A fool in the hills

What sweet luxury it is to have a weekend that’s longer than one afternoon and one full day! It feels like it’s been a long time coming…

Instead of taking it slow and resting, I decided to wake up at my normal time on Saturday morning and hitch a ride to Honister and have a little walk on the hills around there. I had prepped everything the night before: the bag, the food, my knee. I had ordered some kinesio tape and on Friday night I spent some time watching YouTube videos about how to tape up your knee. After a two big Saturdays in April, I suffered from horrible knee pain and ended up having to see a physio. The problem was my IT band which was too tight and had been rubbing against the bones in my knee and as a result became inflamed. I walked with a hobble for nearly a month. So I wasn’t really ready to go through it all again and pretty much taped the shit out of my knee. Spoiler alert: it worked!

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However prepared I thought I was, I hadn’t quite got it in my head how big the start of my route was going to be. I did consult the map and count out roughly 2 kilometres to the top of Dale Head and I calculated that it would be 400 metres of ascent. I was aware of these numbers but it didn’t quite hit me what it meant in reality. In reality, it was going straight up hill for first 2 kilometres; no warm up, no easing into it. I’m really unfit right now anyway and having suffered from an annoying cold, this was quite a struggle from the start. Half way up I considered throwing in the towel and turn back down. It felt so hard! A huge help for me was having my Garmin watch that helped me to assure how much more I have to take this struggle. There’s something about knowing exactly how far I’ve come and calculating how many metres of ascent I’ve yet got to climb actually helps me to cope with the hardship.

It took be roughly 45 minutes to get to the top of Dale Head (753 m). By that point I was dripping in sweat, majorly out of breath and feeling quite nauseous. So I beelined to the summit cairn and sat down in its shade to gather myself. It was about 8.30 in the morning and I had the top to myself. It was already a hot day. I think I spent about 15 minutes there just to make sure I was up for the day I had planned. I watered the dog and had an apple and decided to push on.

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I dropped down to Dale Head Tarn where Mac the dog could have a cool down and then headed back up to High Spy. A much shorter and easier ascent. I met two guys on the top of the hill there and foolishly said that I had done all my climbing for that day. I also shortly after met a family who said they hadn’t been able to pick up the path I had chosen for my decent. That didn’t fill me with much confidence as I am an expert in going the wrong way. So I took out the map, measured the rough distance and looked at my Garmin determined not to miss my turn. As it turned out, the path was clearly marked by two cairns and it was visible on the ground. It didn’t really take that much of navigation skills to pick it up. Nevertheless, I mentally patted myself on the shoulder and felt quite smug. Again, foolishly.

I loved that decent. There were plenty of bilberries and I took my time in picking them and stuffing my face with them. I also had a little sit down on a high point that offered spectacular views of Borrowdale and Derwent Water. And the best part of the decent was that my knee held up! The taping had worked!

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I decided not to go in the the village of Grange and just turn back towards Honister via the bridleway. All the smugness I had felt about my navigation earlier on the fell came crumbling down as I got seriously confused over bridleways and campsites and pretty much had to be led by hand to the correct turn by a sweet couple staying at one of the campsites. Well, that was embarrassing. Also, I then realised that I now was at the very bottom of the valley and I had to get back to Honister Pass which is at 356 m. So my climbing for the day hadn’t actually finished at the top of High Spy. Why I had though it would be an easy stroll back to the start when planning the route, I had no idea.

After the first kilometer or so, which I found really hard on the wide paved bridleway, the path actually narrowed down and turned into a really beautiful and enjoyable trail just under the crags. I had one last look of the map and made sure that I just need to stay on this track and keep to the right and it would take me right back to Honister. Again, a mistake. As when I came to a fork in the road, I just confidently kept to the right and started to climb up the path only to realise about 200 metres later that, actually, this wasn’t the junction I meant to keep to the right. However, there were people about and I was too embarrassed to turn around, so I continued to go uphill for another 200 or 300 meters until I could cross the stream and take the path on the other side of it to get back down to the bridleway. So much about my wonderful navigation skills…

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The slow but steady climb in the heat back to the start point made last bit of the journey just next to the road seem quite endless. I just wished Mac to pull me along a bit. However we made it back to the visitor centre just before 1 pm. This meant that we had about 2 hours until my Employer was due back from supporting a friend of his BG attempt. Mac seemed tired enough and settled down in the back of the van for much deserved nap. I had made him go into every bit of water along the route to keep him from over heating in this weather and I was pretty certain he was okay. Just tired from a good day out. I was also hot and tired and cuddled up with Mac.

Altogether we did 14.9 kilometres and ascended 931 metres, which in my books is quite a good day out. Back in Shap, I managed to drag myself for a half an hour swim before crashing into bed for a very good night’s sleep. Today I feel only a bit stiff and my knee is still showing no signs of distress. Also, I still have the whole of tomorrow off work, which is quite unbelievable luxury.

Lazy, hazy days of summer

It’s been hot in here! Although living in what is supposed to be one of the wettest places in England with a name that suggests that it’s half way between shit and crap, I shouldn’t really complain. Not that I am but it is very hot.

Mostly, it doesn’t bother me as I am at work most of the time anyway (although the kitchen can get a bit too uncomfortably hot when we’re doing dinners). Wednesday we catered for a school group of nearly 30 kids plus the normal dinner service. It all went as smoothly as possible actually. So much so that when Thursday evening came around and it seemed like quite an average night, I let myself to be chilled out a bit and not worry about the night. Big mistake. With the England v Belgium game on and a few unnecessarily difficult guest, I lost it and had a anxiety attack that left me shaking and gasping for air. My night was ruined from then on. I was angry at myself for letting myself and everyone down. Luckily my Employer realised something was off and closed the kitchen door to allow me some space away from guests and took on some of front of house duties.

By Friday I was once again knackered but in slightly better form than a week ago. We had planned a Wineskype with friends, so by 4 pm I had managed to set out a little picnic on my patio and open a bottle of cava. I really needed the catch up and I am forever grateful to have friends who are still willing to give me a time of day even after 3 years of being away. And who are happy to set aside dates 2 months in advance for catching up in person.

It was nearly 9.30pm by the time we finished our call. I enjoyed feeling a but chilly sitting outside after few days of not being able to cool down. I had had no plans for Saturday except for just a bit of chilling but at about 9 o’clock I got a message from my Employer inviting me to walk the dogs in Swindale. I wasn’t going to say no and just in case packed a towel and put on my swimwear in chance I could get in one of the pools of the waterfalls. We did end up scrambling up the river and to the lush pool at the top.

That place feels like a real secret paradise: it’s off the path and covered by steep banks on either side with some lush vegetation surrounding it. Although thanks to Tia the dog having a shake at the very moment I had hunched over her to give her a hand on rocks, I was already pretty wet when we reached the pool, I still decided to actually dive in the water. I couldn’t really feel it being that cold, the difference of temperature did give my body a but of a shock and for a moment knocked my breath out.

It was a perfect swim. After nearly three summers in this country, I had never swam in open water till the last couple of weeks. First I went for a swim in Windermere a few weeks ago after paddle boarding and now Swindale Beck. I love water and especially natural pools. As I kid I spent all my summers in our local lake only emerging when my parents managed to convince me to sit in the sun until my lips were no longer blue.

I spent the rest of my Saturday being lazy and not doing much. As it was so warm, I also decided to head for a swim in Shap open air swimming pool. Apparently my Employer had got me a season ticket so it would not do wasting it. I invited LA to join me and we spent about an hour leisurely measuring the lengths of the small pool. After a nice dinner and a glass of wine at home later on, I slept like a log until 8 am this morning, which is a major lie-in in my books!

We’ve got one more long week to survive at New Ing and next weekend we’re going to have Saturday, Sunday and Monday off!

How I didn’t go to Mosedale

For a few days I have been planning to come here and write about my sorry state. Today is my one real day off (i.e. I only spent an hour replying to emails…) and I was planning to spend it on whinging and asking for cyber sympathy. But then instead I decided to get over myself a bit and go out.

I considered going for a run but with hindsight I am glad I didn’t. Instead I decided to walk down to Mosedale, sit on a bridge that goes over the beck there and have a good think. So I packed my hydration pack with only a map, some water and a thermos cup of hot tea, put on my boots and headed out. I slid my way down to Keld and on to the concrete road and headed up towards the hills. As I was walking up the track I saw a herd of deer in running away in the distance. There must have been about 15 of them. I have never seen deer in this part of hills and never such a big herd. It was easy enough to see them thanks to the overwhelming whiteness of the surroundings.

The sky in the distance looked ominous, it really looked like the weather was coming in. Good, I thought, it goes well with my general mood.

One thing I hadn’t taken into account was how difficult the walking over the moor would be in the snow. I couldn’t see anyone else’s footprints going the way I was going. Even without the snow, there really isn’t a visible path despite one marked on the map. So what I normally do is to make a beeline to the dry stone wall I am supposed to follow for a few miles where there is a track that makes walking easier. The ground is bog central at the best of times. Today it was also covered with plenty of snow. It is hard work trudging through the snow up to your ankles, it’s even harder when every other step you sink knee deep into the snow and the underlying bog. It felt like a metaphor of my recent days: I can walk through my days like nothing’s wrong and the bang! Suddenly I sink knee deep into self-pity that leaves me sitting on my arse looking stupid.

After what felt like hours I finally made it to the wall but the track I was hoping to find had also disappeared. The walking didn’t become any easier. I gave up on the plans of going to Mosedale. It would be too much of a trek in these conditions. Instead, I revised the route to drop down to Wet Sleddale and make my way home from there.

Hardly anyone walks that route, especially in the snow like we are having. It’s a bleak part of the Lake District, even the names on the map suggest that: Bleak Dod, Peat Hill, Bleak Hill, Wet Sleddale. I have yet to meet a more descriptive place name than the latter. However, in the untouched whiteness it looked less miserable and more just completely removed from civilization. The wind was coming from the west which meant that that it didn’t bring with it the noise of the M6 behind me and kept my crackling of snow from the herd of deer I could still see in the distance.

I kept trudging on, falling every now and again and getting my feet soaked in bogs. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to get my moment on the bridge in Mosedale but it was actually okay. At least I was out, which is more than I can say about the last few months.

By the time I reached the reservoir at Wet Sleddale, I realised that the sky had cleared and the sun was out. The nasty wind that has been blowing for about a week was gone. The surface of the water looked like a huge mirror reflecting the snow-covered hills. I have never seen Wet Sleddale looking so beautiful. I have been there a number of times and it’s not a spot you’d consider classically picturesque. Its charm lies in its bleakness. But today I don’t think anyone can argue how gorgeous this valley looked. And that made me feel better. It gave me a tiny glimmer of something resembling hope.

The clear skies also seemed to clear the dark thoughts that clouded my brain this morning. No, I’m not saying that I am suddenly okay and happy and cured. No. But this walk managed to save the day which would have otherwise been spent sulking on the sofa. The very least, it helped to pass the hours quicker.

Altogether I walked 13.4K over 3 hours 45 minutes.