The Lakeland Round 1995
Author: George Tod
This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
|Part 7 - Skiddaw House to Ambleside|
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The previous evening I bought a bowl of muesli from the warden for 40p when I saw some of the others getting some. On this walk I have often eaten muesli at breakfast time instead of a fruit juice in order to stoke up with more calories for the day, so it was quite handy having it on sale here. My breakfast consisted of the muesli and a packet of bacon with some fruit malt loaf. After washing up my things I set out at 9.15 a.m. and headed down the track to Threlkeld, passing the group of campers on the way. When I first got up the hostel was in the cloud but by the time I set off it had lifted considerably and there were even a few bright patches. Now that the Bank Holiday was over, it was officially allowed to stop raining - or so I hoped!
Farther along the track, which became a lane, there were a couple of farmers, one in a 4WD vehicle and the other on foot, rounding up the sheep from the fells with the aid of dogs. The walk was easy and pleasant and was virtually all downhill for the first 4 miles. I had forgotten to buy a postcard in the hostel, so I was hoping to find one in Threlkeld but when I reached the Post Office and general store, it had been closed down. There seemed nowhere else in the village, unless there was something further up that I didn't go past - it was just as well that I had not been relying on buying food for the day.
From Threlkeld, it was not very clear from the map, which was the best route up to Clough Head, which is at the northern end of the ridge leading to Helvellyn. I opted for the Old Coach Road, but soon found that it was no longer much in evidence on the ground and I ended up walking across open moorland which was not difficult but did go across some fairly waterlogged ground. Having managed to get my boots fairly dry overnight, I was trying to keep them that way for as long as possible. The dry weather couldn't hold out for long and I had to put on my waterproofs at the start of the ascent when a sudden heavy shower of rain came my way. A little way further on I came across a much better track which came from near the quarry and followed that for a way until I had to turn off up to Clough Head. There was no proper path up to the summit, but it was quite easy to walk up the grassy slope, taking a zigzag route to make the ascent easier. A few hundred feet from the summit I entered the cloud, which had dropped considerably lower with the rain, but was now starting to lift again.
At the summit I stopped for something to eat using the triangulation column as shelter, whilst I hoped for the cloud to lift. After a while, with no sign of the cloud lifting, I decided to move on to the next peak. For the first time in the walk, I got out my compass to make sure I was going off in the right direction, as there was not much evidence of a footpath. The ridge walking was quite easy with very few steep climbs - these are mainly rolling, round-topped fells with a grassy covering and gentle slopes between them, albeit somewhat boggy in places after all the rain.
The next peak was Calfhow Pike and I was rewarded with a parting of the clouds and a view of the northern end of Thirlmere. As I made by way along from peak to peak, generally gaining height as I went along, the cloud tended to lift with me so that I was able to do quite a lot of the walk below cloud level. Apart from the occasional heavy shower, the weather was quite reasonable. Even on the ascent to Helvellyn, which had been covered in cloud all the way, I had some views as the cloud lifted for a while from Lower Man. At the summit itself I sat for a while hoping for the cloud to lift but getting rather cold in the wind. Just as I was about to set off down, there was a brief, clear view down to Ullswater. Some of these views that appear through the clouds are made much more spectacular by the suddenness with which they unveil themselves.
An icy blast of wind soon convinced me that it was time to depart and make my way along Swirral Edge to Catstye Cam, that very distinctive conical peak. Swirral Edge is similar to the more famous Striding Edge but with not such steep slopes on either side. There is a similar, rather steep scramble down the craggy slope to the edge itself and I got caught up with a school party on my way down. At a convenient point I managed to pass them and made my way along the reasonably easy ridge path and then up a short ascent to the summit itself. The path down was quite steep but with good footholds most of the way, except for a section near the bottom where there were loose stones which had to be negotiated with a little more care.
At the bottom was a disused dam with a hole in it, which was presumably used to supply the mines further down the valley. A walk along the top of the dam avoided dropping right to the bottom of the valley and led to a good track, which descended gradually to the youth hostel. The hostel was very pleasant and there were no problems when I explained about my missing membership card. The warden offered to telephone Longthwaite for me but I said that it was just about to expire so it didn't really matter about getting it back. As Patterdale hostel was full up with school parties, there were quite a number of Coast to Coast walkers who had had to divert to this hostel, adding a couple of miles each way. Again, I bumped into some people I had met before - an Australian couple who had been in the Black Sail Hut.
The hostel had a good drying room with a mangle to help get things dry. I didn't have many things to wash, but it was still useful to rinse out my walking T-shirt and walking socks, which dried out nicely overnight.
Dinner was soup, beef cobbler and jam doughnut with custard, which was all quite good. Afterwards I walked down the lane to the pub on the way into Glenridding where I had a couple of pints of Castle Eden at £1.70 a pint - the most expensive of the whole trip, and not very good into the bargain. There were a couple of Coast to Coast chaps I had met in the hostel, so I sat outside with them for a while. Most of the conversation around and about was of the Coast to Coast walk as the majority of the walkers reach here on a Tuesday after starting on a Saturday. I returned the mile or so up to the hostel with 400 ft of ascent while it was still light, and went to bed.
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I certainly had a much better night's sleep than last night with no rude awakenings. As I went down to breakfast I kept wondering why the meals always seemed to be rather late until I discovered that my watch had gained ten minutes. I managed a reasonably early start at just before 9 a.m. The weather looked a bit more settled but was still overcast.
The first few miles of the walk were easy, consisting of a gentle stroll down to Patterdale followed by a walk along the hillside overlooking the valley until the moderate ascent to Hayes Water where I stopped at 11.20 a.m. for a snack. Another moderate ascent brought me up to join the Coast to Coast path for a short way up to The Knott and then I parted company with it to head for High Street. It is very easy walking along this ridge as it is very broad and relatively flat, but offers very good views from the edge down into Riggindale. Looking back, I could see a large number of Coast to Coast walkers around the summit of Kidsty Pike. I kept looking across there and in the skies around but there was no sign of the golden eagles, which are reputed to be there. At Thornthwaite Crag with its large stone beacon, I stopped to finish off all my remaining food for lunch. There was a very clear view down to the coast at Morecambe Bay where I could again clearly see Heysham Power Station. I overheard someone nearby say that they could see Blackpool Tower through their binoculars, so I got out mine and was just able to discern it.
I now had to make a decision as to which route to take. I could stick to the route in the book and take the ridge via Ill Bell into Troutbeck, which should be the end of the day's walk. However, as I had started at Ambleside I would then have another 1000 ft of ascent and 4 miles of walking over Wansfell Pike to get back to my car. The alternative was to take a short cut by going across to Stony Cove Pike and then dropping down from there onto Wansfell Pike without losing as much height. As I had made good time, I decided I may as well go the whole hog so that I would not have to say "I did the Lakeland Round - except for..." instead I could say "I did the Lakeland Round plus...". The full route was only about a mile further but would involve nearly a thousand feet of extra ascent, but then it was the last day of the walk and I would not have to worry about being tired the next day.
As I walked along the ridge over Froswick, Ill Bell and Yoke, there were a few spots of rain but not enough to need waterproofs. The view of Kentmere Reservoir was not enhanced by the fact that it had been drained bone dry, presumably for some maintenance work. I stopped for a little rest at 3.30 p.m. overlooking Troutbeck and Wansfell Pike. I was not looking forward to that last 1000 ft climb as I was already quite tired, but when I actually started off up the lane and then up the well made path which went to the summit I found it quite easy as there was no steep climbing involved. I reached the summit at 4.45 p.m. with a fine view of Lake Windermere before me, and Ambleside nestled down below. The descent was much steeper and the path was temporarily diverted part of the way due to repairs. This is one of the many areas owned by the National Trust who are currently doing a tremendous amount of work in building and repairing pathways on the more eroded routes across their land. Already some of the nasty scars on the more popular steep scrambles, such as that on the path up Red Pike from Buttermere, have become less visible following the construction of proper path.
I finally reached Ambleside Youth Hostel and my car at 5.35 p.m. with an element of relief. On most of the walks I have done so far, the end of the walk is approached with a tinge of disappointment that the walk has come to an end, but in this case I was actually quite glad that it had finished. I put this down to the rather demanding schedule of daily climbing and the rather poor weather towards the end of the walk. In general, I had coped well with the exertions of the walk and there were only a few times when I felt rather run down and lacking in energy. Even when this occurred, I had generally felt better as I got into my stride, but I think there was a cumulative effect that made it a relief to come to the end. In every other way, I had managed very well. In particular, my new 'Line 7' boots proved very comfortable, giving me no problems with blisters or soreness on the balls of my feet - I could just put them on in the morning and forget about my feet until I took them off in the evening. Even when I walked at a very brisk pace, my feet were still comfortable with none of my previous problems of painful rubbing on my ankles. I do not think I will ever buy any conventional leather boots again as I have not found one way in which they are better than these synthetic ones with a Gore-Tex lining.
After a Quick change of clothing in the car, I made my way home, calling for fish and chips in Kendal on the way and arriving back home to a nice welcome, a drink and a long relaxing soak in the bath.
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The first reaction from Jean, on reading the draft of this write-up, was that it was rather negative. This may well be a fair comment, but it was taken largely from the notes I made at the time and, therefore, reflects my true feelings at the time rather than having a rosier gloss added later. My feelings on walking have always been that the biggest factors affecting my enjoyment or otherwise, are the weather and the visibility. A bright sunny day with clear views rapidly smoothes away any aches and pains or tiredness and the walk becomes enjoyable, whereas rain, mist, cold and poor visibility all combine to dampen the spirits, even if one is otherwise feeling quite fit and well. On this walk, particularly towards the end, I had rather poor weather and this obviously influenced my feelings at the time. One of the things being that, on some days it was too cold to stop walking for any length of time. I could, therefore, only pause for long enough to have a quick bite to eat and a drink before having to press on in order to generate a bit of warmth. All this tends to reduce the enjoyment of the walk, but is one of the things that has to be expected on the high fells. It is true that there were one or two days when I felt rather weary, but then I have felt the same way, or even more so, at times on most of my other long walks. In fact, on this walk, I felt very fit for most of the time and didn't suffer much discomfort from my feet into the bargain.
The total distance of the walk, including all the diversions and detours that I took, was about 166 miles as opposed to the 125 miles in the book, an average of just under 14 miles a day. The total ascent was over 48,000 ft, an average of 4000 ft a day, which was quite wearing, especially when carrying a full pack most of the time. I was quite fit when I started the walk, so I was able to cope without too much difficulty but it was still sometimes rather daunting to face all that climbing every day.
Although I had a fair amount of poor weather, it could have been far worse. Much of the walk was over fells of 2500 to 3000 ft high and more, yet there were very few from which I didn't get at least a moderate view. Some of the disappointment was, knowing what spectacular views could be seen on a good day from much of the walk, seeing these views in less than ideal conditions. I am not particularly worried about a few showers of rain, even heavy ones, as often these are followed by good clear weather, but prolonged rain with poor visibility, or even fine weather which is dull and hazy lead to disappointment. This disappointment stems particularly from the fact that I like to take colour slides of the scenery along the route of the walk and these are always so much better in bright, clear weather. On this walk, I did manage to get quite a number of good photographs, but there were a number of days when the resulting photographs were rather lacklustre. This was not helped by the fact that my second film, which had a lot of shots taken in rather hazy conditions, suffered a fault in the processing by Kodak, which resulted in further loss of contrast. They sent two free films as compensation, but this doesn't really compensate for all the time and effort which went into taking the photographs in the first place. However, there is no use crying over spilt milk and at least they were not completely ruined, which would have been far worse.
I have mixed feelings on the Lakeland Round as a walk. As its name suggests, it is aimed at walking round a large part of the Lake District and, in doing so, it encompasses many of the classic Lakeland walks and a large number of spectacular viewpoints. There is no doubt in my mind that the Lake District has some of the finest scenery in England and this walk left me with the impression that I had thoroughly explored the majority of it. I had seen nearly every mountain, fell, lake and tarn from almost every angle, as well as having climbed most of the fells into the bargain. In this respect, it was very comprehensive and rewarding. There are, however, one or two drawbacks in such an intensive walk in one particular region. No matter how beautiful the scenery on a walk lasting more than a few days, it is always pleasant to have some change and variety. Most of this walk is in and around the rugged, high fells and there are several loops along parallel ridges of fells from which the same groups of mountains are visible, leading sometimes to a slight feeling of deja vu. In actual fact the Lake District covers a relatively small area, particularly when one only considers the area covered by high fells, which this walk encompasses, so there tends to be a feeling that there is a little too much concentration in a small area. The other thing about a walk, which does a lot of zigzagging and looping, is that there is little impression of making progress along the route. Sometimes three days of walking brings you back to within a few miles of where you started from, and this tends to make the whole walk seem like a collection of interconnected shorter walks, some of which could be done in a day and some in two or three days. Having done a number of long distance walks before, I do not particularly worry about the amount of progress along the route, and just take each day as it comes, but to someone embarking on this as his or her first long walk, it could be a little demoralising. In fact, many people may find it convenient to split this up into a series of day and weekend walks. It would not present too many problems as far as transport is concerned on the sections that loop back on themselves. However, a few sections would have to be done as end-to-end walks. My overall impression, apart from the feeling that I had well and truly 'done' the Lake District, is that the best long distance walks include as wide a variety of scenery as possible. They should follow a route that covers a fair number of linear miles, even if the route does eventually loop back to the starting point. In this respect there is little to compare with the Pennine Way. Although it does not pass through such spectacular scenery as that of the Lake District, it does have a great deal of variety and there is a feeling of having covered a long distance, both as the crow flies as well as in actual walking distance.
One thing that was good on this walk was the fact that I managed to spend every night in a youth hostel. For the lone walker, hostels provide a very hospitable and sociable atmosphere and there are some very good ones to be found in the Lake District. I stayed in a variety of hostels from the very large cosmopolitan hostel at Ambleside to the remote retreats of Black Sail Hut and Skiddaw House, and met a lot of friendly people, a number of whom I bumped into at other hostels along the way. The hostel food was generally wholesome and good and in some cases was of a standard over and above that which one would normally expect for the very modest prices.
As far as after effects of the walk were concerned, I had very few. On the evening that I arrived back home, I was rather tired, but this was more from that day's efforts than from the cumulative effect of the whole walk. I lost three of four pounds during the walk, which is what I have grown to expect, although I will no doubt put that back on again over the winter months. The day after I had finished the walk I felt quite fit and well, although not so full of energy as I might have been and this continued for the next two or three weeks until all effects of the walk had worn off. It seems that each long walk I do leaves me with less after effects than the previous one, presumably because of an increased level of fitness. I certainly have not, at the age of fifty, started to feel any reduction in my walking ability due to age. Judging by some of the very fit people I have meet in their sixties and more, I hope to be able to enjoy a lot more walking in the years ahead.
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