July 19, 1985: Bustabeck to Carlisle
On the morning of Friday, July 19, I repeated the walk of the previous evening with the dog. It was grey today and rain was again a possibility. We had an excellent breakfast, paid, and turned our attentions to our mud-encrusted footware, each boot placed neatly by our landlady on a square of newspaper. What agony it was for me to pull these on – especially over my tender left foot. The big toe joint was particularly troublesome and I had to unlace the boot to get the process started. Just as we were leaving the rain began – this was dramatically consistent with the shower that had greeted our arrival the night before. So we had to pause to put on our wetproofs in the landscaped flower garden. Harold had to shoo the geese from Bertie’s path and we were left Bustabeck at 9:23.
Dorothy now aptly put into words her feelings of unease in the bed and breakfast environment. You are neither completely a houseguest, with the consequent privileges of freedom and hospitality, she argued, nor completely a client, with the blessings of anonymity and service. Instead you end up behaving as some sort of intruder – worrying always about putting a foot wrong.
Our walk today began with a tarmac trudge, three sides of a rectangle instead of one, back to Churchtown – our landlady had confirmed that the public right of way we had been searching for had fallen into disuse. I was having a lot of trouble getting up steam today and the others were well ahead of me. They stopped at the church and I took off my rain cape. “If it starts to rain again, ” I told Harold, “You must wait so I can get this back on again.” The cape in question, made to fit over a backpack, had always been hated by other members of my walking party precisely because I required assistance to get it on or off – especially when it is wet. The others insisted that it should be burned, but I still used it.
We proceeded down the muddy lane to Bellingham. After we had passed the Hall, we ran into another herd of black and white cows. Dorothy shrank under Tosh’s arm and Harold tried to shoo them away as I laughed like a maniac at the scene. We got around them but they continued to trail us until we reached a cattle grid near the tarmac road over Bellbridge. Raingear went back on here. On the previous day, about the time we arrived at Churchtown, Dorothy had reached her 300th mile; now as we sheltered from the rain in some trees next to the bridge I noted that I had just completed my 900th.
The route from Caldbeck to Sebergham had been much more complicated and strenuous that I had expected. Today’s dozen miles would be a dawdle, I reasoned now, because we could use riverside paths along the Caldew all the way to Carlisle. Once again I was deeply disappointed. Far from a stroll along the Thames Embankment, we were in for a complex struggle in obscure surroundings.
We slipped through a slit in the bridge wall and descended the jutting steps of a stone stile. We followed the river round a large curve, as required, but there was no path at all in this field – just tall grass that swept the morning moisture into our boots. At least it had stopped raining. At the end of the curve there were only fences, and it took some time to progress to a point where a footbridge over an old millrace could be located. Here we were once again close to the fast moving burbling river but there wasn’t much of a path. One headland was cut by a slender thread of a track through the slimy grass. The others had passed this shortcut when I called their attention to it and they slid over to join me. To my surprise I noticed another walker behind me – a spry elderly walker in an orange raincoat. At a stile we paused to chat. He had gone to visit his daughter in Ulverston and was walking home 70 miles to Carlisle! He was the only genuine Cumbria Way walker we encountered in a week; with this pattern of use no wonder things weren’t clearer on the ground. I asked our friend to take our photo; this he did and then he was off – with the rest of us struggling behind. We passed what I assumed was Bog Bridge. Trevelyan makes much of this landmark but it was not identified on the OS map.
We stayed close to the river and at one point I had to call my troops back because they had missed a stile that admitted us to a small riverside plantation. There was an obscure path through it and some shelter from the next shower. We emerged into the open in the fields south of Rose Bridge, but it was not at all clear how we were to make our way through a cow field dotted with muck in order to emerge on the road ahead. Eventually, after wandering around a bit, we headed straight for the bridge, which had steps up to the tarmac. We rested a bit on the south side of the span, the sun now firmly entrenched in the sky. The last of the rain was behind us and Rose Castle, the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle, was shining pinkly upon the hill to the west. Progress had been much slower than expected and a snacking Tosh was already bugging me about a promised pub stop. There were less than two miles to go but I refused to set an estimated arrival time. In the event it took us much longer than I had anticipated.
We crossed the road and continued along the river but as the latter swung to the right it was not clear how we were to proceed – “the trees” noted by Trevelyan having a number of nominees on the horizon. The Lees somehow concluded that they knew what was required and marched us much too far to the left. I trailed suspiciously and eventually called them back to a stile over a fence. We climbed a hill and entered another field but we had no idea where to go until Dorothy spotted a footpath sign hiding in some woods on the right. This gave us access to a kissing gate and a track near the entrance to Holm Hall, which now seemed to have an institutional aura. We had wasted a lot of time getting here but things were clearer now as we followed tracks to Hawksdale Hall, a perfectly lovely white Georgian country house. A track headed north through another herd of galumphing cows. As soon we were clear of these we paused to give Bertie a drink – no streams having appeared in some time. Eventually the track curved around to the left and descended to the village of Bridge End. Tosh raced ahead to the pub loo: no wonder there had been so many enquiries about our arrival time – which proved to be 1:30.
Once again dogs were unwelcome but there were nice tables outside the pub and the sun (though not intense) had most of the play in a sky of small clouds. So we drank and ate outside. I was put in charge of food orders – I had scampi and chips, the Lees steak and kidney pie, and Dorothy chicken and chips. Bertie tried to follow me out of the garden by leaping over a brick wall but he was made to go back. Inside the pub the locals sat mesmerized in front of a telly program on tractors. I took my boots off and held my wet feet up to the sun. I did receive some benefit from this odd posture, for the socks did dry off, but the others wanted to get going. This required another painful exercise in the putting the boots on.
We walked across the bridge into Buckbank, where we followed a lane along a millstream. This road lead directly through the local works and was blocked at one point by a large green lorry. It was interesting to see how Tosh, after a week of waiting for orders, turned to me for instructions on how to proceed here (walk around the truck). We emerged at White Bridge (again not on the OS map) and entered a lane leading to Dalston Green. Here we paused outside a newsagent for ice cream, lying on the pavement like a bunch of winos. I was eating a toffee vanilla bar, Tosh a lurid ice lolly. “How much did you pay for that?” she asked. “Twenty-nine pence,” Dorothy answered. “I paid thirty-four for this,” she complained, “Do you suppose they got the price right?” She then stalked into the store to protect her rights but soon re-emerged somewhat shamefacedly. The price was right, she explained, “There’s tequila in mine.” A lady stopped off to tell us that her neighbor in Scotland had a Schnauzer. Across the street someone was selling meat off the back of a lorry.
We headed up through the village of Dalston as I looked for a turnoff that would lead us back to the river. This was just after a primary school and was signposted “Footpath to Cummerdale.” But the path was overgrown and hard to follow; it petered out and though we always knew what direction to take it was unclear how to proceed along millstreams, over spoil heaps, through thistle fields. We found one of the advertised green gates but it advised us to keep out of the area because of toxic wastes! This convinced Tosh that the nearby factory was up to something sinister and Dorothy became paranoid lest Bertie drink from a polluted puddle. I lead a retreat over a nearby stile and we proceeded north to a foul stream (no footbridge) that brought us up against the Whitehaven rail line. A desultory path followed this, through fields of cows, with fences and stiles obstructing progress. We passed under some electric wires carried on huge pylons – only two miles to go.
We arrived at last an attractive weir, where we rested a bit next to the cascading Caldew, then followed a millstream to a railway bridge near the abandoned Cummerdale station. After rural isolation there was suddenly traffic as we followed a road past another factory, but a footbridge put us on the east bank of the Caldew and brought us to a stile at the start of what Trevelyan describes as a “good” path to Carlisle. I paused to take off my sweatshirt, as it was now both sunny and warm. I would walk the last stretch in the t-shirt presented to me on the first night of our Alternatives walk, “750 going on 1000.” This change of clothing was unfortunate however for it must have been here, I later figured, that my walking glasses, still in their case, flipped out my sweatshirt pocket and were gone forever. I missed them; they had been with me on every one of the seventy-six days of walking I had then completed in Britain. They had even survived a serious flattening when a pack rolled over them on the second day of a 1982 walk on the Pennine Way, Britain’s first “official” long-distance footpath.
The “good” path promised by Trevelyan turned out to be as overgrown with wildflowers as any other stretch of this “Way” in name only. I pushed ahead with an uncomfortable Bertie. One of his paws was stained a suspicious yellow after the most recent cow field; pity he could not imitate several Labs who were having a swim on the opposite bank of the river. We passed another dramatic weir and reached the riverside path at a street called Boustead Grassing.
We followed a parallel park path to its end and joined a road over a railway, past the gasholders, and into Carlisle. The effect of pavement on my sore feet was unhappy in the extreme. They were now so tender that I found myself shuffling forward with great effort. We turned left at the first crossroads and climbed up to a roundabout. I was annoyed that my troops had outraced me and missed an easy route across the street at a pelican crossing. On a bridge to city center Harold paused for directions to the Royal Hotel. This was not far off. I had Harold take my photo before we entered the lobby at 6:10. I had completed my fifth British footpath; in the process it had taken me not the 70 miles Trevelyan had proposed but 91!
The Royal proved to me a funky old fellow, with huge rooms luridly decorated, and no private bathrooms. There was no one else on our floor, however, and so we had easy access to the communal toilet and shower. We fed the dog and got cleaned up a bit and at 7:00 met the Lees. There was no dining room here so there was some ambiguity about where to eat. Dorothy, with a nose for these things, discovered Chaplin’s, a newly opened trendy wine bar and restaurant in a cul-de-sac. We had drinks first, celebrating our triumph. Then we had a most elegant meal, avocado with prawns and salmon for me, smoked salmon and Scotch sirloin for Dorothy. The trifle was a bit stale and the service a bit slow. The place was very crowded with Carlisle’s yuppies. Above our table was a mural in honor of John Wayne. Four of the photos pictured this lung cancer victim with a cigarette in his mouth. Dorothy was really enjoying the sudden luxury, but I hated the fuss. This is the type of urban overkill I try to escape in the country – and the dinner was a reminder that the holiday was coming to an end.
After our meal we all went on a walk with Bertie. There were many young people coming in and out of the discos. Bertie was uncertain about whether to share his gifts with the streets of Carlisle but finally settled down to his business in a distant park. In our hotel room we watched Cheers and went to bed.
It was drizzling a little on Saturday, July 20, when I took Bertie for his morning walkies past one insurance building after another. We had breakfast at the hotel, our ladies scandalized by the brutal treatment meted out to the poor serving girl by a plummy lady who thought she was at the Dorchester. Tosh, who had begrudged an extra five pence on an ice lolly, wanted to take a taxi all the way back to the car in Keswick. Instead we took the train south to Penrith, a journey of 18 minutes. Here we walked past Penrith Castle and into town, hunting for the bus station. I think Tosh was a bit chagrined to find a Keswick bus waiting to take off. We hopped aboard and had almost an hour’s ride via Greystoke and other villages just off the A66. It was beginning to rain again but the storm was just a few yards away from a number of passengers who got on dry the moment before the bus was hit by a wave of lashing moisture. “You saved me from a drenching,” one of these lucky chaps told the driver.
We used the loos at the Keswick bus station, last visited with eighteen teenagers, and wandered over to the parking lot. The entire journey from Carlisle had taken only two hours. The trunk was repacked and we were off at 11:30. Of course we had to retrace most of the route to Penrith, where we joined the M6. We had our first stop near Exit 37, another of those service areas under reconstruction. This one had a dramatic setting overlooking Killington Reservoir. The parking lot was a maze; the planners didn’t seem to know how to organize one properly and poor Harold got yelled at for parking in front of a bus – though why cars and coaches were mixed up in the first place is beyond me. The quick stop kiosk was already out of certain sandwiches at 12:00. A couple from Scotland and two little girls rushed over to tell me they had a Schnauzer.
Weather improved as Harold drove south. Harold, it was argued, didn’t have to worry about jet lag on this drive. “No,” I added, “crag lag.” At another rest stop miles later he wandered off absentmindedly for pie and coffee, leaving the rest of us a bit uncertain about his whereabouts. Tosh was in a foul mood over the price charged for a package of oatmeal cookies. We listened to tapes, including some I had brought, but Harold’s speakers were having problems and it was a strain hearing anything in the back seat. As we neared London at 5:00 I had the impression that city problems and their attendant anxieties were about to wash over us like grey sludge. The following week Tosh and Harold moved house. Gout attacked my sore left foot and left me hobbling for the next ten days.
I often think of the Cumbria Way. It still waits as a challenge for other intrepid travellers. Since its completion I have not encountered a walk fraught with as many problems or perils. Yet it was all enjoyable at one level and beautiful throughout. One is always able to put an experience into perspective with the passing of time. At a graduation party two and half years after our Alternatives walk college-bound Mark Kananen (he of the khaki fatigues, the 38-pound pack, and the brittle bones) sought me out. “I just had to tell you,” he began, “that the greatest trip I ever took was that walk we did together on the Cumbria Way.”
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