Things were looking good: the forecast was encouraging, workdays were slotted into place, and I was ready to drift off to Dartmoor for a few days of backpacking as a warm up for the big event, just as I did last year. And then Paul messaged me to say he was ill (again), and that I might want to give him a wide berth. He certainly wasn’t up for camping out, let alone several nights of it. So I took him at his word and considered this carte blanche to consider other areas too.
As things happened, the forecast was pretty glorious for all of the places I looked at – Dartmoor, Snowdonia and the Lakes. It felt like I should not waste the opportunity to go (and stay) high, and so the Lakes it was. A combination of travel and timing constraints saw me opt for the overnight coach – I could work late on the Wednesday, walk down to Victoria Coach Station, get on the bus and be in Penrith for sunrise. Sleep would have to take its chances…
With no fixed plan for the walk itself, other than a list of ideas of things to include centering largely on fells I’ve not visited for a very long time, and places I’ve wanted to camp a long time, I arrived in Penrith and mooched around trying to decide what to do. An hour and a half’s wait for the first bus to Keswick or hop on a train back down to Windermere. The latter it was, and a train, a rail replacement and then finally a bus later I was in Coniston.
A lovely clear blue sky greeted me as I headed up the path towards the Coppermines Valley.
The target was Wetherlam, which despite several walks on the Coniston fells, I’ve only summited once. My route was the same as the one I took on my previous visit in 2007 – following the ridge up Red Gill Head. This gave good views of Coniston Water and beyond, and also down to nearer things like Levers Water.
I sat at the top of Wetherlam, the blue sky now having evaporated and replaced by swirling cloud at the level of the tops, and tried to decide what to do next. A choice between a descent to Little Langdale to tackle Pike o’Blisco (another fell I visited in 2007 and never since), or stick with the obvious route up to Swirl How and approach from the other direction. A times like this minimising the amount of ascent is always foremost in the mind, so the decision was simple. I headed for the Prison Band, stopping off to pop up onto Black Sails on the way.
The Prison Band was a lot busier.
On Swirl How there wasn’t much to see because of the cloud, and it was also a bit too breezy to be comfortable lingering, so I carried on straightaway to Great Carrs and Grey Friar.
In the clag, the summit of Grey Friar wasn’t that straightforward to find without firing up the GPS. Neither was the alleged path down to Cockley Beck, which proved to be one of the most trying descents off a fell I’ve had for a long time. Partly because of the visibility, partly because of the indistinct path, partly because of the barbed wire fence athwart my route, but very much because of the quagmire at the bottom. That must count as the most disgusting field I’ve ever had to cross.
The trauma of the descent done, I headed up Moasdale to find a place to camp, stopping just short of where Swinsty Gill flows into Lingcove Beck.
Never have I slept as well in a tent as I did that night – a combination of the negligible sleep on the coach, plus a day with over 1,300m of ascent and I barely stirred all night. No “first night in a tent” syndrome this time. The new day seemed a little more cheerful and there were early signs that the mist would lift.
I continued on up Lingcove Beck, my goal the path up to Three Tarns. I actually think this ascent from Eskdale may be my favourite way up Bowfell.
By the time I was atop Bowfell, everything was clear and I could start to enjoy the views properly.
So much so that when I decided to try the Ore Gap path, which I’d never done before, I found myself looking down on Angle Tarn and across to the Langdale Pikes and just had to stop for a while. My lunch stop turned into an hour and then I fancied a brew so out came the stove, and another hour went by.
By now any motivation to make much more significant distance had completely gone, and I even toyed with camping on an almost flat bit where I was, looking down on Angle Tarn. Even though I had a good 4 hours until sunset – it would be no hardship to simply while away the time. What made me move on though was the thought that there would almost certainly be people camping at the tarn, and I just couldn’t be doing with the noise. So I got going again.
I climbed up to Esk Hause and immediately turned right for the short pull up onto Allen Crags – a place I’ve been intending to camp for yonks.
I found a decent spot overlooking Langdale and waited a bit until it was a respectable time to put the tent up.
It got to sunset time so I thought I’d better pop back up to the summit and have a look over the other side.
My tent body clock was on good form and I woke in time for sunrise too.
Overnight I’d been trying to decide between two plans for today – a walk out to Keswick along Langstrath or go over the Langdales to Grasmere and either get a bus from there or attempt to get to Patterdale. I could even then walk to Penrith as my bus home wasn’t until midnight. In truth I didn’t feel up to that much work, so decided to stick with the Langstrath plan. Just as well I did, as it did me in.
First, though, I decided to pop up to Rossett Pike for a proper look down into Langdale.
Then I headed back to Angle Tarn and took the sheep track that would drop me down to Allencrags Gill and into Langstrath. A slow route, but I enjoyed the loneliness of the valley.
After a few stops and a very slow progress I joined the Cumbria Way and stuck (mostly) with it all the way to Rosthwaite, Grange and Keswick.
I arrived in Keswick with just under an hour to spare before the last bus to Penrith, and very much glad I’d chosen the so-called easy option. I was beat, not just because of the distance, but the heat. I got some dinner while waiting then got the bus to Penrith where a 4 hour wait before the coach lay before me. Not prepared to try to make it go faster by heading to the pub (on a Saturday night, no), I simply lurked at the station, taking cover when a storm passed by, and watching the antics of the locals. The bus came and apart from being chock full and stopping several times, I even managed to get some sleep.
The bus option is one I will consider again – the sleep issue isn’t that bad – and the only real downside is that long wait for the return bus at Penrith. More importantly, this trip was aimed at confirming readiness for the TGOC, which it did nicely. I tried a few bits of gear out, and my catering plan. I still haven’t decided whether the Scarp or the Duomid is going on the Challenge though, and I’ll probably make that decision on the day according to the forecast – the worse the forecast seems to be the more I will lean towards the Scarp.
Postscript: a few days later, and Paul confirmed what I’d feared would happen – he was pulling out of the Challenge, meaning I’d now be doing it solo. I was really looking forward to the team effort (Paul is one of the very few people whose company I could tolerate for that length of time), but have consoled myself with two things – I originally entered to do it solo in the first place, before Paul told me he was applying and we decided to team up; and the route, albeit significantly enhanced by our joint planning, still has at its core the route I was originally going to do solo. So at worst I’m back in the position I intended at the outset, but massively disappointed for Paul after the struggle he’s had trying to get to the start line. Now I’m just praying for decent weather.