I seem to have had an unusually glamorous couple of weeks in London, what with cocktails, outings to the theatre and being filmed with Katya for Russian TV. I was starting to feel a bit too citified, so thought it high time I got covered in mud.
Tom, Dave and I spent the last weekend climbing mountains.
We’ve been visiting the Lake District in Cumbria since I first met Tom, and he and Dave were living in a grotty ground-floor flat in Muswell Hill together (grotty is a polite understatement). The first time was over New Years, and the hills were covered in snow. It was magical. For about a mile outside of the small town we were staying in the ground was solid, compacted ice, hundreds of walkers having trampled it into a slippery sheet. Off-putting for most walkers, who were understandably wary of breaking replacement hips or of needing them, once we’d managed to traverse it we were practically alone in a snowy wonderland. We sheltered in a pine forest at one point when a snowstorm turned the air white, but otherwise the weather was perfect. Freezing, but perfect! Subsequent visits, however, have been disastrous in terms of the weather – constant driving rain – and illness suddenly striking.
This was taken four years ago… and I’m still wearing the same coat.
You can imagine our delight then, when we checked the forecast and discovered that blazing sunshine was predicted the whole weekend! Tom had seduced me with tales of glorious weather and sublime countryside (to go on holiday to the Lakes, that is; it wasn’t how he got me to go out with him), as he used to regularly go walking with his brothers. They’d easily cover twenty miles each day, sometimes thirty, and often camp on the hills at night. Our plans were less ambitious this weekend, as although Tom and Dave are both very fit I most definitely am not!
We stayed at a B&B in Keswick for convenience’s sake, though there was much talk of renting a holiday cottage next spring. Getting people to agree to a trip and actually go is a bit like herding cats though, so we’ll just have to see. We (Tom) planned a fairly relaxed walk on our first day, covering about twelve miles and ascending to 362 metres (1,207 ft) at most. We wound our way to the top of Latrigg, Then headed down its other side and meandered through farmland until we reached the stone circle at Castlerigg.
It’s an incredible location, ringed with towering peaks that appear to be staring down at the small plateau. The circle averages 100 ft in diameter, there are about forty stones, the heaviest of which is estimated to weigh 16 tonnes, and there is a roughly rectangular setting of a further ten stones within the circle. It has been speculated that the smaller, internal structure was a later addition, intended to demarcate it as a site of feasting or perhaps discussion. Having read a fair bit of modern archaeological theory, I wonder if its purpose was to differentiate between two belief systems, or even political factions, overlaying the old with the new in order to utilise the powerful associations and draw of the old whilst simultaneously disrupting and thus dominating them.
We’d bought a fresh loaf from the farmer’s market in Keswick, and a few wax-coated cheeses, so settled down to a picnic just inside the stones. The view was slightly marred by the American tourists standing on-top of the stones to pose for photos. Their voices somehow managed to carry further than anyone else’s, and their enthusiastic need to clamber all over the stones was viewed with bemusement by the Brits and Germans who were choosing instead to sit quietly and contemplate the landscape. The best time of day to visit the stone circle would certainly be dawn, though there is unfortunately a quiet road nearby and space for parking, so it may be full of people even then.
The light began to change as we headed back towards Keswick, the glare of the midday sun being replaced by a golden glow that flooded the landscape, turning it a tawny colour and somehow bringing it more into focus. We came across a small tarn, its surface so still that the hills behind it were perfectly reflected. The peace and quiet and fresh air are of course a welcome relief after the bustle of London, but the landscape itself feels like it is quietly standing sentinel; watching over us as we traipse across it.
The same tarn, camouflaged when the sky is no longer reflected in its surface
Once we’d all had chance to shower and examine various blisters, we headed to the Square Orange. We shared huge plates of tapas, and delicious thin-crust pizzas. There’s a common perception that food outside of London is poorer fair, but places like this prove that prejudice to be unfounded. Walking up and down hills all day also makes you feel like you really deserve a meal; something we certainly took advantage of!
The next day we had a more adventurous route planned. We’d decided to climb Skiddaw. Rising to 931 metres (3,054 ft) it’s one of highest mountains in England, and it certainly felt like it. The highest in England is Skiddaw’s neighbour Scafell Pike (978 m or 3,209 ft), and the highest in the British Isles is Ben Nevis in Scotland (1,344 m or 4,409 ft). Although the sunshine hadn’t disappeared the warmth of the previous day had, and a sharp wind had forced us into jumpers and coats. There was a steady stream of walkers making their way to the top, from children running up and down as they waiting for their parents to catch up, to octogenarians clutching hands as they trudged slowly forwards.
I can’t remember the last time I did any real exercise (I know, I know shame on me) and there were a number of moments when my body told me to stop being so bloody mad and get off the damned mountain; but I managed it. Just about (though Tom did ask me several times if I was going to be alright as I looked on the verge of collapse, apparently.)
Just taking a little break. Tom… may have had to drag me to my feet again. And push me ahead of him to get me to move again. That heather was really comfortable.
Walking back down was remarkably almost as difficult as walking up, as a different set of muscles were suddenly required and the pressure shifted from well-plastered heels to toes. We did descend in half the time though, and were relieved to escape the wind. We spotted a path leading off the main track and into a pine forest, and ducked through the gate to search for a picnic spot. A small grassy clearing basked in sunshine seemed perfect, so we settled down to tuck into the packed-lunches made for us by the guest-house owners. I don’t think walkers usually do this, divert from the prescribed route, so we were able to eat our lunch in complete solitude, with only a couple of spiders for company.
Dave had to return to London when we reached Keswick, but Tom and I were able to stay an extra night, so we got a taxi (my feet were refusing to do any more walking than was necessary by this point) over to the Lodore Falls hotel. It’s a nice little hotel with a well-stocked bar, and fantastic views across the lake. We sat in the lounge sipping Dalwhinnie, and watching the light fade from the hills surrounding Derwentwater.
My legs still ache, and the blisters still make me wince, but just two days of walking in the Lake District felt like sustenance for the soul. Has anyone else been walking in the Lakes? I’d love to hear your stories.
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