Carlisle to Wetheral – 11 miles
I slept well and never had recourse to use the ear plugs. The Cartref (odd name eh?) is a proper business B&B, it must have about 10 rooms over 2 upper floors, which is sometimes better than the places where you’re sleeping in Johnny’s room now that he’s gone off to University. They’re better when the owner actually engages with the guests and that was how Melanie was. She was very chatty as I was eating breakfast and was interested to learn about the Eden Way, it was not one she’d heard of before. I think most of her walking guests are Hadrians Wall walkers and she naturally assumed that was my route too. I promised to send her a copy for the guest lounge when its published.
As I sat at breakfast I could see all the cars passing by the window had a thin sheen of frost on their roofs and the sky was a perfect blue, both usually signs of a great day ahead. I couldn’t wait to get out and on to the path. I’d chosen an American breakfast (2 rashers of bacon, 2 fried eggs, 2 has browns and 2 pancakes), which is a first for any place I’ve stayed in, but the other options all included beans, which in my opinion have no place on the breakfast menu and should be banished to the tea menu if anywhere. A ‘build your own breakfast’ option would have been nice, but that’s one of the downsides of a business B&B, they can’t cater for 10 custom breakfasts orders each morning I guess. You can’t have everything!
I set out into the bright sunshine, wearing my long sleeve baselayer and my soft shell jacket rather than the Paramo. I wanted somewhere to go if it got really cold! My feet were sore, but I took it really slowly through Rickerby Park, across the wonderfully over-engineered Memorial Bridge and up to the very impressive war memorial. An interpretation board says that 25,000 people turned out to watch the unveiling of this incredible monolith, dedicated to the sacrifice of the men and women of Westmorland and Cumberland in WW2.
Once I’d left the environs of the park it was pretty much tarmac for the rest of the day. This played havoc with my feet and I could actually feel the blisters developing. I really am paying the price for not preparing properly for this walk! I’ve never really suffered from blisters, of course I’ve the odd one or two with new boots or long days in wet shoes, but let’s put this in context; I bought a box of Compeed (6 plasters?) in 2013 on the Southern Upland Way, the same box is still in my first aid kit and there are 2 plasters left, I don’t think that’s going to be enough! I’m just going to have to slog it out. I remember my mate Rob’s feet on the C2C in 2009 and mine aren’t even close to that bad and he carried on to the end.
About 4 miles in, at Park Broom, just as I was going to rejoin the path beside the Eden, I found a sign saying the path had been washed away in 2016 and the RoW had been closed ever since. A diversion pointed me (and all the Hadrians Wall walkers) along a busy main road. My usual approach to diversions is to ignore them, but I didn’t fancy proceeding and having to turn round when I found the path washed away. I dutifully followed the diversion. The road was awful, it did at least have a pavement and a little distance between the rushing trucks. As I was entering Low Crosby, at the far end of the diversion I met a local man out for a walk. He told me the diversion was unnecessary and it was safe to use the original route, provided you used a little common sense and crossed into the field beside the river. He was less than complimentary about the ‘jobs worths’ in Carlisle City Council ‘Health and safety gone mad’ and so on. I was grumpy for a while!
Once I’d completed the tarmac diversion, in order to return to the riverside path, I had to cross a field of inquisitive sheep and two electric fences across the RoW, with no stiles. The fences were live (my upper thigh can attest to that) and if it hadn’t been for the consequences (dozens of sheep being released on to the riverside path) I would have flattened it. Landowners know that the local council path enforcement budget is one of the first to be cut and even when walkers report them (I’ve reported several in the past 12 months) nothing seems to happen and there’s no feedback to tell you if they have done something. Unless you’re waking the path regularly you’d never know. I know it’s a bit militant, knocking down illegally placed fences, but as I find more and more of them, my tolerance level is falling.
The grassy path only lasted about a hundred yards and I was back on tarmac again. The problem is there’s absolutely no alternative to the road section between Crosby and Wetheral, none at all. I’ve checked and checked and found nothing that avoids the tarmac, not without going miles out of the way.
The sun went in about 11am and it got cold, so I swapped to the Paramo and donned my woolly hat with the hole in the top (that’s not a design feature, or a fashion statement, it’s a washing accident). I put my hood up and plodded on. At Little Corby (about 8 miles in) I stopped at a Co-op and bought a couple of lunch items. It began to rain as I walked out of the shop, so I took shelter in a bus shelter and watched the light rain turn into hail and once it finished I pushed on. Each time I stopped today, starting up again proved to be really difficult, the feet protesting at moving and I hobbled for a few dozen yards before I got back into the swing of it.
The award for ‘worst road I’ve ever walked on, ever’ goes to the A69 between Little Corby and the turn off to Wetheral. It’s about 1/2 a mile on a narrow little pavement, literally inches from 40 ton trucks doing 50 miles an hour, blowing up grit and dust from the road, into my face. Without the pavement it would be impossible, with it it’s just about doable, but a bloody nightmare. The problem is that there’s no alternative.
Crossing the road to pick up the lane into Wetheral took me about 5 mins, and I eventually took my life in my hands and ran across between gaps in the trucks. I say ran, it was more like a fast hobble, or a quick shuffle on feet that were beginning to feel like chopped liver. Another mile or so, along the quieter, but narrower lane and I eventually met the side road to Wetheral. I climbed the ’99 steps’ beside the viaduct (I only counted 93 but wasn’t prepared to go back down and conduct a recount) up to the station and beyond it to the Crown Hotel. It was 2pm exactly, which just happened to be the earliest time I was able to check in!
Thankfully my room was ready, so after a visit to the bar to collect a pint of beer and a pint of Diet Coke, I made my way upstairs as best I could and dropped my kit in the room. I took off my boots and I think I now know what heroin junkies experience when they get high! My left liner sock came away with a bloody stain, which is nice. When I checked the bathroom, joy of joys, THERE WAS A BATH! I filled it as high and as hot as I could and lowered myself gingerly into it. It was feckin’ bliss! I may have fallen asleep. It goes down as one of my all time favourite baths!
All time favourite baths of my life:
1. Border Hotel on last day of Pennine Way 2010
2. Ancient Unicorn on Pennine Way 2010
3. Crown Hotel Wetheral today! pic.twitter.com/0O1QUZejgy
— Stuart W. Greig (@LoneWalkerUK) March 29, 2018
I’m down in the bar now, with a second pint of Corby (a local brew I’m guessing) and wondering what the hell I’m going to do for tea. The hotel is quite upmarket and not a little up its own arse I think. The menu is really a bit pretentious and bloody expensive. I hadn’t planned on spending £25 just for a main course! A quick search on Google and I see that there’s a pub about 3/4 of a mile away, their website suggests the menu is a bit more to my taste and quite a lot cheaper. The only problem is the 3/4 of a mile there and the 3/4 of a mile back. Maybe I’ll just have flapjacks for tea, I’ve got a couple of spare ones in my pack.
Hopefully today’s blog doesn’t come across too moaney; other than the 8 miles of tarmac, the proximity of massive trucks and my bloody feet, I really enjoyed today. It gets better tomorrow too, with less than a mile of tarmac all day.