Distance: 14 miles on paper. 17.29 miles walked according to Mapmywalk.
1771 calories burned.
7 hours walking.
I'd like to say that I was well-prepared for the start of the Coast to Coast, in full fitness. But I'd be lying. My training had been somewhat scuppered by an achilles injury in the build up to it. ( I shall write a separate post about how to prepare for the C2C and what to pack.)
So it was with quite a bit of trepidation that my cousin and I set off from York at 6am, my long suffering husband driving us to Kirkby Stephen where we would meet our C2C Packhorse Van for a lift to St Bees. We almost immediately had a near disaster. We were so nervous as we met up with the coach and sorted out our bags that I left my guide book and maps in the car. Luckily my eagle-eyed husband spotted it and got it to me before we pulled away. Phew.
As we drove to St Bees, crammed in a misty windowed van with about 14 other nervously excited walkers and cyclists, we tried to catch glimpses of the landscape we would soon be walking through at a far slower pace than we were whizzing past now.
We arrived at St Bees under heavy grey skies. Strong winds whipped the rain into our faces as we posed at the Start of the C2C sign. It didn't do much to settle the butterflies. I kept thinking how ridiculous it was to feel nervous about going for a walk. But I was. I didn't want to fail. I wanted my achilles to hold up. And I wasn't at all confident it would.
We hopped down to the beach to collect two pebbles, one to keep and one to lob into the North Sea should we make it there. Realising there was no reason to linger, we started the climb up the coastal path away from St Bees. ,
That first hill up to the sea cliffs certainly got the blood pumping and set the tone for most days of the rest of the trip - a big fat hill to climb first thing.
We spoke non-stop, as you do when you haven't seen someone for a long time, barely taking in the views over the Irish Sea. We glanced at the Old Lifeguard Station, which looks like a forlorn and discarded Star Wars movie prop, and noted the St Bees lighthouse to make sure we were on the right track.
Our first point of navigation came at the turn off after Birkham Quarry, where a handy signpost told us where to go. The sea mists were starting to roll in and things were taking a turn for the decidedly damp. We left the sea behind us and headed inland towards Sandwith, an energy bar to fuel us.
It was at this point that we met our first fellow Coast to Coasters - John, his son Rob and Rob's partner Jimmy. We struck up a pleasant conversation, while navigating our way through farm buildings, under railway lines and along an old disused railway line to Moor Row. Perhaps it was the bleak weather but Moor Row isn't the most beautiful village and we had rather hoped that the Pop In Walkers cafe as advertised in the book would be open. But either it had shut down or we were lost, but we failed to find it. All hopes of a nice cup of tea were dashed. So we plodded on in the wet to Cleator. According to the book, this was the last place with a shop until we reached Grasmere. But we were fully stocked up and frankly, the shop was 1 mile out of our way, so we weren't going to investigate it.
We did walk slightly off course to find somewhere for a late lunch. We stopped at the Brook Inn where they served Sunday Roast or a Sunday Roast. Lynda and I opted to share a Sunday Roast - we didn't think we could walk with a belly full of Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes. Our fellow walkers weren't as shy and filled their boots with pints of beer and a full plate of food. Something they may have regretted when they realised what came next.
We said goodbye to our new friends and prepared to tackle our first proper hill of the walk - Dent Hill (roughly 350 metres in height). In contrast to some of the hills we had to come, it was nothing really, but for a first day when your fitness levels aren't quite up to muster, it's a long climb up.
It starts with a very wet, boggy walk through a track in the forest, which we eventually left in favour of walking through the stunningly beautiful pine and moss covered forest floor as it was marginally dryer. It was like a fairy land, with countless mushrooms (or toadstools?) growing.
By now we were realising that our waterproofs boots were not actually waterproof after all. Excellent. We climbed and climbed through ever-thickening mist so that by the time we reached the cairn at the top of the hill all we could see was white, rather than the advertised views of 'the Lakeland Fells ahead and the sea behind.'
Suitably puffed out by the climb, we now faced what according to Mr Stedman's book was 'the steepest part of the whole trail - mind your ankles!' Called Raven's Cragg, it apparently wasn't on Wainwright's original Coast to Coast but it has become the de facto route. It was indeed very steep, a grassy slope straight down that made my knees ache. The walking poles my husband had laughed at me for buying came into their own. (Note: walking poles may make you look like a super geek, but they are absolutely necessary on this walk, unless you have knees of steel).
The knee knackering slope is absolutely worth it for the stunning Nannycatch Beck you find at the bottom. This beautiful, narrow valley has the beck bubbling it's way along it, birds of prey soaring above it. We had to zig zag our way over the stream numerous times, sometimes on bridges, but often on stepping stones or just wading through it. Once your boots are wet, they are wet and it makes very little difference.
We finally left the valley and walked the last part of day one towards Ennerdale Bridge, views of the hills we'd be climbing the next day in the distance, the tops of which were hidden by clouds.
We finally arrived in Ennerdale Bridge, a very pretty little village with another bubbling brook rushing right past the pub we were staying at - the Fox & Hounds. We were given a warm welcome by the pub staff and shown the boot room where we could dry out our boots (although there was no newspaper to put inside them, which would have helped).
Like magic, our bags were waiting for us. We immediately realised the error of our ways in packing such a large bag. When you've walked 14 miles you really don't want to have to lug a huge bag up a flight of stairs to your room. But we did. We set about doing stretches, rubbing all sorts of gels and creams into aching muscles and having a much needed shower. My achilles had held up but the test would be what it felt like the next morning.
I enjoyed a giant burger and chips for dinner - given the number of calories I'd burnt off, it was fully justified. One pint of beer and I was a pathetic mess, barely able to keep my eyes open after the early morning start, a blast of fresh air and lots of walking miles on unfit legs.
I was fast asleep by 9pm, the sound of the stream bubbling along outside the window a gentle lullaby at the end of day 1.