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Coast to Coast - September 2007

Day 4 - Wednesday 12th September
Grasmere to Patterdale
(10 miles)

I woke at about 0630, and for once it was a pleasure to be able to just roll out of bed and pad softly to the toilet and back. I do love my Whizz, but it's very nice not to have to worry, when half asleep, about whether I've got the long end pointing in the right direction or not...

On returning to bed I read for a while. I'd not really had much of a chance to get into the Karen Armstrong book, since virtually every time I'd opened it I'd fallen asleep within minutes. I was determined to persist, though, since it had entirely captured my attention when I'd read part of it in Waterstones a week before setting off.

By 0700 all the others were stirring, and I chatted a bit with Fiona and Katie as they were getting their things together before breakfast. Fiona told me about her little yellow bag--the bag that she keeps all the important but small bits and pieces in--and naturally it reminded me of my own, although mine is currently red.

Eventually I dragged myself out of bed and began to pack up. I wasn't planning to have breakfast in the dining room, but was planning instead to go and make some coffee, and possibly toast, in the self-catering kitchen. As I packed, the sight of my array of multi-coloured Exped Dry Bags reminded me of the photo I took at Keld YH on the Pennine Way in 2003, showing all the things I was carrying, and it occurred to me to take a similar one.

When I've finished writing up the walk itself I'll make a page about the kit I used--my favourite subject--but in the meantime here's a rough outline, in case there are any other sad gear freaks reading :)

[1: sleeping mattress 2: sleeping bag: 3: inflatable pillow 4: wind/waterproof clothing 5: food 6: tent 7: wash kit 8: bag of overnight bits 9: lightweight bivvy bag 10: clothes 11: camera 12: windshield 13: mug 14: bag of snacks 15: bag containing pot, gas and stove 16: GPS 17: bag of day bits for lid pocket 18: down vest 19: bag containing Whizz: 20: bag for MP3 players 21: first aid kit 22: mobile 23: pile of books... 23a: Pacerpoles]

I forgot to take my little sit mats out of the pack, and also my 2L water Platy and 1L Whizz Platy, but they were there too. All sorts of little things (including my compass, in case anyone is wondering) are in my two little bags of bits and pieces. My Osprey Atmos backpack has a capacity of 50L, and it copes perfectly well with all of this kit.

Having taken the short option the day before rather than walking over to Patterdale, I knew that I had another short day ahead of me. Inevitably, therefore, work began to expand to fill the time available. Although I'd been awake since 0630 it was still 0815 before I was over in the kitchen with a mug of coffee, and I still hadn't finished packing... I'd almost finished, though, and as I drank my coffee I made a mental list of the things I needed to do before setting off for Grizedale tarn.

A degree of sanity had returned overnight, and I'd accepted that it was utterly ludicrous to carry 5 heavy books all the way from Grasmere to Robin Hood's Bay. I'd therefore decided to make a visit to the Post Office and send 3 of them home. My initial plan had been to dump the brick, but I'd found, upon taking a closer look at the Paul Hannon guide, that the brick was the only book that contained info about interesting eating places and good places to stay at the various destinations, and since I love good food, and I was planning at least one further B&B, I couldn't bring myself to part with the brick until I'd extracted the useful info and scribbled it into the margins of the smaller book. I'd not remembered to do that the night before, though, and so I decided to hang onto it for now but to post the Tortoise and Britten books home from Grasmere.

Despite my early start, it was after 9am again by the time I was shouldering my pack, ready to make my way downstairs and out into the morning. It was a bright day, although a little misty, and as I wandered down the hill towards the village...

...I made plans to acquire yummy sandwiches and pasties--maybe even a cake!--in one of my favourite shops, for lunch. I was planning to eat lunch on Helvellyn, and as I made my way towards the Post Office I hoped that my pack would be stable on the terrifying Striding Edge.

It didn't take long to despatch my books and buy lunch. On the way out of Grasmere I noticed a very sturdy looking spider enjoying the sun under a lamp post...

Lesser spotted death-dealing weight-lifting spider

...and it seemed like no time at all before I was making my way for what felt like the hundredth time along the Keswick road, past the Travellers Rest towards the path on the right which leads, via Great Tongue, to Grisedale Tarn.

Towards the Travellers Rest

At the bottom of the path I ran into Fiona and Kate, and walked with them for 5 minutes or so. I never pass that point of the path without remembering the great holiday I spent camping there just down to the right, next to the stream, with my b/f of the time, Jeff Hill, a long, long time ago, immediately after finishing my second year exams at uni. Happy times :)

Anyway, I pressed on at the point where the paths divide, turned right across the stream and then walked with Helen and Robert for a while. We chatted, but after a while the path grew steeper and conversation fizzled out. Eventually Helen and Robert stopped for a drink and I pressed on again.

Somewhere near the end of Great Tongue I stopped to look back...

Looking down towards Grasmere and Borrowdale

...and then I finished the last, steep section that leads to a wall, and began to drop towards Grisedale Tarn on the other side.

Grisedale Tarn has always seemed an exciting sort of spot to me. It's set in real mountain scenery, but at the same time it's readily accessible, and it's one of the first places I ever wild-camped. There are many route options, but I was planning to take the steep path up to Dollywaggon Pike and then on to Helvellyn. The zig-zag path is still steep today, but I remember the route from more than 20 years ago as a far steeper, slippery stagger straight up a shale face. Trying to carry a 30kg rucksack up that sort of thing was more than challenging. Major kudos to the designers who've provided us with today's brilliant lightweight kit, and helped to make backpacking fun :)

Grisedale Tarn

I made my way along the side of the tarn towards the permanently muddy point at which the beck runs out and several paths cross, and settled down amongst some mossy rocks for a drink and a brief rest. Two blokes arrived, and then a couple whom I'd not yet met. People started producing flasks, and at the sight of them my mind turned to hot coffee, and the kit shop in Glenridding...

The rocks were shaded, and rather than cool down too much I decided to carry on. By now it was about 11.30am, and it seemed that I was still on schedule for lunch on Helvellyn. The pull up the side of the hill is quite hard work, but once again I enjoyed it, and didn't really stop much. Once the height has been gained the rest of the walk up to Helvellyn by this route is really a bit of a stroll, and as I bimbled along I remembered the last time I'd been on Helvellyn and how absolutely drained and exhausted I'd felt, about 20 hours into an attempt to get round the 4 x Lakeland 3,000 foot mountains (Skiddaw, Scafell, Scafell Pike and Helvellyn) in 24 hours: 48 miles with 11,000 feet each of ascent and (more killingly) descent. Despite my backpack, this was a mere stroll in the park in comparison :)

Eventually I approached the final ascent, and a good view of Striding Edge hoved into sight. That was the route I was planning to take down, and although I've crossed it many times it always makes me nervous, as I'm not good with heights. Luckily this was a perfect afternoon, though: sunny, and not particularly windy. I was planning to fasten my pack on tight, and wriggle across any dodgy bits on my bum if necessary.

Striding Edge etc

10 or so minutes more took me to the cruciform shelter on the top of Helvellyn, and I sat down in the quarter most protected from the wind. From that point there's a fine view down to Ullswater...

...and I settled down with a sandwich to enjoy it. As I was eating I looked back along the route I'd taken, and saw Robert approaching. Soon he was there, and he sat down to eat his lunch. It turned out that he too was planning to cross Striding Edge, so we decided to walk across together.

The descent to Striding Edge involves walking back in the direction from which we'd come...

...and then a climb down a path which culminates in some steep boulders. I'm never quite sure where to start descending. Robert led us straight there, though, and the bouldery bit turned out to feel less vertiginous going down than it had on past occasions felt going up. From there we had a great view of the ridge in front of us, and the small knots of people clustered around the Awkward Step.

Striding Edge

We were soon down to the Awkward Step, and it's much easier going up than down. Phew! From there we continued bravely across.


I've never quite forgotten the terrifying experience I had on the ascent of Pen-y-ghent on a very windy day, when my enormously heavy and unstable rucksack felt as though it was about to pull me off the side of the hill backwards, so I was a little edgier than usual due to the presence of my 50L pack. My Atmos fits well and it's very stable, so it really wasn't a problem, but just to be absolutely sure of not falling I spent quite a lot of time slithering across on my backside :)

Just as we were almost across we came to one of the many small monuments to people and/or dogs that have been killed falling from the ridge. Striding Edge seems to bristle with these things. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence!


Finally we'd crossed the scary bits, and there was time to stop for a breather and to play with the camera.

After that it was simply a matter of choosing the correct route down to Patterdale. Robert told me that Helen was the main navigator in their group, but he was certainly doing a better job than me. I've lost track of how many times I've been down that way by now, but still I managed to take us the wrong way just after the Hole-in-the-Wall.


Not too long afterwards Robert realised where we'd gone wrong, but while we were still trying to work out our exact position I got out my GPS to take a grid reference, and almost immediately afterwards one of those slightly manic GPS-hating people popped up out of the long grass, pointed to me and said, "Oh! Are you using a GPS? It won't show you the edge, you know! Ha hahahahaha ha!" I'm sure I couldn't have felt much guiltier if I'd been discovered secretly smothering kittens at birth. Really, I sometimes wonder where all those GPS-hating people come from at moments like that. I occasionally wonder whether a bunch of diehards from uk.rec.walking takes it in turns to lurk behind boulders in the hope of embarrassing non-technophobes. I can only thank God that I wasn't caught using a mobile phone!

(NB: in case any U.R.W.ers are reading, that last bit was a wee jokey :) *waves*)

Robert and I eventually found our way down to Lanty's Tarn, and at that stage we parted so that I could attempt to get down to the kit shop in Glenridding in time to pick up my Exped Dry Bag and check out the position on flasks. Helen had taken the St. Sunday Crag route from Grisedale Tarn, and she and Robert were planning to meet back in Patterdale. I trotted down to Glenridding as fast as my wee crubeens would carry me, and I was soon at the shop revelling in all the lovely things they had there. It's a very nice shop indeed, and I managed to buy not only my Exped bag but also a flask.

After that I made my way back along the road to Patterdale, keeping an eye out for the route to the Side Farm (with camping) along the way. I saw no signpost, though, and after maybe 30 minutes I arrived at the Patterdale Hotel...

Approaching the Patterdale Hotel

and--a couple of minutes later--at the White Lion pub, where I bought a pint of something restorative and settled down outside to take a crappy photograph.

Crappy photograph of pint outside White Lion

Inside the pub I'd asked for directions to the farm, and they'd pointed it out to me: about 1,000 miles away across fields :( Inevitably, perhaps, there had been a sign, and I'd walked straight past it. As I was attempting to psych myself up to embark upon the trek back to the farm (which to be fair was closer to a mile than to 1,000: it just felt like more because I'd already been that way) a familiar face appeared. It was Sharon, from the group of Sherpa walkers. It turned out that she'd been to hospital and they'd confirmed that she'd broken her wrist, and now she was waiting to meet the others because they were staying somewhere in Patterdale that night. Just as I was setting off for the pub to buy Sharon a drink the other Sherpa walkers arrived, and so a couple of us walked across together. They were soon deep in complex room-related negotiations with the bar staff, though, and so I took up my drinks and made my way back outside.

Once I'd finished my drink I made a quick dash along the road to the Post Office, just to see what they might have there. It's a lovely shop for C2C walkers, filled with all sorts of yummy snacky things as well as postcards etc, and I spent a few minutes happily browsing shelves of food I didn't need but like to look at while I'm walking. I struggled with my conscience at the sight of the McCoys salt & vinegar crisps, and as I was drooling there John, the leader of the Sherpa group, came in and bought a cake. I chose something--I can no longer remember what--but I remember that as I stood at the till waiting to pay I noticed the most fantastic looking slabs of tiffin and caramel shortbread: thick, and luscious, and deeply chocolatey. I didn't buy any. That was a mistake that still causes me a frisson of regret some 4 months later.

After that I returned to the table outside the pub. I didn't stay long, as by then I was keen to get the tent up, so I arranged to see the others inside for dinner later on and set off back towards the farm. This time I managed to spot the turning, and I took it. Side Farm actually has a tea-room (*head spins at the luxury of that*), but unfortunately it was no longer serving by the time I arrived. Nonetheless, they pointed me in the direction of the camping field, and said reassuring things about showers and dish-washing facilities.

It was probably no more than another 10 minutes along an attractive path before I arrived at the camping field, but by now I was tired, and eager to find a place for the tent. When I arrived at the field I found it almost full, and in the hope of getting a nice flat pitch at the less crowded far end I spent another 10 minutes searching for a spot. There was nothing quite right, though, and so in the end I returned to the gate end and put up the tent in a busy but beautiful spot just in front of the lake.

As I was doing that a wild-looking bloke arrived. It turned out that he too was walking the C2C but he was going in the opposite direction, and he was absolutely exhausted. When he asked where to book in and I had to tell him it was 10 minutes back along the path his face crumpled and I thought for a moment that he might be about to cry, but in the end he decided to put up his tent and pay later. He looked as though he'd spent several weeks trekking through a desert, and the sight raised my hopes of further hot weather to come as the route continued east.

After that I got my things together as quickly as possible and made my way across to the washrooms, which were on raised ground just behind my tent. The showers were amazingly hot and powerful: quite wonderful, and highly recommended :) As soon as possible afterwards, though, I nipped back over to the tent, wriggled into my slightly less scruffy evening wear and set off back towards the pub, listening to more exciting tales of daring-do involving Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin as I watched large numbers of birds fly overhead towards some (to me) unseen destination beyond Glenridding.

The pub was warm and busy. I spotted the Sherpa crowd at the far end and made my way over, finding an empty seat between Jan and John. Jan is a veggy, and she'd managed to get hold of some veggy option or other from the menu. There wasn't a lot of veggy choice, though--in fact there was no choice at all, because there was only one veggy option--and I mentioned that to the landlord when I went over to the bar to put in an order for fish and chips. He looked a bit surprised, and a moment later he said, "Well fish are vegetables, really," so that was that!

On the way back to the table I saw Fiona and Kate again, and stopped for a chat. They introduced me to Debbie and Dave, who were the couple I'd seen back at Grisedale Tarn earlier in the day. Debbie and I had a conversation about cellulite, which I have to say was a disconcerting topic of conversation for a pub, sipping (as I was) at a pint of bitter whilst waiting for approximately 3,000 calories of saturated fat to arrive *g*...

Some 10 minutes later, though, I saw what I suspected were my garlic mushrooms passing by on the way to the Sherpa table, and since by then I was starving I followed them. They were mine indeed, and very yummy they were too. The fish and chips were fine as well, and after all that and two pints of Haystack I enjoyed a very pleasant stroll back to the tent by the light of the moon. I woke in the middle of the night with backache, but I took 4 Panadol (once established, those backaches can last for days) and by the morning it was gone.

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