Sunday, 9 October 2011

Haweswater hates us.

Before you dismiss me as an irrational woman at least read what I've got to say.  You may decide to stick with your original opinion, but at least you'll be in full possession of the facts.

Our first experience of Haweswater came with a hike around the Kentmere Horseshoe.  We were blessed with rather lovely weather but as we approached High Street Steve started to feel unwell.  By the time we got to Mardale Ill Bell he was white and shaking so we curtailed the walk and dropped back down to Kentmere as quickly as we could and hightailed it back to the car.

Our second experience is recounted elsewhere in this blog and involved us setting out to walk around Haweswater on a gloriously clear and sunny day, so clear and sunny in fact that we opted not to take our waterproofs with us.  When we reached the far side of the lake the clouds arrived en masse and it poured down.  We arrived back at the car soaked to the skin and truly penitent.
The route as seen from Harter Fell. Looks simple enough...

Our third experience with Haweswater was yesterday when a fairly straightforward 4 - 5 hour hike turned into a 7 hour battle against the elements and resulted in us navigating over High Street in the dark, rain and mist before finally making it back to the car at 9:45pm.    It might be helpful if you have a map handy for this, unless you know the area particularly well, as we now do.

It all started at around 1:30pm at the car park at the top of Haweswater, our plan was simple; to hike around Riggindale, going up via Rough Crag, along High Street and then back via Kidsty Pike.  We reckoned we had 5.5 hours of daylight and a little dusk to play with so no worries.  The route up was amazing, definitely one of my favourite hikes to date, a steady climb with a little scrambling and loads of amazing scenery.  I did become distracted by rabbit pooh on a few occasions though as it's something I feel I need to understand more about.  My concern is this, rabbit pooh tends to appear in vast piles of pellets, but why?  Does one rabbit eject half its bodyweight in pooh in one go?  Is there communal poohing?  Do they return to the same spot again and again?  Is it their version of a cairn designed to help them navigate on the fells?  Or are the Wombles also at large on the fells, sweeping it all into large piles to collect later?  If you have answers please let me know...

The mist descends...
Meanwhile, back on the fell; we made it to the cairn at the top of Long Stile in around 3 hours and this is where the trouble started.  It was fairly misty with visibility down to a few hundred yards and what we should have done was turn immediately right and follow the path along the top of the ridge in the general direction of The Knott.  What we actually did was become distracted by the trig point marking the top of Racecourse Hill and wander over to take a few pics.  (Mistake number one).  When we got to the trig point we stopped for food and drink before heading off again. 

Mistake number two came in the form of me deciding that I didn't need to use the compass to take a bearing as all we had to do was keep the valley to our right at all times, so off we headed.  However we had somehow turned ourselves around at the trig point and what we thought was a right hand turn to follow the ridge to The Knott was in fact a left hand turn taking us towards the top of Thornthwaite Crag.  We continued onwards looking out for the right hand turn that would take us back down to Haweswater (or so we thought) so when we found a right hand turn we took it, but as we were now at Thornthwaite Crag the turn actually took us along the ridge to Grey Crag. (Mistakes number 3 & 4).  As we were walking out to Grey Crag I was becoming more and more convinced that we were heading in the wrong direction, but with the mist obscuring all landmarks we pressed onwards.  (Mistake number 5).  Eventually when we were almost at Grey Crag the mist cleared a little and there, far below, Hayeswater came into view.  Oooopppss!

It was now gone 5:30pm and we were a long way from the car with around 2 hours of light left.  Finally I did what I should have done an hour or so earlier, I got the compass out and took a bearing.  I can't believe I was dumb enough to have gotten this far without doing something as simple and obvious as that, but when you're sure you're going the right way you can convince yourself of pretty much anything.  We then had the sort of quiet and reasoned discussion that often occurs after 3.5 hours hiking when you're tired, hungry and wet and suddenly realise you're stuck out on a fell in the mist and rain with night falling fast and at least another 3 hours hiking ahead of you, mainly uphill and in the dark.  It's probably a good idea that all the other hikers were out of earshot and sensibly at home with a pie and a pint.

Discussion over we weighed up our options and decided to drop down to Hayeswater and scramble up to The Knott as quickly as possible in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Haweswater to confirm our bearings before it got too dark.  There's not really a path down to Hayeswater from Grey Crag so we slipped and slithered our way down through wet grass and bogs arriving at Hayeswater around 6:00pm.  Pausing only for Steve to take a couple of pics (we were clearly going to be hiking in the dark now so what difference was 5 more minute going to make?) we began our scramble upwards.  Although we were both tired I think we did pretty well, we always carry plenty of food and drink with us and had topped up with a couple of Snickers and a good slug of tea at the base of the climb.

Haweswater. Stunning but malevolent
Once at the top of The Knott I checked the compass every few minutes to make certain we were heading for the right path but by now it was gone 7:00pm and was really getting dark.  Either by some miracle, or as a result of my superb map reading skills* (please delete as applicable depending on whether you have more faith in me or the Almighty), we got ourselves onto the right path and headed towards Kidsty Pike and began our descent to Haweswater in the pitch dark with the mist and the rain still swirling around.  What by day is probably a lovely varied descent with spectacular views is, by night, a bog strewn yomp with a bumpy scramble as you round Kidsty Howes.  We were both more than a little relieved when we spotted the lake and hotel down through the mist.  All we needed to do now was keep our heads, take our time and not do anything daft and we'd be home and dry before we knew it.

We finally arrive back at the car at 9:45pm exhausted and cold but none the worse for our little adventure.  I've always taken the view that as you go through life you are bound to make mistakes, and I will admit we made a fair few of them yesterday, but it's absolutely fine to make mistakes as long as you learn from them, and yesterday we learned loads.  We learned that even if your plans don't involve walking in the dark then you should always take your torch with you just in case - and we were very glad we'd done that.  We also learned that even if you feel certain you know where you are and where you're headed, then take a compass reading just to be sure, especially if it's misty.  What might appear above as being a bit of a jolly adventure could have been a whole lot different had we not been properly prepared; the fells are not to be messed with so if you're heading up there make sure you go properly equipped.

And lastly we learned that Haweswater really does hate us and, given the evidence above, you must admit I have a good argument for that?  The prosecution rests m'lud.


  1. After a descent right when it should have been to left put me in entirely wrong valley to where car was, I decided to invest in a GPS receiver (Eagle Explorer) This is just a receiver and nothing like a satnav. I slipped it in the backpack and used it only in difficult conditions. Can recommend this sort of aid

  2. Great suggestion. We now have an "app" on the phone which gives us GPRS location. We don't rely on it and it's no substitute for a map & compass, but it is a useful backup when needed. Thanks for your comment.