The plan was to take to the coast at Selker Bay for the walk to the military zone and to take the beach or the small road round the base and on to our first river crossing over the River Esk. A short walk up the River Esk to Ravenglass follows where we hope to have a break. Leaving Ravenglass there is a short walk across the marsh, another potential wade across the River Irt, just after Carleton Hall, before hitting the beach below Drigg for the final section into Seascale.
Walking with my wife and daughter today, we were walking light with only day packs, primarily with the waterproofs, snacks and water.
Walking behind the beach on a low raised shelf it was clear that the shoreline here is subject to fairly severe erosion. There were large bite-like gaps where the path should be and we were left wondering for how much longer you will be able to walk on the seaward side of the fence. Despite the overhead clouds and gathering darkness we had reasonable views out to sea and looking north over to the Cumbrian Mountains in the direction of Scafell Pike (3209 feet high, Englands highest mountain) and the Copeland Forest.
In the far distance in front of us we could see the dark outlines of St Bee's Head. As we approached the edges of the military base (Eskmeals) we were disappointed to see the red flag flying, indicating that there was firing activity on the ranges, meaning we would need to abandon our hope of walking along the front of the beach. It was obvious by now that while we might be walking beneath a huge, black cloud other areas were enjoying a wee bit more sunshine than we were. On our left as we took to the road, on the other side of the range, is the southern end of the Driggs Nature Reserve, which contains the largest dune system in Cumbria. It is a major centre for breeding birds and home to natterjack toads and newts.
Apart from being very cold and stoney underfoot, it was only on the final part where the water came over the ankles and reached about knee height. It was the cold that got to you. By the time we reached the far bank I could not feel my feet or lower legs. The exit was over jagged stones and mud which we had to cross before reaching land dry enough to sit down and put the boots back on. As we dried off the feet the rain came on.
Ravenglass is on the estuaries of three rivers: the Esk, Irt and Mite. It was a Roman garrison town for three hundred years with about five hundred troops based there. There are the remains of a Roman bathhouse in the village, with substantial remains still visible. There is little visible evidence of the Roman fort that was there.
The seven-mile Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway starts here, terminating at Dalegarth Station, near the village of Boot. Privately owned and supported by a preservation society, the railway was established in 1875, originally to transport the ores mined in nearby valleys. A passenger service was introduced in 1876. Following a gradual reduction in both trade and passenger services the line was closed to passengers in 1908 and to freight in 1913. Reinstigated in 1918, the railway operated in various shapes and forms and under various owners up until 1960, when it was sold at auction to a private company, supported by the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society.
Coming off the bridge we moved on to a pedestrian walkway which crosses a marsh, part of the nature reserve. The views back to Ravenglass from the walkway were quite spectacular with a sharp contrast between our dark environment beneath a huge thundercloud and the white light on the distant horizon over towards Barrow-in-Furness.
The high water level as we walked convinced us that it was unlikely we would be able to cross the ford on the River Irt later on at Drigg, which we were scheduled to reach just about the high tide mark. If we were unable to wade the River Irt, plan B was to divert just before Carleton Hall to take the road detour via the Holme pedestrian bridge.
The River Irt was once famous for black peals which grew in its fresh water mussels. Sadly, very few of the mussels remain now, poached almost to the edge of extinction. As we walked this section the rain continued to fall, becoming heavier with each mile walked.
If the Gods were with you and the pieces of tide, weather and firing times on the range fell in to place, this would be a very nice walk. Despite the gloom and the heavy rain we did enjoy parts but by the latter end it would be fair to say we were pretty miserable and more than happy to finish.