C2C 2006: Day Two

1st May 2006 – Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite – 15.5 miles

Day 2 dawned with a light shower of rain and very low cloud cover adding to the overall grey and damp feeling. Breakfast was only available from 07:30, but was well made and hot and better than the evening meal the night before. A Dutch couple were also eating breakfast and they were doing the C2C as well. I met several Dutch walkers during the course of the walk, the Lakes must be a real shock to them the first time they see them.

I tried to let the rain abate before setting out, so actually started walking at 08:32, following the road down towards Ennerdale Water. A group of escaped cows were plodding up the middle of the road towards the village, looking very determined and I wonder what sort of trouble they got into that morning?

The hills to the right of the road (Revelin Crag) were topped with cloud and as these are about 1200-1400 feet high, it didn’t bode well for the high route I was hoping to take over High Stile and Haystacks. As much as I enjoy fell walking, I don’t want to expend energy climbing a hill to be wreathed in a bank of cloud all the way along the ridge, so if the tops were covered I wasn’t going to make the climb.

At ground level visibility was excellent and I got a great view down the length of Ennerdale Water and the slopes of the hills on either side. This was the first view proper of the Lakes and it was only slightly spoiled by the low hanging clouds.

The path along the lake is very rocky and the western end was plagued by tiny flies that clung to my fleece as I set my sights on the Dutch couple ahead of me. I passed them shortly after Robin Hood’s Chair and they courteously stepped aside to let me pass after I had scuffed my feet a few times to let them know I was there. “You are so fast”, the gentleman said to me as I went past, at least I think that’s what he said – unless he was suggesting I needed to lose some weight?

Towards the end of Ennerdale Water, the rain started again and it looked like being a serious shower so I donned overtrousers and jacket so I didn’t have wet clothing when I gained some altitude later. The rain let off later, but then threatened or spotted for the rest of the day, meaning that I was in waterproofs pretty much all the way into Rosthwaite.

I almost took the wrong track at the end of Ennerdale Water, but that’s because I wasn’t paying proper attention to the map. I soon found the correct path, however, across the field to the little footbridge over the Liza and then up the path to the forestry road leading to the Gillerthwaite Field Centre and Gillerthwaite Youth Hostel.

It was at this point that I needed to make the decision on taking the high alternative or not. The clouds were at about 900-1000 feet and none of the High Stile range or Pillar on the other side of the river was visible. I didn’t fancy spending the next three hours in the clouds as I was wet enough at the level I was, so decided to press on along the track to Black Sail.

There now follows four miles of forestry track with what Wainwright described as a concentration camp for trees on either side. The concentration camp has gone for the most part and we are left with patches of forest and patches of open fellside where the trees have been obliterated as with Dent on the previous day. At least I managed to make good time along the track, completing the almost exactly four miles between the two hostels in just one hour.

Much has been said about Black Sail by many people, so I needn’t go into the background of the place. I had been passed by the warden (at least I’d presumed that was who it was) in his landy shortly after Gillerthwaite and wasn’t expecting anyone to be around at Black Sail when I got there. I arrived at about 11:50 and was disappointed to find the toilet was locked. The main door to the hostel however was open, so I took the opportunity to shelter from the wind and spotting rain for 15 minutes. It was a bit odd to be in the place with no-one around, I almost felt like I was trespassing. It was great to be out of the weather for a while though. I filled my water bottle, polished off a flapjack and some raisins and signed the guest book, leaving a small donation and a word of thanks for leaving the door unlocked for travellers. Black Sail is probably the only hostel in the country that can operate that policy.

I left BS and headed for Loft Beck, the day so far had been almost completely flat and I was ready for a bit of a climb. Loft Beck looks very impressive from the base, when I got there the top was shrouded in cloud and it looked very steep. It’s actually a climb of about 1000ft over a distance of about half a mile, there are steps for much of the climb, but you need to keep your eyes open to follow them. I tend to keep my head down and get on with a steep climb, working on the basis that if you don’t look at it, it’s easier! This did result in me losing the steps on several occasions and the going is certainly made tougher that way. As there was no-one else around, I encouraged myself with my favourite climbing song “The Grand Old Duke of York”, sung at full volume – with gusto!

By the time I reached the summit, the cloud had cleared and I had a view of the valley floor and an ant-like figure moving towards the base of Loft Beck. I tried a wave, but didn’t get any response. The aspect northwards and to the west opened up now that the cloud had lifted and I had a great view of Buttermere and Crummock Water and down past Haystacks towards High Stile. If I had left an hour or two later, that high alternative past Innominate Tarn would have been rewarded with great views. But then if I had left two or three hours later I probably wouldn’t have done it due to time constraints.

The route of the path from the top of Loft Beck is not instantly obvious and in misty conditions (as it would have been an hour earlier), one could easily get lost. It is important to set your compass bearing while you have a chance, perhaps from the safety of Black Sail. The GPS, however, “pointed” me in the right direction – this actually involves moving in one direction and using the GPS to adjust your course accordingly.

I followed the rocky and now clear path beneath Grey Knotts down to Drum House on the dismantled tramway above Honister, this leads down a very steep set of stone steps to the slate mine and Youth Hostel. The slate mine was very busy with many cars in the car park and people coming and going from the various different buildings. I went into the shop and found the tea room, which is essentially a little area at the back of the shop with a hot water urn and a filter coffee machine from which you help yourself to drinks and put some money in the tin nearby. I spent a very relaxing 30 minutes in here finishing my flapjacks and topping off my tea several times. I stripped off the overtrousers and jacket and returned them to my pack as the weather wasn’t really threatening anymore.

I used the old toll road from Honister to wind around the back of Seatoller and enter the little town from the east. Here you can find another tea room and this has what can only be described a s a “tuck kiosk” attached to it. They sell cans of pop, crisps and confectionary for those not wanting to enter the shop.

From Seatoller the path passes through a charming wooded section with Johnny Wood on your left and the River Derwent on your right. This was the most pleasant wooded section of the walk until the last day. There is even a short section where iron chains have been secured to the rock wall along which you must clamber to avoid stepping into the river on your right. Borrowdale’s very own via ferrata.

Today had been hard on the feet, I don’t think I walked on grass for more than about 100 yards all day; the tarmac road from Ennerdale Bridge to EW, then the rocky path alongside the lake, the forestry road to Black Sail, the slippery and rocky path up Loft Beck, the path to Honister is all rocks and stones and finally the road and rocks on the way into Longthwaite. It’s surprising then that I still have no blisters, just a sore ball to my left foot and my right big toe has a hot spot on the outside edge.

I wasn’t going all the way into Rosthwaite as my B&B was in one of the three or four houses that make up the “village” of Longthwaite. The B&B, Gillercombe, sits on the B5289, half way between Rosthwaite and Stonethwaite, the only two places nearby with pubs. Fortunately a booking at Gillercombe includes a booking at the Langstrath, a well respected and renowned pub / restaurant in Stonethwaite.

Although it was only 15:00 I was welcomed into the B&B and found that my bag was already waiting in my room. I was served tea and biscuits in the guest lounge where the landlady Rachel introduced me to Pippy, her African Grey parrot who was perched, pirate-style, on her shoulder. I was the first guest to arrive and had the place to myself. After tea and a shower and the obligatory kit check, I headed off to the Langstrath for a pint before dinner.

The weather had improved significantly, the sun was out and the cloud had cleared turning Borrowdale into a beautiful colourful valley. The Langstrath opened up early for one of the locals, so I snuck in with him and ordered myself a pint of Black Sheep Best (£2.50). I read what Wainwright and Stedman had to say about the walk the next day and when the kitchen opened, ordered the Cumberland Sausage and Mash which was superb.

The Dutch couple I passed beside Ennerdale Water came in and although the pub was pretty empty, they had trouble securing a table at such short notice. It seems that the Langstrath struggles to cope with short notice dinner bookings. Rachel told me that the pub has recently changed hands (she implied not for the better) and her daughter who was cooking there at the moment, would not be working there any longer. So it will be interesting to see how the pub fares in the near future.

I was a bit disappointed to find that breakfast was only going to be available from 08:00 in the morning, which was much too late for my liking. I had potentially the hardest day to face in the morning and I didn’t want to be doing that with a 09:00 start. As it was I was awake very early and packed by 07:00, so decided to skip breakfast.

Tonight’s Accommodation:

Gillercombe

A warm welcome can be expected here, including tea and biscuits and my big heavy Sherpa delivered bag had already been deposited in the smallish single room, which was a nice touch. No TV or tea and coffee in the room, single bed, small washbasin, chair, wardrobe and only one plug socket.

The Langstrath evening meal was superb, although this may not be the case in future due to a recent change in management and kitchen staff. Unfortunately breakfast was not available until 08:00, which was much too late for me as my next stop was Patterdale rather than Grasmere.

It’s worth staying here for the views into Borrowdale alone.