When we arrived on the beach at St.Bees on the Irish Sea, we were all longing for a hot drink. The tea room and shop near the car park had a little sign in the window saying the establishment was open till 8 pm but when we walked in around 5 in the evening, all the chairs had already been turned upside down and hung from the tables and the two old women who ran the shop seemed to be in a tearing hurry to close it and go home. They spoke in that high-pitched way that makes old English ladies sound like birds warbling on a branch somewhere and they bustled about their empty shop as though they were serving a busy canteen packed with hungry teenagers.
They were an immensely amusing and in a way endearing sight, as they went about their business making the paying customer feel as though he or she has completely got in the way of the running of a successful tea room. We gingerly ordered two teas and two coffees but one of them demanded our spoons back almost as soon as we had dipped it into the cup to stir in some sugar.
Anyway, warm drinks nervously purchased, we stepped out to gaze at the grey waters of the Irish Sea and the beautiful red sandstone cliffs of St.Bees. The tea room is at an elevation and stepping out into the open, we found it cold and blowing hard. The sun shone on a spot about 2 miles out at sea, providing further evidence that good weather is beyond Britain’s reach.
We descended down to the colourful pebble beach with stones of pink, grey, black-and-white and brown and started walking towards the sandstone cliffs. St.Bees is the start (or finish, depending on which direction you take) to this famous dude called Alfred Wainwright’s ‘Coast-to-Coast’ walk. If you follow the path, it takes you all the way across some of England’s prettiest countryside to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire on the other side facing the North Sea.
We bounded up the path going towards the cliffs and the views got
better and better as we went higher up. When we reached a little promontory, we saw a little wooden sign with plastic flowers around it commemorating the death of a 32 year-old young man. A thick white rubber band tied around the wooden sign said “(Cheshire) Regiment in Afghanistan” by which I concluded that he was probably killed in the war. That young man could have been any one of the local people playing with his kids on the sea shore; yet there he had been, thousands of miles away fighting for a very nebulous cause, in a seemingly unending war, for people who may not have asked for him to be there, on behalf of people who did not ask for him to be sent there.
Moving on up the cliff, I turned around to look at St.Bees behind me. The seashore is a vast collection of small, newish looking prefabricated homes. The cookie-cutter nature of the houses actually make the coast look more like an American village rather than a settlement in England. What sort of place was St.Bees? I didn’t have the time to figure it out.
We carried on climbing for another 15 minutes or so, until it seemed that the more we climbed the highest point on the cliff moved further and further away. The sun was also starting to hang a little lower in the sky so we turned around and headed back to the parking lot near the tea room, this time to find a restaurant to feed hungry stomachs, ideally, without disturbing old ladies anywhere.