The 10th and 50th

In early May, for my TGO Challenge warm-up, I headed for the Lake District to get mind and body into the groove, and to test out certain elements of my gear strategy.

I wouldn’t normally go on such a trip the week before the Challenge, but I had planned to head for Scotland a few days early to warm up anyway, and having decided not to do that after all, I managed to wangle this alternative.

Objectives for the Trip

Firstly, this trip was an opportunity to mark two milestones: my 50th Lake District trip, and the 10th anniversary of my first ever wild camp.

I considered taking my Scarp, the tent that did that first wild camp, to mark the occasion. I even considered reprising the same camp spot at Codale Tarn. But this placed a lot of constraints on the timing and the manner of getting to the Lakes. And hence the cost of travel. Basically, to tie everything in to mark the 10th anniversary of my first wild camp to be on the exact day, in the exact place, cost more than I was prepared to pay. Especially a few days before the most expensive trip of the year.

With that idea out of the window, I embraced just doing what I felt like doing, within the travel constraints. What mattered was marking the day with a wild camp, almost any wild camp, and getting myself ready for the Challenge.

In gear terms, it was about testing 3 main things:

  1. The tent I was planning to take on the TGOC – the Tipik-tentes Pioulou XL. This had only had a night in the woods, and really needed to be tried out in more exposed conditions.
  2. The pack I was planning to use – the Atompacks Mo 60. Specifically, to hone my gear down to use the pack how I wanted on the Challenge – essentially to leave lots of space for re-supply.
  3. My food strategy. What I wanted to try out in particular was the extent to which I could maintain my everyday home eating regime, essentially cutting out snacks in favour of more “proper food” meals.

The Plan / Route

The cheapest way of getting from London to the Lakes (and back) is by coach but even that was £60. It only cost me £11 for London to Glasgow for the Challenge the following week, on the exact same service! Even so, the train was more.

The plan I fixed on was the overnight bus to Carlisle, which got me there about an hour before the first train around the coast to Ravenglass.

I’d then head up into Eskdale, and if the weather was ok aim for a first night camp on Scafell. It would be a bit “make it up as I go” after that, but essentially, I was looking at a loop back to either Bootle or Silecroft and then repeating the outward travel in the other direction.

Planned Route, approx. 70km, 3 camps over 4 days.

If I stuck to the plan, I’d aim for Illgill Head for night 2 and then a final camp on Black Combe. But all would be weather dependent.

Day 1: Tuesday 3 May – Up the Esk

I emerged groggy from the overnight trip into early morning Carlisle. Not really fully awake, but able to work out how to get to the rail station from the bus station. I met a chap at the bus station who’d been on my bus and was heading for St Bees to start the Coast to Coast. We walked to the railway station together.

I waved goodbye at St Bees, and continued down to Ravenglass. The world was just reluctantly getting going as I stepped off the train and headed along the back footpaths towards Muncaster Castle. Despite having come this way a couple of times before, I still managed to take a wrong turn and end up on the beach.

When I got to the closed cafe at the entrance to the castle, it was a good chance for a sit down and think. My limbs were still pretty sluggish, and I pretty much decided there and then that there was no way I was forcing them up Scafell. The forecast didn’t look that great anyway, and moreover the forecast for the next day getting off Scafell was dire.

I hit upon the idea of simply walking up into Eskdale, which would position me to adapt my route the following day. It was also an opportunity to spend another night at a favourite spot. Pretty easy decision really.

But first there was the small matter of a long walk up the valley. I headed for the castle gate and found it locked, having to detour through a shabby farmyard to gain the main road. A very short way along this and I struck off on the Fell Road heading for Muncaster Fell. Bluebells abounding beside the track.

Soon I arrived at Muncaster Tarn and braved the Keep Out signs for a picture.

It was a lot easier walking than I remembered getting up to the top of Muncaster Fell itself.

The same can’t be said for the walk along Muncaster Fell – it’s one of those never-ending trudges around and over brackeny outcrops. But I did make it down to cross the railway on my way to Eskdale Green.

There, I bought a few things for lunch and struck out up the valley. I decided to stick to the road for speed and ease. A weekday afternoon in term time and it should be reasonably quiet.

I stopped for lunch at Beckfoot station first though.

After that it was a matter of managing boredom on the long walk along the road. But it didn’t seem as bad as it has before when I’ve done bits of this.

Finally, I got to Brotherikeld and could leave the road behind to get into some better scenery.

I’ve been this way a few times, and have to say it’s probably my favourite way to head up Eskdale. It’s a simple matter of following the Esk to Lingcove Bridge.

There I forked left to climb over Throstlehow Crag, remembering to not stray too close to the cascading Esk – I remember on a previous walk that getting a bit hairy. Soon I was looking down on a bend in the Esk, behind which Scar Lathing loomed.

Although a bit early to stop, being only 3pm, I’d seen no-one since leaving the tarmac and didn’t expect to on this route. I threw the tent up, grabbed some water and chilled out.

Day 2: Wednesday 4 May – Judgements

A bit of a grey start to the day, and the higher tops were shrouded in cloud. Stuck down in the embrace of the valley, though, I had no signal to get an up to date forecast. This led to some indecision as to where to head today. But I knew I didn’t fancy scrambling up the last (or first technically) bits of Esk, and had done that before – it’s my favourite exit from the valley.

I wasn’t going to head for an ascent of the Scafells from here either. I remembered enough of the last forecast I had to rule that out. So east it was. I packed up and picked my way over to the base of Scar Lathing, not really with any set plan, other than I expected to end up somewhere between Bowfell and Esk Pike.

I found myself following whatever scraps of path there were and these led me to Long Crag. A straightforward line up to the side and I was on top of it. The route up succeeding lower parts of the Esk Pike ridge was natural.

As I gained height, though, the clag got worse. I gained enough height to get a signal and hence a forecast: not good. I carried on though – once on Esk Pike I could make a decision.

It all became pretty challenging conditions when I got to the summit, and on autopilot I turned north west for the descent to Esk Hause. In these conditions, this needed a bit of care.

Eventually I sunk down into the shelter at Esk Hause and had a think about my options. A couple of lads were just heading off for Scafell Pike – rather them than me in these conditions. I was already soaked through and getting cold. The weather was supposed to be clearing about now, but no sign of it. I decided an early stop to dry out was needed, and thought about where I might get shelter.

A straightforward walk down to Sprinkling Tarn, and then I explored the western side for a bit of shelter. The best I found was a patch in the top left corner of the tarn – there was just enough room for the tent, and it was tucked down just enough to break most of the wind. Up went the tent, and in I went.

Of course a couple of hours later, it did clear, but I’m not sure I could have stuck it out that long. I went for a bit of a look around, and to grab a scrap of phone signal, which I knew I’d get from Keswick if I walked north along Seathwaite Fell.

By this time a couple more tents were up – sitting above me, taking shelter directly from the 631m summit.

Back in the tent, it was an evening of reading and films on the 10th anniversary of the first camp. That had been by a tarn too.

Day 3: Thursday 5 May

Not a promising start.

A day to take things bit by bit. I packed up and headed off to rejoin the main path down to Sty Head. This was an easy decision – today needed to be about heading south and I could either go up towards Scafell Pike, down directly into Eskdale or take a more Wasdale-y route. I chose the latter.

As I walked down the path to Wasdale head, the cloud thinned and I gradually emerged.

It was quite pleasant in Wasdale, and I ambled my way over to the Inn, or rather the cafe next to it, for coffee and a bit of a sit. Then it was the stony, gorse-lined path through Lingmell Beck to the pass the National Trust campsite.

I began the climb up to Burnmoor Tarn, at one point having to cut across a load of soft ground when I found myself on the path heading up Illgill Head. Back on the right track, once I could see the tarn, navigation was easy. I handrailed the eastern side to bring me to Burnmoor Lodge. A plank balanced on a couple of rocks by the wall made for a reasonable lunch stop, looking out over the tarn.

By now I’d worked out that I didn’t have time to get sufficient far over the fells south of Devoke Water and still make my travel arrangements the next day. I decided to head for Ravenglass, and either camp on Muncaster Fell or go all the way and look for a campsite, either at Ravenglass or further up the line.

The most convenient way was therefore, Miterdale, which I’d never walked in its upper parts. Once I found the right path to get me to it, this was an utter joy. A small valley with its stream twisting left and right, and affording a pleasant series of hops between banks.

And it was here that I met my only other walkers of the day – it seems the secret of Miterdale isn’t such a secret after all.

As everything flattened out and became farmland, it got a bit more troublesome, with a few wrong turns taken. But eventually the path became a track, and the track became a road. Here, with phone signal I looked for a campsite, finding one in St Bees that would do nicely. A call and it was sorted.

A shortcut brought me back to Eskdale Green and another visit to the shop. Then I retraced my steps to the bottom of Muncaster Fell. There was no way I was going back over the top, though – far too time consuming. I settled for the Esk Trail running below. This proved to be an easy track.

When Fell Road hit the main road, I stayed with it for the easy way to Ravenglass station. An easy train ride and then I headed to the campsite near the cliffs at St Bees.

Actual Route: 57.38km, 1,832m ascent

Post-trip Thoughts

Despite all the changes of plan, albeit a loose plan, this trip gave me what I was looking for – a couple of nights out warming up, and a chance to put my TGO gear strategy to the test.

The Pioulou XL worked fine – it was good to get a bit of nasty weather on it. Although my prime motivation in getting it was for the airiness it could provide, I was keen to see how it handled worse conditions, in effect seeing how far into shoulder conditions I might be able to push it. Everything was fine – so much so that I did decide to take it on the Challenge.

I did still need to perfect the pitching a bit – the cut of the panels, especially in a breeze, could make it look very concave at the rear. That’ll come with experience.

My strategy for using a bigger pack so that I could flex to accommodate a big resupply worked reasonably well. This wasn’t the best test for it due to the shortness of trip. I got some idea though.

The biggest learnings came from food.

I experimented with overnight oats on this trip, rather than straight porridge. This worked fine, and was actually nicer than porridge provided I packed it with fruit. Whenever I could use yoghurt rather than Nido, it was vastly better too. Doing it in the same pot I’d eaten Angel Delight or custard from, also added a bit of flavour.

This approach crucially let me be away early from the campsite on the last day – breakfast was all made when I woke up and all I had to do was eat it on the train. Same for the coach ride up too.

I also experimented with flatbreads for lunch, finding them robust enough to take being carted around in a backpack. I even managed to carry salad – at least for as long as I could prevent the leaves being crushed.

Recently I experimented with dehydrating cooked pasta, mainly to see what happens. By the time I’d dehydrated it, a 300g portion had shrunk only to 284g, meaning minimal weight saving. But this was never about weight saving – it was about how well it rehydrated in the field. Which was well. Whether it was worth the hassle of cooking and dehydrating vs just using really small pasta I wasn’t so sure.

This was also one of those trips where I carried leftover Nido from a previous trip. This does deteriorate over time – not so much go off, as just becoming grainy and not dissolving as nicely. So I made a note to take a fresh batch on the Challenge.

Finally, I experimented with Angel Delight, made up with Nido. It was horrid. It just didn’t work. This may have been because of the Nido, or the way I did it. I don’t feel the need to try again.

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