Travel

Coast to Coast Day 5 – Patterdale to Shap (16 miles: strenuous)

Oh my goodness Heather Haydock, that husband of yours is a diamond geezer! Not only did he carry my sticks for the last part of our nearly 12 hour ordeal, he walked quietly and patiently with me while I muttered the words to ‘One Man and his Dog’ to make my feet keep moving in a last gasp effort to get to the King’s Arms in Shap. And it had all started so promisingly.

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I’d woken up a bit early but in time to hear a real dawn chorus. About half 4, a Babel’s tower of birds trilled and tweeted for a good 5 minutes or so in unison.  Surprisingly harmonious too.

Our plan, on this bright sunshiny day, was to do the walk up as far as Kidsty Pike (the highest point on the Coast to Coast walk at 2560′) and then, instead of attempting the very steep descent here, we were going to go up along the tops and then head east following a more gentle path. There wasn’t really a difference in miles, it was like two opposite sides of a square and none of us fancied going down something that was even steeper than Dent Hill from Day 1. This alternative route past High Raise was clearly marked on all the maps and been recommended by one of our colleagues at work and the B&B owner in Patterdale who was a very seasoned walker so it all sounded kosher. I was master navigator today and a bit nervous, what with having zero sense of direction, but the others were all ready to help where I needed so I thought what could possibly go wrong. 

We set off after another great breakfast and made our way out of the village. The ascent was a gradual, not too muddy, path. past Angle Tarn.

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Which was good as I wanted to keep my boots dry today. We met several fellow walkers en route and everyone was in pretty good spirits as it was such a lovely day. Our alternate route veered north before actually getting to the pike but we thought that as it was so close we’d go and stand at that point and look over at Haweswater Reservoir. A terrific view. Ahead, the outer edges of Cumbria and flatter, greener land. Behind, the mountains, including the snowy topped Helvellyn Ridge. This was close to our last goodbye to the Lakes and I wish now that we had kept to the route and dropped down there. Not only because we would have not got lost but also symbolically, it kind of seemed appropriate. 

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So we walked north over the tops and got to the cairn on Wether Hill as stipulated. It had been a long, tedious, often muddy way to that point and I’m not sure I could have recommended it even if we had got things right. We should then have met a path that went South East for a bit and then East but nothing seemed to be there. Some of the guys followed our original way further and found one going East but that would have brought us out much higher up than we wanted as so we retraced our steps to the cairn. Paul even checked the coordinates on the map with where we were and we were definitely at the right spot.  One option would have been to walk all the way back to the Pike but I was hoping that was not going to be necessary and finally we decided to take a very faint path that was headed roughly in the right direction. It took a while to trek because it kept disappearing and reappearing further on.  Quite often there were little hillocks that you walked up that stopped suddenly like mini cliff edges.  You either had to walk back round or attempt to jump down, as Julie tried to do, One second I saw her stuck on one of these mounds and getting a helping hand from Sally. The next, she’d disappeared completely and Sally was down on her hands and knees. Luckily, the peaty soil gave a soft landing and it was a little light relief in quite a serious situation.  

Eventually we found a good, clearer path that was heading north east.  We took it as we all just wanted to get off the hills before we were totally knackered.  It brought us out into a farm just as the farmer was out walking his dogs.  He was very friendly (although the dogs looked a little jumpy) and sadly confirmed that we were more north than we wanted to be.  A little less than a mile from Bampton where the famous ‘Withnail and I’ telephone box was.  At that pronouncement my ears pricked up.  Although we were all shattered and not looking forward to the 5 miles or so left to hike I wanted a picture of that telephone box.  Luckily we had to walk through Bampton and I got my snap.  

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But the phonebox didn’t work!  We wanted to call the King’s Arms to let them know we’d be late and none of our phones had a signal. A text to Simon and Heather finally made it out and good job as they were due to close the kitchens at 8.  

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We got there at about half 8 and the chef had stuck around for us. Our final count according to Paul was over 21 miles. But frankly, the biggest thing I felt above the exhaustion, was relief, to be safe on the ground. It was a little bit scary at times to tell the truth and we were supremely luckily that the day had been so dry and clear. But oh my goodness we’ve got to do another 21 tomorrow!

Travel

Coast to Coast Day 3/4 – Rosthwaite to Patterdale via Grasmere (17 and a bit miles: Strenuous)

Day 3

We thought we’d get to Grasmere early and get to some of the walking shops. After all it was only 9 and a bit miles and we were cutting a mile of that out as Gillercombe, the B&B, was just down before Rosthwaite. The ‘official’ path technically goes up into Rosthwaite and then down the other side, but as we’d kind of done that the night before to go out for our dinner it was agreed that going across the bottom of the triangle to meet that path this morning was acceptable. Just as well because I was the last one to get out AGAIN, and the team were all downstairs patiently waiting.  This time I had a camelbak issue so it was sort of an excuse.  Suffice to say the water pipe is being ditched for regular bottles which was one of the reasons for the planned shop. I also had to ask Rachel, our landlady, for a spare spoon as I’d managed to lose the one I had. I couldn’t work out how I’d done it.  She said, judging by the state of the room at that time, that she wasn’t surprised at all. Have to say though, she was a great host and made us feel right at home, if our homes were more chintzy.  Her cooked breakfasts were superb. 

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We had the wet weather gear on again as there was rain forecast for the day.  It didn’t materialise and in fact we had a bit of sunshine in the morning  which was quite lovely.  Only problem was that the rains had already been, overnight and by the looks of it over the several days previous. Our little gentle saunter from Stonethwaite Bridge along the bridleway turned into a game of stepping stones in a newly formed stream! Even before we got to the foot of Lining Crag, our first major climb of the day, we had covered barely 2 miles in over 3 hours.  The path had the odd dry patch here and there which was how you knew it was a path and not a waterway.  The grass and moss on either side could be dry or could be a spongy bog waiting to suck the boot off your foot.  Then there were the newly formed rivers running crossways at various points that created little puzzles for us.  Where was the best place to cross?  Which stones looked solid, which were slippy or wobbly? Was it possible to step all the way across or would we have to make a leap of faith. Hands up who has dry feet still?

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So the thing is, that this stretch of the walk and Day 2’s stretch were done by some of our group last year, at roughly the same time of year as a little practice and it was by their accounts a completely different experience.  For Day 2 they had the same mirky drizzly walk around Ennerdale but then the sun came out for the rest of the day and there was no wind (ferocious or otherwise)  and they sat on the tops in their t-shirts and had a little sunbathe. For their Day 3, their hard part started when they started stepping up the crag.  Today, that bit wasn’t so much the issue as the dancing around the rivulets and although we could feel the ascent in our legs, it was hard looking up for all the looking down that was required.  Plus there was wind, not quite so strong as yesterday but still pretty relentless.  I think I did see the little flowers that Wainwright talks about in his book at the top of Lining Crag, called Starry Saxifrage or, as Julie misremembered, ‘Sexy Frangipane’ but I was too tired to take a picture. We did not try and do the Ridge walk that is possible at this point but dipped down into the Wythburn basin and up over Far Easedale from which the path to Grasmere was true but tediously long.

We got there just before 4pm.  We’d managed the 8.2 miles in about 6 and a half arduous hours. But the Quaker run B&B had a wonderful drying room with stacks of newspapers and we managed to stuff our shoes and make a quick change. Then Julie and I did a mad dash about so that I could get my water bottles and a new woolly hat (I’d mislaid mine after day 1) and she could get some more inner socks (which she found) and long sleeved thin tops (which she didn’t).  I was able though to lend her one of my Primark specials until Simon (her husband) arrived again at the weekend.  So it all ended well in the end.

Day 4

There are a couple of routes to Grisedale Tarn.  We thought we’d take the easier one as we needed a breather after all the challenges we’d had in the previous days.  The gentler path is Tongue Gill on the south side. We were two thirds of the way up after having puffed and panted at the rather steep stepless incline when Sally (master navigator for the day) consulted the maps with a furrowed brow. ‘So I think we took a wrong turning at the bridge at the bottom.’ Where we should have gone straight we went left and essentially up Little Tongue side of the Great Tongue (I’m only describing this so I can write down these awesome names). Which happened to be the harder route. There was a murmur of consternation and then Julie pointed out that she felt so much better knowing that she found the hard path ‘hard’ and not the easy path.  That made complete sense to us at the time and we all nodded in agreement and felt better.

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A tarn is like a lake that is in the mountains, like a gigantic basin really. This one looked very calm and picturesque, until the winds whipped up at the point when we wanted to sit and eat something.   

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We wended our way around and descended down without too much mishap. It was still water logged but we were used to it by now and we weren’t far from Patterdale. We also saw a strange little red bridge across the way.  Apparently made out of paper for an art installation. Well there you go.

We did a similar distance to yesterday but we got to our accommodation in 5 hours this time.  A little quicker.

It is possible to do Rosthwaite to Patterdale in one day and some people do but it was nice to get to the B&Bs earlier in the afternoons for a little bit of a chilling, admiring the view and doing the laundry.

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Especially as tomorrow I’m due for a moan.  It’s a 16 miler and up the highest point on the route.

Travel

Coast to Coast Day 2 – Ennerdale to Rosthwaite (14 miles: Strenuous)

So Sally, Julie and I were sitting in the pub waiting for our grub and reflecting on the day.  I could not recollect eating anything at all since breakfast, just a carton of coconut water, at a slightly precarious moment in in time, and some regular water.  But I was still feeling only slightly peckish.  Eventually I remembered the flapjack piece and banana but that still wasn’t a massive amount. Likewise both the others had only done a little bit of grazing. Given the day we’d had it was surprising we weren’t famished.

Okay, we had started off with some very good breakfasts.  The Shepherds Arms was proud of its substantial array, including some lovely salmon and scrambled eggs that I tucked into.  Our host did look a bit crestfallen though when Derek asked for brown ‘trout’ instead of ‘toast’ accidentally. You could see him wondering momentarily if that was a special Sunderland delicacy (Derek originates from there and definitely not Newcastle). 

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Our glorious afternoon of yesterday was a dim memory as we pulled on our waterproofs and set off around the south side of Ennerdale water which is the rougher, rockier, more challenging path.  And it was a bit challenging; there was a steady rain and the mists were low and the way was sometimes a little slippy.  Still we formed a colourful line against the grey as we trudged and scrambled, mainly single file, along the edge. We found Robin Hood’s Chair, a large jutting rock set in a rare patch of greenery.  No idea why it’s called that as it’s nowhere near Nottingham.  But then neither is Robin Hood’s Bay. 

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The rain lightened a little as we left the lake and said goodbye to Simon here as he was heading back home.  Heather, Paul’s wife had waved us off at the B&B!  We headed along the forest road for a few miles of wide, fairly easy walking.  This was the nice and gentle in betweeny bit where we managed to cover some miles at a slightly faster pace, although my pace always seemed to be slower than everybody else’s.  I would blame it on the length of my legs but Julie’s little too and she’s a dynamo.  Paul’s legs are so long that he just looks like he’s slowly ambling along when I’m practically running alongside! I had my first comfort break of the trip along this route because, as Derek pointed out, there were a lot of trees to hide behind here but it was all open land when we got to the hills so I shouldn’t try and wait. Wise words.

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The wind was really starting to pick up when we came out of the forest and reached Black Sail Hut, a hostel sitting all by itself at the foot of the line of hills.  If I’d managed to hold my trousers up long enough this would have been a good place to go but never mind. We had a mini break to psyche ourselves up for the climb and so I opened my coconut water, for a fuel boost. In the Wainwright book it says to go past the hostel and head up to Loft Beck which leads nicely to Honister Pass. But either John or Paul (I’m blaming both of them) started going up from the left. It’s not a problem making a mistake and backtracking.  God knows my sense of direction is non-existent, but. To still be drinking from my carton and grabbing on to the nearest bolder so that I don’t get blown off the hill UNNECESSARILY and THEN to have to slip slide gingerly back down to the right track one handed is NOT my idea of fun.  It’s true. Colourful language was heard.

To be honest though, even the correct path up through the Pass proved to be seriously scary.  A Canadian we met, who probably knows about real weather said that she’d not experienced winds like these.  It wasn’t quite a hurricane but we did hear after that there were some injuries incurred and some people even turned back.  Our six pack all made it to the top though.  I have to say I found it quite exhilarating going up because the wind was, mainly, behind us, so it felt like I was being pushed up and as most of the ascent was a winding stepped path it looked like I was running up but only because I found it almost impossible to stop for breath.

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Going over the top held no respite from the gusts and it was really hard work getting down the other side.  In fact once we were down and still had to walk a few miles to Rosthwaite, mainly on lumpy rock paths (which feel reeaally sore underfoot), my legs were dog tired and my grumpiness had started.  That seems to follow the same pattern for me as yesterday where the last part of the walk, even though it’s on the flats, seems the hardest part of the day and I’m properly wingeing.  I’m thinking now that perhaps I need to eat more on the way.

Travel

Coast to Coast Day 1 – St Bees to Ennerdale (14 miles: Strenuous)

I can say now with absolute certainty that my marathon training has not helped me in the slightest as training for the Coast to Coast.  

Today was day one. Today, despite most forecasts to the contrary, turned out to be an absolutely glorious day so really there was no excuse for the sheer level of exhaustion I felt in my legs by the end.  I’m currently sitting on the bed with a pillow below my legs trying to coax the lactic acid, or whatever it is that is making my calves so sore, away from the hot zone.  I think each day is going to feel like a marathon until I’m broken in or just plain broken.

However, as I type with a pair of socks covering my vasalined feet (this is apparently a remedy for tender points to keep the blisters away), I can say, now that the pain is subsiding a little, that it was a pretty amazing first day.  Mainly for the unexpected sun and also for the sheer diversity of the walk; beaches and cliff tops, roads and boggy fields, hills and valleys.  It felt like this introduction was a precis of the whole two weeks.

We began from our lodgings and walked to the ‘official’ starting point, marked by a very helpful sign. 

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This was after we had made several attempts to reach the sea. How hard can that be when you’re standing on the beach?  Quite hard as it turned out as there were small streams blocking our way, unless we wanted to get our boots wet from the outset, and we ended up walking quite a way along the beach to physically reach sea water.  I found a cuttlefish shell and Sally found a pebble and I think a few little items were ceremoniously chosen to store by other members of our ‘Six Pack’ so we could place them on the other side at Robin Hoods Bay.  Before we’d even started we’d done about a mile and a half with all this to-ing and fro-ing.

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So Alfred Wainwright starts the walk in a rather teasing manner.  For the first five miles or so he gets us moving west and then north as we skirt the edge of St Bees head.  But as the morning begins to brighten we can see ghosts of the coasts of the Isle of Man and Scotland.  In fact the further north we go, the more we can see of the ‘sticky out’ bit of Scotland; materialised into cliff faces and hill tops. The path here is undulating and pleasant and occasionally scary if you looked over the precipice.  I loved being being above the seagulls as they floated lazily on the currents of air.

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We do however, eventually make a right turn and head due east finally into the country. 

The first bits are quite level and there is some road; we go through the small towns (or large villages?) of Sandwith (pronounced Sanith) and Cleator.  I bet the residents of these places are well used to people dressed up in our sort of clobber ‘skiing’ through their streets . Well I would once have mockingly called them ski poles but I now think those sticks are amazing.  Maybe a bit redundant on the flats (although some people say they’re good even there) but for going up and more especially DOWN a steep hill as Dent, today’s main obstacle, turned out to be, they are a godsend. One minute I’m happily chatting to Derek as we begin making our descent with Sally walking just a few feet in front, the next she’s suddenly disappeared.  There is a really sharp gradient all the way to the bottom and one slip and you wouldn’t stop rolling.

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Although by the end I was trudging along and thinking are we there yet, I really did enjoy it.  No honestly, my moaning in that last couple of miles may have indicated otherwise, but it was a beautiful start to our adventure.  But you know know, that 14 miles was actually 17 plus miles according to Paul’s ViewRanger mapper.  So no wonder I was whacked.

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Travel

Coast to Coast – Day 0

The company that takes our luggage from place to place have asked that we treat the ‘single’ bags like hold luggage on a plane. I.e. 20 kilo weight and nothing dangling on the outside like spare shoes etc. Which means that the several extra items that I shoved into my day rucksack may have to go straight back again with Simon. Either that or I eat a lot of it in the first two days. Oh, wait, I’ve just found out that Derek’s back is quite small and light and so if we’re talking of the weight collectively I may get away with it – if I just sit on the suitcase as I zip it up.

The drive to St Bees was smooth with Simon and Heather acting as Day 0 Sherpas. I’m just writing this as the final checks are made on the maps as to which way to turn when we step out of the B&B and beyond. We’ve all just eaten a hearty (starters, mains AND pudding) dinner at a local eatery. Surprisingly, for a small place, St Bees has a number to choose from and Lulu’s, once a railway ticket office now a Thai restaurant, was particularly tasty.

The forecast was correct unfortunately; rain. From this afternoon until well into tomorrow so all the waterproofs are ready. But that will mean a slightly lighter suitcase so that may be a good thing in the long run.

I’d never been to the Lake District before but apparently St Bees is technically not the Lakes. It’s a little bit to the left (or west if you want to get technical). However, tomorrow, when we get to Ennerdale, I can officially proclaim that I have set foot on the beloved ground of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.

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