Coast to Coast Day 1 – St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge

Published 23 August 2010

A weathered ‘Coast to Coast Walk’ signpost

“And so it begins…”

In walking circles Alfred Wainwright is a legend. His little pictorial guides are truly treasured by all who go walking in his favoured “Lakeland” – now more commonly known as the Lake District.

Wainwright never seemed happier than when he was out on the fells and in the late 1960s he set off to catalogue what was perhaps the best known walking route in Britain – the newly created Pennine Way.

To say Wainwright hated it may be an understatement. He found it a serious trudge. So much was his despair at the thing that he decided that anyone completing it in full deserved a pint. On him. Until he died he paid the bills at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm, and although his money has long run out, the tradition is maintained by brewing giant Greene King who provide Morland Original for the purposes, although in the slightly smaller half pint size.
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Wainwright took it upon himself to create a more pleasing walk. A walk where the intention was about enjoyment, interest and variety rather than merely following some geographical feature like most national trails.

Detailed in his book, “A Coast to Coast Walk“, it has become one of the most popular walking routes in Britain. An estimated 9,000 people set off on it every year. Scores of books are written, and plenty of maps sold. Many villages en-route benefit hugely from the walkers that pass through.

Yet the Coast to Coast has no legal status and very limited signage. It just is, and remains “just is” over its 190 odd mile length.

It was this legal non-entity that we were about to set off on – extremely tight waterproof trousers and all (what you do you mean you skipped the introduction?)

And So It Begins

Our B&B landlady thought we were mad, but that was mainly because we turned down her kind offer of a lift to the village. We’d had trouble booking anywhere in St Bees to stay, and the only bed we’d found had been at Moorclose B&B, a mile up a steep road out of St Bees proper. But we thought there was little point – we’d come here to walk and what difference did a mile and a half extra make?

Down in the village we stocked up on supplies in the local store, passed the Queens Hotel we’d frequented the night before, and headed for the sea.

There’s two traditions associated with the Coast to Coast.

Wainwright encouraged everyone to dip their boots into the Irish Sea before setting off, and again in the North Sea at the end.

And then there’s the pebble. You pick one up at the start and leave it at the beach at the end. It’s a tradition which frankly gave me images of fleets of lorries carting stones back across the country to fill the gap left at Robin Hood’s Bay.

The pebbles for our Coast to Coast Walk

Our pebbles dutifully chosen, our boots suitably soggy, we headed for the hills but not before I gave up and decided rain or no, wearing waterproof trousers three sizes too small was not good. But then it had stopped raining anyway.

The Coast to Coast starts in style, rising high up on the cliffs and walking around them towards Whitehaven, providing amazing views on a good day, which thankfully it was. In part.

Walking along St Bees Head

Whilst the rain had gone, the wind that had howled around our B&B the night before, had remained and was doing a sterling job of trying to blow us to the floor.

The waves crashed into the rocks below as we came along the headland, past St Bees lighthouse, with Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and more just visible in the cloudy distance.

High And Dry

Passing by a quarry (with some portable toilets provided by the amusingly named “Borderloos”) we headed inland, passing a boat with a bizarre mannequin dressed in a sow-wester, and a huge St Bernard dog parked on a wall who resisted any attempt to stroke him by gently batting my arm down with his paw so that he could lick the sweat off it.

From here on it was relatively flat walking, skirting the sights of Whitehaven in the near distance to pass down into the village of Sandwith.

Away from the coastal wind, things were hotting up and we took the opportunity to park ourselves on a handy bench and strip off layers of clothes, adjust our boots and re-apply the inevitable factor 50.

What an attractive lake...

From there on we passed alongside fields and walked down lanes before going under a railway line and into a soggy field swelled by heavy rain a few days earlier.

Our route now seemed to take us along a wooded, sheltered road – the kind that looks like no one has used in years. The kind adventurers find themselves on whilst on a quest. The kind where epics are born.

And maybe they were. But if they were, well we sure weren’t supposed to know.

We’d gone the wrong way. A sign next to the gate told us so, complete with directions of how to get back on track. Whilst a useful, thoughtful measure – and a mistake no doubt many made if someone had gone to the trouble of putting up a makeshift poster – notice a little earlier might just have been a little more useful!

It wasn’t a huge detour and we quickly joined the cycle path that now runs along the dismantled Egremont Extension railway which provides an alternative to Wainwright’s original route (and wild raspberries – yum!) along the roads and village of Moor Row before gently depositing the walker near a sewage works in Cleator.

Cleator is perhaps best known for its red sandstone church, but for us it will be forever known for its sign outside…

St Leonard's Church, Cleator No Pies

Clearly it’s a place where you can get your bread, your milk, your papers, your potatoes, your fruit and your veg (cos potatoes aren’t veg). You can get your drinks and your sandwiches too. But not your pies. No. For there are no pies. No. None at all.

Clearly lack of pies is a big thing in Cleator. Why, I can’t say. Are they truly amazing pies? Do people come from miles around to buy their pies from there? Either way lack of pies is clearly such a big deal that they have an interchangeable sign outside informing you of pie status, so that instead of going in to the shop and finding there be no pies, you can find out on the street and be disappointed there instead.

These must be amazing pies. But I wouldn’t know. Because there were none.

Cleator now gave way to the main, and indeed only challenge of the day: Dent Fell.

Its lower slopes are forested and a steep but firm logging road zig-zags its way up to just before the top, where the Coast to Coast walker must turn off to get to the sheep grazed summit.

Huge cairn and a view back towards the coast

The reward for your effort is most gratifying with a huge cairn to celebrate the achievement, and a stunning view to boot. An amazing panorama was revealed: Whitehaven, St Bees, Sellafield, Scotland and Ireland on one side, and a fine introduction to the Lake District on the other.

Views were not all that we were treated to. As we stopped to say hello to two women resting on the hillside, they invited us to stop a minute and listen.

“It’s either bagpipes of an ice cream van” proclaimed one.

“Well I would prefer the ice cream van – I could murder a 99!” extolled the other, and with that, who could disagree.

“There’s a man who plays, fully dressed in the full kit up around the border” she continued, however further playing drifting through the hills we did not hear. Almost as if the player knew they had an audience, the pipes stopped a playin’. Normality – the sounds of birds tweeting and the wind blowing – was restored.

Such rewards of great views and live music almost inevitably come at a price and the descent downhill was a serious one. Incredibly steep, it was the kind of hill that a hiker with a full pack on their back dreads, especially on the first day. We were carrying everything on our backs and the weight really distorts your centre of balance. Bending down too much has the potential to see you go off tumbling down the hill before finally getting to the bottom dizzy, dusty and, most likely, in a big crumpled ball.

The cartoon style birds circling our heads thankfully never came, but it was a relief to get to the bottom of the valley and walk the four or so flat miles to Ennerdale Bridge where we’d be staying for the night.

By now we’d caught up with a plethora of other walkers and following the crowd we almost missed the Kinniside stone circle. There are many such circles on the Coast to Coast and this must be the finest and best looking, although there’s a good reason for that – unlike its ancient brethren, it’s actually a relatively modern re-creation built by an archaeologist. Still, its power was still felt. By someone. Somewhere…

Ennerdale Bridge was now in sight and we headed into the village, passing its two pubs and knocked on the door to our B&B before heading out again for food and an enchanting night at the Shepherd’s Arms Hotel. Despite it being a Friday night it seemed to be catering solely for walkers. Not one local person darkened its doors for a pint of Ennerdale Copper or a bite to eat. But then given they microwaved a homemade steak and ale pie with suet pastry – a major travesty – perhaps they all knew better.

Maybe it was the microwaved pastry. Maybe because the landlord had alienated all the villagers… Well who knows. If you’re thinking the second pub might have been better – well let us just say the same person runs it. Maybe it was busier. Who knew. Either way by half eight on a Friday night the place consisted of two customers and a woman behind the bar. Doing my bit for the rather depressing local economy, I ordered another pint.

One Coast To Another: Following Wainwright from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay

The whole Coast to Coast adventure is available to read now in paperback, and for Kindle, iOS, Kobo, and Google Play or other e-readers.

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Your Comments

Emily

9 August 2014 at 7:18 pm

I live in cleator, the pies are amazing….or so they say as I’ve never actually had one. You have to be there at the right time, but only the members of an elite pie club know when that is!

Gary

2 August 2016 at 11:09 am

We were fortunate enough to pass by this shop and the pies were in stock during our C2C walk, at 80p each they were amazing value and absolutely delicious!

Robin Keck

29 May 2017 at 12:07 pm

I’m en route to St Bees as I type…about 8 hour journey I think. This is my 2nd C2C after walking it in 2012. Anyway…the Pies line really tickled me and my fingers are crossed that the sign remains. I start tomorrow…5 years older and 2 stone heavier than last time….

Johnner

23 April 2018 at 1:39 pm

Give up the pies!

Brothers in Boots

16 July 2018 at 9:26 pm

Top notch pies..a bit of a race to get there before there sold out…hope to get there next week 21/7/18 when we do all again.

Johnner

16 July 2018 at 10:41 pm

There are also great sandwiches and pies form the shop you pass on the left in Moor Row. I did the C2C first two weeks in May and had 13 days walking with no rain and I am sure June and July must have been similar. Very lucky to have two weeks without rain across the North of England.

Mike the Limey

5 September 2018 at 11:22 pm

If you think the descent off dent was bad in the dry, you should try it when everything is bone dry. or rather not, as it’s actually quite dangerous for the inexperienced.
Make sure the soles of your boots (& I do mean boots) give a good grip on dry/dead grass.
Up & over Dent & back via Nannycatch road is one of my exercise routes & both the up & down will certainly give you some exercise, though in my 60 years, I’ve never done it with a pie on board…

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