Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk
Day 4 - Grasmere to Patterdale
Breakfast at the Glenthorne was like being back at school. We were told it was to be served at 8.15am sharp, and when I came downstairs a few minutes early, a line was forming outside the dining room. We were soon allowed in, to find a place at one of the communal tables, and I sat with some people from the guided group. It turned out that they would be setting off later (around 11am) to give them time to have a look around Grasmere before leaving. I had bigger plans, however, involving the alternative route to Helvellyn.
Breakfast itself was a fairly standard cooked affair, and after loading up on plenty of protein, helped down by several cups of coffee, I was ready to set off. Unfortunately, my boots hadn't completely dried out from yesterday, so I reluctantly pulled them on, remembering to bring a dry pair of socks to change into along the way. Unlike yesterday though, the weather was fantastic, and I was in high spirits as I set off down the road at about 9.30am.
As I headed up the road towards Mill Bridge, there were no other people around... except one farmer who eyed me suspiciously, and completely ignored my cheery "good morning". I was hopeful that the weather would remain good for today, as this was one stage of the walk that I had been really looking forward to! I quickly reached the turn-off from the road, arriving at the small waterfall known as Tongue Gill Force.
At this point, there was a choice as to which route to take - either cross the bridge and follow the path up Tongue Gill, or continue on up Little Tongue Gill. They both lead to the same place, but since the latter was to offer great views back down into Grasmere (at the expense of a slightly steeper ascent), my mind was immediately made up. Indeed, the views acted as a great excuse for numerous pauses - purely to take photographs of course, and nothing to do with being out of breath!
I arrived at Grisedale Tarn at about 11am, where I found some other coast-to-coasters having a break. It was a perfect spot for a sit down and some water, and of course a chat about our experiences on the walk so far (which inevitably turned to the bad weather of yesterday!).
As I was resting, Arnout and Nicole arrived. I found out that they were also interested in tackling Helvellyn and Striding Edge, rather than taking the direct route down the valley to Patterdale. The path up ahead was clearly visible on the opposite side of the tarn, and looked rather steep and daunting - but I was sure that the views would be worth it! Anyway, once we were ready, we continued on the path around Grisedale Tarn, then started on the ascent up to Dollywagon Pike.
We'd been wondering what the little black dots that littered the side of the path were - we soon discovered that they were bags of rocks that had presumably been air-lifted there. There were several people at work restoring the path - when you're out walking, it's easy to forget about the effort required to maintain the footpaths, and it was interesting to see the process at work.
The climb was hard work, but we made steady progress, and I was able to keep up with Nicole and Arnout, unlike at Loft Beck. I could definitely tell that I was getting fitter after a few days of walking, but that didn't make it any less tiring! Before long we reached the ridge though, and the views were certainly worth it.
I certainly agree with Wainwright when he says that the best type of hill walking is ridge walking! The Lake District is great for having so many ridges - once you've put the hard work in to get there, you can enjoy miles of high-level walking, with great views all around. We continued along the ridge, passing around Nethermost Pike, and a few sheep that seemed rather unperturbed by our presence in their lofty domain.
After rounding Nethermost Pike, Striding Edge came into full view, and we could see our next challenge laid before us.
We decided to stop for lunch at about 12.30, sheltering from the wind by a cairn, rather than waiting until we got to the top of Helvellyn. I took the opportunity to change into my dry socks, as the ones I was wearing had become quite damp thanks to my boots. After lunch, it was a short continuation to the windswept summit, where we were greeted with excellent views down to Red Tarn.
Helvellyn itself was proper throng with day walkers, which wasn't too surprising given the excellent weather. We didn't linger for too long though, and headed down towards the top of Striding Edge for our descent into Patterdale.
The main problem with Striding Edge is that most people attempt it the other way around - as a route up from Patterdale to Helvellyn. This meant that we had to spend a lot of time waiting for people to get by, as there isn't a path so to speak - just a lot of clambering over rocks. It wasn't difficult going though, and the weather was fine enough for there to be no danger to sensible people. However, we passed a number of monuments to people who lost their lives on this ridge, which reminds you that it isn't to be taken lightly. In fact, my Mum was worried about me, because my Great Uncle Sidney died falling off Striding Edge! He was, however, in his 80's, and doing it in the middle of Winter - he was a highly experienced walker, and wouldn't let old age stop him. He died doing what he enjoyed, and I greatly admire him for that.
We eventually reached the end of the ridge, and onto a proper path again. It was about 2.30pm at this point, but there were still lots of people heading passing us on their way up - many of them looking poorly prepared, and probably not realising how long it would take them. The worst was one guy who passed us with a baby strapped to his back - talk about responsible parenting!
We headed down to the Hole in the Wall, and took the path down into Patterdale. The descent was long, but gentle, although it was starting to get quite warm now that we'd left the windy ridges. There were a group of old guys coming up behind us, speeding along like the clappers, and so we stopped to let them pass - they sounded like locals. I, for one, like to take it steadily going downhill, as I'd rather not slip and fall!
We finally reached the valley floor, and crossed Grisedale Beck for the second time that day - the first time having been up at Grisedale Tarn, just before the climb to Helvellyn. Patterdale is a really lovely and tranquil place, and with the weather like today, well, you could imagine just whiling away an afternoon, lazing around by the river and watching the world go by. But we had more urgent ambitions in mind... namely, getting to the pub!
After getting a little confused with directions along the road, and being pointed in the right direction, we arrived into Patterdale just after 4pm. It turned out that I was once again staying at the same place as Nicole and Arnout (I'm not stalking them, I promise!!), and so we headed straight to the White Lion Inn.
I checked in and had a shower to freshen up, then nipped over to the village shop, where I bought a Coast to Coast T-shirt, and chatted with the lady about stupid ill-prepared day walkers! I bumped into Nicole and Arnout again at the White Lion, and we headed over to the village green to have a pint outside and enjoy the lovely late-afternoon sun.
As we were sitting down chatting, Arnout said something to me in a fake Yorkshire accent, to which a guy at the adjacent bench shouted over - "hey, are you from Yorkshire?". I thought he was talking to me, and replied, "yes, I'm from Bridlington". "So am I!" he exclaimed, "I used to live on St. Andrew Road." "Hey, me too - we lived at number 12 until I was about 10 years old." Well, in a crazy coincidence, it turned out that he'd lived at number 13 (opposite to us) in the 1970s - only about a decade before we moved in across the road! It's a small world!
He took a photo of me, Nicole and Arnout together.
As the afternoon turned into evening, and it started to get a bit cooler, we headed back to the White Lion for something to eat. I took a quick detour to gave my parents a ring to let them know that I was still alive, and about the St. Andrew Road coincidence. Just after we'd ordered food, Julie came in, so I invited her to join us. She was on her own, as her Mum had decided she was too tired to come out and eat. In any case, they'd decided that her Mum would sit out tomorrow (which would be a long day), and that Julie would go with the guided group - I was impressed that she made it all the way to Patterdale, which was a great achievement in itself.
After a nice pub meal, we sat around chatting over a pint of Wainwright ale (what else would we choose!). Then, to my surprise, as though the earlier coincidence hadn't been enough for the day, two people walked into the pub that I thought I knew... my first reaction was, it couldn't be, but then I realised that it was! It was my former piano teacher, Judy Allison, and her husband Bruce! They were doing the Coast to Coast as well, but had set off a day later than me, doing Borrowdale to Patterdale in one day. They joined us and we caught up a bit - I still couldn't believe it, bumping into them in a small country pub in a village in the middle of nowhere! I was chastised by Judy however, by my Freudian slip in introducing her to the others as my 'old piano teacher': "You mean former piano teacher," she quite rightly corrected!
After chatting into the evening, it soon became time to retire - it had been an action-packed day, but tomorrow would be a long trek, not to mention my last in the Lake District.