Thursday, 29 September 2011

Freshly pressed walking trousers.

No, not what I'm wearing, but something that bothers me when I see it on the fells.  I suppose I should confess at this point that there are things in my wardrobe which I haven't worn for over a year because I can't be bothered to iron them.  I don't do ironing.  I am to ironing what Richard Dawkins is to bible study.  That said, I admire well turned out people and wish, on occasion, that I could be a little better groomed, but it's just not in my nature.  I am happiest with my hair hauled into pigtails, careering around the fells in my most practical attire and generally looking like something the cat dragged in,  which possibly explains why I find immaculate and freshly pressed walking trousers so intimidating.

My stylish over trousers.
I understand that people want to look their best on occasion, but is hiking on a fell really one of those occasions?  We passed a lady near Wast Water last week who looked as if she'd just stepped out of the pages of a hiking goods magazine, everything was immaculate, trousers freshly pressed and make-up fully applied.  Do these people never sweat?  Never step in a puddle?  Have they never dropped a lump of scotch egg down their pristine t-shirts or splashed their well earned flask of tea?  Whilst I loathe ironing myself, I can understand why people press clothes for the office, or for parties, but walking trousers? Is there a whole singles scene going on out there that I'm oblivious to?

Not that we ever see that many women anyway, certainly not on the more challenging hikes.  We bump into the odd one or two up there with their partners and whilst we've seen many all male walking groups, we've not yet found their female equivalent.  I have to confess I do chuckle at the ones who are being hauled up the smaller fells by their well meaning partners when it's clearly the last place on earth they want to be.  Usually with perfect nails and spectacularly trendy but utterly useless gear on, they huff, puff and moan their way up. 

What's not sexy about this?
Last year we saw a woman near the top of Cat Bells who simply sat down and refused point blank to budge another inch.  Maybe they'd rather get their exercise inside an airconditioned gym than in the great outdoors, though why anyone would prefer pounding away on a running machine inside an expensive, smelly, gym crammed with several dozen other people, as opposed to scampering around the fells is beyond me. 

We've been busy this week planning our route up Blencathra which we hope to tackle some time over the next few days.  We're planning to go up via Sharp Edge which I've heard is a bit of a challenge and quite scary in places, but we've done Striding Edge and Swirral Edge in the past (on the same day!) so I reckon I can make it.  It strikes me as the sort of hike that should only really be attempted with good weather conditions so we're taking advantage of our Indian Summer to get the climb in before the autumn realises it's mistake and finally arrives. 

Having just Googled the phrase "Indian Summer" to see where it came from, I notice that it's most likely origin is from the native American Indians hunting prey lured out by the unseasonally warm weather.  Hmmm, a hunting season, maybe we should expect to see more immaculately turned out women this weekend, lying in wait in their freshly pressed trousers, ready to pounce on the first unsuspecting lone male to wander past.  Looks like I'd best keep my eye on Steve then in case he decides to trade in his crumpled, muddy, egg and tea covered banshee for something a little more sophisticated.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Up, down and around.

I know I should probably have posted this a few days back but at least I made it in the end.  We've had a busy few days, first of all hiking up and down Skiddaw and then completing a lap of Wast Water, though not all on the same day.  After that we headed home nursing sore legs and faced a mountain of washing, frankly I preferred Skiddaw.

As you know it was always our intention to tackle the northern fells last week and Skiddaw seemed as good a place to start as any.  We started off in the Gale Road car park which felt like a bit of a cheat as it's about halfway up the fell but, as we were doing a circular route, we figured it wasn't cheating really as we'd have to climb back up to the car park at the end of the day.  I have to be 100% honest here and say that we found the route up really rather boring - it's very wide and easy to follow but really busy and certainly not an escape from the world.  We saw 3 different people all chattering away on their mobile phones and that just seemed so wrong, are we the only people who climb the fells to escape? No chance of enjoying the peace and quiet when someone is bellowing "I'm on the mountain!" Dom Joly style, into their mobile phone as they slither down the path back to the car park.

Skiddaw & Skiddaw Mini Me

The views from the path are gorgeous though, down over Keswick to Derwent Water in one direction and away up over Bassenthwaite Lake in the other.  Bassenthwaite - the only actual "lake" in the Lake District, all the others are Tarns, Waters, Meres or Reservoirs.  As you hike up Skiddaw it's very easy to be fooled into thinking you're nearly at the top when you've still actually got a long way to go.  This is because of Skiddaw Little Man which sits in front of Skiddaw when approaching from this direction.  To be honest I think they should change the name to Skiddaw Mini Me as that's exactly what it looks like - it has the same profile as Skiddaw, just slightly smaller and lower.  We made it up onto the Little Man and were almost swept back off it again by the spectacular wind which was causing any hiker daft enough to venture up there to walk at a 45 degree angle to the ground in order to avoid being whisked over the edge.  I'm not sure waterproofs help in this situation as they tend to act very much like sails, great at protecting you from the wind but can increase your aerodynamic rating alarmingly.

Eventually we made it to the summit staying just long enough for a quick sarnie and a drink before getting down again and out of the wind.  Our route down was via Carl Side and it started off as bit of a freefall down a massive scree slope and continued its slippy slidey routine the entire route down.  It's nice not to see all the fells sanitised with steps everywhere, though I do completely understand that they're put there to help prevent the erosion from the millions of pairs of walking boots that tramp up and down them each year - talking of which, my boot/ sock combo are still doing marvellously, though they did very much appreciate a dry walk for a change.

Wast Water Screes

Skiddaw struck me as a no-nonsense proper northern fell, there's a route up, a route down and no fancy stuff in the middle.  No pretty tarns or sharp ridges to distract you, just a big brute of a fell which does exactly what it says on the map; get's you to 931 metres and back down again.

And so to Wast Water the day after.  After the big hike up Skidder we'd decided to stay low so thought an "easy" stroll around Wast Water would do the trick.  Ha!  Easy!  If the rain isn't out to get you then the scree slopes are.  We parked the car at the Gosforth end of the lake and headed off towards Wasdale Head, nothing too troubling so far, an easy walk along the road next to the lake.  Then we headed back along the other side and, as the clouds were still on top of the fells, we decided to stick to the lower path which took us through The Screes.  From the Wasdale Head direction it has a Ravel's Bolero feel to it, starting off gently and gradually building to an almighty boulder field at the end with no discernible path through.  It's really good fun but a tough challenge so don't underestimate it, and I'd be a bit worried about tackling it in very wet weather too.

Britain's Favourite View. Well, most of it.
Our reward at the end of the lake was "Britain's Favourite View", well most of it anyway.  The clouds were obscuring the tops of all the fells so the view was rather like the one you might get if you let your elderly mother loose with a camera, lovely photos but all the heads are missing.  Never mind, we plan to return later in the year so hopefully they'll have their heads back out of the clouds by then.

So that's it, a quick adventure in the northern fells over, but not for long.  If the weather reports are to be believed we're headed for an Indian Summer so we're planning to make the most of the good weather and are aiming to tackle Blencathra via sharp edge.  Here's hoping that "some sunshine" is as plentiful as "some precipitation".

Thursday, 22 September 2011

"Some Precipitation"

Ennerdale Water - before the deluge

I've been told off in the past for suggesting that 12 hours of torrential, vertical, rain should be described as anything other than "some precipitation".  On that basis what we experienced yesterday was nothing more than a light passing shower.  Luckily common sense had prevailed and, realising the weather conditions were less than ideal for the high fells, we decided to stay low and took a walk around Ennerdale Water instead.

Things started out well, breezy enough to create waves on the lake big enough to cover the paths as they broke against the lake walls, but otherwise pleasant & fairly dry.  About 1/3 of the way round the rain livened up somewhat but nothing our waterproofs couldn't handle.  A brief stop for tea & chocolate at the head of the lake and we were off again.  This time we encountered "some precipitation" in the form of a 2 hour deluge of rain with a little hail thrown in for good measure, all driven at us horizontally by the prevailing "breeze".  Look on the brightside though, we got a free facial as we walked - some women would pay good money for an exfoliation treatment as natural, organic & effective as that.

The drying room/ Delores bathroom
I also discovered what "wet out" is; that moment when your waterproofs have done all they can and, whilst they're not leaking, they're no longer able to "breathe" so everything inside gets all soggy and cold.  Not so bad while you're walking but pretty darned chilly as soon as you stop.

I'd love to describe to you how magnificent Red Pike, Haystacks & Pillar looked as they loomed large around the valley but the truth is we couldn't see them for the low cloud and anyway, everytime we looked up the rain hurt our eyes.

Please don't think I'm complaining in any way, I saw a T-shirt recently emblazoned with the slogan "Rather a rainy day on a fell than a sunny day in the office", and I'd agree with that 100%.   We had a fun adventure and we were both chuckling all the way around, I'm just letting you know what "some precipitation" looks like in case you're planning a walk in The Lakes anytime soon.

The rainbow after the storm.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Simple Things in Life

The raw materials!
Recently I've embarked on a jam & chutney making adventure which has seen me produce enough preserves to gain entry to the WI hall of fame.  This new venture has been driven by two things: a surfeit of fruit in the garden and a need to ecconomise.  I invested very modestly in a couple of bits of kit and a book and dove right in - turns out jam making's not too tricky, it's all about prepping your fruit correctly and getting to grips with the "rolling boil".  For a first timer I'm impressed with the results and Steve even gave me 8/10 for my marmalade!  A few days break and then back for a batch of damson & apple jam methinks.  Fun though it is I can't believe people describe this as the simple life - surely it's far simpler to buy a jar of jam from Sainsburys?

We've been off waterfall hunting again, though this time everything was a little less soggy!  Two gorgeous falls near Elterwater - a stunning though soulless village to the west of Ambleside.  Stunning because in every direction loomed imposing fells and soulless because almost every house appeared to be a holiday let with a sign on the gate imploring you to book.  On the day we went the pub was bustling, but that was on a warm(ish), dry Sunday afternoon, in the dead of winter I should imagine the village is deserted with no local community to keep the place alive.  I appreciate the fact that tourism is the industry up here but it just seems so sad to see a stunning village turned into little more than a holiday park.

At the top of Colwith Falls
The other thing we noticed was how most tourists only ever seem to venture around 10 minutes away from their cars.  Last weekend we saw two waterfalls, Colwith Falls which were 30 mins walk from the nearest car park, truly breathtaking and utterly deserted.  Next stop was Skelwith falls, very lovely, far less dramatic but right next to a road and therefore lots of other visitors.  At least it means that if you're prepared to put some effort in then you can find peace & beauty even in the height of tourist season as everyone else will be busy shuttling between the pub and the nearest car park.

Wishing tree near Colwith Falls
Talking of holidays we've got a week off work & have our sights set on the northern fells.  In a moment I shall be cooking up a storm in the kitchen to ready us for a haul up Skiddaw, and I shall be most grumpy if I don't make it to Wasdale Head this week too.  With all the waterfall hunting it's been a while since we went up anything big so our legs may be in for a bit of a shock, but it's a great excuse to scoff bacon & egg sarnies for brekkie, wonderful to eat though messy to cook.  Hmmm - I wonder if I could simplify things and just make "Bacon & Egg jam"? I'm not sure how it would taste but I guess Heston would be impressed.  Maybe for now I'll stick with the old fashioned approach.  Skiddaw, here we come!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Put a Sock in It!

But only if it's a proper woollen sock.  Remember the problem I had with my boots?  Turns out the boots were fine and the problem lay entirely with my cheapo dodgy socks.  A quick hunt around 'tinterweb turned up the vital piece of info I needed and I have to admit I was cynical at first: how much difference could a pair of socks make?  Quite a lot as it happens.  Being of somewhat limited means at the moment I tracked down a pair of fabulous woollen socks in the sale at Mountain Warehouse - £7.99 per pair instead of £14.99 per pair - bargain!  From the first moment of wearing them the difference was crystal clear, my new sock/ boot combo is a match made in heaven and I have never had a pair of more comfy, or durable boots.  The abuse I've hurled upon them since resolving the blisters issue has known no bounds, and most of the abuse has involved water.  Steve's on a mission to photgraph the many gorgeous waterfalls we have around here and let me tell you, none of them are easy, or dry, to get to.

Take last weekend, our final waterfall of the day involved wading for over 2 hours through marshy bogs, made all the more marshier and boggier by the epic rainstorms we've had of late.  On top of that my short little legs and dreadful sense of balance meant that I sank into mud and water well up over the top of the boot on two occasions and on a third occasion slipped when jumping a stream and dunked the other boot for good measure.  The only minor soggyness of sock occured via the seepage over the top of the boot, and that was minimal.  I'm now a Brasher and proper woolley socks fan for life - maybe their tagline should be "Boots for the real outdoors, not for poncing around town in."  Thus endeth the sales pitch!

Blindtarn Gill Falls
So what else is new?  Well we've found some pretty amazing waterfalls.  It's a bit of a hit and miss affair as there are loads marked on the OS Map but a lot of them aren't really worth the effort.  Big up for Scale Force and Blindtarn Gill falls though, both really difficult to get to but both utterly spectacular, I may well post up a couple of my dodgy pics though they comprehensively fail to adequately capture the spectacle.  We haven't been on quite so many high level epic hikes over recent weeks due to a combination of dreadful weather and elderly visitors, but I'm off work next week and chomping at the bit to get up Skiddaw, Blencathra, Great Gable and Sca Fell (as opposed to Scafell Pike) though I'll obvisously have to wait and see what the weather's doing.

Away from the fells we spent last Friday night at Kendal's Torchlight Parade and if you're ever in the area when it's on then it's certainly worth a visit.  The procession lasted well over 90 mins and was choc full of floats and amazing costumes.  Some of the outfits looked as if they'd come straight from the Nottinghill Carnival - though they probably needed to add thermal vests up here.  20,000 people descended upon Kendal but the crowd was very good natured and, as they say, a good time was had by all.

View from Blindtarn Gill Falls
My next voyage of discovery is in the world of jam and pickle making.  I've always enjoyed cooking and now we've inherited 4 apple trees, a damson tree (I think one per household is required by law up here) and a quince bush.  I've got myself a couple of simple books on the subject and am now just figuring out what equipment I need.  Seems a jam pan and pots are pretty much essential but the range of additional equipment I *could* buy goes on and on.  Starter Kits are available on Amazon for around £50.  £50?!!  Have you any idea how many jars of jam & pickle I'd need to make before that lot started paying for itself?  Having sought the wise cousel of friends I have opted to stick with just the jam pan and pots for now.  Apparently I can improvise most of the other bits, although I may have to invest in some muslin for the making of the quince jelly. If I couldn't find muslin I suppose I could always make use of my cheapo old walking socks - properly washed of course.

And if you're wondering what's happening with Delores, well she's snugly plugged in and eagerly awaiting an adventure next week.  As we want to climb so many fells in the north we're planning on heading up there for a few days to save us the hour or so drive from home.  I've been desperate to get out and about in her more than we have but fuel prices and the like have curtailed our adventures a little, hopefully we can squeeze in a good few trips over the winter months when all the sites are a little quieter.

Anyway, time for me to put a sock in it and leave you in peace now.  Do give us a wave if you ever spot us up on the fells - I'll be the one up to my knees in a bog, but with blissfully dry and blister-free feet.

Rainbow over Grassmere

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Whether the weather...

For those that know us and/ or those who've been reading the blog, you'll know that after we moved up here on 2nd Jan this year one of the first things we went out to buy were waterproofs, good quality, top of the range waterproofs.  Not that it rains the whole time up here, despite what people will tell you; many's the time I've been enjoying fabulous weather up here whilst chatting on Facebook with friends the other end of the country stuck in their homes with the rain lashing down ouside.  Which rather begs the question: What on earth was I doing sitting at a laptop when the weather outside was so darned good?  Be that as it may, there's one vital piece of usage information you need to be aware of when buying waterproofs that they don't mention on any of the care instructions they now come with; you need to take them with you at all times in order for them to be fully effective.  You'd think I'd have learned that one by now, wouldn't you?
Levers Water from the Old Man on a sunnier day

Not being too harsh on myself, I wouldn't dream of heading off up a fell, even on the sunniest day, without full waterproofs, woolly hat and gloves.  The weather up here can change in a heartbeat and when it rains it's rarely indecisive on the matter, none of this lightweight "it's only spitting" rain, no; when it rains here it rains properly in vertical swathes.  Or horizontal if the wind's kicked in.  We found that out after a hike up the Old Man when our route down was dictated by the direction of the wind.  We had a choice; a gentle path back to the car with the wind blowing the full force of an epic rainstorm into our faces, or a rather less appealing route with the wind at our backs.  We arrive back at the car dripping wet on the outside but warm and snug inside our waterproofs - but then another dilemma kicks in.  It's still hurling down outside but how do you get out of your waterproofs and into the car?  You either need the clothes changing abilities of Superman to ditch the waterproofs and jump into the car or the flexibility and dexterity of Houdini to be able to slip out of your waterproofs inside the car with a steeringwheel in front of you.  If anyone's figured that one out, please let me know.

There have, however, been a couple of occasions lately when we've been caught out.  The first was on a trip to Haweswater, an absolutely stunning lake which we discovered when hiking the Kentmere horseshoe a few weeks back.  It was a glorious sunny day so we decided that rather than walk up a fell we'd take a walk around a lake instead.  We drove there through glorious sunshine, even parking in a shady spot under a tree so the car would be cool on our return.  We'd filled our rucksack with a yummy picnic and, given the weather conditions and the gentleness of our walk, decided to leave the waterproofs in the car - afterall, what was the worst that could happen on a lovely sunny afternoon like this?  Two hours later, when we were safely on the far side of the lake, the clouds that had been hiding behind High Street decided to leap out and suprise us.  Needless to say we were utterly sodden and vowed that we had most certainly learned our lesson.  At least parking the car under the tree meant that it remained dry, and maybe that's the answer to our earlier dilemma, park the car under a tree at all times and then when you return during a dowpour you've got some place to get out of your waterproofs.  Easy when you know how, eh?

Not all fab Cumbrian views involve fells.
Then there was yesterday and the Mintfest in Kendal.  I admit it was raning a little before we left so we popped our waterproof tops on and donned our walking boots as we were planning to be on our feet most of the day.  Steve even suggested wearing our waterproof trousers but did I listen to the wise words of my gorgeous husband?  No I did not.  In fact I clearly remember saying "I'm sure it won't rain that much, and even if it does, it's only Kendal, we can pop into a shop 'til it blows over."  Idiot.  Once we'd reached the far end of Kendal at around 1:30pm the heavens opened and it didn't blow over until around 10pm.  Sadly we'd given up long before that and squelched our way back to the car, headed home and hung our soggy trousers up to dry.  That was around 20 hours ago and my jeans have only just stopped dripping.

Which brings me to today.  Right now, as I type, it's a gorgeous sunny Sunday morning.  We're planning to head back to Mintfest again today and have the whole itinerary planned from 1pm until it all closes some time late tonight.  I've checked the forecast and it's good, sunny with light cloud for the whole day.  I felt desperately sorry for the organisers when it steamed down yesterday pretty much ruining the entire event, so I think we owe it to them today to take all our waterproofs with us, afterall there's no better way to guarantee a day of glorious sunshine than to pack every item of waterproof clothing you own and carry them around with you, is there?