This year the car can have a rest. For the first time in many a year Roger will be catching the train to meet up with Brian to continue their odyssey of walking the coast of England.
It is 9.25 am and the train is sitting at the platform, the doors open and I get in with the forty or so other passengers headed out for Hexham and Carlisle. In the previous ten minutes of waiting for the doors to open I am hailed by a copper and a rather attractive Judy cop [for non-scousers = a policeman of the female persuasion] and asked if the backpack all alone on the bench is mine, and if it is I shouldn’t leave it unattended as they would have to call the bomb squad and we wouldn’t want that would we…….
I find a seat and settle down for the hour or so journey to Carlisle. I am soon in conversation with three members of an informal walking group. They meet up about once a month and go on a walk organised by one of the members. Today's “walk” consists of taking a train ride from Newcastle to Carlisle and then to Settle on the highly scenic ex Midland Railway Settle to Carlisle line across the Pennines.
Our conversation covered walking; trains and the English education system - a topic which soon takes a political turn and the next thirty minutes or so became very interesting. The journey to Carlisle passes quite quickly and I never did get round to reading the newspaper. On arrival in Carlisle the “walkers” headed off for their train to Settle as I settled down to await Brian's arrival from Guiseley pondering whether Brian would allow us to ride the train from Ravenglass to Maryport in lieu of walking. After all my travel companions from Newcastle have set a precedent of sorts. Carlisle station kept me amused with a steady stream of trains until Brian's eventual arrival. We headed over the footbridge to await our train to Ravenglass. We left on time and had an uneventful and comfortable journey to Ravenglass.
On arrival we strolled in the mid-afternoon sun to our digs at the South end of Main Street. Our digs are very good although designed by a chap with a grudge against tall people – the door lintels are set to decapitate anyone over 5 feet ten inches tall.
After dumping our packs we spend the rest of the afternoon strolling around Ravenglass. This doesn't take too long as Ravenglass is quite a small place. We start by turning left outside our digs and pass through the flood defence gate to the beach fringing the River Esk. We then retrace our steps and head for the other end of Main Street. We sit awhile and watch the confluence of the Rivers Irt and Mite at the North End of the village. The tide is out and the small collection of boats look rather sad and forlorn as they lie at odd angles waiting for the tide to return. We then stroll along to book a table in the Ratty Arms for our evening meal and visit the narrow gauge Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway station. Here we watch a video giving a potted history of the line. A train arrives and another departs whilst we are there. Then it's a bit more exploring before returning to the Ratty Arms for our evening meal.
The pub is a conversion of some of the BR station's buildings and the bar backs onto the platform. As we sip our beer and eat our meal several big trains arrive and depart. The meal is a bit of a farce. Brian orders Beef and Ale Pie with chips and I order Chili con Carne. The chilli is far too hot for me to enjoy so we swop meals. Brian, who must be possessed of an asbestos digestive tract, agrees it is a little hotter than your average pub chili but reckons it is one of the better ones he's had. Each of the tables also has a little container full of cards with 6 Trivial Pursuit questions on each. We while away an hour or so testing our knowledge with mixed results. We are both a little disappointed that between us we only managed to give correct answers to all of the six questions on each card three times.
We eventually settle for an early night and go back to our digs for a coffee and bed.
Ravenglass to Bekermet
The day dawns bright and sunny and after a pretty good breakfast we get off to a very prompt start for us. This is achieved by having no need to stock up with sarnies and the other accoutrements of a packed lunch. We have also managed to escape the digs with our heads intact – the low lintels have not claimed any scalps! We start by going to the River Esk again for a few more photographs before setting off in bright sunshine for all points North. The day is already getting warm, such a pleasant change from the last two years. My brand new sun hat is deployed from the start and I feel I cut a rather dashing figure. I think Brian is pleased I am no longer wearing the rather naff trilby I bought in Queensferry a few years ago.
We cross the River Mite on the footbridge next to the railway bridge and head for Saltcoats and Hall Carleton. At Hall Carleton we have a bit of a decision to make as the maps suggest one can go straight ahead and cross the River Irt by what appears to be a ford. This has the advantage of staying close to the coast, but can we cross the river safely. The alternative is to make a detour inland and head for a bridge further upstream and then across the fields to Drigg before heading back to the coast. The latter is by far the safer option so we take it. So far it has been sunny and very warm, but tempered by a pleasant breeze off the sea, all in all excellent walking weather.
After about 2 miles we leave the roads behind us and head out across the fields to the bridge over the Irt. On the map the word “bridge” is written in an archaic style of writing suggesting it could be of some antiquity. Despite the lack of rain the path is quite muddy in places especially as we near the river. Our path meanders a little up and down but eventually reaches the said bridge which is narrow and hump backed looks very much like an old pack horse bridge to us. The fields down by the river are a little muddy but nothing too serious.
The temperature since leaving Saltcoats has shot up, chiefly because we have been sheltered from the breeze. The trees around the bridge brought some welcome shade as did those lining our path on the final climb up to Drigg. Otherwise it has been just the wrong side of pleasant, but so different to the last couple of years.
We take a welcome break at the gateway to St Peter’s church in Drigg. This is a quite imposing arched structure linking two sections of the large retaining wall on the side facing the road. This wall has a bench built into it and we take full advantage.
Drigg is a small sprawling village and we pass a mix of old and relatively new houses and bungalows on our way toward the railway station and ultimately the coast. As we approach the railway we see that the level crossing gates are closed to road vehicles. As we prepare to await the train the crossing keeper breaks off from his conversation with the driver of a Land Rover and waves us through a small pedestrian gate. We speculate as to why the gates have been closed for so long with no train passing and come to the conclusion that this is the norm – the crossing gates closing the road unless road traffic wants to cross.
The road we are now on takes us past a fenced off area of some sensitivity. There are two parallel fences – over ten feet tall with barbed wire on the top. There is a well-worn track between them that has seen frequent use by 4x4 vehicles for a guess. To confirm our belief that this is some sort of official site that the authorities don’t want us to enter there is a series of signs fixed to the fence informing us that “Trespass is a criminal act under Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005”. Just to make sure we get the message the sign also informs us that this is “a protected nuclear licensed site”. We get the message – the authorities would rather we didn’t enter the premises.
The road continues alongside this place for about three quarters of a mile, then there is a sharp right hander then the road turns sharp left and makes a bee line for the coast. After 35 minutes we finally reach the beach and get our first real look at the sea. So far all we have had is some tantalising glimpses around Ravenglass.
We head north along the beach for 10 minutes or so and take another break. For the first time in a couple of years we can stretch out in the warm sun, with a gentle breeze to stop us getting too hot. We listen to the gentle caress of the waves as they roll up to the beach. This is sooo relaxing – a real cure for the stresses and strains of everyday life.
All too soon we realise we cannot stay here all day contemplating our navels so reluctantly get to our feet and shoulder our packs again. We make steady progress on the firm sand recently vacated by the departing tide. We see nobody except a man kayaking 50 or so yards off shore until we reach the outskirts of Seascale where we are joined by several score people out strolling on the beach or prom, throwing sticks and balls for dogs to chase – all the things one expects on a warm sunny day at the sea side. We leave the beach and almost immediately find a small café 50 yards or so from the prom – the delightfully named Pudding Lane Café and Bistro. We are soon ensconced at one of the tables set up outside with our pots of tea and generally enjoying life to the full what with watching people strolling by and so on.
Whilst minding our own business we are hailed by a man and his dog [well the man did the hailing] asking us if we had come far. We went into our usual explanations about walking the coast of England and that today was the first day of this year’s effort. During our interesting chat it transpires that this fellow is walking from John o’ Groats to Land’s End on his own [well accompanied by the dog]. A month ago he’d set out from the tip of Scotland. He was doing it in stages of 4 – 5 days and had his car as a back up. He started by leaving the car in some strategic location and then headed to John o’ Groats and set off walking towards his car. When he reached his car the next day or so was spent getting the car to the next location and getting back to where he stopped walking. Then he repeated the cycle of walking to the car etc. and so had reached the Cumbrian coast.
His route seemed a little strange to us as it encompassed a large chunk of the Scottish west coast north of Glasgow and most of the Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway coast as well. He had found it enjoyable so far and was getting ready to start the next stage on the morrow. He suggested that the beach was the best route to Sellafield and that it was simple to get from the beach up to the bridge over the River Calder. After a few more minutes our interesting conversation comes to an end and we set off once more.
The walk along the beach is as pleasant as it was earlier. We have had the beach to ourselves since leaving Seascale and in the warm slightly hazy sunshine it has been a very peaceful and pleasant time. The only real “excitement” was when we passed a stranded jelly fish the size of a soup plate lying on the beach. As lunch time arrives we reach Sellafield and the River Calder as it makes its way across the beach to the sea. The channel cut through the beach is deceptive as at first glance it looks easy to cross. A closer inspection soon reveals that it is just wide enough and deep enough to deter all but the most foolhardy spirits. We have to leave the firm sand and cross 50 yards or so of shingle and large stones to reach the dune path, go under the railway bridge and climb up some steps to the coast path.
Our lunch is disturbed a couple of times as first a group of runners come up the steps and head towards Sellafield station and then a group of cyclists heading North along the path pass us. Soon it is our turn to up packs and head over the bridge and pass between the railway line and the nuclear plant. The plant is protected by a high double fence topped with razor wire and just to remind us that Sellafield is a sensitive area we have not gone more than 200 yards past the bridge when a Land Rover with armed police in cruises slowly past us. We continue our way toward Sellafield station past the sidings where the wagons carrying the flasks containing the fuel rods to and from Britain’s nuclear power stations load and unload their radio-active loads. Way back in 1984 the CEGB conducted a spectacular test to demonstrate the strength of the nuclear flasks by crashing a diesel locomotive travelling at about 100mph into a waggon carrying a flask. link link Despite this and other efforts nuclear power remains a controversial subject.
During our planning for the walk we got wind of a closure of the path past Sellafield for the first 6 months of 2013. At this point I would like to thank Sarah Stewart and Bob Muscat of Cumbria's Countryside Access Ranger Service for the Copeland area for their advice on the progress of the work. Also a special mention must be given to “mcshroom” of Egremont, a member of www.cyclechat.net , who rode his bike down to Sellafield to check the status of the path for us. They were able to confirm that the although the footpath was closed North of Sellafield, the bridge over the Calder was open and the path diverted along National Cycleway 72. We really appreciate the help they gave us.
At Sellafield station we see a sign giving details of the closure and diversion. It is so the authorities can build a temporary road to bring some large new equipment from the beach a mile or so north of the station into the Sellafield plant. We took the diversion inland past the main entrance to Sellafield and adds about half a mile to our journey.
How the events of the next 20 minutes or so failed to make us succumb to intense paranoia we’ll never know. Before we reached the station and took to the road past the main entrance we were passed by the Land Rover full of armed police as it returned whence it came. This was followed by another Land Rover with armed police cruising slowly past us giving us the hard stare before we reached the main gate. As we passed the gate the police on duty watched us with more than a hint of suspicion and to top it all yet another vehicle with armed police went slowly by and parked in a gate way about 100 yards in front of us and then watched us as we walked by.
We continued past the security fencing glancing at the secret car parks hidden in plain sight and anonymous buildings speculating what would happen if we were to drop our packs near the fence, have a quick rummage and then walk away leaving the packs. We wondered how long it would take the police to arrive and arrest us or whatever. In the end we decided not to put our guesses to the test.
As we reached the Eastern edge of the site our path turned to the right and looped round to left to lead us to a short tunnel under the road. Once through the tunnel we were finally leaving the nuclear site behind us, yet somehow the police appeared to be still interested in us. The vehicle that had been parked in the gateway was now driving slowly along the track parallel to ours a few fields away. It came to a halt at the place where our route met their track. This attention from the security staff at Sellafield felt provocative and over the top. Sellafield is hardly a secret establishment – the world and his wife know what goes on there. Why these armed police felt compelled to drive past and give us a thorough visual examination is beyond our ken.
We continue along the field paths and take a rest on a conveniently placed bench in one corner. A few minutes later we continue on our way and note that the police have left – obviously they either got bored waiting for us or had decided that two 60-somethings plodding along, weighed down by their heavy packs, do not pose a threat to national security.
We eventually join the original route of the cycleway which sits on the track bed of a long lost railway from Sellafield to Beckermet. The day is still very hot and we continue to make steady progress. When walking on the top of the embankments we get good views inland and out to the coast accompanied by a very gentle cooling breeze; when in the cuttings or between the high bushes along the path we lose the views and the breeze but gain about 5o C.
As we approach Beckermet we leave the erstwhile railway and join the lanes for the last mile. We get a little confused by the sudden profusion of roads in the centre of the village but soon find the White Mare, not the favourite in the 3.30 at Kempton, but our home for the night. By 3.30pm we are ensconced in chairs outside the pub, under a large patio umbrella that offers welcome shade, sipping at orange squash and watching the world pass by at village pace. All in all a good end to a pleasant day’s walking.
After the squash we retire to our room in the converted stable block and change out of our sweaty walking clothes. We eventually appear sartorially refreshed and do a little exploring. Beckermet is a pleasant place with no particular wow factor. We take a pint in one of the other pubs in the village and try to make sense of the road plan and the OS map – we never really get our head around it - before returning to the White Mare for a pleasant, if slightly expensive [to us looking for something for nothing as usual] meal.
Bekermet to Whitehaven
Breakfast at the White Mare is good, but yesterday's was better. We leave the pub and spend another few moments trying to work out which road to take [for some reason this place, at the time, confused us mightily – today when we look at the map all is clear and we cannot explain why we became confused]. Fortunately a couple are passing the car park and point us in the right direction. As we leave we notice an old mining waggon behind the bus shelter opposite the pub. It looks rather pretty in its new guise as an outsize flower pot. The lush green of the leaves contrasting starkly with its working life in the stygian gloom far underground
We climb the short hill towards the Braystones road and head off towards the sea. Our plan is simple – get to the coast as soon as possible and [hopefully] enjoy some more beach walking on the firm sand left by the retreating tide just as we did yesterday. This is Plan A and we have no need for an alternative. Today is cooler than yesterday with quite a few clouds high in the sky which all makes for better walking. All in all we have a pleasant walk along the narrow road even though we are passed by a few cars and several groups of cyclists.
After about 20 minutes the road meets the River Ehen as it heads south from the moors to the East of Cleator Moor to find the sea at Sellafield. A sandstone tower looms over a line of trees and bushes on the far side of the river. It is a most unusual tower as there are large holes where windows ought to be yet somehow they look as though they have never seen a pane of glass in their lives.
As well as the cars and bikes we are also passed by a few walkers going the other way. Plan A gets lost hereabouts because we miss both routes down to the beach, one in Braystones and the other just outside. A hurriedly conceived Plan B sees us taking the road all the way to Nethertown. So we have to “endure” uphill and down dale with twists and turns instead of a flat straight beach.
We are due a break by the time we reach Nethertown and we find a convenient bench sited on a patch of grass in the village centre. As we take a very pleasant rest two more groups of cyclists pass by – one in each direction. We also recognise and say “hello – again” to a woman who earlier had walked past us going the other way before we had reached Braystones.
We consult the map and make a conscious decision to leave Nethertown via the road instead of heading down to the sea along a path from the village centre. Our aim is to get onto the beach at Nethertown Station. The map indicates a path just outside the village we can use to reach the station. For the third time this morning we miss a turning and end up on the road all the way to the station. Since leaving Nethertown the road has been steadily rising and as the station approach road reaches the coast we are on the top of a respectably tall cliff. The station is a few hundred yards away to our left and the beach is well below us. From our vantage point we note that there does not appear to be a way down to the beach, and the tide is much higher than we had anticipated. So with some regret we turn our back on the sea and head back to the “main” road towards St Bees. This is not a total disappointment however as along with the road and tide being higher the clouds have also lifted somewhat and with it we get some good views to the distant Lake District hills.
The walk along the road is unremarkable. The road twists and turns a bit; goes up and down a bit and depending on hedge height we get a bit of a view of the countryside. One thing we are determined to do however is make sure we find the path to the beach just South of St Bees which is just under two miles away. As we make our way along the clouds really start to fly high and with the sun now burning bright the temperature starts to rise.
The walk in the new morning sun gives our powers of observation a boost as we manage to identify the path to the beach [Not difficult as there is a finger post marking the way]. There is room on the road side verge for us to take a rest which we duly do. Whilst sitting in the sun the road suddenly becomes quite busy. Since leaving Nethertown fewer than ten vehicles have passed us. Now, in the space of about 10 minutes a dozen or so cars and lorries pass by at speeds varying from the sensible to the lunatic. After this mini rush hour we shoulder packs and take to the fields.
The field path is a pleasant change after all the road walking and it leads us down to a track parallel to the railway that hugs the coast pretty much all the way from Barrow to Workington. The track soon turns into a road with a few houses before we go under a bridge to get to the coast proper. Here we have a choice to make – to go along the somewhat rocky and shingly beach or take to the land. There is a path here but the only drawback is that the path climbs what appears to be an alp between the golf course and the beach. We decide on the path and set off. Once on the top of this mini-alp we are rewarded with some super views all round, from the sea to our left; St Bees Head in front of us and St Bees itself and the Lakeland hills inland. We can still just about make out the towers at Sellafield in the far distance. We soon cover the half mile or so to the cluster of houses and hotels at St Bees beach, the larger part of the village is just over half a mile away inland. There are a good number of people here and we are grateful to nab the only vacant table in the beach side café before settling down to a cuppa and sticky bun.
After our tea we leave the café and park ourselves on a bench to have lunch. The whole thing is very pleasant in the hot summer sun watching the world go by. All too soon though we have to set off and that means some serious climbing from the beach up to South Head and the cliff top walk past St Bees Head and on to Whitehaven.
The climb is as steep as we feared but maintaining a steady [editor’s note – ie slow] pace we get to the top in reasonably quick order. We even had time to stop a couple of times to turn and admire the view [editor’s note – ie stop to catch breath and rest]. The South Head is known locally as "Tomlin" and it dominates the long sandy [when the tide is out] St Bees Beach. At the top of the footpath from St Bees are the remains of the coastguard lookout.
We continue North and really enjoy this cliff top walking. These must be the highest cliffs we’ve been on since Somerset and in the afternoon sun, with gentle breezes, it truly is delicious. The only fly in the ointment is that we have to descend to the path leading to Fleswick Bay. Fortunately we don’t have to go right down to the beach but a handful of brave souls are relaxing on the beach surrounded by the sandstone cliffs.
Since we have been on the cliffs we must have seen a score or more walkers out enjoying the countryside. This bit of country is very peaceful – the only sound is that of the gentle breeze. We even doze off at one of our rest stops. Before we reach North Head however the peace is broken by the raucous cry of many gulls and a rather strange smell. The cliff is home to a large colony of gulls many of which are swooping and diving above us and along the cliff face below us. We guess that the strange whiff must be their guano.
The true geographical head of St Bees Head is the North Head, which is the most westerly point of Northern England and is the site of St Bees lighthouse link . During WW2 a radar station was operated from here, and some of the buildings can still be seen adjacent to the lighthouse.
The next twenty minutes become very frustrating. We follow the fairly obvious path lines and they take us down the cliff face for about 70 feet before bringing us back up to the cliff top. When we get back up it is very apparent that the detour down the cliff is not needed. After our little detour the coast swings to the East and we catch our first glimpses of Whitehaven. The next highlight is Birkhams quarry which is still in use for extracting St Bees sandstone.
It is about here that we begin what turns out to be a very long steady descent into Whitehaven. The cliff top retreats from the sea leaving a strip of land several hundred yards wide and about half a mile long. Our path runs along the cliff face, or should we call it a hill side now as the coast is so far away, gradually dropping with each stride. The path although it has been used by a lot of walkers is also quite overgrown with tall grasses and ferns encroaching on a narrow strip cut by the path. It takes a good deal of concentration and care to ensure a safe foot fall along this first part until we come off the side of the hill.
Once we are at the lower level the path widens out becoming free of the cloying vegetation and soon becomes a metalled track that will lead us into Whitehaven. Some money has been spent here recently as there are some seats and way-markers. To our left is the flat scrubby land leading to the cliff edge a hundred yards away and a few hundred yards to our right we pass the Woodhouse and Kells areas of Whitehaven. The path leads us past the Haig Colliery Museum based on the now closed Haig Mine. link link This is the only point of interest since we have left the cliff top near the quarry. There are a lot more people out and about along this section including quite a few kids with their bikes.
Eventually our path leads us to the cliff overlooking Whitehaven’s harbour. There is a large sign warning of a steep slope which duly appears. Neither of us fancy the idea of riding a bike down the slope when we reach it. We pass the Candlestick – a disused chimney - and we now have a good view of Whitehaven Harbour and town in front of us. We make a sharp right and after a hundred yards or so steps take us down to the quay side and we make our way to the town centre and find some digs. A lot of money has been spent in Whitehaven in the last few years converting the harbour into a marina and making huge improvements to the old quayside etc. The result of this is that Whitehaven, a town with a long gone industrial heritage, has featured in the Sunday Times list of Britain's top 10 seaside towns! Whitehaven has many claims to fame including the last invasion of the British Mainland occurred here in 1778 when the father of the American Navy, John Paul Jones, invaded the port. Footnote
There are several guest houses and B & B’s in the town centre and after about 15 minutes we select some digs and get settled in. The next step after cleaning ourselves up is to head out into town to find somewhere to eat. We quickly find out that Whitehaven town centre has little in the way of eateries in the evening. We eventually find an Indian restaurant which was pretty good. We keep an eye open for a likely pub for a quiet beer but they all appear to have been commandeered by the local youth out to have a good night complete with brash lights and booming music. We return to our digs to reflect on what has been a good, if tiring, day’s walk.
Whitehaven to Workington
On the morrow we have yet another pretty good breakfast and make our way to the local Tesco at the North end of the harbour next to the railway station. After purchasing our lunch we spend a chaotic five minutes finding a route to the path along the railway. The path and railway line are squeezed in between the sea and a tall steep cliff for the first mile past Redness Point. We meet quite a few cyclists and folk out for a Sunday morning stroll along this section. We also notice a number of signs warning of the dangers from climbing on the cliffs and the risk of falling stones. The cliff eventually retreats a little and we take to the road through the village of Parton. In Roman times a port flourished here and the village became a busy industrial centre in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today the industry has all gone and the sea level road is flanked by sombre, small terraced houses with the occasional shop. More modern 20 century housing estates overlook the road from the hill above. The walking so far has been a bit uncomfortable. The cloud base is quite low and it is warm and humid with no breeze to make things easier. We are both sweating profusely as a result.
At the North end of Parton the road takes us up a steep hill to Lowca and our road route continues uphill through the village and beyond before finally levelling out on far side. Lowca, like Parton, has an industrial past based on coal and steel. In 1911 a chemical works was established to exploit the latest coal by-product technologies which had been developed in Germany. During World War I, on 16 August 1915, the plant was shelled by a German submarine, U-24; an event which the Germans made much of at the time, and Lowca has made much of ever since. Local legend has it that a quick thinking local worker opened a relief valve which sent up an impressive plume of burning gas, so the submariners thought they had destroyed their target and left. Apparently the only fatality of the incident was one local dog.
One good thing is that the clouds are breaking and getting higher and there is a little breeze. Although it gets a little warmer the humidity drops like a stone and walking becomes pleasurable again. We leave the road soon after Lowca and take to the fields. At one point we take a brief rest in the field. We take advantage of the dry ground and stretch out in the warm sun and watch the clouds gently moving across the blue sky. The only thing to disturb the peace and tranquillity all around us is the puttering of a distant tractor and Brian’s snores.
Our path across the fields leads us towards and past a large wind farm. The cliff tops are about 400 yards to our right but gradually get closer as we approach Harrington. The path has been going downhill since we reached the wind farm where the narrow field path gradually became a broad grassy strip which turns into a gravel track. Sadly the views were blocked by the hill to our right as we descended, and the haze out to sea restricted that view as well, although we could just make out the presence of Scotland as a shadowy mass on the far horizon. At Harrington the path dived under the railway line and we found ourselves on a path next to a large grassy area leading to a small harbour with a number of pleasure craft moored up. This whole area had been recently landscaped and looked very pleasant. The view is dominated by a long low bridge carrying the railway which separates the harbour area from the rest of the village. Harrington is yet another village with a long lost mining; steel and port history.
One feature that we are both pleased to see is a pub. We approach and find the door invitingly open so 10 minutes later we are ensconced in the bar with the orange squashes. There are a few locals in and we get chatting. One of the topics is where to stop tonight. We will probably arrive in Workington by mid-afternoon which on the face of it is a bit early, yet Maryport is more than 6 miles beyond Workington – say another 3 hours. Just to complicate matters that then has a knock on effect as to where we stay on the subsequent days. As per usual we decide to put off any decision. One bit of useful information provided by the locals is that the Waverly Hotel in Workington is OK. We gratefully add it to my little list of places to stay.
After a rather pleasant 20 minutes or so we leave the pub and make our way to a bench overlooking the harbour and have lunch. It is really getting warm now. When we finally get moving again we quickly find the path that lies between the coast and the railway line. The route into Workington alongside the railway is not particularly inspiring or pretty. In the initial stages it is dominated by mudflats and shingle, the sound of waves breaking gently on the shore and the smell of seaweed. Inland there is little to see except the roofs and walls of buildings. As we approach Workington we can see some white “hills” in front of us and from this distance they look like natural features. It was only when we got closer that we realised they look more like the waste from some industrial process – presumably from the steel works that used to be here.
Our path crosses to the land side of the railway and the view is dominated by the industrial wasteland that used to be Workington steelworks away to our left. Nothing remains of the steelworks – it’s been flattened – except the hills of white stuff at the Southern end. The urban landscape to our right is also uninspiring. We then lose all views as we are hemmed in by a pair of tall fences. It is now very hot as the sun hammers down on us in our narrow tunnel open to the cloudless sky above. There is no breeze so we get a gentle roasting, quite a contrast to the cool cloudy conditions of the morning.
The purgatory of the fences is relieved by the arrival of a road over the railway. We climb up to the road side and find a large-ish grassy area and take a break. Not ideal but it gives us a chance to review our progress and plans. We could probably reach Maryport by 5.30 or so if we push on straight through Workington on the main road. In the end we decide to stop in Workington and take a more “scenic” route to find some digs by heading for the river and the docks. So we follow a new road into a re-developed part of the old steelworks site that gives access to some factory units and retail parks as well as a route to the docks.
As we close in on the river and the docks it quickly becomes apparent that we are not going to see much. The road is hemmed in by tall hedges and through the gaps all we can see is scrubby ground and the roofs and other paraphernalia associated with industry. We decide to give it up and head into town. We make our way back past modern anonymous buildings to the railway line and the town to look for some digs. [We later find out that if we had gone on a few hundred yards further we would have reached a road called Sea View that leads down to the river and Town Quay. Whilst not the prettiest marina and river side area it is a far more interesting route back into town than our chosen one – such is life!]
Accommodation is not at all obvious. I have my little list but so far we have not come across any of them and some on my list are a mile or so further inland. We go over the railway line and past the station. There is an hotel here but it is shut. After a further 5 - 10 minutes or so we spot the Waverley hotel a street away. With the recommendation of the fair folk of Harrington in our minds we find the entrance and make enquiries. The hotel is good evidence that one should not judge a book by its cover. Although the exterior has been painted a bright white with black detailing the image created is not good. Inside it is very different. Whilst not modern it is clean and comfortable with a rather comfortable bar. Our en-suite room is a good size with comfy beds. After unpacking and showering we switch on the telly to find Andy Murray is one set to love up and is but a few games away from winning the second.
Andy duly wins the second set 7-5 and we settle down to see if history can be made. In the event Murray becomes the first British man to win the win Gentlemen's Singles Final at Wimbledon after a 77 year wait following Fred Perry’s last Wimbledon victory in 1936. After a nervy final game, when for some strange reason Murray couldn’t hear Brian’s impassioned pleading to serve an ace on each of the match points he had, Murray beat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. Cheers and tears all round and Murray can now fail for the rest of his life but will be forever famous. As an added bonus the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year has also been won although a vote is yet to be cast.
After all the tension and excitement of the tennis it’s down to the bar for meal. The few people in the bar soon leave, but as they were in the bar when we arrived I guess it is fair to say they’ve done their shift. The meal was basic but very good. We decide to stay in tonight and have a few beers before retiring for the night. The TV news is still full of Andy Murray’s exploits at Wimbledon.
Workington to Allonby
Our breakfast at the Waverly doesn’t disappoint. It is a buffet offering, which makes a change to the usual service in a B & B. As always our first port of call is a local supermarket to obtain provisions. The hotel receptionist points us in the direction of a bit of a shortcut along one of the terraced streets nearby and across an open grassy space to the ring road and supermarket.
On leaving the supermarket we head north on the ring road and cross the River Derwent before heading towards the docks and the coast. The map suggests two routes North – the path alongside the railway or go a little further along the road and get a little closer to the coast before picking up a path there. We decide to take the path by the railway and in some ways regret it as all we can see is the railway line and industrial units to our right and the tall bushes and trees that flank the path to our left. It is not as hot as yesterday afternoon but warmer than yesterday morning under a hazy cloud cover.
As we head North some gaps appear in the bushes and we can see a shingle bank and, despite the map suggesting there is a path closer to the coast, we decide to stay on the good surface close to the railway even though it has become a bit of a tedious gently rising uphill walk. The tedium is lifted briefly however as first we see a train heading South and shortly afterwards another heading North.
Eventually the bushes disappear altogether and the coast becomes much closer to the railway line. We continue to make steady progress on the path which is now flanked by the rocky foreshore before reaching a low grassy bank where we take a break. We both doze off to the gentle hum of the industrial lullaby from across the tracks.
After our break we head off for Flimby and despite the path becoming quite overgrown in places, the walking is much more pleasant. Our views across the countryside are not so restricted as earlier, although to our left Scotland is still lost in the haze out to sea. The path meanders over the grassy bank so at times we are walking with the foreshore a few yards away and at other times it is 70 yards or more away. We have to cross several streams and are grateful that someone has built some wooden bridges. We meet a couple strolling through the long-ish vegetation enjoying the warm sunshine like us. In amongst the grasses there are clusters of brightly coloured flowers that add a welcome splash of colour.
We take another break in Flimby station. Flimby appears to consist of a string of houses etc along the road with several housing estates behind. We make ourselves comfortable on the bench in the small waiting shelter and are entertained by half a dozen guys making a section of the Southbound platform higher. They must be hot and sweaty in their hi-vis jackets. Scotland continues to hide in the haze out to sea.
After Flimby the tall grass disappears and walking becomes distinctly easier and more enjoyable. There are a few ups and downs and twists and turns but generally speaking this would be a stroll in the park were it not for our packs. The railway swings away from coast as we approach the Glasson area of Maryport. Our coastal path eventually leads us to the marina and as at Whitehaven there has been a lot of money spent converting the once industrial port into a haven for pleasure craft. That said, amongst the pleasure craft there are still quite a few small fishing boats. The day has become very warm and the breeze has dropped away
Maryport is another of the towns I visited earlier in the year on a bit of a reconnaissance mission that included Silloth; Workington and Whitehaven amongst others. So far my small amount of knowledge has not caught me out, but I get my come-uppance in Maryport. On my previous visit I limited myself to finding a Tourist Information Office which was located in an Arts centre type place and collecting phone numbers of B&B’s nearby. Of course we were going through a bit of the marina I had not seen before but it did not stop me going on about how the information place was just around the corner when it wasn’t. We came across a café which also dispensed some tourist information including the phone numbers for a couple of places that did bed & breakfast in Allonby – our destination of choice about 5 – 6 miles further North. After a few phone calls we are successful in booking some accommodation at the Ship Inn, Allonby. The essential bit of knowledge we glean is that we must arrive by 18.30 – the chippy closes at 19.00!
We settle down on a convenient bench overlooking the harbour and take our lunch. When we finally set off we pass a rather attractive sculpture of 3 men and a dog commemorating Maryport's long history as a fishing port before crossing a bridge and turning sharp left along the harbour wall and into the streets that lead to the coast on the North side of town.
When we reach the sea we also leave the houses behind as the road continues along the foreshore with a promenade on the sea wall to our left and some low cliffs about 50 yards or so to our right. The road ends in a car park but the promenade continues as far as the golf club. The breeze has gone altogether now and it is getting much warmer. The sea is calm as a mill pond and the gentle waves make barely a sound as they lap the shingly beach. There are very few people on the beach but we see several score or more people out strolling along the promenade. One guy asks us if we would like to take his three dogs with us!
We take to the grass at the golf club and the coastal road gets up quite close and personal after the golf club leaving a strip of grass less than 100 feet wide for much of the way to Allonby. At one point we have to take to the road as some major works have ripped off the top soil for several hundred yards in the Blue Dial / Mealo House area. It looks as though there will be pipe laying in the near future. The walking is becoming tedious now. It is so much hotter than the morning and the views inland are not desperately exciting. The rocky shore line holds little interest although Scotland is now a distinct shadow on the horizon compared to this morning.
We are both more than grateful to see Allonby gradually getting closer. Also the road gives us more elbow room and there is a wide grassy area to walk along. As we get closer we see the magic word “Café” on one of the first building in the village. We make a bee-line for it and arrive just before it closes. Indeed the staff have started bringing the chairs and tables in from outside. We manage to get a cuppa and an ice-cream and settle down to a welcome break from the out-side world. The temperature has really made us feel very tired.
Allonby is a small village strung out along the road with several caravan parks spreading inland. The vast majority of the buildings are on the landward side of the road which leaves a wide grassy area leading to the beach. In the late afternoon sun it all looks very jolly.
After our cuppa we take to the road to seek out the Ship Inn which is our home for the night. We pass a convenience store and a pub, plus the chippy. The road does a dog leg to cross Crookhurst Beck and a few yards further on we spot the Ship complete with Blue Plaque commemorating the day in September 1857 when Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins stayed there.
The ship is an old building and at some time in the past a brave attempt was made to refurbish the place. We have an orange squash in the bar whilst checking in before going up to our room. Our room is quite comfortable with a small en-suite tucked under the eaves. Sadly this happened some time ago and the pub feels as though it’s living on past glories. We get changed and cross over to the chippy just after 6.30pm and sit outside in the evening sun eating from the paper.
We also discuss our plans for the next few days. Earlier in the week we entertained ideas of walking to Carlisle. After Silloth this involves a fair amount of road walking and a paucity of places to stay. Neither of these is particularly appealing although getting to Bowness on Solway where Hadrian’s Wall starts [or ends] feels a logical place to end. Sadly the River Wampoul estuary gets in the way and the coast is flanked by marshland for much of the time – hence the road walking. In the end we decide to finish our walk at Grune Point just North of Silloth. In some ways we are disappointed but reality has a habit of getting in the way.
Having decided our plans for the next couple of days we head back to the convenience store for the morrow’s lunch. The pub next door has a happy group of holiday makers enjoying a drink or three in the evening sun. We resist the temptation to have an ice cream but do clear the store of its few remaining sandwiches.
One of the more interesting things we see is a large road side sign informing the world that all the businesses in Allonby are open as usual even if the road is closed. On our return to the Ship we get the background to this. Apparently when the winds blow and the tide is right [or wrong depending on your point of view] the sea conditions can be such as to make passage of the road at Dubmill Point too dangerous and the road is closed. With that cleared up we settle down with the locals in the bar to watch some Rugby League. It’s quite a good game with the white rose defeating the red [Wakefield 24 - Widnes 14]. We are safely tucked up in bed by 10pm.
Allonby to Siloth [Grune Point]
Our walk this morning started in bright sunshine with few clouds in the sky. There was a distinct wind rather than the gentle breezes of yesterday. We cross the road to the broad grassy swathe that leads to the rocky beach and headed for Dubmill Point and all points north. We make steady progress along the grassy bank just above the beach. The tide is out to reveal the rocks and shingle that make up most of the beach, below the high tide line there are patches of dark sands. Despite the fine weather the far views are hidden in the haze. Scotland continues to flirt and tease us, preferring to hide in the haze with the occasional veil lifted briefly to show slightly more detail rather than fully reveal herself. It is a similar story inland with the far Lakeland hills mere shadows in the haze. Closer to hand there is some entertainment as a large contingent of sea birds swoop and sweep across the beach whilst others wade through the water looking for food at the tide line.
As we approach Dubmill Point the road comes ever closer to the sea eventually running along the sea wall. We estimate the road is little more than12 feet above the beach and we can readily imagine that with the right conditions the road would be seriously affected when the bad weather closed in. No wonder it gets closed from time to time. We take a break here and enjoy the warm sun on our backs. Despite crisp shadows the distant views are still lost in the haze.
The road swings inland again after Dubmill Point and we are able to walk along the edge of the low grassy bank overlooking the beach which has become less rocky and shingly. We see some attractive purple flowers scattered amongst the grass and for the first time notice the number of butterflies flitting over the grass. We meet a Solway Ranger and have a brief chat whilst the hundreds of birds all along this section of beach paddle, swoop and soar away to our left. We continue walking through the dunes until we reach Beckfoot where we take to the road, then back to the dunes for the final approach to Silloth.
The walking has been enjoyable today although the picky ones might say it was a little too warm – much better than the grey and damp of the last couple of years though. As we approach Silloth we keep a weather eye out for a path away from the beach that will take us inland a few hundred yards past the golf course before turning left to head directly for the town with the golf club on our left and a caravan and camping park on our right. We favour this as an alternative to continuing on the foreshore and beach as we do not know whether there is an easy route from the beach past Silloth docks [the map indicates a track from the town stopping a little short of the beach].
We duly find the path and head inland. We find the junction where we must turn left with no problem and again make steady progress towards the town. The only [small] fly in the ointment is that the paths have tall hedges on each side for most of their length so we are well shielded from the wind that has been keeping us relatively cool all morning. The path eventually turns into a road that at the entrance to a small housing estate swings to the right. Our route takes us straight on into the estate where we take a short footpath that leads to the entrance to the docks. A quick right turn and we are soon walking past houses and shops to reach the main road along Silloth sea front. To be fair the sea is some 300 yards away across a broad and wide open park known as The Green.
The Green is a more than pleasant area and feels like a step back in time. The streets flanking the Green, Criffel Street and Lawn Terrace, are both cobbled, and with fine Victorian terraces overlooking the trees, bushes and well-manicured lawns that make up The Green it is easy to imagine one is inhabiting a scene from the start of the 20th century. We can readily appreciate why this was one of the premier sea side resorts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Golf Hotel overlooks The Green and with the rates being very reasonable we book in for the night. We go to our room and dump our packs before unpacking all but the essentials for the last part of the day’s walking out towards Skinburness and Grune Point. We head toward the front along Lawn Terrace and soon reach the lifeboat station and promenade. We spend a while exploring the immediate area before setting out along the prom to Skinburness. To our left is a small car park where a fun fair is setting up and a grassy area which leads to the dock entrance complete with dock gates. A modestly sized cargo ship is in harbour making this port the only one devoted solely to trade we’ve seen this week. Away to our right is a large promenade heading far to the north. Out to sea Scotland is still a shadowy presence behind the haze.
At first the prom is a wide and substantial affair but gradually Skinburness Road and the coast converge and the prom ends where they join up. It is replaced by a wide grassy area between the sea and the road with its neat houses and bungalows. As we near Skinburness itself someone has thoughtfully placed a bench for us to take a short break. The houses start to crowd the sea hereabouts and we have to leave the coast and do some street walking for a few hundred yards.
We meet several locals who eye us as though we are about rob them – a most unwelcoming – and unexpected look. We pass another local who is having a mild altercation with the driver of an open topped convertible about how this is a private road. The local has no regard for the fact the driver could be visiting family or friends or even wanting to view the house for sale just down the road. As we leave the houses and go onto a track parallel to the coast we meet up with yet another local with a wheelbarrow who again gives us a look we reserve for undesirables. The last five minutes have been very unexpected and unusual. Generally speaking everyone we’ve met or passed has at best been very friendly or at worst indifferent and just going about their business. All very sad.
Our track leads us to a rocky beach which we have to negotiate for a hundred yards or so to get onto Grune Point. The map suggests there is a path that runs just west of the centre line of the point and that joins to another going back to the main land along the eastern shore. All we can see on the ground are some fields and no evidence to suggest where the path lies. Sadly the fields have some fairly impenetrable hedges so it is difficult to make out the bigger picture. We gradually make our way from the west side of the point toward the east side and go through several fields but in the end we decide that we have no real idea exactly where we are and how far along the point we are. This is all a bit disappointing but the combined effects of not knowing where the paths are; a long-ish day walking in the sun and the lure of the last bus from Skinburness to Silloth all persuade us to cut our losses and turn around.Footnote
We make our way back to the beach and track into Skinburness and meet the guy with the wheelbarrow again. He still eyes us as though we are most suspicious characters on earth but we just ignore him. The bus departs from the other side of this narrow spit of land so we cross it by means of Dick Trod Lane which takes us past some very pleasant and desirable houses and bungalows. The bus stop is on the corner with Skinburness Road and to our right as we reach the junction is the entrance to the erstwhile Skinburness Hotel which is in a very sad state of dis-repair. We had found the hotel whilst researching accommodation in the Silloth area but no price listing. We now know why. The bus duly arrives and turns around and takes us back to Silloth.
We have decided not to make tonight the Last Night, that will be held on the morrow in Carlisle. So tonight we content ourselves with a very good meal at the Golf followed a bit later an evening stroll back down to the lifeboat station. Scotland is much clearer now across the Solway, but with the sun starting to set the face presented to us is in shadows. Scotland is intent on keeping her beauty hidden from us. We explore the green and find a putting green and a small kiddies explorer trail. It all goes to reinforce our view that Silloth, despite its small size, is a very good place to be. The only negative thing we have found is the steady shuttle of open articulated lorries that trundle over the cobbles of Criffel Street every 10 minutes or so from breakfast to tea time on their way to and from the docks.
Siloth to Carlisle (by bus)
After a good breakfast we pack up for the bus ride to Carlisle. Before going to the bus stop we make one last journey to the sea front to see if Scotland will be coming out to play and to savour for the last time the tranquil delights of Silloth. In the event Scotland is still somewhat coy so we score one out of two. The bus ride to Carlisle is uneventful and just before lunch time we arrive and make our way to the Tourist Information Centre [TIC] to look for accommodation and restaurants. Many of the B & B’s are away from the city centre, and most of the restaurants are in the city centre so we have some decisions to make. In the end we decide to stay at the Edwardian era Crown and Mitre Hotel which, being a pukka hotel, is slightly more expensive than our usual haunts but is right in the city centre. Indeed it is little more than 50 yards from the TIC. We cross the pedestrianized English Street and check in. Our room is at the rear in an annexe and is nice and comfortable.
We unpack and then armed with the map marking likely watering holes kindly provided by the TIC spend the afternoon looking for likely places to eat and exploring the city centre. We see the Cathedral and Castle as we make our meandering way around the city centre. We even make time for a coffee sat in the warm afternoon sun outside one of the coffee shops on the main shopping street. We also call in at the station to confirm our train times home in the morning. The station was rather busy when we arrived and the reason could be smelt and heard simmering at one of the northbound platforms. The Fellsman Express had arrived. This is a series of steam hauled excursions that run up and down the Settle & Carlisle line for the benefit of steam train enthusiasts and tourists alike. Today’s train had been hauled by ex-LMSR 8F loco 48151 and resplendent it looked in its gleaming black paint. A far cry from the usual patina of grime these freight workhorses would have carried in an earlier era.
Armed with train times we head back into town still seeking our last night venue. We find an Italian restaurant and a pub, the Kings Head link || Footnote, near the hotel and both suit our taste perfectly both in beer and ambiance. There is also a bonus as the pub is 75 yards from the hotel and one has to pass the restaurant to get there!
Having decided where we will be going we retire to the hotel to get ready to enjoy our last night of the walk. In the event it is one of the better ones. We had a pre-prandial drink in the Kings Head where we were treated to the live band doing a sound check for their show later in the evening. The food and wine in the restaurant [Francos] was excellent and although the restaurant was busy enough to have a good atmosphere the staff still found time to chat. After the meal we returned to the Kings Head for a few more beers. The band were well into their set out in the covered courtyard outside the bar we were sitting in. They were very good.
Shortly after the band finished we called it a night and made our way back to the hotel.
Remarkably we awoke feeling pretty good after the exertions of the previous night and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the first floor dining room that overlooked the market square. We had time to take a gentle stroll toward the station. The time for my train to depart eventually arrived and we bid farewell after an enjoyable if slightly shorter walk than we anticipated. Brian has to wait nearly an hour for his train to leave. My train journey home was not without incident as soon after leaving Wetheral station it came to a halt and then crawled along for a while before buffering up to the failed train in front. Our train then proceeded to push the broken down train all the way to Newcastle where our arrival was about 20 minutes late. A somewhat unusual end to one of our walks.