Our Coast to Coast adventure really began the day before our first walking day, as we headed up to Cumbria, and the starting line, on a series of trains which originated from Louise’s home in Kent. Taking our three bags on the underground across London was like playing a game of human tetris, and it made us thankful that we had acquired the services of Sherpa Vans who would transport our main camping gear pack between stops throughout the walk. My spine was also thankful.
After an hour waiting in Carlisle, a place I never imagined I’d set foot in, we headed down along the west coast towards St Bees, spotting the Isle of Man in the distance and waiting to encounter the first big coastal cliff that we’d be climbing the following day, and possibly falling down considering the windy conditions that awaited us.
St Bees is an odd little place. Although the village seems to be pretty dead at most times, it is still served by a train station, is home to a few great pubs and has a B&B standing around every corner. I think the Coast to Coast has probably helped to maintain its survival, and maybe give it something of a resurgence; that or we just arrived on the only quiet day of the year, who knows.
Before heading to our tent for the night, we had some traditions to see to. Before starting the walk, it has become commonplace to wet your feet in the waters of the Irish Sea, before picking up a pebble, carrying that throughout your walk, depositing it on the opposite shore and dipping your feet in the North Sea. We got the first half of the agreement nailed down. I christened my pebble Dave, but chose to withhold that information from Louise to avoid ridicule.
After our first night of camping, in the rain, we got up and hit the path early for the first 14 of our 192 miles on the Coast to Coast. We didn’t sleep so well because the working farm we were camping on decided to choose that night to stay up until the early hours cleaning all their tractors. They’re tractors, they’ll just get dirty again instantly. Our first finish line would be in the shape of Ennerdale, a little settlement located just inside the Lake District National Park.
Despite being slightly sleep deprived, we had a spring in our step when we spotted the starting line, marked by a big board displaying the beginning of the Coast to Coast path. We got the obligatory photo next to the board, but felt a little rushed by a large converging group (large in both height and quantity of people). Turns out they were Dutch, hence the height thing.
Despite it being a bit wet, windy and grey, we felt joyous as we marched up the first big hill climb, heading north out of St Bees alongside the Irish Sea, spotting various seabirds that we were unable to identify; if only Chris Packham had come along for the walk.
After a while we turned east for the first time, which would be our bearing for the rest of the walk, and headed down into our first village, Sandwith. As far as we could tell, this village consisted of a phone box, some houses and a pub with a dog painted on it; it was pretty though. We also ate a snickers here from memory.
The next stage of the walk was punctuated by a number of little villages, some charming and some bleak as shit, though I won’t say which was which. Moor Row and Cleator were the two most notable places we left behind, the latter breaking my heart with a simple sign that sat on the pavement, reading ‘no pies’.
As the fog and rain began to close in, we were met post-lunch with our first long and arduous climb, through the pine plantation of Blackhow Wood and up to the top of Dent Hill, sitting at 353m. The top of Dent Hill is meant to afford views back to the Isle of Man and out over the Lake District’s many fells that we were approaching, but I could only see to about 15 metres ahead of me and half expected a demon to jump out of the fog and eat me. Fortunately, all that emerged from the grey were a number of sheep and eventually the path down into the valley below.
It turns out that this clamber down from the top of Dent Hill would be our steepest descent on the entire Coast to Coast. It was knee-shattering to say the least as we stumbled down and eventually composed ourselves at the bottom beside Nannycatch Beck. It then became embarrassing when we saw a man running down the slope and then back up, with his dog in tow. He must have been the demon I was looking out for.
The flowing water of Nannycatch Beck took us to a gate which summoned our entrance into the Lake District National Park, the first of three national parks that the Coast to Coast winds through. This is Louise’s favourite place in the UK, in fact, she comes here to holiday with her mum every year, so she was excited for me to experience it with her.
By this point, and 13.5 miles, I was ready to catch my first bit of shut eye in the Lakes, and fortunately we found the perfect spot, in the shape of Low Cock How Farm. Brilliantly named and brilliantly welcomed as the heavens just began to open to mark our arrival.
Given the wet weather, the hostess of the working farm allowed us to set up some makeshift beds in her little summer house/shed thing rather than pitching our tent. It was a great touch, especially given the fact the rain continued all night and was still going in the morning.
Day one had been a good one, 14 miles completed in around seven hours, and day two was ready to take us further into the Lakes.