Tuesday, August 6, 2013

UK Part III: The Lake District

My friends and I arrived at Penrith train station at 10:35 in the morning.  Between the four of us, it didn’t take long to arrange for tickets to Edinburgh find the bus schedule for the busses from Penrith to Keswick (pronounced Kezik), and chat with a teacher from Lacashire who teaches 17 7-9 year olds in one classroom and was going to Keswick for a convention.  The bus to Keswick only leaves once every hour, but the bus from Keswick to Rosthwaite – the start of our walking trip – leaves every half hour and it is only a 15-20 minute ride between the two communities.

We stepped off the bus in Rosthwaite next to a stone wall bordering a field.  There was no walk, or footpath to speak of and the road was just barely large enough for one lane of traffic.  We walked down the road and ducked into a narrow alley to check for directions to the hotel.  There were no directions.  The day was rapidly turning into my kind of adventure.  We walked along the alley as this seemed like a one-alley, stone-cottage kind of community. At the end of the alley we came to the Flock-In tea house, but no hotel.  It was time to ask for Directions.  We asked two gentlemen enjoying a pint in the patio of the little stone-cottage bed and breakfast in an adjoining alley.

“I’m not sure” one of them said, “Let me ask someone who might know.”  He got up and went inside the little house.  A couple of minutes later a woman came out. 

“What are you looking for?” She asked in the almost Scottish lilt that is characteristic of this area.

 “We’re looking for the Royal Oak Hotel.” I replied.

“That’s over in Rosthwaite.” She said.  “you go right to the end of this road, turn right on the next one, go to the end of that road to the main road and there’s two hotels there, you’ll see them right there.”

For a brief moment I felt like an idiot.  The directions she gave us were back along the alley we came up, and we didn’t see any hotels when we turned up from the main road.  Nevertheless, when we arrived back at the main road, just beyond a narrow spot created by the corners of two stone building, stood the Royal Oak Hotel.

Any discomfort we may have experienced in our momentary inability to find our accommodations and walking trip start-point was quickly dispelled by the warm welcome given us by Neil when we rang the bell.

“Tea and Scones?” he asked once he’d given us our room keys and made dinner arrangements for us.

“Perhaps in a bit.” We replied.

We spent the afternoon getting organized for our first day hiking, reading the guide, studying the map, arranging for a hotel packed lunch with Annie, packing our day-packs, and finally, “dressing for dinner” (as best we could given our limited travel wardrobes).

Dinner at the Royal Oak Hotel in Rosthwaite is quite an affair.  Soup, main course, and desert, and a comprehensive wine list and full bar was far more than I’d imagined when Neil made the arrangements for us.

 Leg I: Rosthwaite to Langdale – The high route via Dungeon Ghyll

Our path started out heading south-east along the famous “Cumbria Way” trail.  Sheep dotted bright green pastures bordered by loose stone walls shot up the hillside to our left as Stonethwaite Beck (a beck, by the way, is a stream or river running through a valley) bubbled away on our right.  I found myself grateful for my gortex lined boots right away as the tiny streams coming off the fells.  A “fell is elevated ground  flooded across the stone path. I found The ridges and rocks of the Barrowdale Fells on our right and Greenup Edge on our left gradually became more pronounced.

At Smithymire Island, our way diverged from the Cumbria Way path and led upwards toward Greenup Edge.  The higher we climbed the more challenging the trail grew eventually turning into a steep scramble up the rocks leading to Lining Crag - a blustery stone outcrop with beautiful views of the green valley we’d just come through.  We huddled down among the rocks for some protection from the wind and munched happily on our enormous packed lunches.

From Lining Edge we continued our upward track to Greenup-Edge on a better trail, and from their climbed our way to the Low White Stones, the High White stones, then across the boggy highlands to the summit of High Raise (762 m).

Cairn (man made pile of stones) at the top of High Raise
After a short huddle in the wind shelter constructed of a short storm wall where we chatted with two gentlemen also on their way to Langdale, and consulted our instructions and map, we set off again.  As the gentlemen (a good deal faster than we were) slowly faded into the distance, the path grew boggier and finally disappeared altogether. I pulled out my compass and attempted to guide us in more or less the correct direction while looking for markers for the path to Dungeon Gill.  I again found myself grateful for a good pair of boots as more than once I stepped into boggy muck that rose to my ankles before relinquishing its hold with a satisfying squelch.   

As we reached the top of a rise of whitish stones, I noticed a group of hikers a short distance below.  I trotted down the stone-speckled grassy hillside to catch them.

“Hello” I said to the first hiker, youngish a middle aged, thin man in brown trousers and a pullover sweater.

“Hi” He replied.

“Excuse me I said, - my friends and I are having some trouble locating the trail to Dungeon Ghyll.  I was wondering if you happened to know that trail.

“I’m sorry, I have no Idea, you should ask Ian, our guide.” He said, indicating another man a few meters off.

“Thanks.” I said, as I turned toward Ian.

“Where are you heading?” Ian asked,

“Dungeon Ghyll” I replied, “we lost the path in the bog.”

“Yeah, the path gets a bit…ambiguous up here.” He replied. “What you want to do is head around those rocks over there and the path should become clear once you get round to the other side.”

“Great, thanks so much!” I said, then turned and bounded back up the hillside with energy that surprised even me.  For a brief moment, I felt like Lizzy Bennett running her cares away in the English Countryside.

I related the news to the others and we began heading in the direction of the mound of rocks that Ian indicated.

“If we find the trail on the other side of these rocks, I’m going to sit down and celebrate with some M&M’s” I told Amy. “And if we don’t find the trail on the other side of these rocks, we’ll first look on the other side of those rocks, and then, at the moment I’m most frustrated, we’ll sit down and have some M&M’s because the world always looks better when you’ve eaten some M&M’s.

When we reached the rock, a rock trail appeared, almost as if by magic.  True to my word, we sat down and took a few moments to munch on M&M’s and trail mix before beginning down the trail.  As a wise young woman once observed: “food always tastes better in the out of doors,” and those M&M’s tasted heavenly.

Stickle Tarn

Stickle Ghyll
The trail down the mountain was more challenging than the description in our guide made it sound.  It was steep and the scree that covered the trail in so many places made it difficult keep footing.  There were many places where we had to scramble, to sit and slide, or to hug the cliff wall in order keep our footing.  Every 50 meters seemed to take an eternity and by the time we reached Stickle Tarn (a tarn is a mountain lake or pool formed in a hollow formed by a glacier) and started down the stairs, my muscles and mind were both tired from the effort.  

 Perhaps at this point in the story it might be worth mentioning that we never actually found the path down Dungeon Ghyll.  Dungeon Ghyll is a steep and deep ravine that hides a stunning water fall.  The path we found also led to a spectacular cascade of water, but this cascade is called “Stickle Ghyll” (a ghyll by the way is a stream or narrow valley containing a stream).  The path we were on, however matched the description in our guide to the letter, and fortunately ends at the same point as the Dungeon Ghyll path.  

About 100 meters into our descent of Stickle Ghyll the trail seemed to disappear.  At almost the same moment, I noticed a parallel trail that seemed to be in better repair running along the other side.  I mentioned this to my companions and they pointed out that several people had crossed the cascade.  At that same moment, we watched two hikers descend to the cascade, step from rock to rock in the raging torrent to reach the trail on the opposite side.

“So we can climb up and cross the dam, or we can try to cross the waterfall.” The vote fell to the waterfall. And so, one by one, we stepped across the slick, wet stones of Stickle Ghyll to the path on the other side.

Waterfalls at the bottom of Stickle Ghyll
The rest of the descent was a blur.  We reached the bottom, followed the directions in our guide to the hotel, discovered we’d been booked at a different hotel (a mile and a half back down the road we’d just walked).  Ate dinner at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, and walked back down the road to the Robinson Place Farm B&B where we were greeted by Vicky who had these words of warning: “you’ll have to dook. If I see big red marks across your forehead in the morning, I’ll know ya forgot to dook.”  So with, tired muscles, bellies full of English pub food, and Vicky's warning ringing in our ears, we went to bed.

The little white house is the Robinson Place Farm B&B
...To be continued.

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