Tuesday 14th July. Kirkby in Furness station.
“Ow do? You’re back then”.
“Where to this time? Carlisle?”.
“Not that far. As far as I can get by Saturday evening”.
From Kirkby station I set straight off to walk around the Duddon Estuary to Haverigg and then back to Millom for the night. All the way I could orient myself by the pointed steeple of the church at Millom.
The whole expanse of the estuary was totally silent apart from the sound of the wind and a lark trilling and warbling high above me. I walked through meadows heavy with the somnolence of a hot summer’s afternoon, past tiny stations and rustic farmsteads. There seemed to be a predominance of purple in the wayside flowers today: thistle heads, hollyhocks, rose bay willow herb, bladder campion, vetch and clover. Towards evening as I walked the long sea wall towards Millom the light over the marshes assumed an intense clarity, as the tide turned and the waters drained out of the estuary in the gathering twilight. On the horizon, from the concrete sea defences at Haverigg, I could see long lines of wind turbines, spectral like a rupture in the fabric of the natural world. Walking into Millom I passed the church with its comforting spire, its lawns a blaze of emerald green against the lengthening shadows.
The following morning I walked the first few miles along the roadside, waiting for the high tide to turn and for the beach to appear from the receding waters. I had a lot of ground to cover and walked non-stop for ten hours to reach Ravenglass for the night. To my left the Irish Sea, the depth and power of those rolling waters of a different order to the sandy shallows I had been passing since Morecambe. I walked for hours on empty beaches consisting of rocks and boulders, feeling every step as a blow to the soles of my feet and a wrench to the ankles. A family of oyster catchers kept me company for several miles, keeping ahead of me but occasionally flying back as if to be sure everything was alright. The sound of the waves crashing on the beach and the roaring wind came to feel like an assault on my senses and I started to long for silence. I came to a river flowing at right angles to the beach and was obliged to wade across.
In the late afternoon I found myself staring across a couple of hundred metres of water at Ravenglass. I was told it was fordable but not knowing the currents and with a heavy pack on my back I reluctantly decided to make a lengthy detour inland to the nearest bridge and then head down to the coast again, and Ravenglass. I was rewarded with magnificent inland views of rivers and woods and rippling grasslands, all in crystalline evening light. Eventually I came to Ravenglass, a beautiful one street village by the sea with the air of a secret which few are privileged to share.
Next morning I was on my way early. It was to be another long day. The beach again consisted of the same mass of loose shifting stones. It was a long hard slog up the coast, bent forward against the wind, step after step, hour after hour. I had to cross a river by a suspension bridge: sagging in the middle the bridge bounced and wobbled as I walked across; I was shaking when I reached the far side. I passed Sellafield nuclear power station on the way and was surprised how clean lined and almost minimalist it looked. At one point I saw over a hundred cormorants, sitting on the beach, all pointing at 45 degrees to the sea. In the evening I arrived at St. Bees with its long stretch of sand.
“Ow do, arright?”
“I saw you up by the bridge”.
“You were reading your map. I wondered if you were lost”.
“No. Just checking”.
“Thanks for your concern though”.
In the morning I walked up and over St. Bees Head. A stiff breeze soon chased away the grey clouds and their suggestion of rain leaving a bright sunny day; huge waves crashed on the beach and against the cliffs of the headland. From the top I had a spectacular view ahead to the Isle of Man thirty miles offshore; to the north I could see Scotland and to the south Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.
Walking down the far side of the headland I had extensive views down the coast to Whitehaven with its long harbour walls. I fell in with a dog walker on the way, “Ow do, arright?” he greeted me; he told me that Whitehaven had once been the most important port in the country after Liverpool. Apparently it is the most complete example of a Georgian planned town in Europe and the town’s right angle grid system of streets was the inspiration for the town planners of New York City. Taking advantage of the fine weather I pushed on to Parton, from where the next day I set off for Maryport. Most unusually I had company for the first half of my walk. I asked a group of people if they knew the way to Workington. “Oh-aye” they assured me. One of the men said he would show me the way. “Thank you”. “Oh-aye”. We walked for a while before I realised he was walking to Workington too. A charming man, he had worked in the iron works at Workington, and when that closed he had found work in the Leyland factory and in due course that too had closed and he spent two years unemployed before getting a job with the council. It seemed like the story of a generation. I was grateful for his company and his directions; we parted just outside the town.
I had trouble finding my way round the river and out of Workington and approached a lady busy with a number of boisterous dogs.
“And how are YOU doing?” she bellowed at me. Did she know the coast path to Flimby and Maryport? “AYE” she almost shouted. I told her I was walking the coast. “OH-AYE?” she thundered.
She pointed down the road, and in a voice which suggested she was struggling to make herself heard: “SEE THAT BUILDING THERE?”.
“The white one?”
“AYE. IT USED TO BE OUR PUB”. The blast made me rock gently on my heels.
“Bet you all had some fine evenings there?” I ventured.
“WHOAH!” she roared, “OH-AYE!”
I continued along the beach following a path through the dunes. It was a day of high wind, scudding clouds and heaving grey seas. I had to hurry to reach Maryport for my train to Carlisle. On the train I learnt a new word: pre-loading. The train was packed with boys and girls, dressed scantily as for a night out in Magaluf, drinking from an incredible array of wine, cocktails, beer, and spirits. Cans and bottles littered the tables as bottles of wine and daiquiri did the rounds. Serious partying has to start early for the beau monde of Workington because the last train back on a Saturday evening leaves Carlisle at 21.45.
As the partygoers streamed out of Carlisle station, I turned and headed for home.
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2015.