I was looking forward to this section of the adventure since last weekend. I knew it started right next to the coast which is a big plus… it’s surprising and slightly depressing how much coastal walking isn’t. Even better, though this walk is nearly twelve miles, the cycle ride from the end to the start is only four… that suits me fine – I still hate bikes!
So, starting at The Commodore Inn car park, and ducking under the railway line, I’m back on the promenade again. It’s a lovely day, not too hot, and the views out over the Kent estuary are great.
The promenade is really nice. Gardens planted by the side of the path attract lots of little birds who buzz around in the bushes, cleaning up the crumbs from the passers-by.
Towards the west end of town lies the sad old Grange Lido….
This one has its own “Save the Lido” organisation, as have most of them. I understand the nostalgia, but I wonder if they could ever be commercially successful in the 21st century. More stringent health and safety rules must make them more expensive to operate, and at the end of the day, how many of us want to strip our clothes off outside and jump into unheated water, for any but a few days in the year? Maybe quite a lot, who knows? I certainly don’t! To be fair, last week I waded across the river in jeans, so I’m probably stupid enough to do it! Certainly back in the past plenty of people wanted to….
The promenade shortly comes to an end, and I have a choice to make. The route my app suggested takes me in inland along the roads, but there appears to be a path just below the seawall, so I decide to take the path, which keeps me as close to the sea as possible.
Across the bay, the familiar site of Heysham nuclear power station looms above the marsh grasses…
Very quickly it feels very isolated along here. There are no other people in sight in any direction.
I’ve suffered quite badly from loneliness during this lockdown. Living on my own for the first time in 30 years is such a shock to my system, and day after day, night after night, not seeing another human face is not something that my mind can cope with. But right now, it’s so peaceful here that I’m happy, even enjoying the isolation.
The path enters a patch of what looks like maize, I don’t know if it is maize, wouldn’t it be a bit weird, maize growing in a salt marsh? It’s really tall, towering over my head as I enter the thicket. For some reason I think about adders. I’ve never seen an adder and I’d love to, but not one with its fangs round my ankle. I’ve got no fear of snakes, but I think it would piss me off if I got bitten by one, especially a poisonous one.
Anyway, I don’t see any snakes, and none bite me, and the path soon arrives at Kents Bank station. Here I’ve got another decision to make. Again the route goes inland along roads, but the path continues along the marsh. On the map it’s hard to see where the path might go, and with the railway line running along that way I could get stuck the wrong side of the line. I ask a dog walker passing by if I can go that way. She’s not sure but says it’s pretty marshy.
Now I don’t mind some tough going terrain, and I know it’ll make the blog more entertaining for you lot if I get stuck in a marsh up to my neck and have to be rescued by the Bay Search And Rescue team, and I’d dearly love to please you all, but I’ve only just started this walk, and I don’t want to tramp the remaining 10 miles in wet shoes even, let alone wet clothes too.
But I’m so tempted, I really want to stick by the coast, and after the last section’s depressing long lane trudges the last thing I want is to do is more road miles. Eventually I accept defeat, and cross the railway line at the pretty little station, and onto the road.
The road leads up a steep hill, and in just a few minutes my surroundings have transitioned from coastal isolation to quintessential suburbia. People are mowing their lawns, washing their cars, painting their porches. Following the modern trend, gardens have been razed and capped by concrete, the patterns in the paving a lamentable attempt to retain some small trace of attractiveness…
…and I’m walking directly away from the sea that constantly entices and enthrals me, the singular purpose of my coastal walk. My mood drops. To top it off this hill is bloody steep!
Thankfully, it doesn’t last long, and I soon turn onto a footpath through a farm. Perched on top of the hill I’ve just vanquished, I zoom in on Kirkhead Tower. It looks for all the world like a medieval hilltop church or castle, but is actually an early 19th-Century summerhouse “folly“.
The path heads back towards the coast, through several fields, over styles, through pastures sprinkled with wild flowers, over little bridges, through little gates….
Along the way I encounter the narrowest style ever.
I’m not sure the picture really shows just how ridiculously tight this is! I’m not the thinnest of guys admittedly, but not overweight. OK, by this point of the walk I’ve got through a couple of nutty bars which might have widened me a little, but this is a real challenge. Oh, and perhaps a Kellogg’s Nutrigrain. Well, two of them. And a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer. And maybe one or two other things I’m struggling to remember, but I’m not fat, OK! It’s not like I’m getting a bit self-conscious about this, honestly. That was a really narrow gap. Really, really narrow. Believe me.
My little rucksack isn’t helping so I take that off and try to squeeze through, but my camera starts to get squashed. In the end, me and my rucksack, camera, nutty bars, Nutrigrains, Tunnocks Caramel Wafer and several other things give up and I just climb over the wall instead.
The path runs through a lovely shady glade, where I stop for some more refreshment, with the gnarled trunk of a hawthorn tree as my slightly creepy dinner guest. Now I’m through that gap I should be able to eat my own body weight with no more problems.
I realise I’ve lost yet another pair of reading glasses. I’m getting terrible for dropping my glasses on these walks. That’s one pair on each of the last three walks. Luckily they’re only cheap things, but I do worry that I’m doing my bit to litter Cumbria…
I drag my now considerable weight up onto my feet, and follow the path which ducks under the railway line. I wonder how many times I’ve crossed over or under this line now.
The path emerges into a pristine field, separated from the marsh by a low stone wall, and leads up to a farmhouse… Wyke Farm. I almost think the path is going to lead right through their open front door, but it takes a sharp left just before the house and drops down into the marshes again. Finally, I’m back on the coast.
I say hello to a cow, who shrugs her head to tell me to shove off…. charming.
The path doesn’t stay in the marsh for long, quickly turning and twisting over a little hill. Constrained within the narrow path, the heady perfume from the abundant elderflower saturates the still air….
The path arrives on Holy Well Lane, which leads towards the coast along the side of Humphrey Head, but I take a left towards an Outdoor Adventure Centre, and then follow the footpath along the crest of the head. I wonder who Humphrey was? He had a very big head.
The trees, exposed to the ravages of wind, or salt, or perhaps both, attempt to hide from the onslaught, stretching out hopelessly for a calmer place to live….
I meet a couple with binoculars pointed to the cliffs on the west side of the head, and ask what they are looking at. They tell me there’s a peregrine falcon nesting there with chicks. She nests there every year. I’ve never seen a peregrine falcon, and would like to add it to my “animals I’ve seen” page, so I stare out in the same direction… and see nothing but rocks and treetops.
“In that tree there” says the woman, pointing to the exact spot I’ve been looking at. After half a minute or so, their enthusiasm to involve me in the spectacle is rapidly diminishing, so I shout out “Oh yeah! Wow!”, hoping I might be accepted into the inner circle. A few more seconds of uncomfortable silence causes me to attempt to justify my deceit further – “Aww, aren’t the chicks beautiful!”, I exclaim.
“We were just remarking on how ugly they were”, the man tells me in a slightly suspicious tone.
“Hmmm, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that…” I counter weakly, and realising I’m on rapidly sinking ground rapidly follow with “Well, I’d better get on, I want to get round this head and continue before dusk”, and make a quick exit. I’ve never seen a peregrine falcon.
The higher I climb up Humphrey Head (I chuckle privately every time I say that name), the more the vista expands, and once I reach the trig point at the top, the sea covers perhaps 270° of the panorama, as this Pano shot shows….
The path then dips downhill towards the tip of Humphrey Head Point, until petering out amongst the rocks…
On the way down I was hoping to find a route around the west coast of Humphrey Head to join up with Holy Well Lane. Now I’m down here I realise that’s unlikely…
I’m going to get wet feet at the very least, if not sink up to my neck in mud. Oh well, I’ll have to retrace my steps, but it has been well worth coming down here anyway, it’s a lovely place.
On the way back up I balance my camera on a rock to take a selfie. I feel the need to prove to you lot that it was a very narrow gap. Very narrow. No normal human over the age of 9 would have fitted through that gap.
I climb back up to the trig point, and pass the ornithologist couple. Just my luck they’re still there. They’re eating a packed lunch, and she kindly asks if I’d like an egg and cress sandwich. I’m sure she’s feeling sorry for me, for having to humiliate myself in front of them earlier. He just looks grumpy. “No thanks, I answer, I’ve already eaten a couple of nutty bars…. and a Kellogg’s Nutrigrain. Two of them. And a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer, and a couple of other things I can’t remember.” They say that adding excessive detail is the sign of a liar, but this was the first time I’d actually told this couple something that was true. I made another quick exit.
The next couple of miles of the walk was along lanes unfortunately. Last week the lane walking really got me down, but I’m in a good mood today. I think it’s because I’ve already done a decent amount next to the coast, so I’ve built up a reservoir of good-feeling.
I pass a pretty stone wall covered in moss, the front entrance to Wyke Farm (I passed their back door earlier). It has a lovely welcoming watering can of flowers.
Further along the lane are the remains of Wraysholme Tower, a 15th century three storey fortified house.
Beyond the tower, a stand of trees gracefully caps off the delightfully named Appleberry Hill…
I find there’s something very evocative about small clusters of trees at the top of a hill. Perhaps it reminds me of another instance in West Devon, shortly before you arrive in Cornwall, at a place called Cookworthy Knapp near Lifton. Whenever I return to Cornwall, and I see that stand of trees, I know I’m nearly at the end of my long journey. I’ll shameless steal Dom Haughton’s picture of it because it’s so spectacular…
The hedgerows are full of flowers, which keeps me happy trudging along the road.
Towards the end of the lane, I pass a house with some sort of bunker in the garden. I’m intrigued as to what it might be for. I take a photo.
Is the owner one of those strange survivalists like you get in America. I wonder? Those guys with hundreds of guns. Machine guns, and heavy calibre sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles? As I’m considering this I realise I’ve still got my camera pointing at his property, and shift off hastily down the lane before I’m taken captive and tortured for information about the Illuminati and the global conspiracy.
A left turn finally takes me onto a road heading straight for the sea. I’d stop for a sticky toffee pudding, but I’ve already had a couple of nutty bars, two Kellogg’s Nutrigrains, a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer…. you get the idea.
At the end of the road, I pass the Bay Search And Rescue Headquarters, which luckily I haven’t made the acquaintance of today, through a gate and suddenly the world opens up again…
This is called the “West Plain” according to the OS map. A raised bank stretches off to my right, and I follow it along the edge of the marsh. My spirits lift, I’m back by the coast again. I’m starting to feel a bit tired, but I’m enjoying this stretch so much and I don’t care.
In the far distance a tractor silently trundles out onto the mudflats, perhaps harvesting shrimps or cockles or something to serve the little packing plant down by the sticky toffee pudding factory. It seems customary for me to include a picture of a tractor now in my blogs, so here it is…
A beautifully formed thistle lines the path, and for some reason appeals to me enough for me to take its portrait. Thank-you thistle.
The path curves gently around to the right at Cowpren Point, tracked at every turn by a dry stone wall, whitewashed by a thin covering of lichen….
As the path heads north, the marsh retreats and the water comes up to meet me on the path. The setting western sun is framed by dark clouds, punctured by pinholes where shafts of the dying sunlight pierce through onto the hills of the opposite bank…
A forlorn empty fence wends its way down into the water, separating only pebbles from pebbles, sand from sand, water from water…
As the light is dying, so years ago did this tree. Now a stark memorial sat destitute on its grassy bank, supported by its low stone wall, its pallor flaunting its death.
On the path in front of me, a little bird sips from a puddle. As I approach he flies off to the next puddle a few yards further on. Before he has a chance to take a drink, I’m too close and he flies off to the next one. This happens at least six times before he gets the right idea and flies back behind me to drink in peace. Stupid bird. I don’t know what it is, looking up on the RSPB website, maybe a Blackcap, but I’ve really no idea [it’s a Pied Wagtail apparently].
The marsh again separates me from the water on my left, while a row of lovely foxgloves decorates the dry stone wall on my right.
The track passes under the railway line, it must be my tenth crossing of this railway at least!
…and follows a tiny stream until it arrives in the village of Cark, where I cross over the little stone bridge, and arrive back at my car.
This walk was completed on 7th June 2020, and was about 11.6 miles long. Here’s the map:
Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…: