The Coast to Coast

Walked in August 2008

Day 4 – Tuesday 19th August

Patterdale – Shap
15.6 miles

Oh, I could hide 'neath the wings
Of the bluebird as she sings.
The six o'clock alarm would never ring.
But it rings. . .

The rain had been pretty much constant the whole night and I found myself waking on several occasions and wondering if I would emerge from my tent to find myself in the middle of a quagmire, or even Ullswater itself. I also kept waking to turn onto my side or back as I would start aching after being in one position for too long. It was annoying and I was beginning to regret bringing a sleeping mat instead of my comfy (if heavy) Thermarest. But despite the constant disturbance and discomfort I was dreading the sound of my watch alarm as the idea of packing all my wet things including the tent into my wet pack while it was still raining, was not a pleasant one. Oddly enough the six o’clock alarm didn’t actually go off for some reason, but at around six thirty I heard Darryl calling my name. Damn. Time to get up then.

I had thought about maybe taking our day off (we’d fitted one into our schedule as a bit of a treat) at Shap as we’d be near Ullswater and it seemed like a nice place to relax, maybe dry our clothes out, buy supplies etc. I found out later that Darryl had had the same idea, but because of the rain it really wasn’t an option, so we packed up anyway and decided to save our day off for later. As it turned out the rain wasn’t so bad, and breaking camp could have been a lot worse even though our tents were soaking wet. In no time at all we were heading out of the campsite and back along the path to rejoin the route through a gate near the farmhouse.

We started the long climb up toward Boredale Hause, stopping at an old bench on the way to admire the view of Ullswater and the valley. A vast bank of fog was emerging from between two hills and it looked like the weather could be the same as the day before. We knew we’d be reaching the highest point of the walk today, so encountering fog seemed pretty much a given. After a lengthy haul up the side of the mountain we took a wrong turn. Darryl was convinced the path continued down and around another mountain. It didn’t feel right to me but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. We headed down the steep slope, then when he finally decided it was wrong, Darryl capitulated and we climbed right back up again where we found a rather confused, indistinct crossroads. We rested a while and I filled my water bottle (it was nearly empty already) from a mountain spring that was flowing from a pipe that jutted horizontally out of the ground. Darryl thought the water might be tainted by animal corpses or animal waste, but I doubted many animals would be around as the landscape was pretty high and harsh. The water was very refreshing, almost delicious and I filled up the bottle from another cool spring later in the day that was trickling down a rock wall beside a path.

We looked from the guidebook to the area in front of us trying to decide which path to take as there were several. Then I seemed to recognise the view from a walker’s web journal I’d read before the trip, and I was sure we needed to take the path on the right. Although he seemed hesitant about trusting me to begin with, Darryl agreed to follow and we soon became convinced that we were heading in the right direction. Because the Coast to Coast isn’t a national trail and is poorly signposted in general, it isn’t uncommon for walkers to take a wrong turn, so you have to have your wits about you. We saw a couple of lone walkers in the nearby area wandering about studying maps and books to try and work out where they were supposed to be heading. This route, from Patterdale to Angle Tarn does seem to start off in an uncertain manner and just one or two signposts would make a lot of difference to those people with novice map-reading skills.

We were soon building up a good pace despite the uneven, muddy ground and though the mist descended along with a light rain, we just put our hoods up and plodded on with business as usual. We soon came to Angle Tarn, lying still under the clouds of mist, the odd bored-looking sheep dotted here and there, no doubt tired from trying to get in our way on the path. If the weather was good, Angle Tarn would no doubt be a pretty decent place to camp.

A couple of miles on we took a wrong turn and found ourselves heading along High Street where there was originally an old Roman road, but we realised our mistake and backtracked to a junction and the proper route which we’d somehow missed before. We passed a woman and an older couple also out walking but didn’t stop to chat as we wanted to get down out of the ever-present mist and actually have something interesting to look at again. We passed over the summit of Kidsty Pike and shortly afterwards were rewarded for our morning’s efforts with a view of Haweswater, just as the mist began to depart. It was twelve o’clock now and we decided to have a quick break before pressing on. Shortly afterwards before making the long treacherous descent down to the side of the reservoir we stopped to make hot chocolate and have another breather. I took my camcorder out and filmed Haweswater Reservoir as well as Darryl adjusting the carrier bags over his socks that helped keep them dry. Near this spot is where Richard E. Grant exclaimed ‘I’m going to be a star!’ in the film Withnail and I. The cottage in the film is also nearby at Wet Sleddale Reservoir, as is the town of Penrith though I didn’t know this at the time.

The steep descent to Haweswater begins with a scramble over rocks, then it’s a long, steep, grassy slope dotted with ankle-twisting potholes and ruts. Many people have come a cropper on this section and wearing heavy packs doesn’t help. We tried to take it slow but because of the gradient it was difficult not to pick up speed. Nevertheless we both made it down in one piece, and once we’d crossed the bridge we were at last walking alongside Haweswater Reservoir.

At this point we were already tired, aching and sore. We had to negotiate another, brief ascent, before the path proceeded in a pretty flat manner all the way to the settlement of Burbanks. The Sun was out now and we were enjoying the change in the weather, stopping by a small stream at one point to have a drink and some lunch made up of various bits of food from our packs.

We eventually reached a gate with a rather worrying warning sign on it, but passed through anyway and found ourselves in Burnbanks where there was a small collection of cottages near the end of the reservoir. There was another sign warning motorists that speeding could kill red squirrels. As we crossed the road and entered the forest I actually saw a red squirrel darting up a tree, but it had disappeared before I had a chance to take its picture.

We had a fairly pleasant walk along Haweswater Beck, the grass a much more comfortable walking surface than the hard track along the reservoir. Again the signposting for the route was practically non-existent and in some places the track is pretty indistinct so we had to stand around discussing which way to go a couple of times, comparing what we could see with the map in the guidebook. We could see a farm in the distance which seemed to be in the right place for it to be the farm in the book so we decided to chance it and were relieved to find we were on the right track. Soon enough we found ourselves closing in on Shap Abbey, and instead of crossing Abbey Bridge (which I had also recognised from a diary on the internet), we turned right and followed the track to the ruins of the abbey itself. It is a pretty impressive place, even if little of it remains to give a really good idea of what it looked like.

We stopped for a break, enjoying the peace and quiet of the place, then pushed on, across the river to tackle the last mile or so of road to Shap. We were exhausted now and every step felt like a step too far. We kept hoping to see Shap around every corner, but it wasn’t to be until about half an hour later when we finally found ourselves at day’s end.

Darryl asked a local woman if there was a campsite nearby, and she said that the Bull’s Head pub allowed camping in their garden. I knew of this already but from what I had read the facilities were pretty limited and it sounded like it could be a pretty awkward, noisy place to pitch a tent. Apparently there was a Bed and Breakfast back up the road that allowed camping too. Luckily as we walked back up the road we spotted a sign for Ing Lodge which which did allow camping but was also a hostel. We decided to go in and ask how much it cost to camp and how much it would be if we wanted a room (a pleasing prospect). A nice Australian girl, Blair, told us that for £16 each we could have beds in one of the dorm rooms. It seemed the hostel hadn’t been up and running for long and this might have been why I hadn’t heard of it while researching Shap on the internet. We decided to go for the beds rather than camping and we were chuffed to find we had the dorm room all to ourselves. There was hardly anyone else about by the look of things, which suited us just fine, though later we did notice a large tent on the grass at the back of the property, and a smaller tent on the side verge that belonged to the Brummie walker we’d met before. Blair also told us about the walker that had snapped his tendon descending Kidsty Pike and had only taken his boot off when he’d got to the hostel, probably to see it balloon before his very eyes. An ambulance had picked him up eventually.

We showered then headed into town where we had a relaxing beer in the pub while watching the Olympics, then visited the co-op to spend a vast some of money on food that we could only just fit into our packs. With plenty of sugary rubbish to keep us going for the next day or so we decided to look for some dinner. The chip shop looked like a likely target and we were lucky to order our food before they closed. The one woman behind the fryer seemed a little annoyed that her plans to close on time had been thwarted, but an army marches on its stomach and our needs were greater than hers. Sorry. We took our sausage and chips back to the lodge with the bags of shopping and set about gorging ourselves. With aching muscles and painful feet we were glad to get into our beds.


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