288 Ravenglass to Sellafield

It’s a misty January day in Ravenglass, and I’m about to start my first coastal walk of 2017. It’s good to be back.


Ravenglass seems cut off from the rest of the world. Surrounded by water, it is the place where three rivers with weirdly short names (the River Esk, the River Irt and the River Mite) all empty into the sea. It was once a busy Roman port. Now it’s… quiet.


Many previous Cumbrian walking days have been spent hiking up and down estuaries. But in Ravenglass there’s a railway viaduct across the River Mite and – yippee – walkers are allowed to cross over too. Hallelujah! Makes a welcome change from trudging up to the nearest road bridge.


From the other side of the viaduct I look back at Ravenglass. The mist is going to be a problem today, making it hard to take decent photographs. But I can’t resist the shot of an abandoned boat. (I’ve seen so many of these around the coast.)


I follow the coast, along a reasonable footpath, into Saltcoats. This is barely a village, just a collection of houses and scruffy yards. A pile of lobster pots are a reminder of the nearby sea.


Walking out of Saltcoats, along the quiet lane, I look back and catch sight of a bull. It’s safely on the other side of the hedge, but keeping a close eye on my progress.


The next place I come to is Hall Carleton – just a few houses and farmyards. My plan is to follow a track which heads north-west from here and over the River Irt. I’m just setting off down the track – which is very muddy and guarded by some ferocious-sounding collies…


…  when I decide to double-check my map.

Lucky I did. The track doesn’t lead to a bridge, but to a ford. It’s almost full tide. The chances of me actually crossing the ford are very low. (I am a coward when it comes to wading!).

So I turn round, make my way past the barking collies, and take the road towards Holmrook instead. Under a railway bridge, and I catch a train speeding past.


After a mile of road walking, I take a track off to the left.


The track deteriorates, becomes very muddy, meanders through a field… and then takes me to the bank of the River Irt and to a beautiful, ancient-looking footbridge. Home Bridge says my map, and gives it an alternative name, Packhorse Bridge.


I can imagine pack horses making their way across here.

On the other side are more muddy fields, and then an exceedingly muddy track. (That’s the main problem with winter walking – mud!)


The track takes me up a hill and into the village of Drigg. It’s a pretty place with an attractive church and a railway station. The café and pub look inviting…


… but it’s much too early to stop for lunch. Onwards, over the railway crossing, and past a rather fine signal box. It’s a surprise to see this one is actually manned. Most of them are automated nowadays.


Now I’m on the coast road and heading for the shore. Another couple of miles of rather boring road walking.


To my right is a forbidding fence. On the other side, according to my map, is a storage depot and a disused tip. Rather alarmingly, it is also a Nuclear Licensed Site. For nuclear waste? In the tip? My mind starts boggling.


The road ends at the beach. ‘Welcome to the Drigg Coast’ says a sign. And this is also a site of Special Scientific Interest. Why? It isn’t clear.


I walk past a lookout hut perched on the top of the dunes. (I’m not sure if it’s leftover from  WW2 or a more recent MOD construction.)

And here’s the beach. A mix of sand and stones.


The beach is sometimes hard work – struggling over pebbles and shingle is never easy – but at least I’m back on the shore. And the wind, which is blowing in strong gusts, is coming from behind and pushes me along.


I work my way around a wide and shallow bay. Perched on the low cliff in the distance are some houses. It takes a long time to reach them.


The shore here shows signs of erosion. Some of the houses are clearly destined to crumble into the sea, despite massive attempts to hold back the tides.


This is Seascale. It has a long jetty that curves over the beach like a very timid ski jump.


Beyond Seascale is a wide expanse of sand. The mist has grown worse, and everything seems blurry and vague. In the distance I can just make out a couple of dog walkers… but that’s about all I can see. It’s a weird feeling, stepping out into a misty nothingness.


I walk nearer to the water’s edge, where the pebbles provide some structure and form to the landscape.


A walker passes me and I turn round to take a photograph as he struggles against the wind, heading towards Seascale.


After a while the beach becomes stony and walking is difficult. I make my way along the soft sand by the dunes. Just over the waving grass I can dimly make out blocky shapes and tall chimneys. That must be Sellafield, the nuclear power station.


The dim light and the foggy atmosphere cloak the industrial structures, and create a feeling of menace.

After a while, I come to a place where another river, The River Calder, empties into the sea. Here is another railway viaduct and, luckily, walkers and cyclists are allowed to cross over too.


After crossing the river, I’m forced to walk on the landward side of the railway line. Although I’m grateful for the path, it isn’t exactly a pleasant walk. Hemmed in by fencing, metal spikes, and coils of barbed wire.


After a mile of this (it seems longer) I reach Sellafield station. It’s not yet 1:30pm and I was planning to walk on to the next station along the line, a place called Braystones, but I’ve had enough. The mist has permeated my clothing, made my rucksack and map soggy, and is strangely energy-sapping.


I check my watch. The train doesn’t run very frequently, but I’m in luck. Only a five-minute wait until the next one.

Actually, it turns out to be longer. A man, a local worker in the Sellafield plant, tells me the trains are always late. And ancient. The service is rubbish and he pays a fortune for his season ticket. He has 92 days left until retirement and is counting down the hours!

Signs around the station warn us to report any suspicious activity. The car park, according to my new friend, is restricted to permit holders only. Apart from a couple of workmen, I am the only member of the public catching the train. It’s not exactly a welcoming place…


… although the ‘Passengers must NOT Alight here’ refers to the fact there is no platform on that side of the fence.

From here onwards the railway line becomes single track. The north bound train (heading for Carlisle) chugs in to the opposite platform and has to wait for ours to arrive. It does, eventually.

Miles walked today = a pathetic 10 miles
Total distance around coast = 2,931


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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48 Responses to 288 Ravenglass to Sellafield

  1. budgieman2 says:

    The Llangollen Walking Group were walking the Welsh Coastal Path today above Flint and I mentioned your picture of the storm outfall above Bagilt It apparently is a mine outflow from miles above in the hills We were caught out by the high tide by the Derelict Ship

  2. Eunice says:

    Welcome back Ruth, it’s nice to be following your walks again. I love the ‘ski jump’ jetty at Seascale, I’ve never seen one like that before. It’s a shame the mist made everything soggy and tiring enough for you to cut the walk short but there’s no point continuing if things become unpleasant. I hope the weather will be better for the next section 🙂

    • Hi Eunice. The mist was a bit dispiriting, I’m afraid, and surprisingly wet. I think the jetty had just sagged with age! Here’s hoping we have some better weather soon and hope you’re planning some great expeditions for yourself. Best wishes.

  3. jcombe says:

    Nice to see you back I wasn’t expecting it to be so early in the year 🙂

    I think you made the right choice. I ended up walking on to Nethertown and caught the train back from there. But there are far fewer trains stopping at Nethertown and Braystones than at the other stations (and only be request) so I have a rather akward journey next time I resume up here (April, probably). Though I have already planned it out and booked a hotel.

    I opted out of the Ford, too. Regarding Drigg, Paul Merton did a TV program (Secret Stations I think?) last year which covered Drigg in part of one episode and he got inside that nuclear facility.

    • Hi Jon, yes those request stations have fewer trains. At least there was a heated waiting room at Sellafield, even if the station was a little bleak. I shall have to look out for Paul Merton’s programme, sounds interesting.

    • Eunice says:

      I’ll have to look out for that programme. It’s not something I would normally be interested in but the local company where I work in the evenings have, in recent years, supplied and erected many tonnes of steelwork and decking at both Sellafield and Drigg.

  4. Peter Caton says:

    I love that stretch of coast. Sometimes desolate, usually deserted but plenty of interest and history. I stayed two nights at Ravenglass in October, visiting remote railway stations for my next book. I walked from Braystones to Nethertown, which I assume will be included in your next walk. Not easy walking on the stony beach. We spent a week at Seascale in 1966 (I was 5) when people still went on holiday there. I stayed a few years ago again when writing The Next Station Stop and walked to Sellafield. They fence you’ve photographed was being built then and I had an altercation with a machine gun carrying policeman who objected to me taking photos. Hope you enjoy the rest of this often ignored section of England’s coastline.

  5. Rita Bower says:

    Great to see you back Ruth. Not a pathetic 10 miles at all. Some miles just seem longer than others & my memory from walking in the Northumberland mist, is that it’s not much fun after the first few miles!

  6. Chris says:

    Strangely, I was just thinking of you when your post came in. I do enjoy reading your adventures. Good luck.

  7. Di iles says:

    Really missed the blog Ruth so lovely to see you’re on the move again. 10 miles is s good comfortable walk Ruth, not pathetic at all. I’m Reading John Merrill’s ‘Turn right at Land’s End ‘ (suggested in your book) and whilst I have huge respect and admiration for him, his daily walking distances are so phenomenal I can’t relate to them at all, not to mention horrendous weather conditions, heavy pack and often walking in the dark. Enjoying the book but makes me feel so inadequate Lol!!

  8. beatingthebounds says:

    Wrong time of year to visit Seascale – it has a marvellous Ice-cream parlour. Well – reputedly so – I’ve been a few times, but never tried the ice-cream – I leave that to the kids.

  9. Jane Morgan says:

    Good to see your blog back. I am not keen on winter walking because of the mud and murky days though nothing beats a cold crisp January day. We walked just after Christmas in Kent/London and it was very muddy on the banks of the Thames. It was impossible to get to our next starting point for the coast walk in Essex by train because of engineering works so we continued the second walk which has evolved from said coast walk and finds us carrying on towards London. Having crossed the river at Gravesend it seemed a shame not to finish Kent and then we just kept going! I look forward to your posts this year as I do not know the coast of Cumbria so they will be very interesting.

    • So are you walking up the Thames, Jane? I’ve did a stretch of the Thames Path, from it’s beginning (or end) near Erith and through London to Kew. Then I got a bit bogged down with the travel logistics… and I haven’t been back. The city part is great for winter walking because it’s either tarmac or pavement, and no mud!

      • Jane Morgan says:

        That is the idea. Initially it was to complete Kent which finishes just the London side of the Gravesend to Tilbury crossing at the River Darent. Then we decided to just keep going! And to add in crossing the Thames at every possible crossing. Our next walk should get us to Erith and the start of the proper path. Because we live in Surrey a day’s walking here is now more accessible and better for shorter winter days.

  10. paul sennett says:

    great to see you walking again Ruth

  11. gillianrance says:

    Nice to see you back Ruth, I was thinking it might not be until March/April. Mud and mist on a walk are hard work aren’t they, you did well to complete 10 miles. I’m looking forward to getting out walking myself this year but not on the same scale as you!

    • Hi Gillian. I keep looking at the weather forecast and hoping for a few more fine days. I do love winter walking – empty landscapes and frosty ground make for perfect walking conditions, in my opinion. But I do hate mud. And mist. And wind. And rain. 😀

  12. Jacquie says:

    Welcome back. I’ve really missed your blogs. Like Di iles I also appreciate the sort of distances that you walk, with time to look and photograph and 10 miles by 1:30pm is hardly pathetic. Mud and mist do make for tiring days and wind, like today’s gales, even more so. Happy Walking

  13. owdjockey says:

    Welcome back Ruth to the mud-wading brigade, I managed to get a couple of sneeky photos of Sellafield. Shame the mist was down, otherwise a few of of the Scottish hills can normally be seen.
    BTW, as most rucksacks are not water-proof, but water repellent, I would invest in a dry-liner sack for your rucksack.

    • Mud-wading is a great phrase for winter walking! Yes, will certainly need a dry sack for Scotland. Do have a waterproof cover, which works well, as long as I remember to stop and put it on!

  14. Ruth’s Back – Yay! Welcome back and 10 miles under those conditions is mighty respectable.
    Keep up the good work and mostly just enjoy the moment (where possible!)
    Like you I cannot wait for spring so will continue hacking away at the east coast shortly (I recently did the Sutton Bridge to King’s Lynn section and will be off to Skeggy in a week (probably a bit bracing!)
    I hope the rest of the lake district treats you well and I look forward to every blog…

    Warmest regards,

    • Hi Gemma, and you’re right about enjoying the moment. I mustn’t forget THAT is my primary aim, not getting the miles done. I wonder what you’re making of Lincolnshire? It’s where I live but the Lincs coastline is the last stretch I will do, and I get the impression it’s dead boring 😏

      • Hi Ruth,
        Well, at the risk of offending some people, I must say that the one section I have done so far was a bit on the tedious side – I normally like to absorb the environment I am in, but after a couple of hours I unusually had to boot up spotify as I was getting bored with the relentless sea bank – although I am sure if it was a clear day and a bit warmer it would have been much better. Admittedly I am just getting stuck into Lincs just to get it out the way – but I feel bad about my negative attitude and I am sure that I will have plenty to enjoy after all… Will let you know how Skeggy – Boston goes next week…

        Best wishes

  15. Anabel Marsh says:

    Good to see you back! I’ve been to both ends of your walk but wouldn’t fancy hiking between them. Hope you get better weather and less mud on your next section.

  16. How I envy you, being able to walk in such beautiful countryside. I have only been to a few areas of England but I did enjoy my times spent in Cornwall/Devon, Norfolk, Yorkshire and even being caught in a traffic jam in the middle of London at 1 o’clock in the morning.

  17. Marie Keates says:

    Fog and mist is strange to walk in isn’t it? I got completely lost at Stoney Cross once in the mist, although I know the area well.

  18. This is my next target. I had a semi disastrous semi elation day on Thursday. The first train from Manchester to Bootle was timetabled to arrive at 1108. With a jumper on the viaduct at Stockport and the traditional northern cancellations and delays I got there after 7 hours of travelling at 1248. My train back was reserved at 1600 which meant an almost jogging pace. However I had chosen a day when the tide was out and although everything I had read including your excellent blog told me I had to walk up and down the estuary I hoped against hope I could ford the esk at the viaduct and joy of joys I could. I will bear that in mind and choose a low tide day for this stage although the packhorse bridge does look inviting.

    • Wow. Yes, the northern rail network is in a real mess at the moment, isn’t it. I hate walking when there’s such pressure to catch a bus or train – and well done for fording that estuary. I chickened out, although others have done it. Good luck with the next ford.

  19. Karen White says:

    I do think lobster pots are photogenic. You got some nice motion blur on that train too. I rather like misty days but detest walking in mud, I’m always worried that I’ll get stuck or lose a boot!

  20. 5000milewalk says:

    Hiya Ruth, I just did this section (well, only as far as Seascale) but realised a lot later than you that it was a ford, not until I got right up to it did I realise! I just wrote up the blog for it, but it’s on my new blog site (https://5000milewalk.co.uk) – you’re not following the new one yet so probably haven’t seen it yet 😊.

    • Hi Paul. It was hard to spot that ford on the map, for some reason. Thanks for the link to the new blog site. Looks great. Yes, I’ve fallen behind with reading your exploits and I will need to catch up. I signed up to follow ages ago, but I’ve just realised I don’t get any email reminders – instead notifications just appear in WordPress Reader, which I rarely look at. All the other WordPress blogs send me email notifications of new posts, so maybe you could think about adjusting the settings if that’s possible?

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