Preston, Lancashire to St Bees, Cumbria
Today I waved goodbye to Preston to make the final leg of the starting prologuey type section of the journey to St Bees (eloquent, eh)?
If I’d known I was having to go Carlisle this morning to catch my connecting train, I could have enjoyed the hospitality of first class for another hour last night and stayed in the capital of Cumbria. It would have also meant I didn’t have to run, fully laden, for the Carlisle to St Bees train to make up for the fact that the Preston service was 6 minutes late. On the plus side, however, I didn’t have to stay in the capital of Cumbria overnight as past experience has proven it to be a right dump and a little bit scary even during the day!
Now I have no way out of the task that is in front of me. I was sure my plan was perfect: go up to a spa in the Lake District for two weeks, tell everybody that I am walking the Coast to Coast and post other peoples’ pictures along with tales of ‘my experiences’ each day. Things have unravelled somewhat as my meticulous planning of this rouse has been a little bit too, well, real! My return ticket goes from York and my sister is meeting me at Robin Hood’s Bay on the 11th August taking me to my hotel in the city.
So despite getting off the train and heading in the wrong direction (thank goodness for kind train conductors pointing out the error of my ways and not laughing too much in the process), I find myself at my starting point. I have taken a selfie in front of the ‘Start of the Coast to Coast’ monument, which obviously Alfred Wainwright would have done back in the 1970s; I have dipped my shoes in the Irish Sea and I have taken a pebble from the beach to throw in the North Sea.
I suppose it’s time I got on with this thing!
St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge (14.6 miles / 14.6 miles)
14 and a half miles lay ahead of me at the start which, at home, would take around four hours but I had no idea how my weighty backpack combined with the lumpier terrain would affect my time. If I was to take the view of the east to west Coast to Coasters I met just after Sandwith, I had clearly undertaken something highly irresponsible by leaving it so late in the day. I am pretty sure I wasn’t being: there are no weather warnings in place (who I am kidding, I didn’t check) and I was only going up a hill today, not a mountain. I’ll put it down to them being exhausted after two weeks of walking and fully expect that they will have lightened up once a celebratory pint was in their hands at the end. I just hope that I’ll be a little more relaxed at the end of my journey.
That said, it wasn’t the easiest walk to undertake in order to acclimatise myself to the weight on my back. These would be some of the easiest hills I would encounter in the first few days, but it was still a shock to the system to have to climb on to the cliff top straight out of St Bees and then, 11 miles in, scale the seemingly vertical Dent Hill. The views from here though were spectacular with the Lake District to the east, the Irish Sea and Isle of Man to the west and Scotland to the north west(ish). If this is a sneak preview, I think it is going to be well worth sticking to the end to see how it all pans out.
First of all though I needed to get off Dent Hill down an even more vertical path (now, before you say it, I am well aware that scales of verticality do not exist, but this is my blog, so leave me alone). In any case by the time I was down safely, I was soon in the Lake District, my first National Park of the trip, and only had around three and a half miles to go to my first stop at Ennerdale Bridge.
My guide book told me that the Fox & Hounds Pub/ B&B in this village had a camping area. What they didn’t say is that it’s only bally well the West Cumbrian CamRA pub of the year (well, they may have done, but I have only really looked at the pictures). Now, I hadn’t actually booked any of my overnight stays at this point, so my heart was in my mouth when the landlord looked concerned that another camper wanted to pitch up in his beer garden. However, a combination of my exhausted face and puppy dog eyes must have convinced him that I couldn’t go any further and luckily he was prepared to go to any lengths not to turn me away.
Anyway, as such I celebrated my arrival by downing my first pint at a rate that the people behind the ‘Drink Responsibly’ campaign could only have recoiled at. I shouldn’t be judged at this point: I was thirsty and down to water that I had sourced from a questionably coloured stream. Only time will tell how effective my water filter is.
The well timed ale also provided me with enough fortitude to pitch my tent which luckily proved really easy. Very fortunate indeed when you consider that not only was it the first time I had tried, it was actually the first time I had even taken it out of its bag. This is people is livin’ on the edge!
That aside, being the highly tuned athlete that I am, in no way were my feet, legs and shoulders in any kind of excruciating agony after lugging my monstrous pack across these first 14 and a half miles. Having said that I saw Sellafield Nuclear Power Station from atop Dent Hill, so I’ll probably be growing some new appendages soon anyway.
So having discovered the hard way that a London mile is much shorter than a Cumbrian mile, imagine my excitement when I discovered that the British pound when spent in Cumbria is also so much bigger: £13 for steak and ale pie and a pint and none of your poncy gastro pub portions either. Not even the memory of seeing, and more importantly smelling, a dead, highly decomposed sheep just before Moor Row could put me off my food tonight. I will have to continue tomorrow just to walk that bad boy off!