What a strange and interesting week! I had my time and enjoyment influenced by lots of different people this week, not by design but just because that’s what happened. All but one of the people I met was so friendly, kind and helpful; it really made for a memorable week and I’m very grateful to all of them.
The walking this week was dominated by Duddon Sands and Morecambe Bay, and the rivers that flow into them that have to be crossed. I avoided all danger (and muddy feet) by eschewing any path that crossed river beds or the sands at low tide.
It is a beautiful area: on the edge of the Lake District but not as popular with tourists. If I come back again I would like to visit Piel Island and to hire a Queen’s Guide to walk me across the sands, avoiding the quicksand and the rushing tide.
Zephyrine very kindly offered to drive me to Heysham Port to catch the ferry to the Isle of Man. There was just enough time to take a quick trip to the Half Moon Bay Cafe on the shore of Half Moon Bay, Heysham.
I had decided a couple of weeks ago that as I was passing through Heysham I would take a trip to the Isle of Man. Luckily I have a friend who lives there and she offered to host me for the duration of my stay. What a great opportunity to see her and see Mann. I leapt at the chance.
Today’s ferry was the sea cat – super fast and comfortable on a calm day. It was a bit misty so the views weren’t great and I took the opportunity to do a spot of planning.
By the time I arrived in Douglas, mid-afternoon, the sun was just breaking through and it was perfect weather for a coastal walk.
Douglas has quite an impressive sea front with its tall hotels facing the sea. When I got a bit closer I could see some of its faded glory but it looks like it’s time is coming again.
From the ferry terminal I walked up to the cliff top and admired a war memorial there. Unlike all the other war memorials I have seen, commemorating the Great War, this one was for the 69 Manxmen killed alongside Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar.
The Isle of Man has a 95-mile long coastal path (called Raad Ny Foillan in Manx Gaelic) and I walked 7 of those miles. It was a beautiful walk along the cliff top road (no longer open to vehicles) called Marine Drive staring at the sea and the sky. At Port Soderick the path headed inland along one of the beautiful wooded glens that Mann has.
I crossed over the railway line for the steam train (which I saw twice) and cut across Santon Head towards Port Grenaugh, past a big posh house, where I was meeting Diane.
It had been a lovely walk to begin 4 days of sightseeing around the island, hosted by Diane and Colin and their family.
This morning was mostly spent chatting with Zephyrine; an incredibly interesting and fascinating lady. I also managed to get some admin done.
In the afternoon Zephyrine took me to visit some friends of hers – a coppicer who grows willow and makes wonderful baskets, and a homeopath who weaves wool on a proper loom. Lovely people and I got to visit their herd of Shetland sheep.
On the way back through Lancaster we drove up to the top of the hill and looked at Lancaster’s very own Taj Mahal, the Ashton Memorial, with its commanding views of the city.
Dinner this evening was roadkill pheasant (that I learned how to prepare) with vegetables from the allotment and farm garden and foraged blackberries. Very tasty indeed.
I left Colin’s house just after 8 am and walked to the train station. It was a chilly morning and the first time I needed an extra layer. It was also really misty and, throughout the morning, felt like I was cloaked in a fog and part of a Sherlock Holmes novel.
I was using the train to get across the River Kent, the last of the big estuaries in this enormous bay that require treks inland to cross them. It is much easier to catch a train as the train line always seems to be the first bridge across.
At Arnside it was cold enough for me to stop for a coffee and check of my route before I really got going. Suitably steeled, I set off and followed the path around the coast. Sometimes I was in the lovely woods that surround Silverdale and sometimes I was on the shoreline.
The tide was out and all I could see through the gloom was sand/mud stretching out into the mist. It was quite eerie and, strangely, I quite liked it.
Around lunchtime I made it across the border into Lancashire and from this point on the coastal path signs were more frequent and obvious. Silverdale is the first Lancashire town and I stopped at the Wolf Hall art gallery cafe for a spot of lunch.
The path headed slightly inland, under the railway and across the edge of marshland to Carnforth.
By now the sun had burned through the mist and it turned into a beautiful afternoon as I headed once more along the shoreline of the marshes, very aware of the incoming tide. Finally I could see Morecambe.
I stopped at Red Bank Farm for an ice cream before the last stretch into Morecambe.
I walked all along the seafront at Morecambe and admired the various sculptures and buildings that hinted at a more glorious past. There were also newer ones that hinted of an upgraded future.
It’s a long way along Morecambe promenade and by the time I reached Heysham I was ready to stop walking. I still had to catch a bus and walk along the canal in Lancaster to get to Zephyrine’s house; fortunately I made it before collapsing in a tired heap. It had been a long, but lovely day.
After breakfast Nicola offered to drive me the first part of today’s walk, out of Barrow town, past the docks (where the submarines are launched from) and along the road to Roa Island. From here it is possible to get a ferry to Piel Island, the tiny island in Piel Channel between the mainland and Walney Island.
This is the island with not much more than a castle and a pub, and the pub landlord is the King of Piel. Unfortunately the ferries stop running at the end of September and, despite my best efforts, I could not find anyone to give me a lift over, nor could I get hold of anyone at the pub. It would have been nice to have camped there for a night but it wasn’t to be. According to Conrad, people around here are a bit funny and he wasn’t surprised the pub didn’t answer its phone. I was regaled with many stories last night of people from Walney not mixing with people from Barrow; apparently it is common for locals never to leave their own patch. In their whole life. A strange place.
Nicola dropped me off at Aldingham, where the road leaves the coast a bit. From here I picked up the coast path and had a very enjoyable walk along the shoreline of Morecambe Bay.
The tide was out and the sand/mud stretched for miles. The sun was shining and the sky was brilliant blue; this meant that there was a bit of a haze so, unusually, it was not possible to see Morecambe and Heysham across the Bay.
I walked past a wonderful house next to the beach (called Beach House) that was the site of a landscape arts project. There were lots of sculptures arranged in a garden made on the stony beach. It looked incredible.
Just after Conishead Priory Buddhist Temple I turned inland to Ulverston, the birth place of Stan Laurel and home of Sir John Barrow, famous Arctic explorer.
There is a huge monument to Sir John on the hill overlooking the town.
I caught the train from Ulverston, one stop across the Leven Viaduct, to Cark. Around here the train lines are the most coastal routes across the rivers.
Several people had recommended that I visit Cartmel, a rather quaint village built around a mediaeval Priory. So instead of walking the coastal way I headed inland slightly, along the Cistercian Way, to Cartmel. The Priory was indeed quite magnificent; it was built by William Marshall who is generally thought to have been instrumental in enforcing the Magna Carta after King John died.
I stopped for a quick ice cream on a hot, sunny day and headed over Hampsfell into Grange-Over-Sands. The views from the top were excellent, all across Morecambe Bay from one end to the other and of the Lake District mountains inland.
As I descended the hill into Grange I was debating whether to stop at a campsite here or carry on. My thoughts were interrupted by an older gentleman (he’s almost 80) who was walking (shuffling) up the hill and was using walking poles. He informed me I had the wrong poles. This started a conversation, the outcome of which was an invite to stay in his flat, albeit I would have to camp on the living room floor. I accepted the invite on the basis that it would be warmer and easier than camping and I was intrigued by Colin. It hadn’t taken him long to tell me he was a world authority on nature, an adventurer and published author. All of this from a man who despises ego! It was an interesting evening. I have genuine admiration for Colin’s desire to change the world, starting with Grange-Over-Sands; however, it seems a little unlikely. (Grange is known for being a retirement town.) His flat was littered with books and papers, and he was very interesting to talk to. He has spent a lifetime as an adventurer, working in the industry and completing his own (mainly solo) expeditions. He is a highly accomplished climber and kayaker.
I bought us both takeaway fish and chips and had one of the stranger evenings of my trip.
Another stunningly beautiful morning followed a chilly night. I had been very snug in my dew-soaked tent. It was cold this morning when I packed away. Just as I was readying to leave Lee drove up (he had been in the rugby club bar last night). He offered to buy me breakfast and show me around a bit this morning as he wasn’t due on shift at Sellafield until the afternoon. Naturally I accepted the offer and had a great morning. Lee is ex-Staffordshire Regiment (they’re always the friendliest guys) and seems to know everyone in Haverigg. We stopped at the corner shop to get a takeaway brew and a hot pasty and then he drove me up into the foothills of the local fells. From there we had a short walk up to the stone circle at Swinside. I’ve never been to the more famous Castlerigg stone circle near Keswick, but Lee says this one is better. I certainly couldn’t beat sipping a cup of tea in such a tranquil setting surrounded by fells on one side and then the view down to the Duddon Estuary on the other.
Next we drove over the Duddon Bridge and in to Broughton-in-Furness to have a look around this quaint little town with its square in the middle, rather like a French town. It has a rather large church for such a small town.
I had always planned to catch the train across Duddon Sands this morning, rather than walk all the way inland, along roads, to Duddon Bridge. Instead I got a lift from Lee to Foxfield Station and flagged the train down (it only stops if you wave at the driver) to go 2 stops further along the estuary to Askam in Furness. From here I planned to walk the last section of coastal path to Barrow-in-Furness (assuming I could find a path as the map indicates it goes through the marshes on the edge of Duddon Sands and I now know what that can mean!). As it happens I didn’t have to look for a path as it all went wrong from here.
I alighted the train at Askam and as it departed the station I realised I had left my walking sticks on board. What an idiot. I have been so careful about keeping hold of these items and then I went and did what I had been afraid of…I left them behind. Shit. Not only are my sticks a walking aid, they double up as tent poles, so without them I can’t use my tent.
I can’t believe how difficult it is to contact anyone at a train station or from Northern Rail. (Askam Station is unmanned.) I even sent a tweet asking for help! I was still trying to get somewhere on the phone when the next train to Barrow arrived 45 minutes later. I got on it. I had managed to find out that the train with my sticks on board had terminated in Barrow and no one had handed my sticks in. Only once I’d boarded the train to Barrow did I find out that the train with my sticks on was now heading back to Carlisle – I waved at it as we passed. How annoying. The very kind conductor not only didn’t charge me for the ride to Barrow but managed to contact the first manned station (Whitehaven) and get the lady there to look out for my sticks. She promised to phone me. I sat at Barrow sweating it out for over an hour.
Would you believe it, the lady at Whitehaven found them and arranged to give them to the guard on the next train South. Fantastic news. I am so grateful to kind people. So I spent another hour or so sat at Barrow station waiting for that train to arrive.
The second mishap of the day was just around the corner. By now it was mid-afternoon and I was in Barrow-In-Furness despite not having walked. I headed to the post office where I had arranged to collect my next set of maps. I have nothing good to say about Duke Street Post Office. The lady in charge was rude, unfriendly and unhelpful. Without even blinking I was informed nobody had phoned the post office and arranged for this service and they didn’t provide it. Seemingly a parcel had arrived yesterday and she’d sent it back to the sorting office in Barrow so I could try there. Naturally she offered no sympathy, nor did she offer to phone the sorting office. Upon finding the number and phoning the sorting office I discovered my maps had already been sent away to a secret location where the parcel is opened to see what it is and if there’s no return address (they’re wasn’t) it is incinerated. Excellent news! (Since phoning the Head Office to complain I will hopefully get my money back as Duke Street Post Office should offer that service.)
I trudged through Barrow town centre looking for a shop to buy more maps. I found Waterstones and the lovely sales assistant sympathised with my plight and was blown away that I was walking around the coast. She made me smile.
It was another glorious day and I had just enough time to walk across to Walney Island. BAE Systems has a large presence here: lots of office buildings and try most enormous hangars. I didn’t realise that this is where our nuclear submarines are built.
From Walney Island I looked out across the sea to the enormous wind farms. Apparently it was unusual to be able to walk along the Walney coast without having to bend double into a fierce headwind. There were lots of people out enjoying the sunshine.
I walked back over the bridge to Barrow Island and past the huge blocks of flats that looked like they were built as barracks for factory employees.
I had a lovely evening with Conrad and Nicola. They treated me like a visiting friend and I ate dinner with them.
What could have been a disastrous day had been stressful but it had all worked out. I had also met some lovely people, and just one horrible one.
Following a mild night my tent was dry in the morning. The sun was trying to come out, the birds were noisy, and the cows had just been milked.
I ate my porridge while admiring the glorious views. There must have been a big high tide in the night as the road was very wet when I set off.
The first 3 miles was all on road past the Eskmeals MOD Range, where the Artillery practise. There were no loud bangs this morning, although the red flag was flying.
Very soon I was out of all civilisation and heading around the headland to where the River Annas meets the sea. As usual the path signs were not always present and the way not always clear. As I clambered down the cliff to the river I could see a shelter built out of rubbish on the stony beach. It looked like it was inhabited, although I didn’t see anyone.
The small grassy plain in between the cliff and the beach, where the River Annas flows, is Hyton Marsh Reserve. It is apparently a haven for Natterjack Toads – all I saw was rubbish, lots of it.
The Cumbria Coastal Way goes along the cliff edge for a bit before dropping down onto the shingle beach.
I then had a 5 mile struggle along the energy-sapping shingle. My walk coincided with high tide and, although there was plenty of space to walk at the base of the cliff, it was a hard slog.
The only settlement I passed all day (not counting random houses) was Silecroft and there was nothing there. I passed by Bootle as it was a bit further inland. William Wordsworth took a house there to enjoy the seaside!
Approaching Haverigg Point, on the corner of Duddon Sands, I was able to walk on sand as the tide was going out. That proved to be an error as the receding tide left small rivers behind and I ended up having to take my boots and socks off to paddle through one to get to Haverigg. This wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t thick mud on the banks of these rivers, making it difficult to dry feet and put boots on again.
Haverigg is a very small town with 2 pubs (neither serves food), a fish and chip shop (closed) and a Londis. It has 3 campsites: two are mainly for static caravans and don’t accept tents, the other is the rugby club. So it was dried pasta with soup and biscuits for dinner whilst watching rugby training while the sun set and Black Combe loomed behind the pitches. Brilliant.
The good news was that Tony, who works at HMP Haverigg and lives in a caravan at the rugby club, has access to the club laundry facilities. Bonus.
I went in the rugby club bar for a drink and chatted to Tony, his mate Lee, and the barman. They were a friendly bunch.
I was up fairly early and packed away a damp tent before setting off along the shingle beach to Seascale. I walked past the ‘street’ of houses built at the back of the beach, actually on the beach. The shingle has tyre tracks along it where all the owners drive to their houses.
The Cumbria Coastal Way heads off the beach and along a footpath that uses the railway bridge to cross the River Ehan flowing down from Ennerdale Water. Here it all got a bit confusing as yet again the path sea-side of Sellafield Nuclear Power Station seemed to disappear. I found the odd path marker and a couple of stiles but eventually I ended up fighting my way down a steep bank through brambles and ferns that ripped my legs to shreds. I came out at Sellafield train station and then got a telling off from the man in the signal hut. I was trespassing on nuclear power station land. I pointed out there was a way-marked path (sort of) and I hadn’t climbed any fences, only stiles made for walkers. I was still trespassing. He allowed me out of the locked gate and onto the cycle path leading to Seascale.
Here I saw a sign informing that the Cumbria Coastal Way was closed until further notice and giving a diversion route. Pity there wasn’t a corresponding sign at the other end as it would have saved my legs from numerous scratches!
At least the cycle path was easy walking. I arrived in Seascale and headed to the first cafe for breakfast and a coffee, and to wash my wounds.
After a long break I stuck to the minor roads for the next bit to Drigg as I had to go inland a little to cross the River Irt.
The first foot bridge is the Drigg Holme Packhorse Bridge that was built in 1772, although there has been a bridge here since Mediaeval times.
I walked the farm tracks back to the coast at Saltcoats. Here the foot and cycle path crosses the railway bridge over the River Mite to Ravenglass; the only coastal village in the Lake District National Park.
Ravenglass was the last defence point of Hadrian’s Wall and a significant Roman settlement, complete with Bath House. It is also the start of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Narrow Gauge Railway.
I popped into the station to look at they trains and the next one left in 20 minutes. What a chance for a couple of hours off enjoying the scenery from an open air carriage. It was an opportunity not to miss!
I had a lovely trip up the Eskdale Valley to Dalegarth, a quick stop for an ice cream, and then the trip back down to Ravenglass. Wonderful.
I left Ravenglass at 3.30 pm and still had a long walk up the Esk estuary, through the Muncaster Estate, until the first bridge over the river.
There were options to cross the River Esk at a couple of points but I’d rather walk further than wade through mud.
Once I’d crossed the river via the A595 it was a short walk across marsh land to Newbiggin. The campsite was basic and the facilities were in the farmyard. The farmer and his helper (who looked about 90) were really nice, even though I inconveniently arrived at milking time.
I was late so the tent went up quickly. I admired the beautiful sunset and headed off a mile up the lane to The Brown Cow pub.
I was the only one in there for most of the evening and the food portions were enormous. Just after 10 pm I set off back for the campsite in the pitch dark. I had travelled about halfway when a car came behind me and I turned into the hedge to avoid the lights. The car stopped. I turned around and there were 2 policemen who wanted to know what I was doing wandering down a country lane at night. They were very friendly as they interrogated me and my answers must have seemed too ridiculous to have been lies. We chatted for a bit and then Mark and Jonathan kindly gave me a lift (in the cab, not in the back) back to the farm.