Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Where was James Bond at this Smuggler's Retreat

As the good weather continues a walk on the cooler side of hot was called for and as it’s also enjoyable to go to another area within the county a costal walk seemed to fit the bill. St, Bees is just over an hour away from Wetheral Cottages. With the expectation of it being cooler on the coast and perhaps an onshore breeze, we chose the walk around St, Bees Head. The walk was taken from “OS More Lake District Walks (Pathfinder Guide)” a 6.5 mile walk with less than a mile of road walking. This was the area I was brought up in, so I knew the route well, but despite living and working within a couple of miles to one of the highlights of the walk – Fleswick Bay – this was only my fourth visit to the bay, but another memorable one.

St, Bees Beach and Village

The walk starts from the seafront Car Park from where the first part of the route is easily visible and appears more challenging than it really is. This is also the start of the Coast to Coast Walk so those treading the route to Robin’s Hood Bay would traditionally touch the sea before leaving. Walking up the south head gave us good views, despite the heat of the day causing a hazy skyline, of the beach, village, Wasdale Fells in the distance also to the south Black Combe. Once up the South Head we could see a hazy Isle of Man and Southern Scotland. We met very few other walkers and within the hour were sitting enjoying refreshments on the shingle in Fleswick Bay. The sea was a clear blue and one could just imagine this as an ideal location for James Bond to land with his young lady! Yes this is a really idyllic smugglers cove location and with no road access and set between the mastiffs of the north and south head it still retains its wow factor. Gulls and Cormorants flying to and from the nesting sites visible high up on the south head held our interest as we enjoyed watching the receding tide.

Fleswick Bay from the North Head

The path up onto the north head had been clearly visible as we walked towards Fleswick but though the joints seemed to have stiffened (obviously we had enjoyed the ambience of the cove for too long) as we climbed up onto the north head we were rewarded with a good view point looking back into Fleswick. The path then took on a rather steadier gradient up to the highest point near the Lighthouse. The head is an PSPB Reserve and we found several viewing hides along this part of the walk, we took advantage of one of these and were surprised to see some very precarious ledges packed with Guillemots.

The St, Bees Lighthouse now controlled from some central point stands quite majestically on the top of the head, I remember as a small boy being show round the workings and was amazed at the size of the bulbs used. The path continues steadily on along the cliff edge and soon the industrial landscape of West Cumbria becomes clearer – wind turbines very much in evidence today. We took a slight detour to Birkhams Quarry, a sandstone quarry, and from there took the lane to the village of Sandwith.

Gullemots on St, Bees Head

Whitehaven was once one of the major English ports with sailing ships trading with the Caribbean, Americas as well as slaves. The Beacon and Rum Story in Whitehaven are well worth a visit and very informative of this period of Whitehaven’s history. Empty ships return to the Americas often took on sandstone as ballast, this was used for building and was I believe used to face a government building in America. The building required some renovation in the late 60’s so Birkhams Quarry was reopened to fill this need and still produces a small amount of building material as required.

Once in the village we joined our first stretch of road, then about ¼ of a mile out of the village we took a narrow lane to Demesne Farm, through the farmyard then a short lane walk we found ourselves crossing the Whitehaven to St, Bees road. Here we once again had good views into the Ennerdale Valley. The route then leads through another Farm – Bellhouse – then the path drops down into the St. Bees valet and we soon see a sign off to the left which signals the route those heading along the Coast to Coast route should take but we continue on to St, Bees some 2 or 3 miles ahead and of course our ultimate goal.

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