunchtime.
We stopped for lunch at the local pub - the Three Tuns - where the girl behind the bar kindly let us purchase a drink and eat our packed lunches. So, I enjoyed my egg sandwiches and "XL cheese" crisps, along with a pint of Fosters (that classic Cumbrian ale!). In hindsight, maybe the latter wasn't such a good idea, as we had a hill to climb shortly after lunch!
Setting off again, the climb up Dent was hard work but steady, though I was a bit worn out by the last 50m - my lack of training was apparent at this point, and I happily collapsed at the top for a few moments, to get by breath back.
The views were worth it though, being able to see right the way back to St. Bees and the coast, and also ahead to the Lake District, and the tempting (but exhausting-looking) peaks ahead!
My rest was short-lived, as Nicole and Arnout egged me on, and we continued along the felltop, passing over a large deer-stile (oh dear). Compared to the gentle climb to the top, the descent was very steep - though luckily it was grassy and dry, so it wasn't too bad. Having said that, one of the girls behind us decided to try to slide down - rather her than me!
We soon reached the bottom, arriving in the lovely Nannycatch valley. The stroll alongside the beck was delightful, even though I was getting a bit tired by this point.
Before long, we reached the road, and had to struggle through an overgrown path by the side of it for the last few miles into Ennerdale Bridge. However, the view to the valley ahead was stunning, and I was already excited about the day ahead tomorrow.
In the first coincidence of many to come along this walk, I found out that Nicole and Arnout were staying at the same place as me - the Fox and Hounds (which I should point out, only has three rooms). So, we headed straight there, and arrived at 3.50pm. The benches outside looked so inviting that we immediately ingratiated ourselves, and enjoyed a pint of a local Ennerdale ale.
After checking in, I went to my room, and had a nice soak in the bath, then ended up collapsing on the bed for a nap - it's amazing how exhausted you can be after walking the entire day, when you're not used to it! I eventually emerged in search of food just after 8pm, and met a guy in the bar who had just arrived. It turns out he'd only set off from St. Bees at 3.30pm, and was carrying a heavy pack to boot - he must be some kind of superman! Well, he was from the army, so that might explain things a little, but still...
Since the Fox and Hounds was a bit too quiet, I had a wander out, and went to the Shepherd's Arms for dinner. I had a nice pint of the dark Ennerdale ale, and a Cumberland sausage (which I couldn't even finish!). There were lots of people around, and I started to chatting to one pair, who'd also just started off on the walk - Dock and Brian. One of them had just had their 50th birthday, and they were "celebrating" it by doing the Coast to Coast. Also, one of them (sorry, I've forgotten who) was just about to start a PhD in history, so we had something in common (the PhD, not history!). Anyway, we chatted for a bit, before I headed back to bed - to be ready for an early breakfast at 7.30. If today was tiring, tomorrow was going to be much more so!