BIG OL’ DAY 1: St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge-14 Miles
The sun is out. Our luggage is by the bar in the pub, waiting to be picked up. And we’re out the door and down the cobblestone street—only to meet the Zombie Van. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know we won’t have to worry about zombies while hiking the U.K. because I am worried about everything else.
First we trek to the seaside to pick up the traditional stones. I get a little one because who wants to lug a big honkin’ rock across country? Then following another tradition; we dip our soles in the Irish Sea. Except we are so busy taking selfies, a big wave sneaks in, crashing over the tops of our boots and carrying our trekking poles out to Poseidon. We scurry after them like kids chasing balloons in a windstorm, and have to detangle the kelp wrapped and flapping around them.
We encounter our first kissing gate-devised to stupefy sheep and cows, and so-named because you can shut a person in the confines of the gate and not let them out until they give you a kiss. After about four of these gates, Dallas Cowboy Fan is really tired of them and that’s the end of the smooches.
At about 5 miles, a young lady with dreadlocks is wandering toward us across a mushy pasture, asking if we know where we are.
“Uh….yeah,” Dallas Cowboy Fan replies. “Do you?”
“No. I’m lost,” she says with a heavy Euro accent. “I’ve been roaming these fields. I’m looking for the Coast to Coast trail.”
And that was how we picked up Kim, a 24 year-old woman from Berlin, who was turned around and accidentally headed back to the starting point.
And let me just take a minute to humble ourselves. Before we started, we thought we were very good navigators, but getting lost on the C2C trail is extremely easy to do because often there’s not a path. Or there are 4 paths and no signage. Almost everyone carries the Stedman book, which has directions like: “head for the solitary tree” or ” go beyond the drumlins”. We carried it too. We also used maps, compasses, and the Gaia GPS App on our phones. Sometimes it took ALL THREE FORMS of navigation to be sure of where we were. Getting off track is one of the common stories at the pub at night (when a lost soul finally finds his way in).
At mile 9, we meet the family from HongKong we’d met at the pub in St Bee’s. We’re so busy walking and talking , a woman comes out of her house, flags us down and tells us, we’ve missed the trail.
By mile 11, we’ve climbed Dent Hill and are able to look back all the way to the Irish Sea. Then the rain and wind hit. HooBoy…we’re having some fun now!! Everyone parts company and begins walking at different speeds.
There’s a magical kingdom on the other side of the Dent Hill as it drops to Nannycatch Gate (which isn’t a gate at all). Hopping across clear streams under arching trees, it’s easy to see where Tolkien got his inspiration for Rivendale, the Elven city. No picture does it justice.
Thinking we’d be at the Inn shortly, we trek on, the hiker’s axiom is true no matter where you hike: The distance always feels longer than you think.
Hoots and hollers carry in the wind. We climb a hill to find 4 ATVs, 1 rider on a horse, 2 people on foot, and 4 dogs racing around in a rodeo sheep round-up. We left the 300 woolies bleating . By now, Dallas Cowboy Fan is helping me heft my legs over the fence stiles because my back is hurting and tight. We trudge into Ennerdale Bridge. It has 2 inns, about 15 houses, no stores, no phone signal, and no wi-fi or TV if the wind blows.
As soon as we walk into the lovely Shepherd’s Arms Inn, the gales and rain whomp the building and start again. I flop in bed. My allergies are bad. My back is stiff and aching.
But a tiny little gift awaits me in the amoire that will change my attitude.
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