The Lakeland Round 1995

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 6 - Borrowdale to Skiddaw House

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Day 9 - Sunday 28th May: Borrowdale to Keswick via Watendlath Tarn

Distance: 10.6 miles, Ascent: 1630 ft

Accommodation: Keswick Y.H.A. - 15.50 Dinner B&B

Despite a good night's sleep I still felt as if I could have stayed in bed all day. The weather seemed a little bit more settled, although there had already been some rain. At breakfast, the kids were a lot quieter, so it was a bit more relaxing. There was no rush to get started as I had an easy day ahead, which I could do with after a lot of rather strenuous ones.

The weather didn't stay fine for long and I had to put on my waterproofs after only half a mile because of a heavy shower, and had to keep them on until mid afternoon. There were a few bright spells from time to time but, in general, it was rather wet and dreary. I made a point of not pushing myself during the day, taking any ascents in easy stages with plenty of rests. This was partly because I knew I had plenty of time on my hands but also because I felt that I had been pushing myself on some sections and wanted to make this like a rest day to regain my strength for the rest of the walk. Much of the route was along a popular tourist trail, not far from road access but the bad weather made it far less busy than it might have been on a Bank Holiday Sunday. There were some reasonable views at times but they were mostly marred by the dreary weather.

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Eagle Crag, Sergeant's Crag and Stonethwaite Beck from Lingy End
Eagle Crag from Lingy End
Derwent Water from Falcon Crag
Derwent Water from Falcon Crag
Castlerigg Stone Circle and Blencathra
Castlerigg Stone Circle

By the middle of the afternoon the rain actually eased off and it started to brighten up a little. By this time I was dropping down from Walla Crag towards Keswick, so I decided to take in Castlerigg Stone Circle on the way, although this meant that the only practical route back down into Keswick was by the road. I reached the hostel at 5.45 p.m. and retrieved the things I had left with the warden. I was in a dormitory with three chaps from near Leeds who were doing the Cumbria Way in the three days of the Bank Holiday weekend, whereas others I had met were taking five or six days. This involved them in walking well over twenty miles each day, although it is mostly along low-level routes.

Dinner was soup, minced beef flan with roast and two vegetables, followed by sponge pudding with ice cream. I sat with the three chaps from Leeds and a couple of Lancastrians, one of whom, who had a large beer belly and was not exactly the 'Brain of Britain', started into a round of anti Yorkshire jokes and quips, such as "What is the difference between a Yorkshireman and a coconut?" - "You can get a drink out of a coconut." etc. When I was talking about the Wainwright book of his 6-day walk round Lakeland in the 1930s, he insisted that it was called "A Pennine Journey" - it didn't seem to register with him when I pointed out the Lake District was some distance from the Pennines. Eventually we ignored him and he resumed conversation with his companion. The other three invited me to join them for a drink later.

Looking at the drying room it was obvious that the only way to get anything dry was to use the tumble dryer as there was no heating on in there. It was in use by one of chaps from Leeds who kindly put my things in there when he had finished and put in 20 pence, refusing my offer to pay it back. We then set off to the pub whilst my things were drying but, as I didn't like to leave them in there if others wanted to use the tumble dryer, I nipped back after the first pint to remove them and then rejoined them in the pub. They only stayed for one more drink - they had order half-pints for themselves as they were feeling full from the meal and wanted to get back for an early night so they could be off early in the morning.

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Day 10 - Monday 29th May: Keswick to Skiddaw House via Skiddaw

Distance: 9 miles, Ascent: 3350 ft

Accommodation: Skiddaw House Y.H.A. - 5.35 bed only

I had a good night's sleep only slightly disturbed by the other three leaving at 6 a.m. The weather forecast pinned up in the hostel said scattered showers and broken cloud but when I woke up it was tipping down with rain from a heavy, grey sky. However, by the time breakfast was over it was looking more reasonable. The drying room hadn't done much for my clothes overnight which was hardly surprising as there was no heat on in there, only a dehumidifier which was dripping water all over one rack of clothes. I gave my things another 20 pence worth of tumble drying which had far more impact on them and made them reasonably dry.

Skiddaw House Youth Hostel has only limited supplies of food on sale and is purely a self catering hostel, so I went down to the Co-op again to stock up with food for dinner, breakfast and two lunches. It is never easy to know what sort of things to get for just one person. Tins tend to be rather heavy to carry, so dried food is preferable for at least some of the meal. I settled on a packet of soup, a packet of dried beef curry and rice for two (to give a filling portion) and a packet of bacon for the morning. I also stocked up with a fruit malt loaf, various biscuits, apples and country slices etc. It is surprising how the weight of these things adds up, but at least I didn't have very far to carry them, albeit there was a 3000-ft mountain to climb on the way.

I eventually set off at 10 a.m., having packed everything carefully against the weather, as it still looked rather bad. Generally I had managed to keep things reasonably dry - the rucksack liner working very well and hardly needing the extra protection of the plastic roasting bags holding things inside. The only place where rain penetration was a problem was in the compartment of the rucksack at the bottom, where all the water drained and could not easily escape. I sometimes think that they would be better putting holes in the bottom of rucksacks on the basis that there is no way you can stop water getting in, so you may as well have a means for it to escape again! I learned not to put anything important in there in wet weather as, even when things were inside a roasting bag with a clip on the opening, there was still a tendency for wet to find its way in. The only thing suitable for the bottom compartment in times of prolonged heavy rain was my waterproofs between downpours.

The first few miles were over flat farmland which was very soggy with all the rain and the long wet grass in places helped to soak my boots on the outside, leading to a gradual influx of damp. Overhanging bushes and trees gave me an extra shower as I brushed past them, so it was not a particularly pleasant part of the walk although it was, at least, below the cloud level. The route up Skiddaw is not the popular one over Little Man, but one further to the west, through the forestry plantation and over Carl Side which would, in better weather, give more of a view of Bassenthwaite Lake.

Apart from a few steep parts, the main ascent is a steady climb and I entered the cloud at about 2000-ft. This, combined with the altitude, made it a lot colder and caused much more condensation on the inside of my waterproofs which had to be kept on because it never stopped raining for long enough to take them off. After a few brief flashes of visibility, I saw no more of the view until I was well down the other side of the mountain. The final climb to the summit got somewhat steeper and I eventually reached the summit ridge at 1 p.m. and stopped for lunch in the shelter of a semicircular cairn not far from the summit. I couldn't stay long as I started to get cold, so I made my way a little further along to the actual summit, where it seemed even colder in the strong wind. At times, it looked as if there might be a break in the clouds, but it never materialised and the only thing to do was to press on downhill where it would be a bit warmer.

The north side of the mountain opens out to a very broad, gently sloping plateau. I picked up a path that tended to go more to the west than I thought I should be. This part of the walk was off the top of my map, so I was not too sure of the route, but I wasn't worried as I could easily make my way across when I could get a view of where I was going. Eventually I came out of the cloud and saw a fine view of the north of Bassenthwaite Lake, which even had a few patches of sunlight despite the fact that I was still in the rain. After waiting for a little time to see if it would clear - which it didn't, I made my way further east to meet the path that I should have been on over by the fence. I could then see Skiddaw House by a little copse of trees - the only trees anywhere around. There was a broad, well made path leading up to it from the Bassenthwaite direction, which is the route by which it can be accessed with a four wheel drive vehicle.

I met this main track at the top of Whitewater Dash, a rather spectacular series of waterfalls tumbling a few hundred feet down the steep valley. This route seemed to be very popular with cyclists, making me wonder if it were part of some cycle route. I spent some time exploring the waterfalls, climbing down to the bottom and back up again as was still rather early for the hostel, so it was a good way of passing some time away, especially as it was somewhat warmer and drier around there.

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Binsey from top of Whitewater Dash
Binsey from Whitewater Dash
Carrock Fell from Skiddaw House
Carrock Fell from Skiddaw House

Knowing that this was a short day's walk, I had lined up one or two optional detours such as climbing Great Calva. However, as my feet were feeling rather wet and I was conscious of the demanding walks of the next two days, I decided to make for the hostel instead. My boots had stood up remarkably well to the wet weather but, having started the day with them not having dried out from the previous day, the continual soaking they got earlier in the day took its toll. Even so, they kept out the water better than any other boots I have ever had, showing that the Gore-Tex lining really does work. On the way to the hostel the weather brightened considerably and there were even a few patches of sunshine about by the time I arrived there, half an hour before the 'official' opening time of 5 p.m. However, the relief warden didn't mind and several others arrived to book in as well. The first thing I discovered when I came to register was that I had lost my YHA membership card. I assumed that I must have left it at Longthwaite, as I had not needed to show it on my return visit to Keswick. The warden was not worried that I hadn't got it and, as Skiddaw House has no telephone, there was nothing that could be done about it. I had only one more night after this when I would have needed to show it and, as it was due to expire immediately after that, it was not of any great concern to get it back. A few days after I got back home it was returned to me with a friendly note from the warden at Longthwaite saying that she hoped I had not got too wet.

The scenery around these parts, known sometimes as 'Back of Skiddaw' is a complete contrast from that in the rest of Lakeland with gentle rolling hills rather than steep craggy ones. It reminded me more of areas such as the Howgill Fells and added a pleasant bit of variety to the walk. It is an area that most people miss out when visiting the Lake District, as it lacks the dramatic scenery found elsewhere, but it has a great deal of charm of its own, especially for those who like to avoid the crowds.

Altogether there were about a dozen people staying at the hostel, some having been there for one or two nights already. Amongst them was a chap from Lancaster and his 14-year old daughter who had been out fell running with the intention of doing about 20 miles. They had gone over Skiddaw and Great Calva but then the girl started having problems with her ankles so they returned to the hostel. I commented that there is no way that my daughter would undertake anything like that unless it was on horseback. They were still planning to do a long run the next day, taking the same route as me to Helvellyn, then on to Fairfield to be picked up by mum at Dunmail Raise. However, by next morning the girl had decided to go on strike so they were just going to walk as far as the nearest road in Threlkeld and get picked up from there instead.

Amongst the others staying there, was a couple with a girl of about eight. They were attached to a school party who were camping nearby and who were rehearsing for a Duke of Edinburgh Award under supervision, before going off to do the real thing later in the week on their own. Later on in the evening some of the adult campers came up to the hostel for a cup of tea and a chat by the warmth of the stove which, by that time, was giving off a cosy glow. At one point the little girl queried why they had built the hostel up there, so far away from anywhere, suggesting that it would have been more sensible to build it down at the bottom to save everyone a lot of walking! After being told that the YHA didn't build it, but merely converted it from a shooting lodge, she then suggested that it would be best, in that case, to dismantle it, take all the stone down to the bottom of the track, and rebuild it there.

The time had come for me to prepare my gastronomic speciality. I decided not to bother with the soup and just prepared my Vesta beef curry with rice for two, following it with some flapjack and a cup of tea. It didn't taste bad, was easy to prepare and light to carry, so it fulfilled its purpose. Dried things were noticeable amongst the others as they all had the same problem of carrying food, especially those who were staying for a few days. The only food I saw on sale was some 'Pasta Choice', which a few people were cooking.

The accommodation in Skiddaw House was more extensive than that of Black Sail, with a number of small dormitories upstairs, and a large living and cooking area, a lounge with 1950s furniture and the warden's quarters downstairs. Even the toilet and washing facilities were inside the main building, although there were again no showers. The building started off as some shepherds' cottages, was later knocked through and made into a shooting lodge, then became derelict and was eventually restored several years ago by the YHA after a struggle to get planning permission. Heating was provided by a wood-burning stove, which was fuelled by the coppice of trees, although there were also gas heaters running from bottled gas. The hostel also boasts a 24-volt electric lighting system driven by a bank of batteries and recharged by a petrol engine generator, so it was quite well equipped. Recently the warden had even installed an automatic washing machine to cope with all the sheet sleeping bags, but that could only be run directly from the generator. I would imagine that the biggest problem with the washing must have been getting it dry in the shadow of Skiddaw and 1550 ft above sea level. This hostel is well worth visiting by those who would like its beautifully isolated location and fine views of this remote area.

After dinner, I toyed with the idea of walking up Great Calva. It stood straight in front of the hostel with an easy ascent of only about 700-ft from this elevated starting point. However, the little used path up there would still have been very wet and, as I was hoping to get my boots as dry as possible overnight, I decided against it and stayed in chatting to the others instead. One group had decided to help out by sawing and chopping a pile of wood to fuel the stove whilst I spent some time trying to get some more life into the fire in the stove, as it was starting to get cold. Eventually the stove was burning brightly and we were able to hang things by it to dry, as it was putting out more heat than the gas heater in the drying room.

After stoking up the stove with wood and turning the regulator down to minimum, I went off to bed and into a sound sleep. Suddenly, at about 1 a.m., I was rudely awakened by the sound of the smoke alarm on the ceiling screaming away. Some of the others checked everywhere for signs of fire but eventually decided that fumes from the stove must have caused it. It was not so easy to find the reason as there were several alarms all interconnected so that any one going off would also cause the others to do the same. After a while, the alarms stopped and we went back to bed, only to have the same thing happen a couple of hours later. Again, a check of the alarms failed to reveal which one had caused the problem, so again we went back to bed to be awakened again at 7.20 a.m. At least this time it acted as an alarm clock to stop us oversleeping after our disturbed night's sleep.

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