I sat on a rock and cried for my mummy. The rain was still sheeting down, visibility was zilch and I couldn’t be entirely sure where I was – not that I could have seen through my misted up and droplet-covered glasses anyway…
Ok, maybe I wasn’t quite as much in the shit as I was 5 minutes ago, but things were still far from rosy. On the rock, I vowed that my next kit purchase would be a GPS – this was the second successive walk that I’d conditions like this, and the novelty of being lost was starting to wear off.
Sensibly, I stayed perched on the rock for a few minutes whilst I recovered some composure. Even in my befuddled and bedraggled state I knew that panic wouldn’t get me anywhere, and I also knew deep down that this was a decisive moment for my walking career. Images of the day so far flew through my mind as I started vacantly at a curtain of rain unable to move from the security of something solid – seemingly the first solid thing I’d touched for over an hour.
The day hadn’t started promisingly – it was ok, if a bit overcast, but I knew it was going to get worse. Realistically my goal should be just to get over the pass and down to Grasmere, but stupidly nothing about the forecast conditions could disuade me from the intention to bag Ullscarf on the way.
The previous day’s inaction in Keswick had a lot to do with this, and this trip had gone so wrong so far that I was now making myself do this walk. I could easily have just got the bus to Ambleside and been done with it. Whatever – I walked from the bus stop in Rosthwaite along Stonethwaite Beck heading for Greenup Gill. Much of the path was really a river adding to the already swollen waters of the Derwent after two days solid rain.
Three hours of slogging up Greenup Gill and Lining Crag brought me to Greenup Edge – or at least I hoped so as I couldn’t see to be sure. I veered left on what looked to be a path heading upwards to Ullscarf. Soon it became indistinct and I wondered to myself how it could be that a huge bog could sit on a slope like this and not slide down to the bottom. Chasing glimpses of path and false summits looming in the mist I walked in zigzags and curves, each time as I nearly gave up sensing the summit just up ahead. In the end I did turn around but soon after spotted a line of old fence posts and these did at least help steer me back to the col rather than off the side of the mountain.
Now just the simple matter of dropping down into Far Easedale. Again no apparent path and I ended up heading for the lowest looking point in the east and hoping that this would funnel me into Flour Gill. It did, but now the horror was just beginning. As I dropped lower, the rain became harder, my glasses were covered in raindrops and I trod gingerly after the slippery nightmare of two days ago on a similar descent from Dalehead Tarn through the abandoned quarries.
Luckily wet slate wasn’t the issue today – simply finding and keeping the path was the problem. The gradient flattened out as I approached Brownrigg Moss and nowhere within the limited visibility could I see where it started going down again. All there was in front of me was a bog, which afterwards was clearly identified as run-off from Mere Beck, but at the time was an uncertain and huge obstacle.
I slipped and slid several times, my curses getting louder each time. And then I’m in the midst of the bog with no path and it not being very clear how I got there. I waded around in circles a few times, not helping me get my bearings and then stood still to think. I could vaguely see the line of Mere Beck on the right. Or it might be Birks Gill. That didn’t matter – they’re next to each other. Keeping the stream, whatever it was, on my right I waded through the bog and 30 seconds later found a suggestion of a path. And moreover, some ground falling away in front of me.
I staggered onto the path and a short way further on spied a rock. I squelched over to the rock, hugged it and then sat on it, while I let it all out.
Of course, I couldn’t stay there forever. It was still tipping down and after a while sat there I was starting to feel a bit cold. And my sodden boots felt like they had half the bog still in them. So I got moving again, but took it slow and steady and focussed totally on each step and a mantra of “one step at a time”.
Three hours after heading down into Flour Gill, I limped into Grasmere and collapsed in the bus shelter until the bus came to whisk me to the safe haven of Ambleside. Quite literally, as I was staying at Haven Cottage, and being greeted by tea and homemade cake was just what I needed under the circumstances.
A shower and hot meal later and things didn’t seem so bad. The trip was over and whilst it had started badly and nearly ended in disaster, there’d been a good bit in the middle after I adjusted my walking to a more realistic plan. As I reflected that night and on the train home the next day, it had been bad, but I’d made it and coped with conditions as bad as any I would ever expect to be out in. And I’d learnt a lot about my physical capabilities, such as they are. I knew that I would be back and would have learned from what went wrong this time.