I wasn’t meant to be here, my original plan was to walk the Skye Trail over a 7 day period and with traveling to the island this would mean I would be away for ten days and with the sale of my house well underway I had to be back within a certain period. The narrow window of opportunity was spoilt by Hurricane Bertha meaning that the start of the Skye Trail would be delayed. Option two was go to the Lakes once the weather calmed down a bit.
The plan was to take public transport to Penrith, walk from east to west and then head north to Keswick and then by bus back to Penrith for the train back home. There was a weather window that I took, the forecast suggesting cool northerly winds with sunshine and feeling rather like early October than late August, so a down jacket was packed along with a few extras that don’t normally make their way out of my kit box at this time of year. Tickets booked I found myself soon changing trains at Manchester Piccadilly on a Tuesday lunchtime with a 15 minute wait for the train to Penrith.
Once I arrived at Penrith, there was a ten minute taxi ride to Askham village below the Far Eastern fells of the Lake District arriving at around 2.30 in the afternoon.
Tuesday 19th August
Askham to Loadpot Hill to Wether Hill to Red Crag to Raven Howe to High Raise
A steady climb out of the village of Askham to attractive common land led up to Loadpot Hill. On the map, it looks a very obvious route, but dozens of footpaths and sheep trods through waist high bracken weaved their way serpent like across the hillside. Eventually after a few dead ends in the bracken I found the path that gradually climbed up to the trig point on top of Load pot Hill. The weather had been kind to me, a gentle breeze and the sun was out, but it was not really like August. As I walked southwards, the northerly wind increased with altitude and nipped at my back, feeling cold through my shirt.
After leaving the summit, I put on I my wind shirt walking on the Roman road of High Street, steadily climbing as I went over Wether Hill and Red Crag, where for the rest of the day’s journey I twisted and turned making my way through bogs on this watershed. Water runs a short journey from the bogs into the becks that led into either Ullswater on the right or the even shorter journey to Haweswater to my left.
I reached the flat top of High Raise, which unlike many of the fell tops in the area has a good quantity of rock on the summit. The wind had picked up a bit and was blowing from the north west sometimes backing around to the north and as the sun would be setting soon it was now time to find a spot out of the wind for the night. It is always surprising to me how quickly the half past nine, quarter to ten sunsets become a distant memory of an all too brief glorious midsummer period, even when viewed in mid- August. The balmy days of my last Lakes back pack with Chris Townsend and Terry Abraham in that short midsummer halcyon were already behind me.
Just down from the summit towards the direction of Haweswater, I found a sheltered spot nestled in the lee of the wind, a little shelf of reasonably flat grass. Water tend to be rather scarce on many of the Eastern fell tops, but a couple minutes’ walk down towards High Street, was a tiny tarn, really not much more that a puddle with thoughts of grandeur. I would fill my containers after setting up my camp.
I went through the ritual of setting my stuff out which all seasoned backpackers and wild campers must do each night, blow the mat up, pull out the down bag tightly secured in its small stuff sack, fluff it up and lay it out on the mat. Pull the little stuff sack with all the bits and bobs out of the pack. This goes here, that goes there and I will need that by my meths stove. Must get my head torch ready so I know where it is when it gets dark – a wild camper’s ritual.
I walked the short way to the tarn and filled the platypus containers with tea coloured water and within minutes had the stove on; water boiling first for tea with the rest of the water for packet minestrone soup, always with croutons. I climbed into my sleeping bag looking out of the tent door at the setting sun, with knees drawn up and warmed by the down, I had my soup and gulps of tea. Soup finished, water is then on for the main meal, Vegetarian Thai Rice. The food may vary, but this part of the day never does. A comfort at the end of the day, a chance to relax and reflect on the day passed and to think about the next leg of one’s journey.
Meal over, I took advantage of a 3G signal, next to no signal at home means that outside of work, this is a novelty for me. I took some photos and tweeted them, watched the news on my iphone and checked the weather forecast for tomorrow.
Wednesday 20th August
High Raise to High Street to Thornthwaite Crag to Threshthwaite Mouth to Stony Cove Pike to Caudale Moor to Kickstone Pass to Red Screes to Scandal Pass to Dove Crag to Hart Crag
I was awake at six, brewed up and used the rest of the hot water for porridge. Packed up and away by eight, walking in brilliant sunshine. The first fell to tackle was High Street, this always looks better when approaching it, than when you arrive at the flat summit which is very un-mountain like. I decide this time to walk on the Hayeswater side rather than the main path and then cut across about 150 metres to the summit.
A quick slug of water and a handful of trail mix and I was away. The path swings to the right, towards Stoney Cove Pike and I headed to the summit of Thornthwaite Crag with its stone built beacon sitting at the top. I dropped down to Threshthwaite Mouth and climbed steeply the 500 feet or so up to Caudale Moor. This ascent was rather tougher going than it looked on the map, with its steep and rocky slopes. Pausing for a breather before making my way to Stony Cove Pike.
The path goes through a gap in a wall at the top and then drops gradually following the stone wall all the way down to Kirkstone Pass. The sun was out and the first batch of day hikers started to appear walking up hill towards me. I continued down, stopping on occasions to answer navigation questions from people walking up. This is quite a regular occurrence and I guess my appearance as a backpacker rather than a day walker seems to prompt them to ask the way. Backpackers generally are very few in number when walking any stretch of hills in the UK.
I stopped for a quick lunch break on St Raven’s Edge, whilst the sun was out; I needed to pull on my wind shirt to protect me from the chilly northerly wind. The last section to the road is a steep drop, before levelling out just before the Kirkstone Pass Inn. Three small wind turbines turned slowly in the breeze guarded by CCTV and a stern yellow warning sign about tampering with these rotating spikes of metal. I assume that these were here to power the Inn by the roadside.
I resisted the temptation to stop for a pint and carried on. Red Screes is a steep steep climb out of Kirkstone Pass, and after a lot of up and down already, left me a bit breathless at times, pausing several times before reaching the flat grassy plateau top with a huge mound of stones at one corner. There was only one couple at the top and I stopped for a quick chat before moving on.
Another steep drop down to Scandale Pass, with some great views down to Brothers Water on reaching the pass. Guess what? Another steep ascent the other side of the pass, passing Scandale tarn and close to Little Hart Crag, I made my way, slowing quite considerable by now, as the accumulated ascent and descents took their toll on my leg muscles. Finally the ground levelled out on the ridge up to Dove Crag. It was now late afternoon and time to scout out a camp spot. I needed water and a sheltered spot out of the nagging north wind. I spied somewhere between Dow and Hart Crag and made for there, scrambling down amongst boulders and boggy ground causing Herdwicks to scatter all over the place. On a little ledge I pitched my Stratospire, with a great view down the valley.
Sleep came easy tonight, after a long day. Before I dropped off I listened to the weather forecast, tomorrow was going to be strong winds and heavy rain. I decided that I would change my route, being up on the top of the fells. I would walk along to Fairfield and drop down to Grasmere and decide my route from there.
Thursday 21st August
Hart Crag to Fairfield to Great Rigg to Stone Arthur to Grasmere to Huntingstile to Huntingstile Crag to Elterwater to Cumbria Way to Great Langdale National Trust Campsite
The sound of rain drumming on silnylon woke me up just before six. The clouds looked like they would be coming down soon, so I quickly had breakfast and got packed up and got away. Waterproof jacket and trousers on and off I went.
Up on the ridge, the rain hit me straight in the face, as I staggered about in the high winds. I needed to get to Fairfield and then down to Grasmere. The wind slammed against my left side and then my right as I follow the ridge path as it curved around to Fairfield. I followed the ridge down to Great Rigg with the wind and rain pushing me southwards. At Great Rigg I took the right hand path to Stone Arthur and then the very steep path near to Grasmere.
A solitary tree gave me shelter as the heavy rain turned torrential. Streams suddenly appeared running down any path or sheep trod on the hillside. I trudged down in the pouring rain reaching the edge of town through a wooded section of path.
Grasmere’s streets were awash. I stopped at the Co-op to use the cash machine, dripping all over the ATM, before moving on to find somewhere suitable to stop for a bite to eat. A warm bakery smell wafted around me and I stepped inside a small cafe and sat down with a hot pastie and a big mug of tea and took advantage of free Wi-Fi.
Refreshed and somewhat drier, I stepped out into the rain, which, I couldn’t believe was actually coming down harder than before. My destination for tonight was Great Langdale, I had decided to stay down in the valley rather than back on the fells, although I not sure it could be any wetter, but I guess the wind would be less. I crossed over the fells at the lowest point walking from Huntingstile Lodge into Elterwater. The rain kept falling harder and harder and I just carried on walking. It was a real test for my waterproof jacket and trousers, and they did just fine.
At Elterwater I joined the Cumbria Way and walked the remaining miles. Rain rain rain, it just kept coming without a let up, well maybe for a minute or two at a time. It had been raining stair-rods for 7 hours solid and with no let up, it was head down and march on.
The National Trust campsite was where I was heading. Eventually I saw the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and within 10 minutes I was booking in at the site. It was just after half past three and the rain was still coming down. Most of the field where the tents were, was under water, but I spotted a high spot which was also flat. I quickly put up my tent, well as fast as I could given that the ground was full of stones and rocks, hammering in my Easton nails and Clam- cleats with a handy rock to secure the tent.
I sorted out my gear and found that there was a drying room. My socks and Salomon trail shoes which are unlined were saturated. As I opened the door,the smell of wet socks, and damp boots hit me along with probably 90 degree heat. Every shelf and hook seemed to be taken, but I found a small place for my socks and shoes. A nice hot shower followed. Back at the tent water was on for soup, tea and then for a Vegetarian Spaghetti Bologonese, which was very tasty.
There was no phone signal at all at the site, so I wasn’t distracted, by emails, texts or tweets. I listened to Radio 4 and read a few chapters of a novel on my Iphone before turning out the light. As I settled down for the night the last of the day’s rain finally petered out. It had been raining pretty much for 15 hours!
Part 2 soon