Monday 16 July 2012

A Dead Sheep Never Hurt Nobody: Day 2 on the Cumbria Way

First View of Coniston Water

Many years ago I watched a drama on television about a group of teenagers on a school trip who were walking and camping in the mountains with their teacher.  One of the boys, who was a bit nerdy, was full of “interesting” facts.  At one point he spent a good few minutes explaining to the long suffering and cynical teacher that if a stream in the mountains was fast flowing the rapid oxygenation of the water would mean that it would be safe to drink just six feet downstream from a dead sheep.  The teacher looked at him witheringly for a few moments and replied “Jones, if you were at a stream, wanting a drink, and there was a stinking, festering, rotting, maggot filled dead sheep in the water, would you take a drink from six feet below it?  Or would you, instead, walk 12 feet up stream so that you were six feet above the carcase and take a drink from there?”  Good point.
In outdoor blogs when the subject of safe water comes up there is frequently advice given not to drink from a stream without checking that there aren’t dead animals in it.  I have to say that whilst dead sheep are not an uncommon sight in the hills seeing them in streams is reasonably rare and I have never really spent much time checking water sources if they are fast flowing.  I would be more concerned about the lingering effects of Chernobyl, or even Sellafield.  But my stomach did turn at least 90 degrees just after I had packed up and started Day 2 of my “Southern Half of the Cumbria Way” walk when I saw the stereotypical rotting sheep in the stream I had camped near, and taken water from, just a few yards upstream from where I had camped.  Still I live to tell the tale, so that lad in the drama was correct – either that or my Travel Tap is as effective as claimed at purifying water.
I do not use the adjective “charming” very often.  However, it seems just the right word to describe my second day on the Way.  I covered the section from Mere Beck on Torver Low Common to Baysbrown Camp Site at Chapel Stile in Great Langdale.  I took my time over the walk, about 7 hours or so, including stopping for a full English in Coniston, for an ice cream at Tarn Hows, and for tea and cake at High Park, and with innumerable stops to put on or take off waterproofs in a warm, humid day of incessant torrential showers.  Can a shower be incessant or is that an oxymoron?
So, having packed up in light drizzle, I found it was just 15 minutes down to the main road and five more to Coniston Water, with stunning views whenever the clag lifted.  The walk now follows the lake shore, or just above it, and is absolutely fabulous.  I had reckoned that from camping spot to Coniston was 3.5 miles.  In reality the distance and time felt longer but was none the worse for that.   I was at the camp site at Coniston Old Hall just as most of the bedraggled campers there were having breakfast, filled my water bottle from one of the camp site taps, conveniently located next to the public path  (is that stealing?) and wondered at and about the rather bleak looking Hall itself.  I also tried to work out the actual building that was used as the climbing hut set up in the 1920s by the late and very great AH Griffin, my favourite of all the army of Lakeland writers, which had been home to the “Coniston Tigers”** as they explored the gullies and buttresses of Dow Crag in the golden years of Lakeland climbing.

A Proud Mum

I have always loved the village of Coniston.  As you enter the village you pass the wonderfully located John Ruskin Secondary School, a place I frequently used to visit for work purposes.  Can pupils anywhere in England have better views from their school playing field?  Coniston feels like a real place, yes full of tourists, but not self-consciously touristy like certain other Lakeland villages.  And you can get a mean, if pricey, all day breakfast in the Green Housekeeper.  As I did.  Alas, it was far too early for the Black Bull.  A cracking pub the Black Bull, with its own brewery attached.
Then it was off on the long, slow climb through the fields and woods to Tarn Hows.  Did it rain?  Yes it did.  Torrentially. Did it dry up?  Yes it did. Occasionally.  Then it rained again. Then it dried up again and that was the pattern for the rest of the morning.  Paramo is superb clothing in these conditions.  You can wear it all the time without condensation building up, and the dry spells mean that it never wets out.  Unfortunately, I had left mine at home and was wearing Gore Tex so I had to stop time and time again to remove and replace it.  I once found myself racing to get my sack off, and waterproofs out, in the most sudden and torrential of downpours, which had stopped before I had even got my jacket on.

Tarn Hows
Tarn Hows is too Edwardian twee for me but it often boasts an ice cream van.  The stretch of the Way from here to Elterwater is sublime. There is no single highlight in terms of landscape.  It is just perfection throughout.  Also, this stretch of the walk at High Park can boast one of the best non-alcoholic refreshments stops ever known to tea shop man.  Here the cottage serves superb refreshments.  I paid £1.00 for a pot of tea and just £1.00 more for a massive slice of superbly baked chocolate cake.
 “Tremendous value and lovely cake” I said to the lady of the house. “Other places would charge far more”.
“Well I don’t want holiday makers to go home feeling they have been ripped off” she replied.
From someone in a location where few customers will be regulars, or able to repeat visit, this was such a superb attitude compared to what the multi-nationals and chains call “the customer experience” as they serve you mass produced, cellophane wrapped muffins with a bland cup of froth and no change from a fiver.  On the subject of fivers, Stuart Maconie tells the tale in one of his books*** that a bloke in Bolton was once bragging to his mate from Wigan that in Bolton on an evening you can get a pint, a pie and a woman for a fiver.  “Aye, but what make is the pie” retorted the guy from Wigan.

Towards Langdale on the Way to High Park

The Brathay nr Skelwith Bridge

The walk along the Brathay is picture postcard perfect. The sun was out by now and the combination brought out the crowds, but all was well with my world and I condescended to tolerate them, despite my now tiring legs as I headed to Baysbrown camp site at Chapel Stile.  Passing Langdale CE Primary School took me back a good few years.  As with the schools at Coniston, I frequently used to have to visit Langdale Primary in the early 1990s for work purposes.  It took the Headteacher of the time, Nigel, a good few visits before he cottoned on that I always came on a Friday morning.  I never used to tell him when I left at lunchtime that there wasn’t time to get back to the office in Carlisle, so giving me the perfect excuse to start the weekend early with a walk up onto the Langdale Pikes before heading home for tea.

Baysbrown and the Langdales
I highly recommend the camp site at Baysbrown.  Flat, and it all feels less chavvy than the NT site at the ODG higher up the valley.  And it’s only a fiver for one person on foot.  But watch out for the lack of taps and the very long trek for water and amenities if you do not camp up by the farmhouse.  Or, of course, camp well away from the site amenities but at the end of the site nearer the pub, if you are of that mind.

If you want water or the toilet block you have to walk to that farm - a full day's hike!
  This had been a wonderful day’s walk.  There had been little in the way of excitement, but everything in the way of contentment.

** If you haven’t read AH Griffin’s stuff you really must!   My favourites are his Lakeland Mountain Diaries.  But the Coniston Tigers is also a lovely read of youthful adventures in another age.
***Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie.  Another great read from another lover of Lakeland


  1. Nice day, even with the weather.
    Looking forward to the rest.
    I am sold on the walk already, but the the Lakes is my favourite place.

  2. Yes Andrew, it was a super day. As you will find there is only one more day of this trip report (yet to be written)as I only did the southern section - but have done the rest as far as Caldbeck at various times on day walks.

    I am infatuated with the Lakes - you might want to read my blog post of 23 November 2011 on this site - you might feel an afinity with the sentiments there. The only problem is I have probably been too narrow minded over the last 20 years and not done enough exploring of other areas.

    If it was your blog about the TGOC, by the way, with the picture of the scrambled Akto - I loved it and was inspired by it!

    Finally, I would like to increase readership so would be very happy for you to recommend to others!

    1. I have just finished reading Eric Robson's "After Wainwright" which has set me thinking for a trip if I don't make it on to the Challenge - a 190 mile circular walk around "the mountains of remote Lakeland"

      Having done the middle bit to death I quite fancy this walk.

    2. I see Mr Sloman is already here.

      I was indeed the Blog with the Akto.
      Not MY Akto I hasten to add.
      My Trailstar is far too wonderful to revert to an Akto.

      Will have a look at 23rd.

    3. Hi again Andrew

      My very own Trailstar is, I am informed, winging (or sailing?) its way over the Atlantic at this very moment. I will be interested to compare it with the Akto. It can't have quite as many little niggles as I have found in the latter -I hope!

    4. Sounds like a cracker Al.
      The meds must be working :-)

  3. Alan, I think the 190 mile Lakeland walk sounds great. I had wondered once about trying to follow the round Lakeland route, planned by Wainwright for Whitsuntide 1936, although over more days than he had intended. He and his friends failed to complete because it was over ambitious. Although that route would not meet your criteria of the done to death middle bit. My own favourite area is the NW fells - not quite as busy but still fabulous.