First Steps

A light morning mist hovers above but the sun is fighting through to reveal the nameless peaks that surround the campsite as I emerge from my tent. The forecast is good and my abused walking boots beckon from beneath the peak district mud I that failed to clean off them last time out.

It’s 9:30am by the time I stride out into Coniston. There’s a smothering of people about but the ascent up towards Yewdale Fell is a solitary affair aside from the guy that ran up the hill past me. Later I catch up with him near Coniston Fells YHA and feel a little better about things given that I’ve found the modest 300 metre climb a bit of a shock to my system.

YHA in Coniston Fells
YHA in Coniston Fells
Stream at Coniston Fells
Stream at Coniston Fells

Truth is I’m still stiff after an impromptu beer soaked midnight jog around Nottingham City Centre 3 days ago so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Once beyond the quarried hillside the fell is level and boggy in places. It’s cooler up here which is welcome.

Yewdale Fell
Yewdale Fell

The walk is 13 miles and should take 6 hours without stops but I’ve taken 2 hours to cover the first 3 miles due to the climb and constant stops for photos, although there is no hurry. There are a lot of old quarry workings in these hills but for the most part their modest scale makes them feel a natural aspect of the landscape. How did people mine and transport slate from such inaccessible areas 150 plus years ago?

View near High Tilberthwaite
View near High Tilberthwaite

The descent takes in Yewdale Beck which consists of a deep chasm and several waterfalls. The landscape opens up at Low Tilberthwaite and there is flat and green farmland – presumably the fruits of an alluvial plane. A woodland stretch here is home to many small birds and more old quarry workings.

Path through Fletchers Wood
Path through Fletchers Wood

A footbridge spans the river Brathay to Little Langdale where I fight every instinct and walk on by the sun soaked pub that beckons so temptingly. I have decided to hold on until Elterwater, my half way stop. (It’s a little known fact that Wordsworth refused to mention Elterwater in his writings because he was frustrated by his inability to find a word to rhyme with it). The charming little Brittania Inn pub here is well known to me and it is worth the wait for a prize winning pint of Coniston Blue Bird consumed out front in the sun on the green.

Brittania Inn at Elterwater
Brittania Inn at Elterwater

Like me the beer has travelled from Coniston (it is brewed at the iconic Black Bull pub I walked past at the outset) though presumably via a more lorry friendly route. The sun has drawn out a great many visitors though only a handful have walked any further than the adjacant car park.

The food isn’t inspiring so the somewhat classier Elterwater Inn just up the hill wins my vote with its panoramic views and tasteful garden furniture, though the clientelle are more drop-top daytrippers than sweaty hikers like me. The 6 miles back to Coniston are blessed with unbroken sunshine and characterised by light woodland paths, burbling streams and sheep happily munching the fell grass oblivious to their date with the ubiquitous Lamb Henry – a staple offering on menus at pubs in the area. The exception to this landscape is the remarkable Hodge Close Quarry I came across – obscure enough to walk by without noticing it but when viewed from the edge it reveals itself to be 100m x 70m and 100m deep with sheer unfenced sides and a water filled base. I later learn that the water is another 100m deep making it popular with divers and that it was a slate quarry from the 19th century to the early 1960s. Some climbers are tackling one of the improbable looking faces while a dinghy floats on the water far below. A vast tunnel near the base provides access to those inclined to enter.

Hodge Close Quarry
Hodge Close Quarry

It has been a fabulous walk and my energy levels feel higher than when I set off. A local pub would be the logical choice but they are all packed and besides they are unlikely to serve anybody in my disheveled state. Showered and rehumanised in the campsite portacabin unit I drive over to Ambleside for the evening. The setting sun on the surrounding peaks provides a cinematic backdrop to the towns austere Victorian persona. When you only have one night in Ambleside it has to be spent at “Lucy 4s” – part of the “Lucys” catering empire, which over the years has transformed itself from local institution to a nationally acclaimed business. It is starting to feel as if the tipping point may have been exceeded in the growth of this portfolio, rather like Rick Steins stranglehold on Padstow. Lucys now comprises a bistro, funky tapas style restaurant (Lucy 4s – sounds devilishly like Lucifer’s), deli, fresh produce shop and a cookery school. Lucy has thankfully yet to turn up on our TVs as a celebrity chef and it is this combined with the enduring integrity of her outlets – both in terms of food quality and staff ethic – that ensures her reputation remains intact at least for now.

Oh – the food was great. Just a shame I was driving or their Chimay stocks would have taken one hell of a beating.

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