Saturday 14 September 2013

Day 1 of a walk and a wild camp in the North Western Fells…with a bit of a rant about some mountain bikers with large tattoos and even larger biceps and a dog walker with neither

A life on the ocean wave: Derwent Water

Distance: A very modest 8km
Height: 761m climbed, 287m descended
Wainwright Count: 3
A fun and relaxing way to begin a walk in the Lakes is to take a ferry to your start point.  And this is what I did last Wednesday, catching the 10.30am anti-clockwise boat on Derwent Water from Keswick to Hawse End.  Excellent value for £3.85.
The weather was still, mild and claggy, and the outside seats on the ferry were damp from the last shower but I was happy to put up with wet backside syndrome to benefit from the lovely views to Derwent Isle and the hills all around.  After a quick 15 minutes of nautical life, the captain dropped anchor off the Hawse End Pier and I disembarked and headed off up Cat Bells.
Cat Bells from the launch - the top is just in the cloud
Cat Bells is one of the most photographed hills in the Lakes, and it often features in books of walking routes as an ideal and easy mountain for children.  “Anyone can climb it”, I read the other day.  I actually think that the image given by its picturesque name is misleading, certainly when approached from Hawse End.  No, of course it’s not hard, but it isn’t a walk in the park and there are a couple of steep scrambly sections so it’s not as gentle as often implied.  It does boast the most glorious views back over Derwent Water, the view being one of the Lakes at their charming and beguiling best.
Derwent Water from Cat Bells

With my pack and my lack of hill fitness it was 70 minutes to the top.  And here I met the three mountain bikers who had been carrying their bikes up the hill in front of me, cycling on the easier stretches. Now, mountain bikes are great.  I have dabbled in the past, in a very minor way.  But they are only great in the right place.  At the risk of winding up any mountain bikers reading this, my view is that in the hills a single mountain bike trip will cause far more erosion than a walker covering the same route, unless the route is all on bed rock.  The surface area of the bike wheels touching the ground is less than a hiker’s boot and the wheel is constantly in touch with the ground, combining weight of bike and rider. So that means more erosion.  No doubt many will disagree, but that’s free speech for you!  So to me the ideal place for mountain bikes is forest trails and the like, of which there are plenty in the Lakes.
One thing is certain. Bikes can only legally use public bridleways, not public footpaths.  And this trio were not on a bridleway so they shouldn’t have been there anyway.  Now as I am a grumpy and pompous old git I decided to say something to them about this, that was until I caught up with them at the top.  This is where cowardice got the better of me.  Let me describe their arms.  They had biceps.  Not your ordinary office worker biceps, I mean the sorts you see if you are foolish enough ever to visit a back street gym.  And on top of their biceps they had another layer of biceps.  And on top of their second layer of biceps they had tattoos.  Not tattoos of the names of their wives and children.  Skulls and the like.  And names that may well have been those of pit bull dogs.  Furthermore, they all had stubble on their faces.  Not a clean shave amongst them.  So I meekly said “hello, lovely day so far, hope it keeps dry” and they grunted at me, which I took for agreement, then they did some showing off type stunts on their bikes and took photos and then they headed on down the public footpath at high speed, no doubt scaring the life out of poor Mrs Tiggy Winkle, who, as you know, lives just below Cat Bells.
I am sure they were very nice gentlemen really

From Cat Bells to Maiden Moor

I dropped down to the col known as Hause Gate where the first few drops of rain hit me.  Soon after that the old Berghaus Paclite rain gear was on, jacket and trousers.  I don’t often bang on about gear in this blog but I may do a post about various kit related items soon, and will mention Paclite, mainly because it gets a bad press by those ‘in the know’, whereas I am perfectly happy with it.
A short detour from the main path took me up to Bull Crag and then to the top of Maiden Moor.  From here it was on through the clag and heavy rain to the summit of High Spy, my third ‘Wainwright’ of the day.  It wasn’t driving rain as there was no wind, but it was pretty torrential for all that.
Top of High Spy: A fine cairn

As I descended from High Spy I came across a Berghaus pack raincover on the ground.  I wondered whether to pick it up and keep it (ie steal it), salving my conscience with the excuse that it was now just litter, or whether I should leave it in case anyone came back for it.  Conscience was getting the better of me, not least because I didn’t need another pack cover.  As I debated this serious moral dilemma, poking at it with one of my poles, I saw a chap about 50 metres below me picking up another pack cover.  I shouted down that I, too, had found one.  He replied that they were both his, that he and his wife had lost them, and he was walking back to find them.  Now to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “to lose one packcover may be regarded as misfortune; but to lose two starts to look like carelessness”, but I kept this thought to myself, and instead talked to him, as he arrived, about his dog, a two year old border collie which was racing up and down the hill.  Having just acquired hyperpup I am interested in collies.
“How long have you been letting her off the lead in the hills”, I asked.
“Only since yesterday”, he replied, “she chased sheep until then”.  So she stopped chasing sheep all of a sudden like, I wondered.
“Now she just chases after people and bites at their boots”, he added.  That’s ok then.  Off you go girl. Get off my boots.
It is a sharpish drop down to Dale Head Tarn, not one of the finest tarns in the Lakes.  I had planned to wild camp here, but it was pretty marshy and I didn’t fancy the drier small walled enclosure which was right next to the path. So I headed up over rough moorland to Launchy Tarn.  The rain was stopping now, and not far from this small, peaty pool I found a dry island with a lovely level pitch, no hummocks or heather, and with a good stream just 10 minutes away.  It could have been very exposed in wind but it was still calm, so it was up with the Tarp Tent Scarp 1 for the first time for real.  And it seems to be a cracker of a shelter, so more about that at another time.  Then it was a lazy remainder of the afternoon, brewing up, sorting stuff, sitting on a rock contemplating the peace and reading until meal time.  If you ever wild camp you will know the sort of thing.
Tarp Tent Scarp 1 near Launchy Tarn
The view downwards from my tent - Dale Head Tarn just visible left centre
Dinner was a ‘Cup a Soup’ followed by a Mountain House Chicken Korma, or so the packet claimed.  It actually wasn’t too bad, but why do the instructions always tell you to add more water than needed so you end up with more soup?  Bird’s instant semolina for pudding, followed by hot chocolate and a Milky Way and bed and the Kindle and the Famous Grouse and a really good night’s sleep.
Stats of the walk from my Active 10 Sat Nav:
Time taken: 294 days 7 hours
Distance covered: 148km
Average speed whilst moving: 48 km per hour.
Note to myself: Reset trip log before using Active 10 in future.


  1. Your flying. We will never keep up. Paclite? Na.....lets not. Keep it coming.

  2. Cracking good trip that Grommet.
    I do a lot of mountain biking, but only on the proper paths.
    Never cycle like a twat if anyone about, unlike the prats we met last year in the Peaks when I was with Lynsey and Carl.
    They had scared a horse and knocked the rider off.
    You need Al with you when you meet loony MTB'ers, he has anger management issues with bikers.
    And on the subject of biceps.
    My boy has bigger arms than them.
    NO, he really really does!

    Come on then...part 2, before I finish my August Dartmoor trip :-)

    1. Thanks Andy. I'll bet Al is scary when he's roused. Part 2 imminent..

  3. Nice report David. Having an honours degree in cowardice myself, I also would have bottled out of confronting those MB'ers too. I find you live longer that way. I quite agree though. Its no place for a bike. The craziest place I've seen them is carrying their bikes up the steep eastern side of Grizedale Pike trying to get to the summit. Madness !
    Looking forwards to day 2.

    1. Honours degree in cowardice? Bet it's only a 2:1? Mine's a 1st!

  4. Just to say that my pal broke his face on Catbells a few years ago and had to be stitched up, which was done so badly he had to grow a beard. Just a tip on the dangers of Catbells there.... how long will it take your eight year old to grow a beard is my only question...

  5. That Cat Bells needs a good telling off, Mike, doing that to your friend. I shall have words with her the next time I go there.

  6. You really should watch out for men that are not cleanly shaven, they are just trouble.

    Enjoyed that.

  7. Hi James

    Yes uncleanly shaven men are a distinctly dodgy lot. Definitely known for their dodginess.
    Thanks for not commenting on the photo of my Scarp which doesn't look that well put up. All them creases - looks like it needs a good iron.