The Coast to Coast

Walked in August 2008

Day 2 – Sunday 17th August

Ennerdale Bridge (Low Cock How) – Rosthwaite
14 miles

We woke to find the world around us was a great deal wetter than we remembered. On the up side the morning did seem to be drier and warmer than the previous evening and we hoped it would continue to improve. Darryl had been up since around 5am because he’d wanted to catch the ladies’ marathon on TV in the shed, and was sad to report that Paula Radcliffe had pulled out. We had a breakfast of eggs, cured sausage and the last of the homemade flapjack I’d brought with me. We used the facilities, packed up and left the farm at about 7.30 to walk down the road to the left which turned out to be someone’s drive, so we backtracked and found the main road where we turned left to walk down toward Ennerdale Bridge. There was a nice path that ran alongside the road as mentioned in our guide book so we stuck to this as much as possible. As we passed a tall iron fence in front of a private property, two huge Great Danes came bounding toward us barking. They looked big enough to saddle and ride.

In Ennerdale Bridge we were dismayed to find that the post office had closed down in 2005. It seemed a rare thing these days to actually find one open. If only the guide books were more up to date and could give us fair warning. We headed on out of the town up a hill, then followed a zig-zagging metalled road. I’d been confused by the term ‘metalled’ before. It seems that the original definition had a metalled road as one constructed using stones, usually with larger stones at the bottom then filled in and sealed with smaller ones and earth. But it seems that tarmac roads (since they use gravel as well as tar) can also be classified as ‘metalled,’ which means that practically any road could be defined as such. Confusing. We continued along the road toward Ennerdale Water, between two large wooded areas, seeing one or two other people out walking. Ennerdale Water was beautiful, shimmering in the morning light and promising to be a great accompaniment to the day’s walk. We followed the lakeside path which can be quite rough and uncertain in places, and continued on until we reached Robin Hood’s Chair where we stopped for a break. We were still listening to the Olympics on Darryl’s radio, but apart from that it was very still and peaceful by the water and I for one could have happily stayed there all day.

After we had recharged and consumed a whole malt loaf between us, two female walkers passed behind us on the path and we decided it was probably time to get a move on. Somehow we followed the wrong track and ended up having to make a dangerous, almost vertical scramble down a rocky slope to find the right path again. It was such a difficult manoeuvre that we had to lower our bags down first, then slide down after them. If only we’d been concentrating earlier and not wandered off in the wrong direction. Once we’d sorted ourselves Denise and Stuart arrived from the direction of the official path, and we walked and talked with them for a while before pressing on ahead as the ground became quite rocky again, then started to follow the course of a beck. Progress slowed a little here as we had to negotiate boulders, tree roots and small waterfalls, but it was a very pretty area and made for an interesting challenge. We followed the lake for another mile or so until the path left the water and continued on through fields toward the little bridge that crossed the River Liza. At this point we seemed to lose the path in deep grass and had to stop to check the map to make sure we were heading in the right direction. We were quite keen to buy food and drink and although we could see some buildings to our left we couldn’t be sure if they belonged to Low Gillerthwaite Farm or High Gillerthwaite Youth Hostel. There didn’t appear to be an obvious path up to them so we continued along what we believed to be the route before following a forest track up toward the youth hostel itself.

There were a few cars by the hostel so it must have been busy, and though it was now late morning we were hoping we might be able to buy packed lunches. While we were taking our packs off outside the hostel, Darryl dropped his small portable radio onto the slabs and it broke. He tried playing with it for a while, but it was no use. The idea of missing out on the Olympics seemed unbearable to him so he was determined to buy another one at the next opportunity. We went inside the hostel and found that they had stopped making sandwiches, but could sell us snacks. It was disappointing but food was food so we bought apples, crisps, Mars bars (Darryl had three) and a couple of sugary drinks. The man there also allowed us to fill our water bottles which was very much appreciated, but he had quite a shock when Darryl asked him if he sold portable radios. The expression on the man’s face still makes me laugh to this day. It was a look of utter incredulity, and though I tried to explain to Darryl afterwards just how unlikely it was for a hostel to sell them, he just couldn’t see what the fuss was about. I had a quick scan of the hostel’s visitor’s book before we left and found one entry from a walker who had twisted or sprained his ankle on the first or second day’s walk and had limped as far as the hostel where he’d stayed until he’d been able to get a lift to the nearest train station to return home. He said he was gutted for ending the walk so early but was grateful to the hostel staff for looking after him. I hoped I wouldn’t be making a similar entry in a visitor’s book soon. Funnily enough this, and a later story of someone hurting their ankle seemed to be portents of an unfortunate incident to come, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We pressed on along the fairly uninspiring forest path as it started to rain again and we grudgingly pulled our hoods up over our heads. The rain continued on and off for several more miles, and though I’m not that bothered about getting wet normally, when hiking there’s always the uncertainty of whether you can get your clothes dry by morning, let alone get them washed. I also don’t like walking with a hood as it restricts your vision and hearing a little and makes you feel confined and almost excluded from the experience. I forgot to bring a rain cover for my back, and as a result some things got wet, though it wasn’t a disaster as I was using dry bags for my various bits of kit to not only keep them dry but to separate them out and make them more easy to locate when unpacking in the tent. We followed the path from High Gillerthwaite for another hour until we reached Black Sail Hut near Hay Stacks. We had the option of taking a high level route before this that would have taken us over Hay Stacks but there was a lot of mist high up, and conditions were unlikely to be any better than those in the valley which were bad enough.

We found a few people already enjoying the facilities provided to walkers by Black Sail Hut, and we went inside to find tea and coffee making facilities in the kitchen and some nice homemade cake. There is an honesty system in the hostel, so you basically take what you want and leave the money for it, there were no members of staff present while we were there. We made a couple of filter coffees and took some cake through to the seating area at the front where we rested our weary bodies and tried to dry off a little. We recognised a man and his young son whom we had seen earlier in the day and also at Cleator the day before. We would see them again in the coming days, as well as other faces that would turn up from time to time.

It was relatively peaceful in the hut until a large group, possibly a family, showed up and sat down by the window. They must have been staying in the hut as they brought food from the kitchen that they’d been keeping in the cupboards. They looked like they’d been out most of the morning and this theory was confirmed by one male of the group saying ‘well it was a good walk wasn’t it?’ He said this twice more in five minutes, presumably because each time there was little or no response, certainly nothing encouraging or positive and Darryl and I had the distinct impression that a certain holiday was flagging, if not dying horribly. Still, the weather wasn’t exactly helping. We left the man and his dejected entourage and ventured back outside.

We marched on, following the path that wound uphill toward Loft Beck. The guidebook warned us that Loft Beck would be a steep climb, and it wasn’t lying. I love climbing up the side of mountains, except when I’m carrying a full wardrobe on my back, which is pretty much every time. A stream runs down Loft Beck over lots of different sized stones. It’s very pretty, but hard to appreciate when the weather is foul and you’re feeling drained. Nevertheless, whenever I watch the video I took of this section of the walk I can’t help but appreciate it. We stopped once or twice on the ascent to get our breath back and looking across at the mist-enshrouded summit of Pillar I couldn’t help but think that anyone walking across it that day would have to be insane. Funnily enough we did hear the occasional cry from that direction and possibly a whistle, but there was little we could have done to help except perhaps to pray for them. At this point I guessed we were about halfway up Loft Beck, but not long afterwards we were surprised to find ourselves at the top of the ridge. The Beck may have finished with us but the rain certainly hadn’t. Our clothes were now so sodden that it didn’t seem to matter any more.

We’d seen Denise and Stuart again at Black Sail Hut, but instead of stopping they’d continued on and we’d spotted them at the top of Loft Beck not long after we’d started climbing. As we walked on from the top of the climb however, we could see no sign of them, but Darryl seemed confident that he knew the general direction we should be headed in. The path isn’t very clear at this point (looking at the guide book now it still seems a bit of an uncertain mess) and it’s important to know the direction in which you need to be heading as it is easy to go wrong. Ten minutes later we realised we had gone wrong. We agreed on the right direction and walked on over some very soggy, marshy ground. I slid in up to my knee at one point, falling over and struggling to get back on my feet like a tortoise lying on its shell. Darryl helped me back up and we eventually found a track which skirted around the valley then to the right and down a very steep, rocky path that twisted ever downwards toward Honister Slate Mine and its small tourist centre. We could see other people about, some below us by the mine, others on hillsides and it seemed to take a long time to get down the rough slope to the mine.

We entered the warm, dry cafeteria dripping wet, and found somewhere to sit down. Darryl said he could see the water vapour rising from the back of my fleece. We bought some food and a cup of tea and sat for a while resting and watching other walkers arrive, similarly drenched and in need of respite from the foul Lakeland weather. Once rested we got ourselves organised and left the mine, relieved to see that the rain was holding off for a while but finding the air suddenly very cold, After a few minutes walking we started to warm up and we walked along the side of the steep twisting road down towards Seatoller.

Darryl went into the cafe in Seatoller and emerged some time later with some carrot cake and a scone. I wasn’t that hungry but I tried some of the scone and spent the next few minutes trying to swallow it. It was one of the driest cakes I’d ever tasted. We walked on and not long afterwards saw the campsite on the right. It looked ok but we were keen to see if the Longthwaite youth hostel had any vacancies. Darryl needed to use the internet because as a personal fitness trainer he coaches people online. We carried on to the hostel, which we found in a nice secluded area surrounded by trees, and asked if there was a room. We were in luck, although it cost us £21 each which seemed a bit pricey for bunk beds, but after some deliberation we decided to give in. Darryl really needed to get some work done and wanted to catch some of the Olympics on the TV, while I just wanted a nice bed to sleep in. The hostel was, admittedly, very nice and well situated and seemed to be very busy as a result with families, walkers and cyclists all milling around amiably. The facilities were also very good, offering everything you might want. We ordered two packed lunches for the following day, and arranged to have breakfast at 7.30. The weather brightened during the latter part of the day, revealing the blue sky at last. We took our bags up to our room and appreciated the view from the window. While Darryl went back downstairs to see if the internet computer was free, I drank a bottle of the local Hawkshead beer that I’d bought from Reception and wrote up my notes. After he’d returned and we’d both showered, we walked back down the main road to Stonethwaite where we found the popular Langstrath Country Inn. We had a couple of pints with our meals (meat and veg pastie with homemade baked beans for me and squash lasagne for Darryl). Feeling suitably sated we walked back to the hostel in the dark and had a pretty good night’s sleep.


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