Sheep and Sellafield

Sheep — the dominant lifeform of the walk — and in the background, Sellafield, the dominant object.

Date completed: 5th September 2018. The fourth anniversary of walk 87, which like this one, was over 16 miles long.

Weather conditions: Sunny, warm, blue skies, dry. What more can I say? A beautiful day.

Summits bagged: Ponsonby Fell (1033’ above sea level, no. 162 of my second round), Caw Fell (2288’, no. 163).

Ponsonby Fell was previously bagged on walk 100, just shy of three years ago (14/9/15). Caw Fell was first bagged on walk 43a, just over seven years ago (1/9/11).


Seascale, the starting point

Start and end points: Started at Seascale rail station. This is served by, roughly, hourly trains between Barrow and Carlisle, except on Sundays. The beauty of the Cumbrian Coast Line is something that all its users can have plenty of time to appreciate, bearing in mind how long it takes trains to trundle round it. Including an hour’s break in which, thanks to heroically mistimed connections, I could become more closely acquainted with Barrow station, it took nearly three hours to get to Seascale even from Lancaster: and a total of four and a half hours from home. I eventually arrived to start the walk at about 11.15am.

Finished in Ennerdale YHA, at High Gillerthwaite. There is no public transport here, which is why this is only the first day of a two-day hike. I arrived, very tired, at 6.30pm.

Distance walked: 16.2 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2600 feet approximately.

Pub at end: The Ennerdale YHA is a lot less cramped and rustic than the Black Sail hut three miles further up the valley. In fact I am typing this sat on a comfy sofa and supping from the second of what I predict will be three bottles of Bombardier: it is licensed to sell beer and wine. The sausage and mash for dinner were simple but just what was needed. I slept OK, albeit in a dorm with two other guys. For information, a night’s accommodation (in that shared room), dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch set me back just shy of £50.

Stockdale Moor

On Stockdale Moor. Not the most exciting place in the world.

Route: This is a long walk, there’s no getting away from this fact. Gradients are easy, to the extent that until getting over Stockdale Moor, nearly nine miles in, one barely notices the gaining of height. But that also means that one seems to be climbing upwards forever, particularly on the last couple of miles up to Caw Fell (the summit of which I did not reach until nearly 5pm). And while there are some reasonably good views, the scenery immediately to hand is nothing to get excited about.

It needs a clear, fine day — definitely don’t go up Caw Fell in the rain or mist — but at the same time, in today’s warm sunshine I found it rather exhausting. But without a car you simply have to put these miles in to bag these fells — so let’s just man up and get on with it. You with me? Good.

Starting at Seascale station at least allows one to have the unusual but interesting experience of beginning at sea level — literally, in this case, by the beach — and then gradually immersing in the mountains. From the station, you can start with a bout of road walking if you like, but I’m trying to minimise it these days so my preference was to begin by going along the seaward side of the railway line as far as the footbridge, crossing that, then following the path up to the car park outside the golf clubhouse (where there will likely be several fifty- to sixty-somethings waiting to tee off).

Sellafield fence

The Sellafied perimeter fence, and a tree that looks rather alarmed by its proximity to it

The path to take is then the one to the right of the first fairway. Ignore the sign pointing to the right (to Croft Head) and keep going along this lane, through How Farm, and then turn left once reaching the road. Take the next lane right, go past Seascale Hall and into the little hamlet of Calder, and basically go straight on, following the Public Bridleway sign to Calder Bridge.

You are now firmly in the territory of the institution that became increasingly obvious as you walked up the fairway, namely Sellafield Nuclear Power Station, or Reprocessing Plant, or Visitor Centre or whatever-it-is these days. ‘Armed Police Patrol This Area [At Unpredictable Times]!’ signs have been sprouting since the club house, and probably will get exactly the reaction they are supposed to get — to make you feel guilty, regardless. So remember that your taxes are paying for all of this and you have a perfect right to be there and, indeed, take photos if you like. For one stretch of at least half a mile the bridleway runs right up against the perimeter fence. Guys in hi-vis were working away inside, drones for the system, doing heaven-knows-what as I ambled by in the sunshine. Ah well. It is not an uninteresting sight. And as I’ve said before, without it, it is very likely the Cumbrian Coast rail line on which this walk depends would disappear, so let’s suck it up.

Churchyard and power station

The churchyard at Calder Bridge — and the power station behind

Eventually you leave behind the biggest, meanest and least crossable fence to feature on this project and continue along the lane as it leads up towards Calder Bridge. It is worth paying a visit to the cute little church on your left, firstly because it saves a bit of walking on a main road, and second, as I was here at 12.45 (90 minutes from Seascale), there is a bench in the churchyard on which to sit and have lunch.

Once in Calder Bridge (which has a pub that is also a lunch option), take the lane that goes past the tiny garage. You can follow a path through the fields if you like but it is no great hardship here to walk on the tarmac for a bit, heading past the ruins of Calder Abbey (which underwhelmed me three years ago, and did much the same again today). At the cottage called Dancing Gate turn right, and through the gate, keep left. This path, with one sharp turn right, heads up to the very pretty ruin of ‘The Farmery’, and from there the summit of Ponsonby Fell is, at most, ten more minutes above.

View from the Farmery

View from the Farmery, back to the Irish Sea

From this unfairly maligned little Outlying fell head for the farm of Scalderskew (you won’t mistake this for some other farm, believe me); the terrain underfoot here isn’t great, but what the hell, worse is about to come. Leave the Scalderskew farm road at some indeterminate point on the left before it reaches the forest, and then just keep heading more-or-less in the direction of Haycock ahead: you will see this clearly as, following my heartfelt advice, you will not be doing this walk on anything other than a fine, clear day. There is a bad mile or so here. Piles of stones that may or may not be ancient tumuli (some clearly are) serve as only mild distractions from a long passage of grotty ground, pathless, tussocky grass that is just itching to twist your ankle.

The good news is the ground does improve. The bad news is that when it does, this also marks the point at which the slope steepens; and where I also realised I was still under 1000’ above sea level and thus less than half way up Caw Fell in altitude terms. The route, at least as far as the final plateau, is obvious but extends ahead to a despairing degree. One foot in front of the other is the only advice. Mild compensation comes with a fine view of the Scafells over to the right, past Seatallan.

View towards Haycock

View along the ridge, towards Haycock

Exactly where you will reach the ridge path is not predictable, but the summit of Caw Fell is quite a way over in the direction of Haycock so it is most likely that once you are on the ridge, turning right is the way to go. The summit cairn is on the north, Ennerdale, side of the wall. There are a couple of places to easily cross it.

From the cairn go along a bit further in the direction of Haycock, then bear left, where another cairn marks the start of the relatively easy but still long-seeming descent down to Ennerdale. At the bottom, where you come out between two footbridges, cross the one on the left, then an awkward little climb leads up onto a path that, after going through a gate, finally gives a good view of a lake (Ennerdale Water). Cross the unusual ‘Irish Bridge’ over the Liza, then turn right along the access road. The YHA and bunk house is about another half a mile up this road. Time it like I did and arrive just in time to enjoy a beer before supper.

The long Wednesday commentary: Some two-day walks have always been a necessity on this project. The fells around Wasdale and Ennerdale are difficult to reach in a day trip even from Morecambe: from home in Hebden Bridge that notion is impossible.

Ennerdale Water, evening

Ennerdale Water, in the shadows of early evening

This would be the case even without Northern Rail, but even so it is worth drawing attention to their heroic ineptitude when it comes to the times of connections in Barrow this morning. Being able to get trains that, with no more than a few minutes’ wait at either Preston or Lancaster station, get me to Barrow for about 9.23am — that is good. But wait — was that a train heading north from Barrow, around the west Cumbrian coast, that you see trundling off into the distance (metaphorically, anyway) as you disembark, having departed not five minutes earlier? And when was the next train — 10.22? That’ll be an hour to become acquainted with Barrow station then. OK, it’s not a disagreeable place but that’s not the point. It is timing failures like this that make me convinced that company and government policy is actually to put deliberate obstacles in the way of people actually using train services.

Scafells from Caw Fell

View over to the Scafells, from the climb of Caw Fell

Anyway, once I finally made it to Seascale this morning I could ponder the scale of the walk I had committed to. A few years ago — e.g. with walk 62 — I could have caught a bus from here that would have taken me to Gosforth or Calder Bridge that would have saved me those first few miles, but that service breathed its last back in 2015 or so. For the whole swathe of Cumbria between Egremont and Millom, the idea of a public bus service is now just a memory.

It is, at least, interesting to start on the coast and make one’s way inland, and it does offer up the full ‘Sellafield Experience’. Yes folks, chance to get up close and personal with what is possibly Britain’s most incongruous building complex. It sounds wrong. Sellafield burbles and hisses to itself like a live thing. A horn goes off every few minutes. Clearly it’s not an alarm (unless these things happen regularly, as if Homer Simpson were in charge of safety) but there’s still a distinct sense of paranoia engendered by simply being there. I take a leak on the verge at one point and half-expect armed police to leap out on me (At Unpredictable Times!). I’m not saying I wish it wasn’t there. I just find it a very strange place, like there’s a crack in space-time and here you stare through to another plane of existence.

Ennerdale woods

In the woods of Ennerdale

Turn your back on the anomaly, though, and behold, the Lake District. Coming in on the train there is a glorious vista of the western fells, from Black Combe up to Caw Fell, and it’s the latter which was the first target for this two-day slog. I had already nominated it ‘Wainwright Furthest From Public Transport’ (see the ‘Personal Notes in Conclusion’, at the very bottom of the page) based on walk 43a and today it took even longer to get there: five hours and forty minutes from Seascale. Though at least I could bag Ponsonby Fell on the way and remind myself (and you readers) that it is not at all the pointless drag that Wainwright makes it out to be, at least, not on a sunny day. The walk up from Calder Bridge, via the Farmery, is peaceful and pleasant.

But Caw Fell, by whatever route one seems to take up it but particularly the one I tried today, that is an endlessly rising moorland, with no seeming end to it, like a fellwalker’s vision of hell. On a warm sunny day it was purgatory. And all done simply to get myself in position for day 2: of which you can read on the walk 152b page…. where you will of course transport yourself right now.

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