Julia Bradbury walks across northern England from west to east coast, beginning her adventure in appalling weather at the western extremity, St Bees Head.
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"One should always have a definite objective.
"In a walk, as in life,
"it is so much more satisfying to reach your target by personal effort
"than to wander aimlessly.
"An objective is an ambition
"and life without ambition is, well, aimless wandering."
The late Alfred Wainwright was a man full of effort and ambition.
The much-loved fell-walker created for us
one of the great walking challenges.
From west coast to east coast - the ambition for me is simple -
to walk across the whole of England.
Hello and welcome to the West Cumbrian coastline
here by the village of St Bees.
This is the Irish Sea
and it marks the beginning of a very simple proposition -
from here, the west coast,
I'm going to head as far as I can in that direction
towards the east coast.
Over the next six programmes
I'm going to adventure across the whole of Northern England
with a familiar friend for company.
The signature of Alfred Wainwright
is a symbol well known to all who walk in these parts.
The man known simply as "A.W." is a legend of Cumbrian fell-walking.
But one of his last grand projects would take him far beyond the fells
and would become his most enduring legacy.
A.W. retired as Kendal Borough Treasurer in 1967.
He'd just finished his pictorial guides to the lakes,
so he had a bit of time on his hands and this was his retirement project.
The creation of a long-distance walk.
Now, one thing was clear - it HAD to be in Northern England.
That was his favourite terrain, his most familiar terrain
and he thought it to be the best in the world.
Ah! Now, you haven't started the walk until you're on the beach itself.
I'm going to follow another coast-to-coasters' tradition as well
and that is choosing a pebble to take with me to the Yorkshire Coast.
There's something else that Wainwright said,
he didn't believe that the walk had officially begun
until you dipped your toes in the Irish Sea.
That's it - my coast-to-coast walk has officially begun!
Now, as well as walking and writing,
Wainwright's other great contribution to his books was his drawing.
Sketches abound, but just as valuable are his maps.
As Wainwright quickly realised,
a straight line across Northern England could include
the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
Three national parks in one walk.
From St Bees in the west to Robin Hood's Bay in the east.
Wainwright made 192 miles look incredibly simple.
And so, 36 years after its creation,
I'm far from alone in setting out from the beach
on the opening miles of this great journey.
So let's take a look at the Coast to Coast's first 29 miles.
A full four miles of coastal footpath
is followed by the flatlands and old mining villages of West Cumbria.
The small foothill of Dent is a flavour of bigger things to come
and leads me into the most remote of all the Lake District valleys - Ennerdale.
The Coast to Coast hugs the edge of Ennerdale Water,
taking a direct route up the valley
amongst some of the biggest peaks in the area.
There's a steep climb
passing around Wainwright's much-loved peak of Haystacks,
across to Honister Pass and its very obvious slate mining.
That industry has done much to shape the villages of my destination
for this first section - the lovely valley of Borrowdale.
"It is along the top of the cliffs
"that this long journey to Robin Hood's Bay begins."
"There is no possibility of getting lost,
"but there is a risk of accident on the seaward side of the fence.
"Assurance of ultimately arriving at Robin Hood's Bay
"is much greater if the landward side is preferred."
'Safety has been a concern here since at least 1717
'when a lighthouse was first installed on the tip of St Bees Head.
'For the past 35 years,
'this building has marked the most westerly point on the Coast to Coast,
'an ideal spot to meet an old Lakeland acquaintance
'and the man, who, 20 years ago,
'accompanied Alfred Wainwright on one of his last television appearances.'
-Not blown away, then?
What a lovely sight!
-Good to see you and what an appropriate place for us to meet.
-Wonderful, isn't it?
Does it seem like yesterday for you that you began this walk with A.W?
Yeah, it does, really, the...'87, I think it was, I think it was 1987.
-I was such a young slip of a thing then, you see, Eric.
-So was I!
He was really looking forward to it.
It was an adventure, it was an expedition.
And so he was just enjoying himself,
he was particularly fond of and proud of the Coast to Coast walk.
-Well, you've done your first 2 miles, you've 188 to do.
And thus far you've been walking north,
this is where we turn east and head for the North Sea.
Are we closer to Robin Hood's Bay than when we started?
No, not a bit. No. No, you got to do it all again now.
Now, he suggested that you could
possibly do it in 12 days.
That really would be motoring along, wouldn't it?
Uh, he said he didn't do it in 12 days, there's no question of that.
It is a flaw, though, it actually runs counter to everything he suggests, cos what he says...
-Yeah, take your time! Take in the scenery!
-Absolutely. Enjoy it! Dawdle.
At the heart of his project was that it was "A" coast-to-coast walk...
Not "THE" Coast to Coast.
It was an adventure, it was an expedition.
He wanted everybody to, yes, basically stick to his route,
but go and explore from it.
Why did you decide to go west to east?
To have the prevailing weather behind me.
And it seemed to be the natural way,
I mean, if you're reading a book, or if you're writing a letter,
you're working from west to east.
I think it's great fun to tick off on the map
what you've done every day
and gradually find yourself getting nearer the objective.
And very satisfying when, at last, you see the North Sea.
How many people do you think do the Coast to Coast every year?
Because you don't have a check-in anywhere, nobody really does know,
but certainly tens of thousands.
There's business after business that relies on the Coast to Coast,
bed and breakfast businesses,
or the people who are moving baggage on ahead,
those sort of courier companies.
A huge amount of economic regeneration
has come from this very simple little A.W. idea.
What can I look forward to at the very end of the walk?
-Sitting down, tiredness, fatigue.
-A sense of accomplishment?
-Yes, you will.
You'll have had a lot of varied experiences on the way across,
it just demonstrates how varied the landscapes are in the north of England.
Upper Swaledale is glorious.
Then, of course, the North York Moors -
lonely, lonely places.
You can feel a real sense of solitude there,
that, in a way, you don't get in the Lake District.
Well, Eric, wish me luck!
-You don't need luck.
No, you're a seasoned, hardened walker, now.
-That's it! I'll have a beard and a stick by noon tomorrow.
-That way! That way!
'Leaving the lighthouse, there's just the northern tip of St Bees Head to deal with,
'before Wainwright allows you to say goodbye to the west coast.'
Finally, you're heading to your ultimate destination.
The thin ribbon of land
stretched between the coast and my first national park
is rarely mentioned by those recounting their coast-to-coast highlights.
Instead, it's been an industrial heartland for 800 years.
Where walkers are now welcome,
it was once Cornish tin miners who flocked to seek a new fortune
and establish new communities.
Moor Row is comprised of fairly typical West Cumbrian cottages
and enjoyed a brief spell of prosperity due to iron and coal,
and if you look down there you can see the railway line that used to service that industry.
On the greyest of Cumbrian afternoons,
and with mining, chemicals and the railway all gone,
it's easy to see the opening stretch of the Coast to Coast
as quite a sad environment.
But the final village of Cleator marks the start of a new chapter.
"It's a springboard to Lakeland" as Wainwright calls it
and, appropriately enough, the start of the first real climb.
"Dent is an excellent viewpoint,
"with a panorama far more extensive
"than its modest elevation would suggest."
"The whole of the coastal plain of Cumbria is seen as on a map."
Industries have come and gone in these parts,
but there's one that still makes quite a big noise around here
and there it is -
Sellafield - the world's first nuclear power station.
Still employs around 10,000 people and it's quite a sight,
though not necessarily for all the right reasons.
"The Isle of Man is fully in view,
"but attention will most be riveted
"on the great sweep of the Lakeland fells."
And there it is!
All that awaits me.
"How good it feels to be in Lakeland again."
It's actually difficult to plot a route from up here,
but I definitely feel as if I've done some hard work.
The Irish Sea is in the distance behind me, I've got mud on my boots,
and this is my first peak!
The joys of walking come flooding back
once you're away from the towns and the roads.
With the prospect of the Lake District ahead,
I think you're allowed to revel in a small feeling of excitement.
And whether it was luck or skill, Wainwright found a path into Lakeland
that followed the quietest of all routes.
The seemingly secret valley of Nannycatch.
This is the niftily named Nannycatch Gate
and it marks a boundary line, the first of the Coast to Coast walk,
for a national park.
I'm now officially in the Lake District.
After a day of heavy downpours,
I appear to have the valley, and the last few rays of sunshine, all to myself.
A-ha! Now that must be Ennerdale Bridge.
My first Lakeland village.
For most walkers, this is the end of a gruelling first day,
the sort of day that makes you worry about the schedule you've planned for the rest of the walk.
But whatever state you reach the Lake District in,
14.5 miles are now complete.
For any walker, the next morning should be a real treat.
Some of the biggest peaks in the country await.
Ennerdale Bridge looks very much the classic Lakes village,
complete with some classic Lakes weather.
And it stands just a mile from my first lake.
-This is Ennerdale Water.
This is the section where you're most likely to meet with rain.
Gradually, the rainfall diminishes as you get towards the east coast.
Two attempts by the water authorities
to raise the level of this lake in the last few years -
both have been defeated by opposition, strong opposition.
-Which you support, of course.
-Oh, absolutely, yes.
There used to be an anglers' hotel on that side
and they demolished that in anticipation of raising the water level
and they never did that.
The Anglers Hotel was beautifully situated
right on the edge of the water
and you could fish out of the windows from the bar,
right through the windows into the lake.
Acceptance is the key when it comes to bad weather -
you might as well just relax and enjoy whatever comes your way.
On balance, though, you'd have to be mad not to be envious
of a day more like this one.
One where you can see
how Ennerdale Water serves as a broad gateway to the Lakes,
the point where coastal lowlands turn into 2,000ft peaks.
On a clear day,
this would be a commanding view right through the valley of Ennerdale,
but today it's more like mountains in the mist.
Still dramatic, though.
WATER LAPS AT SHORE
"The mountains ahead along both flanks of the valley
"are now very impressive.
"Forming a great amphitheatre, Pillar being the dominant height."
Wainwright says old maps show this as Robin Hood's Chair.
And although the name has gone out of use,
it seems appropriate to revive it because of its affinity with our ultimate objective - his bay.
"His" being Robin Hood, of course.
Apart from the sheep,
walkers enjoy a complete monopoly around Ennerdale Water -
it's the only major lake in the area to be without a road.
But with iron ore, charcoal burning, farming and forestry
this quietest of valleys has actually been carefully managed by mankind
since the Iron Age.
Today, though, there's a new initiative - Wild Ennerdale -
a deliberate attempt to let nature take control.
If a tree falls, it's left to rot.
And two dozen Galloway cattle
are free to graze, roam and fertilise the valley as they wish.
After 70 years,
the cultivated evergreens that Wainwright complained of so bitterly
are thinning out once again,
allowing a very welcome ray of sun to reach the Coast to Coast path.
RUSH OF WATER
At the upper end of the valley,
the Coast to Coast leads me to one of my favourite spots -
a sudden outpost of humanity - Black Sail Youth Hostel.
-You've arrived at the Black Sail hut,
in the middle of a grand surround of mountains.
Including Great Gable, Kirk Fell,
Pillar, Haystacks, the High Style Range behind you.
One of the loneliest places in the district,
one of the most beautiful.
-Have a good day!
-Thank you, you too.
The last time I was at this lovely youth hostel, I was heading up that way -
up Pillar - and THAT'S a challenge.
Today, I'm heading up that-a-way
and that looks like quite a challenge, too.
The very last of my nine miles up the length of Ennerdale
takes me across a field of drumlins.
The distinctive egg-shaped mounds left behind by a melting glacier.
It was that same glacier that left behind my next challenge -
the steep side wall of the valley.
Loft Beck provides one of the few accessible routes out of Ennerdale.
Nice spot for a little breather...
And you'll probably need a little breather just about now.
'This is quite possibly the steepest quarter mile
'on the entire Coast to Coast.'
'Quite nice to be getting it out of the way so early.'
That's definitely the worst of it.
So, it's goodbye Ennerdale and hello Borrowdale.
The reward for reaching the top of the stream
is a majestic high-level walk.
A good spot to admire your handiwork
and look back at what you've achieved.
To the west lies the whole of today's walk,
right back to Ennerdale Bridge.
To the north is the view over Buttermere to Crummock Water.
This well-marked path is where ponies would have carried slate over the fells to the coast.
Today, I'm heading in the opposite direction.
The ponies may have gone, but as you approach the Honister Pass
modern signs of the Lakeland slate industry are obvious.
A.W. has this marked as Drum House.
Horses would have pulled wagons full of slate
along this straight path to about here
and then a gravity system would have lowered the slate
onto the path below.
There it is - Borrowdale - the final goal for this section of the walk.
But, before I finish, one more stop to make.
At this point, each and every Coast to Coast walker
is funnelled through the hub of the age-old local industry.
Unlike the hateful conifers of Ennerdale,
Wainwright was enamoured with the sheer history
of the Honister slate story.
And equally saddened on his last visit,
by what appeared to be its demise.
-'Honister Quarry, so quiet, deserted.
'After centuries of work that's been spent on there.'
I think many regular visitors to the Lake District
will be surprised to find it closed.
I think Honister Quarry is a sad place now.
After all the activity that's been spent here,
men laboured for all their lives on this crag
and now it's just like a graveyard.
'But 20 years after A.W's last visit,
'Honister is up and running once again.
'In the late '90s, the dilapidated site was bought by a local man,
'a Borrowdale lad,
'who set about exploiting whatever local expertise he could muster.
'He started by recruiting a true old hand -
'his uncle - John Taylor.'
So, John, if I slice you in half will I find slate in the middle?
Slice me in half? Hahaha! After 60 years, you could.
I think I probably would, yeah.
So, I've interviewed a couple of miners over the years,
and they're very proud as a people and actually love the job as well,
and to me, I couldn't think of anything worse!
-Is it something you love?
-Oh! It's beautiful!
You know, when you go underground you're in a different world.
You know, you can forget everything,
especially if you're working among good rock -
you brush it and say "Oh, that's beautiful!"
You get that involved.
It's got a reputation, and rightly so,
best grey-slated country, of course.
When Wainwright was here, why had the quarry quietened down so much?
Well, we were taken over by a new company, McAlpine's,
and they come in with bosses from Wales
who didn't understand our kind of rock, you know.
They didn't really want to listen to us...
To the locals? To the experts in this area!
Because they reckoned we didn't know anything anyway,
you know, we're just thick quarrymen.
So you knew you had an instinct, you had a feeling,
that there was still good slate in there.
Oh, yes. Aye. You see, you listen to t'old rock hands
and they tell you where it's running and what direction it's going
-and this is learned over 60 years.
It just went from bad to worse.
I mean, we'd all our splitters sitting in t'shed with no rock!
You know, there was no rock to split!
I mean, it just couldn't go on!
So, it finally shut down, that was it.
And how much slate do you produce now?
Oh, not that much.
Maybe, well about... three tonne a day.
So you probably need, what, half of the men, quarter of the men?
Oh, yes, we've nowt like the workforce we used to have.
We all lived in t'quarry houses and...
you'd go out t'pub together...
BOTH: You lived together, you worked together.
-So, the whole community was basically reliant on the quarry.
It fed the economy, it gave the men jobs.
Well, that's right.
More slate we produced, obviously, more wages we got.
And we got t'point where,
in them days, if we made £3 a day, we were really top earners!
You were the millionaires!
And we used to go out and get drunk on champagne!
But no, it was a good community, you know,
a spirit right through t'valley to Keswick.
You know, and...I'm just sorry it's all disappeared, basically.
How long did it take to find the slate again,
to start the mining process again?
-About 6 month, we'd be up and running again.
-Producing slate, yeah.
Is this, I mean, am I right in remembering
that this is the only working quarry in the country at the moment?
It is now, yes, aye, I believe that's right, yes.
-That's something, isn't it?
And we try and... Nephew, Mark, who owns it -
we're trying to keep tradition going, you know,
-because a lot of our traditions in t'country have gone out of sight, haven't they?
And we're trying our best to keep this going,
you know, tradition wise, and we're succeeding, like.
I've got to get off to Borrowdale and I don't like to keep a man from his work.
Thank you, it's been a pleasure.
Back to your slate, which I think is what you love more than anything else in the world!
Having passed so many lost industries already,
it's nice to find one that's enjoying renewed success.
Today, Honister is both a traditional industry and a visitor attraction
for walkers and coach parties alike.
And for those on the Coast to Coast,
this is the place to start congratulating yourself.
The gentle slope into Borrowdale
marks your arrival into the heart of the lakes.
As A.W. said,
"The Lake District is the loveliest part of England,
"and this, its fairest valley."
So here is the end of my first section of the walk.
And there's my first sign of civilisation -
Seatoller - in the Borrowdale Valley.
'Far above the highest mountaintops,
'there's a view looking back over Honister,
'along the length of Ennerdale, across West Cumbria,
'all the way to the start of my walk.
'To be fair, there's a long, long way to go,
but at least now you can call yourself a proper coast-to-coaster.
I've certainly encountered all weathers during the first run of my coast-to-coast.
I think the highlight for me, apart from getting back into the lakes,
was meeting John at the slate quarry.
To meet someone still so passionate
and full of energy for his work after 60 years was truly lovely.
I hope I've got as much energy for the next 162 miles.
Subtitles by Adrian Andreacchio Red Bee Media Ltd
Email [email protected]
Julia Bradbury follows in the footsteps of legendary guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright by walking across the whole of northern England from the west to the east coast.
This was Wainwright's last great venture and has become his greatest legacy - a beautifully simple proposition, linking three national parks that lie between the Irish and the North Sea.
36 years after its creation, Julia is off, through sunshine, wind and rain to cross the changing landscape, understand the history and meet the people that make up almost 200 miles of northern England.
Enthusiasm and expectation are high as Julia begins her grand adventure at the western extremity of northern England, St Bees Head. The coast of west Cumbria is an oft-forgotten industrial strip lying just outside the Lake District, but as Julia reaches the doorway to Wainwright's favourite playground, the weather deteriorates quickly, leaving her no choice but to tackle her first Lakeland valley in appalling conditions.