Day 19 Moor Row – St Bees

The last eight miles. We’ve come at least 184 (allowing for the occasional navigational wobbles and the extra bits we volunteered, such as walking over St Sunday Crag and doing both the low and high route in the Dales).

Now all that remains is yomping along the old railway track out of Moor Row to reach yet more pasture and the usual challenges of finding the dryest route through fields that herds of cows and incessant summer rain have turned to mudbaths.

The only difference is that the soil here is sandstone so instead of black bog our boots, feet and legs turn the colour of weak cocoa.

farewell fields

The final miles to the coast are a mix of underwater farm track and narrow country roads. Our boots prefer the roads as we can move more quickly and already both of us imagine we can smell the sea air.

This leg is actually a bit of a tease. We probably started the morning closer to St Bees than we are now as we head through the little village of Sandwith where one of the houses has sandbags piled at the end of its drive in response to the previous days warnings of flooding.

Wainwright preferred to steer his walk away to join St Bees Head near Whitehaven. So that the final miles are almost a mirror image of the first few, spent on the headland connecting Robin Hood’s Bay with Whitby.

The landscape is quite different though. Three weeks and 188 miles ago we left behind high cliffs, a slate grey sea and an endless horizon.

As we reach the headland, and our final Coast to Coast marker post, the cliffs are sandy red, alive with Herring Gulls and ravens, we can see the shapes of the Isle of Man and, further away, Ireland, while sunlight is breaking through the clouds and lighting up the Irish Sea so it looks alternately jade then blue then silver.

two more Coast to Coasters

We don’t expect to see any more walkers but amazingly two men, one older and younger, both with huge packs, meet us on the cliffs. They are doing a Coast to Coast trial run apparently to see if they can bear each other’s company, and cope with camping out. If their two days trial works, they’ll return next year and do the rest.

“Let me tell you a story,” the older man says.”I know you’re supposed to dip your toe in the water at the start so I tell him that’s what we’ve got to do. We’re just at the water’s edge and this huge wave comes rushing in right over our boots.”

We nod sympathetically. It’s not great to start the day in wet boots but we know what lies ahead of them, so it would only ever have been a matter of time before they were as wet as we are.

Acrobat cows

 

The cliff path is a joy, full of promise for us on this final, final stretch.

It is also heavily used by cattle. In evidence let me cite the fact that one kissing gate we pass through is plastered in slimy wet cow poo that can only have got there by a cow turning its backside to the gate and letting fly.

Not much further on the path turns to steps to climb down into Fleswick Bay then up and out the other side. I swear the local cows have been using these steps. They are, if anything, more plastered in ankle deep cow pats, than the fields we’ve just passed through.

It doesn’t matter. Very little matters as we keep our focus on the beams of sunlight like beacons calling us onto St Bees. We aren’t even dragging our feet any longer because we’re both so excited at the prospect of touching down on the sand – and cleaning our boots in the ocean. No careful toe dipping for us after all this time…

Coming home

I think we both shed a few tears several times during the morning, and especially when, finally, the beach comes into view.

It is one pm by now and there are families enjoying a cliff walk having started out from St Bees. One family, with rather too many pairs of clean trainers, having stopped to ask us whether it’s wise to go on, hears our story and actually claps us.

The sun is making a real effort and before we know it we are walking easily down the end of the headland, past another caravan site, and onto the beach.

There is nothing to do but head out to the point where the waves are rolling in, as wide and determined as the huge expanse of the bay requires. I immediately lose my walking pole in the water and Shushie gets soaked rushing out to it. Our boots are well and truly filled again.

We share a long hug. Then we take off our socks and shoes, though it’s a bit academic by now, and walk out into the shining silver waves together, holding hands.

Skin and Blisters.

 

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Day 18 Ennerdale to Moor Row

Farewell

 

Despite having cold feet again at breakfast (the heating is STILL not working and the stone floor, shelves and walls of the dining room/walk-in larder colder than ever) we are grateful we chose this spot to overnight. Its’ position on Ennerdale Water’s north bank means there is still some lake left to walk when we wake on Friday: a couple more hours when we can still claim to be in Lakeland rather than on the final stretch to the sea.

It’s no surprise to either of us that our feet drag along the path – and this time it’s nothing to do with the cold stone floor. We only have eight or nine miles to walk in total today and can afford to take our time along the lakeside path, watching the rippled surface, noticing the black shadows the fells make all along its length.

Let me confess here that the picture above was not taken this morning, but some years earlier as another Coast to Coast walk drew to a close and the whole valley lit up – appropriately it seemed to us at the time.

I’m choosing to use that image because it’s how Shushie and I think of this stunning and secretive lake, and how we see it in our mind’s eye when, where our path forward takes its’ leave of Ennerdale, we decide instead to go and sit on a solitary bench, away from the path at the water’s edge.

Shushie reaches into her backpack and carefully unwraps the little wooden casket of ashes from its plastic bags. Then she sets the casket on the bench between us, leaving her hand on it. I place mine on top of hers.

We sit in utter silence and I swear we can both see mum on the shore a few steps in front of us, laughing with delight at the beauty of the scene and to be sharing it with ‘her girls’.

Shushie cries then, the only sound in this magical silence. “I realise now you never lose the grief. It still catches you out sometimes, and that’s ok.”

I hear the words of Mary Oliver in my head: “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes, to let it go; to let it go.”

That is true of mum’s physical presence, which had become such a burden to her, of our roles as her carers, and it is true of this walk and the precious time away from our lives.

After all, letting go is only an ending if we choose to see it that way. We might just as easily choose to see it as a beginning, for mum as well as for ourselves and each other…

Good weather

Somehow this small, spontaneous act of remembrance at the lake, makes it easier to set our faces to the road and head away from the high fells towards Ennerdale village, where we’ve been told there’s a community-run cafe with home-made cakes.

It’s actually a really lovely and friendly spot and we stop for coffee and to buy some scones and shortbread for lunch later.

That is BEFORE it starts raining and the grey clouds muster in a way that tells us it’s unlikely we’ll be picnicking in the open air today!

We don’t gripe about it. Up until now our rain total is only six hours. SIX HOURS in October, in an English autumn. We’d have taken those odds from anyone at the start. We both know how blessed this walk has been.

(And by the by our luck continues for although that day’s wet walking brings the total to 10, and we are due another hour of showers on our final day, we later learn that in the high fells our rain fell as snow. Somehow or other we have kept one day ahead of a white-out which would certainly have completely changed our experience of Lakeland!)

A shaggy lion story

We pull on hats and gloves and press on, into Nannycatch which on another day is a gorgeous hidden valley with a meandering beck, occasional wooden bridges to cross its twists and turns, with steep crags on one side and wooded hills on the other.

I have no pictures to share, I’m afraid. You will have to take my word for it that it was still beautiful in the rain, but not enough to persuade us to stop and admire it, until we bumped into a man and his dog whose passion for chasing and ‘killing’ heavy rocks from the stream was a great distraction.

We get talking and he tells us he meets Coast to Coasters from all over the world on his daily dog walks – though we must be the last he reckons. And it won’t happen in future because he and his wife are moving a few miles away from Ennerdale. He’s born and bred in this valley, as was his father and his father before him. But recently his brother sold the land in front of his house for building, without telling him. So he’s off.

It’s a sad story but he doesn’t dwell on it, asking where we’re off to.

We tell him Cleator, a place we’ve already been warned about by the guidebook. Apparently during Britain’s equivalent of the gold rush men arrived in droves from Scotland and Ireland to mine the iron ore: ‘hard drinking men’ according to the book.

Our new friend nods and grins. “I went to school there. We were bused in, a few little Protestant kids among all the Catholics. There was one small square in the playground we were allowed to go.”

“I saw this companion once who told a story about Cleator Zoo. This visitor sees the lion’s enclosure is only six foot high. He finds the headkeeper and tells him ‘I’m worried about the lion’s cage being only six foot’. The keeper says ‘yep; if he gets out he’s on his own!”

Not so dear Dent

From the end of Nannycatch the guidebook advises there’s a path that ‘rockets up’ the side onto the base of Dent, a small hill compared to the Lakeland fells, but tough enough even on a fine day.

Wainwright, in his original account, calls it ‘dear Dent’, mainly, I think, because from its summit you can see as far as Ireland and Scotland, down the coast to Sellafield, and behind, the massed ranks of the Lakeland fells (excepting Kidsty of course, which as you now know can only be seen on the few days in the year when all the planets align and there’s a ‘z’ in the month.)

Here’s (left) what we see, but don’t feel sorry for us yet. We’re still enjoying ourselves, the walking is keeping us warm, and there’s the prospect of descending from Dent into a forest where we’re bound to be able to find a dry corner for coffee and the baked goods we’re carrying.

It’s all going swimmingly – literally – until we reach the forest and a padlocked gate with a sign saying this route is closed for forestry works and we need to retrace our steps for an hour back up and over Dent, down the rocketing bit and then backwards through Nannycatch to find the alternative.

Blow that for a game of marbles!

Wetter than wet things

We decide instead to bulldoze our way through the bracken sticking close to the fence around the prohibited woodland. Eventually, we reason, we’ll be able to join the path where it emerges from the wood.

It’s true that we can and we do. It’s just that it takes two hours of navigating the three sides of the forest through the stickiest most sodden terrain you can imagine, and even then have to trespass guiltily through one farmer’s field to find the farm track that will join up with the route again.

Shushie is fuming at the idiots who stick up a closure sign at the end, rather than the beginning of the diversion. If that escaped lion – or Cleator’s tough schoolchildren – are anywhere about, I don’t fancy their chances against her right now.

But it turns out Cleator is closed. Truly. I am sure on a sunny day it has its merits. The river we crossed to arrive at its main street looked very pretty.

However, in the pouring rain, squelching down a main street where almost every other house had a for sale sign up, the only shop was shut at 2pm on a Friday afternoon, and traffic passing through seemed to speed up rather than slow down, it has nothing worth stopping for.

By now we have done two extra hours and two or three extra miles. We are sodden and beginning to feel really cold. We are two miles from Moor Row and that night’s b and b at Jasmine House.

I’ll own up. We get into a taxi.

After all, one of Wainwright’s chief messages was to design a Coast to Coast to suit your own interests and abilities. Right now, wetter and colder than we have been on any day on this brilliant walk, Shushie and I are mainly interested in shelter and warmth 🙂

Day 17 Rosthwaite-Ennerdale

How lucky we are. It’s been raining overnight but stops within minutes of us setting out, up the road from the b and b, and past Rosthwaite youth hostel.

Clearly this is outward bound territory for the path through a woody glade to Seatoller involves a great deal of scrambling over rocks above the beck – hanging on to a chain someone has thoughtfully clamped into them.

We emerge onto the twisting road which climbs at one in three up to the top of the Honister Pass and see more evidence of school parties and uniformed groups in the endless mini buses. There is a narrow track to the right of the road but it’s soaking. Besides, on the other side of the road is a back tumbling down the pass with waterfalls, bridges made from fallen trees, and wonderful autumn smells and colours.

Everything is fading but for the bright green moss and ferns springing from the becksides. Everything is also dripping from the nighttime rain.

Honister honeytrap

We know we have plenty of time so we call into the cafe at Honister slate mine for coffee, loos (makes a change from the great outdoors after two and a half weeks of weeing al fresco) and to look at the shop.

Clearly the prices are pitched at coach tours full of people who don’t realise the initialised slate keyring they spot can be bought in their own local hardware store for one third of the price. It’s probably just as well we can’t afford anything because slate isn’t the lightest souvenir to transport.

skin and blisters

Just beyond the last of the cars and coaches our path leaves the pass to shoot upwards to the ridge from which we’ll be able to look down on Buttermere and Crummock, and across to Wainwright’s favourite fell (and resting places) Haystacks.

On our way we have the idea that we’ll try and recreate the front cover of Skin and Blisters, the account of our last crossing from Coast to Coast, which took just over a year. I always slightly regretted that the picture only features me when one of its strongest themes is sisterhood.

Luckily, we spot an oldish couple wavering on the path ahead of us, obviously deciding that they won’t go any further.

So we intercept them and ask the man if he minds taking our picture from the back as we ascend.

Once the pictures are done we introduce ourselves and explain why we want this particular shot. Our photographer’s name is Tony Smith and he is thrilled at our story. “I now realise I came all the way from Lowestoft to meet you today,” he says, eyes shining.

“It’s so inspiring meeting people doing what I’d love to do.”

It turns out Tony had two stents then heart surgery a decade ago, but then another heart attack in 2014. This old tramtrack where we’re standing, with its fabulous views, is as far as he dares go.

Eventually we thank him and ask him to thank his wife on our behalf for keeping him standing. He obviously has no regrets about us delaying him but tells us he’s been married 48 years and it’s the best thing he ever did.

“I had this Ford Anglia, but then I asked her to marry me so sold it to buy an engagement ring. We went without a car for 13 years after that!”

As we say our goodbyes Shushie and I reflect again on all the lovely people we’ve met en route, and the kindnesses we’ve been shown. What a wonderful world it can be when you open to the people you meet.

top of the world

We continue up the tramway – where horses used to haul carriageways laden with Victorian gents and ladies up to see the view.

These days a part of the view is the mountain of green spoil from the slate mine but that is soon behind us as we sweep around the chain of fells, the views of Haystacks and the lakes getting better and better.

Ennerdale at last

The path is clear, if boggy, and we are soon looking out at a new stretch of shining water – Ennerdale.

The climb down into its valley is tortuously steep, crossing and recrossing several becks, but every time we brave a look up we are rewarded with views of Great Gable, towering over the valley head.

This is always seems to us such a remote valley, its sides too steep for walkers, though anyone setting out from Wasdale Head might peer down into it.

Black Sail Hut

Remember Alby? He certainly remembered us and had been peppering my Facebook page with tips.

One of them is to call into the youth hostel at Black Sail Hut, a place we’d passed and noted as the UK’s most remote.

It never occurred to us the door might be left open but Alby is right. We step into a cosy hut, the log burner still warm from the previous night. There is equipment to make drinks and wooden benches to sit and eat our sandwiches – a gift from Joanne at Yew Tree Farm who said we hadn’t had enough breakfast to justify her charging for them!

The hut is even equipped with blankets for those who want to stargaze in this most remote of valleys. But on this occasion that won’t be us. We are booked into Beckfoot Retreat which lies on the north side of Ennerdale Water – the side we’ve never walked.

Forest bathing

The walk along Ennerdale is more forest than water, at least for the first four miles. But since our first visit the Forestry Commission has given in to pressure to create a better environment. Although there are still places where pine grows dense, preventing anything from living on the black forest floor, there are also areas where the trees are being thinned and native species introduced.

The smell of pine resin accompanies our steps and we spot signs of the regeneration that is underway:  foxgloves, honeysuckle and yellow gorse – totally out of season but welcome splashes of colour.

The light dances along with us, lighting up the treetops and then, as the lake appears at last, turning the rippled water from navy to silver.

I am reminded of the poem I wrote at the end of our first Coast to Coast crossing, 19 years ago now: “The silver water guiding us home”.

parting

And so it feels to us: this awareness of journey’s end approaching. We are glad, I think, that the b and b I booked is not in Ennerdale Bridge but close enough to the lake to promise us another parting from it, and Lakeland, in the morning.

Like many of the guest houses we’ve stayed at Beckfoot can best be described as quirky.

For one thing it is in a technological black hole: not even a bar of signal on our phones, much less wifi.

The heating technology has also broken down so we abandon our chilly bedroom for the lounge where a fire is roaring away in the burner. When we are invited to eat dinner in the ‘dining room’ it feels as it we are in the world’s largest walk-in larder, surrounded by stone shelves. The floor is stone too. We have to dangle our legs in the air off the dining chairs because the floor is too cold for out feet.

Later, our host, Nina, can’t resist joining us when we start quizzing each other from the Lakeland Quiz Book Shushie acquired in Ambleside. And her smelly dog (sorry but she really was) Sooty can’t resist cuddling up with Shush on the settee.

Like everything about this walk, it’s somehow unique and we know we will remember it.

 

 

 

Day 16 Grasmere-Rosthwaite

Tasty stay

cloud over Grasmere as we set out

We spent our rest day in Ambleside not just because it has a launderette but because on a recent visit we discovered our favourite bakery, the Apple Pie, does rooms.

There are three reasons it’s our favourite bakery: bath buns the size of, well, baths; fell gingerbread which (whisper it softly) is actually even better than the world famous Grasmere Gingerbread that every tourist to the area has to visit; and the Apple Pie’s filled rolls. Fatter than a Lakeland Herdwick, and perfect for a day on the fells.

So that’s where our walking day 16 starts, the Apple Pie’s first customers when it opens, for cheese and chutney rolls, gingerbread and BUNS.

Crag with a view

Grasmere, where we return to resume the walk, is full of half-term visitors, but we meet only a handful braving the threatening skies to climb up out of the village onto Helm Crag – a solid mass of rock which looms over Grasmere like the clouds are looming over us.

Except that the higher we climb, the more they begin to break, allowing in shafts and pools of light which turn areas of the Lakeland scene from brown to full luminous colour.

It’s a tough climb of hairpins and slippery rock, but at every pause we’re rewarded with views beyond Grasmere to Windemere, Coniston, and, in the distance, the sea again.

Further on, scrambling over and around rocky outcrops, among them the Lion and the Lamb – distinctive animal-shaped silhouettes when you’re down in the valley – the views to the east and west open up too, so that we can begin to pick out Helvellyn and Fairfield again, and the giant fells of the western Lakes where we’ll soon be heading.

The real gift of this day is becoming apparent: we have never had such wonderful visibility on this leg of the walk, nor felt so much as though we are walking on top of the world.

Indistinct

In the centre sits a tarn, its moisture oozing out in every direction so that if there were ever a path across the bowl it no longer really exists.

We do our best to pick a way and once we’re clear of the bog, but still within the bowl’s shelter, beneath Greenup Edge, we hunker down for our lunch stop.

Gateway

Greenup is gateway to a new phase of this journey – a view of the fells to the north. We can see Bassenthwaite Lake and Skiddaw, and then new views of the western giants.

As it has done all day, the sunlight plays games with the fellsides, illuminating and shading them in turn so that the whole scene is forever  changing but never less than a spectacular light show. As we’ve done every day, we bless the universe (and maybe mum a little too) for the chance to see the countryside at its spectacular best.

Climbing down into Borrowdale we lose the views, only because we have to watch our step so carefully. There are times where the path is simply a collection of craggy rocks to be negotiated.

It is very, very tough on the knees!

Pink herdies

I guess we walked uphill for around three hours before lunch. It is at least that amount of hours to descend to Rosthwaite, along a path which, even when it levels a little, is still comprised of craggy rock which mean we can never feel we have a secure footing.

The herdies, gathered in groups in the valley, have no such trouble and lollop away from us. Shame, because we really want to take their pictures. They’ve been sprayed pink, presumably for identification, though it may also be a deterrent for rustlers.

In the green valley their bright colour makes a striking picture.

It is almost five when we arrive at Rosthwaite, relieved that the long downhill has finally ended, and delighted that our b and b for the night, Yew Tree Farm, is so ancient and cosy (though the low beams may again cause some temporary grumpiness.)

Borrowdale sits in the late afternoon light, secure in its claim to be Lakeland’s prettiest valley (though we may beg to differ). There are students camping in the fields with their teachers, walkers returning to their cars in the institute car park, or catching the open top bus back to Kesiwck.

But we are heading for hot tea and hot showers before a hot meal in the walkers Riverside Bar a stone’s throw away.

Perhaps after all, two and a half weeks in, our muscles are beginning to say it is time to rest. Our hearts, in contrast, only want to continue…

 

 

Day 15 Patterdale-Grasmere

Wainwright was here

We’re making a bit of history as we sleep – it turns out our bedroom at Old Water View in Patterdale was Wainwright’s personal favourite. He even stayed there while he was writing the Coast to Coast.

The place boasts a wealth of memorabilia of the man, including his name in the visitor book, which is a bit of a surprise. Everything I’ve read about Wainwright suggests he was a bit of a grump. Apparently he wouldn’t even greet other walkers out on the fells.

Having spent a lovely comfortable night in his old bedroom I think I now know why he was always so bad tempered: getting in and out of bed Shushie has now clonked her head on the low beams above it at least six times.

Downstairs, in the breakfast room, we appear a bit of a novelty. It’s like one of those parties where everyone is introduced to everyone else with one salient fact about them.

In our case, every single person who comes into the room gives us a grin and says “Oh are you the two doing the Coast to Coast the wrong way?”

They’re very nice about it and nod with interest when we explain it’s partly about the soaring Lakeland fells being a suitable finale for such an undertaking. Indeed one couple, who did their Coast to Coast in April (and had fine weather the whole way – according to our guide book if you don’t get wet you can’t claim to have done the walk properly) they’re sufficiently convinced by our argument to tell us they almost certainly will do it again our way.

One of those shining days

As Shushie and I walk up the steep climb to St Sunday Crag, out of a Patterdale bathed in sunshine; as we pace the ridge, looking out on one side across Grisedale towards Striding Edge and Helvellyn, on the other towards Fairfield; as we turn constantly to look back to the eastern fells where we entered Lakeland; as we gaze forwards to a lick of silver on the horizon – the Irish Sea bathed in light; I say to her I simply cannot put this day into words.

I feel it still as I write this.

From start to finish the day was a gift of light and colour, of drama and peace, exhileration and breathtaking beauty.

I am speechless that the clouds lifted in a way I can scarcely recall in the Lakes, and certainly not on any Coast to Coast crossing, in order to reveal this magnificent, ancient, secretive landscape – looking to our eyes as it must have done to Wainwright’s, and all the generations before him who loved the Lakes as dearly.

Please enjoy the pictures. They say what my words cannot about this magical, glorious day.

Ullswater under a blue sky

climbing out of Patterdale

autumn colour

panorama

heading down to Grasmere

waterfalls

 

cider at journey’s end

burnished bracken