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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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…
… 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.
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.
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.
I duck through a little tunnel under the railway line, and reach the shore.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I continue along the beach. Turn a corner. See some amazing red rocks – large, smooth and alien – among the shingle.
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.
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.
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.
Onwards. I pass a field of bold and inquisitive sheep…
… and another field of dopey cows with windblown coats. Highland cattle?
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.
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.
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.
Here the cliffs are red and crumbling. A sign warns of coastal erosion, so I decide to stick to the beach.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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