The Lake District smiles on me. I love North Wales and the mountain ranges of Snowdonia, but almost without exception when I’m there the Goretex will be on my back before I’ve trudged out of the car park.
The lakes are different. I know they’re officially one of the wettest places in the UK but in recent times the sun has always shone on me, so I feel like the place actually doesn’t mind me being there, like it isn’t giving me a great big cumulonimbus-shaped “sod off” every time I haul my pack onto my back.
So last weekend, riding my luck weather-wise again, I trundled up the M6 with Hiking Buddy Extraordinaire to spend a couple of days in the hills. Heavy downpours on the motorway began to shake my faith a little but as we hit Newby Bridge the sun broke through the clouds and pretty well stayed with us until we left. Some may say the sun shines on the righteous, others say the sun even shines on a dog’s arse some days.
I like to think it’s the former in this case.
The rain started to fall on and off again as we arrived, but cleared within the first few hundred metres of ascent, leaving us with a beautiful day from there on in. We slogged up to the top and sat eating lunch watching the clouds cast their shadows across the valley and Haweswater as they raced across the skies above us.
After lunch we headed back along the arrow-straight path marked along Riggingdale and the beautifully accurately named Rough Crag. Although arrow-straight on the map, it was up and down like a bride’s nightie and quite exciting in places. We met a very elderly couple who offered us tea and advice on peanut butter sandwiches and I found a bog I thought I could clear by jumping. HBX bet me a sausage I couldn’t, and the die was cast. I even had to wait for him to sort out his camera in case I didn’t make it.
Having safely landed on the other side he put his camera away, hugely disappointed. The rest of the hike back to the car passed pretty uneventfully, and we wound our way back through the Lake District serpentine road system to Coniston, our base for the night at a belting little site right on the shores of the lake. Run by The National Trust, it’s pretty basic and all the better for it. I thoroughly recommend it, link to site is here.
So once the tents were up, the barbecue burning with enough ferocity to be seen from space (thanks to some alarmingly liberal application of accelerants by HBX) and a couple of beers to the good we called it a night. Although I’d pushed for wild camping I was pretty happy as the site was fairly low key and gloriously isolated. Also the ground was flat and there were no errant mountain sheep likely to trip over the tent in the gloom. Also, hot showers are always good.
The next morning was clear and cold, a little overcast but looking good. Coffee on the go, bacon and eggs sizzling, we planned our route for the day. Coniston Old Man was just around the corner and seemed a good bet. we broke camp, loaded everything back into the car and headed off to find the trailhead. Parking up in Coniston we hauled on our packs and started towards the hills.
After a brief discussion about routes around 15 minutes in we left the road and started hacking across country. The path rose and rose, consistently climbing without any significant levelling off until the summit, the only break coming in the form of some abandoned mineworkings about halfway up. These kind of places always feel a bit eerie to me, the machinery and buildings still there, gradually deteriorating back into the mountain. It feels strange to put hands on cables and flywheels and beams that once were turning and straining against tonnes of rock, dozens of men working to keep them going day in day out, but have now been still for almost 100 years.
And the views from the top were stunning, over Coniston and Windermere, out to the sea, another beautiful view on a beautiful day. We sat for a while and ate lunch, some of which I was relieved of by another hiker’s dog, and we met another fine character. This guy was South African, easy in his sixties, navigating with a back-of-a-fag-packet map and a highly developed sense of hope. He asked us if we knew the way to the youth hostel where he was staying – we gave him a shot on my full sized map which cheered him up no end. In return we got yet more advice (no peanut butter involved this time). Here it is:
“Sometimes people tell me to grow up. I tell them to fuck off”.
So we headed back down towards sea level and the car and then back down the (amazingly clear) M6 home.
Usually I’d have peppered this post with a photo or ten, but this time I’m having a shot at a video (it’s all the rage with the youngsters these days I hear). It’s my first ever video so any tips or hints would be most welcome – comment away. Unless the comment is ‘don’t make videos’. Keep that one to yourself. I might even put up a video of day two….