Friday 28 October 2005 – Skiddaw
Yesterday was such a frantic day, that it was good to finally get out into the hills today, even though it certainly wasn’t the weather we would have wished for. At least I took a day off work to prepare – I hate to think how bad it would have been if I’d travelled straight from work, like my brother did.
I’d been carrying a headache all day and rushing about getting everything ready hadn’t helped. But it had been bearable until Rob called to say he was stuck in traffic and it became clear it would be right down to the wire for him to meet me at Euston station for the train we were booked on. He eventually made it on time, but my headache throbbed all the way to Penrith, and I had to leave my 1st class seat at one point when I felt sick due to the motion of the Pendolino.
After three hours of torture and discomfort, we stepped onto the platform at Penrith and my headache and nausea evaporated. Just like that. A huge feeling of relief came over me and the stresses of the past week receded into the background. I couldn’t wait to get out onto the hill. In Keswick, we checked into our B&B, had a fish supper and a pint and agreed our target for the next day – Skiddaw.
I woke early and prepared for today’s walk. The forecast was for heavy rain showers, which likely also meant poor visibility and some wind thrown into the mix. But our choice of Skiddaw for today, believe it or not, reflected the weather as this was the shortest of the walks we had planned, using a straightforward path and we could simply turn back at any point.
We headed out into the greyness to join the tourist route up Skiddaw, meeting three guys doing the Cumbria Way as we climbed up through the woods below Latrigg and squelched our way through a wide but churned-up path. We walked with them until we passed the car park at Gale Road and they veered right at the memorial to follow the Cumbria Way around Lonscale fell.
The rain kept playing with us, but as we slogged our way up the wide path onto Jenkin Hill, it became heavier and it wasn’t long before we were fully togged out in waterproofs, including hats. As we rose, so did the wind, and suddenly both our rain covers were off our rucksacks and flapping in our faces. There was even a patch of hail at one point. Visibility was very poor, but through the clouds we could see from time to time that it was clearly much better in Keswick, where we should have been really. Several times, I fumbled my camera out as a break in the clouds illuminated the scene below, only to be beaten to the shot by the clouds closing up.
Just after 1pm we gained the summit, paused and scoffed the pasties we’d got in Keswick and then headed down, detouring towards Little Man. That done, we then just focussed on getting down the easy but long path and just over 2 hours later were back at the B&B.
We were in our rooms, divesting ourselves of our wet gear when the landlady turned up and mugged us at sharp tongue-point. She left triumphant with our wet gear, but not until she’d delivered a lecture on the irresponsibility of going outdoors in the rain. I noticed later that a wet belt had slightly stained my duvet cover in the melee and knew, from what we’d just experienced, that it spelt trouble later on. I fumed a while and then we headed for the pub where we had dinner and the immortal phrase “I think we should form an escape committee”, was uttered. Then we moved to a second pub, which then, too late for us, turned out to have much better looking food. So we returned to the stalag, dodging the searchlights, guard dogs and barbed wire.
Saturday 29 October 2005 – Helvellyn
Well, this was supposed to have been the best day, weather-wise, and consequently we had planned to walk out towards Scafell Pike. But Rob wasn’t keen when I told him of the length of the walk to get to the mountain, and the much harder terrain than yesterday. Our plan to do all of the 3,000ft mountains crashed and burned. Or at least it would have burned if the rain hadn’t put the fire out.
So instead, we opted for the walk originally planned for tomorrow – the Helvellyn ridge – and this also had the advantage that we could pretty much make this as long or as short as we liked.
We retrieved our gear from the Kommandant (“Actually it wasn’t as wet as I thought, and I was surprised how quickly it dried”, being as close to an apology as we were likely to get) and headed for the bus station. A little while later, and with some relief that I’d gauged the location of the bus stop correctly, we disembarked at Stybeck Farm near Legburthwaite.
I may have got the correct bus stop, but it took a fair while for us to work out where the path up to Sticks Pass actually was and we were wary as it seemed to go through the farm. But we eventually worked it out and were soon heading up a steepish slope on the south side of Stannah Gill, through a sea of bracken (if sea is the right word for something that’s far from horizontal). We slogged our way up, taking some encouragement from the fact that we could see the valley below gradually getting further and further away.
It took us a couple of hours to get to Sticks Pass and we paused and spent a few moments looking down towards Glenridding and Sheffield Pike. Then we turned left for Stybarrow Dodd, eventually gaining the summit around 12:30 and stopping for lunch. Then we descended back to Sticks Pass and on up to Raise – a rocky slog, but with a view of the Ski Tow and huts. By this time, Rob’s superior fitness (by which I mean marginally less unfit) was beginning to show and he had the opportunity for several rests while waiting for me to catch up with him.
We dropped again and then rose up on to White Side, where we stopped to look east to our first sight of Catstye Cam and Swirral Edge. And now, despite Wainwright not recognising it as a separate summit, we could see the biggest climb so far ahead of us – onto Helvellen Lower Man. From this angle it looked every bit a mountain.
After a hard slog, we gained the top around 2:15 and then delighted in the easy stroll down and back up onto Helvellyn itself. We spent some time taking the obligatory photos of the two arêtes and the lovely tarn, dramatically nestled between them.
Now, after a couple of hours of clearer weather, the cloud was rolling in, and frankly it hadn’t been the sort of weather to spend too long standing in one place at any point during the day. So we got going again, crossing the summit plateau, past the memorial, and headed for Nethermost Pike. Despite the fact that the path from Wythburn goes so close to its summit, it hadn’t occurred to me to bother bagging this the last time I was here 13 years ago, but that was soon history as we had Nethermost Pike in the bag pretty quickly.
It was now quite misty in places and having reach the summit (we think) of Dollywaggon Pike, it was clear that it was time to head down, so we continued off the end of the ridge to take the badly eroded path down to Grisedale Tarn. Wainwright recommends avoiding the path and simply going straight down the hill, and I can see why now. Looking at the map afterwards we could see that this would have been less steep, quicker and arguably safer. But, fed up with the horrific path, we did at least cut the corner on the last bit as we neared the tarn.
Down Raise Beck we stumbled and slipped, Rob falling and breaking one of his poles, then hurting his knee and me hurting my backside in an impressive mud slide as we neared the bottom. But we eventually reached the road, having had about all we could manage for the day, and walked along it to find a bus stop, then stood in the rain for another 25 minutes until a bus actually came along.
Back in the stalag and we surrendered our wet things on the doorstep, opting for a more proactive approach than yesterday, in an attempt to avoid another lecture and a night in the cooler. This seemed to work well until I got my collar felt for the duvet stain. We “celebrated” with a curry and an early night.
Sunday 30 October 2005 – A Lazy Sunday
We chickened out today. Pure and simple.
Deciding that a combination of Rob’s knee injury and the weather forecast ruled out any serious high-level walking today, we wasted the morning in and around Keswick waiting for the pub to open. To be fair, though, we did briefly toy with the idea of a walk alongside Derwent Water, with a possible detour up onto Catbells for me, but if I’m honest, the lure of Sunday lunch in the pub with the newspapers won. And I’m not sure I could have taken a 3rd run-in with the landlady.
So we spent lunchtime and much of the afternoon in the Dog and Gun with the newspapers and 3 bottles of wine for company. Then we returned to the B&B.
And that was the trip over.
Monday 31 October 2005 – The Day of Reckoning
Today of course was the day of reckoning at the B&B. By now I’d taken on-board that I’d have to pay for the duvet cover, but the landlady had so pissed me off that there was no way I was going to let her simply wash it a few times and continue using it anyway. No, I was going to make her work for her cash. If it had to be paid for because it was ruined, then she wasn’t going to get to keep it. So when she added £18 to my bill, I demanded the item and took it with me, leaving her rather bemused. For some reason, I carried it all the way home before dumping it, instead of just chucking it in the first bin I found, or better still burning it on the street outside her establishment. All the best ideas are formed in hindsight.
We got the bus to Penrith and then killed time in a coffee shop while we waited for the train. By late afternoon we were home.
On the train home, I reflected on the hills we’d climbed, adding 7 Wainwrights to take me up to 9. I just wished I’d been able to see them a bit better. But deep down, I knew that I’d be back sometime and that number would rise.
Something else that dawned on me was how much more enjoyable this trip was, even with the much worse weather, than the Three Peaks experience. The freedom to walk at my own pace, just doing it for the sake of enjoying being out on the hill, rather than to meet a target.
I also made a mental note not to stay at Hedgehog Hill again. Not that I’d probably be welcome anyway!