Leaving the Lakes

Leaving the Lakes

Here’s what I would have written yesterday had the spirit and the flesh been equal to the task and the atmosphere in the Crown Inn’s most raucous of bars been conducive to creative thought!

Tranquil Patterdale, tucked away and somehow still untarnished by the tourist mob that regularly colonises its bigger neighbour, Grasmere. A gentle gem, Patterdale sums up the old Lakeland of sheep farms, rivers, trees and hillsides converging to create sheltered valleys. The trail out of the valley climbs up the hillside east of the village, reaching Angle Tarn after about an hour and half of steep uphill interspersed with a few sections where the gradient flattens out briefly to let you still your beating heart and shift your calves back into neutral. It’s hard work especially this early in the day. You hit the uphill within the first half mile and I find my muscles work better after a mile or two of oxygenating on more gentle slopes to let them complete their full warm-up routine. Not for the faint-hearted these Lakeland fells; you have to be up and at ’em straight from your muesli and toast.

Angle Tarn tops my list of wet spots on the C2C, maybe even in the whole Lake District. The first time we did the walk I convinced myself it was Angel Tarn; the name would be equally apt. It’s a lonely, lovely tarn with its corners, bays and little islands; lots of different angles to see it and wonder at how its still water reflects the dry world around the shore. A group of ‘lads’ messing about by the water beside their tents; they had clearly camped there last night along with others of the young and hardy variety.

It’s a grunt up to the tarn and then there’s more. This is the last day in the Lake District, where geography means that each day involves a steep climb out of one valley and a sharp descent into the next (or vice-versa) as you work your way east. The Lake District doesn’t give itself up without a last hurrah in the form of Kidsty Pike – the ‘Kidsty’ sounds tame but the ‘Pike’ is what it’s all about. At 780m, Kidsty Pike is the highest point on the official C2C route (not counting any of the alternative high routes). It’s a pointed spur of rock at the top of a sheer face looking over a wild empty valley several hundred feet below. You arrive there along a sweep of summit that seems to be drawn on the landscape, so perfect is the curve. And you feel pretty tired and glad that the tough climbs are over. But there’s also regret that this is the end of this Lakeland part of the journey. There are more treasures to come but nothing quite like this, nothing comes close to what you’ve just done.

The guidebook says of this day: “Be prepared to feel very, very tired at the end of this 16 mile stage. It’s not the climb up to Angle Tarn and Kidsty Pikes that makes most walkers feel weary….” but what follows. For all the climb up Kidsty saps the energy and hyperinflates the lungs, it’s as nothing compared the agony of the descent, the steepest and longest yet. Jeez Louise, the knees were cranked into permanent braking position while the torrid toe was being hammered against the boot. I contemplated the bottom slider method of descent but awkwardly placed rock sections and stray sharp-edged stones ruled that option out without some seriously reinforced undergarments, which, alas, I had failed to pack. At the end of this long descent it feels like your will no longer guides the placement of your legs and feet. There’s about 10 minutes of mind/body discombobulation; forward momentum takes place in some kind of automatic wobble mode until finally the muscles and the mind re-order themselves and we’re good(ish) to go.

And it’s still about 7 miles to Shap….. across more gentle fields and softer paths where Belted Galloways graze lazily in the afternoon sunshine and sheep munch their fill on the lush grass. To Shap. As you’ve heard, we made it.