(Cumbria Way. 14th March 2014 – 14 miles)
As much as I like Keswick, I was keen to escape the traffic and return to the solitude of the fells.
On another beautiful spring morning, I was out of my B&B by 8.30 and shortly afterwards I’d crossed the A66 and was climbing above the town.
This was warm, steep work – and a little startling so early in the day – but at least I wasn’t climbing Skiddaw. Today, I had no silly plans to leave the ‘Way to bag an extra mountain.
The views over Keswick and Derwent Water were stunning. And I was reminded of the path’s greatest failing: hurrying through that marvellous landscape so quickly.
I paused frequently to gaze back. (I was stopping for no other reason. It had absolutely nothing at all to do with being out of breath. No, absolutely nothing).
On such a perfect day there were a few people about but this group of lads soon veered off on a path to the summit of Skiddaw
and I was left to myself: just the way I like it.
Before I turned north and became enveloped in a fold of the fells, I had one last look south. I try to remember to pinch myself on days like this; to remind myself to be appreciative. The Lake District is my favourite part of England but its weather, like any mountainous area, is often miserable: a cold, grey and soggy squib. And yet in five days walking from Ulverston to Carlisle, it didn’t rain once. And for that I was very appreciative.
I remember this section fondly from four years ago (when I walked from Carlisle to Great Langdale). On that occasion I was heading south, through snow-capped hills and getting my first, exciting glimpse of the Central Fells.
This is how it looked on that day in February 2010.
The next length of track – cutting high across the flank of Lonscale Fell – is one of the loveliest miles on the Cumbria Way and I slowed down to savour it.
The weather forecast was for cloud and rain but as I approached Skiddaw House Youth Hostel, I was still walking in a tee-shirt, still wearing shades, still grateful for sunblock.
From the hostel there is a choice of routes. Last time, I followed the longer, lower, western path. This skirts around High Pike – the highest point on the Cumbria Way – and though a couple of miles longer at 16½ miles, it’s useful if cloud is low or rain is blowing into your face. But today the weather was still fine and as I could clearly see the summit of High Pike, I plumped for the shorter, more direct, eastern route to Caldbeck.
I dropped into a wide valley to meet the infant River Caldew – a companion I would join with again the following day and follow for most of the way to Carlisle.
Despite the open hostel, there was no-one about and I met only one other walker before Caldbeck.
Frogs had been busy here too. I shook my head sadly and wished them good luck.
As I approached the Pike
cloud rushed up the valley behind me. I scurried on hoping to reach the summit before it could be smudged out.
Too late. I wasn’t quick enough and as I approached the foot of the climb, the summit was already lost from view. It was here that I experienced the worst weather on the ‘Way. Climbing up the rocky sides of Grainsgill Beck, I was hit by a fearsome wind that roared down the rocky gully and tried earnestly to lift me off my feet. For a moment, worried at how much stronger the wind might be on the top, I considered retracing my steps all the way back to the Youth Hostel to pick up the western, longer route. But that now seemed a ridiculously long alternative. I struggled on up the steep, finicky sides of the stream, over wet, mossy boulders and boggy tussocks. I expected heavy rain and, pulling on waterproofs, I stashed away my camera. Sadly, therefore, I have no photos of the ascent. It didn’t rain after all but it was wet – spray blew up off the beck and the thick mist was sopping.
At 2000 feet, I emerged from the gully and collapsed out of the wind behind a lonely, un-pretty hut. The enclosed walls of the stream had served as a funnel, accelerating the wind into strong eddies and gusts. But up here in the open, though the wind was still strong, it wasn’t as scary as I had feared.
In poor visibility, I left that sad, solitary hut and following a compass bearing almost due north, I set out for the summit.
The top of the Pike at 2159 feet was, let’s face it, a disappointment. The wind was blowing hard and I struggled to stand. The views from here are supposedly glorious and perhaps they are but not for me. With nothing to see, I hardly paused before heading back down the far side.
I was still walking on a north compass bearing and soon dipped below the cloud and got my first glimpse of Caldbeck. It was 2.30.
I regained the main path
and a little later was back amongst habitation and at the joining of the eastern and western ways.
My stop for the night was ‘The Old Rectory’ – my favourite B&B of this holiday. Anne and Tim made me very welcome indeed and I sat in their kitchen drinking tea, eating cake, chatting and gently steaming.
I purred when I saw my room
and continued purring into the bathroom.
Later, returning from a pub supper (and with Anne and Tim out at an am-dram performance) I was warmly welcomed by the other householders. There is a limited choice of accommodation in Caldbeck (the B&B I stayed at last time has now closed) but even if there were twenty B&B’s in the village, ‘The Old Rectory’ is the only place to stay … and one my favourites in the country.