Should be a short walk today. Only 4-5 miles from Stubb’s corner to Ravenglass. The only problem is… there’s a ford to cross. I’m optimistic all will be well – I’ve brought my waterproof socks with me!
I begin at the southern end of the Eskmeals Range, where a beautiful rainbow hangs across the beach.
The range is not in use on a Sunday, and my B&B host thought it was possible to walk along the shore when the range was closed. But he was wrong. Dire warning notices inform me the sands are forbidden territory. So I set off down the road.
It’s a long road. To my left is the range. To my right is a flat area of farmland, with a fringe of impressive Cumbrian hills in the distance.
The sky offers a constantly changing landscape of clouds, some very dark indeed. Oh, and another glorious rainbow appears.
The hills are shrouded in mist. Or, is it rain? I think it is rain. And it’s heading this way. The BBC weather forecast is rarely wrong and it predicted showers around mid-morning.
A short time later, drops begin falling around me, so I stop to stow my camera and phone away and fix my waterproof cover over my rucksack. As I ‘m doing this, I’m aware of a car pulling up beside me. It’s my husband.
‘Get in,’ he says, as the rain comes thudding down. I don’t need a repeat invitation. We sit in his car, watching the downpour.
‘I’ve got some more bad news,’ he says. ‘The ford is… well, it’s a proper ford. I suppose you could cross it on horseback.’
‘I don’t have a horse.’
‘No,’ he says. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘Walk up to the nearest bridge.’ I pull out my map. ‘It’s only 3 miles up the river.’
‘That’s not too bad,’ he says. ‘Only an extra 3 miles then?’
‘3 miles up means 3 miles down again,’ I remind him.
‘It’s going to be a late lunch.’ He seems disappointed. He’s decided not to cycle today and so he is going to drive to Ravenglass and walk back to meet me.
‘Never mind.’ I remember something that cheers me up. ‘There another ford half way up the river. Perhaps I can cross there?’
The rain stops and I climb out of the car to resume my walk. The first ford is only a few hundred yards away and crosses the River Esk alongside the Eskmeals Viaduct. The viaduct carries the railway line but is, unfortunately, closed to walkers.
I stand beside the footpath sign and look out over the river. My husband was right. You could cross on a horse, maybe, or in a boat. But on foot? In November? No, it looks far too deep and cold for a wading attempt.
I follow the road, which swings round and heads eastwards towards a small village called Newbiggin. At least the views are lovely and, although I’m walking in gloomy light following the rainstorm, the hills ahead are bathed in sunshine.
At Newbiggin, I turn off the road and follow a footpath which should take me, via various meanderings, up to the nearest crossing bridge over the River Esk. Ironically, at the start of my footpath, I have to cross another ford to get over the little Whitrow Beck. But there is a proper footbridge provided and I don’t have to wade.
My footpath begins as a farm track. It’s muddy. There is evidence of cows! I hope I don’t meet any.
Luckily the route is cattle-free, although it remains very muddy, particularly when it take me through Waberthwaite Marsh. (What a great tongue-twister of a name!) Waberthwaite itself is a small hamlet, with an old church.
Just before I get to the village, I find the footpath sign for the second ford. ‘Ravenglass via deep tidal ford 1/2 mile.’
Hmm. I’m assuming the ford isn’t 1/2 mile deep, but I do know it’s more than 1/2 mile to Ravenglass. The other finger post is also misleading. ‘Muncaster Bridge 1/2 mile.’
I know it’s more than 1/2 mile to the bridge. They must have a different system for measuring distances in Cumbria!
Looking towards the ford, all I can see is a river full of the water. And the word ‘deep’ is a little off-putting. Onwards. I’m going to stick to the dry path instead.
Dry path? On the other side of Waberthwaite is another warning sign. This footpath is ‘liable to tidal flooding’. I have already checked the tide times on the web, but I check them again on the chart. It’s 3 hours till high tide. I should be fine.
The footpath follows another farm track, at least to start with, and it is very, very, muddy.
Eventually the track comes to an end, and I walk across wet fields, only getting lost once before I find the bridge. That was quick! But it’s not the Muncaster Bridge across the Esk. No, it’s just a little bridge across the much smaller Broadoak Beck.
On the other side is the village of Rougholme, which is even smaller than Waberthwaite, and from there I join a delightful path through woodland… before emerging on the edge of a broad, flat plain. Here I meet the River Esk again, dead ahead.
I walk across the plain. I think the best way to describe this would be: water meadow. It’s certainly very boggy. And the footpath is invisible on the ground, but luckily some footpath signs – and the occasional rotten stile – help me keep on the right track.
I’m making it sound miserable, but this is a beautiful walk, and it’s even better when the skies begin to clear. I feel my spirits lift. Especially when I see another rainbow. The third one today.
After wading through a bed of boggy grass, I reach the bank of the river, and there, around the next curve, is the Muncaster Bridge. At last!
On the other side of the Esk is the wooded estate of Muncaster Castle. I take a photo of the building with my camera on full zoom. I’m anticipating more photographs of the place as I head back down the other side of the river. But, in actual fact, I never get a better view of the castle than this.
Following the rainbow, and feeling a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I reach the bridge. Here I meet the busy A595 again, and must dodge traffic to get across. Shame. I would have liked to spend longer enjoying the views from bridge, but it’s too dangerous.
Just over the bridge, and after another traffic-dodging 1/2 mile of road walking, I come to the track I intend to follow. It’s marked on my map as a permissive footpath and leaves the A595 at a lodge house. But there are no footpath signs to be seen. Is it still a permissive path, I wonder? I know access to walkers can be withdrawn at any time if the landowner decides to close the path.
It’s really far too dangerous to stick to the road, so I decide to follow the track anyway. If the path really is closed, I’ll just claim ignorance.
First it passes through a strip of woodland…
… and then across a grazing field, and then back into woodland. Now it winds below the castle, which I only spot glimpses of through the trees. I find a few footpath arrows, and polite signs asking me to stick to the ‘permitted route’. Oh good. That means I’m allowed to walk here after all.
I leave the castle behind and continue following the permissive route along a delightful woodland track. Now it runs just above the river and it’s lovely, with the ground covered in golden leaves. Surprisingly, I meet absolutely nobody else and have the place to myself.
Further along, and I come to the place on this side of the river where the Waberthwaite ford crosses over. I’m really glad I didn’t try to wade here. It looks deep. Maybe the ford is passable on foot at the lowest of low tides? I don’t know.
The footpath forks. I could either take the direct route up to Ravenglass, or stick to the river bank. I decide to stick to the bank, of course, which turns out to be a mistake, as the path virtually disappears. Yes, among all these reeds, grasses and brambles there is a path here… somewhere!
While I’m fighting my way along here, I get a text from my husband. I’d forgotten he was supposed to be walking to meet me.
‘Are you on the permissive footpath, or the other one?’ he asks. I have time to text him back, ‘walking along the bank,’ before my phone dies. Battery dead. My recharger has failed me.
A short time later, just when I’ve convinced myself I’ve totally lost the path, I find a ‘bridge’.
Hmm. The plank seems rotten. The ditch below is deep. Should I inch across, or take it in one large stride? One large stride – and the plank shudders alarmingly – but I make it over without falling.
The footpath improves after this, and leads me back under the railway line.
On the other side is a good view of the Eskmeals Viaduct. This is where the first ford would have taken me. There’s no sign of a path, and I’m really glad I didn’t attempt the crossing here.
At this point, the river makes a right angled bend and flows northwards for a while, before emptying into the sea just south of Ravenglass. I round the bend of the bank, and there’s Ravenglass ahead.
I can see all the way to Ravenglass – and there’s still no sign of my husband. Where is he?
With only an hour until high tide, the shore is getting increasingly narrow and muddy. So I decide to duck inland, under the railway line, and follow an alternate route along a track marked on my map. Perhaps I’ll meet my husband here?
I don’t. But I do meet a couple of walkers, the first I’ve met all day, at a ruined building, which turns out to be an old Roman baths. How wonderful.
I would have liked to spend more time exploring the Roman ruins, but I’m hungry now, and worrying about my hubby, so I press on.
After a while, I duck back under the railway line, and arrive back on the river shore again. No, he’s not here either. But I get a great view over the mouth of the River Esk. This is where it turns west again, on it’s final stretch between banks covered in sand dunes, before it empties into the sea.
I find a slipway leading up into Ravenglass. He must be here, somewhere, waiting in a pub…maybe?
I meet him coming down the road. Apparently he’s been walking on footpaths all around the Muncaster Castle area, asking everyone he meets if they’ve seen a lonely woman walker. Funnily enough, nobody had seen me. Not surprising, really, because the route I took was completely empty of other walkers.
Anyway, he seems relieved to find me, and we head off for a pub lunch. After that, well, it’s time to return to Lincolnshire.
This will be my last coastal walk of 2o16. Can’t wait for the new year and a new walking season to begin!
Walked today = 9 miles
Total distance so far around coast= 2,921 miles