I woke this morning wondering why the cats weren’t in bed with me. I thought maybe I had locked them out of the room in the night, and I was about to get up to open the bedroom door. But something seemed a little different. The sweet-smelling duvet was pure white, and the bed even more pillowy than usual. The door was in a different place, and the light seemed brighter. And then I remembered: I was not in Brooklyn any more, but at the Abbey Farm in St. Bee’s, and Jimmy was asleep in the bed across the room from me.
Our breakfast was luxurious — fresh fruit, yogurt, cereals, scrambled free-range eggs, Linda McCartney’s vegetarian sausage, baked beans, toast, and a large pot of tea; just the two of us by the window in the upstairs lounge. We talked with Janet, the lovely proprietor of the Abbey Farm. “Have you walked on the Coast to Coast?” I asked her. “My husband and I met on the walk, twelve years ago,” she told me. She had been living in Manchester, Steve further north. A short while after they met, he had a brain hemorrhage and decided that he could no longer keep doing a job he didn’t like. So he quit, and they looked for property in St. Bee’s to open a bed and breakfast. They bought the Abbey Farm, the farm that had for centuries supplied the church just next door, and turned it into the most welcoming of inns. “I do the labor,” Steve had told me last night. “Janet has all the ideas.” I’m so glad we got to stay there!
The day started with clear skies that quickly turned to clouds. The proprietor of the Manor House, where we stopped in in search of a mid-afternoon meal, explained — something about the Jet Stream being further south than usual, meeting the Gulf Stream that allows flows along the coast here; cold air meeting warm moist air, creating much more precipitation than usual. Throughout the day, the rain came in fits and starts; at times it was a heavy downpour. My new rain jacket (REI’s “Event” fabric, their version of Goretex) kept me comfortably dry, and I was happy to have gloves and heavy boots, along with nylon pants that repelled the rain.
We walked some four miles or so in and around St. Bee’s, getting our ground legs as it were. One long sweep through the village and down to the sea; along the coast and back inland (and up) on a public footpath towards Rottington, then back down to the village on a narrow road. At Hartley’s Tea House, by the sea, we had tea and crumpets: my first time tasting crumpets, delicious — like what we call “English muffins,” only lighter and better. We stopped in at the Post Office and noted the Methodist chapel.
Early on, we visited the St. Bee’s Priory, the beautiful church dating back to the 12th century, and even earlier (I’ll get the details and post them later). In the churchyard, we talked with Mary Branford, sixty-nine years old and “a St. Began all me life,” as she proudly told us. Mary was bringing cake to help celebrate the birthday of Pat, the woman who arranges the flowers for the church, and whom we had met in the nave, getting ready for a wedding this weekend. There’s also a garden show this weekend, and Mary showed us a bunch of orange and red flowers she had picked for the show. “Of course we have to celebrate the Olympics,” she told us. “Do you think these flowers will look like a flame?” They did. She told us their name, though we forgot, and later, along our walk, we saw them blooming everywhere.
“Now don’t you do this,” she told us, as she launched into the story of a man setting out for the Coast to Coast. After walking for two hours or so, he had found himself back in the village, distraught. “He went in a circle, you see.” She had driven him to his destination that day. We’ll try not to do that when we set out tomorrow.