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