Sunday, May 05, 2013

Lake District Top to Bottom 4 May 2013

A straight line route on Easting 270 from Caldbeck Common to Gawthorpe, 40 miles, 14,000 feet, 14 hours 50 minutes

Since completing the crossing of the Lake District National Park from East to West on a straight line, I'd contemplated a North-South trip.  This line is almost the same distance but much less challenging as it goes with the grain of the land rather than against it and the terrain is more accomodating.  Nevertheless, it's still quite tough with the same logistical challenges.

The Lakeland Cross
I set off at 5am having got up at 3am, leaving the forlorn looking car beside the lonely road that crosses Caldbeck Common.  I walked across the tussocks to the park boundary and followed the compass in the dim light of pre-dawn.  I almost immediately went wrong and had to backtrack, before following the compass South, South, South.  this sounds simple but in practice its not.  Sticking to the bearing just lands you in bog, tussocks, knee deep heather and worse, so I sought out what looked like the most amenable line within 200m either side of Easting 270.  The rule is simple - keep as close to the line as possible, but make exception when crossing privately owned land where footpaths should be followed.  I also declined to cross and re-cross the full-looking river in Langstrath when an extra 100m detour allowed me to use the bridge.

At 6:30 am it rained - hard - and I wondered why on earth I had yanked myself out of bed at 3am to slant across dreary slopes at this hour of the day.  The 'waterproof' map got soggy, I got soggy and it was all rather dispiriting.  Fortunately the rain stopped, the mist lifted temporarily, and with it my spirits.  I found a decent line across the lonely fells at the back of Skiddaw and arrived in Keswick for a breakfast of bar and juice on a park bench beside the river.  Four miles of pleasant roadside path led to the Watendlath valley, and I followed the permissive path straight to the cafe instead of sticking to my line as I was STARVING.  Visions of a fried egg sandwich had me salivating, but instead chains around the doors indicating that the cafe was well and truly shut.  Further investigation revealed that they were just gearing up for the day and on enquiry I got a welcome cheese and tomato sandwich.  It filled a hole, but not what I had been dreaming of and hardly worth the detour.  From there I managed to find tracks all the way to Langstrath where the real test began.  A traverse up past Blea Rock took me to Martcrag Moor where my route took an improbable line across scree and grass to the valley floor.  One of the delights of a straight line is that it takes you to corners new.  This day it was a low level crossing of The Band, an energy sapping frontal assault on Pike O Blisco and a marginally less muscle busting ascent of Great Carrs.  I enjoyed the exploratory feel of the dripping black crags below Blisco and the unfamiliarity of the terrain that is alas, all too rare nowadays for me.

The day was now fine with clear views all around, but a strong wind touched gale force on the tops.  I sheltered from this under Great Carrs and had a late lunch.  From there to Goats Water I was repelled by a strong headwind, so was glad to drop off the tops, down to the hordes on the Walna Scar track.  these were soon left for the peace of the Blawith fells, a wonderful peaceful sanctuary.  With the bracken well down, the terrain proved surprisingly amenable and I really enjoyed the serenity of this Lake District outlier.  The final gentle hills were an easy end to the day.  Or rather to the end of the route, because I still had to get home.  the only bus left from Havethwaite at 9 and 10.30pm and I soon discovered that I'd forgotten the map to find my way there.  That meant having to take the main road back - a busy A road in failing light.  I tiried hitching to no avail so reconciled myself to the 7.5 mile slow jog to Havethwaite.  The Barrow road was most unpleasant if not dangerous with no footway for much of it and the light was really fading, but I had no choice.  Agonisingly I saw the first bus go past but I knew it wouldn't stop.  By way of compensation the pint and a half at the pub went down very nicely.  I finally made it back to Kendal at 11.10 where I fortified myself with a bag of chips for the 5 mile walk back home.  At 12.40 am I was home and in bed for 1am - a long but satisfying day.


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