I catch the train from Ulverston station to Cark, where my walk today will begin.
The train takes a direct route to Cark and the journey is amazing. As the train crosses the Leven viaduct it seems to be gliding above a gleaming expanse of sand and water.
Unfortunately there is no pedestrian access back across the viaduct, and from Cark I must make a lengthy detour up the Leven estuary to reach the nearest footbridge. It appears you can’t walk along the bank of the estuary either – at least there are no public footpaths shown on the map and I don’t have the chutzpah today to try to find a way over private land.
And so the first part of my walk is along the B5278, which is the public route running closest to the shore. But the pavement soon disappears and the traffic hares along at great speed.
I decide it’s too dangerous to continue on the road and, just past the Holker Hall estate, I turn off up a bridleway to the right.A little signpost by the turn bears the letters C C W. Oh, good! That must be the Cumbria Coastal Way.
[The Cumbria Coastal Way has disappeared from my latest OS map. This is because the Cumbria County Council no longer endorse or support the route. However, you can still find the route marked on older maps and on the Long Distance Walker’s Association website.]
The signs on nearby fences and gates aren’t exactly welcoming.
The bridleway climbs steadily uphill, and starts off as a proper tarmac road…
… before later becoming a gravel track through sheep fields.
I pass a few dog walkers, but then the track turns to footpath and I meet nobody else for several hours. Old signposts reassure me this really is the Cumbria Coastal Way.
From a high point I look down towards the coast. The light is too bright for decent photography in this direction, but that gleaming mass of whiteness in the distance is the mouth of the Leven estuary.
Onwards and upwards. I’m now following a well-defined track, probably an ancient roadway, that takes me up through woodland…
… before emerging onto open grassland. Signposts point me along the Cumbria Coastal Way. And below the view over the River Leven becomes clearer as the sun climbs higher in the sky.
The hill I’m climbing is called How Barrow. It forms part of a high ridge of land that runs from Cark nearly all the way to Haverthwaite. There are sheep up here, but no cattle. Good. I like sheep.
I climb higher. The views on my left are wonderful. Over the river is Ulverston, where I’m staying in a hotel. And there’s the splendid white tower on the hill above the town – the tower that looks like a lighthouse but isn’t. Below, the Leven viaduct stretches like a thin, black millipede across the water.
Near the top of How Barrow the path forks. For some unknown reason, the official Cumbria Coastal Way takes a lower bridleway route that runs roughly parallel to, but some distance below, the top of the ridge. But I decide to continue along the footpath that hugs the top of the ridge. Not only is this path closer to the shore, but it provides much better views over the estuary.
There is nothing much up here: grassland, areas of woodland, the odd isolated farm. It’s beautiful.
And in the distance are the peaks of the Lake District. I’m not actually in the National Park yet, although I’ll cross the boundary in an hour or so.
Leaving the footpath, I climb to the top of How Barrow. The views are even more glorious
This is one of those days when everything seems wonderful, and effortless, and you could carry on hiking for ever. It’s one of those days that every walker lives for. Perfect.
I balance my camera on a rock and take a rather shaky self-portrait.
It’s time to press on. I come down off the peak of the ridge and follow the footpath, which now runs in the shadow of an old dry-stone wall.
And I reach another viewpoint. Below me is Roudsea Wood and Mosses National Nature Reserve. Much of it looks like a swamp to me. The trees have been logged. But the colours are amazing.
[Later I will learn to be wary of a place that describes itself as a Moss. Moss can mean a green plant that grows in damp places, but up north the word moss may also mean a bog or a marsh.]
With my lens on full zoom I take a photo of the waterlogged area below.
A buzzing noise alerts me. A young lady on a quad bike comes zooming along the path. I guess she is a farmer going to check on her sheep. They all seem to use quad bikes these days.
It’s time to turn off the ridge. At this point my footpath divides into two. I can either go left and straight down the hill to rejoin the road, or I can turn right and down the other side of the ridge, before heading up again to reclaim the high ground further along.
I decide to go right, over a stile, down another ancient green lane, past oak trees, until I join a farmer’s track. This takes me to a farm called Speel Bank.
Past the farmyard I pick up another footpath and climb back up towards the ridge again, following the course of an old stone wall.
Now I’ve rejoined the Cumbria Coastal Way. I walk up through woodland…
… and am back on high ground again. Open grass. Wind-blown trees. Scattered sheep.
This area is called Stribers Allotment. That name conjures up an image of rows of vegetables and garden sheds, but here the word ‘allotment’ has a double meaning. It can also simply mean a parcel of land. Anyway, there are no vegetables in sight. Only sheep.
Beyond Stribers Allotment is a road and a few buildings. Grassgarth. I’m about to cross over the boundary and enter the Lake District National Park.
My path crosses the road and dips down into a narrow valley where there is a stream and a footbridge. Here I meet a couple of young cattle. Heifers? Or bullocks? I don’t have time to find out because they take one look at me and run away.
Now I enter High Stribers Wood. Here some rather unnecessary fences keep me confined to the proper path, but it’s very pleasant walking.
At several points along the path I’ve noticed some fluorescent yellow arrows. They’ve been a little bit of a mystery, until I take the time to read the sticker on the back of one of them.
Looks like there’s been a cycling group using this footpath. Hmm. It’s not even a bridleway. I’m not sure I approve.
I continue up, through High Stribers Wood. No sign of cyclists. Or walkers. In fact, I’ve seen nobody since I met the farmer on her quad bike.
And then I emerge into an area of open land. Bigland Heights, according to my map. A little further and I come across a pretty lake. Bigland Tarn.
Now every step I make seems to create a flurry in the bracken on either side of the path. Whirr. Whirr. Pheasants – in a panic – take off like noisy drones. But one, a beautiful male, decides to run along the top of a stone wall beside me instead. A great photo opportunity!
Next to Bigland Tarn is Bigland Hall. What a fantastic place to live, and with wonderful views. The track is rather muddy though, more like a shallow river than a path.
Unfortunately along with large tracts of private land come offensive notices. ALARM MINES. KEEP OUT. And, if the use of the word ‘mines’ isn’t bad enough, there’s a skull and crossbones to reinforce the message.
I have no problem with polite notices asking people to respect private property, but notices like this one above are just, plain, RUDE!
Luckily they haven’t been able to prevent us using the public footpath. Onwards. Down the steep hill. Through these glorious (but strictly private) woods.
Interestingly, I’ve come to the age where I prefer going uphill to going downhill. This mile of steep descent isn’t kind to my knees. And my feet don’t like it either. Give me uphill any day.
For a couple of hours I haven’t met another human being, and certainly no walkers since the dog walkers, more than three hours ago. So, when I swing my camera up for yet another photograph, it’s a surprise to see a figure in my viewfinder.
She’s a dog walker and apologises for ruining the shot. (I always find this notion of a human-free photograph a little odd. I like to have people in my photos. They add perspective and interest to the view.)
One of the rules of long-distance walking is this: when you see a dog walker, you’re probably near a road. And so it’s no surprise that 10 minutes later I reach the B5278.
Luckily I only have to follow the road for a short distance, until I reach the banks of the River Leven and the bridge at Low Wood.
But I’m not crossing the Leven here. Off to my left, 3 miles further along the bank, is a footbridge that will take me straight over to Greenodd.
So I turn off down a track, and then follow a delightful footpath along the bank of the river. Unfortunately the sky has clouded over and the light is too dull for good photography.
Perhaps it’s just as well, because I now begin to make rapid progress. After the footpath I join a cycle way. I meet a few cars, and cyclists, and dog strollers.
Signs tell me the cycle way is maintained by the Holker Estate, but it’s also a public footpath and it leads right across this area of woodland and marsh. I’m now in the Roudsea Wood and Mosses National Nature Reserve – the area of logged land and marsh that I could see from the top of the ridge earlier today.
Another information board tells me they have been felling the plantation pines which dominated this area, and allowing natural British plants and trees to reestablish themselves. Excellent. That explains the logging.
I would love to return and explore this area another day. There are plenty of permissive routes (not marked on the map) that run around the reserve.
Onwards. My path continues. Three miles of easy walking. And there’s Greenodd ahead. It seems very close…
… but first I must cross the footbridge over the Leven. It looks modern…
… and contains a poignant little memorial fixed to the railings half way across. Flowers and knitted teddies. Maybe a drowned child?
On the other side of the river I turn around. Oh dear. Dark clouds have been building behind my back, and that is definitely rain over there – and it’s heading this way.
I tuck my electronic equipment into my rucksack and hurry onwards. I had thought I might get to Ulverston today, but not in the pouring rain. Perhaps there’s a tea shop in Greenodd?
High points: Climbing up How Barrow and enjoying the wonderful views
Low points: Discovering the tea shop in Greenodd doesn’t serve tea after 3pm. (What sort of tea shop is that?!) And then getting soaking wet in pouring rain. And discovering the bus times given by Traveline are incorrect. And having to wait over an hour for the bus, which turns out to be packed with shrieking school children.
[Just reread the above rant and decided I’m turning into a grumpy old woman. Well, I probably am and I don’t care.]
Walked today = 9.5 miles
Total distance around coast = 2,815 miles
Route: (alternative Cumbria Coastal Way shown in red)