Day One

 St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge (14 Miles)

The room was fine, there was no noise from outside and the heating was set just right. So what was it that kept us awake virtually all night? From my point of view it was quite clear. Niges’ horrendous snoring - which is strange as he said he didn’t manage to get any sleep either. Luckily I had packed heavy duty ear plugs after my experience during our practice weekend at Coniston so was determined it wouldn’t be an issue for the rest of the walk. By 7:30am I was sitting on the bed ready for the pre-booked 8:00am breakfast and Nige was re-packing his suitcase for the third time. Our table in the dining room was in a conservatory and what we had mistakenly thought was the roaring sound of a kettle was actually the noise of the rain on the glass roof. Worse than that we were both facing a large panoramic window giving us a view of St Bees main street which was now had a deluge of water cascading down the middle. We decided that if we had to have rain on any day then this was probably the best as the going would be pretty easy along cliff tops and lanes. Also we were fresh and our gear dry so not too much to worry about. At 8:40am we shook hands outside Stonehouse Farm and set off.

Within minutes we were back at the beach and typically the tide was out.

There was not another sole in sight as we strode out towards the sea and I signed the sand using my walking pole. Following tradition we dipped our boots in the Irish Sea and I believe this is where Niges’ problems started (more about this later). We picked up a couple of pebbles to carry with us across the country to drop in the North sea.

The initial climb up to the cliff tops was fairly severe so we were almost relieved when the drizzle became heavy enough to have to stop and put on our waterproofs which had already been on and off twice since leaving the town. The route at this point couldn’t have been simpler and we strode on at good pace to Fleswick Bay where we decided to take the detour down to the isolated beech.

St Bees Lighthouse was now in the distance across the rolling fields so we strode on and where the guidebook gave us the option to take the ‘precarious overgrown path around the headland’ we did so stepping as close as was safely possible to the edge of the sheer drop.

We left the coastline by turning inland just after Birkham’s Quarry and were happy to find ourselves on a more solid track walking between high hedgerows on our way towards the village of Sandwith. We had little chance of getting lost at this stage mainly because the route was simple but, just in case things changed we had a plethora of items to keep us or get us back on track. I was wearing the gps around my neck and was finding it hard not to look at it about every 20 yards to make sure we hadn’t moved off the red dotted line. I had sworn I wasn’t going to do that and really only wanted to use the gadget when absolutely necessary. I also had the guide book around my neck and Nige had the OS map around his. Everything was in waterproof covers as the rain was coming down quite steadily now.

Sandwith was a very quiet inoffensive place with a pub and not much else. We marched on and eventually arrived at a tunnel under the railway track where we stopped for a few minutes to nibble on a health bar and shelter from the ever increasing drizzle.

Shortly after we passed by the side of Stanley Pond which I didn’t see as I was too busy watching people walking ahead of us in a line. The book said it would be boggy here and it wasn’t wrong. This was the first time I can remember Nige mentioning that his feet felt soggy and it was to become a real issue in the days to come. We passed through the undistinguished Moor Row and before we knew it we were on the approach to Dent Hill, the first real climb of the walk. Entering the forest we came upon a couple sat by the side of the path eating their lunch. We exchanged pleasantries but didn’t realise at this stage that we were to spend a lot of time in this couples company over the next 14 days.

My eyes were becoming more glued to the gps as we moved into the forest keeping our eyes peeled for the path that turned left into the dense woodland that would lead us to the beginning of the main ascent.

As I took a minute out to snap a picture of a rain covered foxglove a group of three walkers with huge backpacks strode past and asked if this was the correct route to Dent hill. I couldn’t help thinking how much more difficult the walk would be carrying all that weight. We were to see this group of 2 lads and a girl over the next few days, unmissable by their brightly coloured rucksack raincovers. As the forest cleared we climbed a stile and were confronted by absolutely nothing but a bank of white cloud. There was a bench just after the stile so we decided to sit and devour the packed lunch provided by Stonehouse Farm that morning confident that by the time we had finished scoffing the sandwiches and yoghurts the cloud would have cleared and we would have an uninterrupted view of the climb up Dent hill. Sadly the cloud got thicker, and closer to the point that it seemed comical that we could be sat on the same bench yet be struggling to clearly see each other. We abandoned the rest of the packed lunch as everything was getting soggy because of the cloud and set off in earnest to find the top.

Annoyingly the books was telling us that taking this high route was worth all the effort because of the magnificent and first views of the Lakeland Mountains – and on a good day even the silhouette of the Isle of Man! Sucking in the moist air through the small gap in my hood I pondered about how unlucky we had been to have such poor weather on our first day. More positively though I knew from my amassed knowledge from pre-walk studying that once we had negotiated the very steep downhill stretch off Dent Hill we would enter the enchanting walk along Nannycatch Beck. The walk down was gruelling on the knees and was one of the steepest descents I had ever attempted.

I was looking forward to this part of the day as the beck was described as something special and it probably would have been if the cloud hadn’t stuck to our coats and followed us down into the valley. Still it was better under foot now the almost vertical drop had ended and we strode forward knowing that our destination for the night was less than an hour and a half away. The gps had become flavour of the day as it had navigated us safely down Dent hill which was no mean feat as we found out later that some people had become completely disorrientated and needed leading off the top down to the valley floor. I was watching the screen more and more and this led to our first and maybe most embarrasing navigational mistake.

Why is it these things always happen when there is someone close behind? In this case it appeared that we were at the head of a procession of walkers – at the worse point it seemed crowds were staring over to us on the wrong path and pointing. Of course this was just our imagination but a least a couple of people referred to us as the blokes who went the wrong way down Nannycatch. The problem lay with the fact that I had total faith in the gps which was stupid because it was only going to be as good as the route that had been keyed into it by myself all those months ago.During the planning I had obviously misunderstood the directions in the book and put in waypoints to follow a path to the right of the beck.Within 50 yards I did have my suspicions that things weren’t as they should be as the path quickly got narrower and narrower and a fallen barbed wire fence lay across it. By the time Nige and I had dithered about with our steamed-up reading glasses and crumpled map we looked across the water to the wide path on the other side and the truth dawned. We would have to go back the way we’d come and join the path this time at the back of the procession – almost like a punishment.

Soon after this a number of the people infront veered off to Low Cock How Farm which did b&b and camping but we continued on to join the Ennerdale road and take some pictures of the very underwhelming Kinniside Stone Circle.

We followed the path at the side of the road which seemed surprisingly busy for such a small village. We got some fleeting views of the lake and mountains to our right as we approached our digs for the night, The Fox and Hounds.

Whilst not exactly exhausted, it was nice to get to the end of this first day. As we sat down at the tables outside the pub and tried to release our feet from our boots with a miminum of grunting the landlady came up to the table with 2 pints of iced water. She never said a word, just turned around and went back inside. Either she did this for every passer by or somehow she could tell that we were her guests for the night.

She later explained that she lived in a cottage right opposite the pub and was just helping to run it. There was some relationship between this pub and the other one in the village but neither Nige or I could get the gist of the story. We found our suitcases in a store room under the stairs and dragged them with some difficulty up to our room.

The beds looked nice (albeit a bit close together for my liking) and after a bit of furniture re-arrangement we were happy. The room generally had seen better days and the bathroom, although huge, was cold and semi-clean. That didn’t stop us tossing a coin to see who would get first use of the massive bath. As per usual I lost the toss and filled time waiting for my turn by firing up Niges web book and writing the first entry of my diary. I planned to write my experiences down each evening and e-mail them to family and friends. Nige had sorted out a ‘dongle’ so we would have internet access wherever we were but we hadn’t taken into account that some of the overnight stops were in such isolated places that there just wasn’t a signal. This was one such place but it didn’t stop me writing some thoughts down ‘offline’ ready to fire into the Ethernet when the signal was stronger.

This first stop was to test our ‘routines’ that we had discussed when planning the walk. Whilst Nige was soaking in the bath I had collected all the electrical equipment that needed charging. We had a video camera, digital cameras (x2), web book, GPS and mobile phones (x3). I’m sure the lights in the Fox and Hounds flickered as I plugged in the eight socket extension lead and pressed the ‘on’ button. On top of this I had to download photos off 2 cameras onto separate directories on the web book – download the video footage onto the web book and finally back up the web book onto an external hard drive. So much for relaxing after a hard days walking.

We walked up to the phone box to ring home and couldn’t get the thing to work. We decided to write text messages and they would just fire off when we got a signal the next day. We ate in a nice meal in the Fox and Hounds washed down by the obligatory 4 pints and a single malt and retired to bed by 10am ready for a 7:30 breakfast.

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