Wednesday 26 April 2017

Days 2 and 3: The Pre-Walk Daunder Finishes (me off)

It was a lazy start to the second day of the walk. The schismers had to head down Tongue Gill to our camp spot so we brewed up and chatted in the spring sun as we waited for them. By 9.15 am all 14 of us were in the same place at the same time for almost the first time on the walk, and this number simply emphasised the obvious, that it was far better that we split into smaller groups. As we headed to Seatoller some members of the party decided that more hills (or, for some, any hills), would be a bad idea.
The schism temporarily healed, Mick makes a speech explaining why it would be much better to abandon the day's walk and head to a pub for fish finger sandwiches
So at Seatoller we schismed again, and half of us headed into the fabulozy Combe Gill and then along the delightful path up Thornythwaite Fell and on to Glaramara. About 30 minutes before the top Johnboy, who had been walking near me, suddenly changed gear, arriving at the summit an hour before I did. I know that Einstein and the laws of physics would tell you that would be impossible but I am simply telling you what actually happened.  And, in case you are wondering, by the time we were on the top our fellow Daunderers were eating the largest platefuls of fish finger sandwiches that ever came out of the North Sea at the pub in Rosthwaite.

    Andy, Jaimie, Robin and Johnboy heading up Thornythwaite Fell above Combe Gill

Happy Bunny on Thornythwaite Fell
The path to Allen Crags is also full of loveliness and the sun shone, and the views were sharp and clear and wonderful and the fells were at their absolute best and we generally revelled in the walk, despite hitting the busyness of the Esk Hause to Angle Tarn path. Then on down by Angle Tarn Beck into Langstrath. If you haven't walked Langstrath this is, for the Lakes, a long, long valley. I first came down this way in March 1973 and found it tiring as a fit 16 year old. Now I'm far less fit but know what to expect when I walk this valley. Thus, if loins are girded at Angle Tarn it does not feel as bad as it did all those years ago.  Even better, as we put our tents up on the campsite at Stonethwaite Judith, who had taken the shorter route, raced around collecting our water bottles and generally looking after the more weary amongst us. Then it was bar snack time.
On Allen Crags

Stonethwaite Campsite
Which takes us to Sunday and another delightful path, but this time low down through Borrowdale and back to Braithwaite. We managed to stick together almost to Grange, when a tea shop with tables in the sun proved too much of a temptation to those amongst us who understood the true meaning of a Daunder.  The group I was in pootled on ahead, stopping only when we came to a handily placed ice cream van below Catbells. My fellow walkers were so enjoying the walk itself that despite the route going right past the Swinside Inn we just carried on. But a pub, right next to the route?  We never saw the laggards again. I believe they are all still alive and I suspect their legs were rather less stiff than mine were the following day. 
Johnboy naively looks to the hills whilst Al and Phil discuss the locations of pubs and cafes

One of the prettiest views in England: Derwent Water, Skiddaw, Blencathra and Keswick
Some of those who made my three days so enjoyable

Stats: Day 2 - 19.4 km, 1020m ascent, 8 hours 30 minutes
          Day 3 - 14.0 km, 336m ascent, 4 hours 30 minutes

Pre-Walk Daunder: Early days and even earlier schisms

A gratuitous shot of some cuben fibre that I own (taken before the herd of cats arrived at Braithwaite campsite)

Thursday and Friday

I had arranged for us (fourteen in all, to my horror, thanks to some string pulling) to meet at the Scotgate Campsite in Braithwaite near Keswick for the first night of the Pre-Walk Daunder. There is a pub close at hand and an excellent café on site. So I had passed the first test.

I failed the second test, though. Friday morning came and the hills were shrouded in clag.  A very heavy, wetting drizzle as we took our tents down drove us into the café as soon as packs were packed.  Al and Phil huddled at a table, consulting a map, whispering.

“We aren’t really planning to go up Robinson and along the ridge in this are we?” asked Al of me, smiling. I wasn't certain if this was a question, a suggestion or an instruction. Al is perfectly capable of doing a male version of that Mrs Thatcher thing. You know the one. The smile of Marilyn Monroe, the eyes of Caligula.

The idea that I had once had in my head that my role had been simply to plan a possible route and book the table at the pub was dissolving rapidly. It seemed my responsibilities had been extended to that of cat herder. “We can decide at Little Town,” I announced, pretending to be in charge. “Well I’ve already decided”, said a small bearded chap eating a pie and holding a dog lead. “I’m going up the valley.” The schism had begun and we hadn’t even set foot outside.

We walked along a pleasant level path by the beck and onto a country lane in the beautiful Newlands Valley. I turned left up another lane, which would take us upwards and on to a path along the lower edge of Catbells.  This lane was therefore the start of two long legs on the route shaped like a narrow-based triangle.  All followed.  Well all except Al and Phil. They had seen a tea shop sign pointing along the narrow base of the triangle.  It meant they could cut a corner, not climb the first hill and have tea and cake. Well I suppose we had been walking for 30 minutes. The schism was growing.
Daunderers at lovely Little Town Church and School Room
We got to Little Town Church.  High Snab Bank, heading towards Robinson, was in the distance, looking steep, claggy, wet and windy. The schism grew.  I was tempted to join the valley huggers. But no. I had planned the route. The weather was not that bad. It would clear. Half the group headed up. Half headed along.

There are a few rocky steps on High Snab Bank. Short but steep scrambles.  I stopped and stowed my poles so that I could safely overcome these obstacles. I was just behind Johnboy. He had been carrying both his poles horizontally in one hand all morning and he didn’t bother stowing them as he approached the rock. As I was heaving myself up using hands, feet and knees I looked up. Johnboy was walking up the rock, hands in pockets and looking at the views all around as he did so. I looked back. No it wasn’t me. Robin, and Gerry were also using every hand that they possessed and Andy, Jaimie and Emma had taken another path to skirt sections of the scramble.
Summit of Hindscarth. That's Andy third from left, not a smurf
The drizzle had now stopped but the wind had increased significantly on the ridge.  Breaks in the cloud gave magnificent views back as we walked over Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head.

As we dropped down towards Dale Head Tarn we knew that if we camped at our original planned spot above Wilson’s Bield on the way towards High Spy we would be in for a wild night. We could see seven tents below us at the tarn – the schism group had come to the same decision, but a couple of hours earlier. We arrived, but had already decided that as they would have taken the best spots, and given the general bleakness and blowyness of the day we would make them suffer for their choice of a short day. We would deprive them of our company. That’d learn them.  Dale Head Tarn is, in any case, a notorious spot for wild campers who are in the know. It is so popular, and has just a few obvious places to pitch, that what can look like an idyllic place in the sun is actually just a huge mass of human excrement under a thin layer of grass and peat, and the outflow stream is marginally less clean than a London Sewer.
Our rather squished camp spot just above the intake wall
So we headed on, covering a couple of km of the planned next day’s walk, down Tongue Gill to a lovely sheltered location that Robin knew.  I was glad to arrive.  The day had been plenty long enough for me.  But the evening sun broke through and Gerry went round with a Platy bag containing Rusty Nails and all was well in our little world.

Andy seen through his bug netting

Stats: 18.3km distance, 1158 m ascent, 7 hours 50 minutes

Marching Orders

A pub in Lincolnshire

Empty pint glasses and Ordnance Survey maps cover the table.

Peer of the Realm (PotR):  “So. Another fine TGO Challenge route put to bed. Tell me again, though. Why did you invite that oik to walk with us?”

String Puller-in-Chief (SPiC):  “It’s a social service. The man needs help. And I suppose he just might come in useful at some stage.”

PotR: “But the fella is a cad. Couldn’t be bothered to drive from Wales to Lincolnshire to help. We’ve done all this route planning ourselves. He’s a bounder, sir, make no mistake.”

SPiC: “You have him all wrong. He is actually a veryvery nice man. But let’s be realistic. He doesn’t know his Trossachs from his Pentlands.  It was better we just got on with it.” 

PotR: “Anyway, that’s the easy bit. Now we need to sort the Pre-Walk Daunder.”

SPiC: “Indeed. And didn't I just say he might come in useful.  We need a fall guy. …..”

A telephone conversation the following day

Puppet (aka Fellbound, for it is he): “I’m feeling guilty that I left the TGOC route planning to you guys. What can I do to help?”

SPiC: “Well there is one tiny little thing. You couldn’t plan the Pre-Walk Daunder could you?”

Puppet, aloud: “Yes of course, no problem.”

Puppet, silently: “Shit”.

SpiC: “You sure that’s ok?”

Puppet: “Sure. As I said. No problem.”

SPiC (in cod German accent):  “Gut. Now. You vil submit all ze details to me. I vil vet vem. You vil ven put vem into operation. You vil not fail me, vil you. No vat was not a qvestion. Vat was a statement.  Ve last man who failed me is now buried in concrete below a vind turbine in the North-Vest Highlands. Ve do not tolerate failure.  Relax, David. Only joking. But don't mess up. Seriously. Don't mess up.