Friday, 22 August 2014

C2C Day 2: Ennerdale YHA to Borrowdale

We woke up from a really deep sleep refreshed and ready to go.  It's always amazing how the act of sleeping erases the majority of your aches and pains from the previous day.  I felt fine and ready to go- my ankles were a bit puffy but that seemed to be the only ill effect.  

Because we hiked 6 miles further up the trail then most, we only had 10 miles to do on this day.  Which was good, because the hostel was a bit slow getting breakfast rolling.  Granted, it was a small operation with only two people cooking breakfast for 12 people, we would have skipped out if we needed to get an earlier start.  It was a really lovely hostel though, and waking up in the valley with nothing but chattering birds and the distant babble of the creek and the wind in the trees made for a fantastic morning.   The breakfast wasn't half bad, either, and we carb-loaded and caffeinated and graciously accepted our packed lunches of sandwiches, fruit, crisps and a juice box.

Another freakishly beautiful day, and it was going to be a hot one.  This is supposed to be the rainiest bit of England.  How disappointing!

A smart decision was made- we could have taken an unmarked high route right away and climbed up to Red Pike, High Stile and Hay Stacks fells, or we could stay low by the river.  The advantage was that our climb for the day would be over right away, as once you are up on the ridge you would stay there for miles and rejoin the Coast to Coast route near the top of Loft Beck.

Thankfully my reasoning  to stay low won, and you'll see why this is important in a moment.  

 But really now.  Can you believe this is England?  I couldn't.  I kept thinking I was somewhere in the American West.

We walked down the quiet forest path, zigged where we should have zagged once again, but found a really beautiful stream, and behold!  

A perfectly clear swimming hole, secluded from the trail and beckoning a refreshing plunge!

Even though we were only a mile up the trail, Bry decided to strip down and go for a dip.  I just settled to soak my feet- that water was frigid.

At this point, a series of events happened that could have ruined our day.

After he hopped out and dried off, Bry was putting his shorts back on and managed to dump his pockets.  His phone went directly into the drink with a plonk.  As he scrambled down the rock to retrieve it, it triggered something in his head- he had forgotten the other phone and the charger back at the hostel.  Wait, I saw something else follow his phone into the pool.  We searched and didn't see anything else, but I could have sworn that I saw something smaller follow his phone in.  Finally, I realized that it must have been his beach pebble from St Bees, and he agreed.  We saw a small black pebble sitting on a rock ledge that didn't look like the rest, and I went back in my camera photos to confirm that yes, that was indeed the pebble in question.

The wet phone sadly disassembled and airing out on a towel, he grabbed a water bottle and hiking poles and ran back down the trail to retrieve the left property.  Mind you, there is no cell signal at all in the Lake District- these gorgeous hillsides are not marred by cell towers at all.  Still, having the OS maps with GPS on the phone had saved our asses several times in the past, and they are also our only timekeeping abilities.  Hiking relying on phones and gadgets is always risky and nothing will ever replace a detailed map and compass, and we're not one of those people who are always on our phones...but still.  We wanted our phone back.

I got to sit and knit with my feet in the ice cold stream for the next half hour, knitting and congratulating myself on not taking the high road, where who knows at what point he would have remembered the forgotten phone.

Finally, he returned.  My ankles nice and de-kankled, I dried off and booted up and hit the trail, now much later than I thought we would be.  The fact that we had a six mile jump ahead of the crowd was now lost, and the coming fell climb was well-defined by the slow progress of many making their way up the switchbacks.

But look, Herdwick sheep!  The lovely hardy Beatrix Potter sheep exclusive to the Lake District.  These sheep are the only breed that thrives in high elevations and harsh climates of the area.  Today seemed a bit too tropical for them to be comfortable though.

We approached the end of Ennerdale valley under some pretty heavy afternoon heat.

The most famous YHA hostel on the trail is the tiny off-the-grid Black Sail at mile 24.  

They have their doors open for hikers to fill up their water and an honor system for snack and sodas.  It's an adorable and rustic place, and if I could have finagled it, we would have broke up the hike so we could have stayed here.

After a quick break and a nap in the sun, we were picked our way through the boggy valley and started up the steep Loft Beck, a 2000' climb that lead up to Honister crag.  That was just brutal in the heat.

The climb was strenuous, but rewarding as hell once you got to the top.   We bumped into two men, sitting a little off the trail with binoculars watching the peak across the valley.  A quick stop to catch our breath and chat revealed they had a group of kids on their first rough camping experience (we found out later, most of them were less than enthusiastic about this) that they check on stealthily from higher vantage points to make sure all was well.  It kind of seemed like an Outward Bound program, but we wished them luck in their teenager wrangling, and pushed on to the top.

We saw threatening clouds on the other side of the valley, but the cloud cover we got was providing us with some much-needed shade.  There are not a lot of trees up here.

We decided to stop trailside to have lunch but we were promptly annoyed and driven off by a group of about 8, aging, out-of-shape Texans who were with a guide and waiting for struggling members of their party to make it up the hill.  They proceeded to surround us and yell back and forth to each other, and to their guide and friends who were well down the mountain.  Then, they took out their Iphones to record videos and loudly narrate how badly they were suffering, and then wrongly point out the direction of the trail and complain how tired and miserable they were and how their hired guide was torturing them.  All this while hoovering directly over us, and not at all responding to my "fuck off" death glare that I reserve for these occasions.  It's nature, shut up and enjoy it or stay home.  

I put my boots back on, shoved my half-eaten sandwich in my pack, and we pushed on to find a more peaceful spot well away from the trail.  After about ten minutes, the bored Texans wandered off the trail and decided to have a sit on the same rock we were on, ignoring us as they continued yammering and shouting to each other at great distance and complaining about how if they only knew how hard this was they wouldn't have signed up for it and JUST GO AWAY.  I was about to push some fat Texans off the side of a mountain now, and for a second time, we picked up and moved to get the hell away from them.  Granted, you meet plenty of nice people on the trail and we made lots of trail friends whom we would encounter day after day and have friendly chats with, they are usually pleasant and happy to be in the hills, and blissfully tired from the adventures and they aren't total asshats.  It ruined my mood for all of seven minutes, but we found yet an even better spot on the fell-top to have lunch.        

Views of Ennderdale and Buttermere were to be had, and more of the lovely Lake District.   Occasionally, a fighter plane would break the silence and zoom down the valley: they use this area to train their air force pilots.

The colors were lovely- the fell tops were forlorn and empty, with a surprising amount of open space for a mountain top.  Once you make the climb up, you could connect the footpaths and hike the fells pretty much forever, and good navigation skills are needed to find the correct trail as we hadn't seen a trail waymark since leaving the hostel.

The descent was fairly easy, but going downhill always takes me the longest as I carefully pick my way down.  This followed an old mining tramway, and you could see the slate mines in the hills as we made our way down Honister Pass to Honister Mine.

It's a museum and a shop, and if we had the time I would have stopped for the tour of the gussied-up slate mines as it seemed worthwhile.  Instead, we took advantage of the ice cream they sold, and hit the trail for an easy four miles to get to the Borrowdale YHA.

It was a perfectly pleasant afternoon stroll in the hills, passing quaint little hamlets tucked in snugly any place a flat bit of ground was found.   These were former mining communities, and there were many quaint little b&bs to be found among them.

Finally, we hit Borrowdale with plenty of sunlight left in the sky.  This was a much bigger hostel than the previous, and very efficiently run, but no less charming.  Even if you are not staying here, the trail runs through their yard and they had a nice cafe and streamside picnic tables.  It had tent camping and camping pods along with a big bunk house and communal showers.  We once again were able to get a private room, which is worth the money to have at least a little privacy.  I took advantage of their amazing drying room and did our laundry (because there is nothing more demoralizing than putting on dirty clothes in the morning) and we sat out by the River Derwent before dinner with a drink to have a rare moment of relaxation.  

I pulled out the Reverso socks that I had brought along.  The yarn I chose was fell-colored, and this was totally a happy accident!

It was a friendly, happy hostel filled with tired hikers, and we chatted up a few families that we met at the previous nights' YHA and a few people we saw along the trail during the day.  A lot of Brits and a handful of Aussies and Germans seem to make up the majority.  But it was totally our people- outdoorsy types who weren't so fussy that they don't mind bunk beds at the end of the day.  Once again, the food was excellent(!) and the people who worked there were helpful and jovial.  We stocked up on Kendal Mint Cake and went down to the creek for a post-dinner foot soak in the river.   

The short day of hiking was a nice change of pace- even with the late start, Bry having to double back and add more than two miles to his day, and the leisurely pace, it was nice to have time to relax at the end of the day before tipping over for 8 hours in the bunks.

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