Lake District Day 3

Pensive - or annoyed by wet boots?
Tuesday April 24
We are SORE.

Breakfast at these places is only between 8 and 9:30. Seems late for walkers, but whatever. We wanted to make the most of today - we had to go back, so Agnes could work. More reasonable portions here, you could choose what you wanted with your eggs. We’re demanding about more toast and butter - but those are the best things!
Much more confident in our compass and map reading abilities today. We wanted to use the new map Agnes had bought - a waterproof one, that she worked hard to also download onto her phone last night. Bonus GPS! Is that cheating, or just using the best available technology?
We figured out a new loop to try. Up to Stickle Tarn, across to another little bit of civilization - Easdale - then back across and down to the road/Cumbrian Way. The goal was to get back around 2 or so. We set out just after 9 AM. How could we up the ante from yesterday?

Agnes retrieves our clothes from the drying shed - still wet. She’s been dreading wet boots, and I don’t blame her at all. We kit up, and one of the New Dungeon staff points us in the right direction - the path to Stickle Tarn starts right behind the hotel.

It feels like we’re in totally new countryside once again. Delicate yellow flowers on spiky stalks, more trees than we’re used to - even some pines! - and this lively ghyll. We start to climb again, and for once, it feels actually warm. I’m walking in a t-shirt.

At the top - Stickle Tarn! There’s someone wild camping on the far side, just set up by the edge of the water.  For the first time, the idea of wild camping seems really appealing - the sunshine helps.
Just around the tarn, our path splits off to the east. Agnes takes the compass today, and after a few false starts gets the bearing.

We still don’t fully understand the logic of the map. Sometimes you’ll see the word ‘cairn’, in an area with lots of cairns. Sometimes - like here - it’ll just say ‘pile of stones’. I’ve been hoping to see a pile of stones! But how is that different than a cairn, exactly? Right at the fork, we think we see a pile (though still not sure) and set out east.

Like yesterday, we are now freestyle walking. Dead dry grass, peaty bits, clahhhty bits, sheep shit, and huge rocky crags. It is very steep - toe touching shins steep - and there is definitely no sign of a path. Up, up in to the wind, but no cloud today! We get to the top of the crag and — just want to start running. Fuck boot bruises and sore knees, this is insane. You have to fling your arms out and yell.

We take a break from yelling in the shelter of a small cliff. Apples and nuts, excellent combo.
Now we can see what must be our target. There’s a tarn, irregular shape - it’s not the one that’s closest though. My hypothesis - that one’s hidden behind the crags.

And soon, somehow, we find something that resembles a path. A groove in the dry grass, a footprint, a few stones that might be a pile - it is a path! Both tarns come into view. We are definitely on the right track.

As we climb down, the landscape changes again. We’re in the land of red sticks. Dry and dead and rusty coloured now, they cover the hills. What’s it look like in summer? And why don’t the sheep eat them all?

There are more people on this path now. It seems well-established, broad flagstones paving the way. Agnes’s challenge: can we say ‘y’alright?’ In a believable way? The first guy beats her to it. New strategy: let them say hi, then go for it.

Pretty sure this sheep is peeing.
It starts to rain again, as we trudge into the grid of sheepfolds. We are on the new map now - waterproof! - and use the GPS to pinpoint our exact location, just for fun - not because we NEED to. This is our turning point - we need to do almost a U-y to head back. But of course the path isn’t obvious. Across this sheep fold? Or up by that house? The compass points us to the house, and sure enough, it’s the right way. Up through the spiky gorse and juniper (I think that’s what it is) and more red sticks, through some very clahhty bits. Once again, not much of a path.

We decide to have lunch, on a mossy ledge under some trees - a bit of protection from the rain (straight down today, not sideways), but no protection from the sheep poo, which is everywhere. Agnes’ food planning has worked out brilliantly. We’re down to one sandwich, and one leftover toast and jam from the day before. A sausage and some ham from Wasdale Head. The last of the carrots and hummus. Then a new invention: a ‘nut pool’ with the tail end of the chocolate bar. Salt, chocolate, so good!

We try to switch boots - Agnes’s ankles are destroyed - but my orthotics are just too much. So we slog on, following the compass and what might be a path.

We’ve been following a pack of sheep trotting single file along a very mucky path by a stone wall. It’s the right direction - the trouble is just getting down to the road/Cumbrian Way. It’s close - we can see the odd car whizzing along (way too fast!) but there are many fences between us and the road —- and there is just no path at all, even on the map.  We’re going to have to jump at least one ancient wall. Is it trespassing, when we’re already walking in a crowd of sheep?

We start to pick our way down - the hills are still steep, and very slippery. I fall hard on my right hip, on a rock. We are sopping wet by now, cold and sore and a bit cranky. There are actual trees ahead, behind a rocky outcrop. I scramble down first. Turns out we’re still fairly high up - on a ledge above a series of little pale green portable homes (possibly cottages? Trailers?) We’re above the roofs - way too high to jump, even if we could get close enough to the ledge. As it is, there’s a wall in our way. I climb up first, careful on the moss-covered rocks, holding on to a nearby tree. It’s not nearly as bad as I was worried it might be - no slips, and it didn’t crumble under me. (Thank you, whoever built these things so strong!) Agnes clambers over after me, I can tell she’s not impressed.

On to the next challenge: getting down. Of course, it’s harder than it seemed from way up the hill. One way seems promising, down a little gully - but up close, I see thick thorn bushes covering everything. Not that way. I edge along, hanging on to trees, desperately trying not to slip again. So far, I don't see any signs of life in the portables below. But there is a blue car, parked on the driveway … I run through what to say, if someone asks what the hell we’re doing … but nothing seems particularly convincing.

I think I see a way down. Agnes is definitely not into this. I edge out along the cliff, right next to a very old, very mossy bit of wall. Hang on to the living tree branches - not the dead ones. Step on stones, not rotting plants. Gingerly, I make it down - hurrah!! But Agnes is still up at the top, not at all convinced this is a good idea. Face the wall, and just keep moving - she puts her feet in just the right spots - and makes it down. Quickly, we hustle out to the road - we didn’t get caught!

Only then does she reveal her big fear. Falling, sure. But more than that: what if someone finds us trespassing, and she somehow loses her position at Cambridge?

Vacation still to come!
Thank god, we’ve avoided that fate. And even better, we’re closer to New Dungeon Ghyll than we could have hoped.  Very soon, we’re in the Stickle Barn by the fire, resting our aching feet and drinking ale and lager with delicious lamb stew on the way. (Dessert too!) Just a few hours behind schedule - but another adventure accomplished.

Finally, after 11, we make it. It feels a bit sad - that part of the vacation is over. But tomorrow is only Wednesday!

Lake District Day 2

Monday April 23

Monday! And the view out our window is nothing but fell.
At breakfast we figure out the plan. We want to do Scafell Pike - the tallest in England! - and then figure out a different path back to New Dungeon Ghyll.

Traditional English breakfast is way too much food. Black (it’s really blood - though Agnes is reluctant to tell me that) pudding, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, sausage, bacon, eggs, fried bread (kinda gross), toast, and delicious jam. We get our sausage to go, and the lady looks at the map with us. Should be fine, but a LONG walk she says. Fine by us.

It’s colder today, windier, but not raining for now. We set out to climb up the opposite side of the valley. Clear path, quite steep, up along a creek. Two guys coming down from Scafell seem bundled up, and a bit judgy. It’s -4C up there today, they tell us. Then, in response to our apparent surprise: but we were prepared - we’d checked the weather forecast. Well, thanks Mr. Gold Earring.

As we continue, another guy comes running along in jeans and Blundstones. He stops to tell us it’s not too far now. Was he cute? Hard to tell under his hat and ski mask.

Once again, into the cloud. It’s thick and very cold. Once again, the path forks unexpectedly. Is it going around, or do we just go up? Once again, I make the wrong call - I’m just way too devoted to following a clear path. Agnes, logically, knows we need to go up, but follows me anyways - we’ll just see where this goes. Some people coming down set us straight. Just follow the cairns, like Mr. Judgy Gold Earring said. It’s a rock field, and they are the only thing you can see in the cloud. It’s not a bad climb, but a bit of a scramble.

There are a few people at the top - a crowd, compared to what we’ve seen before - including a couple speaking Polish. Agnes says hello, and we start chatting. Both wearing buffs, her with short hair, him with long dreads and a straggly goatee. They work in the food industry in Manchester and are making the most of their holiday. They take a picture of us by the plaque - the National Trust land was given after WWI - and give us tangerines. After a short chat, they head off down the mountain.

We follow a bit later, after another look at the map. Going down is much less fun. It’s scrambly and windy and impossible to see far. At one point, I can’t see the ground more than a metre or so ahead. It looks like we just drop off a cliff, into the cloud abyss. I’m totally paralyzed. Agnes calmly tells me to just keep moving, keep going. I shuffle forward - this is not cool - but finally, the ground re-appears.
Entering the Cloud

We reach a fork. We know we want to head down into a valley by a river. I see where it SHOULD turn off, but no clear path. Another path goes straight ahead. We opt to follow the cairns. Two girls appear out of the fog - confused, because they’re heading down when they want to get to the peak. For once, we can give directions - and be a bit judgy, since they have no map.

We slog on across a boulder field. Cairns are the only markers, and thank god they’re there. The wind is horizontal, freezing cold. Finally, we get onto a path, start to come out of the cloud. There are big patches of snow around still.

And then we see a lake. What the hell is that?

We are definitely not by the river we hoped for. So where the heck are we?

Agnes shows, once again, her innate skill at translating between map and reality. (Does a PhD in scientific models help?) That tarn is a clear landmark, she says. And the only thing that makes sense is Sparkling Tarn. But how the hell did we get there? I say. We were heading east, sure, and we did cross a rock field, fine, and that does look like we could have gone to Great End … but the trail ends there. And clearly we were on a trail!

Agnes adds:
I point out parallels between map-and-compass navigation and some problems in the philosophy of science. It’s all epistemology, really: how do we know what we think we know? For instance, there’s the underdetermination of theory by evidence, the fact that multiple theories are compatible with a given set of observations. I had a theory about where we were on the map, with evidence to back it up, and so did Julia. Both theories explain some phenomena -- the position of the tarn for my theory, the fact that we were on a trail the whole time on Julia’s. Both also fail to explain others -- we shouldn’t have been on a trail the whole time, on my theory, but we were; the tarn shouldn’t have been where it was for Julia. So how do we choose between them?

We walked to a fork, and waited for a couple to get close. The guy checked his GPS, and pointed out exactly where we were on the map. Exactly where Agnes expected. Who cares that the map didn’t show our path? That lake did not lie.

We were actually back where we’d been with Tim the day before, and we set out back towards the New Dungeon valley … now very cold, very hungry, and very sad to be heading back into the cloud.

Once again, we got a bit confused at a crossroads. I was determined to use the compass properly. Straight ahead!
Soon enough, we were out of the cloud. There was Angle Tarn. Exactly where we’d been yesterday. But we didn’t really want to just retread familiar ground, right back to the hotel. Where’s the fun in that?

We finally plunked down to have lunch (sausages!! Never tasted better!) and another look at the map.

There was another little path going away from Angle Tarn, across the hills. It eventually hit the Cumbrian Way, and went down into the valley along a different route. Why not try that?
As soon as we got cold (didn’t take long) we packed up lunch, and headed back along the path. There was an older gent in a blue raincoat with a scruffy little terrier. I asked him if he was alright (genuinely, not just a greeting) and he said no, not really. He’d had heart and lung operations not so long ago, and he really wasn’t feeling great. We chatted a bit, but broke it off fairly soon. We had to keep moving. (This prompted a conversation about the right amount of chat with strangers you meet - it’s a balance. You want a bit of info, but you don’t really want to get into a long committed conversation - turns out Agnes and I have about the same limits).

Off onto the grassy hillside. Right away, the path was faint. Barely pathy. We took a compass bearing, and followed it. The weather was getting wild. It started to rain - not straight down, but directly sideways. The right side of my face was getting pressure washed. My glasses were so wet I couldn’t really see. If you lost your balance, the wind would push you the rest of the way. We were up on a kind of ridge, trudging along with no real path, just following the compass. Agnes’s pants were soaked through, her boots were killing her.

We were both cold and soaked, and this added a sense of urgency. If we didn’t keep moving, we’d freeze. If we couldn’t find our way back, we’d be in real trouble. For a little bit, we jogged down the narrow path -- in part to stay warm, in part because it was just so much FUN! We’d given up keeping our feet dry, and just sloshed right through the middle of puddles. Also fun. The whole time we were giggling like we were high. No twining, just a little clahhhhhhty bit! It could have been miserable. But it was just the opposite.
Not how we looked at this point.
But kinda how we felt!

Off in the distance, I saw another line cutting across our path. The Cumbrian Way? It had to be. Finally we got there - and it was a path! The path down!

It was a treacherous descent - down is SO much harder than up - the path was a small waterfall, full of switchbacks.

Finally, familiar ground - the Cumbrian Way down in the valley. Only about an hour to go!
So we started singing. Yelling, really, into the wind and rain. It started with All Star. Sugar Ray - what was that song?? - Just Wanna Fly. Lion King. I’m Blue, Barbie Girl. Trying to remember that Third Eye Blind song … Ace of Base. Hanson’s classic Mmmmbop, then Where’s the Love. Chilli Peppers, Sublime’s Santeria (though I was pretty rough on the words for that one - Agnes was on point).

Then sheepfolds. The Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel. Past the Stickle Barn. And we made it! Sopping wet, boots covered in sheep shit. Tracking it all into the posh entrance of the New Dungeon Ghyll. Room 2 tonight, on the ground floor - once again cute twin beds.
One problem: the drying room was outside - just a shed with a heater and a lot of hangers. Not much help for our boots, but whatever. Showers, but still not warm.

We opted for the Walker’s bar, rather than the restaurant for dinner - more our speed. Beer, burger for Agnes, meat pie for me. Okay food, not amazing. Biscuits and tea and TV again - this time a hit of hard news. A press conference with Ralph Goodale - some car drove into pedestrians in Toronto, killed 10 people. Unclear if it’s terrorism. Too much reality.
Then, trivia competition between Cambridge and Oxford teams (Cam won!!) and some strange BBC 4 drama involving virtual reality called ‘Kiss Me First’ (who is kissing whom? We never figured that out). I fell asleep before it was over.

Total walking - 10 AM to 6ish. A solid 8.5 hours.

Lake District Day 1

Sunday April 22 


Start by making a whole whack of sandwiches. We form an assembly line - mayo, hot mustard, ham, salami, cheese … PB & honey and bananas for breakfast. Already everything is easy. We know how to do this, and I love the efficiency of our packing. Carrots, hummus, apples, granola bars, nuts, chocolate and jelly babies - already busted into last night, because the texture is just so good!

It’s still sunny and balmy, well over 15 degrees. Hit the road, to the NORTH, as the signs keep telling us. So many roundabouts. I’m driving, because now I have practice (and sleep) it’s not so bad. 

Then the roads get narrow. Seriously narrow, and twisty. Cyclists on one side, ancient stone walls (Agnes calls them ‘moors’ - is that right?) and whizzing cars just beside me. I’m paranoid about the right side of the car - I misjudged where that curb was - and Agnes is stressed for me. But at the same time the driving gets painful, the landscape starts to change. Lakes. Mist. Mountains! I can barely look, I’m so fixated on the road, but Agnes is squealing. She wasn’t excited until now - how different could it be? But it’s DIFFERENT. This is the Lake District, for real. We listen to Kamasi Washington’s Fists of Fury, an epic soundtrack for our entrance. 

Finally, we make it - New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, a charming old stone house in the countryside, surrounded by giant hills. There’s a race or some event on - officials, cars, many muddy cyclists. I gratefully park, and we take stock. It’s about 2 pm. Our goal is to get over to the Wasdale Head Inn tonight, where we’re booked in. That means hiking across the peaks, into another valley. It’ll take at least 6 hours, we figure (based on Coach Mike’s helpful tips). We can make it, but barely. 

We ask the guy at the bar. He’s very helpful, especially considering we didn’t buy any food there - just gobbled our own sandwiches. If this were a horror movie, this is the harbinger moment: ‘go that way, at your peril’. He says: if you don’t make it to Angle Tarn in two hours, you MUST come back. One of his front teeth is black. 

We set out - still sunny and warm. The path goes along the Cumbrian Way, a major walking route. It’s clearly marked, through sheepfolds, along the valley, up along a little creek. We can’t stop marvelling at everything. The loose-stone fences, stretching high up into the hills. The lack of trees. The clouds racing across craggy peaks. The variety of sheep gate technology, complete with dog gates - and signs with a picture of a bloody lamb - keep your dog on a lead, or else. 

There’s a fork in the path, with a rare sign post. The Cumbrian way goes right, up to Stake Pass. Our path leads left - towards Esk Hause (whatever that is). So we begin to climb, up out of the valley. Agnes soon ‘de-kits’ - British for strips down to her shorts and t-shirt. I’m still in my rain jacket, against the wind. 

The list of British-isms is growing.
Faff = futzing around, especially common before/after rowing
Outings = going out for a row
Kit = your gear
Y’alright? = most confusing way to say ‘how’s it going?’ Still no idea how to properly answer.
[Added later:
Chilled = a song is ‘chilled’ not ‘chill’
Sorted = amazing expression. Sorted out, figured out, taken care of. As in: dinner’s sorted. Or in King’s Cross station: see it, say it, sorted. Way better than See something, say something]
Probably not the first selfie that day
It is a steep climb, and a long one. But the path is good - rocks, laid like stairs. At regular intervals there are neat stone-lined sluice-ways, to drain the path. We abandon our walking poles (another loan from Mike) - I can barely think about where to place my feet; I’m way too dumb to think about a pole as well. The view just gets better behind us. The whole Shire spread out below us, adventure ahead.
At the top, a new sight. A Tarn. It looks like a small lake, sort of a mountain pond. Because there are no trees or anything, you can see the whole shape. We’ve made our two-hour marker with a little room to spare - no going back now. Time to take a compass bearing, according to the harbinger at the bar. So I do. We need to head roughly north east, across the hills towards the next Wasdale valley.

The path seems good ... But we’re heading up into the cloud. It’s getting cold. The dull grass is beaded wet. Coats on, hoods up. Then - kind of suddenly, the path is no longer obvious. There seem to be at least three paths, near a random stone structure. Which way? I check the compass, and figure we head off this way - but I’m not 100% sure. It’s not quite the right direction, but the path looks okay.

It’s cold - I really wish I brought my mittens. We pause again, for Agnes to zip her pant legs back on, and then - a dog! Black with a bit of white around the muzzle. Then a man appears out of the cloud. Charlie-bee! He calls the dog. Turns out, it’s his friend’s dog, but he takes him out for walks. I ask where he’s been - Scafell Pike. That is NOT where we want to go today. But somehow, that’s where we’re headed. So much for my compass bearing.

Tim - that’s the man’s name - orders us to come with him. He’s got a green rain coat, dark hair in a little pony tail. Super friendly, VERY fast walker. He’s not judging us, but he makes it clear we were in danger. People get lost up here, he says: break things, fall off ledges. There’s a mountain rescue squad of volunteers - he can’t climb, so he’s not one of them.

He offers some new vocab for us, real Cumbrian words:
Twine = whine.
Clarty (PRON: Clahhhhhty) = boggy, wet ground
(We will use these words a LOT over the next few days.)

He answers a few of our questions: what’s a Ghyll? A little creek. What’s a fell? A mountain.
He does not tell us who laid the paths or who build the fences up the hills (and are they called moors?) but then, we didn’t ask.

Soon, we’re out of the cloud. The sun is still out, on the far hills. And we’re heading down.  Tim and Charlie head off into another valley, and we’re on our own, walking by Sparkling Tarn.

Another landmark from the guy at the bar - ‘the coffin’. It’s a wooden box, just the size for a person - inside, a stretcher. Grim.

The sun is getting low, we’re getting tired … but now I think we can see our destination. Way off down the valley, there are a few buildings, near a big lake: Wast Water, and hopefully, Wasdale Head Inn.

We start the long descent. There’s a level full of slugs - shiny, black, everywhere.
And then we’re into a long series of sheep folds. We bah and they bah back. There are lambs! Lots of them, plus some pregnant sheep. And once again, we have many questions:

Are all of these girl-sheep?
Where do they go to sleep?
Why are all the newborn lambs black?
Do they turn colour as they get older?

Just as it starts to rain, we get to the back of the Wasdale Head (it is the Wasdale Head!!). It’s perfect, a quaint old inn - the only one here. Inside, the walls are covered in old photographs of walkers and climbers. Men scaling peaks in bowler hats. We’re in room 8, perfect Holiday Inn set up of twin beds.

We eat at the pub in the back. Sunday roast for Agnes, brisket stew for me, and stout for both of us. The stew looks a bit like dog food, but it’s delicious - the better of the two choices, we both agree.
After sharing photos and instagramming - biscuits and tea in our room, and TV. Of course, Lord of the Rings would be on. Eventually, sleep.

Total walking: 2-7ish. A good 5 hours.