Coast to Coast – St Bees to Cleator

Date: 20 Sept 2019 Weather: 19’C, sun, sea breeze
Height gain: 1,158 ft Distance: 9.4 miles
Time taken: 4.3 hours Wainwrights:

And so it begins ……. on our ninth Coast to Coast walk we finally tackle the real start of this long distance path.  We’ve decided that we can just about get to the first section without staying over but we’ll just take one car and get a taxi from Cleator to St Bees.

We’ve nearly decided to do this section a few times recently and finally today is the day.  We’re feeling on good form and the weather is giving us a last blast of summer with sunshine and clear blue sky but with at a temperature which is hopefully not too hot for us.

S organised the taxi booking yesterday and we set off just before 9 am taking the M6 and A66 this time rather than the tortuous A590/595 round the bottom of the Lake District.  Sat Nav says it’ll take an hour and a half – we’ll see.  As the dual carriageway ends on the A66 we have two lorries in front of us doing an ok 55mph.  It’s not long, though, before we catch up to a tractor.

The short stretch of dual carriageway just beyond the first Keswick exit is restricted to one lane by roadworks and the tractor and both lorries take our exit at the next roundabout and we chug along behind.  Happily, the tractor then pulls into the next layby and lets us all past.

We finally lose the lorries as we turn left at the Cockermouth roundabout to tackle the 14 wiggly miles to Cleator.  There are lots more tractors on the roads, though luckily for us they are all coming the other way.  We arrive in Cleator at 10.25 am – just under an hour and half and in my view a much better route than the A590/595 despite the lorries and tractor.

There’s a good car park in Cleator, though it has oddly angled spaces and there’s just one space free.  S has asked the taxi to pick us up outside the pub next to the car park but when we arrive we find the pub is now an ordinary house – although the taxi driver seemed to know where S meant.

We put on our boots and go for an investigation past the church and down a lane to a cricket ground to pass some of the 20 minutes until the taxi is due – I’m also hoping a toilet will hove into view but no such luck.

I wander into the Church to take my mind off my bladder – it’s a lovely building for such a small place and has a sign outside encouraging Coast to Coasters to pop inside for a break on their walk.  A lady is arranging flowers and warns us that the path up Dent fell may be closed at the moment – she can’t quite get her head around the fact we’re currently in Cleator and plan to make this the end point of our day’s walk (Dent Fell will be our first assignment on the next section).

We leave the church, collect our rucksacks from the car and start waiting opposite what was the pub.  The taxi arrives two minutes early – fantastic.  The driver tells us it hasn’t been a pub for many years as he pops open the boot for us to stow our rucksacks.

We set off on the four mile drive through the lanes to St Bees.  The taxi driver doesn’t say a word during the short journey (they never seem to these days – is it the right career choice if you have zero interest in your passengers?).  He drops us in the main car park at the beach and does wish us a good walk, although he quickly adds that he doesn’t believe there is any such thing as a “good” walk.  He was on-time and efficient so no complaints that he doesn’t share a love of walking.

I’m relived that we’ve been dropped right next to the beach’s toilets and we both dive inside before doing anything else.

St Bees is looking beautiful in the sunshine:

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And we get reassurance that we’re in the right place:

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The tide is out, but we have to follow tradition and dip our boots in the Irish sea before setting off:

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As we start heading back up the beach a couple make a beeline for us and excitedly ask us if we’re just starting or just finishing – we confirm we’re just starting (we surely don’t look like people who’ve just walked 190 miles?!).  I feel a little guilty that we’re not setting out on a full 190 mile trip, but they seemed pleased to have met a couple of real live Coast to Coasters.

As we reach the end of the sand we make sure we follow the other Coast to Coast tradition and each choose a stone to take with us to be placed on Robin Hood’s Bay when we get there.  I read somewhere that it’s estimated that 9,000 people start the Coast to Coast walk every year, and I assume that the vast majority of them walk west to east – that’s quite a lot of stones leaving St Bees and ending up in Robin Hood’s Bay – I wonder if it’s noticeable over time?  There seemed to be plenty still to choose from …..

We stow our stones in our rucksack pockets and head up the headland and we’re finally starting the Coast to Coast.  I look back at St Bees as we reach the top of the first headland:

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The first four or so miles walking by the sea are very enjoyable, especially on a day like today:

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Like any coastal path we go up 200ft, down 200ft quite a few times (although we’ve walked some lovely sections of the South West Coast Path doing the whole thing doesn’t appeal for this reason – over 600 miles of up a bit, down a bit …..).

The path has been moved 10 or 20ft to the right in places to avoid cliff erosion but there are sections where we get to enjoy walking very close to the edge with lovely little coves visible below us:

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Just before we’re due to leave the coastal path we come across a bench and decide to stop here for lunch – home made sandwiches today rather than our usual pasties.  Although in full sun it feels pleasantly warm with the sea breezes which are thankfully also just strong enough to keep the various buzzing things from being too pesky.

Soon after setting off again, just after the 4 mile point,  we take a right hand turn away from the sea and start heading towards the village of Sandwith.  It’s fast walking on the road and there’s a good breeze in our faces.  We may have left the sea behind us for the day, but very quickly we start to see the profile of the western fells open up in front of us:

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I think you can just make out Scafell and Scafell Pike in the far distance just right of centre of the picture.

We come down into the village and helpful signs have been placed where needed to keep us on track as we turn left through the village and past the pub then right to join a footpath that takes us across the B5345 at Bell House.

We’re now walking on the outskirts of Whitehaven and, while we can still see the mountains ahead of us, the views are nowhere near what they were for the first few miles:

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In fact that’s the last photo I take all day as the walking gets less interesting.  We cross under the railway line and through a boggy field and pick up a wooded track that meets the road from St Bees.  We’ve gone wrong somewhere, but can easily put ourselves right by heading up the road for a few hundred metres towards the A595.

Just before meeting the A595 we take a left down to a cycle path that now runs along the dismantled Egremont Extension railway which provides an alternative to Wainwright’s original route and bypasses the village of Moor Row.  It’s not exciting walking, but there is shade from the trees on either side of us which is welcome as there’s little wind here and it’s starting to feel warm in the afternoon sunshine.  We stop at a convenient wall for afternoon tea (homemade veggie sausage rolls) then continue on the cycle path making the odd turn here and there.

We finally leave the cycle path and pick up a footpath to our left and soon see an immaculate looking cricket coming into view – I recognise this from our little stroll while waiting for the taxi this morning – we’re in Cleator already, a mile earlier than expected.   We had turned off to Sandwith a little earlier than planned and cut the corner (the original path had fallen into the sea so we didn’t have much choice) but it’s actually a nice surprise for the miles to be overestimated for once when we’re getting just a bit too warm.

We get back to the car and have an uneventful 90 minute drive home.  I’m pleased we’ve done the first section at last and the first four miles were stunning in the beautiful weather.  It’s shame the next few miles were a little dull – but I’m sure the next two sections through Ennerdale will soon put that right.