Saturday, September 08, 2012

Walk 311 -- Ravenglass to Millom

This Walk was done in three parts — a, b and c.
Dates:  a and b: 07 September 2012.  c: 08 September 2012.
Ages:  a and b: Colin was 70 years and 122 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 265 days.  c: Colin was 70 years and 123 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 266 days.
Weather:  a: Cloudy but dry.  Quite warm. Breezy.  b: Brightening up.  Breezy but warm.  c: Dull, then misty with a lot of moisture in the air.  Later, brightening up, but no sun until the evening.  Hot and humid.  Visibility very poor.
Location:  Ravenglass to Millom.
Distance:  20 miles.
Total distance:  3180 miles.
Terrain:  a: Some beach which was squidgy and slippery because it is really an estuary.  Good path past Roman baths.  b: Quiet road.  Straight, flat and boring!  c: A lot of beach — some with lovely firm sand and some with shingle.  Grassy cliff paths and dune paths.  Flat on the beach, slightly undulating on cliff paths.
Tide:  a: Coming in.  b: In.  c: Out, coming in.  Then out again before we’d finished.
Rivers:  a: No.383, River Esk (railway viaduct which we pretended to cross).  b: None.  c: No.384, River Annas.  No.385, Haverigg Pool.
Ferries:  None.                              Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  a: No.387 where we gave up on the beach.  b: None.  c: Nos. 388 & 389 around Millom (both locked!)
Pubs:  None.
‘English Heritage’ properties:  No.46, the Roman bath-house near Ravenglass.
Ferris wheels:  None.                    Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan in St Bees. 
a: We drove to Ravenglass and parked at the station from where we started the Walk.  At the end we walked back as it was only a short distance.
b: We drove to the other end of the railway viaduct across the River Esk.  Colin dropped me off, then drove 2½ miles down the road where he parked, took his bike out of the boot and cycled back.  At the end we came to the car.  We picked up the bike as we drove back to the caravan.
c: We drove to Millom and parked near the station.  We caught a train to Bootle, then we walked a mile up the road until we came to the beach where we had finished the second part of the Walk yesterday.  At the end we walked up the road about 100 yards to the car, and drove back to St Bees.

(a)  From the railway bridge at Ravenglass (the one with a footbridge attached) we walked along the greensward between the beach and the village.
There were arrows pointing us on to the beach because that is where the coastal path is, but it looked too stony and slippery to walk with any comfort.  It is really an estuary, so it is mud rather than sand.  We went slightly inland and used the footpath which led to the Roman ruins instead.
Roman  Bath House,  Ravenglass 
These ruins are part of a bath house believed to have been built by the Romans around AD130.  Apparently they are among the tallest Roman structures surviving in northern Britain, but they are only a fragment of the original building.  The bath house was built adjacent to a fort which has long since disappeared.  It is likely that there was a small harbour where the village of Ravenglass now stands, and the fort was built to guard it.
From the bath house, we took a track which led under the railway to the beach.  From here on we had no choice but to walk on the mud.  It was a bit slippery underfoot so we had to take it carefully — I was glad I had my walking poles to steady me.  We were walking on clay, and there were several streams, some were a bit dodgy to cross.  But we coped.
It was less than a mile to the mouth of the River Esk, so it didn’t take us long to get there.  The ‘path’, such as it was, curled round and under the railway.  That is where we left it.  To cross the river on the official coast path would have meant a five mile detour inland, yet here in front of us was a railway bridge going straight across.  This one didn’t have a footbridge attached, so we made up a new rule that we could count it as a disused ferry and therefore follow additional rule no.13.  Marked on the OS map is a footpath leading straight across the river, the word ‘ford’ is written.  We looked at the marsh, then at the full running river, and decided that only an utter fool would risk it.  There was absolutely no sign of such a path on our side of the river.
We retraced our steps, back to our car parked in Ravenglass.
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On returning to the car, we drove round to the southern end of the railway bridge.  Here even the lane leading under the bridge was flooded, but a man walking his dog was paddling through so we could see that it wasn’t too deep to drive the car through.  Yet here was a wooden signpost pointing into the river as if there was a footpath across.  You’ve got to be joking!
Whilst waiting for Colin to take the car two and a half miles down the road and cycle back, I looked around for somewhere to sit down.  There was mud everywhere, it was very wet.  I walked a few yards down towards the nature reserve (which was out on a sandbank) and looked at a little wooden bridge over a ditch.  I looked at an old boat sitting on the marsh grass.  But there was absolutely nowhere that I could park myself, so I decided to start walking.  (I find it much more tiring to stand about than I do to walk.)
After only about a hundred yards I met Colin coming back on his bike.  He cycled on to lock up his bike near the railway bridge and walk back.  He always says he walks faster than me, but I had walked two miles before he caught me up.
It was a bit of a boring road — perhaps that’s why I walked quicker.  It was straight, and we were not on the coast because we had to walk behind a slice of MOD land.  The fence was festooned with KEEP OUT notices, and military type buildings abounded.  It’s all run by Qinetiq now, as at Farnborough and Malvern.  There was no one about, and the warning flags were down and tied up.
The most interesting feature was a stone wall on the other side of the road — this is a measure of how boring this part of the Walk was!  The wall was not quite dry-stone because we could see mortar in it, but it was built from round(ish) boulders — I thought it quite attractive.
Our car was parked beyond the MOD land, at the top of the beach.  There were several other cars parked near ours, and people were walking their dogs on the beach.
We drove back to our caravan in St Bees, picking up Colin’s bike on the way.
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(c)  We walked straight on to the beach at the point where we had finished part b of the Walk yesterday.  It was sandy at first, but that didn’t last — it never does.
It was hard going on the stones, so Colin looked along the top of the low cliffs and found there was a path up there.  The farmer had erected a new fence further back from the cliff edge because the soft sandstone (glacial till?) was eroding fast.  There was plenty of room between the fence and the cliff, and it was much easier to walk up there on the grass than it was to stumble over the stones down below.
But soon we came to a place where there was no new fence, and the old one was falling off the edge.  This made continuing on top a lot more difficult.  We found a soft eroded part of the cliff which we could climb down to the beach — it wasn’t difficult.  The soft cliffs here are in a bad way, it reminded us of the east coast where houses are actually falling into the sea.  At least there weren’t any buildings here.  We sat on a rock to eat our pie/quiche.
We looked at the map, and realised that the official coast path was actually on top of the low cliffs for several miles hereon.  The stony beach was not walker/friendly, so we only continued until we came to a gap in the cliff made by a stream.
We climbed up.  We had difficulty working out exactly where we were because the paths we came across bore no relationship to the map.  We followed a track which seemed to be going in the right direction.  This led us through a field of cows where one poor mother was bellowing because her calf was in a different field.  We came to a farm, and at last! there was a rare yellow arrow on a gate!  We carried on, more confidently now, through several fields until we came to another gate with no arrows on it at all.  There was no way on, so we went back one field and down a steep slope into a nature reserve.
This consisted of a narrow pond with reeds behind the shingle bank at the top of the beach, a puddle really.  We didn’t see a single bird there, or anything else for that matter.  We left the nature reserve by crossing this ‘river’ on a rather spectacular wooden footbridge.
We found it quite hard going walking through muddy farmers’ fields along the top of the soft cliffs.  There was too much up and down and too few waymarkers.  At one point we were completely stumped.  So we took the only track available which initially took us in the wrong direction, but then sharply turned into a cut cornfield where we climbed a steep slope with the gradual realisation that we were back on top of the cliffs which were behind a hedge.  It was all very confusing!  We sat on a bank to eat our sarnies.
A good track led us downhill past a field containing very unusual sheep.  They were black with white faces — rather beautiful we thought.  At the bottom we saw a gate leading on to the beach, so we took it.
The beach was sandy to start with, nice and firm.  We made excellent time and it was very enjoyable.  Out to sea we could see a whole line of modern windmills — they are springing up everywhere.
The ‘cliffs’ to our left became extremely up & down, we would never have coped if we’d stayed up there.  The slope was so steep where some sheep were grazing that we could see good evidence of soil-creep.
Unfortunately the tide was coming in, so the sand we were so happily walking on ran out.  We tried to outrun the waves at first, but that didn’t work for long.  We tried a sand strip higher up, but that ran out too.  We were forced to cope with stones higher up the beach — hard on the ol’ leg muscles!
Then Colin found a path on the grass bank which appeared right at the top of the beach, and we walked the last hundred yards into Silecroft more comfortably on that.
We sat on a bench to eat our first chocolate.  There was no path on shore leading south from Silecroft, so we had to put up with the stony beach for a while.  We crossed a rusty-red stream cutting its way across the shingle, it must have been full of iron.
Colin was constantly looking up into the grassy dunes, and it wasn’t long before he found a path leading along them.  That was much more comfortable to walk.
There were lots of windmills onshore there as well — shows what a windy place this is!  I hate the wind, and I love the fact that in our home in Malvern we are protected from the prevailing wind by the hills.  We never fear a windy day.
The path led us past a disused airfield where we could see a motorcycle scramble was about to begin.  I think Colin would have given up the Walk there and then so he could go to it if he hadn’t been with me!  There was a stile leading on to the airfield, and we asked a couple who had just climbed over it whether that path led to Haverigg.  They didn’t know because they weren’t local.  We looked carefully at the map, and decided to carry on along the beach.
This was quite sandy again, so it was pleasant to walk along.  We disturbed great flocks of ring plovers as we progressed.  As we neared the Duddon Estuary, the sand turned a lovely golden colour and was less like sludgy mud.
Eventually we followed a track which led us inland because we didn’t want to get stuck too far out on a sandbank.
We sat in the dunes by the track to eat our apples.  After being so alone on the beach, we suddenly found we were amongst a good number of people, many of them out walking their dogs.  The track was muddy in places, but it took us into Haverigg.
We passed a weird stone sculpture.  It looked like a monster trying to eat a mermaid!  We had no idea what it was supposed to depict.  We passed a children’s playground where some kids were having a lot of fun on an aerial ropeway.
Children’s playgrounds are so much more imaginative  now than in our day. Makes me feel a little envious!  Colin was grumpy — I think he wanted to give up this silly walking and go to the motorcycle scramble!  We should have been staying in a caravan site here in Haverigg instead of still being way to the north at St Bees.  The site here is even marked on the OS map, but when I rang up to book, the owner told me it was closed.  We passed the place where it should have been, and it was a building site!  Obviously more money is to be made in selling the land for houses.
The holiday park further on was static caravans only, so we have stayed on in St Bees with its grotty facilities which are never cleaned.  We haven’t done very well with caravan sites this break.
We went slightly inland to cross a little river, then proceeded to Millom Pool.  This is the remains of an ironworks which began its life in the 1860s and was worked for a hundred years.  In 1905 an outer barrier was built to protect the diggings from the sea.   The barrier is one mile and 530 yards long, 40 feet high, and 210 feet wide at the base tapering to 83 feet wide at the top — the footpath we walked along.  It reclaimed an area of 170 acres, engulfing the hamlet of Hodbarrow.  The ironworks closed in 1968 and the area inside the barrier was flooded.  It is now a nature reserve and leisure facility.
The man-made pool looked huge from where we were.  It has a good road on top of the barrier, apart from the potholes — we could have driven it if we felt so inclined.  To the right were views across the estuary far away to places further south.  To the left was a fantastic panorama across the pool.  We watched water skiers doing their stuff.
Halfway round we came to the metal lighthouse, the newer of the two lighthouses which itself was made redundant in 1949.  In very recent years it has been restored with the aid of a grant, but has since been vandalised again — so sad.  There were seats about, so we sat down to eat our second chocolate.
In the distance we could see the stone lighthouse, the original lighthouse which is now a ruin.  Out in the estuary we could see a lone seal on a sandbank.
We walked on to the end of the pool where we overlooked a lovely beach on which folk were playing with their dogs.  It was difficult to see the way on from there because the main path returned to Haverigg on the landward side of the pool.  We found an overgrown path which twisted us round past the stone lighthouse.  Then we dropped down through the bushes and past some wild campers — girls and youths with a lot of loud music.  We came out on a lovely big beach.
We cut straight across it because the tide was out, this saved us having to go round any corners.
The sun was almost setting so our shadows were long.  The low sun also turned the sandy worm casts into a work of art!

We made for the point — Colin was well ahead of me because I stopped to photograph a beautiful granite stone on the beach.  I felt all “Arty” this evening!
At the point we climbed up on to the dunes, and discovered there was deep water the other side.  No more beach.  It was difficult to see which way we had to go, and the setting sun shining directly into our eyes didn’t help.
We met a woman walking her dog, and guessing she might be local we asked her the way.  She told us the paths had all changed since the “Water People” began work there, but generally it was straight on into the sun.  We bashed on through mud and puddles as a vague track began to reveal itself.
We were relieved when the sun finally sank below the horizon — at last we could see again, it had been so bright!  But that brought its own problems because it was rapidly getting dark.  The dog-walker (“I don’t do maps!”), who had more or less kept up with us, wanted to direct us towards a main road and then walk into town under street lights.  We tried to explain that we needed to follow the coast path as marked on the map which would take us alongside the estuary until we got to the end of the road where our car was parked.  She said she had never been that way and predicted we would get lost in the dark.  We didn’t.  We followed the coast, and soon realised we were actually on the track of an old railway.  So it wasn’t difficult, and we arrived at the car just as we lost the light completely.

That ended Walk no.311, we shall pick up Walk no.312 next time in Millom near the station.  It was ten to eight, so part c of the Walk had taken us nine and a half hours.  We drove back to our caravan in St Bees.

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