Hadrian’s Coastal Route 3: The Iron Coast

10.81 miles  4h 57m ascent 114m


No folk fled the flood,
no flags furled or spirits failed –
one brave soul felled.

from Cockermouth and Workington, Carol Ann Duffy

I don’t recall having been to Workington before and having friends in Whitehaven has perhaps skewed my views about the town. So it was, as we drove into Workington I would not have been surprised to find it to be in black and white, with men in flat caps leading starving pit ponies to knacker’s yards, beshawled women scrubbing steps of coal dust and barefoot urchins begging for jam sandwiches, all partially hidden in the swirling smog. But the town was in full colour, the road signs bright and cheery, the sky blue, the children shod and ne’er a flat cap or pony to be seen.

Workington, not what I expected

This section was to take us from town to town so were able to mange with just one car, parking in Workington and taking the train back to Whitehaven. we had a few minutes to kill at the station, so I walked the dog up and down the platform. On my way in I passed two workers looking at the automatic doors, one telling the other that she was “goin’ to work on these doors, but they kept orpenin’ an’ clawsin’”. I am sure there is a context that makes the exchange reasonable, but to me it sounded like something out of a sitcom.

The train ride was Christy’s first, and he took it in his stride, alternately bored, lying down, and curious, sticking his head between the seats or peering down the carriage. He ignored the inspector when she passed by. It was certainly an easier ride than that with my son Harry many years ago when he pointed down the carriage at a large, obese, leather clad Hell’s Angel with a ZZ-top beard, walking towards us and shouted “look, the Fat Controller”.

Being somewhat picky about joining up each section, I had us walk the half mile back to the Beacon centre and then back to the station, but we made it a circular route crossing the harbour footbridge, then along the Old Quay past the Watchtower and the “End of an Era” statue, bringing us to the West Strand.

Fish shoal Statue

I am sure one could spend half a day exploring Whitehaven Harbour and one local seeing us looking at the information about Sugar Tongue encouraged us to do so, but we had miles to go so we pressed on past the Sugar Tongue and Lime Tongue, fish shaped cycle parking, the start of the C2C cycleway, several bollards in the shape of knots and the Fish Shoal Sculpture

Benches shaped like fishes tails along the quayside are engraved with a brief history of the harbour.

Hadrian’s Coastal Route takes a minor road above the Railway Station, slowly climbing to give views back across the harbour, the road then giving way to a tarmac path signed “Access for residents and cyclists only”. Of course, we were neither, but decided to stick it to the man and stroll on ignoring the official order. The track runs beside the railway and beneath the Bransty cliffs.

A ruin between the railway and cliffs near Redness Point was apparently related to the Lonsdale Ironworks.

Lonsdale Ironworks

Beyond the ruins we came to a chap standing beside a camera with a truly massive lens. He pointed out a peregrine falcon and its nest on the cliffs. It looked little more than a white speck on the cliff to me but he was good enough to take a photo and show us the bird.

Galloway Hills from Parton

It was a very clear day and we could clearly see the Isle of Man and the Galloway Hills, Cairsmore of Fleet, Bengairn/Screel, and Criffel recognisable by their shapes. The Mull of Galloway became visible a little later.

A cycleway marker, one of the Millenium waymarkers for route 72, reminded us that we were on the cycleway, but we probably saw no more than half a dozen cyclists all day.

We were to pass several archways along the route, each giving us a view on to the beach and the sea beyond, and we met the first just after our tarmac path ended at the road into Parton. An English Coastal Path sign by the War memorial indicated we should cross under the railway.

Its peaceful now, and on the walk I did jest at the unlikeliness of Germans attacking here. How wrong I was.

The Bombardment of the Cumberland Coast

On August Sixteenth, old Kaiser Bill
Said to his men, “Now prove your skill,
And try and reach the Cumberland coast,
The feat of which I’d like to boast.

“The Kaiser’s word they did obey,
And fired away in Parton Bay,
With shot and shell they did their best
To put the Lowca works to rest.

The damage done was not so much,
The Benzol plant they did not touch,
One shell fell here, another there
Which gave the workmen quite a scare.

The inhabitants too grew quite alarmed,
Because this port is still unarmed,
This opportunity the enemy seized,
And rained the shells just where he pleased.

Two shells went through a cottage home,
The father shouts “A German Bomb,”
The children then ran out like bees,
And joined the Lowca refugees.

The submarine then made its way
Across the dub from Parton Bay,
To find some other defenceless port
Where German fiends could have their sport.

Joseph Holmes (1859-1930, then a stationmaster on the Lowca line), who promised  “Proceeds of sale (of the poem) will be given to the Soldiers’ Tobacco Fund”

This brought us to a car park with beautiful views of the sea along several picnic benches. We felt it was a little too early for lunch though so we walked along the sandy path above the beach passing a variety of flowers including large clumps of sea kale, some thrift and wild roses in full flower.

Sea Pig floating on Lowca beach

A small footbridge allowed us across Lowca Beck and then a short gentle climb onto the higher ground above the cliffs and a group hang gliding. It was seeing this that made me notice the gulls were hovering, or more accurately, flying into the wind and making no headway. I hadn’t noticed the wind until then, but became aware that the breeze had gusts of some very warm air indeed. I began to wish I had remembered to put on suncream.

Hang Gliders at Lowca

There were signs that this area once had quite extensive building on the high ground, and of an industrial nature since there are old rail tracks running through the concrete. Another ironworks perhaps? The modern rail track lay between us and the sea but a raised are just inland looked to have once been a railway.

Signs posted here told us that the English Coastal Way was incomplete and rather than follow the route marked on OS maps we should instead use a bridleway which was actually a slightly more direct route and rejoined the masked coast path after half a mile or so. The bridleway took us through fields of sheep rather than the turbines of Lowca Wind Farm.

The path soon began to descend towards Harrington and having climbed over the higher ground we could see ahead to Workington. The wind farm to the north of the town was now visible, as was the Mull of Galloway. With the end of the walk in sight, albeit still a few hours away, we walked down into Harrington, passing fields with highland (and lowland) cows, and a ruined barn before crossing the railway and descending steps to the seafront grass. There was a path stretching back up the coast but Harrington was the first opportunity to cross the railway.

I had hoped we could have lunch on the grass, or at least sat on a boulder beside the grass, which would allow Christy to play fetch but the wind was pretty cool with no sign of the warm gusts of earlier, so after a look at the man and fish statue we walked on looking for a more sheltered lunch spot.

The large expanse of grass was once the site of a huge Magnesium Works. Im sorry not to have taken a photo of the area for comparison but old photos can be found here. All the buildings are now gone with just recreational grassland remaining. My picture of the sandstone man and fish is looking in the opposite direction. I don’t know what the statue is supposed to represent but it is a man with a large fish. he is reaching in to its tooth lined mouth.

We found a sheltered spot by a small railway arch after just five minutes or so. I had my sandwiches and played fetch with the dog while a variety of locals sauntered past. 


The Coastal path heads out of Harrington, between the railway and the coast until Salterbeck where it crosses the railway again. There is a firm path along what must once have been a railway. We noticed unusual rocks on the beach which looked volcanic rather than sedimentary, and quite out of place, but further on there were many, obviously man-made rocky features which are presumably placed to reduce tidal erosion. The volcanic looking rocks must have been eroded parts of these. 

Coastal Defences

The raised path had fallen prey to the elements and we moved down to the dip between the railways old and new. Once out of the dip we were obviously in the outskirts of town. Christy seemed unmoved by the ducks on the pond at Moss Bay.

We mused as to the original use of the post industrial site that lay between the railway and the coast here. It was huge, though at the time we did not realise just how extensive it was, this being the southern end of the Ironworks that once stretch all the way to the harbour in Workington. 

Ironworks, long gone

The path along from here had an industrial feel to it. We were hemmed in by tall fences either side. Occasional gaps in the fencing allowed us onto more remnant industrial foundations, one sporting a large concrete block which looked impressive enough to suggest it might carry a memorial. We went to investigate. it did not. There where however plenty of flowers including viper’s bugloss, white dead nettle (yes, I checked), and what appears to be a cut leaved storks bill with white flowers. Unfortunately all my flower pics from the day are blurred since I had the aperture control setting in manual focus mode without realising. I couldn’t see the focus point but thought it was me not seeing it as opposed to it not being there. Well, you live and learn.

The curious block

Eventually the path disgorged us onto a main road and we crossed back over the railway following the road around. A blue sign her indicated that the English Coastal Way went left, so we crossed the road and walked along a footpath that brought us out in the car park of a shopping centre, beside Halfords. It did not look a likely route for the ECW and there were neither signs nor pavements. The map was consulted and was at odds with the sign.

We turned back and seeing the sign from this direction showed us another arm to it pointing where there was no place to go. Some joker must have moved the sign around. The way however was still not clear. there were roads on the ground not on the map. I would have continued along the road but Audrey spotted some walkers up on a rise and we headed after them. I’ll have to say I was not 100% convinced and a big gate with several signs blocked our way. Luckily, before I had a chance to berate Audrey for leading me on a wild goose chase, we spotted a Coastal way sign.

steps to the Howe

A few steps brought us out on a field with tracks in the grass either ahead or to the left. We could see a signpost at the top of the hill so we headed towards it. I thought the signpost looked like a crucifix from the bottom of the hill, and Audrey wondered if it was a mini angel of the north. But to my surprise it actually is a crucifix. 

A local out walking his dog told us that the hill we were walking along, The Howe, was in fact a huge slag heap and pointed out to us where the extensive ironworks had once stood. He warned us we would have to walk up the river to the road bridge, the footbridge having been washed away in the floods ten years ago.

Screel and Criffel behind me

There were great views of D&G from the Howe. Then the ECW goes down to the point before turning back along the river bank. Most of the active harbour seems to be on the far bank, and the south shore has been rejuvenated for recreational use. We passed a small structure, Billy Bumley’s Hut, and several benches made with iron frames, a nod to the past industry of the town. 

Workington Docks

One of the small marinas by the pathway had a sign that seemed very generous, and had my sweet tooth on alert. But the advertised free cake was not to be. “Free Parkin” rather than an invitation to eat cake was an incomplete traffic sign, missing its final “g”.

By the riverside a plaque at what presumably was once a dock informed us that Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots landed there at 7pm Sunday 16th May 1568. That struck me as unnecessarily exact to the point that it spoiled the historical ambience. Rather than stopping to consider the queen landing there I was wondering if it was 7pm or that had rounded to the nearest hour, and how accurately time could be measured in 1568. And then wasted my time finding out.

1530 – The oldest surviving mechanical clock.
1540 – Screws became used for clocks, enabling much smaller designs that kept time much better than first models.
1541 – First public tower clock fixed on one of the towers in Hampton Court Palace, England.
1577 – Jost Burgi invented the minute hand, even though 16th century clocks were very inaccurate.
1581 – Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo discovered the properties of pendulum.1

The end was almost in sight. We were not far from the station, and walked the last few minutes looking towards an old industrial looking building while pondering what it was. I still don’t know.

The walk over Audrey was sent for ice-cream but returned empty handed, again. One day we will have our ice cream and eat it.

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Hadrian’s Coastal Route 2: Country roads and Clifftops

12.96 miles 6h 15m 430m ascent

Beckermet-St Bees-Whitehaven

But like not unto any one of these
Is that tall crag, that northward guards the bay,
And stands, a watchful sentry, night and day
Above the pleasant downs of old St. Bee’s.

Thomas Edward Brown

This proved to be a slightly longer walk than expected. (I had originally ended that sentence with the word predicted rather than expected, but suspect my walking companion does not expect that which I have predict). This was no great burden the excess being but a few minutes stroll but such was the delay we found the ice cream shop at the Beacon closed. But it was a glorious day nevertheless.

The car took us back to sleepy Beckermet, which it appears I have been mispronouncing along with Torpenhow, and Aspatria. Beckermet carries its stress on the middle syllable and has appeared in older documents as Beck Armett. Thankfully none of the “cruel of heart” or “bloody of hand” were about to put me to the shibboleth.  An old mine railcar stands in the village overlooked by St John’s church. Sellafield which can be seen looming over the village as one approaches is hidden from sight while in the village itself. 


The road crosses the Kirk Beck, and we turned left along the wee road towards Braystones. The old railway, now disused would once have crossed our road but the railway bridge is no more. Once out of the village we had a view down to the Jubilee Tower, and Sellafield came back into view. The hedgerows were in full bloom and the smell of flowers ever present. We paused to inspect a roadsign which was at first unintelligible but didn’t actually take much deciphering once we looked carefully. The road wound about a little and took us along the across the River Ehen, whose name is proving a sticking point with my laptop’s autocorrect. The tower we had seen earlier has stood by the river here since 1897 when it was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. 

Braystones’ tower

The road was quiet but with enough traffic to have us climbing unto the hedges every few minutes. This road was likely a supply road for the coastal defences in Roman times and on reflection it seems a good idea to have it sheltered/hidden from the sea. There was more up and down and less sight of the sea than I had expected. 

Road to Nethertown

We walked on and a little after Nethertown had our first glimpse of St Bees Head. The hedgerows were my main interest with so many flowers to see. The name of some pink flowers eluded both of us until we got back home. Thrift.

We did meet some curious cows and horses, saw some highland cows down here in Cumbria and plenty of lambs, including some black ones.

As we drew closer to St Bees the road climbed a little more. I decided not to take an over grown footpath beside a field, which might have taken us to the beach, but might have been a dead end, and we found ourselves walking into St Bees itself.  We used the level crossing at the railway station and turned left where a road sign read “beach”. There is a statue to St. Bega. More about her here [http://stbees.org.uk/history/essays/bega_todd.html]. A playing field here had the broadest bank of brambles I have ever seen.

St Bega

Soon we were at St. Bees beach. There were picnic tables to sit at and eat our sandwiches and grass there we could play fetch. I couldn’t find the ball at one point and had choruses of other picnickers howling “BEHIND YOU” at me as though I was Widow Twanky. You might gather that playing fetch with Christy is a more egalitarian game than the traditional version, in that both he and I have to do our share of fetching. We wondered about ice-cream at this stage but I decided to wait until the end. Work up more of an appetite for it and all that. 

St Bees

The stanza at the start of this post did not suit the mood at St Bees, and as we sat in the warm sun, smiling folk about, a nearby chap with his old dog, me with a younger one, I thought of this verse.

If life were slumber on a bed of down, 
Toil unimposed, vicissitude unknown, 
Sad were our lot: no hunter of the hare 
Exults like him whose javelin from the lair 
Has roused the lion; no one plucks the rose, 
Whose proffered beauty in safe shelter blows 
‘Mid a trim garden’s summer luxuries, 
With joy like his who climbs, on hands and knees, 
For some rare plant, yon Headland of St. Bees.


Fed and watered, sandwiches for the bipedals, gravy bones for the quadruped and our water bottles refilled, we donned our rucksacks and set off for the climb up to St, Bees Head. This took us past the start point for the Coast to Coast walk. 

It’s a bit of a slog up the path and quite close to the edge at times so the dog was straining on a short leash as I huffed and puffed my way up.  Once up we were on a clifftop path with views out across an empty sea. The Isle of Man, previously visible on the horizon, was now lost in the haze, but close enough that I received a text message from O2 roaming, welcoming me to the Isle of Man and assuring me that my calls and texts would be taken from my usual allowance. 

At the lighthouse there was a sign indicating that the coast to coast walk turned inland, but we continued along the clifftop path past a white building that I now know is a foghorn station. A little later we did here what sounded like a foghorn but it sounded more distant. There were some other strange noises along the way including one that sounded like an elephant and another like a couple of cats fighting. Presumably these were seabirds on cliffs below us. Detailed research (fwr two minutes with google) has not identified likely culprits as yet.

Several “gates to nowhere” allowed access to clifftop areas with views of the cliffs/birds. The only nesting birds I saw though were gulls. The rocks beneath the cliffs had a flatened appearance a little like the Giant’s Causeway, if the giants had been drunk and short sighted when doing the building. I’m not one for steep drops, especially with the pup in tow so I was happier when we were a few metres from the edge and especially when there was a fence between us and the edge. At one point we had a choice between walking cliff-side or field side of a fence and chose the field side. We met a couple of walkers who had chosen cliff side and were looking for an escape to our side.  I offered to use my OS map as a cover for the barbed wire, which I have done many times, but from their facial expressions once they had checked I had said “ my map” and not “my mat”, it was clearly not something they considered reasonable. That had me recalling my encounter astride an electrified fence on the SUW, well perhaps I was a little off the SUW at the time. 

The cliffs and rugged beaches beneath them were very pretty indeed, those as we approached Whitehaven sporting several colours. The paths were easy to follow. We stopped for a rest at a bench by the path. It was new and dedicated to a couple who had both died in 2017. I had thought I had taken a photo of the plaque but have not and sadly I don’t recall their names, Corwen perhaps. A bench a little further along the path was very dilapidated indeed. At one place we passed a much carved rock, mostly graffiti but one area looks as if it might once have been something more.There are several quarries on OS map, all marked as disused, but Birkhams Quarry is definitely in use. An info board listed various places their sandstone was used, including Caerlaverock Castle. 

At last we came to the outskirts of Whitehaven and began to meet folk walking their dogs, and Christy had a brief run about on the fields. There were ideogram signs which we interpreted as “colliery” and “harbour”, and though the direction appeared to be going a little back we followed along and it brought us to a footpath. This took us past the Haig Mining Museum, which had been visible for some time but seemed to be defying the usual laws of perspective in that it hadn’t appeared to be getting any larger despite us walking towards it. Eventually though our perseverance was reward and the building grew noticeably larger (closer). 

We had a glimpse of Saltom colliery down by the sea, and had a look at a cairn marking the King Pit. A plaque reads This shaft was sunk in 1750 by Carlisle Spending the mining agent for the Lowther family By 1793 it had reached a depth of 160 fathoms which at that time made it the deepest pit in the world.  

The Candlestick

I was surprised how close to Whitehaven we were before we could see the Candlestick. Though it stands high above the harbour it is not at the top of the hill. I had thought the Candlestick was a lighthouse of sorts but it is actually a chimney constructed to vent methane gas from the Wellington pit which extended 4 miles out under the sea.

A sign above the Chimney warned of a steep slope and asked cyclists to dismount. The final section of our walk was full of sights. Whitehaven harbour with its boats, the Candlestick and a mosaic beneath it, a memorial to those killed in the collieries, Wellington Lodge, the pit entrance, a mounted pit wheel and a huge anchor rusting where they stood and there presumably to recognise the effects of mining and shipping to the town. Close by are a line of cannon with a statue representing a sailor spiking a gun, when John Paul Jones 1778 raid on the town.

Unfortunately we were too late for ice-cream at the Beacon.

Walking back to the car, sans ice-cream, we paused at the final statue for the day: A Brigadesman, a Screen Lass and a Deputy, erected to remind people of the role that the mining industry played in Whitehaven. A miner is carving the words “end of an era”. 

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Hadrian’s Coastal Route: Part 1 – where the dirt is clean

12.3 miles 5h 4m 114m ascent


Having completed our walk along the Hadrian’s Wall route last year we have spent the last few months thinking about our next walk and the book Hadrian’s Coastal Route: Ravenglass to Bowness-on-Solway: Walker’s Guide by Clifford Jones served up our challenge. The Roman Coastal defences once stretched from the end of the Wall at Bowness-on-Solway down to Ravenglass, which was once an important Roman naval port. So the route ties in with our Hadrian’s Wall walk from last year. The book contains a wealth of historical detail, but only a basic description of the route, and with hand drawn maps. My copy was published over a decade ago and we are aware that paths and access may have changed since then. There was once a Cumbrian Coastal Way, but the council decided not to continue maintaining it after 2010 and it no longer appears on OS maps, so we might still find old signs but would not be able to rely on waymarkers to guide us. More fun, eh?

The day’s weather forecast was for single figure temperatures and rain, but the Met office on this occasion got it wrong. The rain went elsewhere and we walked in sunshine.

Roadside woodland

I took the start of this walk to be the Roman bath house near Ravenglass. One can’t park there without obstructing the road so we parked in Ravenglass and after touching my bank card to the pay-and-display machine we set off in search of said bath house. This took us across the railway at a level crossing and along a beautiful tree lined lane. [Edit: The LDWA has the Mite viaduct as the start].

The bath house is all that remains of a Roman fort that once housed 500 soldiers, the full extent f the fort now shown only by the nearby information board. We paused by the ruins for our start of walk photos and decided to make our way back through the trees on an inviting path. After about 50m however the path ended and the woodland wasn’t conducive to wanderings off-path so we backtracked to the ruins and began our Hadrian’s Coastal walk anew.

The bath house

Rather than walking back the way we had come we took a tunnel beneath the railway and soon found ourselves on the sands of the harbour, the tide being out. The harbour is silted up now and where once the Roman vessels would have docked there are now just a handful of pleasure boats resting on the sand. Ravenglass sits at the confluence of the rivers Esk, Irt, and Mite, and to find our way across the estuary we turned onto the old main street with its flower bedecked houses. One even had a bowl of water outside for passing dogs. Christy wasn’t thirsty yet though. A GR post box added to the old world feel.

As we walked along the street the first of three concerns I had regarding the day’s route rose into my consciousness. How were we to cross the River Mite when the map showed only the Railway viaduct? So I was relieved to find the viaduct had an attached footbridge.

Over the Mite

The three rivers forming the estuary are, from north to south, the Irt, Mite, and Esk. The internet proposes a host of possible etymologies for Irt, Mite, and Esk but most have a “just so” ring to them. Irt it is claimed might take its name from ancient words meaning mud but alternatives suggest it might derive from clean or fresh. The Mite could take its name from words with a meaning of peeing/dribbling, but also from meet or muster. The derivation of Esk is perhaps more certain. The name exists elsewhere and probably meant water as in Gaellic uisge, (which has also given us Ex, Ax and Ux). But who knows if these rivers ran clear or muddy, or fast or slow millennia ago?

Ravenglass Harbour

After crossing the Mite, which was more than a dribble, we walked around a small area of salt marsh then onto a minor road at Saltcoats. There was hardly any traffic so Christy ran free most of the time, finding sticks for us to throw for him. The mountains to the west brooded under slate skies, and may have had the rain forecast for us, while we had sunshine and hedgerows of flowers displaying all the colours of the rainbow.

Lakeland Hills

There is a ford on the Irt beyond Carleton Hall but having looked at photos of said ford I wasn’t likely to use it. Instead we followed the road around to our right, towards the second of my concerns regarding the route. Our guide book described an old footbridge on the Irt, but bridges can be washed away and I have had the experience of absent footbridges before.

So I took my concern with me under the railway, while looking at the map for an alternative.

Near Carleton Hall

A signpost for a public footpath indicated where we should leave the road but after a short distance the track ended abruptly at a gate. Ahead was a field of grazing sheep, but no evidence of a path. On the gatepost though were some old signs presumably dating back to the Cumbrian Coastal Way. We followed the direction indicated and came to the Irt. 

I spotted what I took to be the remains of a bridge’s foundations and began to cast my eyes about for a more direct way back to the road. Then I saw that the old bridge was still there and my second concern was assuaged. 

The Irt

There were steep steps down to the river which required some concentration with an eager spaniel on a lead. I heard Audrey say “a real packhorse bridge” once she could see it, which seemed a strange thing to say. I thought perhaps she is a secret expert on bridges and would soon explain to me what characteristics identified this as a packhorse bridge. I realise now that she was quoting from the guide book.

Reply from A: I certainly wasn’t referring to the book when I exclaimed ‘a real packhorse bridge!’ It just struck me as such with it’s narrowness, hump back and cobbles. It would seem Cumbria has an abundance of these. I may not have known the term ‘currick’ but perhaps my Cumbrian descent has instilled some ancient packhorse bridge knowledge! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packhorse_bridge

Across the river watching us crossing was a woman with a springer spaniel, the reason for Christy’s eagerness. The dogs said hello as dogs do.

There was a faint track, well more like trodden grass, to follow across a meadow that looked as if it would usually be very wet, but today was dry, so we walked easily across dried up mud through wetland grasses with butterflies dancing from flower to flower. The trodden grass became a path and brought us out on the B5344 beside St Peter’s Church in Drigg.

Drigg is said to take its name from a norse word meaning a place to drag a boat but it’s a bloody long way from both the sea and the river so either the derivation is incorrect, Norsemen liked dragging boats an unnecessarily long distance from the sea, or the sea was once closer. One curiosity of Drigg is that the houses and bungalows along the B-road all have cattle grids at their drives. 

Drigg level crossing

An information board “Drigg: neolithic to nuclear” told us that the bridge we had crossed is named the Holme Bridge and was indeed on an old packhorse route. Its age is unknown but it  has a stone inscribed 1772.

At Drigg railway station I realised what LC means on an OS map. There is an old fashioned manual level crossing. We read the instructions and were sure to look both ways carefully before crossing.

The crossing took us into a different world. To our left farmland. To our right a high fence topped with barbed wire surrounding a low level nuclear waste facility. The fence had numerous “no hipster” signs, or they perhaps just designed in the 60’s. I tried to reproduce the sign’s deportment but the photo didn’t really capture my efforts.

No hipsters

The road down to the beach seemed to go on for ever. It was actually 25 minutes but the monotony altered my perception of time. That said, Christy enjoyed “fetching” sticks, there were bluebells and stitchwort covering the banks, sheep and lambs in the fields, and unfortunately, a dead dog by the road. I think it was a dog anyway. Christy was very good in responding to the command LEAVE!

The never-ending road

There were some pink flowers I didn’t recognise. My initial thought was sea-spurrey but having looked it up I don’t think they were. Centaury perhaps?

At last, after the eternity that was really only 20 minutes we could see a hut and cars ahead. A sign told us this was an area of special scientific interest which probably accounts for the folk with binoculars. After exchanging a few words with them we headed on to the dunes to some wooden benches which were just what we needed for our lunch beak. There was a steep drop down to the beach so the pup had stay on his lead, forcing him to take a rest as well.

We were just a little shy of half way to Beckermet and lunch was welcome, though perhaps a little overdue. We could now see Seascale and Sellafield but not discern them as separate. Indeed we could see as far as St Bees Head and, once it was pointed out to me, the Isle of Man.

View East at lunch

Re-caffeinated, fed, and a little cooler, I donned my fleece and we set off over the dunes, Christy taunting me with bits of sticks. The sun was warm and the breeze cooling. We could now see the target that held my third concern, but that was still an hour and a half away so all was well with me. The going underfoot was easy and the ground firm beneath our feet. Until, that is, the spell was broken by a careless comment to the effect that the going was easy and the ground firm.  

Sellafield from Drigg dunes

The path altered, the ups and downs growing more pronounced, and the firm ground giving way to soft shifting sand. Fun on a carefree beach holiday, tiring on a day’s hike. 

We looked to the beach below us, where another walker had paralleled our walk and as soon as an opportunity presented itself we climbed down. The beach offered choices for our walk: shingle, firm but uneven and unstable; dry sand, soft and yielding; wet sand, soft, yielding and clinging. I tried each more than once and eventually settled on the slightly wet sand. It was a tiring walk and despite being completely flat it drained me like an uphill slog. Conversation was curtailed. The effect was made more irritating by being overtaken by a young lad who appeared to be moseying along languidly, as would one with nowhere to go and no hurry to get there. His appearance would have been complete had he been aimlessly kicking a tin can. Yet despite his apparent lack of effort he overtook us easily.

Not easy going

I got the ball and chucker out to keep the pup amused and distract my mind from the sand underfoot.

As we drew closer to Seascale the beach grew narrower eventually giving way rocks at Whitriggs Scar, then a breakwater that took us into the town. The ‘scale” of Seascale takes its name from the Old Norse word for hall, skali. And it still is, I suppose, a collection of halls by the sea. I have since heard that the ice creams here are good, but we didn’t know that then so didn’t think to try them.

Memorial at Seascale

My eye was caught by an obviously modern castle like construction and we wandered over to take a closer look. A plaque is placed there to the memory of those who were killed in the West Cumbria shootings of 2010. It did seem a little incongruous though to put such a memorial immediately below a cannon.

I was a little unclear as to the route  from here. We knew we needed to be on the sea side of the railway line and should be following the national cycle route. The only way to go seemed to be the beach, which seemed an unlikely route for bikes. But then I noticed a narrow path beside the Windscale Boat club and following this led us to a footpath lined with wild roses and a variety of wild flowers, with stitchwort the most abundant. This was presumably the cycleway. Walkers coming in the opposite direction looked at the dog and warned us of an adder on the path up ahead. So I had to keep my eyes peeled and make sure the dog didn’t run too far ahead. We didn’t meet the adder.

As we drew towards Sellafield my third concern loomed closer. Would the path between Sellafield and the sea, and the river crossing, still be open to the public? Walking along the beach would not be an option because we would need to cross the River Calder. Our guide book was out of date and still suggested that one could get tours of the site.

The Ehen and Calder Confluence – end of the path?

When we came to Sellafield, we ran out of path and the railway crossed the water on a bridge of its own. We went the only way we could, picking our way over broken ground beneath the railway bridge which was the right thing to do since we found a footbridge hidden on the other side and cycleway signs pointing across it. 

Having crossed the Calder we were faced with a tunnel back under the railway or a path beside the tall fence. I checked under the railway and found a concrete pathway that went nowhere. It looks as though at some time there had been a plan to build a more substantial pedestrian bridge.

So we went alongside the tall razor-wire topped fence with its “no hipster” signs now interspersed with “no drone” signs. Luckily I didn’t bring one.

Welcome to Sellafield

There were a several trains in the site but some subconscious effect dissuaded me from taking taking photos, I now see I took very few of the site itself.

At Sellafiled railway station we left the coast for our last leg, inland to Beckermet. We were now on a modern road which was surprisingly busy so I was pleased to find we had pavement to walk on. As we were about to leave Sellafield’s perimeter fence we noticed a plaque hidden by the grass: “Dedicated to the victims of the reactor fire at Windscale 1957. We will always remember.”

It was a little sad that it was set in so inconspicuous palace and could so easily be overlooked. This poem by Norman Nicholson relates to that incident. 

The toadstool towers infest the shore:
Stink-horns that propagate and spore
Wherever the wind blows.
Scafell looks down from the bracken band
And sees hell in a grain of sand,And feels the canker itch between his toes.
This is a land where the dirt is clean
And poison pasture, quick and green,
And storm sky, bright and bare.
Where sewers flow with milk, and meat
is carved up for the fire to eat,
And children suffocate in God’s fresh air.

The toadstool towers, the cooling towers, are gone now, demolished over a decade ago. The contaminated farms poured away their milk and burned their meat before I was born and the events will linger in only a few memories now. Perhaps Nicholson’s poem has a place beside that plaque in the grass. (More information on the Windscale Incident).

As we turned away from Sellafiled the final view looked las I would imagine a 1950s or 1960s nuclear power plant to be. Sellafield seen from this vantage point looks old, and almost cries out to be seen in black and white. It is a look that would have appeared futuristic when I was a child.

We were looking to turn left from the road but a sign pointed right and we decided to follow its advice. This took us back under the main road, sparing us a dangerous crossing, and onto a tarmac path away from the cars. A bench by the path let us rest for a while and have a drink of water then we were off in search of the cinder track that would take us along the route of a disused railway, to Beckermet.

The cinder track is no more, replaced with tarmac, and our stroll along this last section gave us views of the sea and a large hill that looked to be manmade. I wondered if this was the “Starling Castle” marked on the OS map, but it would appear not.

National Cycleway Sign by the disused railway

Our last mile or so took us past an old church and graveyard, St Bridget’s I think, though it bore no name, and once we had passed under a railway viaduct we were in Beckermet and the car only five minutes away.

St Bridget’s Church, near Beckermet

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Freezing winds on Great Sca Fell

5.8 miles 3h 14m 457m ascent

Longhands-Little Sca Fell-Great Sca Fell-Meal Fell-Trusmadoor

A day may come when we are warmed by the shining sun, when we forsake our jackets, and don our sunhats and shades. But it is not this day.

with apologies to Tolkien, ROTK)

The last day of March the sun had shone in a sky empty of clouds. The land had warmed and with that warm my spirits had soared. The day following our walk saw the sun casting well defined shadows and the wind blowing without a chill (at least in the morning). But the day of our outing to the Uldale Fells saw a weather front arriving hours before it was forecast bringing with it winds cold enough to numb gloved fingers, and strong enough to snatch the breath from our mouths. Were I the superstitious type I might wonder if the recent switch to BST was to blame.

Skiddaw across Longlands Fell

The walk began beneath a cloud filled sky at Longlands, near Uldale, at a small parking area beside the Cumbria Way. A signpost Public Way, Green Head 1½, Cumbria Way’ indicated our way and took us along the Cumbria Way towards Charleton Gill. And after rising out of the dip by Longlands Beck we had views across Longlands Fell to Skiddaw.

Missing bridleway sign

We were looking out for a signpost indicating where a bridleway left heading to Great Sca Fell and the photo above shows what we found. The post remains but the sign has gone. We took this to be the correct ‘faint path’ and headed along it. This took us up along the slopes of Longlands Fell, a slow steady climb over mostly dry ground, but walking directly into the wind.

Beside Charleton Gill
Christy returning from a recce to tell us what was ahead (if only we spoke Spaniel)

At the head of the gill we started up to the ground between Brae Fell and Little Sca Fell. The climb steepening, the wind growing stronger and the temperature dropping. On we plodded, then the track appeared to turn away from Little Sca Fell.

Off piste below Little Sca Fell

A fainter track to our left looked to be a more direct route and so we were lured off onto a track that climbed enough to dissuade us from turning back and having to climb again. The track we had chosen then itself veered away towards Brae Fell. So we left the track, faint as it was to stride across the tussocks and moss in the hope of reaching Little Sca Fell. It was harder going but better than walking to Brae Fell and back.

Little Sca Fell summit

Back on a track of sorts we climbed the last few metres to reach the summit. We had walked on beyond a planned coffee stop, the wind being so cold, so the summit shelter offered us an opportunity to stop for a rest and a bite to eat. It was however still bitterly cold even in the shelter. Another walker turned up with his dog and decided against stopping for the same reason. So we stood, turned our faces once more into the wind and set out for the next summit, Great Sca Fell.

Great Sca Fell summit

Both summits had great views including Skiddaw, Saddleback, Bassenthwaite, and Criffel, but the cold prevented us standing about to enjoy them for very long. Indeed I was having difficulty removing the lens cap because of numb fingers. The very brief stop at Little Sca Fell, and removing my gloves to refasten a shoelace had taught me not to repeat either until we were better sheltered.

Meal Fell and Great Cockup

It is a steep descent to Meal Fell and my shoelace fastening had been poorly executed so I found my feet shifting forward in my now loose boots. So I used a nearby rock to refasten the laces (this time keeping my gloves on). I found myself zig-zagging down all the same, with Christy running up and down between us as if the slope wasn’t there.

Meal Fell summit

Meal Fell has a summit shelter of its own but its open side faced the wind so would offer little real shelter. The wind now was making walking difficult and we were keen to reach lower ground as soon as possible. So another steep descent tested my toenails.


Our original plan had been to climb Great Cockup, but given the strengthening wind we decided to leave that for another day. We turned to Trusmadoor, marvelled at the shelter it offered, and strode on down the valley. I’ll leave its description to Wainwright.

Nobody ever sang the praises of Trusmadoor, and it’s time someone did. This lonely passage between the hills, an obvious and easy way for man and beast and beloved by wheeling buzzards and hawks, has a strange nostalgic charm. Its neat and regular proportions are remarkable—a natural `railway cutting’. What a place for an ambush and a massacre!

A Wainwright

The return walk was relatively easy but did involve crossing a couple of Becks and negotiating some boggy patches. Despite this I arrived back at the car with neither my boots, my companion, or my dog particularly muddy.

There is a type of walk/weather than can be summed up in the phrase, “we had lunch back at the car”. It was one of those walks.

The names:

  • Uldale: Old Norse, ulfr, wolf; dalr, valley. But whether Wolf is a person’s name or wolf an animal is unclear)
  • Sca Fell (Little and Great): Old Norse, hill (fjall) with a hut (skali), or bald (skalli) hill (fjall)
  • Meal Fell: Old Norse, sandy (melr), hill (but this doesn’t seem to fit the hill itself). The celtic languages have meall (hill), and maol (bald). It might seem strange to have Norse origins for the other hills, but the valley below it does sport a name with celtic origins
  • Trusmadoor: Cumbric, trus,`door’; similar the Welsh drws 
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What’s a Currick?

6.5 miles 4h 45min ascent 397m

Cold Fell 621m

Currack, A cairn i.e a pile of stones. See cairn.
Currick, A North Pennines name for a cairn i.e a pile of stones. Used to identify a place or boundary or mark a route. They were also used to mark the locations where watch was kept for Scottish raiders.
Currock, A large cairn i.e. a pile of stones. See cairn.

Map Reader’s Companion for Upland England, Bryan Miller

A brief stop in Brampton allowed us to buy a local OS map, then we headed for the Car Park at Clasketts. On the way a couple of wrong turns gave me a chance to stretch my arms and shoulders by executing three point turns. The sun was shining and what clouds there were didn’t look to have the wherewithal to rain on us.

The walk started with an easy stroll along the farm track past Tortie, with it field full of sheep, through a series of open gates, to Howgill. A place said to take its name from the Old Norse haugr meaning a hill or knoll, and gil meaning a narrow valley. (Though I wonder if the ‘how’ comes from the Old English hol, a hollow, which would seem to make more sense here).

Howgill presented us with the first closed gate, all those before having been tied open, and went through it then another immediately on our left. Our route was to take us up the shoulder of the gill, high above Howgill Beck and onto the boggy path crossing Tindale Fell. The lower slopes had newly planted saplings amid bracken, tussocks, and grass. The coltsfoot was in flower and donkeys slept in a field below us. Bruthwaite Viewpoint, which over the top of the hill I mistook for a bench but was just a wooden sign gave us an excuse to stop and stare. The OS map here is dotted with several sites of ‘cairn’, ‘currick’, and ‘pile of stones’.

“Is that a fence?” Audrey asked. Yes it was. The fence line at 460m. I understood what she meant though. Was it a fence or just a line of old fenceposts? An hour had passed so we used the nearby ruins as seats and had a swig of coffee while Christy played with his ball amid the sphagnum.

The fence was a fence but fitted with a stile and a hurdle gate, which I hurdled (no not really) and Christy shimmied under. Here we had a choice: go off piste to the top of Tindale Fell or stay with the path to the col between Tindale and Cold Fells. I was for the former before setting off but there were sheep ahead that way and the ground looked to be hard going. As it was though, our own path led us into a field of peat hags, mire, and hidden holes then disappeared leaving us to find our own route, so we might as well have gone across the moorland to Tindale Fell.

At least one wall of peat was 3m so the base must have been laid down 3000 years ago. I wasn’t paying the peat hags too much attention though, spending most effort finding a way though. We continued to a fence leading up the hill and picked our way through the peat up to the summit.

Here stood two cairns and a trig pillar atop a large pile of stones. One cairn was solid, one a shelter with stone seats. We sat by the trig basking in the sunshine eating lunch and playing fetch. When it was time to go I reread the slightly arcane walk instructions and kept them in mind. “The fence hard on your right.” “Do not be lured to the left where the fences meet.”

Cold Fell summit

The cairn, built in antiquity, is deep set in the peat. The dome-shaped cairn is of modern construction (built in memory of Joe Fotheringham), on the east side of the OS pillar stands a rude wind shelter. The Bronze Age tumulus has taken some stick of recent years, the majority of visitors see them as just stones, not an ancient mausoleum, but then this is in the nature of continuity in a high passing place.

A faint track led from the summit and took us along a gentle descent from the summit of Cold Fell, the fence on our right hand as directed, towards Brown Fell. We picked our way along, avoiding the boggiest bits. Well, Audrey and I did, but Christy happily splashed through the wet while we squelched through the less wet. I cannot call it “dry.” As ever a track on the other side of the fence looked to be better, but I am wise to such temptations and ignored it.

Leathery Step

There came an abrupt heathery step down. We paused as I re-read the route guide, misreading heathery as leathery. My brain had registered the unusual phrase “abrupt leathery step down” and had entered a circling flight-path, returning to the phrase every few milliseconds, analysing it, shaking its cerebral head, and moving on to return again. But before additional decryption could occur, a voice outside my head (Audrey) said “you must mean heathery”. And I was back in the real world. Down the heather we went.

On and on the peat bog stretched. Squelch, squelch, squelch our footfalls called as we looked for the place where we would begin to make our way down. The route described the place thus, a small cairn stands to the left, and up the bank right a large currick enjoys the best vantage over Gairs.

To our right was a a long wall of stones, looking more like a rocky knoll with the soil eroded than a large cairn with soil on top. Ahead was a cairn on a rocky outcrop looking like a chimney on a ruined dwelling. And over to our left, on the hillside, a cairn. We were advised to Backtrack to pass the smaller cairn, descend the bank avoiding the bracken to reach the tramway.

But what is a currick? The big thing to the right or the stack before us? And to which cairn were we to backtrack? The OS map was consulted with a gravitas completely out of proportion to the, relatively minor, decision before us. (I say this with the benefit of hindsight).

I took the two things that looked like cairns to be cairns and by exclusion, the thing to our right I thought to be the aforementioned currick. As I now know, currick is a Cumbrian term for a man-made pile of stones used to guide travellers. What I would call a cairn. But I didn’t know that then, nor did the two Cumbrians in the party. I can forgive Christy because he’s expected to have a limited vocabulary being a dog, but…

We looked across to the smaller cairn and could see no good reason to tramp half a kilometre across the heather just to descend from there rather than where we were. This did include considering that those who wrote the route up might know something we didn’t. So we headed down, skirting around the edge of a large bracken filled hollow that I presumed would have been much more troublesome than the heather to walk through.

Heading back to Howgill

We were heading for “the tramway” the Gair Colliery Tramway of which only a track now remains. Once on the trackway the going was a lot easier though the way itself was very boggy in places. We passed some cows by the fence, Christy’s first cows, and had views of old mine workings to our right and quarries to the left.

Once back at Howgill we were back on farm track all the way back to the car car park.

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Fifty-eight metres off Blencathra summit

3.88 miles 590m ascent 3h 35m

Scales Fell

It has been some time since I have written up a walk, but the time has at last come. When last I ventured on to the Saddleback I mused that we had been cursed by the goddess of rain, see Cailleach’s Wrath. I had vowed only to re-climb Blencathra in good weather, and it has been on my to-do list of fair weather walks for too long. lately we have had weather warnings variously of rain, snow, ice and wind, but the yellow warnings had expired. Perhaps I was experiencing weather relatively rather than absolutely, why else would I have chosen to walk up Blencathra on one of Winter’s last days, with grey skies and rain forecast. Perhaps Cailleach herself had lured me back onto the slopes.

I had not given a great deal of thought to the day’s walk in the preceding days because of the inclement weather, waiting to closer to the day to chose a route. The day before my internet surfing had touched down on a page describing a “Walkers Blencathra”. I was hooked. The weather forecast forgotten. No not forgotten, discounted.

Fate almost delivered us to an alternative walk when I took the wrong turning and turned back on to the M6(S) at Penrith, realising just too late to correct the error. There was a hurried discussion regarding a late change of venue, perhaps to Shap or thereabouts, but we were able to turn back after 10 minutes or so.

Taking a little more care this time, I found the A66 and we drove along to Scales, parking the car at the wee parking area below Mousthwaite Comb. There was light rain in the air, the hilltops shrouded in cloud and the wind a little chilly.

We walked back across the little bridge then through a wooden gate and along a gravel path. My instinct told me that there was a degree of uphillness. Auto-correct wanted that to be unholiness, which would have put a whole new slant on the walk, but as it was it was just my unfitness giving me a message.

There were sheep in the nearby field, and though there was a fence between them and us, poor Christy had to stay on his lead initially. The path climbed steadily curing around on the col towards Mousthwaite Fell, but our route was to take us off the gravel and up onto Scales Fell to our left. As we looked for a path Audrey thought there was a pathway beside the fence containing the sheep. She was right as it turned out, and more about that later, but I didn’t think it was a path and continued on still looking for a path unto our left. Indeed I had come to the conclusion that I had missed the path and that perhaps we should continue onto Mousthwaite Fell and do the walk anti-clockwise when I came to a narrow track heading up to the left. By now I could let the Spaniel run free and started our first bit of steep ascent.

The first kilometre of the walk was a tiring climb and we had to take our time, stopping for jelly babies at 30 minutes and coffee at an hour. It has been a while since we did much hillwalking. This though got us on to the more gentle slopes atop Scales Fell and the going was easier. Unfortunately the cloud had descended and we were walking in wisps of mist, the way ahead completely hidden from us.

I was a little wary of continuing in poor visibility on route we didn’t know, especially not knowing what type of terrain we might face so we decided to head along to one of the minor humps of Scales Fell up ahead and then turn about and head back the way we had come.

Once at said hump we were in the cloud but the path ahead was visible  and wide so we decided it was reasonable to press on. I think we were at about 650m by then. The steady climb gave way to steeper sections with zig-zags and the visibility worsened. Christy was back on his lead since he had found a stone and was tossing and chasing it and I worried he might throw it over a steep drop and follow it.

The ground became increasing snow-covered and between the last couple of zig-zags there was on a thin strip of visible path. Eventually we came to a steep section of path completely covered in icy snow. I wondered if it was just a short section we could get past but the first couple of steps told me it wouldn’t be safe without crampons. We paused for though and both decided it was best to turn back. The GPS tracker had us at about 810m, so only about 60m below the summit.

Walking down was easier on the respiratory system, but more challenging for the legs. The cloud had cleared from the lower slopes allowing us to see Scales Fell properly. It is quite a pleasant ridge walk, especially downhill. The lower slopes however are steeper and we chose to take the alternative final path down beside the fence. Quite an experience. Steep descent on slippery mud. The fence beside me had obviously been much grappled and I used it the same. Christy was back on the lead because of nearby sheep and that added to the fun, being connected to a excitable dog while negotiating the treacherous path. I sighed with relief at the bottom. Audrey was afflicted with Elvis legs following the descent and I was aghast to hear that it was the first time she had ever experienced it.

The next foray to Blencathra will have to be in good weather.

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Knockespen – two hills make one

8.05 miles 3h 20m ascent 279m

Knockespen 344m

When I woke the air was chilled, the sky dry. The car frozen, and as I loaded it hail was falling. As we arrived at Ae the snow was falling and the snow lying on the road suggested we had driven into the snow rather than the white stuff having arrived with us.

Century old OS maps show a collection of tumuli on the east flank of Knockespen along the upper reaches of the Tuppark Linn. We stood looking up the slope, or more accurately towards the slope, the actual hill being hidden in dense forest. Someone had to speak first words of the incantation. We looked at each other, at the dog, and then back to the forest. A shaky voice rose from within my body, “Perhaps another day? When it’s not so icy”. I waited. The response would categorise me as either a lilly-livered coward or a practical  health and safety conscious realist. I waited. “Yes. In the summer perhaps?”. No lillies in my liver.

This was a simple route. Along the Roman’s and Reivers way, around Wood Hill and past the track to Lamphitt, around Brownmore Hill and then along to Knockspen itself. The track became increasingly snowy, about 3-4 cm at its deepest but mostly a centimetre or so. Unfortunately some mountain bikers were using “uplift”, a van taking their bikes to the top for them to ride the downhill sections. This van converted the snow into a packed slippery surface. Even Christy was skidding about on four legs.

The ice on puddles was more than an inch thick on the higher tracks.

Knockespen Summit

The summit offered grade zero views with the mist.

We decided against descending along the downhill mountain bike track, which would have been the shortest way back, because it was obviously quite busy with the downhill only cyclists and we preferred to avoid the steeper track because of the snow and ice. So we turned about and went back the way we had come.

Knockespen is one of the those heights called hill twice, cnoc and pen. It doesn’t feature much in literature but Nigel Tranter placed Wallace there in The Wallace. “With a company of about fifty he was hidden in a cleft of the open hillside of Knockespen Hill, above the valley of the Water of Ae.” And he has added yet another “hill” to the two Knockespen already has.

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Skerrow Halt Again

8.4 miles 3h 52 min ascent 93m

Stroan Loch to a little way past Skerrow Halt, and back

We had been heavy rain in the previous days so my planned walk, which would have included a stroll through boggy terrain, was deferred at short notice, and we headed out to Stroan Loch for a walk along the Skerrow Halt section of the dismantled Dumfries to Portpatrick Railway.

Stroan Loch

Stroan Loch takes its name from sron…a nose, point or headland. And since we English speakers can’t cope with a “sr” sound we stick a “t” in it to help us along. The headland is at the other end of the loch where Stroan Burn joins it.

As you can see in the photograph above, the weather was promising and I made the naïve error of imagining it would continue in the same vein. It was warm enough to not need a coat, so my jacket was stuffed into the rucksack. The dog’s raincoat was left in the car.

We got Christy out of the car on a lead since there were other dogs about but they seemed friendly enough so I let him off to be chased about by the bigger dog (I’m not sure what it was: white, pointy up ears about the size of an Alsatian – Jindo perhaps). The dogs’ owner pointed out that Christy wasn’t going to win in a straight line race against his dog but had the superior turning so wouldn’t get caught. His spaniel wasn’t interested in playing because he had a ball. That’s something I can recognise.

There is a wee monument by the water’s edge but we didn’t visit it since the chap with the dogs was camped there. There are details in my previous write up, Skerrow Halt.

Portpatrick Railway Line

The camper and his dogs headed off towards Mossdale while we turned towards Skerrow. There is a viaduct which once carried the railway and now carries the footpath across the Black Water of Dee. Previous experience, a heart stopping moment, had taught me that dogs might choose to leap up onto the parapet unexpectedly and it is quite a drop to the rocky river below, so Christy was put back on a leash, and yes he did jump up unexpectedly.

The route of the railway now looks like any country path except that it is lined with the stones that once supported the sleepers and has a tendency to cut through wee knolls rather than climbing over them.

Moorland between Airie and Stroan Burns

Initially the pathway is in the open with barren moorland either side, boggy terrain to its north and the rocky moorland of Airie Hill to the south. There are a couple of large cattle gates (standing open) but once past the entrance to Airie Farm the terrain is all wild moorland. Despite that there are dykes and fences here and there, to what purpose God only knows.

Airie Burn

I had not noticed the sky greying as we walked, and the first drops of rain didn’t cause me any concern. I heard Audrey murmur “shower” and nodded my agreement inwardly. A few minutes later I was forced to accept that this was proper rain.

The camera was swapped for its waterproof companion, the mobile phone moved to a waterproof part of the rucksack, the car keys to a back pocket and the rain jacket and rucksack cover donned. Everywhere was wet and I thought I had missed the opportunity to benefit from waterproof trousers. That there was a frog sat on the path told us how wet it was.

Airie Hill behind the old station fence

The coming of the rain heightened the orange and golds in the landscape but the waterproof camera struggles with low light and couldn’t capture the colours adequately.

Remnants of the railway

The rain did take a break as we came into the ruins of Skerrow Halt so we could wander about in a little more comfort. When the railway line opened in 1861, Loch Skerrow Halt was constructed as a water stop for the steam locomotives. There was a plentiful supply of water available, and water tanks and a pumping station were built. There is a line on the internet which reads “The station was one of the most remote and isolated points on the line. None save the stationmaster and possibly a railway worker or two inhabited this lonely place unconnected to any other habitation except by the line itself.”

But perhaps there were more than the these workers. I was told a tale from a retired GP who was called to a pregnant lady at Skerrow Halt. He had to get there by riding a bicycle along the railway, and her transfer to hospital  was achieved by putting her on a passing train to the station at Mossdale where an ambulance was waiting.

Skerrow Halt

The Visit South West Scotland Website tells us: “Those with an interest in lost railway will find the walk worthwhile. After closure of the line, Loch Skerrow halt was abandoned, its few houses left to decay until the Army on exercises finished the job with ordnance as a few remaining pieces of smashed equipment bear witness. Parts of the platform remain though nature is overtaking them. Water still flows from a culvert that would have fed the pumps. Standing on this desolate spot on a warm summer’s day, sufferers from railway nostalgia can perhaps visualise the sight and hear the sound of the “Paddy” on its way to the coast.”

To this I might add that standing in this desolate spot on a cool, wet, autumn day, it is difficult to believe that this is the same spot as seen in photographs from over half a century ago, and there is certainly an eeriness about these remote ruins.

Loch Skerrow

The Portpatrick Line (Castle Douglas to Portpatrick) was said to be 60 miles and 60 chains in length, which I find strangely pleasing. Presumably the combination of sexagesimal and imperial is activating a nostalgia subroutine.

As we walked on I did give some thought to those who had built the railway across this boggy moorland. The cuttings are obvious signs of their efforts but the raised sections crossing the bog would likely have been even more of an engineering challenge.

Loch Skerrow itself would originally have been Loch Sceireach, the rocky lake. It has several small islands, some with trees, others just rocks. A “moat” of bog kept us from its edges. I recalled that there were geese when I was here  a few years ago, but we had not seen a single bird the whole day and the loch’s waters were stirred only by the wind.

Hawthorn with lichen

Beyond Skerrow Halt there is a relatively new looking gate, but I cannot see what purpose it serves. As a piece of mildly interesting trivia, the half gate will open either way, push or pull.

When last i was here this section of the track was overgrown enough to make walking quite difficult. Now as you can see in the photograph below, the walking is easy, even for a wee dog with a stick.

beyond Skerrow Halt

There was no sign of a good place to cross the boggy ground beyond the Loch, especially after the preceding days’s rain and we decided to turn back, retracing our steps rather than  walking on towards the Little Water of Fleet. We stopped for a break at the ruined station but that was cut short by the return of the rain, which thoroughly drenched us on the way back.

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Wether Hill: a quiet windfarm

8.24 miles 3h 23m ascent 386m

Wether Hill (Christy’s first Marilyn)

After an unintentional detour, and some uncertainty as to whether I had started the walk in the correct place, the car was parked and i sat looking out at the rain. This was a day for full waterproofs, and what’s more if I were to put on said waterproofs outside I would be wet before I started.

It is a challenge putting on waterproof trousers in the car, even more so in the drivers seat. But after much huffing puffing, and squealing as I moved my left hip into positions it did not appreciate, the waterproofs were donned. Once out in the rain I realised the trousers were on back to front. I’ll admit there was a moment of despondency, but I I thought to myself that this wasn’t a challenge, it was an opportunity. I would find out how much difference it made wearing them back to front. Or perhaps it was the lazy choice. Outcome – no big deal.

Craigdarroch Glen

We climbed steadily along a forestry track that wound to the left and then took a tight left turn giving me some encouragement that this was the right route. The forest here had been felled in the last few years and young trees had been planted in places. As the path rose we had views across the felled land down a rain and mist filled Craigdarroch Glen, golds, greens and browns contrasting more to the naked eye than they appear to have done in the photos.

Christy found a stick to carry and shrugged off his coat. We walked on through the rain, and I definitely felt the climb. It was warm enough to manage without gloves despite the rain and wind, which meant we were are overheated at first

The our route took us over the small forested ridge made by Auchenstroan and Ewe Craigs, allowing us to look down into the felled slopes of Carroch Glen. We spotted a gate beside a watchtower and made our way along to it, finding it locked with a bright shiny padlock. At first I had thought the forestry track ended here but it continued downhill beyond the gate. It was easy enough for us to clamber over the gate but Christy needed to be manhandled to the other side.

Watchtower and locked gate

This last forestry track had had recently had fallen trees across it but the trunks had been sawn through to give us a way through. Here our track joined the windfarm’s service road. A portacabin in the livery of Ross Poultry sat opposite a grassy area littered with animal feed holders. Ross poultry are in the business of chicken genetics so I presume this is a second hand cabin whose owner sees no point in repainting it.

Ross Poultry

Near the portacabin the track has a 19 mph speed sign. Quite an unusual number which caused us to pause. We wondered if it might be a converted from 30 kph (which would be 18.6 mph), but once home I was able to do a little google-research and found that signs such as this are used on private roads to improve safety. “The reason for having a 19 mile per hour limit is to attract attention to the signs as it is an unusual number.”  Whether this works is unclear.

One of the many cascades

Water cascaded loudly down the slopes of Craiglirian Craig to our left in several places, and in between it ran off like unfrozen icicles. Yes it was a rainy day. Up ahead we noticed a stand of trees below the road, surrounded by dykes, a large old sheepfold or perhaps a previous farmstead. And from here we had a view down the valley of the Craiglearan Burn. The small path joining the service road here would have been an alternative way up onto the hill, via Craiglearan Farm.

Craiglearan Glen

The low cloud limited our views but once past these trees we got our first glimpse of the wind turbines. We continued up the service road, past the buildings of the Control Centre and eventually stopped for a somewhat belated elevenses in the lee of turbine 11.

Wether Hill’s Moorland

I recalled that reaching the summit called for us to leave the service road near turbine 14 and head uphill. This was upland bog and the going squelchy. We headed up towards what looked like a high point but once there we could see several other possible summit places. We set off across the hilltop in slightly different directions and perhaps by chance my direction took me close enough to the summit cairn to spot it on the other side of a fence beside a dilapidated dyke.

Despite its name Wether Hill (Wether/Wedder is a ram), we saw no sheep on the hill.

Wether Hill Summit

A bit more dog-lifting and human human climbing had us at the summit of Christy’s first Marilyn, which obviously called for a photo. We decided to make our way down to the turbine service road near turbine 7 and head back down from there rather than tramping back across the hilltop bog.

I had intended this walk to include a search for the Glenjaan Craig cairns, but the cloud base was well below us so it didn’t seem a good day to go searching for the cairns in the mist, and instead we followed the service road back and retraced our steps.

I must say that on the way back ‘down’ I was surprised how much ascent we had. Given the weather lunch was had in the car.


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Nick o’ the Dead Man’s Banes

**There is a problem with the OS map access, you might get a referee not valid message: I’m working on it.**

8.6 miles 4h 9m ascent 302m

Cullendoch-Loch Fleet

A heron watched us then took flight as we eased our way to the parking spot near Little Cullendoch. This usually has space for a three or four cars, and though it proved a little less accommodating, with a couple of fallen trees lying in it, we were able to squeeze in. We paused to look back towards the Big Water of Fleet viaduct before striding out leaving me to wonder if future archeologists might find remains of that edifice and quite reasonably presume the plaque it wears must bear its name. They will refer to it as “Danger Falling Masonry”.

This walk was a gentle climb along forestry tracks. We crossed the Big Water of Fleet at the bridge near Meikle Cullendoch and then left the national cycleway to take the track heading between Dunharberry and Benmeal. This had once been forest but much is now felled and, as yet, fallow.

As we gained a little elevation on the SW slopes of Dunharberry the views opened up showing us the long curving ridge of Cairnsmore of Fleet, standing like a giant amphitheatre around an autumnal tinged Cullendoch Moss.

Cairnsmore of Fleet across Cullendoch Moss

I was looking out for Dunharberry but couldn’t see it and presumed it to be a bit of a hump, hidden by the forest, rather than a real hill. Our gentle stroll was interrupted close to Benmeal, the track barred by fallen trees with uninviting terrain either side of the track. We had bog with a mess of recent felling to our left and fallen trees barring the forest, also standing in bog, to our right. Christy made short work of the obstruction but the boggy ground proved unappealing to us humans and we were forced to clamber across nature’s barricade.

Human versus fallen tree


Dog versus fallen tree

Dunharberry, the hill I could not see, might take its name from Cairbre’s fort, dùn Chairbre. There are similarly named hills in IrelandThe name Cairbre is attached to several characters in Irish legend and myth, but I doubt any of these legendary heroes had a fort here. Cairbre (Carberry) was a relatively common Irish name in St Patrick’s time and some common Cairbre might have made a home on the hill in the distant past. Benmeal with its bare rocks reflects its name more directly, beann mael meaning bare hill.

Back on track after our jungle climbing we came to a track junction beneath Benmeal and found some crocosmia growing wild beside the the forest. I merely thought this a little unusual, failing to register “unusual” plus “forest” as a sign of something magical or enchanted. So I did not notice that a subtle spell had ensnared me. After walking past this junction any recollection of its existence was lost to me.

Sundog in the sky, regular dog on the logs

As we walked on I began to be concerned. Recalling that we were to take a right turn at a junction after Meikle Cullendoch (remembered), a right turn (forgotten) south of Benmeal, and a left turn east of Benmeal (taken), I convinced myself that the left turn we were walking westwards south of Benmeal rather than north to its east. Maps were consulted. My brain, enchanted by the crocosmia, Lucifer’s flower, became convinced that Fell of Fleet to our north was actually Benmeal. I ordered a halt and considered retracing our steps. Luckily my companion was in full native scout mode and pointed out that it being near midday our shadows which stretched out before us indicated we were walking north rather than west. The crocosmia enchantment remained strong though and continued to cloud my navigational sense with doubt. It was only once we had come to an unmistakeable zig-zag in the track that I was released from the spell.

Many years ago, human bones were found in the area between Craigwhinnie, Lea Larks and Benmeal. This had led to the area being called the Nick of the Dead Man’s Banes. The book ‘Cols and Passes of the British Isles’ relates that the surveyors in 1848 recorded it as ‘A hollow between Craigwhinnie and Benmeal in which human bones have at different times been found’. Canmore suggests it might have been an ancient burial site. Or perhaps Cairbre allied forth from his fort and defeated an advancing enemy there, leaving their bodies to rot where they fell? Perhaps other readers will wonder that I own a book such as the Cols and passes of the British Isles. But who among us could see such a tome and not wish too have a copy for their own collection? But as usual I digress. That some local would tell the surveyors this name when Queen Victoria was in her twenties and the name would sit on the OS map over the long years that would see Victoria’s great great granddaughter celebrating her own diamond jubilee, and that I would read the name and be drawn to visit the eponymous hollow, must rank as a form of magic.

Sadly though we were able to look across the natural ossuary, we didn’t get to visit it, the path that way being well and truly blocked by fallen trees. We took a track much less used for the final climb up to Loch Fleet. There were several species of mushroom growing on the path and the diminutive Little Water of Fleet tumbled over rocks to our left. The hill named Lea Larks to our left is not a place to see larks but is liath leargs, the grey slope.

Little Water of Fleet

We had one more fallen tree to pass, a scots pine and this we scuttled beneath having taken off our rucksacks and passed them through. Soon enough we came into the hollow in the Fell of Fleet containing Loch Fleet. Photos of the Loch I have seen show a wooden jetty, but that is long gone, just the rocky foundations remaining. Christy jumped in the water but soon scuttled out shaking the water on to us as he passed.

The old jetty

The loch is at 340m and the hill behind it 470m. The terrain is upland moor and I recall climbing Fell of Fleet from Back Hill of Ochars a few years ago and making my way through what I described as a granite strewn bog with areas of standing water. I kept to the track this time. Though the loch side was pretty, and someone else had obviously had a fire there at some time, there was nowhere dry to sit so we turned about to retrace our steps looking for a good lunch spot. the sun had dipped below the tops of the trees in these last few minutes so though we had walked up to the loch, we walked away in shadow and it was noticeably colder.

the way back down on the slopes of Benmeal

At the blocked track to the Nick of the Dead Man’s Banes, I had a go at finding a way around the fallen trees but came to a wide water filled ditch which was essentially a moat where the fallen trees left off. The ossuary will have to wait for another day. Or perhaps the spirits of those whose bones lie in the Nick had induced the forest dryads to cast trees in my path?

I had entertained the faint possibility of crossing the Nick of the Dead Man’s Banes and finding a way over to the other forestry track beside Loch Garroch, but that was not going to be so we headed back the way we had come, mostly in sunshine and with a brief pause for lunch.

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