Morning dawned a hazy grey – time for coffee. I gathered frigid water from the beck and splashed some on my face to wash away the sluggishness of my slumber.
The little valley was quiet and my neighbours hadn’t stirred. The sheep were active, though, and moving in on my spot, chewing and staring.I munched on a flapjack, a huge doorstep of a thing which I’d bought from the Langdale campsite the previous evening.
As I ate, I boiled more water for the day and filled my hydration bladder. The sun appeared and started to burn off the early morning haze. It was going to be another beautiful day.
The bivvy bag’s breathable membrane hadn’t been troubled during the night but I aired it and the sleeping bag before leisurely packing them away.
That’s the great thing about the minor discomforts of the bag: it gives you so much more time on the hill. Nothing’s hurried, there are no schedules, nightfall doesn’t matter. Things would have been different had it been raining, of course.
I walked along the babbling beck before finding a faint path to the head of Moasdale. Turning round, the Scafell massif looked formidable as the early sun enlivened the textures of its eastern-facing buttresses and screes.
Crossing the lip of the valley, I followed a muddy track across boggy ground down Moasdale, joining an engineered path to road leading to Hardknott Pass. Here, I met my first people of the day: A solitary walker headed for the Scafells and a duo kitted up by their parked car on the side of the narrow ribbon of tarmac.
Curiously, one of these guys was hobbled around in Italian plastic mountaineering boots. Perhaps he was breaking them in, or a devotee of some curious sado-masochistic cult.
I reached Cockley Beck Bridge and a fierce easterly ripped down Wynrose Pass, threatening to carry my map down the Valley of the Duddon. I checked the route and noted a path leading up the side of Grey Friar, giving my access to the ridge of the Coniston chain of fells.
The route up the side of this rocky hill was feint and hard to follow for good reason, as it has to be one of the more ghastly ascents in Lakeland. The preserve of fell runners looking for a quick route on some inconceivably arduous ‘round’, it offers little reward for the fellwalker save for the satisfaction of crawling onto the summit, lungs and limbs exploding.
I tussled with this climb for an hour, trying find a route through the tussocky grass and grippy rocky outcrops. The rock did offer relief to an extent, using the westerly sides of these hummocks for shelter from the wind and employing my hands to gain height rather than slumping, teeth gritted, on walking poles.
Eventually on top, I scampered to a rocky cove out of the wind and collapsed. Food and water were quickly consumed, including a sickly energy gel, which I’d located at the bottom of my pack.
Recovered, I pressed on, the route ahead to the Old Man along Swirl How, now clearly visible. Dropping down from Grey Friar, I made quick progress up to the memorial on Great Carrs where sheep licked moisture of the battered remains of the aircraft surrounding the cross.
I was reacquainted with the fierce wind and struggled to keep upright in the onslaught. The conditions were definitely better tackled with the poles safely strapped to the pack.
I reached the top of Swirl How and the summit of the Old Man came into view, its large summit cairn littered with the stick men, women and children – early pedestrians from the car parks and streets of Coniston.
I headed to them, following an eroded path tracked by surplus-to-requirement cairns on this clear day. Following the lower path to avoid becoming a human kite, I left the path and clambered up the side of Black Crag before the final climb to the busy summit.
Folk came and went. Some stopped for sandwiches, one for two bottles of Grolsch and he diligently ferried the bottles and bottle tops off the hill as he headed for the rocky spine of Dow Crag.
The ridge looked tempting, but that would wait for another day. I skidded down the tourist path, now out of the wind but under a blistering sun. I passed parties of pedestrians on the way down, some of them reluctant, many of them asking me how far they’d got to go.
Industrial heritage is important in the UK’s national parks – they are working landscapes rather than preserves after all – but the battered and bruised slopes of the Old Man are testing, to say the least. Huge piles of quarry spoil line the path along with the rusted rails, rope and pulleys of heavy lifting.
I tried to appreciate this shattered landscape in context but wondered whether this was such a good introduction to fellwalking as it serves as many people’s first, and last, Lakeland summit.
Leaking in the early afternoon sun, I soaked my battered baseball cap in a stream and slapped it back on my balding head, enjoying the cooling water running down my neck.
I dropped into Coniston and headed straight for the Black Bull Inn. Two pints of Old Man were hastily ordered and I found a shady table outside and watched the holiday traffic, human and vehicular.
Reaching the end of my second glass, a couple sat on a step next to me, rubber- necking for tables. Having missed one table the other side of the beer terrace, I quickly finished my drink and offered them mine. The woman was grateful… the guy said that a ‘young chap like me should have been on the hill, anyway’. Charming.
Bored with the bustle, I headed along the northern shores of Coniston Water, watching sailing dinghies scudding across the waves. After a slightly dicey bit of road walking, a growling, souped-up Subaru narrowly missing me, I found the bridleway to Grizedale Forest.
From memory, I found the green way-marked track and followed it through the forest to Satterthwaite.
The Grizedale campsite was teeming with families and mountain bikers. I waited for the other half to arrive, ready for a completely different camping experience for the next couple of days.