Wednesday, 26 April 2017

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


  1. Stirring stuff, the preparations for the great yearly migration across the wild badlands of the far north, appear to be going well???

    1. Thanks Dawn. Preparations going well? I think so but only time will tell.

  2. I have grandiose delusions that I was sired by a mountain gazelle. The other bloodline however appears to have been a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, and one day I'll slip and embarrass myself.

    1. Embarrassment is okay, John. In fact it gives everybody else a good laugh. But injuries aren't. You take care now!

  3. Great stuff.
    Actually, Jayme & I were on the 1st scramble out of view, and yes, using hands. Then we waited for Emma like true gentlemen.

    1. Hi Andy. Sorry for the inaccuracy. I was rather too busy to spend much time looking back and down to see what you and Jayme were doing. I was rather more concerned with ensuring that I didn't take a flier.

  4. How did Andy get through that bug netting?
    You did a good job there Dave, it's not an easy task trying to please everyone. Hope the tea shop on Robinson proved as good as I remember.

    1. Andy is extremely skinny these days, Alan, and can easily slip through bug netting. Tea shop on Robinson? We must have missed it.

  5. Good Lord.
    All those hills, Sir. Are you sure you've chosen the right partners for the Chally? Whilst you were tearing over the hills and scrambles we were dozing in the soft mist before the Khumbu Icefall.

  6. I'm still struggling to understand how it is that I took my training seriously and you still remained capable of walking the legs off me across Scotland. Snot fair. 😊