24 May Day 1: St Bee’s to Ennerdale
24th May 2016
You forget how tough this is. You forget how sore you feel at the end of each of the first few days. 14 miles is no walk in the park but it’s not a marathon either. And being the first day somehow it always feels like much much more. It takes a few days for the distance sensor in my head to function properly. My pedometer reads 39,315 paces, 29 km and a staggering (and I use the word advisedly) 1,107 calories. On that basis I feel completely justified in being completely banjaxed! I know, 29 km does not translate to 14 miles but there are reasons…. Read on!
It was a stunning day. St Bees’s glistened in the morning sunshine, the low tide yielding lots of smooth golden sand. Even Sellafield, a bit further south down the coast, looked shiny and benign. We turned our backs on them both and headed north climbing up onto a path that leads across the cliff tops for a few miles. That first mile rising sharply up is daunting. The rucksack weighs heavy; confidence is low; the slope is unforgiving and you ask yourself: “How am I going to manage the other 199 miles?”
Views today are superb over sandstone cliffs topped with masses of flowers – bluebells, thrift and sea campion vying with one another for best in show. Hundreds of seabirds shriek and swoop around precarious nests and burrows. You eventually leave the sea and turn east, walking through villages of painted houses: Sandwith, Moor Row and Cleator. We start to recognise fellow travellers whom we will lead and follow in the next few days. Our gaggle of hikers setting out today includes a group of 14 Australians, hale, hearty and with immensely strong calves (and that’s just the women!). Then there’s Mr Mute, a thirty-something chap on his own gangly, awkward and a little odd; he seems to be terrified to speak. Paddy, a bearded Irishman (not terrified to speak) is hiking with his girlfriend (we think), his white beard extending at least to his navel, maybe beyond, and worn in a fetching plait. I suppose it stops it blowing around on the hilltops. He told us about 4 Americans who apparently walk incredibly slowly and whom he expects will arrive at Ennerdale by dawn or else by taxi! They made it, somehow, and we earwigged their conversation in the bar of the excellent Fox and Hounds. They were discussing a different breakfast strategy for tomorrow. I fear they opted for the Full English this morning and maybe that accounts for their pace. Or maybe they got a bit lost ….
…….as we did briefly. Eek! At a junction with an extravagance of way markers and confusing directions in our wee guidebook, we had sufficiently vague recollections of 6 years ago when we last did the C2C and managed to pick a route without any way markers at all. Oops! Extra miles and extra minutes on tiring legs and still the main event of the day to come. Dent Hill – a great lump of landscape that wrenches the gut for a mile of relentless gradient. Then an even fiercer descent, a 1 in 3 at least to the delightful Nannycatch Beck – the name perfectly describes the scene in this gentle, sheltered valley. Three miles further on and we reach Ennerdale, the westernmost of the Lakes. We checked into the Fox and Hounds, a community-owned pub with rooms, where one of the greatest pleasures of hiking, a hot bath, was taken at length.