This section has been a long time coming. It fills a gap I left a year ago, then just as the time became right to walk it, the whole country went into another Covid lockdown. The other obstacle is the River Esk, and how to get across it. This map explains….
It’s that word in the middle… Ford. You can only walk this route around low tide. On the dates of previous walks the tide has been high, and so I’ve continued further up the coast, but today it should be low, and I expect to get to the ford an hour or so before the turn of the tide, so hopefully I won’t have to take the 6-mile diversion inland to the nearest bridge to get across.
I found a cool webpage that shows a nice graph of the tide times and depths for any time and place. It shows 4:40 pm is low tide, and I should get there around 2:30 pm. We’ll see!
The reason I want to wade across is that estuaries really get on my nerves. I’ve spent a lot of time walking up one side of a river and down the other side. Lancashire and South Cumbria are full of bloody estuaries… the Ribble, the Lune, Kent, Leven, Duddon… At most of them I have an urge to wade across to save hours of walking. I did that back in the summer of 2020 across the River Kent… that was fun. However, for many rivers it’s impractical, they’re way too deep, but hopefully not this one.
Reading other coastal walkers’ blogs, the River Esk has been tackled in different ways. Both Ruth and David went a few miles inland and used the Muncaster Bridge on the A595, while Alan, William, and Helpful Mammal went through the ford. Ted even went over the railway bridge, which is pretty cool, but at the time the railway was on strike! I want to tackle the ford, and I’ve even bought myself a pair of sandals just for these wading occasions.
I drive up to Ravenglass and park in the lane just outside the station. I get chatting to a guy while waiting for the train who is going all the way back to Brighton. He spent yesterday – when it was chucking down with rain all day – climbing up Scafell. When he got to the top visibility was almost zero, just enough to spot ten other mad people who had done the same thing. I ask him had he enjoyed it?…… “No”!
The train takes just 6 minutes to get to Bootle, and I trudge off down a track towards the coast.
At the bottom a sign tells me that the English Coastal Path isn’t complete, with a gap just south of Ravenglass. Of course I have plans for that, so continue onto the machair (love that word), where the sea is slowly crumbling the low mud cliffs away.
The sea is very rough today, as a strong wind blows in from the west. Occasional light showers bring in horizontal rain, but they only last for a minute or so, and I don’t really mind as the wind dries me off in no time. With each shower, rainbows appear ahead of me, luring me onwards.
The path threads a narrow route between a fence and the crumbling cliff, although there’s always room to get through. The wind howls, throwing breakers onto the stony beach below.
A cormorant stands on a rock, surveying the white horses for a glimpse of lunch.
I round a headland and now the wind is behind me which is a bit nicer. I meet a couple of little Shetland ponies enjoying the autumn sunshine.
The path eventually joins a minor road, which runs along the coast.
Up ahead is a tall steel tower, which looks like it’s growing out of a house. Maybe something to do with the Eskmeals Firing Range?
On my right the mountains of the lake district are bathed in sunshine.
The road reaches the start of the Eskmeals Firing Range, where it swings inland. I wasn’t sure when I set out this morning whether they would be firing today or not, but luckily the red flags are down.
A sign warns about picking up any strange objects on the beach, that might be live shells. A few weeks ago I picked up a big seashell and brought it home, only to find it had a massive centipede thing still living inside it. It must have been 3 inches long. That was definitely a “live shell”, and I thank the MOD for their pertinent warning.
With no firing today, it means I can safely leave the road and walk along the beach instead. Although this is a much longer route, as I’ll have to go right around the peninsular, it’s a lovely beach and the sun is out, so I’m happy.
This beach at Eskmeals is one of the best beaches I’ve encountered so far on this walk. A flat expanse of fine sand, with an almost oil-like coating of water reflecting the sky.
At the top of the beach a stockade of pebbles guards the off-limits firing range. An old railway wagon lies on the pebbly slope. How on earth did that get there?
Beyond the stockade, several concrete buildings have been built, presumably as features of the firing range to practice urban fighting.
As another rain shower sweeps in from the west ahead of me, a rainbow appears, its end plunging into the soft sand dunes of Drigg Point.
Up ahead is the village of Ravenglass. It really doesn’t look too far away now, and I’d swear I could just walk right into it from here.
The Drigg Point sand dunes are just the other side of the River Esk estuary, and it really looks like I could wade across to them easily also. However, the sand dips down steeply into the water, and probably continues down steeply for a while. That water is quite deep! Besides, when I look at my route map I don’t want to be over there anyway, I need to stay this side of the estuary for the time being to get to Ravenglass.
Apart from just the depth, the currents look crazy out there. As the river water meets the retreating tide, circular swirls and ridges of water moving in opposite directions appear and disappear randomly. It really wouldn’t be a good idea to be in there!
The beach changes from clean sand to a mix of sea-weed and pebbles encrusted with barnacles, that crackle under my feet. I’m approaching the northern end of this little peninsular, marked as Eskmeals Dunes Nature Reserve on the map.
I’m now so close to Ravenglass, surely I can just stroll into the village?…
…but just over a small rise, I see that would be harder than it first looked.
I’m not sure how deep that water is, but there are fishing boats moored in it so I’m guessing it’s not a case of just rolling my trousers up! It seems like I’m going to have to head for the ford after all. By walking the beach to the western side of the firing range however, I’ve ended up a long way north of the fording point.
I round the northern tip of the peninsular, clambering over huge piles of rounded pebbles and boulders, and head south down the eastern side. Here the pebbles give way to marshy grass and sea plants. An abandoned boat has been dragged up onto the shore.
I see a couple out walking their dogs ahead of me, and gradually catch them up. We chat about their filthy wet dog who just loves the mud and water, and I mention my plan to ford the river at the end of the railway bridge.
They’re unsure about whether it’s feasible at the moment, with the tide not due to be at its lowest for almost two hours yet. I look across at the long bridge and think that it does seem quite a wide river as well. Doubts are rising in my head.
The path gradually gets wetter and wetter, where small streams swollen with yesterday’s heavy rain have cut deep gouges into the muddy riverbank. Fortunately, wooden paths and bridges have been built to get over the worst of it, but I still slip and slide a bit to get through.
The path reaches the road again, the same road I’d left before the firing range. I’ve come a very long way around! Here’s the sign for the ford, which I now see is a bridleway, not a footpath. Hmmm, horses have much longer legs than I do! The doubts increase.
A guy stands looking out over the river, and calls to me as I take my boots and socks off and put on the pair of sandals I’ve brought along especially for this crossing.
“It looks like you’re going to be very brave!” he says, making me even more unsure about this. Nick tells me he is part of a local group that have been campaigning for a foot-bridge over the river for quite a while. Initially they wanted to attach a crossing to the side of the railway bridge, similar to the one just north of Ravenglass, but Network Rail are refusing to entertain the idea at all. Another suggestion is to build a nice slim suspension bridge a little further up the river where it’s narrower. That would be nice. Either way, there’s only one way for me to get across today.
I roll my trousers up and make my way down to the water’s edge, over the slippery mud. I realise that having a big stick would be helpful here, and make my way back up the path to the road. Nick agrees it’s a good idea, and I head into a small clearing next to the railway, where I saw a branch off a large bush with my penknife, and strip the twigs off it.
Heading back to the water, Nick helpfully points out that even though it’s only an hour and a half to low tide, the heavy rain over the last week means that the river is much fuller than normal. Thanks for that. He asks me if I mind him filming me making my crossing, which I’m happy to oblige. Perhaps if I submerge, or fall over mid-stream I’ll make it onto “You’ve been framed”, or at least Youtube. I ask him to take my picture with my phone, then head off down the bank again.
The water is surprisingly not that cold for October. A fellow coastal walker, William Dockery, who made this crossing just a few days back, wrote that the water was so cold he couldn’t feel his feet by the time he got to the other side, although the fact that he’d just covered 11 miles in a miserable rainstorm probably didn’t put him in the best frame of mind! I’ve had sunshine nearly all the way.
The river bottom is mostly stony so is quite easy to walk on. The first few dozen yards are easy enough, coming up to my knees before shallowing out again. The railway bridge towers over me on my right, the wind whistling through its ironwork. I hope a train comes along as this would be a great angle to get a photo, but nothing comes. I’m about halfway across.
The next part is quite a bit deeper, reaching my thighs. I use the stick to check it doesn’t get deeper still, but it gradually starts to shallow out again.
Looking back I can see I’m way past the halfway point now.
I reach the other side, and turn to give Nick a wave. I climb up the stone railway embankment to sit and dry off, and change back into my walking boots. I leave the stick there on the stones for any future southerly-bound coastal walker. Well, that was fun!
I continue along the sands northwards. I’m clearly the only person who has come this way since the high tide…
…although I do have some company.
The sand gives way to the same barnacled pebbles I crunched over on the other side of the river. A small stream and a path emerge through a bridge underneath the railway line.
The sun is getting lower in the sky, reflecting off the river to my left. It’s only half-past three… summer is definitely over, unfortunately.
I round a corner and arrive at the bottom of the entrance to Ravenglass. It’s a strange village – one street which ends at a slipway down into the sea. A robust steel gate protects the village from flooding in high tides and storms.
At the other end of the street, just 100 yards or so from the slip-way, is a small village green, with benches looking out over the estuary. A short lane leads me up to the railway station and back to my car. I’m pleased that I’m finally “gap-less” again, with an unbroken route from Liverpool to Silloth.
This walk was completed on 3rd October 2021, and was about 9.6 miles long. Here’s a real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around – just click on the map then click again.
Read some other coastal walkers’ write-ups for this section, just click on the image…