A Tour of the Tarns with a Damsel in Distress

The creature stepped from the bog, covered in jet black ooze, spread its arms wide and started to lurch in my direction. I took out my secret weapon and brandished it in front of the foul wretch attempting to fend it off…

Well, when I say “damsel”, that’s ordinarily the last word anyone that knows Cath (@wellycath) would use to describe her. The only pink visible on her person, was the colour of her face lugging her unfeasibly large budget rucksack up into the Central fells for her first wild camp.

Day 1: Friday 11 October 2013 – Some simple pleasures and a frustration

Waking early on a weekday and the realisation hit me that I didn’t have to go to work today. A packed rucksack sat waiting in the hallway reminding me of the late night jigsaw puzzle to get everything in. My tent strapped to the outside reminded me that I failed. A bottle of tonic water perched on the kitchen worktop still waiting for the addition of gin that will never come – there’s not room for it. Simpler pleasures would have to be enjoyed, but no less intoxicating.

The walk down the street and around the corner to the station was joyful especially as I was the only one not dressed as a commuter. I enjoyed the looks of alarm from others as I arrived on the platform with a big mass on my back. But nothing to worry about, it’s a well-rehearsed routine to get on the train and find an optimal spot and there were no casualties among my commuting fellows.

Avoiding my usual Northern Line route to Euston also avoided spreading even greater alarm in trying to board the mobile sardine can at Bank. Instead with plenty of time on my side I took the scenic route around the edge and stretched my legs out on the tube from my seat on an empty brand new train.

More glum worker ants came towards me as I walked into Euston Station, lifting my mood further, and enabling me to let their looks of contempt ride. I’m a fearsome combination of tramp, funseeker, and potential bearded, rucksack carrying security threat to them. But today there’s no rudeness or questioning my right to occupy valuable pavement space as is usually the case.

A pleasant wait with a coffee and then the guessing game in front of the departure board. I stood trying to predict my platform and opted for 11 or 12. As I waited, my eyes feasted on a cornucopia of exotic destinations – Holyhead (mmm,  Carneddau), Manchester (ahhhh, Peak District), not to mention the unmissable Wolverhampton and Birmingham. My board for Glasgow refreshed with a “3” in the top right hand corner and my stake in the roulette wheel of platform prediction was swept away by the station croupier.

Along the platform to the very end of the train and already I’d made some good progress north. I took up a seat in the middle of the quiet carriage opposite the luggage rack, where the Epic, my beast of burden for this trip sat alone. A seat with a power point and a no – show in the reserved seat next to me optimised the comfort of the journey.

Stations flashed by as the train whisked me north.  The skies lightened and the rain drops dried from the windows on the train. Cows and sheep appeared in the fields and those fields themselves started to undulate more. Hills appeared in the distance. All was calm.

Until I got a message from Cath, that is. Signal problems down the line meant her train was 15 minutes delayed and slipping further back. This put in jeopardy our connection to Windermere – it would probably wait a few minutes but that’s all. Two tourists from somewhere in the Middle East and with barely intelligible English followed me onto the train at Preston as they’d picked up that we were all in the same boat. The train was rammed and although only a train carriage apart, the rendezvous with my backpacking companion for the weekend was postponed until the arrival in Oxenholme. Of course the connection had long gone and the best part of an hour was wasted for the next one. I wished I’d gone with my instinct to wait out that hour at Preston where the next Windermere train started from, and where, more importantly, there was a bar.

The knock-on effect of this was that our backup tactic of a scoff in Booths Café came close to failure too. Arriving in front of a hot plate groaning with food to be told they’d stopped serving hot food started off a train of events that resulted in one poor helpful Booths employee getting bollocked by a weasel-faced supervisor for cooking us fresh food “because everyone will expect that”. We scoffed our fish and chips and availed ourselves of the “facilities”.

The bus whisked us to Grasmere for the plan B route. Plan A involved a walkout from Ambleside over Loughrigg, Silver Howe and Blea Rigg to a camp at Stickle Tarn. The delays and the prospect of some wind made sacking that route an easy decision. We did our pre-walk faffing in the bus shelter and then set off for Easedale. I pointed out the sights as we walked, almost certainly boring Cath with the associated anecdotes from past trips.

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Heading for Easedale

Memories of my first ever wild camping trip last year came to me, as this was the exact same route, at least to start with, as then. We strolled across the fields to the bottom of Sour Milk Gill and began heaving ourselves up to Easedale Tarn. A pause for some pictures and we resumed the climb up to level 2 on this platform game of tarns.

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Easedale Tarn

The light was fading fast as we arrived at our wildcamp spot and had a scout around for an optimal patch. I pointed out where I’d camped last time – the “look at me” spot on a grassy mound right by the tarn and the path, but that was never on the cards this time as not big enough for two tents.

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Looking back down to Easedale Tarn

We made our way around the tarn, seeking dry, flat ground and the northern end yielded our spot eventually. It seemed that the best approach was to get Cath’s tent up first – mine could be done in 5 minutes even in poor or no light, and this was a good plan until we realised that Cath’s poles were too long to fit in the grommets. Much grunting and swearing (plus some from me too) yielded the discovery that Cath’s tent poles were too long and inflexible to fit in the grommets and resulted in the expedient of digging one end of each in the ground itself. Some extra help from the spare v-pegs I’d brought and the truculent tent was as good as it was going to get. With a breeze still blowing, I had my doubts as to the odds of survival.

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Camped at Codale Tarn

Somewhere along the way, Monica was up in a flash anyway and we settled down with hot chocolate to watch the surface of the tarn rippling in the moonlight and the stars in the sky above.

Day 2: Saturday 12 October 2013 – Attack of the Bog Monster

The morning came and I was pottering about early taking the official camp photos that it was too dark to get the previous evening.

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Early morning at Codale Tarn

We set off about 9:15 and started the slow trudge up to Sergeant Man, with a brief detour to look down on Stickle Tarn from above. The wind became stronger as we gained height and a break was called in the lee of an outcrop, turning into a long one approaching an hour. Already decided that this trip was to be a “do what we feel like” mooch about the fells, there was no motivation to shift from our sheltered spot.

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Stickle Tarn

We got on our way again and headed for the summit of Cath’s first Wainwright. The wind was bowling over the summit, making a prolonged stay uncomfortable, so we stepped the few feet down from the top and considered our options. Half a mile away High Raise was tempting, but we’d made slow progress, so I made an executive decision to cut round to Thunacar Knott and thence head straight for Stake Pass. One pair of legs not used to this intensity of walking and the other starting to atrophy through the demands of long work hours, made the omission of the Langdale Pikes the right choice today.

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Sergeant Man
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Across the expanse

We arrived at Thunacar Knott and we repeated what I did last time I was here – had a good sit down. But just before we did I explored the small tarn to the north of the summit – even this undistinguished patch of water looking nice today.

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Tarn on Thunacar Knott

We sat and ate a lunch of crisps and cereal bar while I pointed out the surrounding fells, with particular attention to one particularly rude looking peak – my old friend Pike of Stickle.

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Pike of Stickle – an old favourite
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Stake Pass Tarn

The journey resumed and we headed down to Stake Pass. Another pleasant tarn and then up again towards Rossett Pike, our stride becoming more of a trudge now. Up onto Black Crag and a view down into Langdale, Cath’s struggled to contain her glee at the suggestive look of the Stickle from this angle.

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Langdale

In the interests of time and laziness, we opted to miss out Rossett Pike itself and cut down to the path running behind the crest of the ridge. An intermittent path and plenty of squelch. “Don’t go that way, come over h…..”, my voice tailed off as I heard a shriek followed by a plop, and turned to see comedy moment #1 of the trip – a backpacker lying in a peaty wallow.

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The bog monster

The creature stepped from the bog, covered in jet black ooze, spread its arms wide and started to lurch in my direction. I took out my secret weapon and brandished it in front of the foul wretch attempting to fend it off. Disorientated by my not backing down, the creature meekly obeyed my command and turned around so I could get a rear shot too.

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The bog monster

 Eventually, my arm grew tired from pointing and my throat hoarse from laughing and we continued, destination Angle Tarn. We slipped past the various resting walkers and Cath went for a “dangle in the Angle” in an attempt to mitigate the stench emanating from her lower parts.

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A dangle in the Angle

We carried on up towards Esk Hause, with the pass itself now lost in the bottom of the cloud. One late afternoon slog later and we reached the cairn marking the finest crossroads in the Lakes – right to Allen Crags and Glaramara, left to Esk Hause, Great End and Scafell Pike, and ahead to our own destination.

We headed west into the mist in the knowledge that it was all downhill for the rest of the walk. The red stony path took us down and down, and I stopped to fill up the water tanks rather than have to drink out of a tarn.

A bit of experimentation as my watch indicated the correct altitude for our target saw me looking at a meagre pool and bewailing the fact that Sprinkling Tarn had catastrophically shrunk. But no, we weren’t there yet. Around the next hillock a watercourse led us to the tarn. Through the swirling mist a solitary figure to our left was making camp for the night, and we headed right around the tarn to put some distance between us. A few so-so spots beside the tarn which weren’t optimally flat saw us arrive by the small island in the tarn. I hopped across the rocks to take a look – maybe the glory spot was viable. Some careful judgement and I beckoned Swampy over, both guiding the beast and keeping it at bay with my Pacerpole. Down she went in a swirl of flailing limbs and a shower of tarn water for comedy moment #2.

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Sprinkling Tarn

Smelly Welly came ashore onto the island and we set to work on its lair. Comedy moment #3 followed hot on the heels of #2 when Cath’s tent outdid itself in stubbonly refusing to go together. Poles came undone mid-sleeve and pegs would barely penetrate the ground. We stomped ashore again, me with the semi-erect tent under one arm and a left leg in the tarn.

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The pitch at Sprinkling Tarn

One of the rejected pitches now looked a lot more attractive, and we set to work making camp. Again darkness arrived as we put the finishing touches to our camp. The beast’s outer layers stretched out on the tent to dry, pasta cooking on the Trangia and an early night.

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Saturday night “in” wildcamp style

Day 3: Sunday 13 October – The Scent of Beer (and, of course bog)

Sunrise this morning at Sprinkling Tarn
Sunrise this morning at Sprinkling Tarn

Not much of a sunrise, but it was better than nothing.

Last night's camp at Sprinkling Tarn
The camp at Sprinkling Tarn
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A “bonus” tarn on Seathwaite Fell

Good intentions of an 8:30 departure came to naught and 9am saw us climbing up the slope behind the tents to look briefly down to Borrowdale before stepping out across the squelch to regain the path back up to Esk Hause. Just ahead the first early walkers appeared, resulting in a pause and a natter. We crested Esk Hause and began the long descent to Langdale. Still few people about. The Rossett Gill path zigzagged and we toiled our way down, the 10am and then 11:15 buses leaving without us. Now the people came, as always looks of surprise when they see others heading down at this time. Cath’s bedraggled, shit-covered form reinforcing the image of us as a right pair of hardcore adventurers.

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Leaving Seathwaite Fell

We met a man and his daughter heading for Keswick, and I gave them the bad news – “this isn’t the Cumbria Way”, but rather than retrace their steps they opted to continue. I recommended the path from Angle Tarn that would take them back to Stake Pass and their proper route, and listened out for the screams when they succumbed to the peaty menace that had befallen the Wellster on that same path.

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Mickleden

We reached Mickleden and strode out for the ODG, the lure of beer dissolving the tiredness in the legs. Cath’s pace noticeably quickened.

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The lure of beer

Beer dealt with, we hopped on the bus and headed for home.

The Route

The route (click on image to view zoomable map on Social Hiking)
The route (click on image to view zoomable map on Social Hiking)

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