Faint strains of cuckoo song broke through the assortment of snoring and farting noises as the new day dawned.
A typical hostel night with 6 blokes in an 8 bed room which makes for very poor sleep. And a tactical error timing my check-in meant I was in the top bunk. Hoping that inspiration had come in the night, I lay in bed while my brain booted up. No, nothing. System error 103: Boot failure – unable to load Mojo. Stories from fellow inmates didn’t help matters. One roommate was doing a chunk of the C2C and had been on Helvellyn the previous day with visibility down to about 20m. And today he had the long walk to Shap ahead of him. Rather him than me. A couple from Essex were also bailing out of their two week 3 Peaks road trip, deciding not to risk Scafell Pike, for which the forecast was grim. Tempted to ask if they had a spare seat in their car, I held my tongue as they did seem rather odd. But I did get one useful thing from them – that they’d got their tent dry in minutes in the hostel drying room. In my befuddled state it hadn’t even occurred to me until this morning when I thought it wasn’t worth it. I got Monica semi-erect in the drying room and she was workably dry in 10 minutes. It makes such a difference putting up a tent that’s dry rather than already wet.
Things also improved fractionally with another look at the weather forecast, which was now Monday’s actual rather than Sunday’s looking forward. 10% chance of cloud-free summits due to 200m cloud base but lighter rain and the fact that the “best” weather would be in the north-east gave a glimmer of hope. But the forward forecast for tuesday and wednesday was dire. I was sure that any wildlife I saw today would be walking calmly in pairs towards the nearest ark. Which is what I really ought to be doing. This meant today would probably be the last day as there was no sense in committing myself to camping out in these conditions and being constantly wet and miserable. But could I sneak a final camp before an early return tomorrow?
I set off up to Boredale Hause with a sketchy plan in my head. I would pick off the odds and sods fells immediately south of Ullswater and simply stop when I’d had enough. If conditions looked ok, I’d find a spot to camp or a campsite within an hour or two’s walk of Pooley Bridge or Howtown to make for an efficient getaway the next day.
First on the agenda was Beda Fell and the cloud base was down to about 300m as I slogged up the path to Boredale Hause with a heavy pack – heavy largely because I actually had a full Camelbak for once. This should mean I would have some left if I had sourcing issues in the event of achieving a camp. I also tried something new clothing-wise. Wearing Skins under my softshell trousers and tucking the tops of my Sealskinz “waterproof” ** socks under in the hope that I could prevent or at least mitigate water ingress. This proved to work well and although I had water swilling inside my boots at the end of the walk, the insides of the Sealskinz were virtually dry. Maybe they are more waterproof than I thought.
(** Despite being waterproof the only time I’ve ended the day with dry feet in these has been when it’s been bone dry underfoot. Past experience suggests they are waterproof – they’re brilliant at keeping water INSIDE).
I arrived at the Hause which was wreathed in streamers of wispy cloud, writhing about just enough for me to get bits of looks all round to orientate myself. I headed to the summit of the pass to pick up the path that would angle up onto Beda Fell. I found something, but not what you’d expect of a bridleway. Anyway it went in the right direction, and I could (just about) see it snaking up onto the fell. I navigated the bogs and climbed up. Occasionally the cloud cleared enough to get a look down into Boredale. And once the squelching underfoot eased to the point where I walked past a nice flat, dry spot that would make for a nice wild camp. I stood there looking at the view and became aware of a muffled roar a short distance away. I carried on and came upon this…
Freeze Beck was fast flowing and in spate and consequently needed some care to cross. I clawed my way diagonally up the fell side with the path becoming increasingly indistinct. So much so that it was a few minutes before I realised that the path, such as it was, had left me somewhere to the right and I was on a mere sheep track contouring around the hill.
I hate contouring. It seems to go on forever and all the time you’re conscious of a drop on one side, particularly when everything’s so damp underfoot as it was today. But I also didn’t fancy the climb up to the high ground and the track was at least two boot widths. The deciding argument, as always for me in these situations, was that I was at almost exactly the altitude that would bring me to where I wanted to be. So I carried on. When will I ever learn ? The concentration needed always cancels out the saved effort from avoiding the climb and descent.
I made it, eventually, and found myself on top of Beda Fell itself, rather than Bedafell Knott, which is more like a continuation of Angletarn Pikes. But the summit seemed a long way off. Beda Fell is deceptively long and involves negotiating several outcrops along the way. And the path was very boggy in places, not surprisingly. I arrived at the summit and had a sit down and a look at the view, while I made a decision.
All the while as I was walking along the ridge I’d been stealing looks to my right, and in particular to Steel Knotts, which I’d considered as an overnight stopping point to position me conveniently for the main High Street ridge. It looked viable, in theory, but I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that this would be my last full day, and it was too far from the bus stop for my quick exit. So I turned my head from Steel Knotts and focussed on the view in front. And then it came to me.
I made my way down through the bracken-fringed path, and inhaled the sweet creamy smell of the moist foliage. I always think wet bracken smells a bit like vanilla, and I enjoyed the aroma as I got lower. I arrived at a wall and looked at the map. Nothing made sense, and it took two or three minutes before I realised I was looking at the map as if I was on Steel Knotts not Beda Fell. Once I’d got that sorted, I followed the wall down to the road and then along to Howtown. And who should I meet there but the guy from the summit of Thornthwaite Crag who’d spent a couple of hours there waiting for his 5 youngsters to climb up from Kentmere the previous day. Last seen under a yellow storm shelter. We stood and exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes. Then I walked onto the pier to wait for the steamer.
I always find it entertaining to overhear other people’s conversations when in the Lakes, especially when they’re tarmac tourists, and as we passed Place Fell I heard someone behind me pointing it out with some degree of assurance as Hallin Fell. The size disparity between the two is huge, which is obvious to anyone who’s ever set foot on a fell, but I resisted the temptation to point it out. Best stick to Beatrix Potter and Grasmere I think guys.
In Glenridding I walked to the bus stop to check the times. I’d opted for that end of the lake rather than a steamer to Pooley Bridge, in the hope that I would have a choice of Keswick or Penrith for my overnight stop. A triumph for the UK Stops Android app, which I’d grudgingly trusted in making my decision. I had an hour to wait for the 208 bus and when it came past heading for Patterdale, the driver pulled up, asked where I was going and told me to get on and come for the ride in the warm for no extra cost. I leapt on the bus and accompanied him to Patterdale before returning a few minutes later on our way to Keswick. I was the only passenger on the bus for the whole journey, and I think he must have been lonely. Certainly he seriously tested the “don’t speak to the driver” rule by striking up conversation as he thrashed the bus along the lanes.
I got off in Keswick and now begun the hunt for somewhere to stay. I’d chosen Keswick rather than Penrith as I think Penrith’s a bit of a shit hole, and I was prepared to incur the extra bus fare to avoid it. I called my usual B&B only to find out that they’d closed. Bugger. But on the way past on the bus, I’d noticed that one I’d used before had vacancies. Which they did. Although, the proprietor clearly took one look at me and upped the price on the spot. I found myself in a small single at the front of the house with a view of Catbells and Causey Pike.
As I stepped into the room, I remembered that this was where I’d heard the news that Michael Jackson had died / been murdered / killed himself through stupidity and neglect*. But the bathroom looked like it had been done up. Although I’d forgotten these people’s liking for signs, all of them starting “Please, Please, Please….” and prohibiting almost every conceivable way of trashing a room. But it did the job.
(* delete as applicable)
I headed out for my traditional Keswick meal and pondered the failure of the mission…