by Will Perry
My journey began at Leeds train station on Monday, June 24th where I caught a Northern Rail train to Carlisle (on the Scottish border) and from there transferred to St. Bees (on the Irish Sea).
My walk from St. Bees train station to the beach at St. Bees was filled with adrenaline and naïve excitement. Following tradition, I removed my boots, dipped my toes in the Irish Sea, and took a pebble from the beach to mark the exodus of my 12 day journey. I said goodbye to the ocean—knowing it would be 12 days before I would see the North Sea on the other side of England. My initial climb up the cliffs at St. Bees was grueling. When I reached the top, I knew I would have to offload a significant amount of weight. Not even 15 minutes into my journey and I was already offloading weight. I left a large ziplock filled with 5 cans of tuna, 2 cans of herring, deodorant, and three days worth of instant rice. I also emptied out my two liter water bottle, having an existing reserve 100 oz. reserve in my hydration pack. I had tried to get my pack to 20 pounds (sans food and water), but I my total weight upon departure was pushing 50 pounds. I knew I would have to get lighter or the next 11 days would be miserable.
I trekked along the cliffs as I headed towards the lighthouse at St. Bees and from there eastward on route to Robin Hood’s Bay. The views along the cliff were spectacular. The skies were clear enough that I could see to the Isle of Man, situated between England and Ireland. Passing through small villages and open farmland, I eventually arrived at Ennerdale Water after logging 16 miles on my first day.
Ennerdale is where I set camp for my first night—but not without a great deal of difficulty. I arrived to the lake around 10pm and began setting up camp. Opting for the bivy bag approach rather than the heavier alternative of a tent, setting up camp was no more than a few minute process. The attacking midges proved otherwise. I was swarmed and attacked my little black midges everywhere I attempted to unroll my therm-a-rest and lay out my bivy bag and sleeping bag. Each time I was attacked, I retreated further and further from the lake in hopes of finding an area unsuitable for midges. After nearly two hours of fighting off the midges, I settled on an area in the woods where the swarms seemed less voluminous. I was coated in several layers of insect repellent which seemed to do little to deter the pests. I zipped up my bivy bag and left a hole just large enough to breath from and consequently just large enough for the midges to enter. It was a miserable first night and thoughts of doubt, discouragement and frustration ran through my mind all night.