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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…