tour of the lake district

 
The Lake District is one of Britains crown jewels when it comes to stunning landscapes and adventure opportunities. It was a Jewel that for me at least was a rarely seen one. So on the 18th January 2018 I set off to complete a 93 mile loop of the lakes along with four buddies from work.

Rudy, Ben, Nick, Callum and I finished work at 9 am in Berkshire and set off with Windermere as our starting point. That Thursday afternoon around 3pm we began our mammoth undertaking. We needed to be back at work for 9am on the Monday which set a gruelling schedule, but one that we believed was feasible…

It was to be a long day. A wake up call to how difficult this would be. The aim was to complete 11.5 miles, aiming for the village of Elterwater. Navigation was easy using the book written about the loop and we were soon sipping from the hip flask, toasting the great outdoors, the views and sense of freedom that came over us. We took in farms, crossed fields and climbed small hills. The countryside was beautiful and it wasn’t anywhere near as cold as we had predicted and we busied ourselves with snaps of each other and the landscape we were to make our home over the next three and a half days. We had noted that there was woodland either side of the village so figured that we could easily find a place to camp for the night. We eventually reached Elterwater at 9pm and regrouped over a pint of Stout in the The Britannia Inn, warming our cockles.

The decision to plough on was made in the hopes of finding a camping spot.. Navigation was of course much tougher with only our head torches to light the way, as it had been since not long after 5 at this time of year! Snow covered the ground and we soon found ourselves traipsing around a boggy sheep shite infested field becoming progressively tired and lost. We traced our footsteps back to the path and ploughed on. The decision was soon made to pitch our two tents the other side of a hedge in a field that while snow covered was at least flat.
I was, if I'm honest slightly uncomfortable with this as it was clearly a farmers field but it was by now 11pm and we were tired! The aim was to be up early and gone before anyone noticed anyway so we boiled water in our stoves and heated our dinners. The night was to be a long one with three of us in a two man tent! It was very cosy with the man in the middle – Nick for this night – the opposite way round to Rudy and I. I snored. We had our heads downhill and Nick probably had his head kicked several times in what he described as one of the worst nights of his life. Smashing.

Morning came and alarms failed to wake us up. We were later than planned and had just finished packing up when a farmer arrived on a quad bike. We were incredibly apologetic and explained why we had camped there, citing the late hour we had arrived and preaching long days and tired bodies. He wasn’t happy and I really sympathised with him. He was just about to leave and in a ridiculously thick accent asked “You shite under a rock?”
Bemused looks ensued between the five of us. “Sorry, what?” One of asked. “You shite under one of my rocks?” he asked again, deadly serious.
“No, I can assure you nothing of the sort happened here” Ben replied sincerely. The farmer grimaced and turned to leave… but not before he checked under a nearby stone for a sign of southern nuggets! Bizzarre!

Day two was always going to be a huge task, even with the extra mile and half the night before, we still needed to cover a huge 30 miles. The final destination for the night was a cabin out on Black Sail pass which was the most remote part of the planned walk. I can tell you now that we never made it that far. The first few miles were easy and we made fairly good progress passing through quaint farms and slate mines, arriving in Coniston for a coffee and some emergency waterproof socks for Rudy. This was before we hit The Old Man Of Coniston. The snow became ever deeper and the wind picked up. It wasn’t long before heads were facing down through the effort of trudging coupled with the need to shield our faces from the blizzard. We climbed to the height of just shy of 800 metres where the beautiful landscape opened up and the energy returned to the group, elated to have conquered our first real challenge and be rewarded with the view.

From here we wound our way through Dunnerdale, over quaint bridges, boggy fields and through Lonnins (which at the time we thought was a ‘walled path through fields’ but actually just means ‘lane’). From here it started to go a bit pear shaped. The book we were following led us on what seemed to be a pointless loop alongside a beck. From there the route became a bit ‘hazy’ which is to say that we made a couple of errors in navigation! Instead of admitting our error we decided to go for the jugular as it were and head straight across what turned out to be a bog. A massive bog. It was very slow and demoralising going and the light was soon to fade making navigation very difficult! After what seemed a lifetime we emerged from the bog but still we toiled with our route, unable to recognise anything that was described in the book. Eventually we came across a road. It was the correct road but we’d come out onto it about two miles away from where we should have and yep, you guessed it, two miles the wrong way.
Off we trudged with our feet properly soaked, the waterproof socks unable to cope with the never ending bog we’d been through. But soon we had arrived at the Woolpack Inn in Eksdale where we were greeted by a log burner, sport on TV, excellent stout, home-made pizza and a barkeep who hailed from Berkshire! We dried our shoes and socks on and around the log burner, taking over the corner of this remote pub. Our socks sizzled like fresh steaks on a burning hot griddle. The smell was not quite as enticing. 

We knew we had to drag ourselves away from this oasis and flick the head torches back on and continue our jaunt. By this time it was clear that Black Sail pass was out of the question and so we had identified a camping barn some 9 miles from where we were. Ideal.



 






 
Upon finding said barn spirits rose and there was even some whoops of joy… that were to be short lived. The old miserable barn keeper refused to let us in. “Closed” he repeatedly stated. Despite mine and Ben’s greatest polite efforts the old man was having none of it. We broke the news to our waiting friends. You could literally see the energy drain from their bodies.. We we so close to resting up for the night! Never mind we announced, we can merely follow the road for a few more miles (like, five!) and there we will find a Youth Hostel!
YAY.
Wasdale hall was a grand affair overlooking the vast lake sat at the bottom of some
impressive fells. The lights were on. There were cars. This was it boys! Ben arrived just before me and as I approached the door he was knocking on he glumly pointed at a sign; Fully booked for a private function. Son of a …
We managed to grab the attention of someone washing up who came to the heavy wooden door. She informed us that yes they had booked the venue but she was sure they would let us in. While we waited for the YHA employee the kind lady explained that they were a group who were due to hike to Machu Picchu and they were doing some practice in the Lake District.
Our man arrived and to the backdrop of merry chatter and clinking glasses we were told that No, he couldn’t possibly let us in. I felt a huge sense of disappointment, not in that fact that I was facing another night in the cramped tent, but his stubbornness next to the sign that read “where young people, regardless of race or creed, may spend the night”. Maybe it’s because I'm not young any more…
Eventually a different employee showed his face and pointed out a wooded area that we could probably pitch our tents. In the end it was a fine spot under some trees that looked down the lake. Not bad really, even if it was my turn to be the filling in our cramped tent.
The next day we had made the decision that 93 miles was never going to happen and chose to omit Keswick and Patterdale from our loop, instead heading for Buttermere and cutting across to Rosthwaite, then Grasmere and down to Windermere. Happy with our decision we headed off alongside Wasdale lake on a beautiful crisp morning. The going was easy despite some now sore feet. We traipsed into Wasdale head where some of us had been mere months ago before our ascent of Scafell Pike. The pub wasn’t open but the kind landlady opened up a room for us and supplied coffee and toast and most importantly the toilet! By this time Callum was really struggling with his eye. Not long ago he’d scratched his eyeball on a tree and now for some reason it had flared up again.

He was in obvious discomfort and the reflection of the sunlight off the snow was making it much worse. He refused to give up however and as a group we headed for Black Sail pass.
The snow was knee deep which made the going slow and exhausting. When you have to lift your knee near to your chest for each step and then the purchase your boot makes looses 50% of its its traction, the task is very demanding. But with the spirit we had in the group we pushed on, each fighting their demons but all excited to see the summit. And what a reward it was! We had lucked out in a big way. The sun was burning bright in a cloudless sky, the wind that had been so prevalent on The Old Man of Coniston was nowhere to be seen. We were the only people up there, basking in our triumph and soaking up the breathtaking view. We could literally have been anywhere in the world… a snow covered world that is! You could almost sense the wonder in Callum who had never really seen proper snow. Not snow like this. I for one felt a great sense of freedom up there. Miles from civilisation yet we were still in England. You don’t have to go far to soak up the wonder that is mother nature. Far below, down some 600 metres lay the Black Sail lodge that we had been aiming for the night before. We were glad in so many ways that we hadn’t pushed for this overnight. There would have been no view and I have no doubt that there would have been some real danger. The descent was a mixture of fun and apprehension. The footing was steep and slippery with the thick powdery snow hiding the rocks and boulders below.
The lodge itself was a quaint little building nestled in a wonderful spot. It was, as we had expected though, locked. Never the less we cracked out the stove and started to make a brew. To our amazement a fell runner came steaming down the route we had just taken. He paused to chat to us before setting off on the rest of his 40k run. Nuts. He was quickly followed by a mountain biker who parked his bike up and stood by the front door. “Hiya mate” we greeted him. “don’t suppose you have a key for this place do you?”
“I do actually” he replied to five incredulous faces.
“You actually have a key?!”
“Yeah, right here. We’ve booked this out for a private function. Its’ my mates birthday”
Holy cow. He let us in so we could enjoy our coffees in the warm which was fabulous even if it meant we had to motivate ourselves once more to leave a cosy and warm setting.
From the lodge it was relatively simple going and we dropped down to the bottom of Buttermere lake. The plan had been to head to Buttermere itself as the book had described but that actually sent us the wrong way so we took the road over Peggys bridge and headed up the valley. It was a long and winding road that became a 25% gradient in places. This had clearly been very treacherous during the snowfall with signs indicating that the road had been closed, a lone battered car sat on one side that had clearly had an altercation with a ditch and a wall.
Daylight failed us upon reaching the top where there was a slate factory come adventure camp. The road wound its way back down to the lights of a village, the 20% gradient grinding the blisters on our battered toes. But we sensed the end of the day was near and we plugged on. The village we had in mind was called Rosthwaite which upon our arrival boasted a hotel and a seemingly closed hotel. Shite. We stopped a dog walker who said the pub was actually behind the hotel and that there was in fact a camping barn about half a mile away!

Merrily we headed to the pub, safe in the knowledge that they could pass us the details of the barn and we could fill our sugar filled stomachs with some proper grub. And a pint of stout or two.
Unbelievable. Literally unbelievable. The camping barn was fully booked for a Private function!! AGAIN! Spirits nosed dived. We desperately searched for an alternative while we blessedly had some form of signal on our phones. The only option was a Youth Hostel back the way we had come. A phone call was made. They had four beds. There were five of us. We headed there anyway.
The YHA was an impressive affair really but much could be said about their pricing! A bed was £25, fair enough I guess, but Ben and I decided to finish the trip by camping out and we were charged £15 PER PERSON for this privilege. We vowed to return one day with a marquee.
Nick ate the hostel out of chocolate and sweets while we reminisced about the last few days over some beers. We were once again in good spirits and were looking forward to bashing out the last 16 miles. We’d had such an amazing day, tomorrow could only be the same right?

No, it wasn’t. It had been the coldest night in the last two years and the zip had frozen on our tent! We met in the YHA cafe and busied ourselves with breakfast, admin and blister popping/treatment. I had blisters on my little toes, with Callum, Nick and Ben having their own to treat but Rudy took the award for the most impressive. His ankle, just like Nicks had more or less given up the ghost in terms of any real flexion which obviously hindered their ability to walk but also meant he couldn't reach to pop the blister on the sole of his foot! Ben gleefully took on the task much to the delight this camera man and I have no doubt the disgust of our fellow breakfast goers!
Patched up and limping we set off. The biggest problems we faced were the weather which was wet and closing in and Callums health. The poor bastard had been up all night being rather ill and was totally drained. I mean he looked broken, but he refused to be beaten. He got his head down and went for it. He didn’t complain, as nobody had throughout when shortcuts didn’t pan out, just merely got on with the task at hand.
The aim was to follow the river and then ascend through the pass, climbing two 600 metre crags down to Grasmere and then follow the main road down to Windermere. 16 miles. Easy.
The wind was biting and drove the rain and sleet into our battered bodies. As we followed the river. The pass itself looked more and more daunting the closer we became. Huddles were formed and discussions were had. It was at this point that Ben and I had a conflab. I think we both knew the outcome but we were also desperate to finish this the right way as was the whole group. Ben, being ex army and having much more experience in this area than me, was the lead on this really and I fully agreed and backed him when we decided that the pass was too dangerous.

The weather was atrocious and we were off the path of the guide book so navigation was down to us. The visibility was dreadful and would have been shocking up on the pass so we made the call and back tracked to the village and the pub from the previous night.
Nobody was happy with this but respected the decision. If Ben wasnt’t happy, then we certainly weren’t happy to give it ago. Sometimes you have to know when to choose a different path.
We managed to get a taxi to Grasmere which was an ordeal in itself with the main road blocked by a double decker that had gotten stuck on a hill. We disembarked the cab in an effort to push cars past the stricken bus. In the end some arm waiving and vocal encouragement was enough to get people moving.
From here it was basically a miserable trudge alongside the A590 all the way down to Windermere. It was a slog alright and in many ways a pretty shite way to end the awesome trip we’d had. We all battled through with various injuries and pains, non more so than Callum who battled on like the animal that he is. Our hearts went out to him, watching an ill and broken man find something deep inside him to push on. We finally all made it back to Windermere Fire Station and the mini bus. The blessed mini bus. We were as a group shattered and broken. What a feeling though. We hadn’t done the 93 miles we had intended but had completed 70 miles in three and a half days, ascending 12 thousand feet in January, in the snow and had camped. We were elated and rightly proud of the accomplishment.

We all had our reasons to be there and I think some overcame barriers they thought they had. Some proved they still ‘had it’. That ability to push on when your body screams at you to stop. Whatever the reason for being there, we’d had an amazing time and created memories that will last a very long time. Now, where did I put that rock…?