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Ancient Feet: 11 - St Bee's Teas

...If they open tea gardens in St Bees, I suggested they could call it Mrs Fee's St Bees Teas, but she didn't seem overly impressed, which I thought was a little ungracious on her part...

Come on! Join in the fun! Alan Nolan writes about a coast-to-coast hike with such zest and glee that you will immediately begin to lace up your own hiking boots.

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On this section of the walk, we found that the terrain was relatively flat, so made good progress and soon passed through the village of Moor Row, which is a place that has seen better days. The terraced houses once housed workers from the coal and iron ore mines which have long since closed. However, it is possible to obtain refreshments from Mrs Fee at the exotically named Jasmine House Tea Garden, a most inappropriate title for an establishment in a place like Moor Row. Perhaps the Earl Grey Tea Garden would be more apt (but without the 'Earl').

The tea garden turned out to be a paved area at the rear of the house with a couple of gazebos sheltering the picnic tables, alongside the conservatory where tea is served to those who prefer to be indoors. Mrs Fee chatted amiably as she swept the outside area around us and it became clear that she is a real entrepreneur. She had opened as a B&B only a couple of years ago and had opened up the tea garden a year later. Her website shows that she has five well-appointed bedrooms (all en-suite and with televisions and DVD players). She told us that she and her husband had just bought a hotel in St Bees, so they are obviously on the acquisition trail and on the way to becoming a major chain. If they open tea gardens in St Bees, I suggested they could call it Mrs Fee's St Bees Teas, but she didn't seem overly impressed, which I thought was a little ungracious on her part.

On the first day of the Coast to Coast Walk, the obvious destination is Ennerdale Bridge which is a distance of fourteen or fifteen miles from St. Bees. However, as accommodation in Ennerdale Bridge is limited, Mrs Fee takes advantage and by offering bed and breakfast in Moor Row, more and more people are walking as far as Ennerdale Bridge and getting a taxi back to Moor Row for the night, then being ferried back to Ennerdale Bridge the next morning.The hotel in St Bees is called the Manor House Hotel and Coast to Coast Bar (so no doubt about the target market then) and will offer accommodation to Coast to Coast walkers who travel up to St Bees and stay the night before setting off next morning. Her aim must be to capture walkers for the first two nights (and for tea along the way).

Her entrepreneurial skills are not confined to the Coast to Coast market as she also attracts guests who are visiting or working at the nearby Sellafield nuclear plant. Having enjoyed our break, we asked for her (Mrs) Fee note, settled up and resumed our journey.

From Moor Row, we made for Cleator which is only a short distance but is through farmland and involves negotiating five kissing gates. This does not present a problem for most walkers, but it did for Don whose camper's pack was so large that he could not squeeze through without removing it.

Typically, he was using a pack that looked as though it had been passed down the generations from his grandfather to his father and then to Don. There were four straps securing it to his body and they were of the old-fashioned buckle type, rather than the much more modern plastic clips which open at a touch, so it became a laborious and annoying process to undo the straps, take off the pack, lift it over each gate, risking a triple hernia each time, and then go through the reverse process of struggling to heave the pack on to his back again and re-fastening all the straps.

He was carrying far more than the rest of us and was already struggling with the weight, and now he was falling behind because of the succession of kissing gates. I helped him at the first couple of gates but could sense that he was becoming angry, as well as frustrated, as even limpalong Andy was leaving us behind. Normally, he is a really nice bloke and it is unusual to hear him swear, but he was working himself up into a real paddy as we fell further behind at each gate. Eventually, I decided to leave him to it and walked on to catch up with Tom and Andy, rather than have my illusion of Don being a good-natured sort shattered by any further outbursts.

Of course, knowing what to take on an expedition like this is a major problem, particularly as the English weather is so unpredictable. We had to carry clothes for all weather conditions but, at the same time, take only the absolute minimum. After all, there is nothing more irksome than to find, at the end of a twelve day journey over a distance of one hundred and ninety miles, that you have carried something that you did not need. That never happened to Wainwright of course, even though he must have ponged by the end of his journeys. Amazingly for someone who spent so much time walking the fells, those who knew him described him as one of the clumsiest walkers they have ever seen and someone who would not attempt to use his hands for climbing or scrambling.

Being the brave and athletic type myself, going arse over tit no more than five or six times a day on a walk like this, I had assumed that my hero would have had a similar iron will and supple limbs. Apparently, this was not the case. His son suggested that his favourite descent was on his backside and this method was confirmed in one or two of his books.

Indeed, he recalled ripping the seat of his trousers on one such escapade and having to walk through the streets of Keswick with his underwear on show. It is very difficult to imagine what state he must have been in after a fortnight's walking without a change of clothes, particularly if he was as clumsy as suggested by others. I'm sure the answer for most walkers is to go for the happy medium of at least one change of clothes, without carrying the entire outfitter's shop.

Even for non-campers, the weight of the pack can be a strain, so how on earth campers manage with all the additional weight of their camping gear and supplies is a mystery to me. All the more important then to make sure that everything packed is really going to be used during the journey as any unnecessary weight could be crippling. As Don was an 'old hand' at the Coast to Coast, he should have been a master of the art of minimalist packing but I was beginning to have my doubts.

We soon reached Cleator, which is another small village, but with the benefit of a small shop and a pub. As we approached the shop for refreshments, Paul and Joe emerged from the Three Tuns looking very pleased with themselves, having made the most of their lead over the rest of us.

Paul is something of an enigma. We had been discussing him as we walked towards Cleator and had concluded that none of us knew much about him. Don't get me wrong here; he is very much one of the boys, although quiet at times. It's just that you never really get to know him. He is sixty-one, an architect and part-time National Park ranger but none of us knew very much more than that. He's always helpful and supportive but never seems to make a mistake or make a fool of himself. On a long distance walk like the Coast to Coast, the rest of us could expect either to fall down a hole or walk knee deep in a bog or say something stupid or perhaps all three, but not Paul. A good companion but not ideal if your intention is to write a book entitled A Funny Thing Happened on the Coast to Coast Walk.

Andy is the closest to him and he could recall only one occasion when Paul confided in him:

'He had a terrible health scare; an' a full ' at trick shock!'

'What, he was shocked by someone scoring a hat trick?'

'Must have been watching Everton then.'

'No, nothing to do with football,' Andy explained, 'he was stung three times by a wasp. Didn't you know that if you get stung three times a hat trick of stings you suffer a reaction? It's very serious. Some people die from it.'

'He should have got it to sting him a fourth time then, if it's only caused by three stings.'

'I think what Andy means is anaphylactic shock. It can be caused by just one sting if you're allergic to it,' Don said, bringing a sense of maturity to the conversation.

It seems that Paul was gardening when he was stung and, when he began to feel unwell a few minutes later, he went inside and sat down.

'Are you all right?' his wife asked.

'Actually, I feel a bit rough.'

'I think I'd better take you down to the doctor's,' she said, alarmed by his sickly appearance and his rare admission that all was not well. 'Come on.'

'I'll just go and wash my hands.'

'It doesn't matter about your hands. Let's go.'

'I've been gardening so I need to wash my hands.'

As he closed the bathroom door behind him, he felt dizzy and fell, cracking his head on the toilet cistern. He pulled himself up to the washbasin and saw himself in the mirror with blood gushing out of a cut above his eye.

'Are you all right in there?' Christine shouted.

'Yes, I'm OK. I just need to wash my hands and I'll be out.'

As he leant down to wipe some of the blood away, he fell
again, this time smashing his nose on the edge of the basin. Once more, he pulled himself up, this time to find blood pumping from his nose.

'Are you sure you're all right in there?' Christine shouted again.

'Yes, I'll be out in a minute. I just need to wash my hands.'

When he emerged, she helped him to the car and set off on
the short journey to the surgery. Unfortunately, he was sick before they got there. Paul was a sorry sight as they walked in, with blood trickling from both his eye and his nose and dripping on to his puke-encrusted shirt but, thank goodness, at least his hands were clean!


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