Wednesday, 27 August 2014

C2C Day 4: Patterdale to Shap

I awoke after a restless night of sleep.  That nagging sore throat I had yesterday that I bravely ignored had turned into a full-blown sinus infection during the night.  Leave it to me to get a cold on the trail in high summer.

Aside from the cramps, the cold, and a nagging UTI, I felt pretty good still.  Pleasantly exhausted maybe, but getting up and going in the morning was still something I was looking forward to.  

The leg of the trail from Patterdale to Shap is the longest stretch of trail with no way to break unless you rough camp.  You can hike most of the Coast to Coast in small chunks if you had the time or the inclination, but even if you've been doing 8-mile days up until this point, you are going to have to hustle and complete 17 miles by the end of this day.    

But yay, White Lion.  The pub dinner the night before was surprisingly good, the room tiny but comfortable, but by far they win a shameful award for the worst breakfast on the trail.  Scrambled eggs are not supposed to come in a bowl with an inch of water on the bottom, and I could barely choke down what passed as beans and toast before loading up on cereal, which was the only foodstuff they had that didn't come slicked with grease.

There is also no place on the trail to get water or fill up on this day, making it extra challenging.  Today ended up being searingly hot- 30c and windless (86f) with not a cloud in the sky.  The locals were just as uncomfortable as we were in their cozy buttoned-up little houses and they would occasionally emerge into the glaring light, squinting and pasty white to confirm that yes, it was indeed hot out, and not just in the English way of it being warm enough to shed a layer.  We stopped at the Patterdale post office and picked up two more 2 liter bottles of water.  Yeah, that was heavy, but so was a helicopter rescue.

I know, I know, I should just invest in a water purification system.  But have you tasted treated water?  Also, there are so many sheep that even the streams and springs on the high fells are less than pristine.  

This is what we would be climbing:

A massive fell up High Street to the Kidsty Pike over on the other side.  This was the biggest climb of the trail, with the first five miles of the day was an incline according to the elevation maps.

But what a pretty valley Patterdale is nestled in!  In his writing, Wainwright beseeches you to spend a day here, to turn around and spend some time relaxing by the lake.  You've earned it!

Wainwright didn't have non-refundable transatlantic airfare to make good on when he wrote these words, but yes.  It would have been a good candidate for a rest day, especially with all my snotty hacking glory.

Onward!  Up the trail to High Street, which was a series of steep switchbacks.  If it was anything but perfectly dry, I probably wouldn't have made it as the going would have been treacherous in weather.  There is a "low road" that you can choose to go around the fell into the next valley if weather is an issue.

But ah, the views!  I'm sure all is lost as far is views are concerned most of the time here, but I felt so fortunate to be graced with such sunny weather even though I had salty sweat marks on my shorts that looked like a high tide mark that was slowly creeping down my legs the longer I hiked.

Looking back at Ullswater.  That lake had a siren call in this heat.  It was hard to resist running full speed back down the mountain towards it, leaving a trail of shed clothes behind me.

I put aside my bloaty crampy snotty misery and just set out to enjoy myself.  The air was pristine, the fells were green, how could you let some mortal aches and pains ruin a perfect day?  

The sheep were feeling the heat, and they were clustering behind any sizable rock or brush to try and keep cool.  They were also very reluctant to get up and move and they would barely budge as we brushed past them in their quest to stay in the shade.

We came to the crest of High Street and got nothing but more views of high fells and blue skies in front of us, and we set off across the top.  We now had a long hike exposed hike with more elevation gains.  Again, I wouldn't do this hike if the visibility was bad or in the fog and rain as it would have been really easy to lose the trail as the fell top seemed like it might get boggy when wet, and there is a shear drop into the valley below.  I was somewhat shocked that it taken us an hour and a half to walk up that first half mile of the trail- with the heat and the heavy packs, we had to stop every minute or so to catch our breaths.  I remember forcing myself to take at least 20 steps before my next "breather" just to try to keep a rhythm going.

I was getting quite a bit of vertigo as the trail follows the edge of the mountain, but other than that I was happily chugging along, re-applying SPF 50 every hour or so.

We turned a corner and saw the prettiest sight in a walk of pretty sites:

Angel Tarn, a high fell lake.  Someone had a tent set up on the lakeside.  I must say- this might be the most perfect place to camp in the world, with nothing but the wind and the occasional bleating of sheep to fill your ears.  It is also the ideal chilly spot to take a dip, but being so pressed for time, we moved on.  Boo.

Wainwright points out that you could still circle back to Patterdale from here....

We crossed the remains of a Roman road that marched across the fell and pushed on to the final climb up Kidsty Pike.

We stopped for a quick lunch on a ledge at the top.  I call this conquering my fear of heights and I did okay for about 10 minutes before panic set in and I had to back away in a cold sweat.

It was 3 in the afternoon...those five miles had taken us over 6 hours.  This was probably the slowest I've ever made progress on a trail.  And yet...we were less than half way there.

This was it: we had walked clear across the Lake District.  Below us we could see Haweswater, the reservoir that we'd be walking all the way around, and way in the distance the chain of mountains called the Pennines in Yorkshire.

Coming off Kidsty was a short but very steep trail, and the downhills always take me forever as I carefully pick my way down, fighting gravity the whole way.  I fall way behind any time I have to negotiate a descend, and try to make up for it on the flat and uphills.

I was finally quick enough to capture one of the air force planes zooming through at eye level through the valley ahead:

I was hoping for an easy walk along the 5 miles of lakeside (near the cool waters of the shore would have been nice!) but being drinking water, you aren't allowed anywhere near the shoreline, and the trail climbed up the hill far above the lake.  So much for an easy stroll.

On the near end of the lake there is a RSBP viewing platform and blind, as the last remaining Golden Eagle in England calls this home.  Sadly, it's just a lone male.  Perhaps he'll buck up and go to visit his Scottish cousins one of these days, or maybe those lazy bastards will pop in for a visit.  We heard him, but didn't see him, and we couldn't really afford another 45 minute diversion, even if rare eagle-watching was involved.

It felt like we were walking around that lake forever.  Exhaustion was really setting in now, and we still had miles to go.  At the head of the reservoir, there is a cluster of workers' cottages and a red phone box, so if you had to, you could bow out here.

We pushed on, through an enchanted forest...

OMG THIS WAS THE BEST THING ON THE TRAIL THANK YOU THOMAS SO MUCH.  We dumped all our spare change and downed a couple more pints of water, as we had been really careful about making our supply last us the entire hike and were slightly dehydrated, and we got a couple of snickers bars to keep the morale up.

We crossed an ancient arch of a footbridge and picked our way through forest and fields, getting slightly lost and taking wrong paths as our map reading skills began to fail us.

The sun was getting really low in the sky and we still had more than three miles to go.

The scenery, while lacking fells, was fantastically pretty.  They call this area of Cumbria "Eden Valley" for a reason.

At one point, we crossed a hillside and a the hamlet of Rosgill came into view.  On cue, my phone started wildly vibrating in my pocket, as for the first time in four days it was getting sips of information from the outside world.  I took the opportunity to call ahead to the B&B to let them know of our slow progress.  Most B&Bs are small, family affairs and I hate inconveniencing people by rolling up on their doorstep when they are in the pajamas.
The  kindly innkeep said that he could be there in 10 minutes to pick us up in Rosgill if we wished.  "YES!  I mean, no.  Nope, no need.  No, we can make it".

I got an end of day adrenaline surge and ceased to feel pain.  Bry on the other hand...I had never seen him so beaten on the trail, and we had both gotten footsore on this punishing hike.  I had to stop for him every couple hundred yards so he could catch up as I was just zooming along, putting one foot ahead of the other with a bit more effort than it had taken me earlier in the day.

I was really enjoying myself at this point in the hike as I was almost loopy and giggly and well past exhaustion.  The setting sun, the golden light, the calm that was settling over the land, and we ticked past mile 60 for the week.  Well, more miles than that if you count our 2 mile diversion on the first day, and the 2 miles Bry ran to retrieve his forgotten phone.

Poor guy.

We hit the ruins of Shap Abbey in the last golden light.

Founded in the 12 century and then disbanded by Henry VIII, most of the Abbey had been recycled into nearby cottages, but the bell tower still remained.

One last uphill push and we had arrived in the village of Shap.  The B&B was fantastically close to the trail and we apologized profusely as it was now 9:30.  We cleaned ourselves up and hobbled down the pub where we were told might still be serving, and the pub landlord kindly handed us an "emergency menu" of pre-made food.

 As always, I am amazed at how well and kindly they accommodate walkers here, even ones that roll in well past dinner time.  


  1. Wow, really well done! And still managing to take great pics - I salute you both!
    Terri x

    1. This was the best trail I've done in the UK so far. I kind of want to go back and break it up in smaller chunks so we could walk in the fells more, as I missed out on Haystacks and some of the other diversions, but I'm so thrilled to have done this.