A Coast to Coast Walk (Part 1 – St Bees to Kirkby Stephen)
Having received a copy of A. Wainwright’s “A Coast to Coast Walk” when I was 16 I had always intended to undertake this journey so when Scarlet was fishing for ideas for a first Thistle trek in England I passionately campaigned for this one! I was therefore delighted to be asked to guide the trip. Meeting the group at the welcome evening I am pleased to see some familiar faces and excited at the prospect of showing friends around what is largely home turf to me having walked the Lakeland fells since I was 9 years old. (30 years ago!)
A fine, bright day to start.
In keeping with tradition we dip our boots into the Irish Sea before starting our journey, which takes us over the high red sandstone cliffs of St Bees head with spectacular coastal views. Sadly after this section David is feeling unwell and decides to take the day off to recuperate. Our Trek Manager (also called David) is on hand with the van for a pick up and the rest of us continue on. The morning bowls along through the rolling fields and villages of West Cumbria with enticing views of the Lakeland Fells drawing ever closer. We stop for a sandwich on the banks of the River Ehen before commencing the first climb of 300m up Dent Fell which proves a bit of a puff but well worth it for the fantastic panorama of the coast, the Isle of Man and the now much closer mountains. Leg muscles now truly warmed up we drop down and follow the delightful ravine of Nannycatch Beck, gently climbing onto Kinniside Common from where we catch our first glimpse of Ennerdale water as we descend to the waiting minibus and the day’s end. Tomorrow Lakeland!
With a strong South-westerly wind blowing, we are glad to be sheltered along the Southern shore of Ennerdale Water. The path is rocky at times but passes through some beautiful ancient woodland and soon rounds the end of the lake where we meet David and David who have walked in to meet us and and then head back out to the bus with John who isn’t feeling up to the tough climb over to Borrowdale. For the rest of us height is gradually gained on the forestry roads to Black Sail Hut. Emerging from the trees at this famously isolated youth hostel we are encircled by high spectacular mountains. We stop for lunch overlooking the meandering River Liza and after a quick look inside the tiny youth hostel where many years ago I was the warden, we begin the rough steep climb up Loft Beck. As height is gained we are more and more exposed to the wind. Its buffeting is quite distracting to the extent that Graham loses a pole but the team dig in and at varying pace emerge on the plateau where we regroup and begin our traverse to Honister, gaining some shelter as we descend from the strong following wind. David, David and John are waiting at Honister with the minibus where Pauline jumps in feeling exhausted and David jumps out feeling better to join us for the last few miles down into Borrowdale. The finest valley scenery that Lakeland has to offer distracts us from tired legs and the lure of a drink in the Scafell Hotel sees us to the finish in good spirits. The drive out to welcoming hosts in Keswick with great views of Derwentwater is a final treat.
Well I suppose we couldn’t have it all perfect and a humid grey and drizzly day sees us back in Rosthwaite for the climb over to Grasmere. Our first couple of miles are along sheltered lanes but as we leave the valley floor it’s on with the waterproofs as the showers chase us up Greenup Gill. John has a nasty cold so leaves us here with Trek Manager David to take it easy in Keswick and it’s a good call as the lungs need to be working well for the long and at times rough climb up to Greenup edge at 610m. Into the clouds, the views back down Borrowdale are lost. The compass comes out to make sure that we aren’t and some fellow Coast to Coasters latch on to the group thinking that we know what we are doing. David and I soon prove them wrong by getting a boot full of water crossing a stream but after a quick lunch in the mist we soon safely emerge down out of the cloud, all present and correct into Far Easdale. The cloud has stayed stuck up on the ridge and we find ourselves walking in sunshine down into the promised land of Grasmere, home of William Wordsworth – a fellow with an eye for a good view! It has been a good adventure and we have made some friends along the way.
The team are all up for it today and the magnificent 7 and I make good progress up from Grasmere on a well graded track in fine weather. The views back of Helm Crag and the Langdale Pikes beyond prove ample reward for our efforts and with some good banter between us and our trailmates from the previous day, before we know it we’ve crested Grisedale Hause and are over the highpoint of the day. The impressive surroundings of Grisedale Tarn are a bit breezy so we press on to have lunch a little lower at the Brothers Parting memorial where William Wordsworth said farewell to his seafaring brother John in 1805. The long gradual descent down Grisedale is full of interest and views of the high crags and coves of the Helvellyn ridge eventually give way to pastures barns and fine mature woodlands. Just in time too as a bank of cloud and drizzle has rolled in and is chasing us down to the valley floor. One last bump and a mile or so over to Patterdale village and the welcoming White Lion where a well earned drink is in order as we wait for Davie who has temporarily misplaced us! He soon finds us and the drive down the beautiful length of Ullswater is a fine end to a fine day.
The big one! The prospect of a 700m climb and 16 miles has persuaded Pauline that her blisters need a rest. The Electric 6 are psyched though and quite right too, its a beaut of a day in Patterdale! Sunshine, light winds and crisp autumn views as we climb up the steady incline from the valley floor to Boredale Hause. This is an all time favourite path of mine and with frequent stops for photos and to take it all in we keep gaining height and soon we are high above the perfect green strath of the valley with the farms of Hartsop like toys below. The sculptured shores of Angle Tarn with the fine high ridges of the Helvellyn ridge beyond provide magnificent prospects as we continue to gain height. By lunchtime we have crossed another watershed and reached the highpoint of our day and indeed the whole coast to coast walk. Kidsty Pike is a fine eyrie of a perch at 780m (or 2560ft if like AW and I you think of the fells in old money!) This was infact the last home of Golden Eagles in England and you can see why with the ground dropping steeply below us to the wild uninhabited valley of Riggindale. Support guide David has yomped up to join us and savour this last hurrah of the Lakeland leg. Together we all descend the ridge ,which is steepand tricky in places, to the shores of Haweswater. The lost village of Mardale Head was sadly drowned by the creation of reservoir in 1935 and in times of extreme drought its remains emerge ghostlike from the water. Here David accompanies David and John, weary but satisfied, to the minibus a mile away at the roadhead. The Famous 5 and I press on along the North shore which proves surprisingly hard work at first with a steep rise causing Graham to exclaim “If I’d known about this bit I’d have gone to the bus!” A close encounter with some red deer lifts the spirits and the still surface of the water shines in the late afternoon sun. By Burnbanks Graham has had his fill so the sight of the bus makes an easy decision. The gang of four, however remain determined to stride on to Shap. With encouragement from a surprise visit from Scarlet, Ollie and baby Willow we make good time in the warm evening sunshine. The landscape has changed dramatically and the going is fast as we leave the roughness of Lakeland behind. Phew that was epic!
Legs rested, blisters tended and assured by AW of “easy travelling on velvet turf” we set out on this the longest stage of our Coast to Coast week at 20 miles. The limestone landscape of the day is fresh and fascinating and thankfully far less hilly than yesterdays high crossing. We make good time passing over the milestone of the M6 and bounce along to Orton by elevenses where David swings by with the bus. We are all going well though and enjoying the views back to a now distant lakeland skyline and the fine prospect of the Howgills “huddled like a herd of sleeping elephants” to the south. Just as we are making plans to hunker down behind a wall to escape the chilly wind for lunch we are delighted to come across a well stocked ‘honesty cafe’ at Sunbiggin farm. The enterprising farmers children have provided teas and cakes to raise money for their equestrian competitions and we are more than happy to contribute and enjoy hot drinks and scones! Pressing on refreshed across more moors and dipping down into dales the miles fly by as do a pack of hounds being trained to follow a scent trail. They are breifly thrown off course by our own aromas just in time for a big brown hare to make his energetic escape! The last climb up and over smardale fell gives us a panoramic view of the high Pennines to the North and a glimpse of the chuch tower of our destiation. Progress is rapid on the smooth grassy paths and before David has had a chance to intercept us we are at the door of the Jolly Farmers with a warm welcome and good feed in prospect!
I waited a long time to get around to this walk but it certainly didn’t disappoint. Many thanks to Scarlet for so wisely choosing it 😉 and to ‘the magnificent 7’ with whom it was a pleasure to share it. I hope to see you all for part 2 next year!