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.

Festive reflections

I’m conscious that I can moan about the weather just a bit too much… grey days, no views, drizzle etc etc

High above Greenfield Reservoir on Christmas Eve, 2008So, to redress the balance, my festive break has been blessed by superb weather and some memorable days on two feet and two wheels.

Christmas Eve was simply stunning. In clear blue skies and spring-like temperatures, I climbed high on to the moors around Dove Stone Reservoir. At last I had the day to merit my edges walk, which I abandoned in November.

This is a fine excursion that I can heartily recommend. The scramble up Birchen Clough poses sufficient scrambling challenges to quicken the pulse while the rocky eastern rim of the valley has much to offer. What a difference a day made compared to my Kinder trip.

With the commitments of Christmas out of the way, it was up to Langdale for the New Year. The Eve was spent the bar of the Old Dungeon Ghyl as a heavy frost gripped the valley. If ever there was a place to people-watch, then the ODG is it.

Among the climbers, revelers and drifters was the ‘toker’ community who regularly disappeared outside to colour the crystalline air with ‘Purple Haze’ or White Widow’ (or whatever the latest sativa craze is to find its way from the ‘green houses’ of Amsterdam to the Cumbrian valleys).

Blea Tarn, frozen, New Years Day, 2008After a surprisingly comfortable night in the tent, the other half and I spent the afternoon skidding on icy paths over to Little Langdale and beyond, enjoying the peace of frozen landscape.

A superb start to the year.

Langdale… closed!

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, really.

A sunny weekend at last after a miserably damp summer and everyone descended on Lakeland… myself included.

My plan: to park the car overnight in Langdale, climb Jack’s Rake and sleep high in the bivvy bag.

The outcome: every conceivable square inch of car park and roadside verge occupied by automobile. I cursed my stupidity for a, driving, and b, not bringing other maps to salvage something from the trip.

I consoled myself with a trudge off the beaten track, constrained severely by the lack of OS sheets. But even here, it was difficult to escape folk.

It occurred to me that the hills would be alive with wild campers, too, and I didn’t feel like joining them (assuming I could fine somewhere ‘legal’ to park overnight).

I drove home.

Sunday dawned clear and bright and I decided to swap the boots for my cycling shoes. I had the Saddleworth roads to myself (nearly) for two hours while the occupants of its pretty stone cottages slept.

Lesson learned. Escape can, more often than not, be found closer to home.

Peak bagging: Day one

The view to red screes from the bridleway over Loughrigg FellI’d been watching the forecast all week. The line of weather icons on my desktop iGoogle weather service had said anything from heavy rain to bright sunshine as the weekend approached. I wanted it to be dry, though, as I was going to sleep high in the bivvy bag.

If I had one eye on the weather, then the other was on a range of Ordnance Survey sheets covering the Lakes. I didn’t know where to go but had criteria to satisfy.

Firstly, I needed to rendezvous with the other half in Grizedale for a couple of lazy days on a campsite to see out the Bank Holiday weekend. Secondly, I wanted to avoid public transport as waiting for buses just gets in the way of the journey. Finally, I wanted to avoid people if I could… tricky, given the weekend.

Spreading the maps on the dining room table, I decided to wander from the train to Ambleside, walk bridleways to Langdale, head over Bowfell and find somewhere quiet to rest my head the other side of the ridge north of Moasdale. I’d peered into the lonely valley Lingcove Beck while clambering over Crinkle Crags many a time, but never had reason to head that way.

From my overnight camp, I could walk down Moasdale, scale the steep side of Grey Friar and then hit the ridge serving the Old Man of Coniston, which I’d never traversed before.

Dropping into Coniston, it would then be simple trek through the network of trails that bisect Grizedale Forest and deliver walkers to its sculptures and abandoned quarries before dropping into Satterthwaite and the campsite.

Loughrigg TranSo on Friday morning, I sat on the train as it trundled into Windermere station and then walked along the road, the old coaching route, to Ambleside.

This may seem like an odd choice, but this stroll has always been my entrée to time spent in Cumbria as invariably I arrive by train. It also affords great views of the Langdales and the Coniston fells across Windermere, whetting the appetite on this sunny day for what was to come.

Ambleside was already crawling with weekend tourists, but I managed to get a table at the Apple Pie Eating House and wolfed down a large bowl of chips and a hefty slice of their excellent homemade pies. Essential calories to tied me over later.

I pottered around for a while and then walked through lazy couples whiling away the afternoon in Rothay Park before finding the bridleway heading over the southern edges of Loughrigg Fell to its namesake tarn. The trail was hot, yet quiet, and the grassy fellsides dripped chlorophyll against the drenched blue sky.

Passing the campsite, already filling with flapping, bright nylon, I tuned into a shaded path and immediately felt relief from the full sun. The depression of the tarn was soon reached and anglers sheltered in the lee of a slope and cast hopefully into Loughrigg’s shimmering waters.

I followed a country lane to Elterwater and resisted the temptation to catch the bus to the head of the valley. The pubs were packed too, so the afternoon beer would have to wait until I reached the Old Dungeon Ghyl.

I now followed the Cumbria Way and took in the view. Mickleden in the afternoon sun

No matter how many times I visit Great Langdale, I never grow tired of its towering skyline.
The ‘Pikes guard the north, impressive as ever, while to the south the low ridge of Lingmoor Fell gradually recedes to reveal loftier neighbours.

The thimble cairn on top of Pike o’ Blisco came into view, then the Crinkles and, finally, the shattered pyramid of Bowfell.With eyes upward I soon reached the ODG.

Black bold capital letters on a large white sign shouted that the National Trust campsite was full. I was glad I’d be up high tonight thus avoiding the nocturnal symphony of farts and snores that have disturbed my slumber previously when camped in this mini Glastonbury.

I dropped into the Hiker’s Bar for a pint-of-water-pint-of-Cumberland and enjoyed another first… sitting outside in the sunshine.

It was tempting to linger but I had The Band to negotiate, and woozy footsteps and steep fell side do not mix. I glanced at my watch: 5.30pm, a perfect time to leave.

I passed the last stragglers coming off the fell as I made my way to Stool End. I opened the gate for one walker and was asked where I was going.

‘To watch the sun go down,’ I replied. Always good to keep things cryptic where a wild camp is concerned.

The higher I progressed, the windier it became. Views to the left and right took the chill off, though.

Bowfell's summitI reached the junction with the Climber’s Traverse and was tempted to get my hands on the slabs. Reminding myself of the objective, I pressed on to the tumble of boulders that constitute Bowfell’s top. I sat and drank in Lakeland’s tops.

Heading towards Esk Pike, I soon found the ruddy soils of Ore Gap and then took a left over the lip of the ridge and followed Lingcove Beck. I dropped quickly out of the wind and was enveloped in stillness.

With little flat ground available, I spotted a rocky knoll where the gill widened. Progress further down the valley reacquainted me with the breeze but this rocky knuckle would give me shelter.

Climbing the windward side, I peered over the edge and smiled broadly. Below was a perfect near flat-bottomed cove: My bedroom- with-a view for the night.