The wild places

The wild places

Sitting by Grisedale Tarn, reflections of sky and hillside, even of sheep moving along one of their trails on the far side of the tarn their movement echoed perfectly in the still surface of the dark water. Some cloud and patches of blue are reflected too, but this bit of water can never be truly blue, tucked away as it is between the back edge of Dollywagon Pike and behind it Helvellyn, and the slopes leading up to St Sunday Crag. We’re sitting here absorbing the incredible silence and stillness, sipping Nescafe’s best Azeera from tiny plastic cups. Himself is sketching the scene.

Two women from North America break into our peaceful privacy with a warm ‘Hiya’. We’ve learned not to assume such accents are American (as in USA) because usually they’re not – the North Americans who travel tend to be Canadians. And here are two new faces on the trail.

We set off early this morning ahead of the pack, stealing back our solitude after yesterday’s group expedition, and escaping the rabble of schoolboys piling into the breakfast self-serve at the YHA. Boys from Brum on a school trip had filled the hostel yesterday evening with that irrepressible clamour that excited young people can generate. We were attempting conversation with a Canadian woman (not a C2C’er) and, a little later, her ‘partner, who joined us for dessert – a ‘Mixed Berry Sundae’ of ample proportions with an explosion of whipped cream sprayed from a can on the top. The YHA at its creative best! This was a strange pair of Canadians to add to our breakfast companions at Nook Farm, oddly uptight exemplars of a nation who, when they travel have always struck us as friendly, laid-back and even a little self-deprecating, like we Brits. So, on meeting the charming sisters from Vancouver up at Grisedale Tarn, our confidence in peripatetic Canadians was restored.

45 minutes down the valley from Grisedale and we pause for more sketching and more coffee at Ruthwaite Hut. The sun is back again, having gone AWOL for an hour. In its welcome warmth we loiter to take in the sense of space and remoteness. It’s difficult to describe. There are times, like the really hard 90 minute slog up to Grisdeale Tarn this morning, or the trudge up Dent Hill on Day 1 when you’re short of puff, the heart is thumping and the limbs are tired and sore that we ask one another ‘Why do we do this?’ We do it for moments like this when you have an entire valley entirely to yourself, a narrow strip of magnificence, just grass and stone but configured to perfection, with the steep walls, Helvellyn to the west and St Sunday Crag to the east, sheltering us like two gentle majestic mammoths dozing serenely and timelessly alongside one another. You don’t get this feeling unless you walk in the wild places and it’s a feeling of magic.

We end the day at the village of Patterdale, a tiny community not far from the southern end of Ullswater. A charming village with a hotel, a post office, a pub and possibly the ugliest youth hostel in the country! We gathered at the pub with some of the gang and downed a beer or two before installing ourselves at the hostel and making a further acquaintance over a thoroughly unmemorable meal with the delightful and memorable Canadian sisters – of whom more tomorrow as the tale of the trail will unfold.