Post 29. Just a quick note of thanks and to wish all followers of my ‘The Secret Diaries of a Long-distance Walker’ a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Since August there have been well over 500 views across 25 countries and so I am very grateful for that and the very kind and complimentary messages I have received. So until the New Year I am going rest my blistered feet, have a drink or two, and contemplate future diary entries on my walks.
These will include, Magician’s Parties, Tattoo Parties, A Youth Hostel with Pews, The Nuts Barn, A Fella aged 169, Hearse Toll Charges of 6D, A Black Eye, The Dad’s Boxing Day Football Match which nearly ended Coast to Coast, Taking Baths Alfresco, Devising my Own Coast to Coast and getting it published, Insect Bites, Adders and the formation of the Walkers Ethic’s Committee.
If you have missed any of the Diaries and want to catch up, this holiday period is a good time to do so (I am sure you will have nothing better to do!).
Have a great 2016 and hope your life is as varied and exciting as mine is on walks!
Post 28: 1 April 1991 (April Fools Day): Day 4 – Grasmere Youth Hostel (Tarn How) to Patterdale Youth Hostel – 9 miles
Wainwright describes this walk as straightforward on a well defined path rising to a high pass and then descending a long valley.
However, the weather forecast was appalling, 70 mph gales, sleet, snow, rain and mist. Who were the April fools? Due to heavy rain, we delayed leaving Grasmere by going in all the outdoor shops, pretending to look at foul weather gear and review every blister kit known to man. Grasmere has a lot of outdoor shops and as the rain pelted down outside we were able to keep warm and dry for a good hour.
However, all good things must come to an end, we couldn’t put the day off any longer. Why is the rain in the Lake District different to anywhere else in England? Did Wordsworth, who lived in Grasmere, ever write any poems describing the rain? Rivers, mountains, valleys, and lakes he could eloquently portray, but I’m not sure about rain. As we climbed Tongue Gill, it was as though someone was throwing buckets of water at us from every angle. In addition, we were in a wind tunnel that could have been used to test Concorde. Arriving at Grisedale Tarn, there were waves on it.
I shouted to Archie, ‘It’s the North Sea,’ only to realise that such a statement was some 138 miles premature. I then made the quickest decision of my life as to whether to follow Wainwright’s high-level route over Helvellyn and Striding Edge. In one second I was striding not up Striding Edge, but down Grisedale Valley. I was to return to Striding Edge in 1995 on another long-distance walk, the week after someone had died there.
As we descended we met a mother and teenage son pushing mountain bikes, taking the joys of motherhood to its extremes.
‘It’s rough up there,’ I said trying to be helpful.
‘We know, people keep telling us,’ she replied, continuing to awkwardly push the bikes up and over the rocky, slippery path. The descent would have been interesting to watch.
Arriving at the dilapidated Ruthwaite Lodge, we huddled behind a broken wall for some shelter from the horizontal sleet. As we ate our sodden lunch, a young lad joined us dressed in one those cheap nylon waterproofs that do anything but keep you dry. If the water doesn’t get in from the outside, your sweat will soak you as it cannot escape. Neither did he have a hat, so that his hairstyle could only be described as ‘dripping’.
‘Going to Grasmere?’ I said trying to open a conversation.
‘No, I’m going over Striding Edge,’ he said confidently.
‘Did you know there is snow, ice and severe winds up there?’
‘No, I’ll see what it’s like a bit further on.’
Archie transformed himself into a raging bull and shouted, ‘Don’t be stupid you’ll kill yourself on Striding Edge.’
‘Yes, perhaps your right. I think I’ll give it a miss today.’
At which point, feeling we had done our mountain rescue bit for the day, we marched on down the valley to, ‘Singing in the rain’. What else could we do?
We arrived at the pub in Patterdale at 2.15pm, incorrectly assuming that the hostel would not open until 5.00pm; that was our excuse. Now Patterdale in those days was nothing like the scenes of debauchery and indulgence as portrayed in the TV series ‘The Lakes’. However, it was not for wanting of trying and, whilst drinking over five and a half pints of Guinness to give us energy, we were accosted by a group of Country Holiday Association walkers who, on entering the pub, immediately started stripping. Was this to be the equivalent of a Lake District ‘Full Monty’? We thought our luck was in until we realised everyone who entered the pub did the same, presumably because they were soaking wet from the rain outside. As we enjoyed the communal gathering of walkers, Coast to Coast was taking on a whole new raison d’être. It was here that we made an acquaintance with Clint and his sister, Wendy, both from Guernsey and doing coast to coast, and later to become my walking companions. Fortunately, the hostel was only a short stagger away and, arriving at 5.15pm without getting lost, I slept until dinner at 7.00pm, then slept again until 10.00pm, had a shower, then retired to bed again. Nothing to do with the copious amounts of Guinness drank of course. At 2.15am, I woke up with my big toe really sore realising it had either become infected or had Guinness poisoning. Assuming the former, by torchlight I pierced the blister eight times to ease the pressure. I then applied lashings of anti-septic cream, praying that the treatment would work. Otherwise Coast to Coast was at an end.
Post 27: 31 March 1991: Day 3 – Longthwaite Youth Hostel (Borrowdale) to Grasmere Youth Hostel (Tarn How) – 10 miles
It was with great relief that I awoke in the morning knowing that we only had 10 miles to walk today rather than the 17¾ miles to Patterdale that Wainwright recommends. After the previous two days exertions my legs and feet were aching, but we were able to have a slow start leaving the hostel at 10.30am; well it was a Sunday. Wainwright describes Borrowdale as the fairest of the Lake District valleys and I have to agree; unfortunately on this day it was covered in mist. However, with my new determination to master the skills of navigation we made good progress ascending alongside Stonethwaite Beck, up Greenup Gill, past Eagle Crag, then to the summit of the pass, Greenup Edge.
To find our way down to Far Easedale in the thick mist I had to use my compass and, to my surprise, we actually followed the correct route. As if to pat us on the back, the mist cleared, the sun came out and, on entering Grasmere, flowers bloomed. We sat outside the hostel waiting for it to open, bathing our battered feet in the sun.
Writing a postcard home I said, ‘This is a great experience, if I survive it!’
Top walker’s tip – report in regularly to your wife and family and play the sympathy card by letting them know how much you are suffering.
Post 26: Just then, a couple, having also followed Bill’s instructions, arrived. The young man was ‘miles away’, listening cheerfully to his walkman and oblivious to the fact he was lost. His girlfriend looked totally exhausted and fed up. I looked carefully at my Wainwright guide and realised that Will had missed a crucial segment of text out when quoting from the guide. He should have read: ‘Go past thehut but instead of turning down to the river contour the slope for half a mile to Loft Beck.’ It was so clear now. We had crossed the wrong river/beck and headed completely in the wrong direction. Bill had realised his mistake and had tried to whistle us to get our attention.
One of the walkers from the group already at the Black Sail Pass said he had walked from Borrowdale, would be going back the same way and we could join him. By skirting Kirk Fell we would be able to pick up the Moses Trod path, below Great Gable. I had visions of Moses’ being there, opening up his arms and making a corridor through the mist for us to follow; our deliverance from this misty confusion. The reality was somewhat different and involved some quite rough walking, including crossing the River Liza. Fortunately, I had some barley sugars (in later walks, dried apricots replaced them) to restore energy to aching limbs and gave them out to the small band of despairing and tired walkers. We looked up in the direction of Great Gable, hidden in the mist; it was ironic that, on the previous day, I had joked to Archie that we could always do a quick run up Great Gable. It now seemed a pretty poor joke. However, one of the characteristics of Archie is that he merges into his surroundings; with his head bowed and deathly silence he seemed to become part of the mist. I suspect, under his breath, he was saying what a stupid idiot I was for leading him up here to some 2,000 feet.
Moses Trod was originally a commercial route used by a quarryman, Moses Rigg, to transport his loads of slate by pony from Honister to Wasdale or Ravenglass. He also distilled his own brand of whisky from the bog water on Fleetwith and smuggled the whisky amongst the slate. I could have done with a stiff whisky there and then.
The young man with the walkman was more interested in the football results than his girlfriend’s exhausted state. I suspected their relationship would end either on the walk or soon after it. I think it is probably best not to take your girlfriend or for that matter wife on such long walks, which do ‘test’ friendships and relationships and could lead to arguments when tired.
Our ‘guide’ seemed more uncertain of the route than me but, after a never ending slog, some compass readings and disappointing football results, we arrived at the bottom of Grey Knotts, back on the Coast to Coast route. Then Bill appeared out of the mist on the correct route. We held our breath declining to say anything about their mistake. The foundations of Drum House of Honister Quarry were passed and then the ‘old tramway’ path led down to Honister Youth Hostel. At this point the young lad took off his walkman to at last speak to his girlfriend.
‘We could put up the tent and camp at the youth hostel for the night.’
I butted in. ‘Why don’t you stop in the hostel? You don’t want to have to put a tent up now. Your girlfriend looks exhausted. It’s quite cheap to stay in the hostel and you can get a warm meal and have a comfortable bed.’ For being so cruel he was verbally ‘savaged’ by Archie, his girlfriend and myself. We eventually persuaded him to check whether the hostel had any vacancies, but he clearly didn’t want to spend any money. His luck was in as there were no vacancies.
Archie and myself telephoned Longthwaite Youth Hostel, the next hostel, where we already had a booking and advised them we would be arriving late. Without more ado we carried on to the hostel, leaving the couple to sort out their relationship and a bed for the night.
After a muscle aching descent along the B5289 (we decided not to take the off-road path for fear of getting lost again), we arrived at the youth hostel at 6.30pm. A long day.
Theresa arrived at 7.00pm, but, in case I couldn’t control my temper, I avoided her like the plague. Talking to other walkers in the hostel we quickly discovered that other coast to coasters had ended up lost in the mist all over the Lake District, including in the next valley near Buttermere.
I vowed that day, never to listen to the advice of other walkers and instead improve my own map reading skills.
‘Today’s walk was a piece of cake?’ I joked, as Archie patched up innumerable blisters. He gave me a filthy look. My own feet were throbbing and I had two ‘hard-skin’ blisters on my toes, one of which I had to pierce in the middle of the night with my sewing needle, so easing the ‘pressure’.
Views from the alternative high level route over Haystacks, which would have been fabulous to follow in good weather. Here are photographs taken on better days.