Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Walk 302 -- Gretna to Carlisle

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 64 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 207 days.
Weather:  The initial rain held off, then it got quite warm and bright.  Very suddenly the heavens opened and we walked the last three miles in a torrential downpour which didn’t let up for hours.
Location:  Gretna to Carlisle.
Distance:  13 miles.
Total distance:  3067 miles.
Terrain:  Road for the first few miles.  Then the Cumbrian Coastal Way which was overgrown and extremely muddy.  Most of it was along a river bank so it was flat.
Tide:  Out.
Rivers:  No.372, River Esk.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos.345, 346 & 347 on the Cumbrian Coastal Way.
Pubs:  None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan near Carlisle.  This morning we drove into Carlisle and parked on a back road which also happened to be on the Cumbrian Coastal Way.  Then we walked half a mile to a mainer road where we could catch a bus to Gretna.  For the first time ever we were able to use our bus passes on the Round-Britain-Walk!  (When we first started we were not old enough to qualify for bus passes.  When we were old enough, they were only valid in Sussex and we were already walking in Kent.  By the time we could use them anywhere in England, we were already walking in Scotland!)  The bus dropped us at the border — exactly where we wanted to be.
At the end we came to the car.  We have never been so wet!  We squelched into our seats and drove straight back to the caravan site where I had a shower to warm up and put on a completely different set of clothes.  At last I was dry!
We’d had enough of this rain, there is only so much we could take.  So the next morning we packed up and towed the caravan home.

Our daughter, Annalise, is forty years old today!  I can hardly believe it!  She has done so well with her life after a shaky teens and early twenties.  She has brought up her two children — now both adults — beautifully, and is doing very well in her job (she sells and maintains ventilators for premature babies in most of the top London hospitals).  We are very proud of her achievements.
We started today’s Walk at the  Welcome to England  roadsign.  Just round a bend we took a minor road which runs alongside the M6 — it used to be the main road before the M6 was built.  It was quite a busy road even these days, with vehicles going fast along the straight.  The M6 was constant, no letup.  So many times before we have been up there looking down here, and now we’re down here looking up there!  The threatened rain still hadn’t materialised and we were getting warm, so we stopped to remove our wet-weather gear.
After a couple of miles we crossed the railway, and then we crossed the River Esk.  That is where the Cumbrian Coastal Way begins, but we had to continue for a couple of hundred yards and then double back in order to get on to it.  The place we were in is called Metalbridge because the first bridge across the Esk at this point was a metal bridge designed by Thomas Telford.  It was constructed in 1820 as part of the West-Coast-Great-North-Road project.  In 1911 it was found to be badly corroded and closed to traffic.  In 1915 it was replaced by a ferro-concrete bridge, but even this didn’t last the tides of time — in 1970, on construction of the A74, this ferro-concrete bridge was replaced by the present road bridge which we had just walked over.  Until the end of 2008 — yes, that recently — all traffic on the A74(M) into Scotland travelled over this bridge.
It was only then that the M6 was extended to connect with the M74 at Gretna, and a new bridge was constructed alongside to carry the constant heavy traffic.  No trace of Thomas Telford’s original metal bridge is left, though I believe a casting exists in a museum in Carlisle.  On a wall, which could have been an abutment for the ferro-concrete bridge, we found a plaque which told us that the Esk Bridge was constructed in 1915 to replace the metal bridge of 1820.
The name “Metal Bridge” is retained by a pub at the spot.  A notice outside told us they sold real ales, and Colin immediately fancied a swift half (of course).  Outside two men were removing a one-armed-bandit machine.  Inside there was apparently no barman, and no pump clips either.  Eventually a youth appeared, but he didn’t seem to know what real ales were!  So we used the loo and left.  (I believe this pub is now an upmarket restaurant.)  Colin was most dischuffed.  We sat on a wall outside and ate our slices of quiche.
The Coastal Way led into a field.  At last!” we thought, “we can follow an English footpath marked by green dotted lines on the map!  (Yes, the green dotted lines had magically appeared again, first time since the border just north of Berwick.)  But oh dear!  The path was overgrown and swampy.  Sometimes it disappeared altogether.  It obviously hadn’t been maintained for some time, and we were in for much of the same difficulties we had encountered all over Scotland.  We regretted removing our overtrousers earlier because the long grass was wet.  But we found our cloth trousers dried out quite quickly further on.
We crossed the railway via a footbridge.  From there we could see muddy fields all around, and evidence of flooding — we have had so much heavy rain in recent weeks.  There were constant trains on the line, it was very busy.
We followed a track, but it was blocked by a HUGE puddle.  It was too deep to paddle through, I tested it with my walking poles.  Water would have filled our boots.  We struggled along the side next to a wet hedge and managed to get through.  The walkers’ signpost at the end was almost completely hidden by a tall bush.
We followed a green lane which was overgrown and muddy.  It came out in a field where the path completely disappeared.  (But this is not Scotland!)  We followed our noses to the far corner, through a gate and up to some farm buildings.  We hadn’t seen a yellow arrow since the railway bridge, and this is supposed to be a waymarked path! 
We knew we had to turn right at the end, but we did this too soon and ended up at the corner of a field.  We got out a compass and realised we were walking north when we should have been walking south.  So we retraced our steps, and didn’t turn right until we reached the tarmacked lane.  From there we followed the road round and down to the river — this is the River Eden which we must now follow all the way into Carlisle.
The last bit of the path down to the river had been churned up by a tractor, it was pure MUD!  It was very difficult to walk — we thought this was atrocious.  We know farmers have to do their work, but this path was wide and every bit of it had been churned up as if deliberately to discourage walkers.  But we got through, plastered in the stuff but defiant.  We came down to the riverside and found a log to sit on and eat our sarnies.  It was hot in the sun — and so it should be, it is July!
The river looked very full, but it was not flooding, thank goodness.  We walked across grass to the river’s edge and it was pleasant and firm, not swampy at all.  There were several bits of exposed ‘sand’ which looked muddy, but Colin walked on them and didn’t sink.  He said it was pretty firm because it was fairly sandy mud.
We came to a tarmacked lane leading into the village of Rockcliffe.  We were unable to stay by the river at this point, we had to rise up into the village then descend to the riverside again.  There we came to the village green with picnic tables on the river bank.  Very pleasant, but we had already eaten our sarnies and were not yet ready for another break.
Across the green we climbed over a stile into a field of cows — and were immediately confronted with mud, glorious mud!!  The river was up to the top of its banks and running fast.  The field was very swampy, and where the cows liked to stand it was just a sea of sloppy goo.  We actually felt a bit sorry for the cattle because there was nowhere they could stand in the dry.  We had to pick our way round the worst spots, and sometimes we wondered if we would get through.
We passed an island in the middle of the river, and after this we crossed an ‘Area of Open Access’.  This was where the path seemed to disappear with no indication of where we should walk in order to stay on the supposedly waymarked path.  The flooded river had brought up a lot of rubbish which was strewn all over the place, mainly plastic bottles.  We muddled our way through and eventually found the path again, more by luck than by judgement.
Next we walked through a very civilised area of a clear path, mown grass and the occasional picnic table.  This stretch of the river bank looked very well cared for.  We sat down at one of the picnic tables for a little rest.  It was hot in the sun and we felt a bit lethargic.
Over the next stile, and we were greeted by more mud and cows!  The contrast was stark.  Cows like to concentrate at the stiles, and sometimes we found them practically inaccessible due to the deep mud.  It was very frustrating.  We struggled on and came to a small car park with a picnic table.  There we sat to eat our chocolate.
We were feeling a little weary by now, but we knew we still had several miles to go.  We continued along the river bank.  After about a mile we came to an earthwork which we had to climb, there was no path along the bottom.  We were walking along the top of a small cliff when it started spotting with rain.  I put on my cape which dealt with the shower adequately.  Up there the crops were growing right to the edge of the fields making it difficult to walk.  Come off it, this is the Cumbrian Coastal Path!
We passed through several fields looking for the path back down to the river bank.  We thought we must have missed it, we seemed to have crossed too many fields and we were still on top.  But we came, at last, to a stile — and there was the way back down.  I put my cape away because the rain had stopped and it was too hot to wear it.  The sky looked blue as far as we could see.
We walked down to the riverbank stile and were greeted with — pure mud!  While we were negotiating it, it started to rain again, hard.  I hurriedly put on my cape, thinking it would only be a shower like the last time.  But it was torrential, and it didn’t let up for hours!  It was so loud on my cape hood I thought it was hail.  I didn’t have time to put on my overtrousers, and soon the wet on my socks seeped into my boots.  Before long I was sloshing in them.
I could barely see because of the intensity of the rain.  Colin led the way (I don’t know how he could see any better) and I kept him in my sights just following his tail.  All the twists and turns of the path — I don’t know how he coped, but he did.  We did the last two miles of the Walk like this — I was so wet only my knickers stayed dry!!
On our brand new and very expensive OS map, the first bridging point of the River Eden is the road bridge in central Carlisle.  Yet more than a mile before that we passed under a road bridge — Carlisle’s western bypass road.  This road is completely absent from our new map, not even a dotted line where it’s route was planned. Yes, I know the road has only been open five months, but construction took three years and it was planned at least four years before that.  We had no idea the bridge was there, and were furious with the Ordnance Survey.  We must have spent several hundred pounds on their maps so far, and have lost count of the inaccuracies because they are so out of date!  We were wet and miserable, tired as well, and all we could think of was getting to our car parked in Etterby.  A cursory glance told us there was no way we could have climbed up on to the bridge from the river bank — but we would have found our way round this problem in our planning if we’d known about the bridge.
We squelched on past a redundant railway bridge which had been made impossible to climb up on to (wouldn’t it make a super cycleway?) and we were glad to get on to a tarmac road out of the mud.  We crossed over the railway, and came to our car.

That ended Walk no.302, we shall pick up Walk no.304 next time in the Etterby area of Carlisle.  It was seven o’clock, so the Walk had taken us eight hours forty minutes.  (Walk 303 will be an historical tour of Carlisle.)   We have never been so wet!  We squelched into our seats and drove straight back to the caravan site where I had a shower to warm up and put on a completely different set of clothes.  At last I was dry!  Later we watched in horror as a ‘river’ of water approached our caravan across the lawn of this pristine caravan site.  It continued raining until well into the night.  The groundsheet in our awning was under several inches of water, it seemed our caravan was parked in a pond!  Thank goodness it was up on wheels.
We’d had enough of this rain, there is only so much we could take.  So the next morning we took down a very soggy and muddy awning, packed up everything and towed the caravan home.  I still feel guilty about the muddy mess we left on the caravan site’s pristine lawn.

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