Off to the Lakes…on our own!
So, after a long, hard start to the year we had an enjoyable Easter at home followed by a little holiday.
Easter had proven to be cold and damp – even snow was around in northern England! So we approached a hill walking holiday with a little anticipation. Especially as it was the first time Sally and I were going to do some serious walking without some more experienced “peak baggers” with us.
But Sarah and Guy prepared us well and so off we drove with many layers, maps, and Wainwright guides, to the Lake District.
On the way – or slightly out of the way – we called in to stay with our friends, the Brays, in York. As always with them it was just like old times and we quickly got into chatting like old friends and having deep-and-meaningfuls about the nature of creativity – much to the bemusement of the people at the next table in the restaurant.
They were very generous and gave us a happy start to our week off.
We left York on a bright and crisp Tuesday morning. This was soon left behind however as we climbed to the highest motorway point in the country, atop the M62 trans-Pennine expressway. The hilltop murk didn’t last long though and, shortly after a trip back in time at Barnsley’s quite sea-side-esque services, the weather cleared again and we continued to Ambleside and on to Grasmere in sunshine again.
Grasmere was a bit of a surprise. A very small village but VERY touristy. We were thankful that our B&B for the week, Oak Lodge, was a little off the beaten track, nestled in the shadow of Helm Crag, about half a mile north of the village.
Up Helm Crag
As the weather was good we unloaded and promptly went for a warm-up walk up to Helm Crag’s summit. Wainwright was, as ever, a good guide, aided by the walkers returning down the path from the summit. A short walk and about 800ft of climbing left us slightly breathless, but very much enjoying the views from the ragged summit. (Oh to be as good with words as AW himself!)
Our first solo peak! And some excellent views across the valley to the fells we were hoping to conquor the next day…looking dangerously snow-capped!
Tuesday evening was spent at The Lamb in Grasmere – handy pub food but nothing special.
Fairfield, Snow, Compasses and GPS
Wednesday was our big walking day then. Sarah and Guy had suggested walking the entire “Fairfield Horseshoe” but we hadn’t quite hit British Summer Time, the days were short and we didn’t feel we’d safely make the 12-or-so miles round. So the plan was to tackle a portion of it, taking in Great Rigg, Fairfield and Seat Sandal.
The climb to Great Rigg was deceptive. We were never quite sure if we’d ever got to the landmark of “Stone Arthur” on the way, and when we thought we did we weren’t sure we found the path. We soon picked up the main path again though and the summit of Great Rigg was quite clear when we found it.
As we ascended the mist and snow cover increased and some sleet fell. We had a hot chocolate stop at Great Rigg before starting the more gentle ascent to Fairfield itself.
The snow continued to deepen and the mist to thicken and after a quick lunch at the summit of Fairfield we decided to forget about Seat Sandal and head back down as quick as we could. The problem was, we could only see about 50 metres and we couldn’t spot any obvious paths with all the snow cover.
We would probably have headed back the way we came, but Wainwright suggested that, as long as you headed somewhere between West and South you’d have a south descent. So we found some cairns and with the help of the GPS that we had on loan to keep our position known, we pretty much walked off on a compass bearing down a snow-covered scree slope.
One of the purposes of this week was to see how we managed at hill walking and navigation on our own, and with a few simple tools we did, eventually, find our way out of quite a tricky situation. Had Wainwright said that the descent was perilous, we would have gone back down the clear path we ascended, but despite his comment that Fairfield’s summit “is confusing in the mist”, we felt confident that the descent would not be dangerous.
It proved that way, and despite having to navigate some boggy marsh to pick up the path again, we made it safely back to Grasmere and a much-needed cuppa.
A Great British Pub
We ventured out a bit in the evening at Sarah’s suggestion, and found the Brittania Inn in Elterwater. A fantastic, cosy, friendly pub with good beer and excellent food. We’re definitely big fans and will go back for sure!
A Bonus Day of Walking – Silver How and Blea Rigg
The weather for the rest of the week was forecast to get worse and worse so we thought our best walking was over and we were glad for a rest.
It was much to our surprise, then, to wake on Thursday to glorious sunshine! A bonus day’s walking was in the off. We felt strong and confident after Wednesday’s escapades, and so headed up towards Silver How, a small but interesting peak, with the possibility of extending the trek to Blea Rigg a couple of miles away.
The views of Fairfield and Great Rigg opened up nicely before us (well, behind us actually) as we ascended to give us a great view of where we’d been the previous day, and particularly of the descent from Fairfield we’d managed, to cried of “We did THAT!!!”.
The peak of Silver How was blustery, and sleet and wind had temporarily moved in. We considered heading home but took a call to go on a bit further and see what happened. A good call in the end as the weather cleared again and we ended up having a great days walking with spectacular views all the way around.
We made it to Great Rigg, with beautiful views of the rugged Langdale Pikes, and headed down via Easedale Tarn. A great days walking and not too taxing either.
In the evening we headed into Ambleside to check out the food there, and decided on the local curry house, The Tagore! It was expensive, but slightly-above-standard Indian fare. I liked it.
The Friday was definitely going to rain. So rather than walk, we had a rest and headed off on a boat trip on the National Trust’s Steam Yacht Gondola on Consiton Water. We didn’t think much of Coniston village, but the boat was a great experience despite the rain! Well worth a visit!
On the way back we had a little drive around the far side of Coniston Water and headed back to Ambleside for dinner, which we’d booked at “The Priest Hole”. Their early dinner deal was cheap, if unsurprising Mediterranean fare, with excellent service. A good place to go for a break from English pub food.
And that was about it, other than a bit of shopping and some real Grasmere gingerbread (YUM!!!!).
Highlights from the week were definitely our gorgeous B&B, the walking (in all weathers), the Steam Yacht Gondola and the Britannia Inn.
We’ll be back to the Lakes soon!!!