Cumbria Way Day 9

The wind was howling around the bunkhouse throughout the night and was still doing so at breakfast time. Meanwhile a mist had descended. Marie summarised the weather forecast as “not much respite”. That did imply some level of respite though!

All my wet kit had dried, and just as importantly, warmed up by the stove overnight so putting it on felt ok, and if it had still been cold and/or wet I don’t know how I’d have got out of the door. In any case I fully expected a character-building day.

The plan was simple – follow the Cumbria way north as far as a metalled road. Then decide whether to head up to High Pike or escape on the road around the bottom of Carrock Fell.

I set off into the mist for a 5k walk to the decision point. The path gradually descended about 500 feet over that distance and after the wet weather we’ve had the path was in places stream or pond. I took it slow and steady as the path wound around the base of Great Calva and then Knott. As I headed down the valley, the cloud seemed to lift which I stupidly took as a good sign.

As I neared the road, I saw my only people of the day – a farmer fording the stream in his tractor and in the distance a car that looked like it had come up the road by mistake.

Lonely path around the base of the fells
Lonely path around the base of the fells

I reached the decision point and looked around. The weather seemed to be easing, and the walk up Grainsgill Beck looked ok. But then the patch of sunlight over Mosedale did too, but I took this as the weather trying to goad me and made my choice. Eschewing the easy escape route, which I could return to if needed, I headed up Grainsgill Beck.

After all the rain, the beck was pretty lively and the path was in a sorry state. Twice in order to cross streams joining the beck, I had to head upstream a fair way to find a safe way across. I trudged uphill letting it take as long as needed.

Emerging at the head of the beck’s gully, I felt the stronger wind, but it was still nowhere near as bad as on Skiddaw on Saturday. The cloud, however, was a different matter and out came the compass.

I struck left slightly to aim for the small summit height 609m unnamed on the map, but called Miller Moss on my hills database. I misjudged it though and when I found myself at 630m and still going up it was clear I was actually ascending Knott. Knott’s not good enough to visit twice in the same week, so I looked around for the best line to where I needed to be.

At this point the weather realised I’d not fallen into its trap, and apologetically lifted the cloud so I could see clearly. Taking a fix from the old hut on Great Lingy Hill, I curved around Knott towards the Miller Moss summit. By this time Ii was squelching through bog and it was on this part of the walk that my waterproof shoes and socks surrendered and my feet got soaked and cold.

Three and a half hours into the walk, I eventually made it to the summit, a few rocks hurridly pulled together to make a cairn in the heather it seemed. Not lingering, I struck out for Great Lingy Hill and carried straight onto Hare Stones. Then I paused. The wind although stronger now, was still ok, so I struck out east for Carrock Fell via Drygill Head. This meant I could leave High Pike, the “summit” of the Cumbria Way for last and make it a bit more ceremonial.

I never made it to Carrock Fell. The wind made walking difficult and by now the rain was constant. I’d had enough, so turned around to climb onto High Pike.

High Pike is, according to Trail magazine, one of their 100 best hills in the UK, but it was impossible to see why in these conditions and there was no sense of celebration. I collapsed into the shelter by the trig point for 10 minutes while I chose my emergency exit. I opted for the path that descends east of the summit over West Fell, as this would enable me to cut across to Hudscales and save some distance.

I headed down over the gentle grass slopes north east of the summit to join the main track. A lovely track that I would have steamed down in good weather became much trickier in these conditions, and I slipped over. Back on my feet and with the wind pounding on my back I continued down, finding the track on my left to the farm with no problems. But it deteriorated to a quagmire quite quickly and trousers and feet that had started to dry were again soaking by the time I walked through the gate and into the barn.

A hot shower later, and I’m still cold, and the wind is still pretty angry outside. Having not much food left and having not been able to phone home since Saturday, I have to go out in this again and I’m going to have to walk about 3 miles round trip in flip flops in foul weather. But the barn is good – it has electricity, everything can be reached without having to go outside, and I suspect that I’m the only one in tonight.

Hudscales Camping Barn
Hudscales Camping Barn

Update: I’ve just returned from the Old Crown at Hesket Newmarket and no it should not be done in flip flops. It was about 1.5 to 2 miles each way and involved at least 50m of ascent on a full stomach just after sunset along muddy lanes. But the steak and ale pie I had at the pub was top notch and I am glad I went. Pity I left all my small change in my wet walking trousers. I had to phone home with a £1 coin and we ran out of conversation long before the money did.

Today’s stats:

Distance: 17.48km
Ascent: 495m (but 630m of descent)
Time: 5:47
Summits: 4 (including 1 Wainwright and 2 secondary summits that technically are mountains)
Highlight: the steak and ale pie and pint of Blencathra in the Old Crown at Hesket Newmarket.

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