Post 43: The route took us through fields and farmyards, then, at Higher Lath Farm, we went slightly wrong where the fold of my map was over some buildings, which I should have been looking for. This was the opportunity for Alf to give me some stick, which seems to be a favourite pastime of my walking companions. In their minds 200 yards off-route becomes 20 miles and I seem to get the full force of their frustration. However, it certainly leads to increased concentration in finding the correct route.
We arrived at Beacon Tarn, which provided an excuse for a refreshment stop. A family consisting of Grandad, Grandma, Mom, toddler son, and Dad were progressing towards us, up to their ankles in mud. Dad was the only one carrying a pack and it was huge. They stopped at the tarn and I couldn’t help but contemplate the difficulties when walking with toddlers. I was pleased that my children had passed this stage so that I could now stroll out independently and fast. However, I never regretted the short walks I had experienced in the past with my own children, but it is good to move onto another phase in life.
Our next stop was on the edge of Coniston Water, next to a dead sheep, which we only noticed when I started to take some photographs. The views along Coniston were impressive and it was possible to imagine (Sir) Malcolm Campbell setting the world record of 141.74 mph in his powerboat Bluebird, some 138 mph faster than we were walking. Between 1956-59 Donald Campbell broke the record five times (the last time reaching 276.33 mph). On 4 January 1967, however, he was killed on the lake when trying to raise the world record to 300 mph. His body was never recovered.
Despite our low speeds and the relatively flat terrain, Gary managed to slip over at least twice. On inspection, the soles of his boots had no tread on them and it was clear he would fail an MOT. I had warned him on numerous occasions of the dangers of not having decent treads on his boots but, as ever, he took no notice. He tried his hardest to break a leg at 3 mph, heaven knows what he would be like in a boat at 300 mph.
After some pleasant woodland walking, along the waters edge, we arrived at Coniston Hall, a late 16th-century manor house, which has several chimneys that are built so large the owner must have had a fixation on Father Christmas.
29 March 1992: Day 2 – Coniston Youth Hostel to LongthwaiteYouth Hostel – 19 miles
On paper this was always going to be a tough day and one option, not accepted due to Gary’s tight schedule, would have been to split the day at Elterwater Youth Hostel.
We left Coniston Youth Hostel at 9.00am, just as the bright sunny morning turned to rain. For some reason, Gary and Alf had not brought their gaiters, which was a little surprising as they are designed for the type of muddy and wet terrain we were due to walk through that day. The climb to Tarn Hows was harder than anticipated, possibly because the rain had made everywhere slippy. In thick mist and heavy rain this tourist honeypot did not look quite as attractive as in the postcards and calendars. This is one of the great honeypots of British tourism, with an estimated 750,000 visitors a year.
This most perfect of Lakeland landscapes is man-made. Until the last century there was a collection of small pools here known as Monk Coniston tarns or the Tarns, and it wasn’t until a small dam was built across the outflow stream, Tom Gill, that this famous spectacle of water was created. The Ordnance Survey still call it ‘The Tarns’ on their maps.
Some time after leaving the tarns, we stopped for refreshments adjacent to the Coniston-Ambleside road, with the choice of sitting on a log in the pouring rain or on grass in the shelter of a tree. I was cheered up shortly afterwards when some orienteers came running through the woods, slipping about on the mud, soaked in fairly flimsy tee-shirts; I felt quite sane doing what I was doing compared to their activity. Defined as a competitive sport of finding one’s way across rough country with a map and compass, orienteering originates from Scandinavia where it was introduced in 1918 as a sport for young people. Like all crazy ideas it was exported to Britain such that veterans in their 60s run around looking for bits of paper displaying a clue to the next destination. I have enough trouble trying to get to real destinations without looking for bits of paper.
Arriving at Elterwater, I began to wish I had split the day, especially when I saw the Britannia pub was quite close to the hostel. It was here a few years later that we met sexy Sarah at the hostel. However, on this occasion there was no Sarah; instead Alf who started to complain.
‘I’ve got a headache.’
‘A headache? Out here in all this fresh air?’ This caused me some concern as, at only 100 feet, I decided it couldn’t be altitude sickness. Fresh air is supposed to clear headaches and I had never heard of anyone having a headache when out walking, unless in the ‘death zone’ near the top of Everest.