Day Zero

On the big day bags were packed and ready with hours to spare so Nicola dropped us off early at Manchester airport from where we were catching the train to St Bees, via Carlisle. We looked squeaky clean with polished boots and smart suitcases and didn’t look too out of place amongst the other commuters as we managed to spend a tenner in the platform café on two big coffees. This later turned out to be a big mistake as the toilets on the Carlisle train were out of action. We had a genuinely good feeling of calm and control at this stage and excitedly talked about what was laying ahead of us.


This feeling disappeared when the train pulled onto the platform. An unusually large number of people seemed to be travelling to Carlisle on this weekday so as soon as the doors glided open it was every man for himself. Negotiating a suitcase, heavy backpack and half empty cardboard cup of red hot latte proved to be a step down on the calmness ladder with another step being descended as we tried to find safe places for our cases and rucksacks in the very limited luggage compartment. I managed to balance my day pack precariously overhead and just prayed for no sudden jolts or turns but my case had to be left way down the carriage by the doors which meant any hope of relaxing or falling asleep had been left behind on the platform. We decided to take it in shifts to watch the bags.

The train journey to Carlisle was fairly uneventful, the highlight being spotting the Lake District massive in the distance as we roared towards our connecting stop. It was hard to believe we would be scrambling over some of those masses in the next few days. Once on the St Bees train we could relax a bit more as the carriage was virtually empty and we had our bags within grabbing distance. I took my boots off at this point as my feet were strangely throbbing and swollen which I put down to sitting for too long in one place. Nige found this worrying that I was already complaining about my feet and we hadn’t even reached the starting point and must have walked a total of less than a mile the whole day. The weather was going a bit hazy now and when the train track finally brought the sea into view it shimmered brightly even though the clouds above were worryingly dark. Our first sight of the Irish sea brought the enormity of the task into focus and the remainder of the journey was spent in quiet contemplation.

Our bed for the evening was in the Stonehouse Farm b&b which, handily, was about 30 metres from St Bees train station. However in the minute or so it took us to walk up the pavement I somehow managed to wheel my case through a very big dollop of dog muck. If I had been with Nicola then wet wipes and hankies would have been immediately forthcoming but I was with Nige, and he just laughed. I did the best I could to clean up with a few leaflets and scraps of paper from my pocket but it wasn’t ideal.

Even so, the hosts were very welcoming and if they did catch an aroma of anything suspect they were gracious enough not to mention it. We were soon shown to a nice twin room overlooking the front garden and main street where we began the routine which would define the holiday.

Nige is a known and self-confessed ‘faffer’ where all has to be in the right place and it just seems to take him so long to go through his routines. It starts off with the methodical laying out of clothes for the following day, followed by - well it’s hard to describe without witnessing it but lots of stuff that just takes ages. He was taking some Chinese herbal tablets at this point in his life and when he got out a large plastic food bag with them all in I burst out laughing asking him what could possibly be so wrong with him to have to take all those tablets in just 2 weeks. Completely straight faced he told me that this was just the bag for tomorrow morning and he had the same amount counted out for each day of the walk! Routine wise I probably do all the same things as Nige but my fault is that I do them at top speed and while he miraculously will finish doing the last thing exactly as we are due to leave the room, I am ready with 20 minutes to spare. This opposite approach could have been a potential problem for two people due to share the same confined spaces for 15 evenings but luckily we have been good mates for over 35 years or the trip could have ended before a step was taken.

Once all clothes were sorted for the following day and rucksacks packed we decided to kill a bit of time by taking a walk down to the sea to catch our first look at the start of the footpath that would lead us forward for the next 15 days. We strode off purposefully down the road past the grammar school to the sea front and took lots of photos of the Coast to Coast information board and the beach. Of course I had seen pictures of the caravans and cliff face and beach and café already in the numerous journals and blogs I had read over the previous 12 months and it seemed slightly surreal being stood in the middle of somewhere you had never visited before but were very familiar with. This feeling was to hit me quite a few times over the next 15 days as I came across landmarks I had never seen but felt I knew well.

On arrival back in the village we decided to explore the high street and find somewhere for a pint and a bite to eat. We started in the Coast to Coast Bar for obvious reasons imagining on opening the front door being hit by a wall of sound from excited walkers predicting weather patterns and comparing itineraries. Instead we found the place all but empty save for a couple of local gents in the corner enjoying an early evening beer.

At this point we were both finding killing time a very frustrating exercise. As we had been sat down for most of the day and had energy to spare we decided to explore the rest of St Bees. This was also a safeguard against having too many beers the night before a testing days walking and we made a pact at this point to have no more than 3 pints on any of the evenings ahead. Unfortunately we had seen all there was to see in St Bees within 10 minutes of leaving the pub so we gave up and entered the Queens Hotel for a meal even though it was still early. The food was good as was the beer and we ate as slowly as possible so as not to arrive back at the B&B too early. The hotel had a nice looking beer garden which would have been nice to sit out in if it hadn’t been raining so, confined to our little corner of the restaurant we began people watching.

Scanning the dining room we spotted other people who looked likely candidates to be walking the Coast to Coast. Some were obvious as they sat on their own with the trailblazer book in front of them. Others not so obvious, such as the miserable looking couple sat to Niges left (who would wear craghopper trousers on a night out if not a walker?), or the foreign speaking couple to his right (surely only one reason for a Dutch couple to be visiting St Bees). Either way it killed a bit of time deciding who were walkers and giving them nicknames. Unfortunately this distraction caused us to break our beer quota only a couple of hours after it had been set so with 4 pints and a whisky chaser inside us we strolled back to our digs for a long and restless sleep-free night.

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