Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Walk 308 -- Workington to St Bees

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 120 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 263 days.
Weather:  Sunny and warm.  A little cloud, and windy on the headland.
Location:  Workington, via Whitehaven, to St Bees.
Distance:  16 miles.
Total distance:  3144 miles.
Terrain:  Gravel and concrete paths.  Grassy cliff paths.  Undulating, especially at the end.
Tide:  Coming in, then going out.
Rivers:  None.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos.374 to 385, all round St Bees Head.
Pubs:  The Tavern in Whitehaven where we drank Worsthorn “Old Trout” and Inveralmond “Ossian”.
‘English Heritage’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  No.66.  Right at the end of the Walk we found a footbridge had been washed away in recent floods.  The footpath was temporarily diverted through the caravan site where we were staying — a short cut for us!
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan in St Bees.  This morning we walked to St Bees Station and caught a train to Workington.  (The train was twenty minutes late, so we weren’t best pleased.)
At the end we walked into the caravan site in St Bees just as it was getting dark.

It was a bit later than we intended when we started this Walk because the train was twenty minutes late.  We were a little annoyed about that, but we were a lot earlier than we were starting the last Walk — and, unlike last time, we hoped to finish this one before dusk. 
From the station we walked alongside the river to its mouth, about a mile.  The tide was out, stranding the boats on a sandy sludge.  We came to a sculpture depicting three men with their arms in the air.  We supposed that they were miners, or something, but there was no information board explaining what the statue was about.  We were intrigued by a much older structure, a small round building.  It reminded us of those little medieval ‘lock-ups’ that you see occasionally around the country.
Could it have been an ancient jail?  We didn’t think so as it had no windows but it did have a chimney.  It probably had some industrial use.  We walked on, bemoaning the lack of tourist information about these things.
We met a man who told us he was seventy-two, though he looked much older than us.  He was grooming his dogs, and Colin couldn’t resist getting into conversation with him.  We must have chatted for about twenty minutes — time we could ill afford.  It was difficult to get away without being rude.
We had a very long Walk ahead of us and we were already running late.  Colin, with his poor time-management skills, never seems to realise that there comes a time to say, “Goodbye, it’s been nice talking to you but we must get on!  I didn’t want to get caught in the dark on the cliffs round St Bees Head.
At last he tore himself away, and we walked out to the end of the river.  There were windmills windmills everywhere — dozens of them out to sea and a whole lot more along the coast to the north of us.
They really have gone to town on this form of renewable energy around here, and it illustrates what a windy place this is.  I’m glad I don’t live here, I hate the wind.
There was a ‘tower’ at the end of the south harbour pier.  Also a scope set in the floor which told us how far we were from all sorts of places.  But we didn’t have time to study it for long.
We turned south.  A path led us up on to a down with sweeping views in all directions.  It was a beautiful sunny day, breezy but not too cold.  It really made us feel good to be out in the wide open spaces like that.
Near the top we sat on a stone bench to eat our pies, but we were bothered by several dogs whose owners were lax in calling them off.  Why do dog owners think that their little darlings are only being ‘sweet’ and ‘playful’ when, in actual fact, they are being a damn nuisance?  We hurriedly walked on to get away from them.
We walked down past a working quarry.  Ahead there were only ‘works’ as far as the eye could see, and the only way we could find to continue (not signposted) was to turn back on ourselves and descend the quarry road to the main road.  There we turned right, descended even more, then crossed the railway on a bridge.  We immediately turned right again, on to a path which led alongside the railway.
This was through trees at first, but soon opened out into a kind of concrete gutter.  On our left were more ‘works’, some of the buildings were derelict.
We thought we were on our own ever since we had turned on to this path, but then we were passed by a man and a small child riding a quad-bike.  The child was loving it, but it didn’t look very safe.  Eventually the path went under the railway and opened out a bit.  It was much better on this side, we could see the sea!
We noticed strange ‘rocks’ along the top of the beach.  It was Colin who observed that they were all bucket-shaped!  We deduced they were buckets of slag taken out of blast furnaces and dumped on the beach while they were still hot.  Closer inspection revealed that larger stones had sunk towards the bottom of each bucket before the slag had solidified.  Further on these ‘buckets’ had been covered by a fine sand causing strange humps along the shore.  It looked like an alien invasion!
There was a good cinder path along the top of a ridge — at first.  Further on, erosion had set in making walking tricky.  No wonder the man and child on the quad-bike had long since returned the way they had come.  We got through — after Scotland, anything is easy!
We came to Harrington Harbour where the tide was still out stranding the few boats in the mud.  Ahead of us was a lovely open park with a children’s playground in the middle, but that ended in a dead end round the corner so we didn’t go down there.  We crossed the railway on a bridge, then took a path which led us uphill to the track of a disused railway, now the coastal path.
We were back a bit from the sea, but on a rise so we had good views.  We sat on a bank to eat our sarnies, and a man with a Doberman stopped to talk.  The dog was impeccably behaved, unlike the spaniels, terriers and labradors we had encountered up on the down at Workington.  It’s owner chatted for a little while, then moved on — much better than someone who delays us because he doesn’t know when to stop talking.
We passed a lot more windmills between us and the sea.  Engineers were working on one of them.  One windmill stopped going round, then they all stopped — perhaps they were making too much electricity which can’t be stored.  The trouble with windmills is that they only work when it’s windy, which is not necessarily when the electricity is needed.  We saw dozens of windmills out at sea all along today’s Walk, there must be hundreds of them out there!
We came to a fork in the path, and there were no signs telling us which way to continue.  We guessed the wrong fork, but soon realised we were walking round in a curve towards one of the windmills.  So we backtracked and took the other fork.  Shortly afterwards we came to a barbed wire fence barring us from continuing along the old railway track.  The coastal path turned sharply left to cross a couple of fields to the road.  This path was incredibly muddy.
The road was narrow with no pavements, but happily there was little traffic.  It took us downhill to the village of Lowca where we passed the War Memorial.  We branched off before the road started going uphill again, crossed the stream and continued down under the railway to the beach.  We had to guess the way, after close inspection of the map, because all coastal signs had been absent ever since we had emerged from that muddy path on to the road.
Standing on the beach, we saw a dredger a little way out to sea.  It seemed to have finished work for the day, and a tug was turning it round and towing it back towards Whitehaven.  Colin filmed this manoeuvre.
The beach ran out after about a quarter of a mile, so we didn’t get much beach-walking.
We crossed the railway yet again at Parton Station, and immediately turned on to the ‘tramway’ which runs alongside the railway.  This horse-drawn tramway was built at the beginning of the 19th century to convey coal from Parton to the port at Whitehaven.  It fell into disuse in later years when the railway was built, and it is now a car-free cycleway.  We very much enjoyed our walk along it into Whitehaven, it runs very close along the base of the cliffs.
It is a popular path, used by lots of walkers and cyclists this sunny afternoon even though the children are now well and truly back at school.  We sat on the wall between the tramway and the railway to eat our apples, and were a bit surprised when a train came past — we didn’t realise it would be quite that close!  The trains have to crawl along this bit of track because the cliffs are unstable and there is a danger of landslips.
We noticed bedding lines on the sandstone bricks used to make the walls next to the railway track, even cross-bedding on some of them.  Aren’t we good geologists?  We passed some old workings in the cliff, now bricked off, and some impressive chimneys on the other side of the railway.
Eventually we came out in Whitehaven by the ‘docks’, now a fancy marina.
Colin wanted to find his ‘CAMRA’ pub, and we dithered a bit looking round for it.  A man stopped to ask if he could help.  When we told him the name of the pub he said, “Follow me because that’s just where I’m going!”  There our new friend showed us a ‘wishing well’ in a back room.  We ordered our drinks, and got chatting to the clientele who proved to be a friendly bunch.  There was a lot of the usual ‘pub talk’ and banter, and they were very interested in our Trek.  One man warned us to be careful getting up on to the cliff top as there had “been a fatality” recently.  He didn’t elaborate.
We couldn’t dally because we still had a number of miles to cover.  We left the pub and continued walking round the old docks, now transformed into a marina full of fancy yachts.  Who owns these craft?  If this is a deprived area with high unemployment, it certainly isn’t the locals.  We don’t consider ourselves deprived, yet we could never afford to own a yacht, nor follow the expensive lifestyle that goes with it (mooring fees, maintenance, running costs, etc.)  Yet on our Trek we have passed marina after marina stacked with millions of pounds worth of craft.
We sat on a bench to eat our first chocolate.  Swans and pigeons milled about hoping for scraps — they didn’t get any from us ’cos we’re too mean!  There was a sculpture of a man firing a cannon nearby, and this is the story we read on a board:—  The only unfriendly American invasion of Britain occurred at Whitehaven in the early hours of 23rd April 1778.  John Paul Jones, who was apprenticed in the town, led men of the Continental Navy ashore and spiked the harbour’s defensive guns before making his getaway.  At a ceremony witnessed by representatives of the US Navy on 27th June 1999, Jones was formally pardoned by the Commissioners of the Harbour of Whitehaven, on behalf of the people of the town.
The whole area south of the harbour has been revamped around a ‘candlestick’ as a memorial to the industrial past of Whitehaven, now all gone.
There was a sculpture of workmen called “The End of an Era” which was only unveiled in 2005.  It said, “In Celebration of the Past, To inform the Present, And Encourage the Future.
There was winding gear from the mines, and a few of the old industrial buildings as well.  Written across the path were the words, “there was iron ore mines, coal mines, steelworks, nobody had any problems with jobs, they just hadn’t.  There was a beautiful mosaic patio in front of the ‘Candlestick’ which was an old chimney.
There was a big block telling us this was a Colourful Coast.  There was an information board telling us about Saltom Pit, England’s first undersea coal mine, which was in operation from 1729 to 1848.  We were very impressed with all this information, so unlike Workington where we were told nothing.  It was just a pity we didn’t have time to tarry longer and absorb it all.
We had to climb right up to the top of the cliffs because all the lower paths were closed off with warning notices everywhere.  Was that due to the ‘fatality’ we had heard about in the pub?  We deduced it must have been a cliff fall and someone was trapped underneath — but we didn’t know.
We left the cycleway, which went too far inland, to take a footpath which led alongside barley fields.  When we were well out of Whitehaven we sat on a concrete wall to eat our second chocolate.
A working combine harvester came over the rise behind us and gave us a bit of a fright — we hadn’t realised it was so close!
The path doglegged to take us even further up the cliffs.  On our way up we met an elderly man coming down wearing no jacket, just a T-shirt and carrying no rucksack.  He told us he had walked all the way to St Bees today dressed just as he was because it had been such a nice day.  He also told us it had taken him two hours to walk back, and now he was nearly home.  At this I panicked — in two hours it would be dark!  I tried to hurry Colin away, but the man would keep talking.  That’s the trouble with older people — loneliness.    I could be sympathetic to a certain degree, but if we were still on the cliffs in the dark we would be in real trouble!
We hurried after that, and I found my walking poles useful in getting me quickly and safely along the cliff path.  We rose up and up, passed an old quarry and continued to rise. 
It was a lovely cliff path with magnificent views, but we hadn’t time to pause and appreciate it — we had to get to St Bees before it got properly dark.  We watched the sun sink lower and lower over the sea, and I began to panic a bit.
It seemed to take ages to get to the lighthouses, and they are not even half way.  The real lighthouse, which was covered in scaffolding, was a little inland, but on the coastal path was a lookout post which we thought, at first, was the actual lighthouse.  We didn’t have time to sort out our confusion — panic!  panic!  panic!  (At least, that was me — Colin was calmness itself.)
We had ceased climbing by then, and were beginning slowly to descend.  We rounded a bend and were treated to the most beautiful view of the setting sun shining on to a gorgeous red sandstone cliff.  It was breathtaking in that mellow light!  The photograph I took does not do it justice at all.
We came to a creek in a deep gully — that was all we needed!  We had to descend almost to sea level on uneven steps.  Careful does it!  If we fell here, nobody would find us until morning.  It was a beautiful place, but a bit dodgy to walk.
We were both on edge that one of us would have an accident because we were hurrying,  Up the other side (steep) and a quick glance at the map told us we still had two miles to go.
The path went on and on, but we never seemed to get anywhere.  I think I was in high-panic-mode because we were losing light fast.  Thank goodness the sun had set in a clear sky, if it had been overcast it would have been a lot darker.  We came to a gate in the side fence, but there were no yellow arrows on it so we stayed in the field, didn’t go through it.  Then I panicked about barbed wire fences because the path did seem to be on the other side of the fence after all.  But the next gate brought the path back into the field where we were walking, so we were all right — relief!
At last we could see something over the grass ahead — our first view was of the nuclear power station complex of Sellafield which dominated the skyline.  Then St Bees appeared in the foreground, and we could see our caravan!  It all looked beautiful in the fading light, but I think a lot of that was relief that we had done it before we lost the light completely!  The path descended steeply to sea level.
There was an innocuous-looking stream to cross at the bottom, but only last week (when we were in Silloth and our son and family lost their tent on a Dorset cliff) this tiny babbling brook turned into a raging torrent and washed away the footbridge on the coastal path!  It seems unbelievable, but that, apparently, is what happened. 
The footpath had been diverted through the caravan site where there is a slightly more substantial bridge which withstood the onslaught.  That was a short cut for us, we were able to walk straight to our caravan. 

That ended Walk no.308, we shall pick up Walk no.309 next time from our caravan in St Bees.  It was five past eight, so the Walk had taken us nearly eleven hours.  We walked into our caravan and flopped on the beds!  (After removing our boots, of course!)

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