|The Afternoon Before the Morning After|
I like the view of the sky line hence again using this photo from the day before!
This was the third and last day of my walk along the southern half of the Cumbria Way. Following the essential mug of tea whilst lying in my sleeping bag, without which I can never get started, I had what I regard as the ultimate lightweight backpacking comfort breakfast – good old Ready Brek. Before I set out on trips I usually make up daily individual portions in plastic food bags – the oats, mixed with some dried milk and sugar. If I am feeling particularly Jamie Oliverish I also bung in some dried fruit flakes. Then it’s just add hot water. There are two draw backs. The first is that you do have a pot to rinse out, unless you are happy just to let the gunge boil off and add body to your next brew; and the dry oats do get everywhere when you open the bag – in your sleeping bag, trail shoes, socks, underpants, the lot. A small price to pay.
I was walking by 6.30am. The weather, true to the forecast, was dry, but rain was supposed to be heading over for later in the morning.
The walk from Baysbrown Campsite to the old Dungeon Ghyll is very straightforward, with the classic view of the Langdale Pikes in view for much of the time. My heart did sink, however, as I dropped down to the farm at Side House, when I saw that yet again I was in cattle country (see my account of Day 1 for details of my abject cowardice / phobia when in the presence of bovines and equines). Slow deep breath. Another slow deep breath. And another. Spin the fear. Yes they are right across the bloody path. Yes that it is a bull standing right next to the path. No there isn’t an alternative route. Yes they have calves with them. Yes they do seem to be ignoring me. No the bull hasn’t looked up. There is the gate out of the field. No they aren’t following me. Yes I am out of the field and there is the New Dungeon Ghyll. Piece of piss, what was the fuss about?
|Back down Mickleden|
I have walked many times between the Old and New Dungeon Ghyll Hotels and usually do this along the road. Today I followed the Way proper that runs parallel to the road but higher up behind the NDG and along the northern valley side. I was mildly surprised at how rough this track was in places and it involved a reasonable height gain, the road being along the flat valley floor. But I was soon beyond the ODG and into Mickleden. I have walked along Mickleden many, many times. Never before have I encountered a bull or cattle. Today I had both. Sod them. I just marched passed. Memories of the first time I walked this valley came back. It was Easter 1974 and I was 16. I was carrying a very heavy pack from the National Trust camp site near the ODG over to Borrowdale via Styhead and we toiled on a hot day up Mickleden and then up by Rossett Gill to Angle Tarn. In those days, if you didn’t know about the old pack horse zig zags, and we didn’t, you had an hour of purgatory following the stream bed and the most appalling river of scree you could ever try walking in. These days the zig zags have been re-engineered and are very evident.
|Looking up Mickleden|
Today, though, I forked right for
before Rossett Gill and trudged up one of the few long climbs on the Cumbria Way. The views ahead are initially relatively restricted; those behind back towards Langdale, and across towards The Band and Bow Fell are just magnificent. At the top of the Pass is a short moraine filled plateau, Langdale Combe, with some wild camp possibilities. Stake Pass
|The Stake Pass. Steeper than it looks in this photo!|
|Mickleden from Stake Pass Path|
A Geography Teacher's Heavenly Example of a Glaciated Trough
And now the rain came. Just a fine drizzle at first. And as the wind increased in strength so did the rain. By the time I was descending into Langstrath I was into heavy clag, and boy did it tip it down. The drop down into Langstrath is pretty steep. There is a heavily engineered path for much of the way. I hate most of these man made aberrations and the bends and zig zags in this were unnaturally symmetrical, and the surface looked as if it had been prepared for a final top layer of tarmac. To me it was further evidence of the insensitive approach of Fix the Fells to what is, admittedly, a difficult problem. But I have to admit it certainly made the going easier and quicker, not that that should be the point of such paths.
|Langstrath from Stake Pass|
Those skies were far more menacing than they appear in this photo!
By the time I had reached the valley floor the downpour appeared to be over and I sat on a boulder near Tray Dub to take off my waterproofs. A walker coming up the valley gave me a cheery hello and then made a joke about me removing my waterproofs. “Please don’t do that”, he said “you know what happens when you take waterproofs off. It always starts to rain again”. I smiled but as I set off I muttered something to myself about superstitious old cynics.
Five minutes later it was heaving down, and I was half soaked by the time I had got my cag and overtrousers back on. I hared down the valley towards Stonethwaite. Head down, hood up I took in little of the view, and certainly took no photographs, although I paused to look up to Sergeant Crags Slab. This isn’t marked on the map but was the scene for me of a super day’s climbing in 1994 when Al Davis led, and then coaxed me up, an HVS and then a “soft touch” E1. The crag had only recently been discovered by climbers and the rock was perfect, lots of friction, and so different to many of the polished climbs on the more popular crags of Borrowdale. I had taken up climbing far too late in life and was remarkably inept at it, but the bug held me for 5 or 6 years and it gave me many an adrenalin and fear filled after work evening or weekend whenever the sun shone.
I had considered walking as far as Rosthwaite to catch the Keswick bus but this was no fun in what was now the most horrendous rain. By a forced march I made the bus stop just beyond Stonethwaite with a couple of minutes to spare before the bus arrived. Keswick beckoned. So did the café in Booths, possibly the nicest supermarket in the world, and lashings of tea and an all day breakfast while waiting for the Penrith bus, and then the faff of getting tent, gear and clothes dry. The tedium of unpacking and drying out always takes the gloss off a walk –for about 10 minutes – after which the good bits get better and the bad bits fade and die.