- Henry Stedman, Coast to Coast Path (British Walking Guide Series)
Awoke in St. Bees to sunshine and breeze and calling seabirds a very propitious morning indeed. Even more propitious was the full English breakfast we were served in the dining room downstairs veg version for me and Mark. (Warning: Off-colour footnote! Do not click here, Mom!)
Stuffed to our ears, and packed above our heads, we waddled the short distance down to the water. There we took our official start-of-walk group shot. Don't we just look as fresh as daisies? Try and commit that to memory.
Our first warning sign was when we spotted the steep path up to the cliffs on our right. "Is that where we're going? Uh . . ." However, we were still in a fine mood as we ambled down to the water (photo credit: DK). The Coast to Coast walk officially begins when you dip your toes in the Irish Sea. (Also try to remember what our boots looked like, prior to 200 miles of rocks, bogs, rain, mud, and sheep shit. We don't.)
Our first sign that Mark's slightly cavalier attitude toward pack weight and strap adjustment came at the top of the first climb, when he did his first pack retro-fit. Though, admittedly we were all huffing a bit 15 minutes into the 14-day walk. Still the views from the top of the cliffs were stunning as warranted; and it was here I began my love affair with the sheep. (Photographic love affair with the sheep, wise guy. You'll recognise these two from the banner image above.)
We also took another nice group photo, looking back to the south. (I still had goodwill with the group as regards obsessive photographing; this was to evaporate quickly.) In this shot (photo credit: DK), you can see a bit of the yellow gorse that was to line much of this stretch of path.
MF (sung to DK): "A gorse is a gorse, of course of course / And no one falls into the gorse, of course / Unless of course it's Darby / Being thrown into a gorge!"More southerly cliff action. Mark and Darby getting ahead of me on the path. This was to become a real pattern both because I was constantly falling behind with my picture snapping and note taking; and because I figured out I absolutely had to have human figures in most of my shots to convey any sense of the scale of things. Here's St. Bees Lighthouse coming into view.
"We're just kickin' it. We're cows." And I'm also proud to present the first of my many sheep portraiture series:
I particularly like that last gal caught mid-grass-munch.
We eventually turned east, inland, and bid adieu to the sea. The last sea we'd see until the next sea! After this, we began passing through endless fields, and country roads, and farms but I really didn't take any notes or pictures, so you'll have to use your imagination. We did, however, when skirting some awfully boggy ground in a field by a stream, come across two Coast-to-Coasters who were doing the walk in the opposite direction. (Almost everyone does it west to east, as that puts the prevailing weather at your back.) They had a couple of germane bits of information to impart: 1) The Lake District (which were about to enter) is absolutely glorious. 2) The waymarking is shite, the guidebook directions are shite and the whole walk is much, much harder than they had ever reckoned. One of the men, a Canadian, had only one arm we weren't bold enough to ask for reassurance that he had lost it before this hike. Going forward, though, we did cheekily refer to them as the Three-Armed Hiking Team. We bid them congratulations on being nearly done; and they bid us good luck.
At the first town of any size we passed (and do keep in mind the relative nature of these terms: the bustling metropolis of the whole walk, Kirkby Stephen, has a population of 1600) we ducked into the General Store (ie the only store) for lunch provisions. Two things I might relate about this store: 1) It was too small for the three of us to all fit in with our packs on; 2) it's the only convenience store I've ever seen with a guestbook. (Yes, I signed. I'm a pushover.) Thusly provisioned, we walked a few meters out of town and took our lunch in the shade of trees on the bank of small stream.
Then, inevitably, came the first real climb: Dent Hill, at 352m. We got a little strung out on the way up as Darby paused to de-boot and perform some essential foot maintenance. (Application, and re-application, of plasters, moleskin, compeed, and moisturiser became a regular and, soon, unremarkable ritual.) Once we all regrouped at the top, we sprawled around a large stone cairn. (The first of very many we were to see, and follow left there by generations of previous hikers who kindly wanted subsequent generations to be slightly less miserably lost than they were.) I celebrated our achievement with a tasty apple. Darby celebrated by looking all bad. Finally, well-pleased with our first summit, we began the descent (photo: DK) to the other side. We were officially entering the Lakelands.
Where we proceeded to get a bit lost for the first, but hardly last, time somewhere around a dramatic peak called Raven's Crag. Trying to get back on track, we crossed a couple of streams on well-placed bridges. ("Nice whoever came out and put all these bridges here. Of course, I guess that's true of every bridge you cross.") Darby and I talked about her house, the renovation and Darby-ification of which has been her major project for nearly four years. She mentioned she'd been trying to think of a good name for it, when her ex wrote and promised to retreive some of his belongings in "a timely manor". Not least because of her sizeable collection of house clocks, Darby had her estate name: "Timely Manor". It awaits only a wooden plaque.
Part of our descent was through some heavily logged areas. Darby also took this nice shot of Mark and devastation.
Finally, pretty sure we were back on track, only a mile or two from our day's destination, we stopped in the shadow of a huge, steep, sheep-dotted fell (Flat Fell?), a burbling brook before us. Leaning against our packs, we scanned the tiny dots of sheep on the implausibly steep side of the fell, watched the clouds go by, chatted easily. It was the first nicest moment of the trip. (Strangely, most of the nicest moments were those rare times when we stopped hiking for a bit.) I'm kind of amazed I don't have any pictures of this striking spot; but I think it's because I took a couple of movies (to get the panorama) and accidentally deleted all my movies later in a bizarre CD-burning accident.
Finally we rolled into Ennerdale Bridge, which is two intersections, three pubs, a post office/general store, and a run-down camp site. But the camp site had some lovely chickens the first of many I was to befriend along the way. We pitched our tents for the first time, by the side of another brook. Mark stayed with the stuff we hadn't yet internalised that we were going to have frequently to leave our gear alone, nor how safe it would be while Darby and I went for dinner at one of the pubs.
MF (after setup, walking through town): "This is great! Here we are in . . . where the fuck are we?"We brought Mark back a take-away dinner, laughed a lot in the tents and then spent an absolutely freezing, somehow-still-sweat-drenched-in-the-sleeping-bag, crappy night.