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Coast to Coast - September 2007

Day 3 - Tuesday 11th September
Borrowdale to Grasmere
(9.5 miles)

Tuesday morning dawned dry and glorious, with a bit of help from my mobile alarm at 0630. In fact, I didn't really take a look at the day at that stage, but by 0715 when the farmer came round to collect her overnight fees it was already warm, and dazzlingly bright and sunny. 5 changed hands, and then I reached for my things to make a brew.

Some brew kit

Brew consumed, I made my way over to the toilets for a wash and brush up. I tried to be quick with my drink and ablutions, but despite my efforts it was still 8am by the time I was ready to start packing.

As I lounged around packed up assiduously, I pondered the issue of where to stay that night. On previous C2C walks I've always gone straight to Patterdale, thus saving a day, but I've always wanted to stay in Grasmere because to me Grasmere conjures up images of yummy cakes and sandwiches, and one of my favourite walking gear shops. I loved the idea of spending a relaxing afternoon wandering round the shops, and then returning early to my tent, or other accommodation, to read a bit of my book. On the other hand, I was keen to finish the walk in 12 days, because I wanted to spend at least 3 days at home before I had to go back to work. Decisions, decisions... I was still undecided by the time I'd packed up and was ready to move off...

Ready to go

...and I consigned the matter to the back of my mind for sub-conscious processing during the morning's walk. First I needed to study the map carefully, though, so that I could find my way to Stonethwaite...

Now where's Stonethwaite again??

...or maybe that just seemed like a convenient stance for another interesting experiment with the camera's self-timer. I can't be absolutely sure.

The little road to Stonethwaite was just as lovely as it had been on each of my 4 journeys along it the previous evening...

...and it wasn't long before I was approaching the village again.

I knew I needed to turn off to the left and cross the stream just before the village in order to get onto the right path, but I was planning to continue to the pub first to take a picture, because I'd forgotten to take my camera the day before and it seemed a great shame not to have a photograph of the lovely Langstrath. In particular, I'd noticed a plaque on an outside wall marked "In loving memory of a sunny day in Borrowdale", and I wanted a picture of that. Just as I rounded the corner, though, I found the Sherpa people walking along the road towards me. By now it was well after 9am--in fact, I think it may even have been verging on 10--and I'd imagined that all the other walkers had probably set off. At the sight of 8 people suddenly and unexpectedly advancing towards me I wasn't sure quite who to look at first, and in my embarrassment I turned left to cross the stream towards the open fell. I was also trying to drag my MP3 player off my ears so that I could say hello, which probably didn't help. Oh, and I was also a little embarrassed to have been fiddling with my compass when it probably should have been obvious even to the meanest intelligence that the little turning on the left was the correct route out of the village. Anyway... the consequence was that I didn't return to the Langstrath, and so I didn't get my photographs. I'm sure there's a whole bunch of morals in that sad little tale!

I managed to exchange a few polite words with some Sherpa people again, and then they stopped to re-group. I continued along the extremely lovely path...

Path from Stonethwaite towards ascent to Grasmere

...stopping from time to time to adjust my MP3 player and to take a few fuzzy pictures.

The path again

I got a long-range picture of the Langstrath when I turned to take a photograph of Borrowdale, rapidly disappearing behind me...

Langstrath Valley

...and a little while after that I stopped to photograph some lovely hawthorn.


The path eventually began to rise beside Greenup Gill towards Lining Crag. It's another steep haul, but once again it's satisfying, and I rather enjoyed it. From time to time I stopped and looked back, to where I could see very small figures in the distance. Each time the path drew close to the beck I saw wet footprints on the rocks, and so I knew that there were people not very far ahead of me, although I hadn't seen them.

Looking back down

The morning had grown warmer and sunnier, and as I continued I remembered earlier experiences of this climb, undertaken when I was less fit. I remembered that it can appear to go on for ever, and the demoralising effect of finding that what looks from below like the end of the ascent is actually followed by another equally steep albeit shorter climb. Much studying of the map leads me to the tentative conclusion that the second must be the one to Lining Crag, but it's possible that I've got it wrong and perhaps it's the one up to Greenup Edge. In any event, I was glad to be skipping up and enjoying the walk today, rather than panting over every step :)

As I climbed I spotted an idyllic place for a bathe over in Greenup Ghyll; maybe I'll go back there one hot day and take a swim.

Lovely swimming pool

Eventually I surmounted the last little lip of what always looks to me like the first summit--pre Lining Crag, as I now think it must be--and came upon a group of about 4 or 5 Germans looking for mobile phone reception. We grinned politely at each other, and I took off my pack to get out my own phone. I wasn't planning to take a break before the top, but I wanted to switch my phone on because I'd been trying to send some text messages for a couple of days but hadn't had any reception since St. Bees.

I'd noticed a group of 4 blokes coming up behind me, and as I was wriggling back into my pack they suddenly arrived in a line and marched past the rest of us, looking very serious and exhanging no smiles and none of the usual walkers' greetings. They were wearing small day packs and moving with an air of grave purpose, and I wondered whether they were doing the C2C. Anyway, the sight of them marching through the rest of us like that aroused some sort of not very deeply buried competitive spirit in me, and so I set off after them, fastening my waist band as I went...

I have quite an eclectic selection of tunes on my MP3 player, and just as we set off at a cracking pace up the rocky face of whatever it was (probably Lining Crag) Victory, by Bond, began. It created just the right sort of adrenalin-induced high, and I shot up the little rock face, feeling absolutely no pain at all :) I very soon caught up with the bloke at the back of the group, but he didn't immediately move aside, as is the usual course, in my experience, for quicker walkers. About half way up, and just as the tune came to its crashing conclusion, he stopped altogether, though, and so I passed and pressed on for the rest.

I soon caught the rest of them but they didn't move aside either. I'm not sure whether it was some sort of fragile bloke ego thing, or simply a lack of familiarity with/not giving a toss about ordinary walkers' courtesies, but we continued in that way until the top, at which point they all pulled over for a break and I went on. Okay, so racing is childish, but sometimes childish can be fun :) Heh...

Looking down to Lining Crag from Greenup Edge (I think...)

Looking back down to... is it Lining Crag?

The blokes

Any slight sense of smugness was fairly short-lived, though, as now there was some navigation to be done and I was pretty sure I'd find it easy to go wrong. There was a pretty flat and rather boggy bit to cross, where I expected to see a path to my right leading to the summit of High Raise, but I wanted to be sure to take the correct path a little further on to make sure I got onto the exhilarating little craggy ridge leading to Helm Crag, rather than the path leading down the valley to Grasmere via Far Easdale Gill. Although I was looking carefully as I walked I couldn't actually see the path, and so in order to avoid taking the wrong one (which I've done in the past) I eventually simply struck out overland to where I knew I needed to be. It involved a bit of rough and tumble, but it probably worked out for the best in the end...

Looking over towards where I wanted to be

On the way across, and as I was passing an attractive small pool, my mobile phone finally made the very welcome "text arrived" noise, and so I climbed to the top of a little knobbly bit of ground in order to be sure of reception to send a reply.

Point where I receieved and sent texts

That done, I continued on my way towards the ridge.

Looking back to where I'd come from

Eventually I got there, and having done so I decided not to bother with a stop until I got to Helm Crag itself, as I wasn't yet tired and there was still a chance that I might get to Grasmere by lunchtime and enjoy a whole afternoon (fx: *gasp*) lounging round the shops...

I've camped on the little ridge before, and as I made my way along I had fun trying to spot the place where I'd hidden my tent. Eventually I was distracted by the music again, though, and so I didn't spot it.

One of Helm Crag's various names is The Howitzer, and it was easy to see why it had acquired that one as I approached along the ridge.

Helm Crag - The Howitzer

It was easier still 5 minutes later, as I sat a short distance away, whilst tucking into my cheese & onion pasty.

The Howitzer about to go off

It was now 1235, and as I ate my lunch I watched a swarm of people crawling around all over the rock. A young couple were descending from the very top as I approached, and they'd been spotted by a group of 4 older people--2 wives and 2 husbands, I think--who then began to quarrel a bit about whether or not it should be possible to get up.

One man was trying--a little half-heartedly, I thought--and the other one was telling him how to do it, from the ground. There was reference to having seen somebody climb right to the top recently on television, but I've not really watched television for a year and so I'm not sure who it was. The bloke on the ground, though, was getting quite het up about the fact that the bloke on the rock was apparently going the wrong way. Meanwhile the two women were trying to encourage the bloke on the rock to get down before he broke his neck. A small crowd began to gather, and a murmur of interested conversation began. It all looked extremely hazardous to me, and I was happy to watch from a safe distance and remind myself that I'm not a climber :)

Having finished my pasty I dug into a side pocket for the remains of my ultra-delicious roasted salted corn, and was horrified when the bottom fell out of the ziplock plastic bag just as I opened the top! It appeared that the salt had destroyed the plastic, and I watched, appalled, as my yummy snack mingled on the grass with the liberal scattering of sheep droppings to be found all over the Lake District. I considered scooping it up and eating it anyway, but in the end I simply scooped it up to carry it away, and ate some trail mix instead.

(Over the next few days I realised that the salt in the bags of corn snacks and trail mix (with salted peanuts) had wreaked havoc, and I only managed to save my snacks by purchasing a box of plastic freezer bags from the Co-Op in Grasmere later on that evening. I won't be using Sainsbury's plastic bags again: that's for sure!)

My feet protected by Pacerpoles, Smartwool socks and Inov8 Roclites

As I munched on the trail mix I contemplated my feet. Most other people I'd seen had been wearing heavy boots of one sort or another (i.e. leather, or heavy fabric), but I've not been wearing that sort of footwear for backpacking in anything other than snowy winter conditions (or exceptionally sharp conditions underfoot) for a few years now, having decided to try the approach suggested by backpacking guru Chris Townsend, whose books I've been reading for 20 years or more. My feet were warm and comfortable, and I didn't have a single blister throughout the walk. In fact, I haven't had a blister for an awfully long time now: I think the last time was on the Pennine Way in 2003, when my footwear didn't fit me very well and I was carrying too much weight.

Anyway, many people now believe that the conventional 'wisdom'--i.e. that walkers need a stout leather boot with a tall cuff, to provide support for their ankles--is bad advice. Wearing heavy footwear is exhausting, and my own experience of wearing lighter footwear is not only that I'm less tired but also that my feet feel much more 'in touch' with what they're walking on. Lighter shoes often have softer soles too, which can be more grippy, and that's an advantage to those of us who don't like sliding around on wet rocks. In relation to ankle strength, many people now believe that the best way to protect one's ankles is to develop strength by using them, rather than by attempting to protect them against accidents by wrapping them in leather. These things are individual decisions, of course, but certainly well-made and properly fitting trail shoes have worked well for me. Protected by good footwear, some really good wool socks and a pair of the best walking poles on the market, and not over-burdened by ridiculous weights in my pack, my feet were comfortable and happy all the way from St. Bees to Robin Hood's Bay :)

After half an hour I was getting anxious to move on. I'd more or less decided that I was going to stay overnight in Grasmere, and that I'd attempt to make up the day later on at some stage. I was pretty sure there wasn't a campsite, though, and since I'd been planning to stay in a few B&Bs or Youth Hostels in order to get a bath etc I wanted to get down and organise some accommodation. I gathered my things together, swapped my music for the next in the series of Patrick O'Brian audiobooks and set off down.

It really was a beautifully warm and sunny afternoon. There had been a bit of a breeze on the top, and I'd put on my PhD Minimus Vest to stay warm as I'd been sitting down, but I soon had to stop and take it off again. As I made my way down the hill I passed couples sitting happily in the sunshine, and rather envied them the relaxing time they were having.

Looking down to Grasmere

The descent is quite steep but it doesn't last an awfully long time, and then the path develops into a gentle stroll through fields...

Pretty bridge stranded in fields

...and up and down some minor undulations, to the small roads on the outskirts of Grasmere. I passed a small flock of particularly attractive sheep on the way: a couple of them stopped to take a closer look at me.

Pretty sheep on walk in to Grasmere

I'd decided to look at the Youth Hostels, and I made my way first to Thorney How, which is perhaps a 5-10 minute walk from the village. It wasn't open for bookings at that time of the day, but an assistant arrived as I was reading the noticeboard and said I could nip upstairs to use the toilet. He also told me how to find the other hostel--Butterlip Howe--and I set off in the hope that I might be able to book in, leave my kit and go and wander round the village.

Having arrived in the village I couldn't find the way to the Youth Hostel, but the kind woman in the Stuart Cunningham shop pointed me in the right direction, and about 10 minutes later I arrived. The hostel at Butterlip Howe is in a beautiful old Victorian building...

Butterlip Howe Youth Hostel - Grasmere

...and because it's busy it was open all day. The young woman behind the desk was exceptionally friendly and helfpul, and within 5 minutes of arrival I was making my way upstairs to dump most of my kit in a dormitory. I've been appalled by the YHA's policy of closing down small, 'real' youth hostels in remote places, and so I'm no longer a member of the association. Still, membership didn't confer any significant financial advantage when actually staying in a hostel, and so that made either little or no difference to the charge that I paid, which was (I think) 15.50 for bed alone.

I decided not to bother with a shower at that stage, but instead to head straight into Grasmere. I was hoping that there might be time to go round the Wordsworth museum near Dove Cottage as well as making my visits to the various shops, and so there wasn't a moment to be lost!

I went first to my favourite waking shop, and was very sorry indeed to find that it's been taken over and is now part of some sort of chain. The staff were still smiling and friendly but the kit wasn't the same. I clearly remember buying my horrendously expensive titanium flask there something like 20 years ago now, as well as one of the most comfortable pair of boots I've ever had (Gronells), and I almost shed a tear when I discovered the change.

They didn't have Exped Dry Bags, which was what I was specifically looking for, but they pointed me in the direction of the new Cotswold Outdoor shop across the road, which did. Not the right size, though. However, the enormously obliging bloke (who seemed to be the manager) went well beyond the call of duty when he asked where I was going next and then rang a totally unrelated shop in Glenridding, established that they had what I needed and asked them to put one aside for collection the following day! Thank you :) That was very much appreciated!

After that I spent what probably came to a couple of hours wandering round various shops. I'm not at all sure where the time went, but somehow I managed to acquire 3 new books at the excellent Sam Read bookshop, so it seems likely that quite a lot of it went in there. It's a truly lovely shop, and I don't think I've ever managed to pass through it without seeing several books that I want to read immediately, and buying at least one or two.

One of the books I bought was the current edition of the Paul Hannon C2C guidebook--I was hoping to be able to use that, and dump the brick, since the Harvey's maps had turned out to be less user-friendly than I'd hoped--but the other two (Timothy's Book: Notes of an English Country Tortoise by Verlyn Klinkenborg, and Britten's Children by John Bridcut) were unashamedly self-indulgent, and actually completely insane purchases considering I was in the process of walking across the country...

I also spent quite a long time in the nicest branch of Julian Graves that I've ever visited, drooling over all the lovely salty, snacky things, and the luscious looking organic dried apricots and other such fruit. I managed to escape without a purchase in the end--again, I had plenty of snacks, and nowhere to put additional ones--but it was a very close run thing.

I managed to buy a cotton hanky, since I hate walking without one and I'd left all of mine at home. It came with prettily embroidered yellow flowers in the corner, and I feel it adds a certain cachet to my walking kit :)

I bought a new camera card too, since soon after starting the walk I realised that I'd forgotten to transfer my Pyrenees photos from earlier in the summer onto my computer, and now there was very little space left on the existing card. Sigh... It was a relief to get one, though.

After all that it was finally time to go and get something to eat. The brick finally came into its own by helping me to choose from the bewildering array of nice looking eatey places, and it rapidly became clear that The Jumble Room was the place to go. They were closed on Tuesdays, though! Sob, sob, sob! I'll definitely have to go back to try them out, as it sounds as though they provide exactly what I like to eat, in just the right sort of atmosphere.

The Jumble Room is not the only place to get really good food in Grasmere, though, and I settled on the Miller Howe cafe as an alternative. There I chose Homity Pie (potato, cheddar, garlic & onion) with a baked potato and salad (6.95) and a welcome bottle of Jennings Ale (2.25). (The cafe doesn't seem to have a web page, but see here for a lovely page giving details of scrummy places to eat. Scroll down to find the cafe in question.)

The pie was lovely--just what I'd hoped it would be--and there was plenty of it. I was thirsty and hungry, though, and my head had been irretrievably turned on first entering by the mouth-wateringly attractive display of cakes and cakey things behind the counter, and I'm afraid that I succumbed to a fundamental need for a large piece of banoffee pie with another bottle of Jennings. The pie was 3.95, but it was the best banoffee pie I've ever eaten.

I noticed as I was ordering my pie that the woman serving was now working alone--there had been two assistants when I'd first gone in--and that she was dashing around like a mad thing. I made some sympathetic noises, and she told me that her colleague had had to go upstairs because a pan had exploded, spattering hot caramel all over the ceiling and walls! Eep!!! :) How excing! Fortunately no-one had been hurt, but apparently the poor woman upstairs was desperately trying to clean up, while her colleague was attempting to run the cafe single handed. I was glad I was on a walking holiday, as it sounded much less exhausting!

Eventually I had to leave the lovely Miller Howe cafe, and I made my way back over to the bookshop to take a final look at the range of brilliant 'Wendy the Sheep' postcards outside. When I'd been there earlier I'd run into Robert and Helen. They were staying in the village, and they'd heard that one of the Sherpa people had been taken to hospital with an injury. One of the two sisters whose names I never did get straight had had an extremely swollen ankle the night before, and so I assumed that that was the problem. On stepping out of the cafe now I saw some of the Sherpa group proceeding up the main street in the direction of the A591.

I was browsing through the postcards when about 10 minutes later Jan passed and stopped, and told me that the ankle wasn't the problem. Sharon, one of the other sisters, had fallen near Helm Crag and hurt her wrist and elbow. John had apparently taken her to some sort of clinic near Keswick, and it was possible that she would need to go to hospital. They'd been on their way to the Chemist when I'd seen them earlier.

I was very sorry to hear that Sharon had injured her arm, but it's amazing how exciting this sort of news soon begins to sound in the confined and heady atmosphere of the C2C community. Newspapers and television aren't really available on this sort of walk, and so walkers' attention quickly becomes focused exclusively on the day-to-day doings of the small group of people who set off on or about the same date. Broken bones are Big News! Jan said that Sharon and John were likely to be quite some time, and the others were going to find something to eat and then probably go to bed. Phew! There was no point in my hanging around in the village any longer, since I'd already eaten and I couldn't carry any further books, and so I said I'd make my way back to the Youth Hostel and possibly see Jan the following day.

Back at the hostel I found that I was sharing the dorm with 3 other women: Fiona and Katie, who were walking friends doing the first week of the walk together, and a young woman (not donig the C2C) whose name I didn't learn. It was approaching dinner time, and they were planning to eat downstairs. I decided to do a bit of clothes washing--by hand in the sink, intending to hang them in the very lovely drying room downstairs--and then to get clean and change into my other clothes. I did that, washing a bra, a couple of pairs of panties, some socks and a T shirt, and then I finally had a shower.

After my shower I decided to go and make a coffee, write up my daily notes and do a bit of reading. The self-catering kitchen is in a different building, but it was only round the corner and I was interested to see the facilities over there. I'd remembered to buy some fresh milk at the Co-Op earlier on, and I had some tea bags with me, but when I got over to the kitchen I saw that they had a large collection of Fair Trade tea bags and coffee for use by residents.

It was nice to be offered tea and coffee, and I was impressed by the fact that they were Fair Trade. In chatting at Reception earlier I'd also learned that all the eggs were free-range, and much of the irritation that I'd initially experienced on first learning that they were charging an extortionate 4 per hour for internet access evaporated when I saw where at least some of the money was going. I made a coffee and then returned to the main building, where I sat around for a while, reading and jotting down notes. I was very tired, though, despite the fact that it had been a short day, and so by not much after 9pm I made my way up to the dormitory to luxuriate in a real bed, with my book.

Fiona came up soon afterwards, and we chatted for a while. She was very interesting, having done the GR10 with a tent some years earlier over a period of 8 weeks. For about half of the time she was accompanied by various friends, who travelled out to walk with her, but for the rest of the time she'd walked alone. We discovered a common sad addiction to walking kit, and chattered very happily away about tents and packs and waterproof jackets and things for quite some time :)

Eventually the others came up, and just after 10pm I settled down to read my book. As was to be the case every time I tried to read in bed, though, within minutes I was fast asleep. I woke again at 11.40pm, too hot and a little disorientated by the unaccustomed surroundings, but I soon dropped off again and after that I slept well.

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