(16th March 2013 – 17 ½ miles)
As you may have guessed, day one of the C2C isn’t one I rate very highly. During the planning stage in the weeks prior to the walk, it was day two that I had looked forward to; day two on which, for me, the walk would start in earnest.
Even though it was raining (again) when I awoke, I was raring to go. Ahead of me lay several days of crossing the Lake District – my favourite part of England. After a decent breakfast, I once again pulled on my waterproofs, hoisted my rain-covered rucksack and took the first few steps on my day’s walk to Borrowdale.
From Ennerdale Bridge to Ennerdale Water is a couple of miles of quiet leafy, road walking; so quiet that I didn’t see a soul. Well, except for my second sighting ever of a red squirrel – though it was too nippy for a photo.
The path hugs the southern shore of the lake and as I ambled along, quietly humming as the fells drew closer, it stopped raining. Huzzah! And it didn’t rain again for the remaining days of my walk! Huzzah! (Several days later, in Yorkshire, I met a dog-walker who had walked the C2C in August 2012. He and his companions walked for almost two weeks in constant rain. Non-stop rain. Day after day).
In the coming days, though the sun rarely shone, I was constantly grateful that there was no more rain and that I didn’t suffer the same fate as the Yorkshireman. Snow would be my fate, not rain).
This is a great section of path with only one difficulty: a clamber over wet rocks at Anglers Crag; made trickier still by the weight and size of the pack on my back.
At the head of the lake, the path cuts across the valley floor to join a track running through forestry plantations, past the youth hostel at High Gillerthwaite. There was still no-one about. I heard the distant buzz of a chainsaw but on the whole stretch from Ennerdale to Honister, I saw only one distant cyclist. I love that – having the path and fells all to myself.
After an hour and a half’s conifer time,
I cleared the trees and entered the stark emptiness of upper Ennerdale. There is an excellent mountain ridge walk alternative to the conifers of the valley floor; one that takes in the peaks of Red Pike, High Stile and Haystacks. I had planned on taking that upper route but only if the cloud had been high and the visibility clear. Sadly, on this occasion, it was neither and prudence grabbed me by the ear-lobe and tugged me along the valley toward the remotest youth hostel in England – Black Sail.
The topography here is text-book glacial with huge erratics discarded by the ice that gouged out this landscape.
Black Sail (an old shepherd’s bothy) was still closed for the winter. I hadn’t realised and had expected to see a gaggle of fellow Coast to Coasters here. As it turned out, over the course of my 200-mile jaunt, I met only one other person walking the C2C. That was on Day 4. We became friends and walked together on several subsequent days. Neither of us saw nor heard of any other distance walkers.
One makes one’s own entertainment when walking alone.
Beyond Black Sail, the path, surprisingly for one as heavily used as the C2C, is indistinct in places as it passes a drumlin swarm – also a glacial relic.
The first stiff climb of the route after Dent is up the east side of Loft Beck and yep, that climb is as long and tiring as it looks.
At the top, I was in low cloud and, a bit of a surprise this, falling snow (not for the last time). Navigation wasn’t easy and though there were footprints, they were old and many won’t have been following the C2C. Some will have led to the summits of Great Gable or Haystacks or goodness only knows where. Over a cliff? I used my compass and followed those prints heading off to the north.
The cairns marking the path were difficult to make out from a distance and I wasn’t wholly convinced I was following the correct path.
It was only as I began the descent towards the Honister Pass, that clearing cloud and a glimpse of sun
reassured me that I was on track.
The old slate workings at Honister aren’t the prettiest spot in the Lakes and I had no wish to hang around – despite the teashop. I pressed on.
I fairly skipped down into Borrowdale passing plenty of day-trippers in cars and on foot or cycle.
I do like a Herdwick and we can thank them for much of the ‘look’ of the Lake District. They graze on heather and grass and help stop the reversion of the fellside to scrub. There are some 50 000 Herdwick sheep in Cumbria and they have a remarkable territorial trait. Traditionally tended hill sheep learn their own territory (their heaf or heft) and ewes pass this knowledge to their lambs for generation after generation. These ‘heafed‘ flocks, won’t leave their own range and roam over into a neighbouring valley for example – a valley that might be a long detour by road for a shepherd to go and collect.
Want to preserve Herdwicks? Eat one – or at least part of one. (In a pub or restaurant that is – not on the fells).
I was tired by the time I reached the valley floor. My guide-book gave the distance to Borrowdale (Rosthwaite) as 16 ½ miles but I had another mile to go to my B&B at the neighbouring hamlet of Stonethwaite. But before I could pass Rosthwaite by, the scent of a pint and a packet of cheese and onion led me by the nose to the Riverside Bar. It was Saturday afternoon and the pub was heaving (which was a little startling after hours of wandering lonely as a cloud).
Like the day before, the best of the weather came as I approached my bed. I hoped that tomorrow would be sunny too. But then, I always do and on this occasion, I would be disappointed.
Stonethwaite is tiny: a few cottages, a farm and a truly excellent inn, The Langstrath. (Book ahead if you plan to eat). Hulking behind the houses is the massive hulk of Eagle Crag. My way tomorrow would climb above it, up the valley to its left.
And my room for the night at the charming Knotts View B&B was pretty much next door to the pub. If I hadn’t planned it so, I wouldn’t have believed my luck.
I liked my stay at Knotts View. It’s old fashioned and ‘quaint’. But if you want a TV in your room, demand an en suite, if you can’t go a night without wi-fi and you’re in need of gleaming modernity (as some of the reviewers on Tripadvisor must be) I’d suggest you book elsewhere.