20th June 2011 – Shap to Patterdale – 15.8 miles
The best day of the walk so far, by a long way – but I was absolutely shattered (again) at the end of it. I’m still not convinced my fitness is anywhere close to what it used to be – I don’t remember feeling this consistently knackered last time I did the walk in 2009. Admittedly I am doing a different route on some days (including today), but these distances and height gains aren’t especially new to me – it must be old age and big belly creeping up on me.
I’m often asked why I walk – and I tend to describe the reason I started – which was to lose weight and try and extend my life – but that’s only why I started – it’s views like this that keep me coming back to places like the Lakes and the Dales.
This is the view from the top of the Old Corpse Road, coming out of Swindale and approaching the descent into Mardale – the weather was warm and sunny and the shadow patterns on the hills made me want to sit there all day – it was a special moment – spoiled only by the young female chav just out of shot on the left screeching to her boyfriend that she’d trod in something. I hung around for a few minutes to wait for the moment I could appreciate the view on my own. I would have stayed there for a lot longer, except I knew I had to get down to the lake and up to the dark pointy bit in the top right hand corner of the photo (Kidsty Pike).
Anyway, the day started well enough with an excellent breakfast at Brookfield House – I had the dining room mostly to myself, which is always nice and I could see the distant summit of Kidsty Pike from the window – the fells looked fantastic – very little cloud, great visibility and lots of sunshine.
I ummed and ahhed about what to wear today – the weather looked flawless, but the forecast said showers throughout the day, getting stronger later. I looked at Metcheck and it said light rain all day on High Street – so I decided on the overtrousers over no trousers and baselayer and shirt – with the Paramo jacket in the pack if I needed it.
I was out the door by 08:30, a little later than I’d hoped, but feeling well up for the day ahead – the Lakes were here – I’d been looking forward to today since I set out from Robin Hood’s Bay. I headed north along the road, taking the first left into a minor road then over a wall stile and into fields. The footpaths I used are not part of the traditional C2C route and they don’t appear to be used by the locals much either, so they were heavily overgrown. By the time I reached the road in Keld (not the Keld) my troos were wet to the knees and the tops of my socks were also wet.
Beyond Keld I was on the farm road for a while, but the only vehicle that passed me was a Post Office van, kicking up stones from the recently re-stoned surface. At Tailbert farm I turned onto the open fells – immediately getting my feet even more wet as I sploshed through the damp ground, trying to keep to the drier higher spots where possible.
As I progressed, the views down into Swindale became ever more impressive – it’s a lush green valley and this is the best place to see it from.
Again, I could see far ahead – see my path leading out of the valley on the far side and I knew I had a steep little climb on my hands soon. I dropped down through the bracken, to the road, sploshing through a water meadow to get there and then heading right at Swindale Head farm, straight up the side of the valley. On the map it looks like nothing – but its 500 feet of ascent in about 250 yards – so it’s steep. It was also getting very warm and I was sweating like mad – I was also very thirsty and began to worry about my water supply. I’d filled my Platypus to the top – so had started out with about 2 litres, but it was at the back of my mind all day that I didn’t have enough. I was tortured by worry that I’d run out too soon and I constantly felt like I never had quite enough to drink.
The Old Corpse Road was a lot drier underfoot than I was expecting, especially after the experience coming into Swindale and I was glad. My feet were mostly still dry inside my excellent Inov-8 Roclite GTX boots and I didn’t want that to change! I saw a distant walker ascending Selside Pike – my first of the day – and I think I got a wave from him and a faint “hellooo”.
The tops of the fells surrounding Mardale Head came into view and that was a great moment – I love Mardale Head – and with the weather being so fine the tops looked inviting and open.
I was spurred on and a few minutes later I was looking down onto Mardale Head from above the old shepherd’s huts (the view at the top of the page). It was partially spoiled by the screeching harridan telling her boyfriend – and anyone else within 20 miles – that “sheep shit is very sticky” – “Gavin! I said it’s very sticky, it won’t come off”, “GAVIN! Will you help me”! I silently implored Gavin to go and find a rock and do her in – FFS! I’ll even help you bury the bitch.
Thankfully, after a minute or two they were out of sight and I had the fell and the glorious views to myself. I had the nagging urge to get moving though; I still had a long way to go, a long hard climb out of Mardale and not enough water.
It’s a steep old drop off the Old Corpse Road down to the tarmac motor road and I had to take it easy, it was slippery in places and the last thing I needed was a knee injury. I reached the road and dropped down the other side of it to pick up the lakeside path along Haweswater – the same path I’d walked with Tex a few months ago. The abundance of little streams falling into the reservoir was a constant temptation – surely the water would be okay to drink? I wasn’t 100% sure though and I merely used them to wash my face and give my head a little scrub.
It seemed like a much longer walk around to the car park than I remember – a little too far in fact – I was beginning to feel foot sore on the stony path, thirst was a constant problem and it was only getting hotter – so the water I had in my pack was warm and not particularly refreshing. More than once I wished I carried a water filter – I could have had instant cool water at almost any time; there are so many little streams along this route – it’s one of the first things I’m buying when I get back home.
I took a few more photos of Mardale Head. There were some great pictures; with the water being so still today the reflections were stunning and the mottled shadows of the clouds seemed to add to the visual effects.
The car park was pretty busy – lots of people with binoculars wandering about. I stopped to eat my lunch – a very dry and inedible sausage roll which I didn’t have enough water to wash down, so I binned it and a drank some of my bottle of warm Diet Coke, so warm and bubbly it was like drinking froth and did little to quench my thirst.
A couple of bird watchers were standing nearby, binoculars in hand – one asking the other if he actually knew where the eagle observation point was. The guy responded by pointing off up the valley towards Small Water and said “Yes, it’s up there”. I had visions of helicopters and mountain rescue in a few hours when they’d got totally lost, so I said “Hello” and “couldn’t help hearing you mention the observation point”. “It’s actually round the end of the Rigg and up the valley, beside the wall next to the beck”. I pointed out the path they needed and repeated the instructions. They headed off in the right direction at least.
I had intended to walk up to Small Water, onto Nan Bield pass and then around to High Street and along that to rejoin the C2C path – but I was feeling too tired – it was too hot – I had too little water and so I decided to stick to the traditional route from here – which did mean a rather punishing ascent up Kidsty Pike. The lesser of two evils I thought.
I followed the two bird-watchers around the Rigg and passing several others on the way. I found one group, of about seven or eight, all looking and pointing eagerly out onto the reservoir. I couldn’t stop myself – I’d been resisting temptation all week. I shouted “Look! Ducks”! I got some very evil stares for that and one rather hoity “Well, I say”. But surely, they were floating on the water, so they were ducks!
The climb up to Kidsty Pike from the reservoir is awful. I’ve come down the path several times and it’s always felt hard on the knees – but the way up is even worse. It felt like the climb went on forever and I passed several people on the way down who looked sympathetically at my red and sweating persona – one or two even offered that crumb of “not far now”, which is fine unless you know they’re lying, or trying to be kind.
I eventually made it of course – you always do – but it was hard work and it cost me lots of water. I stopped at the summit – the first time I’ve been on Kidsty and not been blown about by the wind. I had a cake and the rest of my Coke, which was even warmer and more frothy than it had been at the last stop.
I knew I still had a way to go and it was already about 1:30pm, so I girded my loins and pushed on after only a short break – I figured I could relax on the flat bits and the downhill section, now that the two big climbs were out of the way.
It was a Monday, but there were plenty of day walkers around – I passed a huge group being guided – the guide pointing out the fells and waiting until all his sheep were in a group again before setting out and clogging up the path again.
The climb up to Satura Crag was hard work – I took my mind off it by watching an RAF Eurofighter blasting around the hills – he did several high passes and then finished with two bombing runs down the Kirkstone Pass, rattling the windows in the houses along the valley I’m sure. He was several hundred feet below me for these two passes.
Just before Angle Tarn I finally did run out of water – that dreadful sucking sound of the bladder running dry – it’s not happened to me very often – certainly not this far from the end of the walk and I was a little annoyed at myself. I wasn’t in any danger though, I’d be uncomfortable for an hour or so, but it wasn’t going to cause me any problems.
Beyond Angle Tarn I was stopped by an American couple who asked me if I knew the fells around here – I said I did a little bit and they said they were trying to determine which one was Helvellyn. I pointed it out to them and then said it was easy to spot because of Catstye Cam next to it – which is the pointy looking one and a dead giveaway. They were in the Lakes for 10 days of a 30 day trip to the UK – which seemed like a good proportion to me – and they wanted to do some of the bigger fells before they went. They asked about Striding Edge and how hard it was – all the usual stuff. I recommended the easier path up Dollywaggon or the ascent from Thirlmere, which is steep but easy. They were very relieved – “you mean we don’t have to go up by Striding Edge?” Cindy and Geoff were great – they knew the Lakes quite well, they loved the area and were not your typical “Oh it’s so quaint” American tourists. I spent about 15 minutes chatting with them and would have spent longer, but I was thirsty and my feet were hurting.
The descent from Boredale Hause seemed much longer than it actually is, it seemed to take forever and my knees began to complain at the abuse. My feet were already feeling pretty sore and I was warm and thirsty. It had been a tough day, but still one of the best days walking I can remember having for a long time.
I eventually made it down to Patterdale – I was pretty knackered and I went straight to the White Lion. I ordered two pints of Diet Coke and drank one while she was still pouring the second. I showered, shaved and drank two more, had an unremarkable burger for tea and two more pints of Diet Coke. At least I felt somewhat rehydrated after 6 pints.
The Angle Tarn Pikes room is no bigger than I remembered from 2006 – it still takes the prize for the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. But it was quiet and comfortable, once you’ve stowed your gear and I slept very well.