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Archive for the ‘Lakes’ Category

A good nights sleep cons me into thinking I can do another “proper” walk today. If I wasn’t already persuaded a first rate F.E.B. fuels me with the energy and guilt to get me out of the door and up a hill. Today’s yomp is based on another map lent to me by my mother – one she did with “the ladies” a while back which looks around 10 miles to the unbothered eye.

The late summer weather is fabulous again and it’s a joy to stride out of the lodgings into fresh morning air. I asked at the Tourist Information office about crossing the lake by boat but they were sufficiently vague about the details to convince me to complete the circumnavigation of Derwent Water terra firma and I set off in an anti-clockwise direction.

Look to the hills

Look to the hills

The rather daunting looking peaks on the far shore towers over the flat basin to the north and as I near the start of the days slopes it seems there will be a fair sprinkling of booted and stick wielding folk joining me, until I realise that most of them are taking the shoreline route, perhaps once they realised how arduous the climb was going to be.

Path to Catbells

Path to Catbells

The 1480ft ascent to Catbells is steep in places and like many good hill climbs you approach “the peak” only to for another higher one to emerge in the distance. Soon I’m able to see the entire length of Derwent Water to the east and south, including the boat that I could have caught if Tourist Info had been more explicit.

Tim atop Catbells

Tim atop Catbells

This is ridge walking so there is also a commanding view over the fertile Newlands Valley to the west and Bassenthwaite Lake to the north of Keswick.

Newlands Valley

Newlands Valley

View down Newlands Valley

View down Newlands Valley

Most of my fellow walkers descend after Catbells but the map tells me to continue south along the ever ascending ridge to the wonderfully named High Spy and at 2028ft it provides the perfect views for a lunch break. Altitude is relative – Catbells below to my rear looks the poor relation and in other some parts of the world anything in the Lakes would be deemed a mere pimple on the landscape, but the walk started near sea level and it is this resulting contrast in landscape that Mr Wainright and I find so appealing.

High Spy something beginning with T

High Spy something beginning with T

A pair of Ravens cavort together below, hovering and soaring in the thermals and I engrave several megabytes of camera memory with 1s and 0s that will later be erased once I realise they do not reconstitute themselves into meaningful wildlife images.

The trek continues south beyond the furthest reaches of Derwent Water and I could carry on forever, obliviously glued as I am to Phish and then a Radio 4 podcast on my MP3 player. Miners Crag marks a steep and uncompromising descent that I share with an engaging American couple. They have “done” Edinburgh and York, have a week in the Lakes and will then head to London to spend some time with family. It’s nice to hear their perspectives on the area and they are clearly keen to experience all things local and stay well away from organised tours. There are things we take for granted that are totally alien to foreign visitors and it is oddly satisfying to have to explain the concept of a style. The climb down consists mostly of slate – this is the route miners once used to transport the fruits of their quarrying – and I almost slip to my death on this slippery staircase while chatting.

Slate staircase

Slate staircase

Miners Crag descent

Miners Crag descent

As expected the down was tougher than the up on the old knees but when it levels out I appear to still be functional. The craving for a cool pint of ale is starting to dominate my thoughts. When everything is just perfect your fortunes can only head in one direction and as the little village of Grange welcomes be back to the world of the flat a dark truth casts a shadow over my day. There is NO PUB here! Panic sets in when the lady at the tea rooms informs me the nearest hostelry is at Rossthwaite – 2 miles in the wrong direction! Woe, it would seem, is me.

Keswick is still 4 miles away according to a road sign – a little more than expected – and my legs and feet are beginning to protest about the unfamiliar demands I have made of them recently. Sod it – full pelt along the eastern shoreline – a pint of Jennings my illusory beacon hovering distant above the town to the north. The map assures me I can walk along the waters edge but the actual terrain begs to differ, forcing me to clamber over tree trunks and at one point a rocky outcrop where the water encroached. Going is slow on the loose stones with half of every step merely shifting tiny amounts of the British Isles towards the equator.

View across Derwent Water

View across Derwent Water

Another view of Derwent Water

Another view of Derwent Water

After what seems like an eternity the people I encounter walking in my direction are no longer hikers but strollers with young kids and – best yet – an old granny with an operational range of a few hundred yards signals the outskirts of town and the end to my now overwhelming thirst. I ought to point out that the views here are heavenly comprised of a trinity of water, sky and hill – an artists dream in the early evening light. I’m viewed out however and it’s walking juice I need.

When eventually I drag myself on all fours to the Oddfellows in the market square the Jennings Cockerhoop, while partially restorative, can only patch up my beer wounds. Boots off at an outside table I measure todays route properly for the first time. It turns out that the retired “ladies walk” I have just completed comes in at 15 miles – just about OK on the flat but throw in 2000+ ft climbs and it’s no wonder I’m feeling the strain. [Postscript: When I later challenged my mother about the walk she says the one she did was quite a bit shorter, so that’s another kick in the teeth for my navigational skills]

I really DO try to have a low key evening – honest! A quiet pub (BTW: I count 12 in Keswick, excluding hotels) introduces me to my first pint of Hawkshead this week (somehow missed this while in Hawkshead at the weekend) and after an excellent Thai (they had people in tonight) it’s one for the road at the packed Dog and Gun.

Down at the old Dog and Gun

Down at the old Dog and Gun

It is here that it all goes wrong. Stood at the bar watching various canine side-shows I get drawn into a conversation with some locals. There are local facts, gossip and all things in between. The guys at the next table are the mountain rescue team. The old guy that just left plays a sweet harmonica, though he packed it in ten years ago. I ask about the wonderfully northern looking pub I saw earlier, magically called Rumours and yes – it is for locals only!

Rumours locals pub!

Rumours locals pub!

Sandra who is getting impressively trashed on lager, cider, brandy, rum, vodka and – just to add some balance – coke, is off to “The Loft” night club and we all have to go. She will be working behind the bar here tomorrow morning and the guys on the current shift look forward to seeing what state she is in then, but wisely resist the invitation for a late night. They have seen it all before!

Jan who is looking out for Sandra interprets my “no” as a “yes” and the fact that I shortly find myself with them at Keswicks best (ie: only) night club suggests that my willpower really isn’t up to much. Despite being all but asleep I guess I had to take the opportunity to see what the tourists miss. Of course, everybody here knows or is related to everybody else here and while I chat to Jan scores of people come up to her to say hello or catch up on things. It’s all very heart warming, but doubtless tongues are wagging about the gringo and Jan will be answering endless questions from people in the street all week. She is an interesting and genuine soul who moved to the area a couple of years ago and has been accepted as a local by the born-and-breds that make up the majority of non-tourists in the town.

It has been great fun and I’m glad I met Jan, Sandra and others this evening who have kindly shared their time with a stranger this evening. I never saw Sandra before I left (presumably she was collapsed somewhere) and if I wasn’t leaving town in the morning I would pop my head into the pub when it opened to check her condition and make sure it wasn’t all some surreal dream.

The fresh lake air provides an adrenaline rush on the stroll back to my digs, as does the realisation that my early night has turned into 1:30 am. Oh well…

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The eyemask really works and I wake at 8am instead of dawn as is usually the case when camping. A peak outside at the weather turns to a moment of panic all the other tents have been hastily packed away by people fleeing from the zombie attack. Ten seconds later the sleep has cleared and I realise it is Monday so presumably everyone went home last night while I was out. Besides, the sun is breaking through and you never see zombies out in good weather – it’s the law.

Deserted campsite after zombie attack

Deserted campsite after zombie attack

The 2 second tent takes only a minute to pack away this time – shame there is nobody to see – and I’m northward bound where the peaks seem higher and the valleys greener. Grasmere is a lovely village consisting of one winding main street, a lake (Grasmere) and surrounded by brutish peaks and ridges. On a weekend or during the school holidays the weight of tourists shipped in by coach makes it unbearable but today it is pleasantly unpopulous. The first challenge is to park. There is no on-street parking anywhere – fair enough – but for me to complete my planned walk I it will cost £9 to park in a car park.Yes £9 in a small village – not London. Since the walk is circular I don’t need to start from Grasmere and half a mile away a wide unregulated road allows me to park next to the footpath I need to follow.

Tim on the hillside path

Tim on the hillside path

Grasmere below

Grasmere below

It’s a steep climb but I am soon rewarded by views over Grasmere lake and the village is framed by imposing hills that my map shows but fears to name. £9 – how do they justify this?! The walk is a photocopy of a map my mum lent me with the route highlighted by marker pen. The problem with this is that there aren’t really many landmarks en-route to tell you which of the multitude of trodden hillside paths to take. My compass comes out and I realise it has been @# years since I actually had to rely on one for navigation. A couple coming the other way have GPS and assure me I’m on the right path. The ascent steepens and the view somehow manages to become yet more spectacular. Now I have a toy town view of Elterwater which marks the furthest point of yesterdays walk.

Elterwater below

Elterwater below

Langdale below

Langdale below

Something unexpected happens. My legs should be stiff and tired after yesterday but I’m bounding up the hillside overtaking all-comers young and old. Bring it on! I only stop climbing at 500m because that’s as high as it gets, Langdale – as magnificent a glacial valley as you will see south of Scotland – lies far below in miniature, my plaything. I spare it my godly wrath and opt for lunch, ready to inflict a hoard of locusts upon it if it misbehaves.

The world at my feet

The world at my feet

The trek across the peaks here is simply awe inspiring. A rescue helicopter passes below in the valley as if to remind me that when the weather turns this can be a dangerous place. Today the only danger is getting my boots wet in the boggy areas. Navigation is a bit of a lottery as there are many choices of route including footpaths that could actually be dry streams and streams that could be waterlogged footpaths. If in doubt head north, which is convenient since that’s the direction my compass needle always seems to point in. Easedale tarn is a large high altitude lake containing run-off from the boggy fells and one immense boulder stands alone on the shoreline as testament to the forces of nature, dumped there by commandment of some long melted finger of glacial ice. This provides a peaceful place to chill for a while though I attract odd looks from a couple sat nearby because I’m laughing to myself at a Danny Baker podcast on my MP3 player.

View down to Easedale Tarn

View down to Easedale Tarn

Easedale Tarn

Easedale Tarn

The descent back into Grasmere does not punish my knees as I feared. The centre is busier now but I pass right through back to my car which is now accompanied by three others. A handwritten note under my windscreen reads “What fool parked here? Your car has nearly been written off twice. Next time use the car park”, tellingly with the writing facing outwards for all to see, aimed to shame this lunatic motorist as walkers pass by. It’s amusing because I’m parked legally and safely. The road remains side enough for 2 narrow vehicles to pass or one to give way, while visibility for the low level of traffic coming either way is at least 40m. There is only one house nearby so it’s likely the owner simply objects to walkers parking nearby and keeps a pile of pre-written signs eagerly ready for daily dispatch. “There’s nowt as queer as folk” is the Derbyshire saying and I wonder what the Cumbrian equivalent is.

Luxury awaits at the northerly metropolis of Keswick – a bed no less in a B&B. My landlady can’t do enough for me (OK – I didn’t ask her if she could retro-fit an en-suite) and a shower without 20p slot or daddy long legs feels like regal treatment indeed. A clue to my character – I can’t resist catching up on the news via teletext, because I’m wired into the age of constant news feeds. It’s been 2 days since I heard any and it seems like an age. The issues are all mundane and predictable (no zombie attack). My mind goes back to my Inter Rail travels when I would come home after a month away and catch up with several weeks of news (well, footy scores) in the papers that had piled up in my absence. Today there is rarely any “news”, rather incremental disclosure of fringe information concerning existing events accompanied by endless analysis, opinion and media invented speculation. There’s an old joke about the media creating the news but to a certain extent that is precisely what they do.

A night out in Keswick reveals the news that I’m irresistible. While evaluating a pint of Jennings Cumberland Ale (excellent) a French couple sit at my table despite most of the other tables being unoccupied. Is this a cultural difference (in which case thank god we still have them in these bland days of global assimilation) or is this a prelude to a threesome invitation (in which case thank god for… etc, etc) ? Come to think of it the whole “this is my table / place in the queue / colony” thing is a peculiarly British stance.

I had planned to try the Thai I saw earlier but a glance through the window reveals just two awkward looking diners and one waitress busily removing place settings from all the other tables. Perhaps somewhere busier would be more appropriate. An Indian looks OK so I enter and am ushered to a small table nestled beneath an impressive volume of clutter – 2 place settings each with 2 knives and forks plus spoons, plastic flower, salt and pepper, toothpicks, wine glasses, menu, desert menu, wine menu, napkins and presumably a table cloth somewhere beneath. Who knows where they slotted in the ashtray pre-smoking ban. Once I have ordered the table is stripped bare aside from a knife, fork and napkin. I feel less special. The food arrives with alarming speed and when I’m done with the forgettable fare the waiter rapidly clears up and brings me the bill without asking if I want coffee or desert (no – but you might have asked). This sort of scenario is just one of the down sides of solo travel, although on the plus side I can leave no tip without feeling guilty.

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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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For somebody traditionally organised I find myself in the unprecedented situation of starting my holiday today having made precisely no arrangements. It’s all laid out in my mind, a 5 night walking tour of the Lakes taking in some known and treasured areas and (unsurprisingly) pubs, but when I tried booking accommodation last Wednesday everywhere I rang was full. Thursday night I got home past midnight and Friday evening was another night out so here I am hoping availability has somehow improved in the last three days. It hasn’t, but what has improved is the weather forecast meaning I can break my promise of roofed nights only. In the space of an hour and a few phone calls everything is booked – 2 nights camping in Hawkshead, 2 nights B&B in Keswick and 1 night at the sublime Kirkstone Pass Inn. The car is packed and three hours and 2 seconds later I’m standing in a field in Hawkshead next to my erected 2 second tent. Can it really be this simple? Have I lived my adult life under a code of regimented planning and organisation for no reason? Is this how spontaneity feels?

The omens are good. It was a painless journey, the sun a constant and the landscape improving every yard further from Stoke (obviously). I decided to take a short cut to Hawkshead taking in the Sawrey car ferry, bisecting Windermere and taking 20 minutes off the landlocked alternative journey. It bothers me not the least that I just miss out on a crossing and have to wait the 20 minutes in the glorious sun watching ducks and dinghys while the ferry turns around. The sun, panoramic splendour and a sense of freedom have insulated me against almost anything that might otherwise attempt to take the shine off proceedings.

Ferry across lake Windermere

Ferry across lake Windermere

Hawkshead, if you are not familiar with it, is the epitome of a Lakes village. Framed by rugged peaks that beshadow the village from the late evening sun it conveys an authentic charm throughout. This is exemplified by the impossibly quaint church that sits perched atop a small hillock, and the perfect slate flagged winding footpaths that radiate gently away skyward – to who knows where – between peaceful sheep filled fields and ancient hedgerows alive with birdsong.

View of Hawkshead Church

View of Hawkshead Church

View from Hawkshead church

View from Hawkshead church

It has four pubs, the best for drinking being the Kings Arms but none less than great. The KA is a no-go zone presently as it is packed with young families winding down for the evening with the shouts, tempers and physical outbursts that young kids have when they are tired and have had enough for the day. Perhaps a return after their bedtime…

A Hawkshead street

A Hawkshead street

A silky pint of Hartleys Cumbria Way at the Queens Head (traditional pub names are alive and kicking here) anoints my arrival and I start to write this blog. The inevitable Man Utd fans are enjoying “their” team beating Spurs on TV (the digital switchover has finally brought decent picture quality to Cumbria) and tired Daniel on the next table is being implored to have one last fork of food but cannot be drawn away from his plastic pterodactyl that climbs the exposed stone wall in a way that is both historically inaccurate and scientifically impossible. Surely mum and dad need to put Daniel straight on this before getting hung up about one last mouthful. Then it’s onto the Sun Inn, the pub I rate least but a kid free zone, where my first three choices of food have all sold out along with the Jennings Cockerhoop I had in mind. The trade is non-stop and the bar staff stressed out but a pint of Landlord  is a good second best and I expect events will be more civilised after tonight as the weekend sun-seekers depart the area.

Two couples on nearby tables have struck up conversation and discovered they are both from Leeds. Couple A describe their neighbourhood (well – mostly pubs) in detail and after they leave I enjoy listening to couple B slagging off “common” Couple A. I entertain the notion that Couple A are simultaneously chuckling about snobbish Couple B as they trudge back to their lodgings. My walk back to the campsite a quarter of a mile away is cinematic. There is no man-made light and the cloudless sky would put any planetarium to shame. The stars are are numberless, bright and vivid and it becomes profoundly obvious why our ancestors would routinely navigate by the night sky. Sat nav and GPS are great inventions but hardly beautiful or romantic. That said, when I want to get somewhere I’m more interested in the accuracy than the art. Back at the campsite it’s too dark to see where I left my my tent and I resort to using my car remote to flash the lights and guide me home. Lets call that a scoredraw: Technology 1 – Nature 1.

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