Four years ago the family had one of those holiday weeks where everybody got to do what they wanted, achieved by us all having separate holidays – my son went off to Scout camp, my wife and daughter headed for Paris, and I had the luxury of a whole week in the Lakes. The usual guilt complex at swanning off to the hills leaving everyone else at home, being conspicuously absent on that occasion. It didn’t work out quite as neatly this time, but with my daughter off to Scout Camp, similar plans were made for a substantial getaway to the Lakes.
Sadly, the weather didn’t play ball and the week in question began with big winds and big rain. I waited a few days to let it all calm down so I could judge the optimal window of opportunity. I also planned the trip to fit in with a weekend meetup with Cath (@wellycath) to do a route in the Northern Fells.
Tuesday 12 August
I took the well-trodden route through London and along the West Coast Main Line, and settled down for the interminable wait for the 108 bus to Patterdale, which of course was late. Getting off a little short in Glenridding, I popped up to the Travellers Rest for a pint of Brim Fell as I was in no hurry today and had time to kill before the YHA reception opened. However, I was still at the hostel about half an hour early and so settled down in the comfy seats to wait it out.
Somehow, being first there didn’t work out as five minutes before reception opened, two big family groups arrived and just stood there right in front of the desk. I was eventually 10th in the queue, and my concern wasn’t so much about not getting in (I had booked) but more about getting a bad draw when it came to bunks. But they still couldn’t find my booking as I’d only made it the day before. It also meant that they’d run out of keys by the time I was given mine, being presented with the master key to the room, which had a giant plastic grasshopper sellotaped to it (this happened last time too). I got to the room and luckily secured the last bottom bunk.
A chat with a guy doing the C2C and then it was time for dinner – eating in tonight. While I was eating one o the YHA staff came over and relieved me of the key – they’d now decided that it would be a far better idea to just leave the room unlocked. I went and got myself a hot drink and to find somewhere to sit and gather thoughts about the next day’s walk. Just my luck a big noisy group of what I presume were students were in the lounge, then the kitchen – basically anywhere I tried to go. I sought refuge in the dorm and had an early night.
Wednesday 13 August: A Day of Firsts
C2C Man snored pretty much all night. When he wasn’t snoring he was getting up to attend to calls of nature. Refreshed by his deep sleep he leapt out of bed when his alarm went off at 7am. All manoeuvres being accompanied by such high levels of heavy rasping breathing that I began to doubt he’d see Shap let alone Robin Hood’s Bay. The rest of the bleary-eyed sleep-deprived zombies in the room could at least take some comfort in their likelihood of greater longevity.
The kitchen was again full of sodding students. Then the dining room and lounge. Blow this I thought, and made an early getaway. A sausage baguette courtesy of the Patterdale Village Store covered breakfast and then I set off up through the woods behind the shop, filling up with water at a stream – anything’s better than the water from the pipes at the hostel. I emerged from the wood following a wall up higher onto the fell, surrounded by high bracken and traipsing up a path that was as much stream as it was solid ground.
Soon I was on top of Arnison Crag and now only had 20 Wainwrights left. So I lingered a while to take in the views down over Patterdale and towards the far Eastern Fells. Then I got on my way over various heathery hillocks to Trough Head and thence dragged myself up parallel to the wall onto Birks. The wind became noticeable as I approached the top of the fell, and this didn’t encourage lingering. But then Birks isn’t really that interesting on top, other than as a viewpoint.
And what a day for views it looked like being. It was one of those days when your progress is slowed by repeatedly stopping to look behind as the view to the valley below opens out. I began the climb up onto St Sunday Crag, branching off near the top to contour around to Gavel Pike, which I’d not visited before. Then up to the summit proper, where glimpses could now be had of Angle Tarn and pretty much all of the Far Eastern Fells.
On to Cofa Pike, another new Birkett for me, and deliberately saved for doing in ascent. An enjoyable and easy scramble in places, it also provided in one place a nice tall sheltered rock for me to sit out of the wind for a lunch break. Post-lunch lethargy struck as I finished the climb up onto Fairfield, but my mind was soon taken off this by another first – visibility. Every time I’d been here before, there was nothing to see except vague humanoid shapes in the mist. Today though, I could clearly see the lot, and could properly appreciate how confusing this place can be in mist and why a compass is essential. With cairns dotted confusingly everywhere and some precipices, this is not a place to lose your bearings.
That wasn’t an issue today though, and my appreciation of the fell increased now that I could see it. But it was fairly busy so I got on with the walk – onto Hart Crag just as the sky showed a dark band of showers heading my way. Luckily I was only brushed by the fringe, but it was enough to lubricate the rocks on the scrambly descent onto the Hartsop Above How ridge. With occasional glances across to the clearly discernable Priest’s Hole cave, I made my way along the ridge and a succession of false summits to the real one, before continuing down the ridge to end the walk.
I reached the lower slopes and Deepdale Park to find a delightful expanse of grass dotted with small trees, and I decided to linger there to complete an important job. That morning as I’d packed up, a grave problem had presented itself – my whisky flask had sprung a leak and disgorged some of its contents into my rucksack. A temporary patch up was all I could achieve, and I decided to take it with me rather than risk discovery by YHA staff. So with the walk now effectively done, I picked up the flask and drained it of its remaining contents, leaving me with nothing for the later wildcamping phase of the trip.
Fortified with the last of the Glenlivet, I was looking forward to a decent meal, but I found myself out of luck at the hostel – only pre-booked meals tonight. Attempts to “pre-book” book one for later that night failed. It had to be the White Lion instead and I forced a steak pie which was essentially a pastry pot of gravy down my neck. I didn’t linger and headed back for another evening lying low in the dorm. Actually, this wasn’t too bad – C2C Man had gone (to meet his maker I expect), and tonight I had a chattier bunch of roommates – a couple of ex-RAF guys and a vicar and son, all out just for the enjoyment of being in the hills. Conversation flowed for a while and then I turned in, really looking forward to the next phase of the trip, when the petty irritations of “civilisation” would be gone.