Carmel and I had an excellent couple of days exploring the North Lake District. I took a few photos which can be seen here:
The occasion for our trip to the Lakes was the yearly get-together of the folks we met on Kilimanjaro in 2007. However, due to to various non-life threatening and questionable excuses, our attendance was just 4 out of the originally planned 8.
The last person to drop out was Neil who was due to be Carmel and my driver to the Lakes. Since he dropped out just a few hours before he was due to pick us up we had a minor travel-related panic before realising that we could get to our destination fairly comfortably, if not at all cheaply, by the Virgin West Coast train line.
Tim arrived in Penrith about 2 hours before us and Nik met him in his car. Penrith is not really a town that one would choose to hang around in without a good excuse, so those two headed straight off to our pub B&B in the village of Braithwaite. They kindly organised for a taxi to meet Carmel and I when we arrived, and this worked out perfectly. Only downside was that the taxi driver was at liberty to charge us £50 for a 25 min journey which is almost twice the price of every other taxi I’ve ever been in. Arriving after 11pm we only had time for a couple of pints before bed.
We stayed in The Royal Oak in Braithwaite, a village about 2 miles West of Keswick. The pub and B&B were entirely uninspiring and not exactly cheap at £78 per night. Our room was small but functional. The beer was good. But the food, in particular the breakfast, was not something for which you’d ever return to try again.
Saturday – Scafell Pike and Sca Fell
On the Saturday morning we got up far too early for my body to cope. By the time I stumbled down for breakfast I was in a foul mood and really needed an excuse to send me back to bed for half a day. We had arranged to meet at 8:30am to watch the England v Scotland rugby match in the World Cup group stages being held in New Zealand. I had a single slice of fairly unpleasant bacon and two overcooked eggs while England toiled to narrowly beat Scotland and to progress, instead of them, to the World Cup quarter finals. The coffee woke me up, which I was grateful for, but the eggs and bacon made me feel a bit ill and slightly rancid.
We set off for our walk as soon as the rugby was over. Our starting point was a 20 min drive away in a village called Seathwaite which could be found at the end of a road. All I could see in the “village” was a single farm – perhaps I missed a little cottage, but I saw nothing to justify its village status.
Our walk took us up through the hills from Seathwaite to Scafell Pike. The majority of the route was along a fairly steady ascent with a few minor boulders or so to make it a little more interesting. We ascended from the car, which was about 70m above sea level, to the top of Scafell Pike at 978m.
This was the second time I’d been properly up the hills in the Lake District and the second time I’d climbed Scafell Pike. My previous trip was in 2003 and it formed part of the National 3 Peaks that Carmel and I undertook. At that time we scurried up Scafell Pike as quickly as possible from the Wasdale side on the West and stopped only for enough time to take a photo at the summit. Approaching the peak significantly more leisurely from the East side was an entirely different experience and we had a long time to see our destination as we walked to the summit in an almost perfectly straight line all the way from the car.
Our route up to Scafell Pike followed the Corridor Route from Styhead, passing Great Gable on our right. As we got closer to Great Gable I have to say it didn’t look particularly great. But then as we walked past it and could see the incredibly steep rock faces from the summit (899m) all the way down to the river at the bottom (~100m) we began to understand how it got its name.
We stopped a few hundred metres from the summit for lunch and marvelled at the number of walkers that were ascending and descending the summit of England’s highest peak. The relatively warm weather had attracted a lot of walkers and we shouldn’t have been surprised that they all decided to climb the most notable peak in the Lake District.
The above photo taken at the summit of Scafell Pike does not really highlight the 50 or so people behind us cluttering up the mountain and spoiling the views.
After the lengthy but straightforward ascent of Scafell Pike we turned our attention to Sca Fell which is nearby but not easily accessible. The only relatively direct path is along the side of a crumbling steep rock face and incorporates Lord’s Rake, an obstacle described in the walking books as a scramble.
Lord’s Rake has surely seen better days. It was described by Alfred Wainwright as a scramble but now would better be described as a very unstable, steep scree slope. Over the last 10 years the top and sides of the rake have been slowly crumbling and depositing large and small rocks into the rake. With every step the rocks underfoot would move which made us all a little nervous. We survived to tell the tale but made a few mistakes. First, the three boys walked up the left of the rake against the side that was crumbling the most. Since we weren’t wearing helmets we risked getting a pounding headache at best. And second, we walked only a few metres apart which is frankly stupid with that amount of loose rock. We all made various pauses when we could feel the ground giving way and wondered if we were about to trigger a rock slide.
There are three sections to Lord’s Rake but the first section in the photos above and below is the most interesting one. The second and third sections didn’t rely on hanging on to the mountain for dear life quite as much.
The summit of Sca Fell is not too far from the top of Lord’s Rake and we were the only ones there when we arrived. Being alone on the summit was quite a treat after being part of the crowds on Scafell Pike. The peak of Sca Fell is at 964m which is only 14m below the summit of Scafell Pike – and from where we were stood we certainly did not feel inferior to the crowds that were still milling around Scafell Pike in the distance.
The view from the top was beautiful and we could see mountains in nearly all directions. When there weren’t mountains in the distance there was Morecambe Bay and Chernobyl power station. The weather had behaved all day, but had not been quite as spectacular as the South of the country which had seen record temperatures for the 1 Oct (29.9C!).
Just before we set off from the summit we were joined by some other walkers. On the top of Scafell Pike a little earlier we had asked some walkers to take a photo of us. The same group had now arrived at Sca Fell, but not via Lord’s Rake.
We now started our return leg of the journey. We had walked in a pretty constant heading since leaving the car that morning, so the walk back was never going to be a short one. The first part was to descend from Sca Fell, via Foxes Tarn, down to the valley floor where the River Esk flowed on its way to Eskdale.
We descended to about 400m but then had to follow the valley up and over the saddle at Esk Hause at around 800m. Towards the top of the valley we met a solitary walker who seemed a little lost. He had been camping for three days and now couldn’t find where he wanted to camp that night. He didn’t have a map. We were a little surprised at how you could go walking in the hills for a three days without a map (particularly if you had specific preferences about where you wanted to camp).
The daylight was beginning to fade as we left the saddle and began the long descent back to the car. The sun set about an hour before we got to the car, but we just about made it without needing to resort to turning on our headtorches. By the end of the walk we could only see a few metres in front of us.
The return half of the day’s walk was a bit non-descript for me after the interesting trek to the top of Scafell Pike and Sca Fell. Perhaps this was because we had discussed what our first drink was going to be in the pub a long time before we were in a position to get it ordered?
It was 8:30pm when we arrived back at our pub B&B and we had a quick pint before dinner. The pints were good – mostly Jennings. Made a nice change for me from the Greene King dross we get in most pubs around Cambridge. The food was not good. Portions were big, but the quality was poor. Very much standard pub fare, cooked from frozen and overpriced (an uninteresting Yorkshire pudding containing some sausage casserole came in at the London-style pricing of £9.95).
Carmel fell asleep at the pub table shortly before we went to bed. I couldn’t face watching Match of the Day due to Everton losing 0-2 in the Merseyside derby. So it was not a late evening for us.
Duration 8:46 hours
Distance 12.2 miles
Path (Google Earth)
Sunday – Coledale Round
The weather on the Saturday was frustrating. The sun never quite made an appearance and the amount of blue in the sky was fairly limited. However the temperature was really warm so walking was pretty unpleasant during the sweaty treks up the slopes. We saw the news in the evening showing the blue skies around much of the rest of England and were just a little jealous.
If the weather on the Saturday was not perfect then the weather on the Sunday was awful. It started to drizzle as soon as we stepped foot outside and did not stop for the entire walk. The only very minor plus point was that the temperature was not as warm as the previous day so walking with our waterproofs on was not too uncomfortable.
We met for the naff breakfast at 8:30am again and this morning we were entertained by Ireland fairly comfortably (at least in the second half) beating Italy in the rugby World Cup. The breakfast again made me feel queasy – even though we all tried something different to the previous day (Tim even boycotted the cooked food).
Once we’d collected our sandwiches from the Braithwaite village shop we set off in the rain up a direct path towards Grisedale Pike (791m). It was a steady ascent for most of the journey but got significantly steeper towards the summit. The route took us up a ridge towards the summit and if we could have seen the views then I’m sure they would have been fabulous. However the rain, cloud and wind were all battering us and there was not much to do except keep your head down. Not that there was much visibility anyhow.
We didn’t stop at the summit of Grisedale Pike for any longer than was needed for the four of us to regroup and have a quick check of the map. Our path then took us down to a saddle and then back up again to the summit of Crag Hill (839m). The visibility was no different so taking photographs wasn’t really worth the misery of standing still in the rain or the risk of getting the little camera soaked.
From Crag Hill we followed an excellent ridge path over numerous peaks all the way to the end of our walk. The path was exposed from time to time and we had to keep our balance in the wind, but it was not overly dangerous. Every now and again we got a fleeting glimpse of the two valleys on either side of us and they seemed like a long, long way down.
This part of the walk was really good fun in its own way. The peaks along the ridge were varied and the ups and downs along the path kept us entertained. We had become accustomed to the wind and rain but the only miserable thing for me was that I hadn’t bothered putting on my waterproof trousers earlier and now the water had gone through my trouser, through my socks and into my boots. I was squelching with every step I took.
We eventually walked off the hills and had a 2 mile walk along a quiet country lane into Braithwaite and back to the pub where we had left our car. There was time in the pub for a quick cup of tea, a change into dry clothes and a brief sit down before we had to head to Penrith station for our 5pm train back to Euston.
On the train on the way back to London, Tim and I looked into what an Elbrus trip for 2012 would consist of.
Duration 5:20 hours
Distance 9.9 miles
Path (Google Earth)