Back in January, a chance meeting with Gina (@cumbrianblondie) at YHA Ambleside kicked off a chain of events that now left me standing nervously on Platform 11 at Crewe, waiting for a train to Penrith. I’ve been lucky enough to go on several backpacking trips to the Lake District this year, but this was to be a walk with a difference. Ten Lake District peaks in ten hours, to raise money and awareness for MS research. I’d trained for this walk for months, in the Lakes (on mountains) at home (on hills) and in Norfolk (on the flat) but I wasn’t convinced it was sufficient for such a mammoth undertaking.
Friday 20th June.. Nerves
As all the familiar landmark stations flashed past my nerves steadily grew, with no light hearted banter to distract me. My friend and fellow Social Hiker, Matt (@hillplodder) was an hour behind me on a later train. Despite my misgivings the bus connections at Penrith and Keswick behaved themselves, with the bus driver cheerily agreeing to give me a shout when we were approaching Chapel House Farm campsite, where team Social Hiking were booked in for the weekend.
A blast of hot air, a whiff of diesel and the bus scorched off down the road towards Stonethwaite, leaving me standing on the tarmac in the heat, and my first sight of Rosthwaite. Small neat grey stone cottages, dry stone walls snaking their way over the still green fields and the calm reassuring bulk of the fells. I decided to pitch on some nice soft grass under a mighty oak, and spent time clearing the area of stones and twigs. I’d just finished pitching when Matt hove up, and pointed out the ‘Social Hiking’ t shirt attached to the side of Tim (@ukjeeper)’s tent over on the other side of the site. With my tent relocated and introductions done with it was time to head down the pub to meet some more Social Hikers. I had a pleasant dinner, washed down with 2 pints of Jennings (to aid restful sleep) and then back to the camp site to attempt just that. However when we got back we discovered that Lakeland legend Jilly Sherlock (@JillySherlock) had called in to see Phil (@daylightgambler) and so a pleasant few hours were spent listening to her tales of travel and cycling.
Saturday 21st June.. the 10 in 10
I didn’t get much sleep that night, but was up with a 5.20 am alarm as an early start still had to be made. All the nerves of yesterday had returned (and brought their friends it seemed) and my stomach was churning as we headed down the road to the start. A brief glimpse of familiar faces (Gina & Dave) and we all signed in and set off towards Castle Crag at a cracking pace. Castle Crag is all loose slate and lots of scrambly bits underfoot. I might have made a better job of staying upright if it hadn’t have been so early in the morning. A brief scan about the summit, then down again, the relentless pace not letting up for the next ascent to High Spy. By this point Tim, Matt & myself were well behind the others, a fact that was starting to concern me. Another issue was the heat, it was barely 9am and already I was overheating badly. How would I be feeling with the midday sun beating down on me, if I carried on at this pace ?
On the way down from High Spy towards Dalehead tarn we ran into the Social Hiking 5 in 5 team, Kate, Andy, Paul & Pete, Rose having pulled out earlier due to an asthma attack. They didn’t look overheated, as I was, or befuddled by the early pace. Admittedly they’d yet to do their first fell, but had already walked a fair distance and looked for all the world like a group of friends out for an afternoon stroll. An idea started to form in my mind. I’d walk as far as the check point at Honister with the 5 in 5 team, and see how I was feeling when I’d cooled down a bit.
Suffice to say I’d perked up no end by the time we got to Honister slate mine, and a cup of orange squash and one of Phil’s fabulous pork, chilli and black pudding pies had put me in an exceedingly good humour. I informed one of the marshalls I’d ‘defected’ to the 5 in 5, also Matt, who was just heading off to catch the 10 in 10 team up. Decision made, I could now get on with the serious business of actually enjoying the rest of the walk.
And enjoy it I did. The only slight disappointment was a lack of photos, due to my phone going mysteriously flat quite early on in the proceedings. I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of the walking, it was unhurried and leisurely and I feel we really made the most of the time looking at the views, without being too out of breath and rushed to chat. Even the steep, unrelenting slog up to the next peak at Grey Knotts was interspersed with lengthy pauses to admire the views, and if a member of the team was lagging behind a bit then the others would pause and wait for them. What a civilised way to do a charity walk!
On the way between Brandreth and Green Gable I even sussed out a potential wild camp site by some small unnamed tarns just by Gillercombe Head (also spotted by Matt for the same purpose, as I later found out). At Green Gable, as I marvelled at the view over towards the Langdale Pikes, I found myself trying to identify some familiar looking fells, and thought I’d managed to spot my favourite phallic fell, Pike of Stickle, in the distance.
From Green Gable it was the small matter of Base Brown, the ‘special’ fell just reserved for the 5 in 5 challengers. From the rocks at the top we could see the way down, a gradual if slightly rocky descent alongside Sour Milk Gill. There was however, a rather large obstacle to overcome on the way down, in the form of Seathwaite Slabs. We’d had prior warning of these, as Paul had done a recce of the route a couple of weeks before, and had had the misfortune of negotiating the slabs in the rain. At least it was dry today, but the presence of two nervous looking marshalls alerted us to the fact that it might not all be plain sailing. However, using the recommended technique (sliding down them on one’s bum) we successfully cleared them.
Dean Read’s fab video blog of the 10 in 10..
After watching some German rock climbers heading up the waterfall at Seathwaite, it was the small matter of a wooden bridge and a welcoming cheer from Tim, Chris and Phil who had kindly come to meet us as we finished. By this point the lure of a hot shower was irresistible and when Tim suggested we pile in his car for the last slog down the road, no one was going to argue. I went in the boot, being the smallest and had to be hauled out as my legs decided to seize up.
Later in the pub, as Gina was handing out some of her famous brownies, a couple of anxious marshalls accosted us. Had anyone been walking with Matt, as he was yet to finish. I told them he was a competent hillwalker and any delay on his part was probably due to his tendency to plod so he could enjoy the views. Shortly afterwards he appeared, having completed the 10 in 10 course in a not unrespectable 11.5 hours.
Although the beer was lovely, we headed exhausted back to the camp site, to sit and drink Rik’s beer, get eaten alive by midges & generally mull over the events of the day. Surprises of the evening included Poundland mosquito coils (very effective), Dean’s mosquito net (less effective, but with added comedy value), and Rik’s unexpected unveiling of a magnificent beer stein. Eventually I retired, and fell asleep to the sounds of a muted debate that seemed to revolve around Social Hiking and naturism.
Sunday 22nd June.. Lie in
Although it starts to get light in the Lakes about 3am at this time of year, and that’s when the birds start up, I dozed for several hours enjoying the sounds of the swallows and the camp cuckoo and didn’t surface until around 8am. Camp Social Hiking was a hive of activity, people brewing up on their stoves, and Tim doing his miracle ‘Masterchef ‘ bit by managing to produce a cooked breakfast for 20 odd people using just a camping cooker in his tent awning. It was certainly very welcome, though, and as weary campers emerged from their tents they were rewarded with a bacon, egg and sausage roll.
Gradually as the morning wore on people packed up and drifted off, leaving just Matt and myself pitched up where the camp had been. With no particular plan in mind for the day we decided to catch the first bus to Keswick to buy some extra supplies, and perhaps more importantly to stock up on beer and apple juice. As always, the beer section in Booths did not disappoint.
On the return bus we took the ‘scenic’ route via Buttermere, which seemed to take forever. But at every turn I had tantalising glimpses of evocatively named fells I’d only read about, Great Gable, Pillar, Red Pike and Haystacks, all vying for my attention and begging to be climbed.
On our return we chatted to Rich (@flintyrich) for a while (before he fell asleep, that is) and tried to plan what to do on Monday. I attempted noodles, beef and black bean sauce on my Alpkit stove, and all I’m prepared to say is that it tasted better than it looked. After further inroads into the beer supply I nodded off, excited by the prospect of a more leisurely walk tomorrow.
Monday 23rd June.. Bogs, beer and the best bus ride ever
Another very early start today, as the local bird life was being particularly vocal. We’d decided to do a walk out of Keswick, as emergency midge repellent measures were urgently required.
Sunday’s sedate journey on the open topped bus had involved sitting on the left hand side near the front, but today we were feeling bold and went for the full open topped experience, in the middle, at the back. Wow! We clung on for dear life as the bus swooped and plunged like some demonic rollercoaster through the narrow lakeland lanes, stomachs flipping as the wind whipped the overhanging branches in our faces.
We headed out of town up towards Walla Crag, my only disappointment being that we didn’t have time to detour via Castlerigg stone circle, so I’ve promised it my full attention on a future visit.
From Walla Crag were breathtaking views over Derwentwater, apparently favoured by artists, amongst them it seems my Great Uncle, who had painted a similar scene some 50 years earlier. As we left Walla Crag on the slog up to Bleaberry Fell, there were noticeably less people, the crowds appearing to favour the more easily accessible and scenic options. We were fairly sure that there would be no crowds where we were headed, for the object of the day was to ‘bag’ the notoriously wet and boggy Armboth Fell, in relatively dry conditions. At the summit of Bleaberry Fell I polished off the dirty Cornish pasty I’d purchased earlier, which seemed to help my walking mojo no end. As we left Bleaberry, with its uplifting views over towards the Langdale Pikes and crossed High Seat and High Tove, the landscape grew gradually more dismal, damp and uninspiring. I was beginning to see why Armboth had the dubious pleasure of being one of Wainwright’s least favourite fells. Lush green moorland grass was replaced by wiry marsh and cotton grasses. Sphagnum squelched with every step we took. I’ve never been that keen on bogs, but they are fascinating places for wildlife, this one being a particularly fine example of a Lakeland ‘blanket bog’.
From Armboth we crossed to Shivery Knott and Watendlath Fell and headed down towards Blea Tarn, the bogginess not letting up for a moment. Sheep crowded the narrow path surveying us with pale ovine eyes, only scattering at the last minute to let us pass.
Then onwards from Blea Tarn with its picture postcard views looking down towards Watendlath. This wasn’t our ultimate destination though, we still had to walk back up (and down again) to Rosthwaite over the old pony track. I’m not sure I’d want to take a horse over there now though, the path’s not been maintained and the bare rock lies exposed like weathered bones. However we made it back down to be greeted by the now familiar sight of Rosthwaite. Now there was beer to be drunk and dinner to be cooked. I opted for an Innis & Gunn rum finish to go with my pasta and tomato sauce, and I have to say it was really rather good. As was the rest of the beer we later consumed. I just hope we didn’t wake the Duke of Edinburgh award teenagers in the nearby tents up with our singing, sotto voce though it was.
I woke up the next day feeling sad that our adventure was over, and it was time to return home. However what started out as a charity walk to raise awareness and money for the MS Society turned into a wonderful long weekend of walking, meeting new friends and catching up with old ones. I couldn’t have wished to have spent the weekend with a nicer bunch of people, and yes, I’ve already signed up to do the challenge again as part of Team Social Hiking next year!