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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.