The B5302 is not exactly a busy road, but there are no pavements and just enough traffic to keep me jumping onto the uneven grassy verge at regular intervals.
I startle another flock of sheep, who think I’ve come to feed them. They bleat plaintively and pursue me for several hundred yards.
I reach the tiny village of Calvo. It has an oddly Italian sounding name.
From Calvo it’s only 4 miles to my destination, Abbeytown, by road. But I’m hoping to find a footpath that should take me nearer to the coast and back to the edge of Skinburness Marsh.
The footpath leaves the road via this farmer’s yard.
And then the path more or less disappears across a series of muddy fields. I’m relieved to spot a waymarker in a hedge…
… and some time later come to a rickety bridge across a water course. The bridge is leaning drunkenly to one side, and I test the planks first to make sure they’re not rotten.
Over the bridge, and I’m in a tiny place called Waitefield. What were probably farm cottages are now being redeveloped. Nobody about. Plenty of shut gates, but I can’t see the footpath… until I spot a stile hidden away at the end of a hedge, near a wall.
I climb over the stile (with difficulty, because the wood is rotten and broken) and then head across another field, to reach another stile in poor condition. This one is overgrown and I have to beat back brambles before I can climb over.
On the other side of the stile is a bridge over a water-filled ditch. It too is covered in brambles. I’m glad I’ve got my poles, but it still takes me several minutes to hack my way across. Should have brought a machete!
Once safely on the other side, I take a photo looking back at the bridge. Definite footpath signs are visible, but it’s clear other people rarely walk this way.
Now there’s no obvious path on the ground, but my map shows I need to follow the line of the hedge.
A hundred yards farther along the hedge, and the ditch disappears. Here I spot a wide opening, and realise I needn’t have hacked my way across the bridge after all. Could just have walked through at this point!
Onwards. The farm ahead is Whinclose.
My footpath cross over the end of the farm track, and continues across more fields. Another stile. This one is very overgrown too, and requires more bramble-hacking.
Luckily I know my troubles are nearly over. Ahead I will come to a T junction in the path, and should turn left. After a few hundred yards I’ll reach the marsh wall. After that, I’ll join a minor road.
But… I’m brought to a halt by a ditch of water and a barbed wire fence. What?!!! Where’s the T junction?
I can see a footpath sign attached to a fence post on the other side of the ditch, but the there’s not enough room to walk between the ditch and the fence.
Double check my map, and use my Garmin to make sure I’ve got the right route. Yes, the footpath definitely crosses over the ditch here, and it’s supposed to meet the other footpath, which must run along the far side of the barbed wire fence.
I can cross the ditch without a problem because it’s filled in at this point. And… if I just lean over the fence to check… Yes. There’s another footpath sign.
Clearly the route continues on the OTHER SIDE of the fence. What?!
I decide I’ve got three choices.
- Turn back.
- Walk up and down this field, trespassing, and try to find another way through.
- Climb over the fence.
Who invented barbed wire? They should be given a good smacking. And why do farmers edge their fields with it? A proper wire fence is all they really need to keep their sheep or cattle enclosed.
I find a section of fence where the wire is loose and flapping – clearly other people have been forced to climb over here too. I place my rucksack down as a step, use my walking pole to prop up the topmost strand of barbed wire, spread my map over the bottom strand, and slide through.
Well, slide is too elegant a word. Wriggle. Squirm. Swear a little. My jacket snags, and for a moment I think I’m well and truly stuck, but manage to free myself.
On the other side I take a moment to recover. Check for rips in my jacket – none, thank goodness. Now where?
My plan was to turn left and walk towards the farm (called Seaville Cote). The path that leads to the farm is a public right of way, and I see a yellow arrow on the gate post confirming this.
The trouble is… the gate looks broken and is tied to the gate posts with twine. And I think I might have to cross back over my old foe – the barbed wire fence and ditch – before I reach the farm track.
After dithering for a while, I decide I simply can’t face another battle with barbed wire. Especially not close to the farm buildings, where there might be aggressive dogs and rude landowners.
So I turn right instead. This too is a proper footpath and should eventually bring me onto another farm track. There’s no guarantee I’ll be able to get through, so I make my way nervously along the field.
Try to look on the bright side. No cows about.
In fact, I meet no further obstruction, and soon join the track. It’s horribly muddy. Clearly been churned up by farm vehicles and by cattle. It’s not exactly clean mud.
At the end of the track is an open gate, a farm and a road. Here I was planning to turn left…
…but two dogs appear, both barking furiously. A black and white collie comes running down the farm track ahead of me, while another, a red one, comes running up the road from my left.
OK. Forget turning left. I’ll go right instead.
[I’m not usually nervous of dogs, but last month I was bitten by a farm collie while walking in Lincolnshire. It was a nip, rather than a full attack, but it left me with several bleeding puncture wounds and caused extensive bruising.]
I head right along the road and am relieved to see the black and white collie return up his farm track. I take several more steps – and suddenly remember the second dog. Turn round and see it sneaking up behind me.
Instinctively I raise my stick… and the dog, tail wagging, goes into a submissive cower.
It’s a beautiful fox colour and I realise, with a pang of guilt, it’s probably just being friendly. But I’m not in a mood to take any chances and risk another dog attack. So I shake my stick some more – and it runs off.
Onwards. By turning right I’ve added a couple of miles to my walk.
Luckily, somewhere during the second mile, the sun comes out. It only shines intermittently, but it makes such a difference to my mood. Everything looks so much better when the sun is out. And everything feels so much better too!
Over to my right are the Cumbrian hills and I watch a flock of birds performing acrobatics across the sky. They swarm and wheel and swoop. I don’t know much about birds, but I definitely know this is a murmuration of starlings. I’ve never seen such an impressive display before.
I’m heading down a very quiet country road towards a place called Brownrigg. Worryingly, I keep coming across road closed signs.
But, in between worrying about the possible reasons for a closed road, the sun shines and I enjoy the views. I’ve reached the edge of the marsh and I think THIS is the point where the marsh path – the one I decided not to follow – would have rejoined dry land.
Ahead is a bridge – Rumbling Bridge on my map – lovely name – and I’m about to discover the reason for the closed road.
The bridge has been damaged, possibly in winter storms. Part of the parapet has been washed away, and some protective (?) fencing leans across the gap.
Luckily the road isn’t really closed, and I walk over without a problem.
Just on the other side of the bridge is another information board about the marsh. At this point, I leave the road…
… and follow a footpath beside the river. This is the River Waver. After several miles of road walking, it’s nice to be on a scenic path again.
Ahead the ‘starlings’ wheel, and I’m surprised by the noise they’re making. Such a great honking sound, just like… oh, yes, they’re geese! They’ve sorted themselves out and are no longer mimicking a murmuration. Now they’re flying in their usual V shape.
Hah! And I thought I knew about birds? Fooled by a pack of geese.
Onwards. My footpath veers away from the river and strikes off across fields. I’m in a pessimistic mood now, and expect to come across more difficulties. But instead I follow clear way markers and even a handy bridge across a drainage ditch.
The main problem is the mud. The ground is very waterlogged, and gets no better when I climb a hill. At least the views are lovely, especially when the sun lights up the distant mountains. There’s snow on the peaks!
At first I think I’m looking at the Cumbrian mountains, but later realise they must be Scottish peaks.
I join another exceedingly muddy farm track and head downhill. Nearly at Abbeytown now. Good. I’m tired and hungry.
But the path has saved its worst trick until last.
As the track comes down towards the road, it’s channeled into a narrow cutting and passes under an old railway bridge. Unfortunately, there is a huge puddle under the bridge… and no way round it.
I roll my trousers up and wade. It doesn’t look too impressive in the photo above, but the water is about a foot deep and fills my boots. It’s not clean water. Very squelchy and smelly!
Now I only have to walk a hundred yards to reach the road, and then another couple of hundred yards to my car. I leave a trail of muddy footprints behind me. Thank goodness I’ve got into the habit of carrying a towel. It’s wonderful to change into clean socks and dry shoes.
This was a difficult and dispiriting afternoon. I knew, when planning the route, it wasn’t going to be straightforward, but I hadn’t expected to meet quite so many obstacles. It might have been easier to follow the path through the marsh after all.
Miles walked today = 13 miles
Total distance around coast = 2,995.5
- Black – my actual walk.
- Orange – various intended short cuts.
- Purple – old marsh path (very rough approximation only!)