Life is a journey, when you travel, you live twice. ~a graffiti artist in Spain
Today was a day of choices, only one of which we new before hand. I really need to read the guide book.
Choice #1 – We could follow the normal route along the southern shoreline of Ennerdale Water (Lake) which was described as a classic lake walk with stunning views and one difficult, hair-raising stretch of a couple of hundred meters where you balance on a thin ledge with a sheer wall on one side and a 90m drop to the rocks below on the other side. That didn’t sound too bad by itself but while trying to decide to take the road north of the lake instead, we also were told that a man fell to his death at this point a few months ago, that the ledge was too small to allow you to turn around, that it may be tricky with the large backpack I was carrying, that if there is rain, the route would be shin deep in water and that yesterday, just after the thin pass, it was very boggy and muddy. The road to the north of the lake just added a couple of kilometres but was described as an easy walk.
When we got to the place where the trail split around the lake, I started making chicken noises and headed north. I don’t regret the decision even though it didn’t rain when we were going to be there and that the boggy bits weren’t too bad after all. The northern route had great views of the southern side which is more dramatic too. We only had 1km of boggy field / muddy tracks / thin public access paths during the first 14km of our walk. The rest was either blacktop lanes, gravel roads or packed earth and rocky paths, a good portion of it with either great views or along rivers in forests and all of it with gradual grades up and down. My kind of walk.
Choice #2 – We could take the high route or low route after Ennerdale Water. This choice was a no-brainer for us. The option would have taken us on an additional 2km detour to follow the ridge line of a series of four peaks, 600-800m high. Before we left the hotel this morning, the innkeeper showed us the local weather forecast that he had downloaded from the mountain rescue group. It called for showers in the afternoon, probably with lightning, low cloud cover all day obstructing views from the peaks, sub-zero temperatures and 65kph winds on the summits. No thanks. With our 9pm departure, we would surely be frozen human lightning rods. The low route took us through a dale (that’s a valley to you non-English speakers) and out of the wind some weather. We saw one couple just ahead of us, who took the detour and started walking up to the high route. We looked up and the clouds and said a little prayer for them. I also looked up the mountain rescue group’s phone number. Shortly after that, it started to drizzle enough for us to have to put our raincoats. Call me a chicken but we were happy to miss the stunning views that were promised if the weather improved.
The low route that we took was the last 5km I described above, along the undulating gravel path, in the valley, among the trees along a river. I loved it. Most people we spoke to said that it would be crazy to try the high route. As it turned out though, the weather mostly held out for the few that did go that way but the descent from the highest peak was insane, to use the description from the still ashen-faced man who we met just after the peaks.
Choice #3 – We were walking for a short bit with two British couples, still before that 14km mark where we would reach the Black Sail Youth Hostel. They told us that they were going to take a path up to the last peak, Haystacks at 600m, because it had the best views and was now only about a 400m climb from the present altitude. We had no time to give it much thought but again, it was just starting to drizzle so we bid them well and we followed the gravel path. As we departed though, one of the men said that we still had our own climbing to do. I didn’t know this. I didn’t read the guide closely, I guess. We were on the low route, right?
Wrong! After a stop in the youth hostel to eat our sandwich, we set off again, now on rocky or muddy paths. I still had no idea but should have guessed since I could see no way out of the valley. Sure enough, we were soon climbing rocks, 400m upward to eventually be looking down on Haystacks Peak. I really need to read the guidebook. The ascent was mostly very steep, along rock “steps” that were usually under an inch or two of water running down them. Closer to the top, the gradient was easier but still endless. After a kilometre and a bit along a lower ridge line, we hit a gravel and rocky path that would take us down 500m. This path was often muddy or covered in rocks that constantly reminded us that they were round and still capable of rolling when trod upon. Holy Moses. My ankles will never be the same. The last portion of the descent was the steepest and our thighs ached the whole way.
After the descent to Honister Slate Quarry, we still had 5km to go, mostly along roads or side paths that were rocky and muddy enough to encourage us to use the roads. Eventually, we arrived in the 15 building village of Stonethwaite. They actually have a hotel here, with a proper restaurant but we are across the street in Knott’s View B&B. It turns out that a knott is what certain hills are called here and you wouldn’t believe it but there is a hill, just outside our window. It’s 9pm and I am just about to cross the road to post this blog. I hope the hotel’s wi-fi works though the front door.