We left a very wet and dark Manchester this morning on a train headed for St Bee's. We learned a crap load about UK train travel that we didn't know because ... well, we aren't bloody Brits. I assumed train travel was much like metro travel in DC. In fact, it doesn't resemble it in many ways other than its sort of a train that takes you from point A to point B. After that, it's a whole new world.
Being the UK Train Virgin that I was, we hopped on the first accessible car, just happy to have caught the right train. I was feeling victorious! I got us from Miami, FL USA all the way to the train that would escort us to St. Bee's, Cumbria UK. I was proud of myself so far. Turns out, I was a moron because we were in the First Class Car with Reserved Seating. "Excuse me, Madame. May I see your tickets?" I was not afraid. I knew I'd paid the right fare and we were where we belonged. How wrong I was.
"You can sit anywhere but here, Madame. You didn't make a reservation for first class." I turned red and told Lauren to follow me as we shrunk off to the next car through an inner connecting door. We found two seats and although not together, we had enough room and I was actually sitting at a table. I could see several people in the car in front of us who were forced to stand because there were no seats available. We soon discovered that we were still in First Class and my seat was Reserved. Fabulous.
After one stop, a gentleman approached my table and announced to the man across from me that he was in the wrong seat. He produced his ticket and kindly told the seated gentleman to shove off and get out of his seat, which he had reserved and paid for. Oh great! Every time we stopped and people approached me, I silently rehearsed my speech of "Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize these seats were reserved. Please forgive me." After several stressful stops, I finally asked another passenger who told me that I'd lucked out. The reserved sticker on the back of my seat indicated that the poor bastard who'd booked the seat was supposed to board at Manchester (where we boarded) but never showed. I could relax in peace and occupy a seat that I hadn't paid for and shouldn't have been in. I'm convinced that those Coast to Coast gods I mentioned have our backs. We sat in first class without harassment until we changed trains in Lancaster. We thank you!
At Lancaster, we had 15 mins or so to catch the next train to St. Bee's. We shivered and chatted our teeth on the platform until we climbed aboard a much smaller and less crowded train. The landscape began to change drastically from city scape to green farmlands of large fields of sheep, cattle and horses. I smiled a lot. The smell changed too. From rain to manure. I continued to smile. We hugged the coast of the Irish Sea quite often but jagged inland quite a bit as well. The hills became mountains whose tops were hidden by the clouds. Lauren pointed and asked if we were climbing stuff like that. When I answered in the affirmative, she said "shit".
We arrived in St. Bee's and asked some fellow train riders if they knew where to find the Queen's Hotel. He pulled out his trusty GPS (which hadn't occurred to me) and pointed the way. He was a moron and I was too for following him. After quite a distance, we happened upon a lovely gentleman hanging out his living room window. I hollered "hello" and he replied. I asked him if we were headed in the right direction for the Queen's Hotel. He laughed and said no. Of course not.
After a course correction and a promise to poke our fellow train riders in the eyes should we happen to see them again, we found our destination. What an adorable old home turned B&B!! It's full of staircases and hallways and has three lounges, two bars and a great outdoor garden with tables. Our room is very quaint (read cold. As in without heat.) with an enormous bath tub that I would love to soak in except I'd be naked and cold when I got out. Instead, I'll look at it and say what a lovely tub it would be to soak in but I'll never really soak in it. Again, the getting naked and cold and wet part is a big deterrent.
We walked to the store attached to the post office to buy hats and gloves. (I told you it's cold.) We found a lane that looked out over some hills and from behind the stunning Irish Sea was crashing into them....what a gorgeous view. Lauren agreed whole-heatedly and as she was taking a picture, a lady came into view. She quickly caught up to us and struck up a conversation. It turns out that Mary lives at the top of the hill in St. Bee's. She's 69 and climbs these "hills" every day...hills that we call mountains. She was holding an arm full of rhubarb that she'd picked from her brother's place, where Lauren had photographed her. Lauren and I instantly took a liking to her. She told us how much she loves to meet visitors and spoke of her work at The Priory. She strongly encouraged us to stop into the Priory for a look-see in in the morning before we head off on our walk. She asked us to follow her to another place of interest. Another climb found us at a 6 or 7 ft stone circle with a plaque reading "Pinfold". Here was a place that Mary and her friends played in as kids. It was originally used to hold wandering sheep and cattle and when the owner came to claim them, they had to pay a fee to reclaim them. I asked how old it was and Mary simply replied, "Och, it's old." She sported a bit of an Irish brogue mixed with her English accent.
She told us what a lovely time we'll have and how happy she was to have met us. She complimented Lauren's gorgeous hair and Lauren reached out and touched Mary's hair and told her that she too had beautiful hair. My only regret about our encounter with Miss Mary is that I didn't take a picture with her and Lauren. I think we both felt like we'd met an old friend.
As I type this, we sit in the bar at The Queen's Hotel. Lauren is enjoying fish and chips and I'm having chicken and mushroom pie. I love England!
17 Day Itinerary
Our walk begins in St. Bee's on the West Coast of Great Britain at the Irish Sea. Almost 200 miles later, we will find ourselves at the North Sea in Robin Hood's Bay.
Day 1 - Moor Row, 9 miles The Jasmine House
Day 2 - Ennerdale, 8 miles Low Cock How Farm
Day 3 - Seatoller, 14 miles Seatoller Farm
Day 4 - Grasmere, 10.5 miles Town Head Farm
Day 5 - Patterdale, 7.5 miles Grisdale Lodge
Day 6 - Shap, 16 miles Brookfield House
Day 7 - Orton, 8 miles The Westons
Day 8 - Kirby Stephen, 13.5 miles The Black Bull
Day 9 - Keld, 14 miles Keld Lodge
Day 10 - Richmond, 14 miles The Old Brewery
Day 11 - Danby-Wiske, 14 miles Old School House
Day 12 - Osmotherly, 12 miles 32 South End
Day 13 - Clay Bank Top, 11 miles The Maltkiln House
Day 14 - Blakley Ridge, 8.5 miles The Sevenford House
Day 15 - Grosmont, 14 miles The Station Inn
Day 16 - Robin Hood's Bay, 16 miles The Raven House
Of course, these distances don't account for getting lost and doubling back a few times, avoiding an aggressive herd of heifers or navigating the moors.... or wandering off in search of a pint.