Coast to Coast 2006 – Day 3

2nd May 2006 – Rosthwaite to Patterdale – 16 miles

Although not the longest day in mileage by any means, this was the day I was expecting to be the hardest of the 12, it also turned out to be the longest in terms of walking times. I had decided not to stop in Grasmere and instead push on to overnight in Patterdale as per the original Wainwright guide. Stedman says in no uncertain terms that one should stop in Grasmere and with hindsight I would agree. If you need to do a 12 day crossing then skip Reeth and do the 22 miles from Keld to Richmond, this is still less strenuous (in my opinion) than the 16 miles from Rosthwaite to Patterdale.

A note in my diary, written later in the evening, summed up the day quite well, I wrote “Stedman was right and AW is a sadist, this day is definitely a two stager, albeit two very short stages, but at least there is no excuse then for not doing Helvellyn”.

Although skipping breakfast on such a strenuous day is not a great idea and it was setting a bad precedent, I rationalised that the early start would probably be better in the long run than the calories. I stuck an extra couple of flapjacks into my pockets and munched the first one as I walked along the path that passes through Stonethwaite, crosses Stonethwaite Beck and links up with the route coming down from Rosthwaite.

The path is flat for the first mile, following the beck beneath Knotts and Heron Crag and then Stonethwaite Fell. It’s easy to follow although a bit hard on the feet, especially after the day of rock and stone yesterday. The path soon becomes steeper as it heads up Greenup Gill towards Lining Crag and then Greenup Edge. The fence posts on the skyline, described by Stedman, make for a great landmark as one approaches Greenup Edge. Once over the Edge the landscape becomes very bleak and windswept.

The wind had become very strong by this time and it was gusting to gale force at times. If there is a bright side to everything, then I suppose it was that this was a side wind rather than a headwind. As I progressed towards the point where the path splits and you need to choose whether to drop down into Grasmere or head up to Helm Crag et al, the wind became ferocious. Several times I was blown off my course and my pole was repeatedly blown between my legs mid stride, making for a difficult passage.

Despite the wind, I decided to walk the ridge rather than take the valley into Grasmere and managed to get some respite from the gusts behind one or two of the crags along the ridge. There are several sections of stepping stones along the path here and crossing these in the wind became quite difficult, a couple of times I was blown off the stones and into the mire.

At Helm Crag I got a glimpse of two people coming up a path from the valley, my first sighting of another human being all day. Leaving early means that you tend to walk a solitary path, which suits me just fine. It also means that if you get into trouble, there are generally people coming along behind you to provide assistance. It is nice to see other walkers though, if only to confirm that you’re not the only idiot walking in this ridiculous weather!

The path from Helm Crag down towards Grasmere is very steep and rocky with many twists and turns and several times I had to check the GPS to make sure I was on the right one. Once down to Easdale though and the road by Easdale Beck the going is clear and easy. Following this road brings you into Grasmere proper, but I turned off, past the Thorny How Youth Hostel and then onto the road leading down to the A591 at Mill Bridge. It was just approaching lunch time at this point and the rain started to fall, so I headed down the A591 towards Grasmere and arrived at the Travellers Rest pub just as it was opening.

I ordered my favourite walking drink, a pint of blackcurrant and lemonade and nearly walked out again when the barman asked me for £2.95. I have never paid more than £2 for this drink in the past so was gobsmacked to have to pay such a fantastic price for it. I took the opportunity to don my rain gear in the pub and abandoned any idea of eating here, my bank balance couldn’t stand the strain.

10 minutes after leaving the pub, on the path beside Little Tongue Gill the rain stopped. Typically it didn’t clear though and threatened to rain for the rest of the day, so I spent a sweaty afternoon in the waterproofs as I couldn’t face stripping them off and then putting them on again later.

The wind was still howling around me and the direction had shifted slightly so it was in my face as much as across me for most of the climb up to Hause Riggs. I can safely say I have never walked in wind as bad as that which I experienced that day (well not until tomorrow, but that comes later) and I decided it would be folly to attempt the high route up Dollywaggon Pike to Helvellyn and along Striding Edge. So the weather had put paid to the second high alternative as well as the first. I saw a group of people coming down the path from St. Sunday Crag, braver souls than me.

The wind got worse, if that’s possible, as I approached Grisedale Tarn. I was regularly being blown off track at this height, so shuddered to think what it would be like with another 1000 ft of elevation. All I wanted to do at this point was get out of the wind and sit down with a pint. The path down through Grisedale “Forest” (where are all the trees?) makes for a reasonably quick pace and the thought of a lovely warm pub and a pint spurred me on. I didn’t even stop at the Brothers Parting Stone, as I had intended.

As I dropped down from Grisedale the wind eased somewhat and I saw a group of three ahead of me on the track, I soon caught them up and it turned out to be three girls from the Netherlands. Two at the back of the group were struggling a bit and they seemed to be relieved when I confirmed that this was the path to Patterdale. They asked me how long it would take them to get to Patterdale, according to my GPS it was 3.1 miles, so I told them about an hour. I didn’t want to discourage them completely by saying that at there current pace it would probably be twice that time. The girl in front, the youngest of the three, seemed much fresher than the others and kept pace with me for a few minutes before dropping back to wait for her friends.

The green fields around Patterdale and the first sight of Ullswater brought great cheer as I knew I was almost done for the day (and indeed almost done-in), my right big toe stung like fury and the ball of my left foot was starting to warm up too. Getting my boots off couldn’t come soon enough for me.

The path through the fields into Patterdale is lovely with great views stretching out over the lake but the first sight of the White Lion was one of the best views of the day. I tried not to look too knackered as I walked into the pub and although the place was almost empty I still had to wait five minutes to be served. The hotel reception is behind the main bar and the staff did not seem in any hurry at all. My Sherpa bag had already been delivered and I was a bit annoyed to find it was sitting next to the bar in the open pub area. Anyone could have walked in and walked out with it, the bar staff could not even see it from their position behind the bar.

When I was eventually shown to my room I was horrified, it was the smallest room I have ever stayed in, not just on this trip, but at any time in my life. It was about half as long again as the single bed and not quite twice as wide as it. I had a private shower room, but that was 20 yards down the corridor.

I hung various bits of damp kit on the rad in my room and also on the one in the shower room and perched my boots on the floor next to it to dry them out. I grabbed a shower and hobbled across to the Post Office / shop to stock up on water and lunch items and bought some post cards. These I wrote in my room and posted them shortly after.

I was soon in the bar though for the pint I promised myself and was very pleased to see Castle Eden on tap, I hadn’t had a pint of that for many years and the first barely touched the sides.

As soon as they were serving food I ordered a Steak Pie and garlic bread (£10.20) and was delighted at the quality of the food and the size of the portions. It’s not often that I’m unable to finish a plate of food, but this pie was massive.

I spoke at length to a guy from Devon (or possibly Cornwall) who was staying in the Youth Hostel, he was spending a couple of weeks driving to different parts of the country and doing a couple of days walking in each location. This sounds like a great idea and one I hadn’t really thought of before. He mentioned three Dutch girls staying in the hostel, so they must have made it down okay.

I also met Neil and Sandy, a couple of guys doing the C2C in 17 days and then just as I was going up to my room a couple sat down next to us who were also doing the C2C in 12 days. I didn’t catch their names at that time, but I was to spend a great two or three days over the course of the walk in their company.

I negotiated a 07:30 breakfast with the landlady, returned to my room and was asleep for about 21:30 – and bloody well deserved it was too!

Tonight’s Accommodation

White Lion Inn

The smallest room I have ever been in, but clean and functional none the less (Angle Tarn Pike room). Separate shower room down the corridor although for the sole use of that room with your own key. Great for drying kit!

Well above average evening meal (good quality and good sized portions) and Castle Eden on tap. Plus you will almost certainly meet all the other C2C’ers in the bar.

Breakfast was excellent and they will negotiate on time (07.30 for me and two others was not a problem). Right on route and directly opposite the PO/shop and next to the phone box too.