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Sunday, 4 September 2016

Walk 190 Whitehaven to Sellafield (Cumbria)

Walk 190 Whitehaven to Sellafield (Cumbria)

(Fourth leg of English coastal walk – Gretna Green to Chester)

Map: L/R 89
Distance: 14 miles or 22km approx
Difficulty: Moderate – Bees Head is hilly, the rest is mainly flat
Terrain: coastal path
Access: Parking in each location
Public transport: Trains between the two places – this train has request stops and I can't remember if Sellafield is one of them

Before leaving Whitehaven you could take a walk to St Nichols Church where this a memorial to the children killed underground when working in the local coal mines. There is also a plaque to 'Farthing Jimmy' the nickname for Sir James Lowther (1673-1755) the richest commoner in England at the time who had a reputation for meanness (hence his nickname).

Walk out of Whitehaven towards the beacon. Down near the harbour is the Candlestick Chimney which ventilated Wellington Pit. Near here was Saltom Pit the first undersea coal mine sunk in 1731. On the hill is Duke Pit fan house a 19th century building which housed a fan for another coal mine. A few hundred yards along the path there is access inland to Haig Collery, a museum telling the story of coal mining in the area.

Follow the path along Bees Head with good views back to Whitehaven and, on a very good day, to the Isle of Man (about 30 miles away). The walk over Bees Head felt uncomfortably close to the edge at times. The cliffs rise to 100 metres and are the highest in north west England. The route got a bit confusing at times as there is quite a bit of quarrying of sandstone with safety fencing in place.

At North Head the lighthouse is a prominent landmark. It is here because of the great danger to ships with wrecks buried in the shingle beneath the head. It was the last lighthouse to use an open coal fire as a light source – it is now fired by an oil generator. I assume that the white tower at the side is a fog horn system. During World War 2 a radar station was based in the buildings next to the lighthouse. North Head marks the most westerly part of the Lake District. The cliff-top walk is the start of the coast to coast walk devised by Alfred Wainwright. (Finishes at Robin Hood Bay in Yorkshire).

Continue round the head and down near to St Bee's Beach, then into St Bees village. Look out for the sculpture of St Bega who lived here in the 7th century when she established a nunnery. The name of St Bees is a corruption of the saint's name; she was said to be an Irish princess who fled across the Irish Sea to avoid an enforced marriage. As you walk through St Bees look out for the Elizabethan School and the Norman Priory.

I could not find the path along the coast so had to walk along the road then farmland before joining the coast path, parallel to the rail line to Nethertown. The walk from here to Sellafield partly follows the coast but goes inland to High Sellafield across farmland. It did not appear to correspond to my map. Part of this walk is across a narrow hanging bridge which blows alarmingly in the wind – although the drop to the river is not that far. Again, the path to Sellafield itself has to be found along roads with the map not a lot of help – maybe later OS versions are clearer.

The nuclear power station here was called Calder Hall when it was opened in 1956. It was the world's first nuclear power station to generate electricity on a commercial scale. It was then called Windscale but after an accident in 1957 it was called Sellafield. When I was there it was undergoing decommissioning and dismantling. Don't wander around as there is strict security.

Photos show: Candlestick Chimney at Whitehaven; quarrying at St Bees Head; St Bees Head and beach; narrow suspension bridge near High Sellafield.

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