Lakeland hydrotherapy

Ullswater Way

The twisted boughs above were beaded with moisture and excitable streams rushed below my feet as I paced along the trail. The night’s rain was being channeled around me; drips, rivulets, forces, becks and rivers all on a downward course to Ullswater.

The previous night had indeed been wild. I’d slept in a pod, one of those parabolic sheds that find favour with holiday parks and holidaymakers these days. The shelter’s idiosyncratic profile would have made a half-decent boat if upturned – a mini ark for hill lovers should the rain have become really bad.

Maybe it’s my age, but I was glad of my wooden home as it shuddered in the wind. I was grateful too of the wool wadding insulating its walls and keeping the night’s chill at bay. The snap decision to leave the tent at home had been a wise one.

I was in Lakeland to walk and early morning prospects were grim. The rain continued and heavy gusts of wind promised a thorough bludgeoning on the fell. However, after exhausting the delaying tactic of making yet another cup of tea, the skies began to clear. A pasty-shaped hole opened in the clouds and the rain became a mist haze. When the sun appeared, so did the rainbows.

I hastily put on my boots and waterproofs and headed out.

The path was wonderful – a section of the Ullswater Way following a balcony well above the shore. It skirted plantation and much more gnarly woodland, trees with sodden branches just showing the buds of new growth. Spring, tantalisingly close thank goodness.

It felt good to be out. The difficulties of the last few months that still weighed so heavily fell away, if only for a short while. I felt invigorated, optimistic even. More important, though, was a rekindled enthusiasm for these fells.

Later, back at the hut and armed with a warming dram, I pored over maps and made plans.

The best of weekends in Lakeland

It’s been over a year since I’ve visited the Cumbrian fells. My last trip – for the other half’s 40th birthday – was a wonderful week of friends, campfires, canoes, great food and liberal imbibing.

During that trip I managed to squeeze in a couple of classic Lakeland walks – the Coldedale Round and Blencathra via Sharp Edge – although the card on my camera corrupted so those excursions didn’t make the pages of this blog sadly.

Last week we returned. A number of motivational factors aligned: we needed an escape, we had a new tent to ‘test’ and the forecast looked OK. I booked the Friday off work and we trundled up the M6 amid seemingly endless road works to Keswick. Continue reading

Photo post: Lake District Backpack, Ambleside to Keswick

Here are some shots of my two night backpack over the Bank Holiday weekend. ‘Twas freakishly warm yet damp and muggy… not the best conditions for walking in some ways but grand all the same. Click on the thumbnails to view larger images.

Route: Ambleside – Loughrigg Tarn – Lingmoor Fell – Pike o Blisco – Camp – Crinkle Crags – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Great Gable – Green Gable – Brandreth – Grey Knotts – Honister – Dale Head – Dale Head Tarn (Camp) – Tongue Gill – Allerdale Ramble.

Walking with the other half (again), Ullock Pike

Regular visitors to this site will know my other half is no walker. While she loves Scotland and other outdoor destinations, she likes to admire them from the comfort of a tent or cottage.

However, once or twice a year, I manage to ‘encourage’ her to venture out on the fell. Previous tramps include the grueling slog up Ben Nevis and the equally dispiriting trudge up Snowdon alongside the railway. She wanted to climb them because ‘they were the biggest’, having little interest in the aesthetics of route choice. If we ever get around to Scafell Pike, we’ll follow Wainwright’s round!

A few weeks back, we celebrated our anniversary in the Lakes and stayed at the quite lovely, if pricey, Overwater Hall. En route, I couldn’t resist a clamber up a hill and plotted a short circular route up Ullock Pike from Longside Wood.

The round made it an easy ‘sell’ for my other half, while the promise of a hotel and hot bath sealed the deal: Pain, then pleasure.

The day was mercifully clear, although a determined wind from the north blunted the appeal of lengthy snack stops. Views opened out across Bassenthwaite Lake and Derwent Water, and the fells remained quiet on this Friday afternoon.

Our descent on Carl Side behind Dodd was steep and madam soon had ‘jelly legs’. Within the hour, she was in bath soothing those aches and pains and pretty happy… I think (!)

Longsleddale Wild Camp – a tale of two valleys

I’ve been trying to scratch an itch for a while now, to spend a night in the hills alone. An opportunity presented itself as the working week came to a close and I hastily made plans and gathered some kit.

I jumped on a train on Saturday morning and headed to Staveley. I planned to explore the other half of the Kentmere valley after last year’s partially successful trip, but more pressing was to tread the lonely fells of Longsleddale.

These soggy hummocks barely feature on the horizons of ardent fellbaggers, but I fancied avoiding the weekend crowds. My route would plot a course over Kentmere Pike and Harter Fell where I planned to pitch for the night before heading to the unfamiliar uplands of Longsleddale.

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Cumbria ramble

As winter weather batters the north this week, a little over a fortnight ago I enjoyed unseasonable balmy temperatures during a ‘late season’ Cumbria camping trip.

Coledale Beck

The other half and I packed the bell tent and headed for Scotgate Holiday Park in Braithwaite, near Keswick. This is not really my kind of site, but it is well placed for the attractions of the town, not least the The Dog and Gun.

It has the most heavenly loos and showers, too, eagerly used by folk keen to wash off the effort of climbing the fine, neighbouring fells. The heating is so effective in the shower block that my better half was convinced the loo seats had heating elements of their own.

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Night on a bare mountain*

(…*with apologies to Mussorgsky.)

Recovery from back pain takes time. I know this all too well, but my current and seemingly minor symptoms have been hanging around for seven months and progress has been snail-like.

Recently, things have been bit better and I thought it high time to give my geriatric muscles a bit of a work out. This was going to be a pretty minor excursion, but I was keen to sleep out again: somewhere high, somewhere quiet and with a view.

The royal wedding helped my cause. While most people’s attention was focussed on the happy couple, I hoped that Lakeland would be relatively quiet. Staveley, sleepy at the best of times, was a ghost town when I left the train late afternoon.

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The curious incident of the sheep and cake in the night

With such a glowing mountain forecast promising excellent visibility over the weekend, I headed to Cumbria on Saturday morning and got the bus to Keswick.

The plan: To walk from Keswick to Ambleside along a high-level route, taking in Helvelyn and camping up high somewhere.

After enjoying one of those all too rare mountain days of distant views and liquid early autumn light, I found a flattish, dry spot to bed down for the night.

Apologies for resorting to kit talk, but it’s significant for this tale. I was using my Go Lite Shangrila and Big Agnes bivvy bag combo. My first thought was to simply bivvy, although the wind was cold and, all things considered, felt the additional protection of the Shangrila would make the camp that bit more comfortable.

I pitched and had dinner followed by a couple of substantial nips of Aberlour.

The light receded and I bedded down for the night, zipping into the bivvy to help fend off the nighttime chill.

I drifted off into a fitful sleep to be awoken with the tent bathed in moonlight and the curious sensation of movement around my head outside the bivvy.

As consciousness slowly flooded in, I sat up with a start to find the head of a Herdwick wedged underneath the flysheet, eyes staring at me expectantly.

Nose twitching, my uninvited guest grabbed hold of a small plastic bag containing three pieces of homemade fruitcake and withdrew.

In the head torch beam, I watched the sheep, bag in mouth, disappear over some boulders to enjoy a midnight feast.

I cursed the burglar and then my own stupidity for leaving the cake out. I offer this as a cautionary to all you single-skin shelter users.

A brew with a view

Here’s a rather disappointing shot for my bivvy bag trip over the weekend… well, it was taken with a phone and had I been a bit more organised on Saturday morning and not in a rush to catch a train, I might have had more appropriate equipment at my disposal.

This is from high ground above Small Water looking towards Haweswater. It’s a great spot which allows you to hide from the crowds of tents around this little tarn (there were eight on Saturday, whatever happened to wild camping on your own, and not in groups).

Being in the bag allowed me to squeeze onto some nice flat ground between two outcrops and I was completely hidden from view.

My route took me from Windermere train station over the low hills towards Troutbeck where I picked up a bridleway skirting Applethwaite Common and then up to Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag, High Street, High Raise and then back to Kidsty Pike when I realised the time.

I dropped down to Haweswater via Kidsty Howes, skirted the reservoir and then gained ground to by bivvy site.

Sunday dawned gloomily and the raid soon started. It was interesting packing up in a shower but I managed to keep everything relatively dry.

I tramped over the Nan Bield Pass in driving rain before a gloomy early morning jaunt along the valley to Kentmere and then followed a network of bridleways back to Windermere via High Borrans.

Given the time, I only saw a sheep farmer, one mountain biker and a beautiful barn owl intent on staring me out. The weather might have been gloomy and the cloud base low, but this was sublime, solitary walking.

Soggy, but happy

Off the train at Windermere on Saturday morning and it’s straight on with the waterproofs.

I haven’t worn the full Montaine/Mountain Hardware ensemble for a few trips now and, after a quick detour to the Outdoor Warehouse, was pleased how this kit handled the rain.

I ‘walked in’ to Ambleside untroubled by the downpour.

And the rain came down... the view from Loughrigg TerraceA long stream of traffic headed out of the District and I received some curious looks from car occupants peering through steamy windows. Were these folk trying to tell me something… had the Lakes flooded for the weekend and was effectively closed? I went to find out.

Upon reaching Ambleside, the rain still lashing down, I looked at the hills to see which were clearer… none. I stuck to my original plan to clamber over the low hills around Grasmere with a possible wild camp near Easdale or Codale tarn.

I headed off on a familiar route over Loughrigg Fell and got lost in its labyrinth of routes. Pushing my way through indistinct trails bisecting lush bracken, I eventually found Loughrigg Terrace and dropped down to Grasmere.

I pootled around the lake and watched some anglers cast aimlessly for pike in the rain. Wandering to the village, I stopped for a brew (make that two) and the muddy grey skies lifted. Sunshine… marvellous.

I headed along Easdale Lane and onto the footpath. This was badly flooded, Easedale Beck having burst its banks. The water glistened in the afternoon sun.

Sun out, looking down Sourmilk Gill

I pressed on the path, passing a group toasting some occasion with Champagne.

Sourmilk Gill was a raging torrent, another sign of the volume of water that had fallen on the hills. I ignored it and carried on, enjoying the warmth and long light of early evening.

Sourmilk Gill a raging torrentI reached Easdale and was confronted with a stiff wind. I found a sheltered spot and studied the scene. It was too early to camp and the tarn felt a little too obvious and not at all wild. Should I try Codale or head up the left and find a spot on Great Castle How.

I opted for the latter. This was unfamiliar ground, but the map offered good prospects of a pitch near some water hidden away from the path.

I reached the ridge and was greeted with more wind… another obstacle to manage. I started to scout for a site… that one not flat enough… this one too boggy… another waterlogged… the search went on.

At last, I found a reasonably dry spot suitably sheltered and pitched. Typically, today I was suffering from Akto erectile dysfucntion. For those of you not in the know, the Akto requires a certain routine to get it nice and taught and today I couldn’t summon the skills. No amount of guyrope fiddling could cure the floppy side.

More tweaking and I was happy-ish. I clambered and got comfortable only for the wind to engage top gear and the end guy ropes ripped out of the sodden ground. I lay with tent fabric on my face and cursed.

This is meant to be fun?

I tried again with the pitch but not joy. The wind grew ever stronger and I considered my options. It was 8pm and I could be at the Langdale site in an hour, tops.

I bundled the tent in my pack, found a steep track descending the hillside and headed off for ‘civilisation’.

I walked and hoped… hoped for some room. Fortunately, there were some dry pitches left and up went the Akto again: perfectly, first time… typical.

A chap wandered by and said: ‘Interesting little tent’ as I puffed air into my Prolite4. Red faced, I nodded in acknowledgement and blurted some nonsense in reply.

Further commentary came from a family who couldn’t believe I could fit in such a small tent… I told them my physio agreed.

Pitched I had some dinner and then popped over the road for a pint.

Back on site, and now tired, I dozed listening to two Scousers drone on about losing their virginity and other choice topics while farting in chorus.Not the view I wanted. Langdale National Trust campsite.

Their discourse sent me on my way.

First light and rain on the fly… lots of it too. That wind as well, shaking my temporary home. Once more, the wind gained some gravy and I could hear it racing from Mickleden. It hit the trees around the site and their leaves hissed. I heard tents rattle around me and then, ‘crack!,’ as one of the poles of an elaborate and expensive looking tarp set up came crashing to the ground. The pole had snapped at the spigot.

I had a lie in.

Breakfasting in a leisurely fashion, I got out of my interesting little tent and couldn’t straighten for about 20 mins – a sign, if needed, that my geriatric back is not suited to the Akto any more.

I left at 10am and headed up with the Sunday masses to Stickle Tarn. Here, I left the crowds and regained my original route. I followed the path over Blea Rigg and Swinescar Pike back to Grasmere.