Tuesday, 27 May 2008


The Lake District is most unfortunately named. It immediately makes me think of sailing and canoing and so I had never really considered the mountains (or are they just hills?). Roo wanted to climb Scafell Pike as part of her training for Kilimanjiro, so we spent this weekend in Borrowdale. We couldn’t have asked for better weather – driving across the Penines, the sun beat down on the car and the sky was perfectly blue.

We made good time and got to Borrowdale by about 8pm. Typically, the campsite that we had chosen was at the other end of the dale (through the most beautiful pass), so we trundled past lots of half empty campsites until we got to Buttermere and discovered that everyone else had had the same idea! Fortunately, the campsite’s owner’s father allowed us to camp in his adjoining field, so we had the advantage of flatter land, being able to stick the car next to the tent (rather than carrying all our stuff over a little stream into a rocky, but picturesque pasture), and still being close to the wonderfully clean amenities. We heated up some chilli and at 11pm gave up on Mikey and Roo ever arriving and went to bed.

Curious chickens in the campsite

Next morning the sun was still shining brightly, and although the wind was pretty strong (it’s lumpy gusts had woken us both up in the night), it was beautifully warm – sandals and t-shirts warm! We decided to make the most of the early morning quiet and see if we could find Mikey and Roo and so broke the silence by driving back over the pass too look in the other campsites. With the sun rising slowly over the mountains, the sides of the Honnister Pass were glowing and we took great pleasure in a landscape so big that any photo we took was not going to do it any justice!

Three campsites later (a good opportunity to check out the competition – ours is definitely the best – more space, less stereo equipment, fewer DofE groups, more walks straight from the site), we found Mikey and Roo thinking about breakfast. We enticed them back over the pass to Buttermere and had another pleasant drive through the scenery.

After a hearty porridge breakfast we set off on a bimble. We still weren’t sure how far/fast/high a pregnant person could walk, so we decided on something gentle up the Rannerdale Knotts. The path went straight out of our campsite, along a wood lined stream gorge and then up onto the grassy fells. It was lovely – we saw pretty much no-one, there were terrific views back across Buttermere and Crummock Water and I discovered that as long as I paced myself, I was still pretty fit! The route took us down into Rannerdale, which was full of bluebells and trees in blossom and then up the Knotts themselves. We weren’t always exactly sure of the optimum route – its all open access so there were lots of paths, and we probably didn’t go the most direct way, but even at only 355m, the top was well worth the effort. The view was great, over the lakes to the Haystacks (Wainwrights favourite fell) and eventually to the hazy blue smudge of Great Gable (we think!). It was a really pleasant way to gently see the non-lake assets of the Lake District.


The view towards Crummock Water

After an afternoon sit in the campsite we wandered down to Buttermere itself, met lots of dog walkers and found a geocache. We’d have looked for more, but I had left the instructions in the tent, and having had to spend quite a while rummaging under rocks with the GPS helpfully always pointing in a slightly different direction, it seemed better to head directly for supper.

The next morning looked like it was going to collapse in on us – heavy clouds were starting to appear over Buttermere Moss, but by the time we had eaten breakfast and waved goodbye to Mikey and Roo who were off to Derwent Water (strange people!), it hadn’t rained, and so we set off to the Haystacks in good spirits. We weren’t quite sure whether we were actually going to get there – my stomach muscles were aching a bit (either from walking up hills or sleeping funny), and we weren’t sure whether 8 miles up a big hill was going to hurt. But fortunately all aches died away as we set off up the path into Warnscale Bottom and left behind a caravan of picnicers, dog walkers and over-dressed bimblers!

The path started very gently, and for a while I was disappointed that we hadn’t set off up the steep edge of Fleetwith Pike – the same direction, but climbing 550m in less than a kilometre up a ridge shooting out of the end of Buttermere. Nevertheless, the scenery was worth the route we took and soon we were gently climbing up alongside a stream and admiring all the random bits of rock. As we neared the top, the number of people increased exponentially until there was no point at which we weren’t in sight of a big crowd. The Fleetwith fell wasn’t as I expected at all. Despite looking at the map, I still somehow expected to be on a ridge with a dale on either side. Actually we were on a flattish plateau broken by giant bits of rock (the sort that are 50m tall and wide), marshy tarns and criss-crossed by pebbley paths. One edge was the drop into Buttermere, the other was a smudge of rocks of increasing size and then Great Gable and Kirk Fell rising up into the sky. We had to resist the temptation to totally replan the whole route to try and take in (far too) distant hills!

Innominate Tarn

The wind was incredible – I have never been blown off my feet before, but up here there was more than one occasion when I had to take several unsteady stumbles until I sat down on a rock or was grabbed by Ian. Good thing that the wind was blowing us away from the edge! It wasn’t exactly cold, but the wind chill definitely stopped us feeling like we were taking a summer stroll! You could hear it rushing up the side of the fell – it sounded like the roar of waves at Polzeath. We nestled down in a crevice between boulders and watched squalls career over Innominate Tarn. There were white horses across the whole of the tarn and every so often there’d be constructive interference between the waves and spray would soar up from the far bank.

We clambered up to the trig point on the Haystacks and started to descend the other side. Time was getting on, now that it was a case of scrambling rather than walking, and so we gave up our hope of walking along the ridge alongside the lake, over High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike before descending to the campsite. Suddenly the paths disappeared and we found ourselves having to spend some time peering over rocks to see whether we were on target for meeting the track at the top of Scarth Gap. We got glimpses of people who had been on the same path as us, sometimes far in front of us, sometimes behind (had they stopped to eat?). Sometimes there was a made path which totally disappeared as we clambered over sheer rock faces, only to appear in the distance several tens of meters from where we had come out. When we got to the track and looked back up, it all looked so simple. I can only assume that the well used routes are more obvious in that direction!

The walk back down to the lake’s edge was rather boring in comparison, and slower than we had imagined as what looked like a well made path actually had quite a few sections of biggish rocks to jump over/round. Back along the lake to the campsite and then to the pub for supper. We were too late for The Bridge – there was no-where left to sit by 6pm! But we had a very passable bar meal and pint of Lakeland ale at The Fish and were pleased we had got there when we did because a giant queue had formed for both the bar and tables by the time we left.

We had a relaxing evening watching people come and go around the campsite, and appreciated the wisdom of our tent. It was very civilised being able to sit inside it and keep out of the gusty wind while still being able to look straight out and feel like we were still outside. The wind was still very odd – there were times when the air was totally still, and then you would hear the gust start, several fields away. Slowly it would build and then the trees around us thrashed loudly for a few minutes. Then it would die away to nothing again.

On Monday morning we packed up in the sun and enjoyed the drive back to York in plenty of time to have a sit and eat some cake before Ian’s gig in the evening.

No comments: