You know when you wake up and look out the window and just think “ugh”? This was one of those days.
Regardless, today was always going to be a really big day. It was one of those earmarked as being big as it was 19 miles in distance, but also because it involved (or should have done) going past, or up, Helvellyn on our way to Patterdale. Those who know me know that I have been up Helvellyn more than any other mountain (maybe Pen y Fan excepted), and that I also love it with a passion. So walking past it, even after about 16 of 19 miles was going to be tough. And we are doing the Coast to Coast, so you can’t just walk past Helvellyn and not go up can you? It’s like going into town and walking past your favourite pub when you are going for a drink – it doesn’t happen in my world!
Waking up as we did in the Glaramara Hotel in Seatoller though, I knew however that the day was going to be ridiculously tough to even reach Patterdale at all. The weather was unrelenting since yesterday. Worse in fact if anything. The rain beat upon the windows and the wind was howling. The forecast (and it proved to be right) said it wouldn’t stop all day, and that the rain would get heavier. And we were in the rainiest part of the whole country, with many a hill to get over before we even got close to Helvellyn, which would come at about mile 15 or so.
We even skipped breakfast in the hope that we would get the day completed, and grabbing our things from the drying room of the Glaramara (the stuff we had left there was still damp at best, it wasn’t a good drying room), we set out at around 7:30am.
After an hour or less, despite being well protected, most things were wet already. Rain at this velocity just finds its way in eventually. What was worse though was the wind. We’d (or I’d, mainly courtesy of the Macs Adventures app) selected a route up a pass that I hadn’t been up before (Greenup Edge, via Lining Crag).
The main trouble however wasn’t what what coming down from the sky. It was what was coming along the ground by way of streams and running water. The paths themselves were like streams. The streams themselves were simply in torrents. Where there had been stepping stones they were covered, and not just covered but totally submerged with very fast flowing water over them. Fast enough to sweep you off your feet for sure. Mel was scared, and I was scared for her. It’s one thing to get wet feet. It’s altogether a different thing to get knocked over and hurt yourself. I know she was worried for me too – it was after all only three weeks ago that I was in hospital with a bleed on the brain following a crash on my bike.
We passed about 7 or 8 of these fast flowing streams on the way up to Lining Crag and Greenup Edge, and negotiated most of them with just wet feet. The climb itself wasn’t too bad in the end. Coming down the other side to Grasmere however the fun started. At one fast flowing stream, it was very apparent that the water was moving so fast that it could be dangerous. And worse we couldn’t really even see the bottom of the stream so we didn’t even know how far we’d get into and thus how hard to would be to wade through – it was probably about 10 feet wide too.
I looked up and down stream in vain for possible other crossing points. All however were more perilous, and after about half an hour of looking, Mel decided that she didn’t want to try, so I had to respect her wish. There was no way round, and so we had to backtrack. I looked on the map and saw that we could retrace our steps for about an hour, and then take another route over higher ground to Grasmere, which would hopefully see us safe. I was worried already about time though, and figured that this was probably a two hour diversion at best on a day when we would already be out for 11 or so hours.
So back up towards Greenup Edge we went, it was the only thing to do. Just then, after about 5 minutes of going back, something strange happened, in that someone was coming down towards us! This was strange in that we had not since we left Borrowdale (some probably 3 and half hours earlier) seen a single soul anywhere. It was a guy on his own, and although he was soaked through, he clearly wasn’t going to let a fast flowing stream (I told him about it to warn him) put him off. He also showed us that inside what seemed to be a strangely bulging jacket that he had a small dog in there in a baby sling! The poor thing was shaking, cold and wet, and presumably he wanted to get her down too.
This turned out to be the inspiration that Mel needed. She asked him if he would mind helping her across, and he said he’d be very happy to, so we retraced our steps back down again. Upon getting into the water, he stood there in the fast flowing waters and took Mel’s hand as she waded through and got her safely to the other side, despite getting in to above his calves. He did the same for me too, before getting out and then almost dancing down the path towards Grasmere.
We talked afterwards about how this was clearly ‘meant to be’, given that we saw apart from him actually only one other person on the path after that the whole day. He was there at just the right time. It also made all of our progress after that much easier. Once you have wet feet then they are wet, and although I did actually wring my socks out, that was a bit pointless as everything was soaked up to my knees anyway and would stay so for the rest of the day, and this was about 11am.
We then made reasonable progress into Grasmere which we got to at about 2pm, and got some lunch from a shop there. We would have missed out Grasmere but had no packed lunch and had intended to come here anyway. We also tried to get some Grasmere Gingerbread (if Helvellyn is my favourite mountain then Grasmere Gingerbread is undoubtedly my favourite food substance) but there was a big queue at the shop, and very conscious (as I always am) of time, I decided we shouldn’t wait. We did after all have another 9 or more miles to get through in the rain, and had to ascend up to Grizedale Tarn, even if Helvellyn was definitely way way out of reach for this trip by now, as was any other side turning or distraction.
The walk up to Grizedale Tarn thankfully passed without further incident, although we did have a further few streams to dip our soggy feet and boots into. In fact we even had to wade through the tarn itself to get across to the path down Grizedale valley. Having been there a lot of times before I’ve never seen it like that, but at least it didn’t pose any danger.
So down we went, heads down, straight down the Grizedale Valley. No Helvellyn and no St Sunday Crag (that was my alternative for the day origninally). There was no point as it was too wet and too windy, and we didn’t have time by then anyway. We eventually got into Patterdale just before 7pm, with feet as wet as wet can be, but good and safe in the end.
We found a great drying room too at our lovely B&B, The Old Water View, which was in a great location and on another day would have been an idyllic place to stay. As it was we were glad to put stuff on radiators and turn them up, and head straight out the local pub (The White Lion). Thankfully, despite a short wait outside in the rain (we couldn’t book in there as they weren’t taking bookings, and there is no other pub in Patterdale so that was it)
It has to be said that The White Lion does a fantastic Cumberland Sausage, and also (as Mel will attest) a damn good chilli, and we were very grateful of the food and the beer (Wainwright’s, what else?) after a really tough day. We’d done nearly 4,000 feet of ascent, and 19 miles of walking, in horrendous conditions. The forecast for tomorrow wasn’t for rain! That would be a very pleasant and welcome surprise and we’d at least get to see some (and some might say the best) of the Lakes before we actually left it. Tomorrow is after all, always another day :).