We’d planned to camp in January. ‘Lunatics Camp’ had been mooted as a suitable title for the expedition. I couldn’t wait to use my new (as yet unnamed) Vango Apex somewhere more challenging than the garden. My colleagues at work thought I was mad to contemplate such a foolhardy undertaking. However as the 2nd of January drew ever nearer the forecast worsened with every day that passed & my apprehension grew.
However @hillplodder had one of his flashes of inspiration and suggested a Youth Hostel would provide a sensible alternative, still allowing the trip to go ahead whilst ensuring that our tents remained unshredded by the 80 mph gusts that were forecast.
I’d never been to a youth hostel before, my only received wisdom on the subject being my mother, who had stayed in the 1950’s when they still had straw matresses and did ‘chores’.
As I entered the YHA at Ambleside things did indeed appear to have moved on a bit since those days. A modern dining room with gleaming bar area boasting a fine selection of contemporary alcoholic beverages & local ales (see Redbreast later on).
Walk 1: Loughrigg Fell & Alcock Tarn
The apocalyptic rain and 80 mph gusts that had been forecast had convinced us to keep low today. However although the wind buffeted us mercilessly from the top of Loughrigg, causing me to crawl about on all fours (the indignity) the dreaded rain never came and we enjoyed a dry day with all the associated photographic opportunities. Lily Tarn, with it’s solitary tree in the centre being a particular highlight of the walk for me.
The views from the fell were breathtaking including the merest glimpse of sunshine through the clouds seeming to reinforce our good luck with the weather.
After fending off an unprovoked assault from a huge orange beaked cygnine, a lunch of extra crunchy crisps and cereal bar was enjoyed by Grasmere, all washed down with a warm beverage and liberally laced with some of my Glenmorangie. Lunchtime whisky drinking seemed to do @hillplodder no good at all, however he rallied sufficiently to attempt the ascent to Alcock Tarn. This taken via a rather questionable route up through a rough area of woodland and brambles, involving numerous fordings of the same stream. ‘We won’t need to cross it again, Cath!’ Once there however the unfolding views over the fells in winter made up for any transient discomfort due to soggy boots.
Dinner that evening was had in the Queens Hotel that night, all washed down with a pint of Loweswater Gold (or fizzy pop in @hillplodder’s case, still suffering from my libations of whisky at lunch).
Walk 2 : Little Hart Crag & High Hartsop Dodd
Although I enjoy a leisurely plod as much as the next person there was today a pressing urgency to complete our mission and return to the hostel for sunset for we were to meet Lakeland legends @CumbrianBlondie & @KendalSkintCake in the bar at 5.30. Although the 5 ladies of the various noises had departed and the bunk room boudoir was all mine, I woke several times in the night to the sound of Windermere waters being whipped to a frenzy by the wind and what sounded like sleet splattering violently against my 2nd floor window. My fears about the weather were confirmed the next morning by the view of low cloud and extreme precipitation over the still dark lake. We were prepped & ready to head out into the drizzle by 8.30 am though (something of an achievement for a lie in queen like myself).
A steep ascent up Sweden Bridge Lane and my knees, still sore from yesterdays descent weren’t looking forward to a yomp back down again later in the half light. Although time was of the essence today, spirits were flagging due to the damp conditions, and had to be kept up (#108 ?) by further increasing our innuendo tally for the trip. As we toiled up a path masquerading as a stream, struggling not to slip on the wet stones, the mist swirled round us and glimpses of fells and the colours of dying bracken slipped in and out of focus. An accidental deviation from the path on the way up to Little Hart Crag revealed Scandale Tarn, possibly one of the boggiest places in the world. Even @hillplodder (a sucker for a good tarn pitch) admitted it would be impractical as a future wildcamp venue. After lunch, eaten hastily in a storm shelter we climbed higher, the mist turning to ice crystals on the ears of my furry hat and settling on @hillplodder’s whiskers.
After photos at Little Hart Crag ( unclaimed Wainwright) we headed on through the bog and icy mist to High Hartsop Dodd, where a view of the fog was the only one to be enjoyed.
Our mission now accomplished for the day it was time to head back down to the bright lights of the hostel bar and a restorative pint of Redbreast Ale with Gina & Dave.
The last evening finished with a few pints in the Golden Rule (recommendation by Dave Atherton) and a very lovely Jalfrezi in the Spice of Bengal in Ambleside.
The last minute change of arrangements on this trip got me thinking about the pros & cons of hostel versus camp. Wildcamping gives you that unique oneness with your immediate environment, falling asleep to the sounds of beck, breeze and tarn & waking to the pinkness in the east as the stars slowly fade in the sky.
A hostel based stay ensures that a walk can be properly enjoyed. I bounded gleefully up those fells with my little daysack, unhampered by the massive rucksack that was sat safely in the shelter of the hostel.
Hostels, however can be noisy places. Unless one is feeling particularly flush, in which case you’d book a B&B, a room is shared with up to 5 other people. On my first night I had fidgety, farty, coughy, sniffy and talking in her sleepy. Thank goodness there was no one present that indulged in @hillplodders suggestion of a 6th antisocial habit best not enjoyed in a shared surroundings. So I still haven’t decided whether its wildcamp all the way for me, or hostel high jinks. I guess the only answer will be to do some more research!