Friday, 25 November 2011

How I "Fell" for the Lake District

As we've not been up any fells for a week or so I'm going to take a leaf out of the books of those chaps who write TV series and put together an episode of the blog based on clips from previous blogs.  I'm going to assume most of you lead interesting lives and haven't dug back through all my old blogs from our five week tour of northern England and a little bit of Scotland last summer, which cover my first ever visit to the Lake District, but to those few who maybe have, and to my friends and family who've been following these lunatic adventures since "the big tour" I can only apologise.  I'm also doing it because I'm feeling all nostalgic and still can't quite believe what we've achieved in the past year or so.

It's hard to believe that it was only 15 months ago that I visited the Lake District for the very first time.  We camped at Troutbeck near Ullswater then moved onto Grange at the foot of Derwent, then Ambleside for a few days before heading down to Meathop near Grange-over-Sands, now just a 5 minute drive from where we live.  So how did it happen?  Well, here's an account of my first 2  lakes and my first 3 fells - all big names, though I didn't really appreciate that at the time. 

Ullswater
22nd Aug 2010: "We headed straight for the CC site next to Ullswater, bagged a decent spot then headed for the lake. Amazingly it's my first proper visit to the Lake District and as the weather was taking a brief lull from its autumnal schedule I decided I wanted to make the most of it and head out on a boat. We got ourselves tickets for the Ullswater Steamer and 10 minutes later boarded a diesel powered boat - where are the chaps from trade descriptions when you need them? We happily chugged up and down the lake for a couple of hours and even spotted a couple of houses we fancied buying one day if we maybe win the lottery. Twice. The scenery was dramatic with Helvellyn looming large over the head of the lake. Once back ashore I took out a small mortgage to buy a loaf of bread and some milk before we headed off for Aira Falls.

The Aira Falls pay & display carpark was free for National Trust members - hallelujah! That's another 70p saved thanks to our annual membership fee... As the NT hadn't splashed out on too many signs we ended up on the wrong side of the river for High Force so Steve deftly & elegantly leapt across 3 boulders to the other side. As I have the sense of balance of your average Glaswegian after a night on the lash I rolled up my trousers and paddled across. In the 20 mins it took me to slither and swear my way to the other side several families with young children had followed Steve's lead and were all now mocking me from the far bank. Eventually we made it up to High Force for the obligatory photo of more gallons of water hurling themselves selflessly down a rockface for the amusement of tourists."

Derwent
25th Aug 2010: "If I thought the roads to Buttermere were fun they were simply the warm up for the approach to the CC site we're now on near Keswick. Heaven knows how twin axle caravans make it down here. A tight right hand bend into Grange and immediately over a narrow stone double hump bridge before squeezing along the road through the village lanes past badly parked tourists cars. (I'm telling you - the Elddis Panzer would restore a little order.). Then a few more winding lanes before dropping down into a fabulous little woodland site. No loo block but plenty of peaceful pitches.

After lunch we decided to walk around the lake but we got distracted half way round by Catbells fell so we climbed that instead. Not a big peak but in a perfect spot for panoramic views of Derwent, Keswick and the surrounding valleys. We're hoping to tackle something rather more challenging when we're in Ambleside so this was a nice warm up."

28th Aug 2010: "Pinned down by the weather for several days now. All we can hear is a howling gale outside and rain lashing down. “I’m just stepping outside” I said. “I may be some time.” I retuned 45 minutes later laden down with croissant and fresh bread rolls this was, afterall, Ambleside and not the Antarctic. But the weather has been pretty bad...
Ullswater from the top of Helvellyn

Yesterday we decided that if we’re going to ‘do’ the Lake District then we may as well ‘do’ it properly, so at the crack of dawn (well, maybe a little nearer to 9:30am) we set off for Glenridding and a hike up Helvellyn. And we didn’t go the easy way either, oh no, we took the hard route via Striding Edge and just for good measure nipped along Swirral Edge to Catstye Cam while we were up there. Then a long, long, looooong descent via Dollywaggon Pike and Grisedale Tarn before a nice long stroll along Grisedale Beck and back to Delores. A grand total of 6 peaks and well over 15 miles of yomping, none of it flat. We didn’t rush and were out there for over 9 hours, but it was worth it. The views down over Ullswater were amazing, the rock climbing was fun and all that exercise meant I could scoff fish and chips in the evening with complete impunity.

We’re not experts in the mountains but took plenty of sensible precautions which is more than I can say for many of the people we saw up there. Luckily the weather was good, but there really is no excuse for tackling a peak like Helvellyn in flip flops (as we saw someone wearing). If Mountain Rescue ever has to be called out for idiots like that I hope they send them a very large bill. Mind you we saw plenty at the other end of the scale too, with some people well equipped enough to winter in the Antarctic."

31st August 2010: "Back in our now slightly less muddy field we made our plans for Monday – the big assault on Scafell Pike. Our legs were feeling much better and the blisters were doing well. Being in Delores we didn’t think the haul up to Wasdale Head was a great plan, it would have been around a 90 minute journey and not something I’d have enjoyed doing after a long days hiking. Instead we opted to drive to Seatoller, cycle to Sathwaite and walk up via Stockley Bridge. Whatever the plan an early night was in order.


Great Gable - love at first sight.
On the drive over to Seatoller we followed a double-decker tourist bus which helped clear the traffic for us which was, as Steve put it, rather like having a Sherman Tank on point. We got to Seatoller around 9:45am with only one minor mishap, we missed the signpost for the National Trust car park and very nearly ended up on the Honister Pass. Luckily there was somewhere to turn around and the kindly bus driver pointed out the car park for us. As it was a beautiful sunny bank holiday Monday there were plenty of people around and everyone seemed in a good mood as we headed up the mountain. Many of the routes up Scafell Pike are pretty but the mountain top itself is quite brutal, a huge pile of jagged rocks which made me wonder where the actual mountain itself was and how they accurately measured the heights of things that seemed to be no more than a pile of scree. The top was like Piccadilly Circus but at least everyone had made it up there safely. I would say that all we needed to do now was to get down, but once we get up into the mountains we like to stay there, so as well as visiting all the peaks along the ridge to Scafell Pike we also nipped over to Esk Pike, Bow Fell and Allen Crags before dropping back down. I definitely want to return to climb up the Great Gable though, a wonderfully imposing mountain and fabulous to look at."

So there you have it - how I "fell" for the Lake District - and you can't really blame me, can you?