Coast to Coast – Patterdale to Shap

View from Kidsty Pike

View from Kidsty Pike

Chapter 6 – Patterdale to Shap

The day with a big climb and a lot of miles

It wasn’t easy re-starting after a free day – although it wasn’t much of a free day in the sense of relaxing as I spent most of the time on the computer, and that might be considered as much as a working day as anything else.

Weather looked promising, not as positive as the day before but the cloud was lifting off the hills and as this had been the start of the previous day which had worked out well I had high hopes.

The time off walking had also allowed me to prepare my injuries and reinforce my weaknesses. In that way I left the hostel bandaged as if ready for an audition for a budget ‘Invisible Man’ or a ‘Mummy whatever number, the Return Yet again’ film.

As I was leaving a French woman, who had been staying at the hostel, asked if I was enjoying the walk. I answered she should ask me at the end of it, not what she was expecting, I think. I’m not sure, but some people consider it an obligation to enjoy these type of expeditions. If you are not positive then there’s definitely something wrong with you. Assuming I reach the end I will definitely have a sense of an achievement, but enjoyment? I’ll try to address that when I’m at the hostel close to Robin Hood’s Bay, or a bit later when back in the comfort of my own flat.

Back to the walk to Shap.

This was a bit of a landmark day in that it was when I would leave the Lake District behind – not that I had seen much of it – and it was also likely to be one of the hardest as it involved the highest single climb so far, with a steep descent down to the lake, and a total distance of something like 16 miles. And everything looked good as I left.

However, with a 9 o’clock start and arriving at the B+B at 18.15 I hadn’t felt so exhausted since I did the Eskdale Ring, taking in Scafell which I did a few years ago.

The climb starts as soon as you move out of Patterdale. Not vertical but steep enough. If you look at the picture at the top of the post for yesterday you can make out the path just above the trees in the centre going up from left to right. When I started it was already in the sun and as I slowly (with the aid of the poles which I think I’m using more effectively each day) got higher the cloud seemed to be lifting off Helvellyn, just across the valley. So I took a picture of Striding Edge as the last wisps of cloud disappeared – only for it to return again as the whole of the valley became shrouded in mist by the time I turned my back on the Lakes and reached a flat area called Boredale Hause. I started off thinking I would have good weather but it all fell apart within 30 minutes from putting my first step on the hill climb.

Even though I had done my planning, even though I thought I knew which way to go, even though I was using a compass it was here that I lost my way – for the first time on this trip. I don’t know why. It was just foolishness. By the time I was at the area of this crucial junction visibility was extremely limited. I thought that the path I took was the one. If it had been a clear day no doubt I would have seen the path going off into the distance but why I didn’t scan anyway, to make sure, just to see if it was visible I don’t know. I was following recent footprints without taking in consideration that this is one of the most popular walking areas in the country and not everyone is walking the Coast to Coast.

So I headed off into, what was to become, the unknown. Then things didn’t seem right. The compass direction wasn’t exactly what it said in the book but there were twists and turns and I considered I would eventually follow the right line. But I came across a boggy area and then a small stream, both attributes that would have merited a mention in the guide book, it’s that detailed.

So I resorted to modern technology and took out the GPS. This proved I was going in the wrong direction, away from the way point that was next on my route. (There was a file I was able to download from the internet which corresponds to those indicated in the book.) Now I made another, potentially serious mistake. I didn’t go back the way I had come to where I knew where I was but went in the straightest line to where I thought my path should be. Fortunately it wasn’t long before I saw a line going across the side of the hill that looked like a well used path (which it turned out to be) but to get there I had to descend into a slight dip and then scramble up a steepish slope.

When I got to the path it was like the equivalent of a dual carriageway in the hills and don’t understand why I had missed it in the first place. Just as I got there a trio of Germans came along the path and I was able to confirm that I had found the correct way. I had lost some time and energy, not too much but more than I would have liked at the beginning of such a strenuous day.

And as I stood there a little grey mouse came across the path and stopped as it reached the grass. Don’t know if it was just a field mouse or a dormouse or why it had come out at that moment but it was the only wildlife, apart from birds, I was to see that day.

Now happy I was on the right way I carried on, this time keeping the GPS close and checking where there was a way point, just for confirmation.

Now I know about the debate that surrounds the use of a GPS, and I accept most of the arguments that dependence on them can become dangerous. But it is useful to confirm your position, especially in such poor visibility that I encountered that day. I brought it along only for such reasons, not least because I haven’t really learned to use it in all the ways that are possible.

I was foolish today, with not double checking at the place where I knew my position but I was not the only one. During the course of the next hour or so I met up with people who had had navigation problems and who also mentioned others who were last seen disappearing into the wrong distance and had never been seen since. I’ve not heard of any problems on those hills on that day so assume that all turned out OK in the end but it does introduce an issue which has been festering for a while.

Before entering the Lake District National Park there are many posts directing walkers along the path that is known as the Coast to Coast. But as soon as you enter the national Park there are none. Now thousands of people are walking this route, in whole or in part, every year yet it’s still not an officially recognised long distance route. Why? I don’t know or even less understand. And it is for this reason (I understand) which is given for there being no C2C signposts in the Lake District though, as I’ve been told by people who know the area much better than myself, they reappear once out of the park on its eastern perimeter.

There’s a problem in this country when It comes to natural areas. We had to fight to get access to these areas for leisure use and the Mass Kinder Trespass in the pre-WWII years was what broke the power of the landowners to keep their, already stolen, land to themselves. The establishment of the National Parks should have put more control into the hands of ordinary working people but it seems we are still a long way from achieving that nirvana.

These middle class wanker pedants use any argument to control the land in the way that suits them. Whether it be that a route is not ‘official’, or that waymarks and signposts destroy the look of the wild and wonderful terrain or whatever spurious other reason they may come up with what results is an environment they want and not one that is for the majority.

In this they are joined by the ‘professional’ walkers who consider that people shouldn’t go into the hills unless they are competent navigators. But even those people get caught out at times. Anyone, however experienced they might be, can make mistakes. And it might even lessen the work of Mountain Rescue Teams if there were more signposts so that people wouldn’t get lost completely or use up too much energy in getting lost and then finding themselves again.

If these pricks, who drive around in their huge Samurai Warrior Attack 4 by 4s, had to get from A to B without road signs (as people had to do during the Second World War when road signs were removed so that any Nazi invading force would have to ask the locals the way – not that they didn’t have nor couldn’t read a map) they would be as lost as people are in the hills today. Even the GPS they have in their vehicles don’t help them when on certain tracks in the Lakes but even this doesn’t make them see matters in a different light.

All that’s necessary are discreet, strategically placed indicators. Low in environmental impact and not costly.

Once back on route it wasn’t long before I caught up with 2 Hawaiians who were also unsure of their path. As it happened they were going the right way but they felt reassured by the confirmation that came from my little hand-held electronic gizmo. By this time I was fairly confident that I was where I meant to be but by convincing them I think I ended up losing a little more time. I left them as they took a rest and then made the relatively short and not too steep final ascent to the highest point that day, Kidsty Pike, to see – nothing.

As we got higher the sun felt stronger through the cloud and I thought that we might have even broken through the cloud and have the blue sky above. That would have been impressive if that was the case and only the highest peaks would have poked out of the sea of white. But it was not to be. The cloud level might only have been a metre above my head but that was a metre too much.

The descent was steep in parts and I’m definitely getting slow going down hill, perhaps not a problem if only out for a day but when there’s still another 8 days of walking until reaching the North Sea I want to protect the knee as much as possible, although it means that I’m doing strange and wonderful pirouettes to try to land each step with minimum force.

And at the bottom of the descent, arriving at the very southern end of Haweswater Reservoir, it looked a long, long way to the dam at the northern end. And it was. Not difficult, just long.

A bit too long, at times seemingly never-ending. And there were still two hours of walking after the dam in order to get to Shap. My timings for the day worked out more or less correct. I lost in places (getting lost, taking time with the Americans and then the careful steep descent) but gained a bit along the flat though started to flag by the end of the day. In the timings I’ve not factored in fatigue which I’ll have to take into consideration of a few of the days to come. And that fatigue is not helped by the pack, its weight now becoming a significant factor.

Nonetheless, I wasn’t the slowest on the route. I met, and passed, a number of people who had started out before me so although I might not still be up to my own timings I’m still better than many. I know some people took more than 12 hours on this route, almost arriving in the dark. I did it in 9 and thought that was pushing it. Any longer and I don’t want to be walking with my pack.

The last few miles, after the village of Brampton, seemed to go on forever. By the time I reached the ruins of Shap Abbey all it merited was a quick snap and a long curse as I realised there was a steep road climb to get out of the bowel in which it was constructed. In other circumstances would have had a quick look around but by that time, close to 6 o’clock, all I wanted was to find my bed for the night.

Tomorrow is long in terms of miles but without the same sort of ascent – so should be OK

As to physical decay there are lots of aches and pains, the normal inability to move once in my night’s lodging as the body has decided to shut down for the evening. The tops of the feet aren’t any worse, so I’m hoping that issue will slowly recede. Knee hurts, but going to look for some medication tomorrow to see if that can, at least, keep the discomfort tolerable.

And getting close to half way!

Although cloudy and overcast for much of the day I was still walking in a T-shirt and shorts from beginning to end.

So at 18.15 on Monday 23rd September it was 64 miles down and 136 to go

Practical Information:

Accommodation

New Ing Lodge. Had a single room for a reasonable price (£28.00 B+B), so no mark up for single travellers. Not en-suite. It felt quite quaint to be staying in a room with just a wash basin and having to queue or wait for a quiet period for the toilet/shower. Old house and every movement meant that the floors squeaked. Also, even with 3 foot thick walls you could still hear people talking.

Has its own little bar, but didn’t risk trying what they had on draught, a cold previously unknown bottle of cider (Green Orchard) was preferable.

Has free wifi, some places better than others for reception but it worked well in my room.

Does evening meals – didn’t try it as thought the cider was a better bet.

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Coast to Coast – The First Scheduled Rest Day

The hill to climb the next day

The hill to climb the next day

Chapter Five – First Rest day – Patterdale

And the best day weather wise since I set off

When I first decided on doing this trip and started to make the first investigation into what it would entail I had decided on rest days. When it looked like I would take 13 walking days I decided it would be 4 on, 1 off, 4 on, 1 off and then 5 days to get to the end.

However, I wanted to maintain as much flexibility as I could. I was tied in a sense that all the accommodation had been booked in advance and thought that if I felt OK and the weather was good I could walk the next stage (to Shap) with less of a weight; there get a bus back to Patterdale via Penrith to spend the second night in the YHA; and the following day do the bus route back to Shap. That fell apart as my free day happened to be a Sunday and transport was not too good and I didn’t want to risk attempting to hitch after what would still have been a long day. And I wouldn’t have had time at the computer if I did that. Perhaps it’s best to make a plan and keep to it.

Different people have different attitudes as to how you factor in rest periods on such a long walk. Some think that a few short days allows the body some rest but keeps you moving on. Others just want to bomb it, do it as fast as possible and get it over with. Each to their own in this as it all more a matter of psychology than physical fitness.

I like the idea that on day 4 I knew that the next day I wasn’t going to have to pack up my bag and carry it however many miles to the next stop. On the morning of the rest day it’s good to wake up knowing you don’t have to get up (within reason) if you don’t want to. However, there are down sides to a free day and that’s also psychological – it’s difficult to get started the following day. But that’s, really, no more nor worse than many people’s approach to a Monday morning if they work a 5 day week and have had the weekend off. Unless you’re like the girl in the Boomtown Rats song of the 70s/80s, ‘I don’t like Mondays’, you just get on with it and not end up shooting as many people as you can.

As I want to maintain this blog I needed some time to sit at the keyboard. From the very start I didn’t put a great deal of faith in the idea that I would be able to write each night. Notes, yes, but not something that holds together reasonably well.

So that’s what I did on that rest day, stayed in the hostel canteen sitting at a table typing away, getting strange looks, but no comments, from the staff of the hostel as they went about their business. Outside it was bright and sunny with blue skies. At one moment I looked over my shoulder to the hill I had to surmount the next day and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. What it might have been like out of sight on the mountain peak I don’t know but from where I was sitting in the valley bottom it looked like a perfect day.

But I spent no more than 10 minutes outside of a building all day. After I had written what I wanted for the first four days I needed to get to the local pub for the internet connection. I knew the pub and didn’t rate the beer too highly (only one cask beer and the first time I had it felt it was indifferent to say the least so never tried again). So I was in the White Lion for about three hours having a couple of pints of cider and another indifferent meal (not having too much luck in the evening meal stakes) as I waited for things to download. I learnt then, as I should have realised from previous experience, that downloading pictures on a public network can take forever and effectively locks up the computer for much else. I must not do that in future and leave the picture downloading until there’s more time or when I’m back home.

So I walked no more than a kilometre in total all day, but was knackered after typing up my ideas. So it was early to bed, with the hope that the weather of tomorrow would be a carbon copy of today.

Didn’t fall down once today – even on the way back from the pub

The Old Water Hotel, right next to the YHA, also has a bar and advertises wifi so that’s another option for internet connection.

So on the afternoon of Sunday 22nd September it was still 47.5 miles down, 152.5 to go.

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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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