Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 1: Real Start

Today’s Walk: St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge

Stayed at Stone House Farm: Rating – Very Good

trial markes (1)

After the tiring walk followed by a wonderful sleep I was eagerly looking forward towards Day 1. Most places in the UK, where you stay, provide you with a big breakfast, typically what is called an English breakfast (also nicknamed Cholesterol on a plate) consisting of sausage, toast, bacon, eggs, beans (all with lots and lots of oil). There will also be fruits salad, cereals and yoghurt. Once you have it, you will need a few hours to recover before you can even move. So I skipped the English Breakfast that and just had some toast and coffee.

The stay at Stone House Farm was very good. They had all the facilities including an option to cook (none of which I used). This place is very next to the St. Bees station and thus wasn’t difficult to get the luggage to the place of accommodation. I would recommend this place to anyone who wants to stay at St. Bees. A couple of pubs and hotels are also very next to this place.

And now on to the walk. After retracing last days route back to the Village, I joined back the Coast to Coast trail.

Few steps later and has happened previously to me, the footpath disappears - but a board saying footpath is still there!
P8060522 trial markes

However the maps in the book I am following (by Terry Marsh) is excellent (though the markers on the path are not). The one below, written on a card board was facing the wrong direction and I realized it only after a few 100 metres.

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The Terry Marsh book clearly shows all the landmarks and directions and has some high resolution maps which came in handy for me to find the right direction.

Around me everything looks picture perfect – I am in the middle of a a huge farm land with lots and lots of lambs and cows grazing with no worries and ignoring me totally (though this will not be the case in the coming days).


There is also railway line that goes across this field which I have to cross before I walk further. Here I hit my first snag. The map in the book and the real world doesn’t seem to match. There is no way to cross the line at the gate as it is locked. Am I supposed to jump over the gate? Or is there a way to open the gate?


With no one around for miles and now I realize decision making throughout this walk is going to be a tough task! Instead of jumping the gate, finally I decided that I will go a kilometre further away from my planned path, and cross the line through what looked liked a rarely used underpass. I am now half an hour behind schedule - not that I have anything urgent to do at Ennerdale Bridge.

On to Moor row, Cleator Moor and then on to Dent Fell.




Dent Fell became the first physically tiring part of the walk. It is a reasonably tall hill with a climb of reasonable inclination. As all my practices in Singapore was about climbing Bukit Timah, a hill that is 150 metres tall, Dent came in as a big shock. I had to really struggle to get on top of Dent (I had no clue it was many of such hills/mountains to come).


The descent from Dent posed another major challenge. With no laid out routes and with a very steep slope, simply put - it was frightening. One wrong step or one slip I will be going down a few hundred metres. This is not what I wanted to do.


Once Dent is covered, and after a long walk besides a stream it is the climb down to Ennerdale bridge.

And then at Ennerdale bridge, a pint of Ale is waiting at the Fox and Hounds, the pub where I would be staying.


After walking the first day alone, I was happy to meet a couple of fellow walkers – Peter and Garry – who will be with me for a few more days…

NB: This posting is a few days late – three reasons

  1. WiFi is patchy and non-existent in some places
  2. The walk took too long and I managed to reached my place of accommodation only after 6:00 PM (against my planned 4:00 PM)
  3. I was too tired!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 0.5: Back in Time…

I have just realized that my mobile cannot get any signal as I left St. Bees for the circular walk. It is progressively getting worse as I moved away from St. Bees. I don’t even dare to ask for WiFi as I got come cold stares when I asked for it the first time.

I am editing this post offline - if you are seeing this post online I some how managed to get a patchy connection somewhere.

There goes my plan to post each days walk as it happened. See you in a few days.

Day 0.5: Quick Start!

P8050341An excellent place to start the walk

Day 0.5? Day 0 was done. Day 1 hasn’t started. So it has to be Day 0.5!

Three ironic things:

  1. One of the classic nature walks, Coast to Coast Walk, starts at St. Bees Village, a village which is sandwiched between a nuclear power plant and chemical works factory!
  2. The west to east direction Coast to Coast walk starts in the west direction!
  3. After an year of planning, I started the Coast to Coast walk a day ahead of schedule!

After an early start from London, I reached St. Bees on Wednesday afternoon. The initial plan was to take rest for the rest of the day getting ready for the 14 day walk. However my land lady had a different suggestion. According to her, the weather hasn’t been this good for such a long time, and I should not miss a walk today. The suggestion was to cover the first 8 kilometres or so of the walk and then return to St. Bees. And on the next day, start from St. Bees again and rejoin the walk where I left it off the previous day. Sounded like a good idea. This will also give me an opportunity to see St.Bees head (a hill with steep cliffs facing the Irish sea) and the St. Bees light house leisurely without being worried about the long walk ahead on the first day.

So I started around 1:00 PM for the first part of the walk. So it is Day 0.5.


St. Bees is a small village with the biggest attraction being that it is the start point of the Coast to Coast walk. There are also a few shops, a few pubs and some B&B places for the walkers. A typical quiet English village.


St. Bees Village

Apart from that there is a very old church (and some mythology around it, as always) and an equally old school.


St. Bees Church


St. Bees School

The actual starting point of the walk, the St. Bees beach is slightly over a kilometre away from the village (and that walk doesn’t count!). The beach was very crowded – and I am hoping everyone in the beach did not come for a Coast to Coast walk – if so it will be a crowded walk! Fortunately most weren’t there for the walk – they were just having a picnic and some fun. I saw only a few walking up the St. Bees head.

As a ritual, I too dipped my foot in the Irish sea and started the walk.


The start of the C2C walk – Beach at the Irish sea

As I start climbing up the St. Bees head reality kicks in. Things are very different compared to what I practiced in Singapore. The climb to the top of St. Bees head is steep, walkways are non existent at certain points, and there is no fences on the sharp edges – one wrong step and it is a few hundred feet down! This is going to be much tougher than what I thought!


View of St. Bees from St. Bees head

As you climb up the St. Bees head, there is a magnificent view of the entire Village, that of the Irish sea and the farmlands in the background. After a couple of kilometres, I suddenly realize there is no one walking with me anymore, the few who were walking with me have disappeared, and the long path is front of me is deserted. And then the path almost disappears among thick growth of ferns. Time to get the map out and brush the map reading skills!


The red cliffs at St. Bees head


After crossing the St. Bees head, the must view thing is a few centuries old light house. I am not even sure whether it is operational. There seems to be no one around, even though there is a decent road leading to the light house.


St. Bees light house

Once the St. Bees head is covered it is a long walk back to St. Bees village. The walk back to the village is more than 5 kilometres. There goes the saving. I just covered 8 kilometres and to do that I have to walk an extra 10 kilometres.


I was back at the village around 6:00 PM. A quick bath and it is dinner time at a crowded village pub.


First night accommodation at Stone House farm

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Day 0: Train Ride to St. Bees

Today early morning I took a train from London Euston station to St. Bees. This involved two transfers, one at Preston and one at Barrow in Furness. There was only few minutes between the transfers. But everything went like clock work!

British train system has lot of bad press. But is not as bad as what people and press say. In fact after reading such articles, I had such low expectations of Britrail, they exceed expectations most of the time, which turns out to be a pleasant surprise for me.

My family and I have used the British rail service a few times in the past. Without doubt I can say trains are the best mode of transport when you travel around with young kids. They can move around (and run around), play with other kids, they can sleep comfortably lying down when they gets tired, the scenery keeps changing, try different food, get out an explore stations on the way – it has got all that can keep kids engaged and educated. After trying many types of trains in many countries in Asia and Europe it is my favourite mode of transport as well – even though I not young any more.


From London to Preston it was a Virgin Express train with all the bells and whistles, like in seat dining, Wifi and mobile repeaters. Unfortunately the first two were for business class and I wasn't in it. At Preston I changed to a TransPenine Express Train – with just two compartments. At Barrow when I changed the trains again, the new train just had one compartment!


20 minutes from London, the scenery changes to the country side. Grass lands, yellow and purple flowers, canals and boats, sheep, sheep and more sheep. There is so much sheep in UK, it will make New Zealand look bad. Strangely lamb is such a small part of restaurant menus in the UK, I wonder what is done with all these sheep's?



All of a sudden it started raining heavily. Along with rain and the mist the outside initially it looked like “Middle Earth”, but as the rain became strong the outside scenery completely disappeared. I turned my attention to a few magazines I bought at the station about walking and trekking (there are quiet a few!). In one of the magazines they were describing how to go for walking in summer at the end of each day after work, camp and be back to the office the next day morning on time!

30 minutes later and after change of trains the rain has completely disappeared and everything looks bright.


At Preston Station while I was clicking heavily one of the station attendants insisted (nicely) that I have to see the Plaque unveiled by the Queen. Here is a picture of the Plaque.


The Station itself looked grand with its bright red and green architecture.



Finally after almost 5 hours of train journey I reached St. Bees station – as expected a very small train station.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Day T-1: London

Today’s Walk: London

Planned distance: Unplanned, Actual distance: 21.44 km; Time taken 4 hours 10 minutes

Whether you fly a A380 or just a normal plane, a 13 hour flight is tiring. Two movies, few hours of sleep, a supper, a snack and a breakfast later I am still dazed.

In the morning 7:30 itself I managed to get an early check-in (at no cost!) at my favorite Rhodes hotel in Paddington. I have stayed here 4 times in the past, and is very impressed with this hotel. It is relatively inexpensive, has all facilities including Free WiFi and I even got free calls. After freshening up I did the best thing to avoid a jet lag – go for a long walk.

London is my favourite city for any holiday. After been here more than half a dozen times and after spending considerable amount of (holiday) time, I still find something new (which itself may be very old!) every time I come here. And, I have to say this, is the best city for pedestrians. There is so much to see by just walking.

There are very few cities in the world where the old and new mix so well. As a prominent financial nerve center of the world, cutting edge innovations happen (including some of the now disastrous financial products) in some of the buildings that haven’t changed even a bit over centuries.

Yes, the city has its problems of over crowding, crawling traffic (complemented by a wonderful underground train network), violence, pick pocketing and what not. But don’t most cities in the world have all of those?

As always today I went for a long and directionless walk with only one objective – come back to where I started after few hours.

The weather was terrible – it was dull, dark and damp – with frequent rains. So by British standards just a normal day. See the attached photo. No, it is not a black and white photo – that is how London looked today.

P8040190 (1)

The weather motivated me to do some quick shopping for a better weatherproof clothing other than what I was carrying. I managed to get a Goretex jacket (which guarantees to keep me dry) , almost one third the price in Singapore. I am surprised!

In the evening I am going for a guided walk - what do you expect out of me anyway?

London has a variety of informative and educational walks like British Museum Walks and Tower of London walks where a knowledgeable guide takes you for a couple of hours of walk at interesting locations and tell the stories behind it. But who cares about such walks when there are Jack the Ripper Walk, Harry Porter Walk, Da Vinci Code Walk, Sherlock Holmes walk, Ghost Walk and Pub Walk which is much more fun!

Net connection is going to be choppy in the coming days. So you may not hear from me everyday.

Here is a collection of random photos from today trip.

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