We had slept but fitfully in our gable oven. After an uninspiring breakfast washed down with tasteless coffee, we headed south from The Grove Court Hotel towards the centre of the village.
It was a beautiful morning with another cloudless sky. Cleator Stores, proved to be a tiny shop which seemed to sell a little of everything. But not water! Those pesky hikers had cleaned them out during the hot spell! They kindly filled our empty bottles with tap water, and allowed us to buy the last tube of toothpaste on the premises.
From the stores, setting a precedent for the next two weeks, we headed east. This initially involved a climb through Blackhow Wood. In this sylvan setting, we came face to face with a lost coast to coaster! Len, a native of The Isle of Wight, was like ourselves, starting out on his second day having stayed in Cleator. We compared maps and compasses, and decided that there was no alternative but to keep climbing. Walking together, we emerged from the tree line onto Dent Fell with its views of Sellafield and The Irish Sea beyond. We clambered over the fell’s highest point – Dent Hill, before descending, initially very gently, and then quite precipitously down Raven Crag into a narrow valley following Nannycatch Beck. At this point, as can be seen from the above map, I remembered that I should be recording the route! The stream was but a trickle; indeed we had passed a lady walking her dog who told us that they had experienced incredibly good weather in the Cleator area over the previous fortnight. We were entering Lakeland; this indeed was unusual weather for The Lakes.
We climbed gently in the company of Nannycatch Beck, before descending to the village of Ennerdale Bridge. As is our tradition, we stopped at the first public house: The Fox & Hounds Inn; a good decision. It is a community-run pub, and proved to be friendly and popular. Making the most of the sunshine, we sat outside, munching sandwiches, and enjoying a pint of the local ale (Wild Ennerdale brewed by The Ennerdale Brewery, some three miles north in the hamlet of Rowrah). This was where we left Len who was staying in the village overnight.
We wandered into the tiny church of St. Mary’s before heading towards Ennerdale Water. The weather remained cloudless; the afternoon was hot. The walk along the south side of the lake proved to be surprisingly arduous – the terrain was rocky and uneven; in addition, about one third way along the lakeside, there was a stiff climb up to a promontory known as Robin Hood’s Seat. The views were eye-catching, but progress was somewhat slow; it took the best part of two hours to walk from Ennerdale Bridge to the eastern extent of the lake. From this landmark, we crossed meadows, before taking the bridge over the Liza (as with Nannycatch Beck, it was somewhat depleted, barely warranting its title as a river) to reach a woodland track. This lead us to Ennerdale Youth Hostel at High Gillerthwaite. We learned that the track extends westwards, back around the northern edge of Ennerdale Water, and is good enough to convey vans and four-wheel drive vehicles. It is therefore a much quicker way of reaching the YHA from Ennerdale Bridge; but then, you would miss Robin Hood’s Seat!
The YHA sits in a peaceful sylvan setting on the northern side of the narrow dale. Discussing our accommodation, we realised that neither of us had stayed at a youth hostel before! It was friendly and intimate. Our room was rather cramped, filled by two sturdy bunk beds. But the facilities, although not ensuite, were spot on. Supper proved to be a wholesome three course meal – Cumberland sausage was the main attraction. We bought a bottle of red wine by the name of Jack Rabbit, which had travelled all the way from California. Jack was in good company, as there was an eclectic bunch of youths staying the night. Among them was a chap from Halifax, wiry and taciturn, and at least our age, planning to walk/jog/run the C2C in eight days! We got into conversation with four lads (lads! ….. they were probably in their fifties!) from Nottingham, who had started the day in St Bees, and not surprisingly had run out of steam at Ennerdale Bridge. Luckily, they had found a taxi willing to bring them up the long, rough track to the YHA. Julia and I had also run out of steam; we did something that we have rarely resorted to – we went to bed when it was still light. The lack of darkness certainly didn’t inhibit our ability to drop off!