Our first day on the Coast to Coast proved to be a diverse and gorgeous adventure. The day began with a wonderfully filling breakfast of muesli, veggie sausages, and other breakfast treats. Then, with full bellies, we set of for the ocean to pay homage to Alfred Wainwright and to choose a pebble from the Irish Sea to journey with us. Once the rituals were complete, we headed of for the cliffs north of St. Bee’s into spitting rain and gusty winds. After swinging past the lighthouse and a quarry, we meandered east through pastures, woodlands, and more than a few herds of sheep. The rain shifted to mist as we distanced ourselves from the coast. Soon after, the sun even began to shine. Although hiking in the sun may seem normative and ideal, it is far from common in England. We count our blessings each and every time that we see the sun. After a breathy climb up Dent Hill, we saw the valleys that would lead us into the Lake District, the first National Park on our itinerary. All in all, a great day that ended with a wonderful meal full of roasted vegetables!
Today, we awoke to a similar cold, misting rain. There seems to be a pattern here… This rain, however, was a little more persistent. As we hiked along Ennerdale Water, a long lake not far from our B&B, tall, rounded mountains surrounded us. Their rolling summits were continuously hemmed in by low clouds and fog, but their grandeur was no less obvious. Do you remember the Misty Mountains? You get the picture. The same clouds that hit the peaks also ensured that our wet weather gear was getting its first real test. I am pleased to report that our jackets and our spirits held up wonderfully to the dreary weather. For lunch, we happened upon the Black Sail Hostel nestled high in the fells. It was cramped and cozy but mostly importantly dry (exactly what the doctor ordered).
After lunch, we continued our climb to the saddle above Black Sail. On this path, as with many others, it was unclear where the mountain stream and the path differed, which meant that slippery rocks and boggy puddles made our trekking poles all the more necessary. As we reached our ridge, the rain began to let up and the clouds lifted (somewhat) to give us a view down into a valley not unlike the one we had just exited. From this vantage point, we could see the cold, clear water of the glacial lake and could trace the interlocking ridges that abutted its shores upwards, back into the clouds. It was serene. The kind of landscape that neither words nor images can express, for it must truly be experienced to be understood.
As we skirted a peak to another low ridge, our view changed. It was still expansive and grand, but now featured the scars of mining on the hillsides. Slate is a common rock in this section of Lakeland, and it has been harvested for many years. The tunnels and platforms that remain in this area are noticeable, but seem to have been embraced by the flora and fauna. Instead of being obtrusive or ugly, they tell a story of human interaction with the land, which is a tale that we often choose to overlook when confronted with wild spaces. Today, this mine reminded me of Tolkien, not of mountaintop removal. The old ways are sometimes far less destructive than the new.
From that saddle, we walked down our slate-covered path to a smaller, more modern mine still in operation. At this point, we knew what lay ahead, a warm bed and a hot dinner. That alone put a little more pep in our step, but we were yet to be surprised. The path from the mine down into Borrowdale brought us from the high country to the alpine woodlands. As we descended, we walked past pastoral stone walls that snaked up into the mountains, groves of healthy trees, open fields, and a meandering river. It was everything you could want from a valley, and even the sun came out to greet us.
Now, we have settled into our room for the night and are headed off to dinner. Tomorrow, we are off to Grasmere.