Having rode Wainwright’s Coast to Coast back in 2010 with four friends, I really wanted to do it again. This time, solo and unsupported, with bivi’ing instead of hostelling. Things started off well, but didn’t go quite according to plan…
My journey started at 1100 Friday 12 July 2013. To get over to St. Bees from where I live (Marske by the Sea) is a 5.5-hour cross-country train journey consisting of four separate trains. I knew it was going to be a long journey and needed some form of entertainment to keep me occupied along the way, so I decided to take a book that was worth reading that I could leave at the other end: Lance Armstrong’s ‘fictional’ ‘Every Second Counts’.
START: St Bees
After arriving in St. Bees just after 1630 I made my way to the beach. It was packed. I didn’t bother with the whole wheel-dipping exercise. Instead, I took a couple of photos, and headed off, time 1645.
I really enjoyed the first 20-miles. It was a hot day, misty and humid and it was lovely cruising along the trails. I had forgotten my sandwich so I stopped at a pub in Ennerdale to se if they could rustle me up something quick. They couldn’t. “We’re only serving evening meals now” so I didn’t bother and left. All I wanted was a sandwich.
I remembered reaching Ennerdale Water in 2010 and marvelling at its beauty surrounded by mountains, and upon arrival it didn’t disappoint. The lake shimmered in the sun as I made my way around it. There were clouds of midges every 10-metres and they were so thick. Each time I passed through one it felt like brushing through a towel hanging on a washing line.
Black Sail Pass
I followed the path as far as the wonderful Youth Hostel at Black Sail. Gareth, the guy running the Hostel made me a sandwich while I chatted to an older couple that had arrived just before me. I was so tempted to stop and enjoy a beer with them but I knew it was essential to get up and over the pass while there was daylight.
I am so glad I filled my Camelbak bladder and my two 500ml water bottles up. That ascent of Black Sail Pass was punishing in the heat. It took a total of 1 hour 40 minutes to get over the top and over the other side – certainly longer than I had anticipated – mainly due to the weight of the bike! Exhausting.
I must have took a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up descending in to Seatoller. What I thought was a footpath (un-ride-able) soon turned in to a series of mini cliff faces – some around 5ft in height. I couldn’t believe what a pickle I had got myself in to, and it was extremely challenging getting down. Progress was so slow and much of the time I had no idea how to navigate down with the bike. It was very dangerous and getting dark. I still can’t believe I got down in one piece.
My feet were sore from pushing the bike for so long in cleated shoes. The shoes have no flexibility in the sole so walking in them is very inefficient and uncomfortable. My feet were blistered and my left calf kept cramping up – something I’d not experienced before. Further, I was very sore between the legs – another thing I’ve not really experienced before. I think this was from wearing an old pair of Polaris cycling shorts that are barely breathable any more – walking in these whilst sweating buckets made the chamois very irritable!
It was about 2200 when I arrived in Seatoller. I chatted to some people in the campsite there and headed down the road in search for somewhere to sleep. Not too far down the road I came across a campsite. It was dark enough to sneak in without paying and I snuck in to a corner and pitched up.
Had I known the campsite consisted of a small marsh in the centre and a stream by the side, I would not have camped there. But it was too late. I was spending the night in midge territory. I sprayed myself in repellent, lit a couple of citronella candles and smothered my perennial in Udderley Smooth Chammy cream. Heaven?!