MMMM…That reminds me, but a couple of weeks now past ago I had a rather splendid weekend of walking in the hills. Me and Darren left work early, picked Nik up and got to mine around 6.30pm, Tim, a work colleague followed close behind, dropped off by his fiancée. Bags packed, we were dropped half way down the Seatoller road at 8pm. With our head torches donned we began our plod. My bag was a heavy weight upon my back carrying a third of the provisions required for a weekend in the hills. I had me a telescopic stick, which I am glad of. We walked up the long tarmac road, running our legs in for the journey ahead, through the farm, fireworks exploding in the air as campers enjoyed a Guy Fawlkes weekend. The farmyard soon became a track as we passed through a gate to join the devil sheep. The path follows the river to the end of the valley and the hills begin to rise, over the stone bridge and the path begins to ascend. From this vantage point, with no need for a night appliance due to a shining full moon we stopped to gaze into the night down the valley, dark shadows of sinister mountains, fireworks of respectable size light up the valley floor in an explosion of colour. Two or three seconds after the eye candy a thundering boom echoes from the mountains to greet my ears. I expected to look down at my feet to see huge naked hairy toes, so was the feeling of Bilbo’s birthday party in Hobbiton. “Get down, the dragon is coming.”
We broke away from the inspiring scene to carry on our journey up into the hanging valley to find a camp at the foot of Styhead Tarn. I was surprised to see, as we finally approached, I was surprised to see a couple of tents pitched round the Tarn, we found a secluded spot above the Tarn to our right which looked out over the dark mythical waters to an opening vista of dark mountains. Our choice was good, next to a ruined sheep pen which acted as our front room. We sat and cooked up some packet pasta for tea, cheese and broccoli flavour, had with some wraps and topped off with flask coffee. Of course we had come prepared so cracked open a fine bottle of Malt. Two thirds of a bottle and a couple of bad boys later I found myself walking with my chums across undulating fell, bathed in moonlight in search of the open view across Wasdale, the flats and onto the lights of Whitehaven. We were not disappointed stood still being buffeted by the night breeze, staring into the darkness. With a snap of the fingers we were back at camp tucked up in our sleeping bags.
I had decided in the interests of packing light to take a very thin sack as it squeezed very small, to boost its effectiveness I had purchased a fleece liner, equally as small. Though I slept the night in long johns, socks, thermal top and thin fleece my arse was cold all night. It didn’t help to have made a critical error in thinking that I needed to inflate my roll mat to a hardness not unlike marble. I was lulled to sleep by the roar of the Robinson.
We rose late in fell top time on day two and after a shared pan of hot porridge and banana we hit the track at about 10.30am. The crisp clear night had given way to a damp grey day. The tops were lost, soaked up by the clouds. We left, with Styhead Tarn on our left, as the track rose we were soon engulfed. At first, by wisps of grey, hiding sizable sections of landscape for a short time, then moving on. It wasn’t long before our vista had shrunk to around 20 feet before disappearing into the soup. We pushed on round the back of Great End with a purpose to our stride. We bore right with Esk Hause at our sides, keeping to the path, led by each emerging carne from the fog. We were clad in our rain coats and gloves by this time, as there was a howl to the wind, yes a bite to the air, though not raining, there was a heaviness to the durge.
The path steepened and then levelled to a plateau of boulders, a lunar landscape. The path only visible by the carnes, and a smoothness to some rocks. It needed an amount of balance to negotiate the wet stones and a certain telepathy to stay on the path. Our landscape materialized into a steep decent with no change to the terrain until it levelled to a saddle. It was here we decided to take a more substantial rest and cracked open the flasks, chocolate and I tanned the rest of me morning reefer. We had sought some small sanctuary from the elements among some rocks and sat for some ten minutes or more. Time to move on, we heaved our bags back on our backs, the burden we must carry to conquer
The highest most point of England had rightly been achieved. Amongst the mist and boulders we shielded from the wind, with our backs against the stone platform that is Scarfell summit, we ate piping hot mug’o’noodles with tortillas. There sweet and sour flavour was most divine.
While sat gazing into nothing and loving it an elderly gentleman summited. By the look of his craggy face and grey well kempt beard he was military. Retired for sometime, but keeping himself trained. Years of combat had yet to leave his head and quite probably never will. He stood, with the wind at his face being peppered by light rain and stripped from the waist up. He dried himself, the towel was of a pleasant shade of blue, and donned fresh clothes, jacketed back up and donned a warm hat atop his head. With a foam mat to protect his buttocks he sat and drank from his flask.
Our noodles warming in our bellies we shut up shop and began our long decent into the Wasdale valley. Consumed by murk, the thought of the pub pushed us on through what seemed at times, a throng of people asking, sometimes in desperation, “how long to the top”. It was always greeted with the same exaggeration of the truth. The steepness of the decent meant it was not long until the grand landscape became visible again, first in just pockets of mother natures beauty and then huge vitas to the horizon. Myself and Darren had somehow allowed someone to insert blades into the tops of our knees, causing them at times to bend…..the other way! Tim was steadfast with his youth. The steepness of the decent made us wonder why people would approach the mountain from this staircase path, even if they were in slim trainers and designer anoraks. Its steepness had one redeeming quality in its speed; we reached level ground in no time. A mile or so of tarmac road guided our weary bodies towards the pub. Just how weary, we were to find later.
The pub, the pub, here come the pub.
Sanctuary in good ale, warmth.
The calming hum of jostled voices.
So soothing, our beds felt right at 4.45pm.
Time: 3.30pm. Place: A small field adjacent to the pub. The walk was done, our longing for the pub was almost over, and we could taste the reward. We set up tent, close to the dry stone wall in an effort to shield from the wind and quickly waddled our way into the pub. The air was warm and heavy with voices. We ordered up a couple of pints of real ale for me and Tim and Daz had a Paul Weller, we found ourselves some bench seating. The majority of the place has an air of 1940’s train station, it echo’s.
It’s 4pm now, the first pints are all but consumed and the wicked weasel of weary begins to make its way through the body. I was fatigued. I’m talking straight out bolloxed. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great feeling, I would say euphoric. I knew that time was not on my side; I was not long for this world of awakedness. And I could see by the glazed expressions of my companions we would leave as a team. But before we did……we just had to fight it. Another pint was ordered along with dinner. As if by some kind of chef magic, or Doctor Who time lord Tomfoolery our meals were delivered to the table. When presented to the eye it encouraged a feeling of mountaineer, a battle against the elements deserved such food as this. Tim’s fancy was a bean chilli, for Robbo the mighty lasagne accompanied by its oldest of friends, salad and garlic bread; back of the net. And for me, a beef in local ale pie. Every mouthful bought such pleasure, every swallow closer to sleep. Our second pints came to an end as we fell back into our chairs, And so we began to speak of bed. That so longed for long night supping ale in merry banter be but a memory to fatigue. Still we put up a fight, ordered another round and discussed a respectable time that grown men can confidently go to bed. The consensus of opinion was 7.30pm. So this was our struggle and it was 5pm. Needless to say we held out for our goal. Tim and Darren had another pint while I struggled pitifully with my third. When 7.30pm rolled round, that was it, we hauled ourselves out of our chairs and wad limped back to our tents, banged down a badboy and hit the hay. By 8pm I had been lulled to sleep by the roar of the Robinson.
“Fuck man! I was absolutely buggered, knackered, out for the count. I was not in pain, yes I had some aches, I’m thirty seven for Christ’s sakes. I was as close to jam as a human can get without being physically spread. A body full of fresh air is a recipe for a good sleep at no mistake”
We woke early, 11 hours sleep had revived the body to some degree. We broke our fast with hot oats and banana and for the final time shut up shop. With my pack weighing like an injured deer upon my back it was time to walk off the aches and get out of dodge. The long hike out of the valley back to Styhead Tarn, and a rendezvous with a green Citroen.
Thanks Wrennie and Darren!