Sunday, 22 July 2012

Stake In My Heart: Day 3 on the Cumbria Way

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 Stake Pass 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.

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.  


  1. It's a lovely walk on a nice day, it is not a bad walk on an iffy day, but not too pleasant in torrential rain.

    And COWS....

    Never go on a walk with Sloman, he's as phobic as you.
    But 99% of the time they are no bother, even with calves.
    On my routine walk with the dog inFulbourn Fen, there are alway cows. Yesterday, one stood roight in front of the gate, the others just stared, the calves looked om. I slapped her across the backside and she moved out of the way.
    It's all in the mind.

    1. Hmm.
      7/10 for typing skills on my last comment.

    2. I should ahve said 5/10 for typing skills Andrew. "Roight"? I thought you were from East Anglia but with an accent like that I clearly got this wrong. You are Irish! You are roight, though, about it being all in the mind. Well almost. Mr Sloman is correct about calves.

      The walk was great despite the weather. But it is several weeks on.

  2. I've never seen a bull in Mickleden...
    Ignore young Andy - cows with their young can be killers. There are instances in Britain of walkers being killed almost every year.
    But, you mustn't let it get in the way of getting out there and shoving your way through.
    Sounds to me like you missed tow excellent pubs though - the ODG and the pub in Stonethwaite...

    1. It was definitely a bull, Alan. Great big brown thing. No udders and an impressive set of wedding tackle. Not that I examined him too closely in that department - for reasons of health and safety and, I hasten to add, decency. He was with his harem (did I spell that correctly? Sounds like a town in Holland. They were at the ODG end, just before the final gate in to the open fell /valley.

      You are right about those two pubs - I know them well. Having lived in Cumbria for a number of years I am reasonably good on the pubs of Lakeland - but from reading your blogs I suspect I would have to bow to your far more extensive knowledge and experience on all matters alcohol....However, I bet I could beat you on knowedge of the tea shops of Lakeland. And public toilets. I am thinking of writng a guide to the latter aimed at middle aged men. It will help me fill my time during my retirement from the end of this month. It is to be in 7 geographical volumes and will be called "A Pictorial Guide to the Public Conveniences of Lakeland". I will leave space in the margins for readers to update it with their own notes. I reckon the idea has legs.

  3. hi David,
    Just passing on a tip re oats brekky.
    I just use std Tesco sandwich bags. i make up individual portions like yourself. But i don't tip out the contents, i put the bag into the cup/bowl and open the top, then i spread out the bag as best as possible and then pour in boiling water. I have a cup lid and i let the oats stand for about a minute and then stir and eat.
    Dispose of the bag as and when. But no washing up to do.

  4. Hi Alan

    Well that is a brilliant tip. Why didn't I think of that? Stupidity probably. I will try it next time I am out. And if it also keeps the oats out of my sleeping bag and and underpants it will win my "Tip of the Decade" accolade.

  5. When i first tried it i thought i might end up with a soggy plastic mess, but no, it works a treat. Passing on tips and info is what blogging is all about. Glad you like it.

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