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 1 - Planning

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Planning the Walk

Having started long distance walking in 1991, it has now turned into an annual event, so each winter I spend my time browsing the bookshops in search of inspiration for a new walk. To satisfy my requirements a walk must take a predominantly high level route through the hills and mountains. It should also avoid roads as much as possible and avoid towns and other busy places except where they are necessary for accommodation. Only a few of the 'official' walks fulfil these requirements so it becomes more difficult to find a suitable walk each year.

There are more and more books appearing on the shelves catering for the ever increasing interest in walking and many of the books are beautifully illustrated with photographs, giving a good insight into the nature of the scenery. One such book which caught my eye was "Walking the Lakeland Round" by Tom Lawton, which detailed a circular walk round the Lake District taking in most of the main mountain areas on the way. The word "circular" is rather a misnomer, as the route is far from being a circle except in the sense that it ends at the starting point. Although the book was very good, it was not the sort of book that could be taken on a walk as a guidebook, as it did not have detailed route maps. I left it in the shop but noted the route for use in conjunction with the four Outdoor Leisure Ordnance Survey maps of the Lake District, which went on my birthday present list.

The route in the book starts and ends in Grasmere and is shown in ten stages, some of them being quite strenuous. This is not so much from the daily distances, which are seldom more than 15 miles, but in the amount of ascent involved when the high level routes are taken. The stages in the book are based on staying mainly in B&B accommodation in towns and villages on the way. However, the Lake District is extremely well served with Youth Hostels, which I find more sociable for the lone walker, as well as costing less than B&Bs. I decided to adapt the walk to fit in with overnight stops at Youth Hostels and also to add in a couple of extra days to make it a little less strenuous, particularly where there was a heavy schedule of climbing. In some cases, the Youth Hostel stops added to the daily mileage, but adding in the extra two days to the walk offset some of this. In any case, the additional walking to some of the hostels was mainly on the flat so would not present much of a problem. This still left several days with rather a lot of climbing (between 4000 and 5000 feet of ascent), but this would be offset by the fact that on most days the mileage was fairly modest. This is important in mountainous terrain, as it is difficult to average speeds of more than 1.5 to 2 miles per hour in these conditions.

I noticed a recent book of a pre-war walk by Wainwright describing a similar route that he had undertaken himself with, if anything, even more climbing than this walk involved. He did it in six days with each day involving several thousand feet of climbing with the maximum being just short of 8000 feet! He was a young man at the time but even so, it was quite an achievement.

Because this is not an 'official' walk there was no need to stay strictly to any particular route, so I based my walk on the general concept of that in the book and, in fact, follow the same route for much of the way. The main changes come from adding some detours on the days that I decided to split into two, as otherwise some of these sections would have been rather short for a day's walking. Most of the high level sections of the walk can be bypassed using lower level alternatives should it prove necessary due to bad weather or fatigue, although I do try to stick to my planned route unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Having decided on the walk the next thing to do was to decide on a suitable time to do it. I normally find that the best time of year is from late May to June when the weather tends to be drier and fresher and the evenings are light. There were a few constraints as to dates when I could not go for one reason or another, so it came down to either early May or late May as being the only suitable times. The problem with late May was that it would mean being away for Jean's fiftieth birthday. Early May was likely to suffer from poorer weather, although with the variations that can occur from one day to the next there is no telling when the weather is going to be best. However, Jean insisted that it would not matter if I were away on her birthday as we would not be able to have a proper family celebration until later because Amanda would be in the middle of her finals at Newcastle University. I still did not feel happy with the idea and preferred to opt for the earlier time, but eventually after much debate and deliberation it was decided that I should start on Saturday 20th May.

The next thing to be decided was how to get to and from the start. With a circular walk, it is very convenient to go there by car, if there is somewhere convenient for the car to be left without someone thinking that it has been abandoned. The Lake District is close enough to reach in a few hours drive, so it would be possible to drive there early on the morning of the first day of the walk and drive back on the evening of the last day. This would avoid having to use up extra days of leave. In the Lake District, long term parking is not very easy to find, but I thought that it may be possible to leave the car at one of the Youth Hostels. The first few that I phoned had only very limited parking facilities so would not let me park for that length of time, especially as it would span the Bank Holiday weekend. However, it was suggested that I try Ambleside Youth Hostel as that was once a large hotel with more parking space than most others. I phoned there and they were willing to let me park providing I was actually going to stay there. I considered that this was a fair enough condition and so booked in there for the evening of Friday 19th May.

Ambleside was not exactly on the route I had planned but was close enough to require only a small detour, possibly with a change of route down from High Street on the last day if I were short of time. The rest of the route appeared to fit in with opening times of hostels, some of which have one or more closing day at this time of year, so I started phoning to make my bookings. Of the hostels that I managed to get through to (several having only limited opening in the middle March), there were three who were already full on the nights I wanted. I could accept that hostels might be full over the Bank Holiday, but Wastwater was full on the Tuesday beforehand - another case of a large party booking up the whole hostel. With such a poor success rate to start off with I was somewhat disappointed and also worried that the some of the hostels that I had not managed to contact might also be full. However, the Lake District has lots of hostels and I was able to find alternatives for two of them without having to make any significant change to the route. As for Wastwater, the best alternative to that was Eskdale which, if anything, is a slightly shorter walk from Elterwater but the following day would involve an extra three mile walk to get back over to Wasdale. This was no problem as that day's walk, being one of the ones I had split into two, was only 10 miles even with a few detours I had already added, so an extra three miles would not make it excessive.

Fortunately all the remaining bookings went without a hitch so I finally managed to book the whole route in hostels without having to use any B&B accommodation and also managed to arrange parking for my car into the bargain.

By now, I have a well-established list of equipment that I take, with only minor amendments for each walk. Normally I walk in shorts and do not take any walking trousers, only light trousers to wear in the evenings. Having had a lot of unseasonably cold weather recently, however, and with there being a lot of high level walking involved, I thought it wise to take a pair of corduroy trousers, a hat and gloves just in case. As it happens, I carried them all the way without using them once. That is just one of those things one cannot anticipate in advance. Another change to my kit was a lightweight sports towel that I was given as a present. This is small but very absorbent and most of the water can be wrung out of it after use, avoiding the normal problem of drying a towel and saving weight at the same time. Although this was not as comfortable to use as a normal towel, it did work quite well; the only drawback being that the towel and its case had to be washed out regularly as they tended to smell because they always remained damp. Other additions were a heavy-duty plastic rucksack liner as a further defence against prolonged rain, and a small sheet of foam plastic to sit on when resting on wet or rough ground.

Before the start of the walk I had to work in Newcastle, so I made my way directly from there to Ambleside on the Friday evening, travelling via Alston and the northern Pennines on the way, and that invoked memories of previous walks on the Pennine Way. It is rather strange visiting such places by car as the approach is so different. On the Pennine Way one is hardly aware of the presence of roads apart from the occasional need to cross one, so it is often difficult to envisage where the paths are relative to the roads. There were still some patches of snow remaining on Cross Fell following the recent spell of cold weather. However, the weather had already started to improve and promised to be quite good for the next few days. I stopped off in Penrith for fish and chips and to do some shopping for lunchtime food in the same places I had been to on the Westmorland Heritage Walk in 1993, invoking still more memories. Taking the picturesque route to Ambleside via Ullswater, I was able to see my route on the Westmorland Heritage Walk at the other side of the lake leading up to Place Fell and then on to Patterdale. The scenery around Ullswater looked beautiful and gave a taste of things to come, although there were a few rather ominous dark clouds lingering around the high fells.

After stopping in a quiet place to change - it isn't quite the image to book into a youth hostel wearing a suit - I made my way to Ambleside and booked into the hostel at about 8 p.m. Ambleside Youth Hostel was once a lakeside hotel at Waterhead on Lake Windermere, about a mile out of Ambleside and, when I stayed there two years ago, was rather run down and sadly lacking its former splendour. Since then it has been extensively refurbished with new carpets furnishings and a fresh coat of paint in rather cold YHA green colours. There is a large, hotel styled reception desk near the entrance and the dormitories now even have locks on their doors with each resident given a key. This is obviously because of past problems with security - in such a large hostel with many people passing through it was very easy previously for anyone to wander around stealing things without anyone noticing. Unfortunately, for all the money that has been spent and all the facilities that are on offer, the atmosphere is far removed from that of the traditional hostel that provides a friendly sociable atmosphere for fellow walkers. This hostel tends to be full of foreign visitors and other people who have arrived by bus and have little or no intention of walking but are using the place as a cheap hotel whilst touring. In smaller hostels, the dining room in particular is the place where people meet each other as they sit down at communal tables. With the cafeteria style catering at Ambleside people are all eating at different times so tend just to take their trays to a table of their own and not mix with anyone else. With over 220 beds it is difficult to provide a more intimate atmosphere and the hostel does fulfil a purpose even though most walkers would not use it out of choice. In my case, the fact that I could leave my car there for the duration of the walk was the overriding factor.

After booking in and phoning home I took a stroll by the side of the lake and then into town. I didn't count on it starting to rain and had not brought anything waterproof, so I took shelter by various shops and then decided to call for a pint hoping that the rain might stop. I called into the basement bar of the Queen's Hotel where I had called two years ago. It is quite a pleasant bar catering for walkers and many of them were devouring some very nice looking homemade pizzas. Fortunately, when I had finished my pint, the rain had eased off to drizzle and I was able to return to the hostel without getting too wet.

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