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?

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