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.
It really was April Fools day and I was the fool.