Archive for June 12th, 2012

Day four got off to a bit of a bad start. In the night the wind going through the trees above us made one hell of a racket and kept waking me up. Also, god knows where the light was coming from, but there was a constant light coming through the canvas of the tent. It was like the sun never really set. It was odd, it really did seem brighter inside the tent than out.

Breakfast was a quick boiled pasta affair. Water bottles were filled up from the stream and Jonny and myself were taking our tent down when Gus finally got up (Gus was the name of the other camper in our little woodland squat). We left him to his breakfast at around half past eight, fully well knowing that if he walked at the rate he was telling us last night, he would probably overtake us in a few hours time.

The walk along the rest of Haweswater was not as bad as I had thought it was going to be. The worst parts of it were out of the way the night before and we were at the other end of the lake in around an hour and a half. In that time there was not much going on around the lake, but there was a lot of wildlife on the shore. The usual sheep which scurried up and down the hillside, but also of note was a stampede of about seven or eight stags which ran past me. Jonny said that he didn’t see them but did see a single deer. I dunno where they must have come from then?

I was hoping to see a huge dam at the end of Haweswater, but a wood blocks the view from the path and when the path moves round in front of the dam, then there is a small housing estate blocking the view. A short walk from here and were soon in farmland territory. The hills here are forgiving enough for a tractor to go up and for cattle to graze. The grass is green, the roads are wide and the paths are soft underfoot. It is also the edge of the Lake District. From here to Shap should have been a walk in the park compared to the ordeals of the Lake District, but I didn’t get a very good nights sleep and I, foolishly, did nothing about my blisters. They really should have been burst the night before, but they weren’t.

It was around 11 O’Clock that Gus predictably over took us. Then he stopped for a sandwich, then he overtook us again. There isn’t really much to say about the section from here to Shap. The way was easy but I was tired still and so I found it difficult anyway. It wasn’t particularly spectacular, which is why we forgot to take any photographs, infact watch any advert for Müller yoghurt and you’ve got the general gist of it: pleasant but nothing to write home about. The only thing of note at all way Shap Abbey, which wasn’t really that spectacular either.

Arriving in Shap at around lunchtime we decided to have a rest, eat something and stock up on supplies. I was eating my way through the heavy tins of food as fast as I could to try and relieve some of the weight from my rucksack and was replaced as much as I could with several days supply of sachet foods, anything with “just add water” written on it. While in the local co-op a nice lady commented on my shuffle of a walk, recognising me at once as a walker and not a local. I was quite amazed really how many walkers there were all congregating around a single shop, but then again it was the first proper shop on the route and there wouldn’t be another for several days.

Sitting outside the co-op, on a high street bench Jonny was having some lunch and I, a packet of sweets. The lady who I had been talking to in the co-op walked past. She asked if I had managed to find something for my feet. I told her that the chemist she had suggested was closed and there was nothing suitable in the co-op. With that she produced two packs of compeed plasters and gave them to me. I was a little bit shocked that someone would walk the length of the village and back again to make sure that I was all right for blister relief. If your reading this; many thanks to you blister relief lady. Jonny was not very happy about this because it meant that I had to get my feet out and play around with blisters while he was eating. The nice lady gave me two packs with five plasters in each, all gone by the time I was finished. I had no idea until I took my socks off that things had got so bad on my feet. I really was grateful to the nice lady after seeing the carnage that lurked beneath my socks.

The whole foot thing put us a little behind schedule and we finally left Shap at around half past two. After leaving the village both the main railway line from London to Glasgow (WCML) and the the main road from London to Glasgow (M6) are crossed over by foot bridges with quick succession. After these there is a steady climb up hill to an abandoned quarry, the footpath is followed to a small hamlet, where the footpath turns and follows across the top of some moorland on the plateau of the hill. The path has neither heavy incline or decline but is fairly rocky and quite sore on the feet. Me and Jonny had some discussions and both agreed that while not brilliant it was much more comfortable to walk on tarmac than on uneven rocks. I had looked at the map and seen that there was a short cut which would save time by being a little longer but on roads. This route also avoided taking a chance in a large bog that was marked on the map, after what happened outside the Black Sail hut, neither of us wanted to be going through any more bogs than we would have to.

The short cut seamed to work for a bit, it was, however, a bit of a mind-numbing route with nothing of interest at all. The section that was still on the moors was hard on the feet and I wasn’t joking when I said to Jonny that if we saw a taxi on the road I’d flag it down. I was at a bit of a low ebb, low on energy, painful feet and to top it all off the sun was coming out and now it was too hot and I was sweating like you wouldn’t believe. I know, too cold yesterday, too hot today, I need to make my mind up. I was grateful for every little breeze that swept past, even for such a fleeting moment.

When we reached the road we could here the church bells coming from the village of Orton. This was good because we knew that the camp site for the night was only a mile on the other side of Orton. Another look at the map showed we could save further time if we went through a farm, taking a footpath across its fields. We could see from the road that the fields had horses in and they were covered in grass. This would be good for the feet and so we went for that route over the road in the end.

The route itself would have been fine if the farm owners hadn’t have taken up all the way markings. We both, in absence if signs and a map which didn’t mark walls, followed what appeared to be a path in the grass, it was semi instinctive. Then we came to a dead end. We could see where we should have gone but to back track would have taken ages. We took the decision to cut across through the farm yard itself. It felt like we shouldn’t be there (probably because it was trespassing) but no one saw us and we were back on track.

We passed through the village at what must have been gone 6 0’clock, because the post office was shut. The village itself was very nice, very quiet with the exception of the odd truck passing through. There was a nice pub/hotel in the middle which was begging for me to go in, but given the late hour I decided not to even suggest it. I was beginning to see that even Jonny had had enough for today and just wanted to get the weight off his back. We managed to walk the final mile very quickly.

We shuffled up the path to the farm house attached to the camp site where an old lady showed us where to camp. She agreed to let us charge our phones in her house for the evening and was very sympathetic to our tales of woe and foot ache and back ache. I had since found out it was Jonny’s back which was giving him jip. The weather by now had turned cold and windy again.

Curiously that night I lost the ability to use my thumbs about four times. They would just lock up and I’d have to wiggle them free with my other hand. I’m still not sure why that happened. It has never happened before or since. It was  definite inconvenience to lose the use of thumbs while trying to make a tomato and pasta dish from a packet, but I managed.

Waking up in a bed, two days in a row, I could get used to this. Hopefully though I wasn’t going to because we were planning on making up for the time lost yesterday and getting to Shap. If we could do that it would put us back on schedule. So we got up at half past six, got ourselves together and I was waiting for seven o’clock to roll around so we could be let in to the main building to fetch our clothes from the drying room and make breakfast. You might wonder why that was I and not we, well that is because Jonny had the key to the main building, let himself in to have a shower and then left me waiting outside in the cold for him to finish. The caretaker walked past the door before that and unlocked it for me.

Breakfast this morning I thought would be a safe bet of spaghetti and meatballs. A good brand name of tinned food, usually quite nice. Not today. I had a struggle on my hands to struggle to force down the little bit which I did eat, after about a quarter of the bowl I gave the rest to Jonny, which he polished off as well as his porridge and something else. God knows what was wrong with either it or me (probably me because Jonny ate it fine).

We left at just after eight. The weather was overcast, but not unpleasant. There was no wind or rain, just cloudy. The first half a mile was following a country road which lead towards a fell called Great Tongue. Crossing a main road we started the first climb of the day. A medium steep slope which although not easy, could be plodded up without taking my breath away. So I did exactly that. I took my time, one foot in front of the other, plodding slowly up the hill towards Great Tongue.

When we arrived at the base of Great Tongue we could go either way around it or straight over, after consulting the map and looking at the path ahead we chose the path to the right, this was probably a longer path but looked to be wider, more well trodden and less vertically inclined. Our target was Grisedale Tarn at the top of Grisedale Hause on the other side of Great Tongue. Here was the first major climb of the day. As we climbed higher the winds got stronger and the temperature lowered. Infact the temperature dropped significantly as we got near to the top. The path also thinned our nearer to the top, becoming the collection of stones that we had begun to recognise as what the lake district calls a path.

The cloud was hanging over the top of the mountain and we had no idea how far past the cloud we would have to go. Looking on the map we knew that we hadn’t got far to go on with regards to distance but all the contour line merged into a big mess and we had no idea how much higher we had to climb. Fortunately it wasn’t as far as we had dreaded. We reached the top after what seamed like a relatively short time. Unfortunately that was where all the wind had been coming from and now we were at the top of the pass and the wind howled past, cutting through my clothes like they weren’t there. We had got at this point the option to climb higher and take the route to the top of Helvellyn, followed by the striding edge path. We decided against it for three good reasons, firstly the weather being as it was, secondly we needed to make up for the lost time yesterday and thirdly the weather report that we had read when we were at Black Sail hut “Snow above 700 m.” Helvellyn is 950 m. We took the quick route down to Patterdale. I say the quick route, the path from Grisedale Tarn to Patterdale is a long and windy one and although it is wide, easily passable and  solid underfoot, we did not reach Patterdale until lunchtime.

After lunch we crossed the road at Patterdale near to the pub. Jonny pointed out a sign on the door. There had been a beer festival in the pub the night before. Jonny then unhelpfully remarked that had we made it to Patterdale last night we could have been at the beer festival. “Thanks for that, Jonny” I thought to myself as we passed the pub and slipped down another footpath.

Our route from Patterdale was supposed to be simple, up and over over mountain, following the contours at the top for a few miles, back down the other side and follow a path along to side of Haweswater, which I had read on another blog before hand was a wide path that could be walked down quickly and where good time could be made. If I ever find the person who made that comment and they ask me what is the best walking route in England, I’ll tell the bastard that the M42 is quite nice this time of year!

Anyway, from that I’m sure you can guess what is going to happen next. From Patterdale we could see the hill that we were going to climb up, it didn’t look so bad, although we were now well aware that looks could be deceptive. The part of the hill that we could see from Patterdale was climbed quite quickly, despite the narrow path. The path then turned away from Patterdale, there was a great view back over the valley which we stopped and admired for a few moments. We then carried on and it was here that the weather turned.

From now on we were going up and down little hillocks and mounds, round interesting geological features, clambering over rock formations and trying to avoid falling into a bog of unknown depth. There was no one steep climb which kept on going that there had been on some of the other mountains, it was intermittent. A steep section for five minutes, then a section which wasn’t so difficult, but usually  unsheltered from the driving winds instead. Very few and far between were there any points where there wasn’t something to complain about, usually geology or meteorology. We must have left Patterdale at around 1 O’Clock, at well gone fourwe were still climbing, weaving through obstacles that the earth had laid out for us. Every now and again we would pass round a corner in the path and in the distance we’d see a lake of some kind. Then, I’d look at a map only to discover it was a tarn or a different reservoir.  Haweswater, was still so far away.

It sounds like I’m having a terrible downer on the Lake District. I hope to not put anyone off. The weather aside there are many views which are just spectacular. Along the way, from Patterdale to Haweswater alone there were many points where me and Jonny had to stop to take in the views. Angle tarn was one of them. A lake so far up in the mountains, which seamed to take on the colour of the sky and yet at the same time seemed to be very much a part of the earth. On a better day this would be a great place to stop for a picnic, or just to sit and watch the sky and contemplate the meaning of life. It was one of those places of such peace that even the passing by of a dozen ramblers an hour couldn’t spoil it. But as it was it was chuffing freezing up there, so we stopped, took a few snaps and carried on.

There was one point on this stretch of the walk where the map didn’t seam to line up with reality all that much, I knew that we would have to turn off of our path and take a left some time soon and when the path turned it seamed to be at a completely different angle to how it was shown on the map. Fortunately in the minute or two that I had stood by the turning, Jonny had noticed me stop and decided that he shouldn’t go any further ahead. While he waited for me to make a decision, a man walked over the horizon from where I thought we should be going, he pointed out the way to me and then he carried on his way. On his way he passed Jonny and told him to catch me up. This was the final accent to the top of the Kidsty Pike (792 m. What was that they said about snow over 700 m?). From the top of Kidsty Pike we were being battered by the cold and the wind and by now a little bit of rain as well. We hurried down the slope towards Haweswater as quick as we could. It seamed that with every step we took we got a little bit warmer and by the time we were out from under the cloud cover I was definitely starting to feel much warmer.

It had taken us over four hours to get to the highest point on this ridge and we descended to Haweswater from there in less than an hour. Here there was no wind to speak of, the ambient temperature was probably just into double digits and it was deathly quiet, save for when we interrupted a heard of sheep. By now it was well gone five and a look on the map showed us that we still had many miles to travel to reach Shap, another days target unreachable. Jonny was determined to to make it as far as possible, in fact last time I had spoken to him he still thought we could make Shap. I hadn’t realised that he had also resigned himself to not making it and was just trying to get as far as possible before night fell.

The decent from Kidsty Pike had had a catastrophic effect on my feet. I knew that the aching from yesterday had gotten worse and were now no longer mere irritations, but full blown blisters. The rush down the hill had meant that now I was walking even slower along the side of Haweswater. I limped on along the path that was as level as a see-saw and about as easy to follow as the plot of an episode from the Twilight Zone. A little way further on, there was a bloke sitting by the side of the path. He said hello and the two of us had a chat for a second, where we were each going, how we were finding the lake district, etcetera etcetera. It turned out he was doing the coast to coast walk as well and he was going to be wild camping. He suggested that because we had no hope of making it to Shap that we all camp together. I had resided myself to a wild camp already and by the time I had caught up with Jonny so had he, we walked back and made camp in a sheltered spot with a view of the lake, under a small copse of pine trees. A small stream nearby made for a water supplies and we had the food to last us for several days.

That evening we made pleasant small talk about the football, trying to get in to a Brentford FC game, the price of train fares from London to St. Bees (as it turns out it was a pound cheaper for our new friend to go first class than if he had been in standard, sometimes I really don’t understand National Rail) and the merits of cheap, boilable noodle food vs. heavy more nutritious tinned food. We had all turned in for an early night before the sun had set.