I park on a patch of rough grass near Whitrigg Bridge, where the wind hurls itself against me and the River Wampool flows fast and furious.
From the bridge it’s only a 100 yards or so to where I ended my walk last time at Whitrigg – not really a village, just a collection of houses around a T junction – and here I turn left towards Anthorn.
The wind is blowing hard in my face. Very tiring. Luckily, I won’t have to fight the wind for too long, because today I’m taking a circular route, following the shore as it curves around. The wind should be behind me soon – pushing me forward.
Most of the day is going to be spent road walking, so I’m wearing my comfortable shoes instead of walking boots. I plan to end up in either Bowness-on-Solway, or Port Carlisle, or Glasson – depending on my timing . (Mustn’t miss catching the bus back to my car. There aren’t many in this part of the world.)
The sky is constantly changing. Patches of cloud are followed by long periods of sunshine. But I never feel warm, because the wind is cold and seems to rip straight through my “windproof” jacket..
Despite battling against the wind, I soon reach Longcroft. Again, it’s hardly a village, just a collection of houses.
A road maintenance lorry rumbles past and then skids to a halt in front of me. A couple of high-vis workmen leap out, swing a bucket about, and leap back in again. The lorry disappears down the road.
The whole incident takes less than a minute. Weird. What were they doing?
When I get closer, I spot a patch of fresh tar sploshed across the tarmac. Aha. They were filling a pothole. I never realised the whole process could be so… so very, very quick!
It was raining yesterday and most of last night. The flat farmland to my right appears marshy. In fact, it looks practically swamp-like. Glad I’m walking on the road.
I reach Anthorn. A more substantial village than Longcroft or Whitrigg.
In a field to my left I see a new lamb. It’s the first little lamb I’ve seen close-up this year, and a sure sign that spring is springing.
Beyond Anthorn is Anthorn Bridge, and here the road takes on a seaside feel. A warning sign tells me it’s not safe to swim, due to “fast running tides, currents and treacherous sands”. Don’t worry. I’ve no intention of swimming today.
I leave the tarmac and walk along the bank. Very pleasant to have soft grass under my feet. Ahead is a field of tall, metal masts, something I’ve had on the periphery of my view for several days.
I come to a fence across the bank. It is possible to climb over and I wonder if I can continue walking close to the shore? The problem is… if it’s a dead-end I will waste time and there’s the bus to think about…
… so in the end I head back to the road, and walk past a field of very hungry, and very pregnant, horses.
I’m walking around the perimeter of the array of masts. It’s always an incongruous sight – to see lines of towering, high-tech metal structures, and with cows placidly munching the grass beneath them.
[Later I learn the masts sit on an old airfield. The land was first used by the RAF, later by the Navy, and now hosts a Very Low Frequency transmitter station, which communicates with our submarines. Don’t worry, I’m not disclosing any state secrets. This information is freely available on the VisitCumbria site.]
To my left is a view across open marshes and the Solway Firth. There’s my old friend. Criffel. Scotland seems so near now.
Closer to home, I can see right across Moricambe Bay too. There’s Grune Point and the houses of Skinburness. Can’t believe it took me two days of walking to get this far… if I didn’t know better, it would be tempting to wade across the mud flats of the bay…
… but I know the River Waver is in the way. And then there are the “fast running tides, currents and treacherous sands” to worry about. No. Better stick to safe tarmac.
Dotted around the fields are blocky brick structures. They seem to be used as barns and cattle sheds now, but I guess they’re remnants of the old airfield buildings.
This landscape bears the imprint of multiple conflicts. WWI, WWII, the Romans, the Scots. But it’s all peaceful now.
Further along, and I come across a mass of scattered flower blossoms lying across the grassy verge. Camelias? They seem too beautiful to leave lying there, so I pick one up and carry it in the palm of my hand for several miles. It’s petals are moist and slightly bruised from last night’s rain.
I only lose the flower when I meet the dog… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The road has been running a few hundred yards inland and following the curve of the shore. I’m heading due east now, with the wind behind me. Much easier walking conditions and I make rapid progress.
Over the estuary is Scotland. I try to imagine walking along the far shore and looking back at these marshes and remembering this walk today – and then I decide I shouldn’t be thinking of the future all the time. It’s best to concentrate on the here and now. Enjoy the moment.
This road does seem to go on, and on, an on. Very little traffic.
I reach a farm. It has a motley collection of machinery and the obligatory pile of something tethered down by a bunch of old tyres. But I like the bright colours and stop to take some photographs.
I was never nervous of dogs, but a nasty incident with a farmyard collie a couple of months ago – which bit me on the calf – has made me far more wary.
To my dismay, a collie appears at the open farm gate, barking furiously. And another dog – a little terrier – runs out through the hedge and onto the road. Despite vigorous barks, this little dog’s tail is wagging like mad and she comes forward at a crouch, begging to be petted. I decide the best thing to do is make friends with the little dog, and hope the collie accepts me as a friend too.
This ploy seems to work. The collie seems to lose interest in me. But now I can’t get rid of the little dog. She seems keen to come walking and trots at my heels. Just then a car appears in the distance, rollicking down the lane at a fair rate. I grab the little dog by the scruff of its neck to keep it safe (and, in grabbing the little dog, I drop my camellia). The car suddenly sees the dog and slows down abruptly, then crawls past us.
By this time, the farmer has appeared and calls to the little dog. “Come here.” The dog ignores him, and I have to walk back to the farm gate to deliver her over to her owner.
Onwards. This road really does go on , and on, and on.
To my left the fields disappear, and are replaced by muddy grassland, gorse bushes, and low-lying marsh beyond.
I walk down towards the shore, and walk along the marsh for a while. But the ground is cut through by a network of water channels, and it is hard to make forward progress. Also, I’m not wearing my waterproof boots, only walking shoes.
So, after a few minutes of slow progress, I head back to the tarmac and continue to walk along the road.
I’m approaching a bank of land that runs out through the marsh. I know this is the English side of an old railway crossing. (I believe the original bridge was washed away by storms and never rebuilt.) Out in the marsh, close to the raised bank, a group of young people are measuring something in the grass.
By this time I’m growing tired and hungry, so I stop for a drink and a snack. I don’t eat too much, because I’m looking forward to a nice pub lunch in Bowness. And I find I soon get cold when I stop walking – the wind is chilly.
Before I set off again, I take a quick self-portrait using my camera’s timer.
Just in case you think I’m good at this self-portrait malarkey, here is one I took a few seconds earlier. You can see the most important feature in the photo is missing – me!!!
Somewhere to my left is the first of the series of Roman milefortlets. These mini forts guarded the Cumbrian coast against the marauding Scots. But all that’s left of Milefortlet 1 is a green field and a few bumps in the grass.
Onwards. I’m nearly at Bowness on Solway and the start of another famous Roman fortification – Hadrian’s Wall.
I reach the outskirts of Bowness. A sign post tells me it’s only 24 miles to Maryport (by my coastal route, it’s much further of course, about 40+ miles I reckon). Also, bizarrely, the sign points to Rome. 1,150 miles away. Why choose Rome? Dunno.
Scotland isn’t mentioned on the sign, but it may be possible to cross the Firth at this point… possible, but not advisable without a local guide who knows what they’re doing. (You can read about the ancient crossing points in more detail on Ann Lingard’s excellent Solway Shore-walker site: Waths: fords and borders.)
Bowness-on-Solway is quite a thriving place. But – and this is a big, BIG disappointment – the pub is closed. All my dreams of a nice sit-down lunch are smashed.
Never mind. I cheer up when I see a sign on the wall.There’s the familiar acorn icon denoting a National Trail and I’ve reached the beginning (or end, if you prefer) of the famous Hadrian’s Wall Path.
At last. I’ve been looking forward to reaching the Wall. Onwards.
[To be continued…]