289 Sellafield to St Bees

I catch the train back to Sellafield station. I can’t find a way to continue via the beach (the River Ehen is in the way) and so head inland along the road.

Sellafield’s high perimeter fence, checkpoints and security men are intimidating, and put me off taking photographs. I turn off down a track and, as soon as I’ve gone far enough and feel ‘invisible’, I turn around and take some shots of Sellafield’s skyline.

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My track joins a cycle way. I’m soon overtaken by a couple of cyclists. They stop, politely, to avoid getting in my photo. But I explain I’d rather have them in the picture. Makes it more interesting!

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The cycle route follows a raised bank, the track of a disused railway line. To my left, in the distance, is the sea. ‘DANGER. Flood Plain – Risk of Drowning,’ says a sign.

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The sign is a little alarming because I plan to find the footpath that cuts across the plain. It will mean almost doubling back on myself, but offers the nearest route back to the shore. (I’m actually less worried about drowning, and more worried about the herd of cows in the fields below.)

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After about a mile, I find the beginning of the footpath and head down a track towards the river. In the distance is a farm and beyond that is the village of Braystones.

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My map promises a footbridge over the river. First I have to navigate a very boggy field. The grass has been trodden into mush by a herd of cattle, judging by the hoof prints in the ground. But the footbridge actually exists – which is the good news.

The bad news? The bridge consists of a series of narrow wooden planks, suspended by some swaying metal supports. I take a photograph, grip my camera tightly, and set off…

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… about a third of the way across, the whole bridge starts bouncing up and down in an alarming manner. I stop. Wait for the sea-sawing to stop. Then carry on. I make it to the other side without mishap, although I do end up feeling a little seasick.

The footpath continues across a field and soon joins the river bank.

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I only have to navigate one field of cows. Predictably, there is a mother and her calf sitting on the path, so I detour through the middle of the field. It’s very waterlogged. More like a paddle than a walk.

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Back on the river bank and I get a great view of Sellafield in the distance. Despite the sunshine the morning is still hazy, but I quite like the resulting photograph.

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I duck through a little tunnel under the railway line, and reach the shore.

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My B&B landlord warned me the going was rough north of Sellafield, and he turns out to be right. The beach is covered in loose shingle, and so I stick to the track that runs along the bank at the top of the beach.

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Dotted along the track are huts, shacks and cottages. I don’t see any people (except for a couple of workmen in a digger van and one lone dog walker) so I’m not sure if people live here permanently. It would be a terrifying place to be in a wild, winter storm.

The wind is fierce. Yesterday, the mist made the distance view hazy. Today, the spray whips off the waves and covers the shore in a veil.

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After a while I leave the track and walk close to the water, where there is enough sand amongst the shingle to make the ground reasonably firm.

Sea foam is blowing off the waves, and collecting in drifts. It’s impossible to catch the effect with a still photo, but the foam is constantly moving, shifting and scurrying around my feet. It’s like walking in drifting snow.

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I reach a slipway and the last of the bungalows. This group, huddled under the low cliffs, looks particularly battered. In fact, at the end of the row, is the ruined chimney stack of a tumbled building.

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I continue along the beach. Turn a corner. See some amazing red rocks – large, smooth and alien – among the shingle.

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And then, unfortunately, the beach comes to an end. It might be possible to continue at low tide, but there’s no way forward at the moment.

I consider climbing the sloping cliff, but a quick check of my map and I realise I would end up on the railway line. With no way ahead, I’m going to have to turn back.

First I stop for a drink and a snack. One of the problems with winter walking is that it’s usually too cold for lingering – and the days are too short to stop for a decent lunch break . But I have a quick drink and a bar of chocolate… and take a self-portrait.

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You can tell how windy it is from my position in the photo above. I’m having to lean into the gale to stand upright! It takes me some time to work my way back to the slipway, because now the wind is against me.

Then I head up and inland, towards the small village of Nethertown.

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From here onwards I face a long stretch of road walking – almost all the way to St Bees. Shame.

Some way out of the village I pass the turn off to Nethertown’s  railway station. It seems stuck in the middle of nowhere. No wonder it’s a rarely used request stop.

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Onwards. I pass a field of bold and inquisitive sheep…

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… and another field of dopey cows with windblown coats. Highland cattle?

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At this point the sun disappears, and the next section of my walk takes place in gloomy light. Eventually, after around 3 miles of tarmac tramping, I come over the brow of a hill and see St Bees ahead.

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A short time later I cut off to my left along a footpath. I’m heading back to the coast.

The footpath is muddy. I think it’s the route of an ancient roadway because the path is sunken and lies below the level of the surrounding fields, edged on either side by bushes.

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I reach the railway line, and walk beside the track for a short distance, until the path takes me under a bridge and back to the shore.

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Here the cliffs are red and crumbling. A sign warns of coastal erosion, so I decide to stick to the beach.

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Another information sign tells me this place is called Seamill (it’s nameless on my map). There used to be a working mill here and a salt pan. Further out to sea are some ancient fishgarths, designed to catch fish as the tide went out. Beyond the fishgarths are the remains of a petrified forest and a coral formation formed by tube worms.

Sadly, I couldn’t see the petrified forest, nor the tube worms and their amazing structures. Might be worth a return trip… maybe.

The low red cliffs to my right are the remains of a retreating glacier. The technical term for this is a ‘glacial moraine’. It explains why the shore is covered in so many different kinds of rocks – from hard granite to red sandstone boulders – all carried here by the slow movement of the glacier and then dumped when the ice melted away.

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[When I set out on my coastal walk, I didn’t expect to discover so much about geology. I find it really fascinating. Geology really tells us about the deep history of our physical world, and you don’t have to visit a museum to see it. It’s all around us.]

The next section of the walk is magical. The sun comes out from under the clouds, low over the sea, and floods the beach and cliffs with its gentle light. I walk close to the water, and keep stopping every few minutes to enjoy the view and, of course, to take hundreds of photographs.

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Looking behind me,  I can see the coastline stretching back from Seamill towards Nethertown. It’s a shame much of my walk today was spent away from the shore, but it looks as though those cliffs are pretty unstable.

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The cliffs that fringe St Bees Bay are crumbling too. But they are a glorious colour. The gleaming shore picks up the reflection of red sandstone, and at times it seems I’m walking over molten gold.

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St Bees is drawing nearer. The main town is a mile or so inland, but I can see a line of groynes and a few buildings on the shore. The wind picks up foam and spray from the waves, and cloaks the far end of the bay in hazy mist.

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Out in the sea a lone windsurfer is scudding about, under the impressive cliffs of St Bees Head. I stop and watch, hoping to see some giant leaps, but it seems to take all his energy to stay upright.

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Time to head in towards the shore. The evening light sprinkles everything with fairy dust and makes it beautiful – even the rather ugly static caravan park.

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I’m hungry. The beach café ahead has good reviews on TripAdvisor and serves food all day. I’m hoping they won’t mind serving me a hot meal, despite the fact it’s 3pm in the afternoon.

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They don’t mind. Meat pie with peas and extra gravy. Lovely. After that, it’s a mile or so into St Bees, a gentle walk in the fading light along the beach road, to find my car.


Miles walked today = another measly 10 miles
Total distance = 2,941

Route:


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, Doctor, woman, etc.
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29 Responses to 289 Sellafield to St Bees

  1. Peter Caton says:

    I remember those red rocks from my walk in September. And you can see why Nethertown is going to feature in my book on remote railway stations, although the station house is still occupied. It was busy once – there was a large camp for workers who constructed Sellafield close by and they used the station. Apparently some of the beach shacks at Braystones are lived in all year but as you say, it must be a wild place in stormy weather.

    • jcombe says:

      Didn’t expect to see you commenting here Peter! I’ve read your book on tidal islands “No Boat Required” and enjoyed it very much. So glad to hear you are writing a book on remote railway stations too. I used Nethertown station to finish my last coastal walk in Cumbria last year (from Ravenglass). I confesss to being a little disappointed when another passenger arrived a few minutes before the train so it didn’t stop *just* for me! I liked the little steps you have to use to get on the train too.

    • Now I wish I’d taken the trouble to walk down the road and visit the station. Did pass through it several times in my train journeys 😀

      • jcombe says:

        caught the train from nethertown to finish my walk today. The little steps at the station have gone, replaced with a big ramp. The public telephone was covered in a bin bag flapping in the wind under which said out of order!

  2. Eunice says:

    I like the photo of the rock pools in the sand, it looks rather like an alien landscape.
    I have every admiration for the distances you walk, and I wouldn’t call ten miles measly. Yesterday I walked nine miles along the Leeds-Liverpool canal and was really tired when I got back to the van, though it didn’t help that I’m full of a cold and not at my best. The last time I went along that particular stretch I cycled so I didn’t remember how far away my end goal was 😦

    • Hi Eunice. Yes, the beach was amazing and I loved the patterns of the pools and the sand. Re mileage: I think the short days are a problem, because our brains are geared to feel tired as dusk descends. (I just thought of that as an excuse, and it sounds like a good theory, doesn’t it?!)

  3. jcombe says:

    The frustrating thing here is there is a bridge over the stream between Sellafield station and the coast, but sadly it is locked. I tried to find a way around but failed (though thankfully also failed to be arrested!). So also had to resort to the road and that disused railway line.

    I quite enjoyed that bouncy bridge over the river though. It is possible (though hard going) to walk along the shore to St Bees if the tide is right. I made it as far as Nethertown. In fact I made it a bit past there (to the house near the shore) where I could see St Bees ahead, so I know you can reach St Bees on the beach. But the previous few miles over that shingle and pebble beach had taken me far longer than expected so I decided I wouldn’t make St Bees (my intended destination) in time for the train I needed to get to Carlisle for my connecting train home. So I had to pick up the train at Nethertown instead, which is where I’ll need to get back to in a couple of months. It is a tiny station and I confess to being a little disappointed when another passenger turned up as well, as I was hoping to hail the train down to stop just for me!

    St Bees looks lovely, looking forward to doing this stretch. I’ve not walked the coast now from Nethertown to Burgh-by-Sands west of Carlisle, but hoping to do it later this year.

    • All that road walking was frustrating, and always feel longer than it actually is. So hope the tide is low for you and you can walk along the shore. I love all these little request stops, apart from some nervousness (shared by Conrad, I know) as to whether the train will actually stop or not. The trains along this line don’t run very frequently in the winter, so I was always in a state of some anxiety about catching them.

  4. Mark Wright says:

    Hi Ruth, I stumbled upon your blog this morning. It’s really enjoyable. I’ve shared on my work Social Media, George Fisher UK in Keswick. I hope many more people will take a look. I look forward to you reaching Bowness on Solway. It’s a lovely spot. – Mark

    • Hi Mark and thank you for your kind words. That’s great. Thank you for sharing. Yes, I’m very much looking forward to the rest of my adventures up the Cumbrian coast and then along the Solway estuary. It’s a lovely area of the country and can’t believe I haven’t visited it before!

  5. All good stuff. You are one jump ahead of me now, although I am following the Cumbria Coastal Way which doesn’t always coincide with your regime for sticking as close to the coast as possible. The logistics with the trains are becoming a bit stretched as well, and people and the weather keep interfering with my desire to get on with the rest of this project.

    • Ah ha. I wondered if you’d overtake me, Conrad! But the weather hasn’t been very kind to the northwest. I’ve booked a return visit this coming week. Fingers crossed we have some clear days.

  6. This is what you missed! https://sueswordsandpictures.wordpress.com/2016/07/30/low-tide-at-st-bees/ I would not have known what i was looking at, except for having been on a guided walk at Allonby with @solwaywalker. Sue

    • Hi Sue and thank you very much for posting your link. What a great blog post and some wonderful photos. So much to see… and those wormy constructions do look exactly like coral. Fantastic. Thank you.

  7. Neil Anderson says:

    Hi Ruth, a little late for you, but you can cross the river Ehen, right onto the beach, via the rail bridge just North of Sellafield, it has an attached footpath on the inland side, thus missing out the need to cross by the very wobbly inland bridge. Apologies, I should of thought to tell you, hopefully perhaps others can benefit for this advice.
    Neil (Rosegarth)

  8. Brian Thomas says:

    Still very very impressed by your endeavours… Wonder what emanates out of all those tall chimney stacks inside the Sellafield site and what difference it makes if the gases are launched into the surrounding air a few 100 feet up!!!

    Amazed that folks live close by and have caravans too.. not for me thanks..

    • Hi Brian. I was intrigued by all the chimneys and towers. I guess nuclear power stations are cleaner than coal or gas-fired ones, as long as all the nuclear stuff is properly contained. But that’s the fear, isn’t it? And I wouldn’t want to live close by either.

  9. keithcase says:

    Hello Ruth. I have been following your walks for some time. In fact it has encouraged me to finally create my own blog about my walk around England. Started in 1998 walking Offa’s Dyke reaching your current location (St Bees) in June 2003. I chose to take the Coast-to-Coast to Robin Hood’s Bay as it passes our cottage in Reeth, Swaledale as well as being excellent walking across the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Yorkshire Moors. I did it again in 2012 and I strongly recommend it but I am sure that you have your own plans. I passed through your starting point, Kings Lynn in January 2007 and last weekend I reached Par in Cornwall. So I am both in front of you and behind you.
    I read your blog to get an idea of what horrors await me – I am finding the South West Coast Path the most difficult yet.
    My blog seems to be mainly route notes and comments about pubs (an essential part of my walking)
    Good luck.

    Keith

    • Hi Keith, and wonderful to discover another coastal walker! Just had a quick look at your blog and will be back to read more. (I particularly like your rules!) Yes, I’m always tempted by other long-distance paths I come across. Want to do Offas Dyke too, And definitely Hadrians Wall. BUT, my main aim is to get up into Scotland, so trying to avoid detours and distractions. I liked Par. The beach is a weird clay-like consistency. Keep in touch.

  10. pedalboats says:

    Gosh, Ruth, by the look of all the above comments you’ve woken us all up and inspired us. Certainly your walk sent my memory charging back to the early 1980s and an adventure of my own. It was your description and photos of the shoreline shacks that did it. I’ve blogged it here:
    https://wordpress.com/post/pedalboats.wordpress.com/797
    thankyou very much for the inspiration
    Heather

  11. theresagreen says:

    It may ‘only’ hve been a 10 mile hike, but what a fascinating length of coast. It’s interesting that your walking has awakened an interest in geology, I’m contemplating signing up for a course on the subject as I also want to know which rocks are what when I encounter them. Rather you than me on the rickety bridge. Your photographs illustrate the walk perfectly, I especially loved the one of the beach and pools at Seamill.

  12. Marie Keates says:

    I know what’s you mean about geology. Strangely fascinating.

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