Thursday 10 November 2016

The 3rd Leg: Blunder at Black Sail

Wed 21st September
After a bowl of porridge (well it was there!) and a ‘Full English’ at the Royal Oak we said goodbye to Spot and set off to Honister slate mine where we dropped off one car.

Spot - the lovely old boy from Borrowdale's Royal Oak Hotel

Then on to Ennerdale Bridge in the other car to the start of today’s trek. Honister is 12 miles away. It’s varied scenery - the walk goes past a long lake, follows  a lengthy forest path and snakes into the fells through some of the remotest parts of Cumbria. We were well prepared and it was a clear day with no rain forecast until 5pm. What could possibly go wrong?

Honister - the last working slate mine in England

Honister Slate Mine
The path alongside Ennerdale Water is very rocky (see photos) with plenty of potential for turning an ankle. Having said that, it’s a really pleasant walk with no chance of getting lost (just keep to the lakeside). Bob pressed on whilst I took photos.

the rocky trail alongside Ennerdale Water

At one point I noticed a small pile of stones (a mini-cairn) that a previous traveller had carefully erected. It reminded me of Neist Point on the Isle of Skye where there were dozens of them (see my Hebshots blog). I added a couple of small stones to the top before catching up with Bob.

I added a couple of small stones
it wouldn't do to fall backwards at this point (it looks more precarious than it really is)

Bob pressed on while I took photos

The lake is 2 ½ miles long. When we reached the end I suspect that we missed the trail to the forest, which we could see across the fields, because we had to hike across one field occupied by bullocks. There was no reason for concern - the creatures were docile and showed little interest in the two intruders.  Just as well – I would have put on a dash if necessary but Bob told me that he wouldn’t be able to run!

there was no reason for concern

The Ennerdale Forest path was long – maybe about 4 miles – but very well maintained and a pleasant change to the rocky route along the lake. There had been lots of forestry management – evidenced by the large, neatly stacked piles of tree trunks which lined a good portion of the route.

Forestry management

Bob pressed on again whilst I took more photos. I attempted a bit of ‘Intentional Camera Movement’ (ICM) at one log pile - see below (always on the lookout for an arty shot!)

an attempt at an arty shot

We passed the Youth Hostel at Gillerthwaite and continued for a while longer until finally emerging from the forest at the isolated Black Sail Youth Hostel. Formerly a shepherd’s hut, Black Sail is described in Wainwrights C2C guide as ‘the loneliest and most romantic of hostels situated in a magnificent surround of mountainous country’. 

the loneliest hostel
 The Trailblazer guide warns ‘From the hostel things can get a little tricky. You need to follow the correct path east .......’  Well, they weren’t kidding although at the time we didn’t know how careless we were being! We carried on along a path that looked like a continuation of our route. I realise that there is a tendency when following the C2C route to assume that the path you are following must be the one that leads to Robin Hood’s Bay. In fact, there are many paths all over the countryside leading in many directions - the C2C is not even an official route.  Bob wasn’t sure that we were on the right trail but I was fairly happy as it seemed to be the only one so we pressed on. (We were only 3 miles away from Holister, our intended destination, at this point - there may possibly have been someone in the hostel who could have pointed out the route if we'd taken the trouble to find out. Hindsight eh!!)

the drumlin swarm - the point where we set off in the wrong direction

To the south-east of the hostel are a group of fascinating hillocks – they are actually called drumlins and were formed by glacial movement acting in the direction of an ice flow. A group of them is called a drumlin swarm (how’s that for a delightful and unexpected snippet of geological detail?).

leaving Black Sail behind  (off picture to the left)
As we were climbing out of the valley I took a few photos of the ‘swarm’ – I’d have been better advised to take more notice of the map and the guide! On we went – higher and higher. At one point we had to clamber up a small rock face – this should have signaled to me that we were no longer on a ‘walk’. I went first then Bob chucked up his poles and scrambled up himself. It wasn’t too tricky but if either of us had fallen there could have been a broken limb to deal with. How would that have been resolved with no one around, no phone signal, no way of returning or continuing?

We press onwards and upwards – getting quite high now. The wind is now fairly strong and we are about an hour away from the promised rain (it’s coming all right – the clouds are looking blacker by the minute).  Still we climb. We both agree that we are probably lost now. There are only dark, ominous mountains in all directions – the prospect of spending the night high up in the fells begins to emerge. The wind is now very strong and it’s getting cold. We probably only have a couple of hours of daylight left.

We haven’t seen another soul since the far away Black Sail YH but our luck finally changes. A party of walkers can be seen in the distance – they are coming our way.  I’m heartened to see that the leader looks like he knows his business. I ask him if we are on the right route for Honister – he is taken aback by this and shows me on his map that we are travelling in completely the wrong direction. Bob has stopped to get his anorak out of his rucksack – it’s now very cold and the rain is imminent. The leader tells me that we need to retrace our steps to Black Sail and then pick up the right route. Neither Bob nor I fancy climbing back down that rock face – or the long descent to the distant hostel. Bob is trying to put his anorak on – the fierce wind is whipping it furiously in every direction – it would be very funny in any other situation, but this wasn’t the occasion for hilarity.

I ask the guide if he thinks we would be able to spend the night at Black Sail – he tells me it is full! I ask him how long it would take to get to Honister if we did go back down. He says that we wouldn’t be able to make it in daylight (I know that really).  Bob has somehow managed to get into his anorak.

Finally, I ask where is the nearest place we could reach before dark where there would be some accommodation. The guide points out a far off path that we could pick up which would take us into the small village of Wasdale Head if we follow it for about 3 miles. There is a pub in the village – that's good enough for me. I tell Bob that we can follow the walkers down to where the path joins – we agree that there is no other option. It is 5 o’clock and has now started to rain – the BBC Weather forecast has been spot on.

The rain had made the rocky path slippy and it took us about 90 mins to reach the Wasdale Head Inn (what a welcome sight it was!). We had walked about 15 miles since we set out in the morning. The pub locals must have been very amused to see two thoroughly soaked, bedraggled figures splashing into their pub.  We were beyond wet but at that point we were also beyond caring.  I ordered a pot of tea and asked for the use of the phone (no signal on the mobile). The barmaid gave me a number to ring for a taxi. I booked one to take us to Honister where we could pick up a car. We would have to wait 20 mins - that was fine. We now knew that we would get home that night. (I made it back to Cheshire for midnight).

Reading the Trailblazer guide the following day I saw that I had completely missed their note which said ‘ATTENTION! PATH GOES OFF EASTISH FROM YH. DO NOT TAKE THE MUCH MORE OBVIOUS PATH HEADING SOUTH-EAST’. If I’d been looking for that other path I would surely have found it. I couldn’t be more annoyed with myself. Although Bob was fine about the whole thing, we both know that I made the wrong call at Black Sail. We will continue the adventure in the spring – starting again at the drumlin swarm.

Monday 7 November 2016

The 2nd Leg: It Started With a Pie

Tues 20th Sept
The plan for today was to conquer Dent Hill, which we had originally hoped to negotiate as the final stage of our first C2C leg from St Bees. We didn’t expect the climb to be too difficult, but the descent was noted in the Trailblazer guide as being ‘just about the steepest path in the whole trail – mind your ankles!’ which caused me some slight concern.

After travelling up from Cheshire / Lancashire we positioned one car at Ennerdale Bridge and returned to our starting point at Cleator (where we had finished on 24th August) in the other car. I had read in another C2C blog that the Village Store in Cleator must sell wonderful pies because they have a sign outside informing customers of their pie status. The interchangeable sign was displaying ‘NO PIES’ when they were passing – as it was when we were there at the end of our previous leg. This morning, however, it announced ‘PIES’ and I thought it foolish not to investigate.

I had a chat with the lady in the shop who told me that the pies are baked on the premises very early in the morning and that they have usually sold out by lunchtime. People come from all around just for the pies which are the store’s best seller. I opted for a meat and potato which was excellent. Crammed with filling like a double Cornish pasty. Took a bit of eating and I didn’t want anything else for a few hours! Don’t even think about climbing Dent Hill without first arming yourself with a famous Cleator Village Stores pie. See Footnote

Through the farm. We are on the way to Dent Hill (this tractor is going nowhere)
entering the forest
The route through the forest which envelops the bottom half of the hill was fairly apparent – as was the climb to the summit once we emerged from the trees. This was a fine day and it made for a really enjoyable trek. Wonderful views were to be enjoyed from the summit and for a moment we debated whether we were looking at hazy outline of the Isle of Man or whether it was Ireland (it was of course the former).
leaving the summit
the walk alongside Nannycatch Beck

Time for a snack at Nannycatch Beck
The steep descent proved less daunting than feared, but hiking poles were employed as we carefully made our way down to the charmingly named Nannycatch Beck. From there, a pleasant walk alongside the beck took us to the road into Ennerdale Bridge.

a helpful C2C sign as we approached the road to Ennerdale Bridge

The Ennerdale valley is a haven for red squirrels. (They didn't appear while we were passing)

Although we had only walked 6 miles, it had taken about 4½ hrs. At Ennerdale Bridge we picked up the car and returned to Cleator for the other car. It was 3:30pm and, as expected, the Village Store sign now announced ‘NO PIES’.

Tomorrow was going to be a longer expedition so we had booked into a Bed and Breakfast hotel – The Royal Oak at Borrowdale. The evening meal was excellent (salmon) and the accommodation about adequate for the price. I tried to befriend Spot, the old dog who seemed to have to live outside, but he was too weary (and cold probably) to be bothered with affection – poor thing. He didn’t look as though there was much spark left in him. At least he didn’t bite me!

Footnote: Bob's wonderful wife had generously provided both of us with substantial packed lunches. There was absolutely no need to supplement them with Cleator pies - I simply had to satisfy my curiosity. The benefit was that I saved some of my packed lunch for the next day when it was greatly appreciated!

Sunday 28 August 2016

The 1st Leg: Blooded at St. Bees

24th August 2016

We had planned on setting off from St Bees at 1030. We were half an hour down on arrival and then there was the palaver of getting a photo of both of us stood next to the Coast to Coast start point down by the beach. We spotted a chap who looked like he might help and asked if he'd take a couple of photos for us. He had a dog with him but he was happy to oblige.

I asked the dog's name (it's always good to have this sort of detail for a blog) - 'Bonnie', he said. After he had taken a photo for us with each camera, I went to speak with Bonnie and offered my hand (non-threateningly) for her to approve of. This was a mistake and resulted in her revealing a hitherto hidden savage nature. It also resulted in my being bitten. Whilst not severe (in fact it was a very minor wound) it did draw blood, causing Bob to remind me at various intervals throughout the day that I would need a tetanus jab when I got home. "Isn't that in the bum?" I enquired. "Not these days" he said (reassuringly) - it was the next day before I discovered that I had been misinformed!

Bonnie's owner didn't hang about after I was attacked. He probably felt awkward, but I was left wondering why he hadn't warned me about his animal's hostility before I offered the hand of friendship!

Next, there were a couple of rituals to observe. It's a tradition to dip the soles of your boots in the Irish Sea before starting the walk. On arrival at Robin Hood's Bay, the walk is completed by dipping your boots in the North Sea. The other custom is to take a pebble from the beach at St. Bees and carry it throughout the journey - throwing it into the sea at the end of the 190 mile adventure. Most people undertake the C2C by travelling from west to east (keeping the bad weather behind their back). Over time therefore, the pebble transfer ritual will result in a diminishing population of pebbles at St. Bees and an accumulation of them at Robin Hood's Bay. Perhaps a future geology student will research this for a thesis!

two pebbles for the journey and one of the highly detailed Trailblazer maps

Bob isn't one for rituals, so he waited whilst I trudged across a huge expanse of beach to dip my boots (the tide goes out a long way at St. Bees) and collect the pebbles - one each (actually I had two, just in case!). As a joke I brought back a huge stone for Bob and enjoyed his puzzlement for a couple of seconds before giving him a standard size C2C pebble to slip in his backpack. Finally we started the walk. We were now an hour behind schedule.

the climb up St. Bees Head

St. Bees
It's a steady climb up St. Bees Head - hiking poles are very helpful over the rocky sections. The reward is great views back to St. Bees beach and on a clear day (which it was) from a single spot, looking in three directions, you can see the Cumbrian hills, the Isle of Man and Scotland.

We passed St. Bees lighthouse (slightly inland) and an old coastguard station on the cliff edge. At one point we passed a small fenced off area containing a tiny drilling operation. Inspection revealed that it was something to do with locating a coal seam. I was amused to see that a Fire Assembly Point had been identified near the cliff edge - I guessed this was for the drilling team rather than the C2C adventurers.

St. Bees Lighthouse
old coastguard station
a health and safety measure for C2C walkers?

The maps that I was using came from the excellent Trailblazer guide - the 'Coast to Coast Path'. To call the hand drawn maps detailed wouldn't do them justice. There came a point where we needed to take a short cut away from the narrow cliff edge path. The map showed two boulders which we needed to head towards. Sure enough there were the two boulders - only about the size of a couple of fairly plump sheep. How about that for detailed cartography? Well, I was impressed anyway! We stopped for a photograph.

two boulders
looking north towards Whitehaven - before turning east for Sandwith

Birkhams Quarry (sandstone from here was used in building Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral and Albert Dock)

we walked through a couple of farms (aren't cows brill!)

C2C signpost - unfortunately there aren't any where they are most needed

C2C statue between Sandwith and Moor Row (the other bloke is me)

Millennium Milepost at Moor Row
arriving at Cleator - washing drying very nicely!
The journey inland from St Bees Head through Sandwith, Moor Row and Cleator were largly uneventful and fairly straightforward to follow. There was one waterlogged field between Sandwith and Moor Row but we were ready for it (the trusty Trailblazer guide had noted it as a potential problem) and we were able to detour around the worst of it. After a few days of heavy rain, parts of  the C2C must become a quagmire!

Cleator welcomed us with multicoloured bunting hung out on village green (see photo above). This is the village where there is a famous pie shop. Sadly there were 'NO PIES' for us as they sell out at lunchtime. Maybe there will be a happier pie outcome in the next report!

Dent Hill (from Cleator) looking very inviting
Dent Hill was to be the final part of the day's walk - and it looked so inviting in the late afternoon sun. It was 4:30pm though and the sun goes down at 8. We calculated that the climb and the steep descent to Ennerdale Bridge would take 3 and a half hours if we didn't get lost. So, Plan B was deployed and we headed for the Ennerdale Country House Hotel.

Ennerdale Country House Hotel
Although it looks a posh hotel, they didn't seem to mind a couple of sweaty hikers flopping down in the lounge and they make a great pot of tea! We had only managed 9 miles in the day and Dent Hill was still unconquered - but at least we had started the great C2C adventure. Would we still want to continue though or had it been more of an ordeal than we expected?

Saturday 13 August 2016

a quick note before the blog begins

This photo blog will begin when the first leg of our Coast to Coast walk is tackled in August 2016.
Bob and I - two old friends from way back - intend to walk 190 miles across England from St. Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire. Because we are not as young as we were we will be tackling one stage at a time - maybe taking a year or two to complete the 14 stages of the classic Wainwright route. The first leg is St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge, a distance of just over 14 miles (23 kilometres).