I catch the train to St Bees, an ancient village and once the site of a Norman Priory dedicated to Saint Bega, from where it gets its name. I pass her statue (I think) on the bridge as I walk towards the coast.
[Later I learn the statue is St George, not St Bees, after all!]
In my hurry to leave this morning (I spent too long chatting over breakfast) I forgot to bring my camera. Oh dear! Too late. I shall have to make do with my iPhone.
When I get to the shore the tide is high and the beach looks very different to yesterday. Now the sand is covered and the waves, whipped up by yesterday’s wind, are foaming against the wooden breakwaters.
The weather has brightened. The mist has gone. And St Bees Head is radiant in the morning sunshine.
I set off along the coastal path and turn to take a photograph of St Bees below me. Unfortunately, the coast is dominated by the static caravan park. I’m sure it’s a great place to take a holiday, but it rather spoils this very attractive part of the coast.
St Bees Head rises to 110 metres above sea level. Not very high really, but the first significant climb I’ve done in a long time.
At the top I decide it’s time to take a self-portrait. With my Canon, I must set the timer, balance the camera on a rock, and run backwards to get myself into a suitable position. My iPhone might not be good at landscape views, but it does take a great selfie!
Onwards across the cliffs. In the distance I can see the lighthouse.
It’s actually a pretty easy walk, once you’re up on the Head. There’s only one significant dip down into a gully called Fleswick. It’s also a well-trodden path, although today I don’t meet anybody else up here.
The cliffs here are famous for their seabirds, and the RSPB provides a number of handy platforms and viewing areas, with railings to keep you safe from falling. I don’t spot much in the way of bird life (January is probably the wrong time of year) but I do manage to take a shadow selfie!
When I reach the area with the lighthouse, I discover the white tower closest to the sea is actually a watch tower. I can’t see anybody ‘watching’ today, so not sure how often it is in use.
The lighthouse is perched on top of a slope. From the path I can just see it peeking over the ridge, but I’m too lazy to climb the hill for a better look!
I round the headland – North Head according to my map – and now I can see all the way to… well, I think Whitehaven is tucked away just out of sight in the next bay.
It’s easy walking. Fields to my right. A clear path. Relatively flat.
Then I come to a working quarry, Birkhams Quarry, where they excavate lovely red sandstone. I’m surprised to see diggers and trucks out working. My OS map mentions quarries, but marks them all as being disused.
The footpath curves around the seaward side of the quarry, where an information board tells me the stone from here was used to build:
- Victoria and Albert Museum in London
- Liverpool Cathedral
- Carlisle Cathedral
- and several buildings in Hong Kong and Canada.
It’s great to see a board giving details of local industry. I pass a lot of industrial sites on my way around the coast, and often have to guess (or Google) to discover what’s going on.
I come across a finger-post. Ah. I’ve unknowingly followed part of the Coast-to-Coast path, Wainwright’s famous long-distance trail. One of the gentlemen in the B&B was talking about trekking this path over breakfast.
But I’m not continuing along the Coast-to-Coast route. Instead I stick close to the sea, and begin the descent towards Whitehaven. The path lies in the shadow of the cliffs and the ground is still frozen. I don’t mind, and decide walking on frost is better than wading through mud.
I arrive on the outskirts of Whitehaven. This is Saltom Bay and the landscape is dotted with the remains of old industry. The building below reminds me of Cornwall and the ‘Poldark’ mines.
Saltom Pit was a working coalmine in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the tunnels stretched out for 2km under the sea. Now all that remains are some ruins, an old pit shaft wheel, and a dangerously unstable cliff.
My B&B landlord tells me they are planning to reopen the mine shortly. Apparently a seam of very high quality coal extends under the sea and is financially viable to extract.
Onwards, and I start to meet people. Strollers and dog walkers. And now I’m nearly in Whitehaven.
I come to the brow of a hill and see Whitehaven spread out below. It really does look very attractive in the sunlight. I didn’t expect to find such a large harbour, or a marina full of ships.
The old harbour walls provide calm anchorage, and two light houses mark the entrance. I manage, inadvertently, to take another shadow selfie (bottom right of the photo below!)
A tall tower (shown two photos above, and called The Candlestick) is actually an old ventilation shaft for the Wellington Pit. This mine closed in the 1930s and sounds a terrible place to have worked, mainly due to the large amounts of dangerous methane that caused frequent explosions and deaths.
A modern pavement mosaic commemorates the miners…
… while other paving slabs are engraved with various memories, including fascinating (and horrible) details of the dangerous lives of the miners. Two young boys are mentioned, both killed, both only eight years old. It’s unbearable to think about.
I leave the horrors of the mine behind, and walk down to the inner harbour. It’s large. Once bustling with ships carrying coal and other goods, now the port contains just a few working boats – and a lot of pleasure yachts.
I walk around the outer perimeter of the harbour walls. It’s possible to get all the way around if the swing bridge is in the right position, which it is today.
On the other side of the harbour, I make the mistake of heading off along a new-looking promenade. This is North Beach. But I soon realise I’ve reached a dead-end and must turn back.
Never mind. I sit on a handy bench and have a quick rest, a drink and a snack.
Then I walk back into Whitehaven. I could end my walk here, but it’s only early afternoon and I still feel full of energy, so decide to carry on to the next place where the train stops. A village with the odd name of Parton. (Dolly?)
As I leave Whitehaven, I find my first ever England Coast Path sign.
When I first started my coastal walk, the England Coast Path was only a vague plan. Two years into my trek, and one short stretch near Weymouth had been completed. Several other pieces have been completed since, but the whole path is supposed to be in place by the end of 2020. Less than 4 years away. I don’t believe it will happen. But, despite my pessimism, it’s good to see a real, live, England Coast Path sign.
Not that the path is very exciting, I’m afraid. It’s a joint cycle-walking track, and I’m not even sure it’s new. Worse still, the path is on the wrong side of the railway line and not next to the sea.
Onwards. I pass more signs of old industry, and stop a man to ask him if he knows what these tunnels once were. Kilns? Storage chambers? Passages?
He doesn’t know, but he does point out a fenced off pit and tells me there’s a passage from here that leads under the railway line and emerges on North Beach. So I didn’t have to turn back after all?!
He also tells me it is possible to walk from Whitehaven to Parton along the shore, if the tide is out, because there is a stone ledge just below the railway line. But he tried it recently and it was too slippery. In fact, he fell over and got covered in slime, and had to return home to change his clothes. Maybe a good job I didn’t know about it was there and didn’t try it.
Further along, and another information board tells me that Parton was once a thriving place, a busy fishing port and a hive of other industries, such as tanneries.
Now it’s a very quiet place. Quiet – until I hit a button on the information board and a recorded voice starts telling me, very loudly, about the history of the area. It’s the same information as is written on the board. I hit another button to make it stop, but that just sets off another, and slightly different, recording.
Now, strangely embarrassed although there is nobody around, I feel duty bound to stand and listen until the recording stops. It seems to go on, and on, and on, and on…
When I reach Parton, the sun has disappeared behind clouds, and I can’t take a decent photo with my iPhone. So have to make do with another snap of an official England Coast Path sign.
Walked today = 10 miles (this distance is becoming a habit!)
Total around the coast = 2,951 miles