After reaching Gretna we gave ourselves a couple of ‘rest’ days which allowed time to catch up with personal admin as I waited for a boot delivery. How easily a credit card can replace worn-out boots; I wish it could do the same for my worn-out feet!
My first steps taken back in England were in dry, bright conditions, but accompanied by a chilly wind. Initially squeezed between the hectic M6 with its multitude of lorries on one side and the mainline railway on the other, it took me a little while to adjust. I soon knew I was in the old county of Cumberland when I saw their distinctive black and white striped signposts, crowned with a circle showing the local village name.
Later, I joined the National Trail along Hadrian’s Wall. In 1987 UNESCO designated World Heritage status on this wall which runs 84 miles from the banks of the Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. Unlike the more famous parts of the wall between Newcastle and Carlisle, my section was a mere embankment, and at other times the wall had been replaced by a farm track. Even so, it’s still impressive and those Roman Empire fortifications kept me company down the Solway coast in the form of other sea defence forts and towers.
Acres of mud, sand and flat marshland intersected by water channels followed me as I walked towards Bowness. With the land lying so flat, it made it almost impossible to take any meaningful photos. At Port Carlisle, I stumbled across remains of the old sea port and canal which ran 11 miles, from the Solway Firth up into Carlisle. Short-lived, it was replaced by the age of steam, which in turn fell under Beeching’s axe in 1963.
Before turning a gentle corner to see the Cardurnock Flatts I sat on a bench looking at the remains of the Solway viaduct which had once linked England (Bowness) with Scotland (Annan). Built for freight, it was damaged by storms in 1881 and rebuilt over a three-year period, but by 1921 was again considered unsafe for use. Unofficially, some Scots used it as a footbridge on Sundays to escape ‘dry Scotland’ and enjoy a drink in the ale houses of Bowness!
The route bordering Cardurnock Flatts took me past Anthorn Radio Station which had begun life as a WWI air station for the Royal Naval Air Service. By WWII the RAF briefly used the airfield before it became RNAS Anthorn, commissioned as HMS Nuthatch. The grass runways were upgraded, and it was here that newly manufactured aircraft were received to have radios and weaponry fitted. Now long closed, I think pilots who flew from here would shake their heads in disbelief at the sheep grazing on their precious runways.
I circled yet more marshland heading towards Skinburness and had hoped to follow the Cumbria Coastal Way marked on my map – only to find it has been withdrawn. In the process of being reinvented as the English Coast Path, its removal has left waymarking in a confused state. I also had difficulty with a cycle path in Workington which came to an abrupt end with a barrier of security fencing.
As I retraced my steps, crossing the River Derwent on the Northside Bridge, I saw a plaque set in the footpath: PC Bill Barker 642 – Honoured and Privileged to Serve. This was in memory of a road traffic officer swept to his death during the Cumbria floods of November 2009, when the former road bridge crumbled and collapsed as he helped people to safety. I was reminded how often members of the Police Service regularly put themselves in danger and it was tragic that PC Barker was killed on the eve of his 45th birthday.
This week, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve come across signed paths, only to discover them blocked, unsafe or re-routed. Adding 40 minutes to a walking day may not seem much, but with already short days and light beginning to fade by 1530, there have been some unexpected twilight walks. Walking into Maryport my eyes adjusted to the gloom: the glow from the salmon pink and pale blue sky lit my way along the sea wall; beside me, down on the sands, I could hear the rustle of the sea as the incoming tide gently edged its way up the glistening beach.
I arrived at Whitehaven in similar circumstances, but next morning made time to soak up the town’s mining heritage. Above the harbour stands an impressive chimney, known locally as ‘The Candlestick’. This had once been a ventilation chimney for the Wellington Pit where fresh air reached miners working up to 4 miles below ground and out under the sea. This Pit was the scene of a terrible disaster in May 1910 when 136 miners lost their lives. The youngest boy to lose his life was just 15 years of age and no bodies were recovered until September of the same year. A memorial stands on the harbour wall which also recognises 64 miners awarded the Edward (King Edward VII) medal for their attempts to rescue fellow workers in the aftermath of the tragedy. I had always thought of Whitehaven as a fishing port, not a mining town, so all this came as a surprise.
Shortly after entering Cumbria, we enjoyed our first taste of English kindness, and what a taste it was! A gorgeous homemade chocolate cake was delivered to the Victory Van. A deep, rich cake decorated with white chocolate mini-buttons and covered with lashings of delicious chocolate icing, it was a Real Beauty. It lasted 68 miles before going the way of all good cakes, but its memory still lingers!
See Photo Album Numbers 56: The Cumbria Coast; Feeding Time; Dusk Walking; Chilly Cumbria