22nd June 2011 – Grasmere to Stonethwaite – 10.8 miles
I had a cracking night’s sleep in the Chestnut Villa and I had a double bed for only the second night of the trip. The B&B is very nice and well run; a business but with the personal touch.
I had another late breakfast and late start – no point getting into Stonethwaite too early as I can’t check in until 15:30 and there’s always a chance the Langstrath Inn may be shut – so the plan was to take it easy and aim for arrival at about 16:00.
The weather forecast was pretty awful – heavy showers all day with bright sunny spells. Which meant that when I wasn’t being pissed on I was likely to be sweating bullets inside the waterproofs.
Maintaining a comfortable temperature and internal environment is crucial to a good days walking – I just don’t think June is a good month to achieve this, it’s too wet and too warm.
I set out through the village at about 09:15 and picked up the footpath that leads up to Silver How. I was too hot in the baselayer and Paramo jacket, so I stopped to put my shirt on instead. I stuck with the overtrousers on the bottom – they seem to be the best of both worlds. I can vent them from the top of the thigh to the knees so they’re cool enough and then zip them up quickly if it starts raining.
The path to Silver How is a steep little sucker in places, it has plenty of greenery though and superb views down into the village and Grasmere water.
The path was lined with what I wanted to be Lupins, but are probably foxgloves or something else completely – a botanist I certainly ain’t. The tune for the day was supposed to be “Walk on By” by The Stranglers, but because of the Lupins it ended up being “Dennis Moore” by Monty Python; (which, to the tune of the old Robin Hood song goes like this);
Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore, galloping through the sward
Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore and his horse Concorde
He steals from the rich and gives to the poor
Mister Moore, Mister Moore, Mister Moore.
This can be repeated ad nauseum – or until someone comes along the path.
(jump to 3:00 for the song)
Anyway, the Lupins are lovely on the path up to Silver How and then it’s out across the fells towards Stickle Tarn. I’ve walked these fells only a couple of times before and on previous occasions I’ve come across the same experience as I had today. The area is very hilly, lots of lumps and bumps and it’s very difficult to navigate by sight. The path – if you can find it – isn’t bad, but talk about round the houses – it goes all over the bloody place. And I find it counter intuitive – it doesn’t seem to go in a logical direction. You feel as though you’re walking away from your destination not towards it. However, previous walks have taught me to stick to it once you get on it – despite how much it meanders and despite how much you want to cut straight across the fell to where you think you should be going.
I was alone; I could see ahead for a fair distance and behind me even further, so I had no problems with singing Dennis Moore out loud. Until, that is, a bloke came from my right, around a large lump, laughing. He must have heard me. He joined my track and we chatted for a minute. He was good enough not to mention the singing. There’s only one path and although he was headed for High Raise and I Pavey Ark we’d have to share the path for a good while. I made my excuses and stopped for a few minutes to let him get a head start. It would also allow me to use him as a navigation aid for the next hour or two.
The tops here abouts are very wet, lots of hidden tarns and huge areas of swampy ground. My feet were soon soaking, even through the usually excellent Inov-8s. After a while I stopped trying to avoid the wet bits and just ploughed straight through them. I mean how much worse could they get? Which of course brought another Monty Python reference to mind: “Worse? How could it be worse? Jehova, Jehova”.
With Mr. High Raise well ahead of me, Dennis Moore got another airing. Bloody Lupins.
I made sure not to follow my navigation aid up his hill, and instead kept an eye out for the path to take me up Easy Gulley, the “easy” way up Pavey Ark. The path did its usual trick of wandering about all over the place – it wanted to drop down to the tarn before turning right and climbing up to the foot of the gulley. So I struck out across the boggy grassland and made my own path. I got a good view of the path up the hill and it looked far from easy. It looked steep as hell and rocky as anything.
My shortcut across the fell saved me some distance and a bit of height gain, but it also gave me a much better view of the path I was going to take. It looked like a much easier way up to Pavey Ark than say the route via Jacks Rake, but then that’s not saying much.
As I started to ascend, the route got steeper very quickly and I could feel the Achilles tendon in both my heels clicking and complaining as I gained height. There were a couple of guys ahead for me to aim for, but I made no advance on them. The views behind were awesome, and I had plenty of them as I stopped to rest and catch my breath. I could see a huge party of walkers far below me, climbing up to High Raise, taking it very slowly.
I made it to the top of Easy Gulley – which was shorter than I expected – and looked around for somewhere to rest for a few minutes and eat some lunch. I found the two guys who were ahead of me and they were also taking a break – they also thought it had been a hard climb.
I had some warm, frothy, Diet Coke, an apple and a flapjack I’d bought in the little shop in Patterdale, which was great – both the shop and the flapjack.
So far today I’d been dead lucky. I’d been walking in sunshine pretty much all day. All around me I could see rain clouds dumping their contents onto neighbouring fells and I got some very moody photos from my privileged spot in the sun. But now it was changing, the rain started falling as I packed away my lunch stuff and I took the opportunity to swap my shirt for my Paramo. The shirt was sodden – but I packed it away in the hope that I’d be able to use it again later.
Rather than follow the “baggers” path that runs from Pavey Ark to Harrison Stickle and then to Pike o’Stickle – the one that falls and climbs and wanders around the edge of the Langdales – I made my own path again, cutting across the open moor and heading for the rough track that runs across Martcrag Moor. I didn’t need the Wainwrights and I didn’t need the height gain. I did need the Memory Map app on my iPhone though – the mist started to swirl about me and I spent minutes with no visibility at all and then minutes with crystal clear views for miles. In the mist I navigated on the iPhone and in the clear sections I could navigate by sight. I soon reached the path.
The moor and indeed the path are wet at the best of times and today was one of those times. It was horrible and boggy for long sections and there seems to have been only a half-hearted attempt to place stones to help walkers. After a while, I came to the huge cairn that marks the top of Stake Pass and turned right, following the path down into the valley.
Even though the path is mostly pretty crap the valley is beautiful. The views open up significantly once you crest the top of the really steep section of path – you can see right down into Borrowdale. I saw a couple of figures far off down the path ahead, two targets to aim for, if my feet would hold out. The Inov-8s don’t protect your feet, not from the much improved stony path that soon develops as you descend further.
I met a guy repairing a section of path, he sounded Aussie (but was probably Kiwi I reasoned) and he was doing a great job. The bit he’d already done was excellent. Severe switchbacks making the descent almost easy, but the piece he was working on was a muddy nightmare. He showed me the best way down past the mud, and I regretted nor asking him how he got to work each morning. It was an hour or two from Stonethwaite and I can’t imagine he walks up and down every day. He wouldn’t be very productive if he had to do that.
There was a small garden shed lashed to the nearby hillside and I guess that’s where he shelters when things get bad, but it seemed a little too small to sleep in. There’s no way he’d get a quad bike up to this point. I pondered on this for ages.
I loved this section of the walk, it was brilliant. Langstrath as a valley is sublime and the path gets better and better as you descend. It’s still rocky and stony, but it’s clear and easy to follow. You don’t have to spend all the time watching your feet.
I finally caught my two targets on the approach to Smithymire Island, two old dears out for the day. I wasn’t especially proud of my achievement in running them down, but a target’s a target!
By taking my time down Langstrath I arrived in Stonethwaite at about 15:00, so I went to the Langstrath pub to get a drink and to book a table for the evening. It was a good job I did too, they were packed later and were turning diners away.
At 15:30 I knocked on the door of the B&B, just a few yards down from the pub. I had another double bed, but the first shared bathroom of the walk. It was a lovely place though, they seem to have updated the place a bit since I was last here; with Tex on a boys weekend 2 or 3 years previously.
There is no WiFi though and it was also the first room without a TV, which didn’t bother me particularly. However it seems that fewer rooms have no TV now than in years past. I remember doing the C2C in 2006 and several places had no TV in the rooms. The only issue would be the weather forecast on the morning, but as they’d been wrong all week, would it really matter? I thought not.
I returned to the pub and started writing the blog, in the hope that I may be able to post it. There was no signal in the valley, not on any network, but the pub did seem to have WiFi. I was provided with the password in exchange for a small contribution to the upkeep of the local school. It was rubbish though. I barely had any signal and the connection kept dropping and asking me to input the overly complex 16-digit password. I gave up after a while.
I overheard a guy asking at the bar for a table for the evening. The lady said she had nothing now until after 20:00. He said he was staying at Stonethwaite Farm and couldn’t she do anything earlier? The simple answer was no. I stepped up to the bar and suggested there was probably a spare seat at the table she had given me at 18:00 and would that be any use to him? He gratefully accepted and went off to get changed.
He came back about 17:45 and we sat and chatted. He was very inquisitive, but in a nice way – interested, not just nosey. His name was Bill and he was a semi-retired TV Executive Producer. He’d worked for ITV and C4 and others. I confessed to not knowing his name, but I will look out for it in future.
He also explained that he just written a book that was about to be released. It’s called “The Ghost Runner” by Bill Jones. It sounds fascinating – about an amateur athlete who had to compete in disguise and undercover after being banned for accepting money as a boxer many years earlier. It’s on Amazon, so give it a go.
Bill and I had a great chat, he was well travelled and told me about some of his experiences at Everest basecamp and other journeys. He couldn’t understand why I kept coming back to walk the same path when there are so many others out there to be walked. I tried to explain how the C2C can infect a person, but I don’t think I did a very good job.
He made a good point though, and although I will never say never, I think it will be a long time before I come back to this path. I’d love to walk it with my grandson, Harry, in a few years, when he’s old enough.
I left Bill at about 20:00, I stopped at the phone box beside the B&B and rang home. I had the added bonus of chatting to Harry who had spent the afternoon with my wife – he’d been allowed to stay up late until I’d called. He was very impressed I was walking up and down mountains.
I got back to the B&B and took an inventory of my feet and my boots. I’m feeling knackered at the moment, mostly my feet, which feel punished. They’ve been wet for five or six days running now and the little protection offered by the Inov-8s hasn’t helped the situation. This has been partly responsible for making me change my route tomorrow. Irrespective of what the weather is doing, I’m not doing the big route I planned. It’s too long and too high for the way I feel at the moment, so I’m going to walk the traditional route and try and take it easy. I don’t have all the maps for that, but I have the GPS and I’m pretty sure I could do the route without either in any case.
I had another early night, after watching “Resident Evil – Afterlife” on the laptop. That little luxury has been brilliant – entertainment in the evening and the perfect blogging platform when I do have a WiFi connection.