To Patterdale

Is it just me, or do others wonder about Wainwright’s motives for publishing his work? Despite being renowned for shunning company, he did more than God himself to attract people to his beloved Lake District hills. By all means write up your expedition notes and illustrate them, but why make them widely available if you don’t like sharing the fells with the Great Unwashed?

aybe he produced his Coast to Coast Walk in an attempt to redress the balance. He leads his followers across the Lake District, exhausting them on an up-hill and down-dale transit from Ennerdale Bridge to Haweswater, with optional high-level variants. Quite a few give up on this section, the unparalleled scenery proving insufficient to carry them through the physical rigours of the route. Those not beaten into submission then enter a very different landscape: an easy hike to Shap precedes a longish trek which exudes an unfortunate air of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ until it ends at Kirkby Stephen. Thankfully, he offers a choice of interesting high- and low-level alternatives along upper Swaledale, but east of Richmond lies the mind-numbing Vale of York. Only loyalty to the county of my birth deters me from adopting an abusive attitude to that section: it looms ahead as a duty, not a pleasure. Thereafter, the North York Moors reintroduce the visual stimulation of vast panoramas with a succession of short climbs and descents. Suddenly one senses that, after all, the great effort is worthwhile. The finish beckons. The sea comes into view. The ultimate destination is a magical village of narrow alleys and quaint cottages, clinging to a cliff. The very last building by the sea is a pub. On the beach is an ice cream van. Up a side street, the fish and chip shop puthers out its seductive vapours. Delivered into such a paradise, who would want to return to the Lake District?

s that how Wainwright saw it? Did he imagine himself as a booted, tweed-capped Pied Piper, luring the invading hordes of walkers away from his Lake District to the cold North Sea, never to return? I like to think he did just that, assiduously compiling his book with a glint in his eye and a mischievous chuckle in his throat.

rasmere, like Borrowdale, can be difficult for those wanting to stay a single night: several bed and breakfast houses hold out for two-night bookings. Logisticians doubtless have great fun sorting out how to cross the Lake District while balancing economy, speed, and flexibility of route, the last of which permits the high-level options.

he super-fit might camp, carrying all their gear. They are few in number, but they enjoy cheapness and total flexibility. For all others, the best cheap/fast/flexible solution is camping with the aid of a support vehicle and a willing driver.

he rest of us (the vast majority) use bed and breakfast houses, hotels or Youth Hostels. Most book in advance, and many arrange baggage transfer. That’s not cheap or flexible, but our journey moves at a pace we believe we can manage. Thus instead of walking from Rosthwaite to Patterdale in one day, we schedule a night in Grasmere, opening up the possibility of visiting Helvellyn and Striding Edge, or maybe St Sunday Crag, given fitness and fair weather.

ow cloud and a hint of drizzle on the sly wind greet me along the main road to Tongue Gill. On the way up the walled lane Melvin and Winfield pass by. They cheerily confirm that their hostel was fine, but Winfield’s unsuccessful gamble to keep down the cost of drying their laundry by using radiators instead of the tumble dryer had backfired. To Melvin’s annoyance, their kit is as moist as the morning.

he path climbs steadily on a line well away from the stream. It’s less scenic than the walk beside Greenup Gill. Sombre shades of green and brown lead the eye upwards towards a drifting greyness that clothes the black crags. This is an austere morning: the only sign of brightness is Pauline’s red coat, half a mile ahead.

We gather at Grisedale Hause, where the wind is more than fresh. The others have already decided there’s no point in attempting any of the high-level routes. I’m of the same mind: I’d see nothing; the wind would render Striding Edge uncomfortable; I’ve done it all before, and if I ever do all that extra climbing again, I’ll pick a finer day.

t’s much easier going downhill than uphill these days, and I’m quickly at the front of our informal quintet of ageing Yorkshire folk, clattering along at a decent lick until the pangs of hunger force me to stop for a snack. Terry and Pauline press on, determined to arrive early at Greenbank Farm. My own preference is to stay out and explore Patterdale, even though a light rain is falling: if you can’t take the high road, wander on lower ground.

ll is quiet at Glenridding. Easter has been and gone, the kids are back in school, and the main holiday season is yet to start. In the internet café I catch up on emails and coffee. After watching the boats on the lake, I set off walking along the valley to Brotherswater. The rain stops on the way to Hartsop Hall, an ancient manor house and working farm in the care of the National Trust, though not open to visitors.

It’s a pleasant stroll, particularly by the little lake itself. The valley seems full of memories of nights at the Youth Hostel, evenings in the Patterdale Hotel and the White Lion, camping at Brotherswater, and hikes on the surrounding hills. Photographers, birdwatchers and strollers enjoy the level path. Lambs abound, inquisitive and puzzled by us bipeds. I make a visual check on the paths up the far side of the valley, selecting a route for tomorrow. Finally at Greenbank Farm, a warm and cosy haven tucked into the fellside, I repair the wear and tear of the day before heading for the pub.

Good ale, good food, a chat with Terry and Pauline, then back along the road for a sound sleep.

                                                                                                                                                                           To Shap >>