Thursday, 12 November 2015

Lake District. St Bees Head. Fleswick Bay. Coastal Towns. Last Day.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
Our last day, Sunday, down in the Lake District was another forecast of murky summits and showers over high ground but again we had a plan to avoid wet weather. On previous trips in the Lakes, looking at maps, we'd spotted the Cumbrian Coastal Way, a section of which travelled along the high sandstone cliffs of St Bees Head. This is also, incidentally, where Wainwright's multi day 'Coast to Coast Walk' across The Lake District and Northern England starts... or ends. It is also the only section of coastline on the west between Wales and Scotland to gain Heritage Coast status in England and always looked spectacular in any photos we had seen.
After travelling through the town of Whitehaven we arrived via a minor road at Sandwith and the small car park of Tarn Flatts Farm. Here we got talking to some rock climbers as there is a popular bouldering venue near here on the red sandstone cliffs. Our path took us down by the lighthouse to the edge of the sea then along the cliff in the direction of St Bees, a small pretty community on the coast with a sandy beach.
This is a popular spot for birdwatchers and I immediately spotted a hovering kestrel on the hunt for mice and voles.
Our team consisted of John, Gail, Sandra, Alex and myself. Mostly the path along the clifftops was fairly flat and grassy with not much in the way of cliff views, except in a few places where you could see the actual face, as here on this viewing platform.
Mostly shags or cormorants on the ledges here as the breeding season was over for another year. (Not too sure which one this is.No distinctive head crests on show if shags.)
Things started getting interesting on the steep descent down to Fleswick Bay Beach and we could descend to be level with the base of the cliffs. This was much more impressive.
A very atmospheric day as our feet crunched across the shingle made up of millions of tiny multi coloured pebbles, many beautifully crafted by nature, wind and wave into polished sparkling gems. It was a dry walk along the coast here but a raw strong wind whipped up the sea enough to make it dramatic and give us a taste of what it would be like in full storm conditions down here. The enclosed nature of the bay, sheltered but also hemmed in under high brooding cliffs gave this place a majestic but distinctly lonely feel as we were the only folk on it.
At the far end the tide was in and we could go no further on the slippery wet rocks but I think caves appear further round at the base of the cliffs. Low tide access only probably.
As it was a dramatic spot we stopped for lunch here, taking in the cawing and inquisitive jackdaws, my favourite corvids, on the cliffs above; the extensive views out to sea and the mysterious half buried metal structures on the beach, revealed as the tide started going out. Seemingly too large and heavy to be wreckage off a ship they might be the remains of something to do with an old sandstone quarry that existed here. As they look like the mechanical innards of something big, like a steam engine, each corroded lump weighing close to a ton or more, if they did come off a ship wreck there was no sigh of the vessel that carried them, unless that had been salvaged years ago and cut up as scrap metal.

The red sandstone here takes a number of forms and shapes, depending on how wind and wave have sculpted it. In this photo a white band looks to have been painted on with meticulous precision but is presumably completely natural. You can see similar white bands further up on the cliffs.
In other places the boulders looked like egg box cartons, full of little dimples filled with rain or seawater, each with a huddle of tiny pebbles inside, as if sheltering from the elements in these calm shallow pools.
Although bouldering is popular here we certainly didn't fancy climbing the full cliff face as sandstone is notorious for its lack of decent holds,spaced far apart, its sandy texture and vertical tendency. Usually the grades are high in sandstone climbing away from obvious easy crack lines. VS, HVS or above.
Writing on the wall. And for us also as it was time to go home. We took the coast road back through Whitehaven, Workington, St Helens and Maryport. Although this is still the Lake District it has a very different feel to it. Post industrial landscape and towns with little of the prosperity visible throughout the prettier heartland of Cumbria. In general the mass movement of Lakeland tourists never visit here, some houses are boarded up while others need attention. Many fine old public buildings still exist and cling on from a time when money flowed through them due to productive coal and steel works, fishing, and other heavy industry but that time has past, replaced in the main with low paid jobs. I actually enjoyed the drive and wanted to get out and explore each urban area fully but we were pressed for time, as usual.  A coastal path and cycling track runs along this coast of long, flat desolate beaches and urban communities. It did have plenty of interest and stark beauty in the changing light and I would be perfectly happy cycling here on a good day. Not picture postcard beauty though. It reminded me strongly of many similar Scottish towns and no doubt large areas throughout England and Wales as well.
At one time, not that long ago, the wealth in the United Kingdom was spread more evenly than it is today. Now the main centre of real money is in London and the South East and a few other places, like Edinburgh where commerce, government infrastructure, and big business have a foothold. For the rest of the post industrial areas that can't attract tourists in numbers they appear to be in a long slow free fall. A recent report maintained that many areas of Scotland and the UK have actually been in recession for the last 40 years, not just the last 7. Many towns and cities throughout Britain have seen their population dwindle year on year while London has increased by two million since 1980. It doesn't take a genius to work out that poor people tend to stay in their own locality through lack of funds to go anywhere else and the ongoing austerity purge on the poorest in society will only serve to make deprived areas even more poverty stricken as they will have less money to spend in the district they live in. I get the impression with the conservatives though, after 45 years of watching them operate, that they would still ( allegedly) punish and demonize the poorest in our society, cut services, and flog off assets even if we had an abundance of spare money available as that's just what they do and what they have always done.
This link is from 2000... before the latest big business greed culture induced recession and well before the latest round of austerity cuts, although tellingly, a full ten years after the Thatcher era of similar cuts to the exact same things. Is the picture any different in 2015? Some events in life never change but I wish they would for the next generation ...or is this the best it gets forever?

When I first saw this video I couldn't believe it. I've seen other rock climbers making ascents of vertical cliffs without a rope attached but always in a calm, slow progression up the climb. This guy appears to have very little regard for his own life and it came as no surprise at all to learn he had died, albeit attached to a rope at the time. Even for the world's best... one slip or missed move and you die.

Here's another interesting short video that's worth a watch. Is this a hoax? If so it's a plausible one to any outsider, with a large following online and loads of different videos, especially given some of the other puzzling aspects of America that UK folk don't really understand, like its continuing determination to hang onto personal firearms, "for protection."


Carol said...

And of course, all the situations you mention towards the end of your post about dire conditions of unemployment and decline in ex-industrial towns will only get worse the more immigrants they let in to take our few remaining jobs (at pay lower than we can afford to).

Haven't been to Fleswick Bay but it looks pretty good - I'll bear that in mind next time we're in North Lakes and it's miserable weather and we go off to the coast or something.

Just off to watch your rock climbing video now...

Carol said...

Watched that video - the guy was mad - I'm not surprised he's dead. I couldn't believe that free climb at the start - the speed at which he zoomed up it and that bit where he just jumped up for a hold near the top! :-o :-o

Linda W. said...

Lovely hike! Nice cliffs and interesting rock formations.

That video about the "American Concentration camps" looks like something that would come from Fox News. (or as I call it, Faux News)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
If it's yet another conspiracy theory it's a very widespread one online. Mind you if someone had informed me ten years ago that nearly every town and rural area in the UK would have a food bank in it I would not have believed that.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
You might be right but there's not too much we can do about it.

Ian Johnston said...

Great post Bob; not an area I know at all, but Fleswick By looks superb - I really love the images of the weed-covered sandstone boulders. Might the buried metal objects be ship's boilers - normally the last thing to be smashed up by storms?

Kind Regards

Lux G. said...

I like that photo of bird flying. It looks glorious. :)

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Ian, St Bees village looks good as well and Whitehaven is built around the sides of a large natural steep sided bowl with an interesting harbour area. My kind of town and I'd go back to it for a proper visit in poor weather if I got a chance. (I'd visit it in good weather but that's not an option when climbing hills in a mountaineering club.)
Could well be a ship's boiler as the largest section was a thick Smartie tube with rectangular slots cut into it in rows. I did look online and a Victorian ship did go down off St Bees but as soon as you speculate that is what it might be in print someone more knowledgeable about the area usually corrects you and highlights your own ignorance...
so I didn't speculate for that reason :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Lux G,
I used to watch kestrels hunting where I lived as a youngster and they can hover in the one spot for ages, even on calm wind free days. Beautiful little hawks and fairly widespread here. Occasionally,they used to be kept as pets and the film " Kes(1969) " is worth a watch. It's free on You Tube and is a classic about a young boy growing up in the north east of England, Yorkshire, as part of a mining community. Quite a sad film in many ways but realistic of life in a tough working class town centered around the coal fields. He finds and looks after a young kestrel.