Coast to Coast – Grasmere to Patterdale

Grasmere YHA

Grasmere YHA

Chapter 4 – Grasmere to Patterdale

Like being at sea, or on any water really, when you are walking in the hills the weather dominates, at least in the UK. If I was walking in Spain or Catalonia I would only be mentioning the weather in terms of how hot it was or how blue the sky made the pictures of the hills stand out so well. If only that was the case here.

Before I left the forecast for the area around Grasmere was reasonably good and getting better as we came in to the weekend. Unfortunately the forecast bore little resemblance to reality in the hills, and Saturday 21st September was no different. The problem is that it’s almost there but not quite. I’ve not had horrendous weather, from what I understand the week before I arrived the weather was atrocious. I haven’t had stair rods rain and the temperatures have been surprisingly high, It’s the greyness, the blandness of the British weather that I find so depressing. That’s why when you do get a really good day it’s such a bonus.

Anyway, this stage, from Grasmere to Patterdale was another of the ones I had walked in May and only hoped that the weather wouldn’t be as bad as it was then. Going up was bad enough but going down was worse. I had come up here in May to test out, among other things, the new poles. I had been set against them in the past but realised (too late) that that was a mistake. But to get the best advantage of them you have to know how to use them, and I didn’t – and no-one really tells you. It’s now only after four days serious walking with them (following a few outings over the course of the last 3 months) that I am starting to get the best from them, I think.

In May I was foolish. I came prepared for what I thought I could expect but got it wrong in the sense that I didn’t bring gloves. Coming down from Grisedale Tarn I was walking into a wind that had all that the Steppes of Russia could throw at you after such a long journey. Holding the poles my thumbs were getting the full force of those winds and I took too long to decide to abandon the poles so that I could stick my hands in my pockets. Then I came across another unforeseen (and unforeseeable?) problem.

The rucksack was a new one (I needed something more modern as the Hadrian’s Wall walk had shown the blaring inadequacies of my old one) and the day I walked from Grasmere to Patterdale was only the second day I had had it on my back. Newer rucksacks have this clip that goes across the chest and pulls the shoulder straps closer to each other and it definitely makes for a more comfortable experience. The problem was that this clip had only been opened and closed a few times and was very tight and my fingers and thumbs were very numb. I could have had every comfort and life saving piece of equipment invented by mankind in that bag yet I couldn’t get to it. Fortunately there was a hut part way down which was normally closed but for some inexplicable reason on that day was open. I was able to go in there and in ten minutes or so there was enough feeling in my fingers to get this load off my back and ensure that the rest of the trip down was a bit more comfortable. Not quite like Jack London’s short story ‘To Light a Fire’ – but almost.

And it took weeks before both those thumbs felt, or didn’t feel if you know what I mean, normal.

So as long as it wasn’t as bad as that then I would be ‘happy’.

It was grey and miserable. You couldn’t see where you were going or where you had been but the wind wasn’t that cold (apart from at the passes where the wind always whips through). I caught up with the 2 Canadians that I had met on my first day of walking and spent the next few hours with them as we walked past the tarn – not seeing it until we were almost in it and then heading down to what was a better looking valley bottom weather wise.

As I’ve said before I had already decided that I wouldn’t be taking any optional high routes on the Coast to Coast Trek. If I want to have a go at them I’ll attempt them when I have less on my back. But with the weather conditions it would have been no point and bordering on the foolish – although there are always some who will take those routes.

The route up was relatively easy and I’m sure that I’m getting fitter. The load on my back which I thought would have been a problem is, to tell the truth, the least of my problems. It even has provided me with some protection as I have been so keen to fall down the big pack has protected my back.

Here I can proudly say that today I didn’t fall over once. Nearly, a couple of times, but never touched the ground with parts of my body that wasn’t plan and controlled.

My problems are becoming those related to decay and decrepitude. I was better prepared with the feet and they didn’t get significantly worse during the course of the day, didn’t get worse but neither were they on the road to recovery – I’ll have to see what happens when I’m next out as that won’t be tomorrow. Tomorrow, Sunday 22nd is my first scheduled rest day so I don’t have any intention of walking further than the pub to use the Internet – and to have a pint or two.

The problems are creeping up my body.

Especially the left knee, which has become the weaker of the two.

When I’ve had a shower and start to relax at the end of the day my body has gone into shut down mode. Any adrenalin that has kept the aches and pains at bay gets shut off then and it has been an effort to move around. A good night’s sleep and after 10 or so minutes back on the road all is back to ‘normal’. But up to this evening I wasn’t aware that the knee was an issue in its own right.

In the morning I’d been concentrating on the feet, although there were twinges from the knee the day before. I just forgot to put on the supporting bandage. Whether that would have made any difference I don’t know but I’ll find out on Monday as there’s quite a steep descent at the beginning of the day. Despite these minor problems one thing that I am happy about is that I’m still getting up the hills, often quicker than I had reckoned on the route card, but coming down I’m losing that time advantage.

But I got down in one piece, very early, just after two. Patterdale YHA is open all day (though you can’t book in until 17.00) and I was able to shower and then went on a walk searching for a possible solution to my feet problem.

In my first aid kit was a tubular ankle support bandage. Quite old and wouldn’t have given much support but was ideal – I thought – for my needs as I used it as a toe-less sock. Not perfect but better than the bandage used on the other foot, which didn’t give as much cover. So now, at the time of writing on the afternoon of Sunday) I think I am on the way to a solution. I was able to get a length of this tubular bandage and will test it out tomorrow (Monday). This means I can genuinely say that I don’t wear socks with sandals. If I do that I’ll be putting a knotted handkerchief on my head next to keep off the sun.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but after having a full breakfast first thing I haven’t eaten anything whilst walking – apart from a chocolate bar. And then I haven’t even felt hungry in the evening. That’s been the case for the last three nights where in place of a meal I’ve been content with a liquid supper – not a lot, just a couple of bottles – but that’s been sufficient. Because tomorrow was to be a free day (free from walking but I’m expecting to be spending quite some time at the computer) I decided on a meal at the hostel. Not a good choice. A little bit unimaginative and overpriced, I thought. This was the special, if I do so again I’ll stick to their basic, standard. I’ve done so before and it’s probably a better bet.

But by 21.30 after a meal and only two pints (the first in the afternoon at the Ramblers Bar – which is part of the Inn on the Lake Hotel at Glenridding, the second in the hostel) that’s was me for the day.

Let’s see if the good weather of the evening will stick around for the next day. As it’s the day I won’t be walking I’m sure the sun will be cracking the flags.

So at 14.05 on the afternoon of Saturday 21st September it was 47.5 miles down, 152.5 to go.

Practical Information:

Accommodation

Patterdale YHA

One of the hostels which are open even though there may be no staff in attendance. This is especially welcomed in bad weather as it’s even possible to have a shower before booking in officially. There is also access to the self-catering kitchen and the lounge. Found the meal, fish cakes from the special menu a little bit overdone and the meal as a whole a bit indifferent and lacking in imagination. There is a good breakfast.

White Lion Inn

This is a few minutes towards Ullswater, from the hostel. Always had my doubts about their cask beer. Wasn’t too good the first time I tried it and have been wary ever since. If you have doubts cask beer is safer and the cider isn’t bad.

Has wifi – password = lionwifi Reasonably fast but better down the bottom end of the bar, towards the kitchen and TV.

As to the food perhaps wiser to stick to the basic menu there’s not a lot that can be messed up. I tried a Chicken Tikka Masala from the special board and it;s nothing like I recognise as a Tikka. The sauce was much to liquid and seemed to have been watered down. Not unpleasant but certainly not that thick, spicy sauce I was expecting.

Takes your credit/debit card from you in return for a house card if you want to run up a tab, thereby saving cash for when there’s no alternative.

Shop and Post Office

The shop is supposed to offer cash back if you are running short of money but I didn’t need to do so. I see no reason why matters might have changed since others wrote about this.

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Coast to Coast Walk – Honister Hause to Grasmere

Grasmere - Lake District

Grasmere – Lake District

Chapter Three – Honister Hause to Grasmere

On the Thursday evening the warden had announced, quite triumphantly, that there would be sun on the following day, that wasn’t just the bog standard BBC television weather forecast but a local local one – the very structure of the Lake District meaning you can have a handful of micro-climates with a very small area in the same day. My optimism had taken a blow the day before so I was sceptical to say the least. I had good reason to be and was therefore not especially surprised – though somewhat disappointed – to look out the window first thing and see low cloud and not a hint of blue sky. In don’t know about other people’s definitions of good weather but for me a prerequisite is lots and lots of blue and a big, bright yellow thing making its way through the sea of blue.

But with this adventure there’s not a lot of leeway and if I was able to hang back a little the day before my goal today was a bit further away and delaying the start was not really an option. At the same time it was merely low, damp, cloud rather than the persistent rain of the Wednesday.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of youth hostels, although I’ve used them quite extensively in the last two or three years and consider them normally good value. But they vary enormously, not in the facilities they offer (as there has been a certain amount of standardisation in recent years and all will offer evening meals as well as breakfast and serve alcohol) but in the buildings and the type of accommodation. Honister Hause is small, only 24 maximum, and the rooms are small. In the one I spent the night there was room for 4 but only two stayed the night. Getting ready was a bit of a dance with the two of us, it would have been totally impractical with 4 all trying to get away at the same time.

(Just as an aside here British Youth Hostels separate sleeping accommodation by gender whereas in those parts of Europe I’ve visited and stayed at similar places often the dormitory accommodation will be mixed, though there is often the option of selecting a private room – something which exists in British youth hostels now, a far cry from the situation in the early days.)

There’s no real problem of being alone if you’re travelling alone as there are invariably others by themselves willing to pass the time of day and even couples will talk to a lone individual when they don’t seem to be talking amongst themselves – perhaps all that’s to be said has been.

When I was in a cheapy hostel in Tirana a couple of years ago I was speaking to an Aussie for a while and then, out of an element of politeness, I suppose, I asked him his name. He said that, as a matter of principle, he neither asked for nor gave his name, his argument being that you wouldn’t meet these people again so what was the point? Now he was (it would be good if everything related to him was in the past tense) a Thatcher-lover – suck back in the throat to capture the greatest amount of phlegm and bile and then spit it out, to eliminate the foul taste that is associated with her and hope the gobbit of filth lands on a Tory, a Tory with a yellow streak down its back or even a Labourite, after just having had to write the name.

What was wrong with his point was the matter of making it a matter of principle. Some of the people I’ve met in the last few days I’ve got to know their name, others not. But it doesn’t preclude the possibility of having a meaningful conversation. Anyway, the point of that little aside was to suggest that travelling alone doesn’t necessarily mean being alone – unless you so choose.

Right next to the YHA there’s a Slate Quarry Museum. Now I could have had a look around that the day before but was more than happy to stay in the shelter of the hostel’s porch. Don’t know much about the place but they have re-opened the mine/quarry and visitors can see what the process was like, when these quarries were real money makers. The only real evidence a walker comes across of this historical past is the stretch on the old tram way that brings you down off the plateau. This is a steep, stoney track which has had all the metal of the rails removed for scrap many moons ago. I mention this as although many see the Lake District now as a place of nature its history was one of quite a small but nonetheless important player at the time of the industrial revolution. It was for that reason, as well as the agriculture that the communities you pass through on this walk were established.

There was a bit of a drizzle when I left to make the descent down the valley towards Borrowdale to then make one of the biggest climbs of the trip to later descend into Grasmere.

This and the following day are the only sections of the walk about which I have a bit of knowledge, having done the sections Borrowdale-Grasmere-Patterdale back in May, in an attempt to gauge if myself and the equipment were up to the full trip. That makes it easier in terms of finding my way in the event of bad weather and low visibility but at the same time I ended up asking myself why was I doing this route when I had been there just about 4 months ago. But knowledge of the area did prevent losing my way and allowed for an easier day in that respect.

However, what began to dominate matters was not the hills, not the climbs, not even the descents (although they are becoming a slight issue) but the feet.

And I put the problem down to water – the same water that Barbusse described as ‘hell’.

Having worn sandals for such a long time I consider that my feet have got used to the fact and have hardened up were it was necessary. I didn’t have any problems with my feet at all on the Hadrian’s Wall walk. Although the weather wasn’t the best then it was a different type of wet. Going along stoney tracks or through grassy fields and meadows didn’t bring up any issues I had to deal with. That’s not the same in the Lake District nor in much of what is to come.

The problem with mud is that there might be a high percentage of water and a high percentage earth there’s a small percentage of little, sharp and nasty stones and even sharper and nastier bits of grit. This meant that when I arrived at the hostel on the previous evening there were small injuries to the top of my feet I had never encountered before.

Now some might say I should have anticipated that and I can’t disagree. But I didn’t. And the solution probably would have been quite simple – just wear a pair of socks. They may have been totally destroyed after a few days but they might well had prevented the injuries in the first place. Now I’m playing catch up. Trying to avoid further holes in my skin whilst at the same time preventing the existing holes from getting bigger and getting to the bone. I had spent some time preparing what I thought were preventative and restorative measure before leaving but as the day wore on they proved to have not been 100%. The blood-splattered bandages even led some to ask if I was OK. At first I didn’t understand what he meant. One of the natural defense mechanisms of the body and the creation of endorphins means that although damage might be being done the pain level is low. However, this has no effect on the cosmetic.

A rethink is on the cards for the next stage.

Another issue that will also have to be addressed is that of the knees. The poles are doing their work, and I think I’m using them more effectively now than when I was up here in May BUT they are not, perhaps they are incapable of, taking all the strain. There have been some steep descents and there are others to come and I have to address this matter of physical decay and inadequacy some time in the future. As long as I don’t have problems with the hands then, at least, I will be able to continue typing this diary.

The weather did pick up a bit, but only a little, and there was a little bit of sunshine at times but nothing that I would call good and what I was hoping for when I originally decided on this trip at this time of year.

Took some pictures today but they don’t look that great as there was never any big stretches of blue behind the green of the landscape. Everything therefore comes out dull. However, as I was here recently when the weather was a tab better I have included some of those pictures in the slideshow. I’m afraid that I won’t be presenting the Lake District photographically in any good light on this visit. The weather predictions for tomorrow don’t look too good.

So the destination for this section is Grasmere. I’m staying, yet again, in a YHA hostel, one I’ve been to before and which is based in an old country house so it has a bit of character. So the accommodation is OK but I’ve never really warmed to the village of Grasmere itself.

When I came here 2 or 3 years ago it had been many years since my first visit and I couldn’t remember a thing about the place. I just assumed that I would find a place for a drink without any problems but that’s not what Grasmere is all about. It doesn’t cater for individuals rather for organised tour groups. Obviously people arrive here under their own steam and work out how to best spend their time here but the place, at least to me, isn’t really that individual friendly, if you see what I mean.

When I did, eventually, come across a decent pub I was somewhat taken aback by the prices. This has become even more obvious on this trip as the prices to the west have been on a par with what I used to at home. However, in Grasmere you start to pay tourist prices. And I resent that.

The place that serves the best beer, and indeed the best selection of real ales in the village is called Tweedy’s Bar which is part of a big hotel (the name of which I cannot recall). The last time I was there, in May, I was sitting at the bar having a few pints and watching the world go by. Then I started to notice that there was a price differential. The locals were getting 10% off their pints, perhaps not all the beers on offer but at least one house ale. So what’s going on here.

This country doesn’t really produce anything – apart from being one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world and the increase in the number of wars that the West is fomenting throughout the world probably accounts for the so-called increase in industrial production. That means that most towns and cities consider tourism to be an important part of their economy. For Christ’s sake, tourism is probably in the top three earners for Liverpool!

So why is it OK for there to be a two tier pricing system in a pub in Grasmere when if these wooly-backs came to Liverpool and saw that they had to pay more for the same product there would be blue murder?

The problem is that it seems that it’s OK for some places to screw the tourists but it’s not for all.

I like Venice, not least because there’s no cars. But I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if it was to sink under the cold and murky waters of the Adriatic (I’ve never been there in particularly good weather, a bit like the Lake District). The Venetians cry that the world should pay to keep their city afloat as it is of world heritage importance yet the, café owners, the restaurateurs, the gondoliers et al treat the visitors in the same way as the pickpockets. At least the pickpockets are honest thieves and villains.

Mind you why someone should pay more than what many workers get for an hours work on the minimum wage for a cup of coffee just to sit in St Mark’s Square to get a pigeon to shit in it is beyond me – but then I suppose there’s no counting for taste.

Perhaps with the influence of climate change both Grasmere and Venice will disappear under the water. In thousands of years time academics will debate the meaning of local legends of self-important gondoliers singing love songs and debate what ‘a host of golden daffodils’ might be, now that we would have killed them off in our worship of the car and the magic liqueur oil.

Having made the decision the day before not to go up hills ‘just because they were there’ I managed to get down to Grasmere reasonably quickly and without further incident.

Only one fall to-day, although there were a number of near misses. Don’t know if that means I’m learning to walk or perhaps am using the poles more effectively. When will there be a fall free day?

Resenting the discrimination I fought against the attractions of Tweedy’s Bar and used the time to add the first posts to the blog. Internet connections should become available for the next few days, if not in the place I’m staying at least close by.

So at 16.00 on the afternoon of Friday 20th September it was 37.5 miles down, 162.5 to go.

Practical Information:

Accommodation

Grasmere YHA

Although I didn’t eat here myself the night I stayed there were a number of positive comments about the evening meal from a number of people I talked to whilst sitting in the lounge. The YHA hostel in Grasmere is in a big, converted country house and has quite a substantial garden at the front of the building. There is also an annexe where there are self-catering facilities.

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