A Pilgrims Progress

On my return home I was listening to ‘Sunday’ on BBC Radio 4 which described a pilgrimage as a journey of discovery to meet others, explore the country and discover yourself. Religion didn’t appear to come into it so I offer you my pilgrims progress on Alfred Wainwrights Coast to Coast walk from St. Bees to Nine Standards Rigg.

Day 1

Exploring The Howgill Fells from Sedbergh – ascent 799M 10 miles

John - fresh at the start day 1

John – fresh at the start day 1

We met up at the Red Lion and set off after lunch heading north a pleasant valley side path up to Cautley Beck. On the way it became apparent that an event was planned with arrows and encouraging slogans, such as “If you start to feel good, don’t worry you’ll get over it”.

The information board on the well trodden path up the beck offered an insight into ancient occupation of the site and perhaps the best view of the waterfall.

Looking back down Cautley Beck

Looking back down Cautley Beck

A navigation error at the top left us walking up Force Gill Beck which required a there and back to The Calf trig (676M). It was misty up here so nothing to see. We met a group of three gentlemen led by a chap perhaps trained by Basil Fawlty, I hope they got back safely. On the way down a loop to Great Dummacks had been planned but with mist there was little point. We took the undefined and initially invisible track down Settlebeck Gill for the direct route back to Sedbergh.

The gill was quite dry but deeply cut with rippling sides like the mud banks of Morecambe Bay with grass. A good walk to start the week in an area I had admired and planned to visit for many years.

At Kirkby Stephen we put a car in the compound and went to find our digs. That is an unkind description of the imposing three bay three story house on Silver Street. Tea and cakes offerd a welcome and introduction to the service we could expect. Shame they didn’t do evening meals because the town had little to invite us.

Day 2

Coast to Coast day one St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge – ascent 909M 15 miles

After a comfortable night and excellent breakfast we took the Packhorse bus to St Bees. Only the two of us and this was a Saturday. We didn’t get to see much of the town, being dropped on the sea front where a sign helps those in doubt know what lies ahead. It felt a bit like the start of a sponsored walk perhaps I should have done it east to west as I don’t like crowds.

The coastal section from St. Bees

The coastal section from St. Bees

We share the path not only with folk but the Cumbrian Coastal Way but I guess we were all on the C2C. As Whitehaven comes into view AW starts our eastward travel through Moor Row and Cleator more by necessity than desire. Another nice piece by local sculpture Colin Telfer looks like our mate Jim and brightens our spirits. No lunch time pint on offer even here in civilisation.

From Cleator we have the first of many choices. Here it’s the high route or road so we climb the steep forest track to Dent, not the village but a mist topped hill of 352M. Another choice on the descent left or right. Our plan was right, others go left. Ours was a steep zig-zag path their’s, we discover later, a very steep open hill side. We meet up to pass through the pleasant Nannycatch Gate and Beck.

The high level roadside path offers our first sight of Ennerdale Water, a view unavailable from the road in it’s deep cutting. We spot our digs but also the Fox and Hounds so head to the latter to celebrate the end of day one. The beer was good and the food sounded tempting, which later proved correct. Saved from closure in 2011 this vibrant Community Pub is well worth a visit.

We had to go try the Shepherds Arms where we met up with a couple from Ripley Derbyshire. He did the walking while his wife took in the sights with James, her trusty Sat-Nav guide.

Our room at the B&B was named Grikes but the ‘en suite’ across the landing was ‘Grykes Bathroom’. What or who is the room named after? It would appear either spelling is acceptable for a fissures separating the blocks in a limestone pavement.

We consult the weather forecast. Tomorrow looks good BUT the following two days show rain.

Day 3

Coast to Coast day two Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite – ascent 1510M 17 miles

More choices and with a promise of sunshine we are tempted to take the high route. Making an early start to the hill we turn left around Ennerdale Water while the pack head right. Evidence of the plan to raise the level remain but the water still laps onto a stoney beach. An easy track and narrow green lane lead to the road then the real climb starts up Herdus and on to the trig at Great Borne (616M).

The cloud had been blown off the tops but the wind persisted leaving the sun hat hidden under the hood of a wind proof jacket. The views were worth the effort as we sat for lunch in the shelter of Little Dodd with a view of Crummock Water. A walk on the tops is only occasionally level. The climb to Red Pike and then High Stile while offering views of Buttermere, were not welcome to some in the party.

Lunch over looking Crummock Water

Lunch over looking Crummock Water

It was sort of down hill from here but Scarth Gap Pass gets in the way of an easy approach from Seat to Haystacks then we went wrong. AW suggests a route south of Innominate Tarn but the present day path passes north. This resulted in more up and down close to the end of a challenging day. We may never know if the planned route would have been easier.

Dropping down along the tramway path to Honister was easy going but far from the end. Our companions from Haystacks stopped at the cafe for tea. They were overnight at Seatoller, but we had a further 1.5 miles to the Scafell Hotel in Borrowdale along the Cumbria Way and perhaps the Allerdale Ramble, not that the signage improved. We also passed over the River Derwent, which might have made us feel at home, had we noticed.

Nearly there, passing Seatoller

Nearly there, passing Seatoller

We approach the hotel pasing the Riverside Bar which looks approachable then follow signs across the front of the imposing lodge passing doors and windows which offer a comfortable interior. Finally we reach the small main entrance and are welcomed at reception with talk of our walk. The Wi-Fi was poor but the decor traditional and very relaxing. Food at the Riverside was fine and beer very good. The Wi-fi was sufficient to confirm the forecast had not improved. Rain and plenty of it was on its way. Slept very well, hardly surprising so didn’t hear when the rain arrived.

Day 4

Coast to Coast day three Rosthwaite to Grasmere – ascent 664M 9 miles

We had a good breakfast although I failed to follow John’s lead when he ordered smoked salmon and scrambled egg. It looked delicious. Unlike the view through the window.

Boot garden seen last night

Boot garden seen last night

It was raining heavily as we left crossing the river to follow the old drove road up the valley. Even in these appalling conditions Borrowdale looked beautiful, the crags to our right inspiring for words or pictures.

We left the Cumbria Way at Smithymire Island where I took shelter to discharge early morning tea, there may not be another comfortable opportunity. Climbing to Greenup Edge the map shows waterfalls and numerous Gills. Today all were in full flow making a spectacular sight of white water. It was if every molecule of H2O was fighting its neighbour to get down the mountain first.

Heavy rain does have it's advantages - Waterfall in Greenup Gill

Heavy rain does have it’s advantages – Waterfall in Greenup Gill

We passed some lost souls climbing to Lining Crag and like Pied Piper they were soon following in our footsteps. AW warns of the potential to follow Wyth Burn from Greenup Edge. The GPS showed the correct direction but the ground failed to offer a path. We meandered in the general direction arriving at Mere Beck which was, as expected flooded. We moved upstream in search of a safe crossing finally deciding to jump a narrow. Some of the party were lucky others had to get wet feet.

Now we could see our descent down Easedale and I foolishly commented that if the path needed to cross the Gill we would struggle. The path does cross the Gill, any available stepping stones lost in a torrent of white seething water. We could see down the valley the Gill returning to calm black water so we agreed to try and cross there. Finally my boots sink in the soft ground and quickly fill with water, others fall, we do the best we can and finally return to the well worn path.

Upper Easedale

Upper Easedale

It’s still raining, cats and dogs would be a polite description. The next crossing is by bridge so I break away from the group it’s always more comfortable walking at your own pace. More impressive waterfalls tempt me to again get out the camera. The bridleway becomes a road of sorts then a road proper and I know that our accommodation lays on this road so I press on thinking I can get sorted then leave the shower free for when John arrives. On the edge of the village I spot the wooden chalet home, Dooker Beck that I’d admired back in 2014, it was now on the market. At £599,950 it won’t be my holiday home.

Easedale - still raining

Easedale – still raining

No drying room I’m told but you can use the hooks over a radiator in the staff corridor. This is already full of wet clothes, some dripping onto the boots below. Like others I was soaked to the skin so had lots to dry. The boots however were my priority and stuffing them with newspaper was not going to get them dry by morning. I walked to our room door over solid floors so took off outer layers in the corridor before entering in socks. Every footprint showed as a wet splog across the carpet, still it was clean water. I stripped of the remaining wet layers and luxuriated under the hot shower until circulation returned.

By the time John arrived I was in dry clothes drinking tea. This may have prompted his outburst or perhaps the misdirection by staff to the now discovered ‘drying room’.

Over night accommodation

Overnight accommodation

It was still raining heavily when we walked into Grasmere village for a meal. What a day!

Day 5

Coast to Coast day four Grasmere to Patterdale – ascent 716M 9 miles

Still raining but compared with yesterday this was just drizzle. We met a cross section of folk around the breakfast table here. Some had the option to stay in or make a shorter local walk ‘if it brightened up’. The only C2C alternative was to take the bus, not on our agenda but one taken up by a few after their battering of yesterday.

A Grasmere garden

A Grasmere garden

Before turning up the Rothay valley at Goody Bridge I made a short detour to photograph one of the colourful displays of azaleas found in many gardens here. The walk along the quite road was again a good start to the walk allowing breakfast to settle before hitting the climb.

A slate plaque built into a house in Tongue Gill indicated our progress, forty miles done and a lot left for John to complete. A new hydro scheme has been discretely installed, I’d like to see an display showing us what the water is generating. I suggested we take the left path away from the crowd. John is worried it involves more climbing. AW says it offers a view back to Grasmere, well it might on a better day, we manage to identify the lake, nothing more.

Little Tongue Gill and the potential view of Grasmere.

Little Tongue Gill and the potential view of Grasmere.

It’s windy today but behind us, the rain driven onto our back. We meet a couple near the top asking if this is the path to the Tarn. At Hause Gap I point into the mist directing them to the ‘view’ of their goal. It should go without saying that we abandon any attempt to include Helvellyn and Striding Edge. All four follow the path until eventually my guidance is proved correct as we first hear then see the waves lapping at the tarn edge.

Grisedale Tarn and stepping stones - on a bad day.

Grisedale Tarn and stepping stones – on a bad day.

Again the stepping stones are lost in the flood of the outflow and we have to seek a narrow to jump across. All over safely today then on our way along the low route down Grisedale Beck. Or so we thought. The wind on this side of the hill was horrendous every step had to be taken with extreme care to avoid being blown off our feet to slither down the jagged outcrops. As we descended the wind and rain eased. We passed more impressive waterfalls and the Climbing Hut at Ruthwaite Lodge. Later we passed a group heading to the hut, all dressed in matching gear they looked like an invading army as they approached.

Ruthwaite Lodge and waterfall

Ruthwaite Lodge and waterfall

Our accommodation was at Glenridding so not wanting to walk alongside the road twice I had planned a route passing Lanty’s Tarn and Rattlebeck Bridge to end this short day. The wind and rain had eased so this minor detour made a pleasant end and offered some good viewpoints along the way. We arrived at the digs before our bags and were kindly admitted before the designated 4pm.

Ullswater Hotel

Ullswater Hotel

After a shower and change of clothes, with the sun now showing I took a walk around the village and discovered the damage the water can do. Repairs were still in progress following Storm Desmond in 2015 which almost destroyed part of the village. Only memories, pictures and reports now remain of the devastation.

Day 6

Coast to Coast day five Patterdale to Shap – ascent 1186M 19 miles

Today’s walk starts down the road at Patterdale. Fortunately there is a pedestrian path alongside the road, occasionally a footway or pavement but more often a footpath separated from the road by trees or bushes. I had started a walk from Patterdale back in 2014. Linda had dropped me here and driven back alone over Kirkstone Pass and along The Struggle, the minor road to Ambleside. A trip she had been proud to have made.

Leaving Patterdale

Leaving Patterdale

There is a mass of paths at and leading to Boredale Hause. It appeared we had chosen the wrong one as folk on the lower path made a more rapid ascent. A rapid response indicated John’s reluctance to bag Angletarn Pikes which set the pattern of his day. Around The Knott we met a couple from the States backpacking the C2C we had their pleasant company for the next few miles.

Kidsty Pike

Kidsty Pike

At the Straits of Riggindale the path doubles back to Kidsty Pike. I had a plan to stay on the tops including Racecourse Hill so the GPS showed more paths than required and created a little confusion. I decided to forgo Racecourse Hill and the inevitable double back. At Kidsty Pike we all admired the view but it was extra special for a couple who arrived to bag their last Wainwright. What an achievement but no champagne to celebrate.

A large party, including John, continue on the low route down to Hawswater Reservoir while I head north to High Raise along the Roman route, High Street. The views were not stunning but it was nice to be high up in the open and on level-ish ground. An opportunity to look at the views, not my feet. I found a wall to shelter from the wind for lunch before heading for Loadpot Hill, a trig but little else to merit the visit.

Looking towards Loadpot Hill

There is a footpath marked across Bamton Common back to the lakes side path at The Forces. I can honestly say I was either lost or the path was little used and is not apparent on the ground. It was a case of Kinder style walking across a peat bog. I’m aware that some if not many Lakeland paths are not on the ground in the position shown on the Definitive Map but there were no other lines on the map here.

Hawswater with Shap works in the distance

Hawswater with Shap works in the distance

The descent into Fordingdale Bottom was forbidding, a steep sided valley covered in what, from a distance, looked like smooth velvet. I imagined one false step and I’d be sliding and rolling the 300M to the beck. As it turned out the grass was good, not too long but tough enough to offer firm footings.

Streams had subsided as quickly as they rose and The Forces besides being hidden by vegetation was nothing special after the treats higher in the hills of previous days. Before reaching the man made (Manchester Corporation Waterworks) dam I spied a party ahead and soon caught up with John. We started to hear stories of and from those who had bottled out after a day of rain taking the Sherpa bus or making their own way by public transport and taxi to the next overnight location. Yes it was bad and I wouldn’t want it any worse but missing a bit was not an option I wanted to consider.

Parish Crag Bridge

Parish Crag Bridge

Two entrepreneurs offered a service on the next section. A box full of goodies, drinks and chocolate bars for weary walkers and an honesty box for payment. The countryside was changing, it had become more gentle. The serene valley surrounds announced our approach to the remains of Shap Abbey. Those monks certainty had an eye for a nice location. We had been required to estimate our ETA at Shap and we got it about right. Time for stocking up at the Co-op then a pint before the taxi arrived to take us down the road to the Shap Wells Hotel.

Shap Abbey

Shap Abbey

The place was buzzing. Three coaches in the car park and Japanese tourists vying for attention at reception. We are in ‘Economy’ John is told but the room is spacious, light and comfortable. The Wi-fi is good and we even have mobile signals being close, but not too close, to the M6 and West Coast Main Line. The lounge offers entertainment with a singer as we sup a pint to end the long day.

Day 7

Coast to Coast day six Shap to Orton – ascent 417M 14 miles

A bit out of sequence but I liked this picture

A bit out of sequence but I liked this picture

Shap to Orton is just 8.5 miles – an opportunity for an easy day and time to recharge the battery. John goes for this but with less than half of C2C planned, I decide to give the taxi a miss and walk into Shap. It was the plan all along so I had a route which started by exploring around Shap Well. From a track which passed under the railway I could see in the distance a trig pillar. A path close to the footpath set me on my way but soon wandered off route. I soon discovered why as the Queen’s Monument, as marked on the OS, came into view. The paths had evidence of past improvement which I took to be walks for earlier guests here to take or bath in the waters. The overgrown rhododendrons had created a tunnel for the path to pass through.

Heading south from Shap Summit.

Heading south from Shap Summit.

My next destination was Shap Summit the once infamous climb on the railway line from London to Glasgow. Today the sleek electric trains climb the bank with ease. I spotted the line side cottages by the summit marker board and later discovered this was the site of Shap Summit station.

During planning for this walk I’d had concerns for the section through the works but there were no issues. A tall footbridge offered a safe crossing of the disused railway siding and segregated paths kept traffic and pedestrians apart.

Approaching the village I passed a house with boarded windows, abandoned I thought until I pass the lorry making a delivery of Calor gas. I also missed the Goggleby Stone. What I didn’t miss was another stock up at the Co-op and a look around the exterior of the church where a grave memorial caught my eye. My mind returns to a memorial to to Douglas Blackhurst I spotted at Sheen in the Peak District with a mini cement mixer? Here a memorial to Derek Cross, his hobby clear for all to see and one I share.

Manageable stepping stones approaching Shap

Manageable stepping stones approaching Shap

Time to start today’s walk and it’s only 11.15 with just 8 miles to go an embargo on entry to digs of 4.30. Crossing the wide footbridge over the M6 offers a fine view back to Kidsty Pike from where the chimney of Hardendale Quarry is also visible. I detour to look into the water filled hole of the current quarry with it’s dedicated road and bridge across the motorway.

Kidsty Pike from the M6 crossing

Kidsty Pike from the M6 crossing

Strange waymarking at Oddendale suggests inexperienced installation. I know there is some disagreement about how best to locate arrows but pointing one at the ground is not helpful. I find a wall with a wide stone base perfect for a seat and wind shelter for lunch. On the horizon a hill with trig and cairn invites a visit, so with time to spare I head off and find it’s the trig I could see from near Shap Wells. Ten miles out and just one mile from the walk start, I’ve almost walked in a loop.

With no path over the heather moor I set a goto on the GPS for the Roman Road and nearby stone circle to rejoin the C2C. Robin Hood’s Grave is the next point of interest, better to seek out a tree with a hollow trunk in Sherwood Forest I would suggest.

AW didn’t pass through Orton, or perhaps he did but left by road, anyway it doesn’t have to be on the route so the path is less used but from the parish boundary offers a nice view down into the village and the old limekiln over to the left. I spotted a step stile over the wall into the churchyard, often the way to enter a village. Work was in progress on the tower and the church open so I took a look inside. My attention was immediately drawn to three bells sat in a wooden frame. Information about these bells was printed on an attached sheet. One bell had connections with my home town so it was not a surprise to find that the background had been supplied by Mr Bell History, George Dawson. I spoke to a lady at the church door and obtained information about the bell practice tomorrow evening.

Another out of sequence - near Shap Summit

Another out of sequence – near Shap Summit

John was settled at The George with a pint of Thwaites Wainwright (I now discover that Wainwright and Lancaster Bomber are both actually brewed by Marstons at Burton.) We looked at the menu and approved, good job as this was the only place in town to eat unless you can feast on chocolate.

Day 8

Coast to Coast day seven Orton to Kirkby Stephen – ascent 395M 13miles

Another fine day in prospect but tomorrow looks wet, let’s enjoy it while we can. I start with a trip to the well stocked village shop for packs of Tiffin, no not as treats on the walk but for this evening. Another block of C2C walkers depart with us but soon take different routes, some heading north to rejoin the route near Robin Hood’s Grave. We head for another stone circle. This looks more like a project from Capability Brown with a nearby ruin.

Stone circle

Stone circle

It’s drystone walls and sheep here, more human landscape that that of the Lakes. We meet a lady with a dog and comment it must be nice to walk here every day. If only, she repiles, I’ve just stopped off on the way to Scotland. A house comes into view, abandoned like the railway it stands beside. This is Smardale we might see the viaduct which BR planned to blow up fortunately it was saved and now the route offers a level path for walkers and cyclists. A bench on the track offered a wonderful view of the packhorse bridge over the beck, it was vacant and lunch time so we bagged it. Shame about the fence rails which obscured our sight line.

Smardale Bridge

Smardale Bridge

We crossed the bridge noting the dry bed of Severals Gill, did they not have the rain here? Then the climb up to Smardale Fell and the view of the viaduct which just blended into the landscape so perfectly, will the M6 ever achieve this? Topping the hill the Settle to Carlisle line comes into view and another viaduct under which sneaks the meandering course of the earlier line which better served the town of Kirkby Stephen.

Smardale Viaduct

Smardale Viaduct

My journey is almost over. We go off route to collect my car from Pennine View on the site of the old station. Reception has an evocative picture of what it was like in the past before caravans took advantage of the level site. Was it cruel or kind to remind John that he would have a break in his walk if he went by car to our accommodation? I took the car, John walked. Another warm welcome back at the digs used last Friday and now voted the best so far on the walk.

Smardale Fell

Smardale Fell

Evening had already been planned. A drive back to Orton for a meal in The George then to church for bell ringing. More new friends ending the evening with tea and cakes to celebrate a young ringers 17th birthday.

Day 9

Coast to Coast day eight Kirkby Stephen to Nine Standards Rigg – ascent 727M 11miles

John’s son Joe and his partner Jo join us today. They have travelled up from London staying at Scotch Corner, will they be here on time? It’s raining and we wait in the car. 9.30 John gets a phone call to say they are in the car park just 50M away.

Frank's Bridge Kirkby Stephen

Frank’s Bridge Kirkby Stephen

We set off over the pleasant setting of Frank’s Bridge as fund raisers abseil in the rain from the church tower. At Hartley I spot the old rail line before we climb alongside the active quarry. The map is littered with Shake Holes and disused shafts and pits. The path follows a gully but no sign of water unlike the floods we had encountered recently. A stone built bench in the style of the cairns announces our imminent arrival.

Without the structures this would be a stunning place but with the added mystery of those piles of stones it’s very special. We were lucky that the rain had cleared and we could appreciate a limited view. I started to say my goodbyes then realised we still had the trig to visit. Here was the parting. John continues to fret about his 23 mile day from Richmond to Ingleby Arncliffe but having got this far he will complete it.

Farewell for now and best wishes for the rest of the walk.

Farewell for now and best wishes for the rest of the walk.

I set a goto and head off downhill across the moor to pick up a dead end bridleway. Success and a shaft or shake hole in which to shelter from the wind for lunch. I’m confused to find a new finger post at the next path junction which indicates the route of the C2C, where 2 where is the question.

In the dip of Dukedale Pots I have a choice contour around or head for the cairn of Tailbridge Hill. I head up the hill then shadow the road although with little traffic I could have gone for the easy surface. Footpaths offer a cross country route direct to Kirkby Stephen the cross the disused rail line I see its a path so go to explore and discover its in the hands of the Northern Viaduct Trust (visit their website).

Podgill Viaduct

Podgill Viaduct on the former South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway

Dropping back into Hartley I seek the PH marked on older maps, gone and perhaps forgotten as I can’t even find the inevitable ‘Old Inn House’. I direct a chap who is doing C2C in reverse then taking a different path meet him again at Frank’s Bridge. He is done for the day and is staying at our favourite B&B, he will have a very pleasant stay.

Totals over the 9 days ascent 7,323 metres getting on for a climb of Everest and 117 miles.

 

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