Thursday, September 06, 2012

Walk 309 -- St Bees to Seascale

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 121 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 264 days.
Weather:  Sunny and breezy, turning dull and windy.
Location:  St Bees to Seascale.
Distance:  11 miles.
Total distance:  3155 miles.
Terrain:  Sandy beach for the first mile.  After that, quiet lanes and cycleways.
Tide:  Out, coming in.
Rivers:  No.379, River Ethen at Braystones.  No.380, River Calder at Sellafield.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  No.386 at Sea Mill.
Pubs:  None.
‘English Heritage’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan in St Bees.  We walked down on to the beach.
At the end we caught a train from Seascale back to St Bees, then walked back to the caravan.

We visited St Bees Church on a different day since we were staying in the village.  It has a beautiful Norman doorway carved in red sandstone — it truly is magnificent!  But the rest of the church was restored by the Victorians in their usual OTT style and we didn’t think much of it.  Too messy.  Outside is a small cross that looks as if it is very old, it has a pre-Norman style. 
This morning we went straight on to the shore from the caravan site.  St Bees has a gorgeous beach with firm sand, and the tide was out.  We strode south with St Bees Head behind us — lovely to get in a good bit of beach-walking!
There were quite a few people about, many of them walking their dogs.  One couple had an overweight greyhound which was determined not to play with its ball, though its owners tried.  They seemed to invade our space on that huge beach, it was most odd.  They were just ahead of us so we were nearly walking on their heels, and every time we changed direction or speed they changed with us, and were always there in the way.  I don’t know if they were doing it deliberately or were just thick, but it was quite annoying.  So we stood still and took some photographs, and were relieved when they stopped playing their silly game and walked on ahead.  There’s nowt as weird as folk!
We passed some low cliffs — and then the sand ran out.  We had reached a place called Sea Mill, less than a mile down the coast.  According to the map, the official coast path follows the high-water mark until well past Seascale at least ten miles on, but the stones ahead looked gruesome and we didn’t fancy shattering our thighs trying to walk along them.
We sat on a bench in the car park and got out the map.  We decided to take a footpath up to a parallel lane which we would follow as far as Netherton, then see what the beach was like there.  The footpath went steeply uphill with the path in a sunken valley.  But that was full of water, so we had to climb up and walk on the side of a grassy hill, which wasn’t easy.
It took me a long time to realise I was missing something — I hadn’t got my walking poles!  So concerned was I with folding the map in a stiff breeze, I had left them leaning against the bench back at Sea Mill.  We were almost at the top of the hill, I couldn’t believe it had taken me all that time to notice they were missing.  (Dementia looms!)  Colin went back for them while I sat on the bank, isn’t he good?  He wanted to see how quickly he could do it, so he ran all the way down and then up again.  He did it in eight minutes!  Wish I was as fit as he is.
The road was boring — we couldn’t see the sea at all.  But there was little traffic, thank goodness because it was sunken and very narrow.  I wouldn’t have liked to have met a combine harvester along there because there was nowhere to run to!

We passed some sleepy horses and looked at the wild flowers on the verge.

After passing a riding school with a bust of a horse on the gatepost, we reached Netherton, a tiny village.  Colin saw a loop of footpath which slightly cut off a corner and got us off the road for about a hundred yards.  But it involved climbing over no less than three stiles, so it wasn’t really worth it.  We turned down through the village, over the railway and descended a steep slope to the seafront.
There were some shack-type dwellings down there, some occupied whilst others looked derelict.  There was a brick in the wall with the name Clifton on it — my maiden name!  (I don’t think I came from a family of brick-makers.)  We assessed the beach, and decided it was still too stony for us to walk along with any degree of comfort, so we would have to continue by the inland route.  (When viewed from the train on the way back, we discovered that about a mile further on a good path appeared along the top of the beach ….. hindsight is a wonderful thing!)  We sat on a wall to eat our pie/quiche before returning to the road.
It was very up and down as we proceeded south, a bit like a roller coaster.  In the dips, many of the adjacent fields were flooded.  The nuclear power station of Sellafield dominated the skyline — it seemed even more huge every time we came to the top of a rise.
We reached the village of Braystones where we crossed the river and turned inland.  We noticed a tower a bit further down the river, but didn’t know anything about it.  The map helpfully says “tower” on the spot — perhaps Rapunzel is still waiting there for her love! 
We approached the village of Beckermet where we were hoping to take a short cut along a disused railway.  We asked a local man who was out walking his dog, but he told us the farmer who owns it has fenced it off because no one uses it anymore.  Besides, it is completely overgrown.  So that put paid to that idea.
We continued into the village where we found a seat in the square by a little park.  We sat there and started eating our sarnies.  We looked around and thought things looked a bit of a mess—there was sand everywhere, the flowers in the borders were grey and dead, there was rubbish strewn all about, even a broken compost bin on its side.
Then a woman came out of the park pushing a barrow.  She told us they’d had a flash flood on Monday last (the day our Paul and his family lost their tent on the Dorset coast, and when the footbridge near our caravan site was washed away).  In this village the pub and several houses were flooded, as was the road, the square where we were sitting and the park.  “The trouble is,” she continued, “two becks meet in the park on their way to the river — usually tiny dribbles of water but we’ve never seen such volumes as came last week!”  She had been helping to clear up the mess.  “Ah well, at least no one was hurt!” she said cheerfully as she heaved up her barrow of rubbish and staggered off into the village.  We were horrified!  How can such little babbling streams do so much damage?
We left the village and continued southwards towards the ever looming Sellafield.  When we saw the other end of our proposed shortcut — along the disused railway line — we realised it would have been a complete no-go.  It was overgrown with brambles, etc, and quite impassable.  The lane we were on went under the old railway, then curled round and joined it as a cycleway.  At least this part of it was open.
But only for a mile or so.  Then the cycleway turned off this straight line which led back to the shore, and zigzagged its way across fields to a busy road which led into Sellafield.  This we did not like — there was a lot of traffic, loads of people about and the Plant looked very busy.  All of a sudden we were in an industrial landscape — we should have been on the beach!  The road took us almost to Sellafield station, then turned off between the power station and the railway.  The huge spherical reactor looked very near, and I found the hum which emanated from it intimidating.  I wanted to get away urgently, I felt most uncomfortable for reasons I can’t explain.
Perhaps it was the tiny plaque commemorating the fire of 1957 when our ‘holier-than-thou’ government were making nuclear weapons on this site, then called Windscale.
Such a little plaque for such a big disaster, down there in the grass leaning forlornly against the outer fence.  And only put there thirty years later.  The words “we will always remember” are something of a mockery, for the government of the time tried to play it down by burying it under politics and the Official Secrets Act.  I don’t actually remember it for I was only twelve years old when it happened, living in the south of England and more worried about getting my homework done at that wretched convent school where I was so unhappy than in following current affairs.
In October 1957 there was a serious fire in one of the nuclear reactors on the site.  This was caused by the continued use of old and worn-out equipment which was not replaced nor repaired despite many warnings by the scientists working there.  The government was more interested in licking the boots of the Americans (so, what’s new in politics?) than in the welfare of anyone who worked in the industry or lived in the surrounding county.  They blamed ‘mismanagement’ by the very people who had so bravely put out this extraordinary fire without loss of life, and it took many years before they were able to clear their names.  They should have got medals for their actions that day!  But a nuclear cloud spread over northern Europe, and it is estimated that over a hundred people died of cancer because of this.  Did any of their families get compensation?  I doubt it!  The name of the site was changed to Sellafield, and the government conveniently ‘forgot’ about it hoping that everyone else would ‘forget’ too because Windscale no longer existed.  Such hypocrisy beggars belief!
We moved on hurriedly.  We passed a line of railway trucks which were “not to be hump-shunted or loose-couple shunted” — they contained nuclear fuels, that’s why!  So we didn’t.  We crossed the branch line where it came off the main railway line and went into the Plant through locked gates.  This is a controversial track because trainloads of nuclear waste are brought in at night for decommissioning.  It reminded me of a branch line which I used to cross as a child which came off the main line in Farnborough, Hampshire, travel along a residential road and disappear through mysterious gates into the RAE.  It was very exciting to watch the trains puffing along the road pulled by the steam engine Invincible.
I digress.  The footpath leading inland alongside the Sellafield site was closed because the fence was being repaired, but we didn’t want to go that way anyway.  We came to a river, and crossed it on a footbridge alongside the railway.  The path then curled round under the line so that we were able to continue along the other side next to the sea.  That’s better!  The path led along a thin grassy dune high above the beach.  Suddenly we were back in the normal world where people were walking their dogs by the sea.
Then we saw a man with a Geiger-counter kind of thing — was he measuring nuclear fall-out in the dunes?  Further on some people were constructing what looked like a metal tower.  What were they doing? 
A notice further on explained all — they were taking part in a research project into the effect of flooding, erosion and coastal sedimentation on the nuclear power station and the dunes on which it is built.  This is important because climate change will cause all of these things to happen with increasing frequency and ferocity.
We came to the village of Seascale where there was a station on the line.  We had intended walking on to Ravenglass today but we were weary, especially me, because this is the second consecutive day we have walked.  We were behind time, and realised that we would be hard pushed to get to Ravenglass in time for the last train at 6.15.  We were too tired to hurry, so we finished the Walk at Seascale Station. 

That ended Walk no.309, we shall pick up Walk no.310 next time at Seascale Station.  It was twenty-five past three, so the Walk had taken us six hours and twenty minutes.  We caught a train back to St Bees, and when it stopped at Sellafield Station it must have been the end of a shift.  The train filled up so much there were more people standing than sitting!  We were pleased we had curtailed the Walk because the weather deteriorated, and by the time we reached St Bees it was pouring with rain.  We walked back to our caravan in the wet.

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