I don’t know if it had been raining all night or whether the cloud had just been so low that it had shrouded everything in wetness, but when I got up things seemed a little damp. I managed to find a rock which, by virtue of its rocky nature, wasn’t as saturated as the surrounding grass, and so was able to lay all my stuff out before ritually stuffing it in my backpack all the while enjoying a momentary break in the precipitation.
It wasn’t to last however and after everything had been packed away I had to retreat to the campsite’s undercover dishwashing area so I could enjoy a fine breakfast of anaemic sausage casserole from another foil packet without either me, or my breakfast, becoming diluted by the rain. It was here I saw a familiar face from the Fox and Hounds in Ennerdale Bridge. Andy, as it turned out he was called, is walking the C2C with his other half, Di and Molly their dog. In common with the theme of this post so far, the weather was our main topic of conversation and particularly how this was going to affect today’s stage, in light of the fact that, in Kidsty Pike, we were going over the highest point of the whole Coast to Coast. Their plan, with a few others, was to take the safer route on the Ullswater Steamer to Pooley Bridge and then trek the remaining 12 miles to Shap. And so, the first decision of the day: go over the top or go around low?
Before setting out from St Bees, I had been pretty determined to a) ensure that the route I took was at least 190 miles and b) it was all done on under my own steam. The Ullswater Steamer therefore was a non starter because that steam belonged to something else and it was creating a shortcut. I was left scanning the sky to the west where the from where weather was moving quickly over our valley and could see brighter skies in the background; I could see all the tops of the hill and mountains and could think of no other better justification for not going over the top.
This is an important point about ad hoc navigation away from the ‘official’ route of the Coast to Coast. Stedman’s guidebook gives no alternative to Kidsty Pike and my Harvey’s maps are specific to the C2C path and only show three to four kilometres each side of the trail. In light of my broken GPS, I had no other method of planning and navigating an alternative route. In cases of extreme weather at this point I recommend getting hold of the 1:25,000 OS Explorer Map ‘OL5’ and planning a 19 mile walk along the eastern edge of Ullswater and then on to Shap. Either do this before you go, or pop in to the Shop of Plenty in Patterdale which frankly has everything.
Anyway, my decision made, I climbed out of Patterdale towards Angle Tarn to notice the wind immediately picking up (hence the changeable weather down below). Encouraged that it wasn’t raining at this point and that there was brighter sky over in the direction the wind was coming from, I wasn’t overly concerned. It’s obvious really, the higher you get up a mountain, the windier it gets and as I reached my first mini peak over the ridge in to Angle Tarn, my saving grace was that it was blowing me in to the side of the mountain and not off it.
As I started to round the tarn and climb out of its little basin, the rain started again and, along with the wind, got progressively heavier and stronger until just before Satura Crag it was so bad, my trousers were drenched within seconds from horizontal rain which was also pouring over the top of my boots to soak my feet. I had reached a dry stone wall by this point and sheltered behind it as best I could to assess my options. I knew I should try and get off this mountain as quickly as possible, it was just a case of working out which way was best. I reckoned I was bang on the halfway point between Patterdale and the valley floor at the tip of Haweswater, but hadn’t reached the peak as yet. My main navigation device, Steadman’s guide, was taking a battering in the wet and the pages were becoming dangerously fragile: turning back along a known easy to navigate path seemed the best option. Except I would still have to get to Shap somehow.
I considered setting up my tent and waiting for everything to blow over, but thought that I could be waiting until midnight, and the wind was too strong to even attempt it. Onward was the best option, after all visibility was still good. So as the rain eased from biblical to just torrential, I set off following the main path around some exposed rocks and up a hill. In the wrong direction. This was the defining moment of the walk, because panic was knocking hard on the door and could have easily beat it down if I had let it. In all seriousness though, yes, I had gone in the wrong direction, but wasn’t lost: I could still see the path to Angle Tarn, I could still go back; I could see the correct path and one that linked mine with that so I clearly wasn’t the first person to have made that navigational error. I had a bivvy bag; I had water and I had food: for all that it was a serious situation, I was in complete control.
A quick check with the compass, which had been around my neck since Greenup Edge, to ensure that, this time, I was heading off in the right direction. Upwards in to the clouds I went. On the plus side, the rain that had been my companion for so long had stopped to the point my trousers were drying out but visibility was now down to around five metres. The wind was still unrelenting and when gusting would blow me a couple of metres to the left (luckily, still towards the mountain and not off it).
Still, I managed to find the left turn to Kidsty Pike and when I got to the summit I could see just about enough to not walk off the edge which was seemingly on three sides of me. Now I was really going to have to stop until the clouds cleared because until I could see the route laid out in front of me, nothing was going to help get me down this hill safely. And just as I thought this, as if by magic, the clouds disappeared leaving me a perfect view of Haweswater and beyond to Shap and more importantly a view of the path down.
As quickly as the view revealed itself, it went again, but even though I was on the right track, the fight with the mountain wasn’t over: the route down was treacherous and on one occasion I slipped and fell backwards hard on to a rock. If I hadn’t had my camping mat tied to the bottom on my pack, my coccyx would have taken the brunt of the impact and a mountain rescue may have been on the cards. To be honest though, my immediate reaction was that I hoped nobody saw me slip.
Finally at the bottom I was ;at the tip of Haweswater which frankly was a long, boring walk with very few views of the reservoir, running instead between trees and very wet ferns which soaked my trousers for a second time. Even with a little bit of scrambling and undulation I only took just over an hour to cover the four miles along its side. Finally at Burbanks, the village at the eastern end of the lake, I had the opportunity to wring my socks out and empty my boots of the warm pool of water that had collected in them since Angle Tarn.
Except waving goodbye to the Lake District, the remaining six miles were uneventful and by about 2:15pm I entered Shap thinking to myself, thankfully, that the rain hadn’t reached this far east. I found my accommodation of choice: the New Ing Lodge B&B and Campsite, but was a little disappointed that I couldn’t get in until 3:30pm. The chippy was shut and I didn’t think to walk any further down the high street where it turned out there were a million (well two) pubs open, so I went to co-op bought every pie, pasty and packet of crisps going and ate them on a bench near the campsite.That is when the rain caught up with me and my trousers got soaked for a third time, and that is when, now huddling beneath the archway at New Ing that I decided to forget camping and get a room instead.
A bar, my own private bathroom and a warm room to dry out my pack (it does have a rain cover but that kept blowing off in the wind). Soon people I knew started turning up to the B&B that only had one booking at 3:30 but was full by the evening with people and their tales of wet adventures over dinner. A scary, but thoroughly rewarding day.
Patterdale to Shap
15.5 miles / 64.1 miles