I think I may be tired. Vital blood supply is being drawn to my needy legs from other less requisite areas of my anatomy...such as my brain. Having placed my bowl of milk-submerged, sugar-coated Weetabix on the table I proceed to pick up a knife and fork(???) and attempt to cut one in half under the milk... Umm? What the?!? "Oops!" Fortunately, being low season, there's only one other couple in the breakfast room and (I think) I got away with it. Now, as long as they don't pick up on my stifled giggles I may escape intact. What a spoon!
I strap up my knee ready for action. Seems to be doing well. Malcolm spots me gawping at the 3D make of the District in the B&B reception area. I announce I'm contemplating a famous walk called the Fairfield Horseshoe, an 11 mile odyssey that climbs via High Sweden Bridge and Dove Crag (2,603ft : 503.
8 Weselbys) to the top of Fairfield (2,864ft : 554.3 Weselbys), before dropping back to more terrestrial heights. Eight peaks in total are encompassed... and I'm promptly warned by Malcolm that having gazed at them this morning they are entirely capped, in snow, mist and ice and it would be tantamount to suicide for me to attempt it. These are sage words and by the end of the day I will understand the sensible limits of what to undertake as a solo walker who's not been up anything higher than a hillock since family holidays in the Austian Tyroll region some 15 years ago. Just two weeks prior to my trip two men have fallen/ been blown to their deaths from atop one of the biggies Helvellyn (3,114ft : 602.7 Weselbys), so a reality check is required! He directs me instead to a smaller fell, east of Ambleside called Wansfell Pike (1,581ft : only 306 Weselbys high).
Stock Ghyll Force.
I borrow a map guide. It sounds manageable. Sorted.
The main 70ft (13.5 Weselbys) descent to Stock Ghyll Force in to Stock Ghyll, itself a tributary of the River Rothay that runs through south Ambleside.
On my way to the base of Wansfell I get to detour through a little fenced walk way and introduce myself to my first Lake District waterfalls or 'forces' as they are called in the region. Modest, but pretty nonetheless Stock Ghyll Force presents itself letting the waters cascade on down to Ambleside and on to feed Windermere. Rain is commencing. I have an inexplicable thumping headache. "Knew I should have started out in my waterproofs! Dammit!" This leads to my first attempt to clamber into my waterproof over-trousers in a public space. Most dry runs have led to me falling A.O.T (arse over tit) in my bedroom, but fortunately it is not my fate today to end up wallowing on the ground in muddy water with my trousers around my ankles!
Up the path and over a style, the base of Wansfell and a large circle of hairy cows' arses stand before me.
Joy. Some way up ahead, a trio of fellow hikers are making their way up the stoney, ragged path that winds up the fellside. One of them has a lurid yellow backpack on and a hat which appears to have a fuzzy rainbow fountain of tendrils projecting from it's top. I start to climb.
Not one of the finer views afforded me on my holiday... the cows' butts pay no mind to me as I commence the ascent of Wansfell.
The path to take is clear but steep and often dizzyingly uneven so keeping an eye on where feet are placed is essential. This is proving a surprisingly tiring ascent for both me, and it appears, the trio way up ahead of me, as we all seem to synchronise stopping every now and then. Ostensibly this is to turn around and admire the views as we get higher and higher above Ambleside, and of the hills, and mountains beyond. After the third such pause though this has merely become an excuse for stopping, catching one's breath and thinking "Bloody hell this is tiring!!" The ascent continues.
A pause for the view (and to catch my breath) whilst stumbling up Wansfell Pike.
... and then all of a sudden as if out of nowhere... the FOG descends. I stop and turn around to take my 50th panoramic view in the last 15 minutes, but eyes to the ground as they have been, I have not noticed the thick wall of dragon's breath that has entirely consumed the view and has descended like a curtain upon the scene. Visibility in any direction, barring the odd flash of colour, has fallen to no more than 8 metres in any direction. I'm quite high up... I think there's still quite a way to go and can neither see far back the way I have come or up ahead where I intend to go. Suddenly this is all a little scary and real for Mr Solo-hiker, and all I want is the sight of that yellow backpack, and rainbow fountain-capped hat ahead so that I have some indication that a) there are other human beings stuck here in the fog and b) I have something to focus on and head for.
I pick up my pace, trying hard not to look right or especially left towards 'The Edge' which as far as I'm concerned now psychologically, if not in reality, now resides precisely where the fog commences (i.e. too close for comfort) and is high up, a sheer plummeting drop and with spikes at the bottom too to polish me off... well, cows' arses anyway.
The fog draws in and obliterates both my view and vital parts of my calm and sanity! :O
The knees keep pounding and the rocky staircase continues to ascend. I'm regretting not having purchased a climbing stick. This would have lessened the physical strain. Eventually I reach what starts to feel like a peak... to my horror, The Hat has disappeared. Yikes! I refer to my guide which instructs me to follow a spindly, narrow little hillside-cut goat-path around the base of the peak... towards The Edge. Towards the foggy unknown. Eyes down. Brain off. Brain off.
Power down the imagination. No thoughts of heights, fog, edges, drops and I'll keep my cool. Rain is now descending quite heavily and the wind is up.
Huddled behind the Trig Point I have suddenly caught up with the other three hikers who are also slightly flustered and staring at their water-drenched map guide. Derek, Helen and alan have done this walk over Wansfell a number of times over the years it turns out ("phew!" I'm saved!) but always in bright sunshine and they feel somewhat disorientated ("Dammit!") Either way I assure them of two things. Firstly that I will be about as much use as a chocolate teapot in getting us out of this scrape and secondly that with or without their consent I am going to follow them Cumbrian sheep-like step by step whichever which-a-ways they decide to proceed... no sir, Mr and Mrs I am not proceeding another pace alone.
Besides, the rain has now turned to icy, driving hail stones "ouch!".
My 'Wansfell Guiding Lights' (L-R : Alan, Derek & Helen).
We straggle back around the base of the peak (yes people, another Trig Point photo is bottled for the safety of my camera.. and principally me). We cross a style and commence a descent on the south side of the fell along a boggy, troubling and indistinct pathway. It's not long before we concur that we have misinterpreted the guide and should retrace our steps immediately back to the Trig Point. Yelp! This doesn't feel good. We now proceed over the back of the peak, across a ladder-style and down the back of Wansfell on what becomes a much more accommodating little pathway. As if to mark our return to 'the righteous path' the hail ceases, the rain slows and the fog, bit by bit, begins to lift. This is nice as the gang have reassured me all along that the weather has denied me some beautiful valley views as we descend towards the little village of Troutbeck.
A shame... but I'll take getting down in one piece over yet another photo-op aaaaaanyday of the week!
Upon many walks in the District I would enjoy coming across these 'secret garden' style doors, decades old, weather-beaten, set in to the ubiquitous dry-stone walls and probably leading nowhere else other than the next field.
The weather clears, our hoods are lifted and the four of us make it back to tarmacced signs of civilisation. I will not be rolling down a hillside today! Waves of relief. Alan, Derek and Helen stop at a bench for refreshments in Troutbeck where I christen them my 'Wansfell Guiding Lights' and thank them for their company. I'm offered some fruitcake and warm, sugary thermos-coffee by army-man Alan. his backpack contains spare waterproofs, spare clothes, an all weather bivouac, a reservoir of water, food, emergency equipment, distress flares and strobe lights for if he gets lost or stranded... and I think of my own little pack.
A Conrad novel, a mini-tripod for my camera, a compass I'm not sure how to use, a small bottle of water and a Snickers bar or two. Maybe I haven't prepared for this walking lark quite sensibly enough.... to think I used to be a Boy Scout!
I encounter the Blue-Stripe Crew looking pretty mean, and staring me out of "their patch, man!" ... chew, chew, chewing manacingly away.
I set off on my toddles, leaving the Guiding Lights to recover. The walk back through farm and country land is extremely therapeutic after the mild trauma of the Wansfell fog and the sun eventually breaks through in seering gold to burn the remaining mists away. A scramble up for the view, briefly, from Jenkins Cragg, and then a scramble up the opposite hillside, into the trees where I stuggle to come to terms for the first time with the mechanics of obeying Nature's call with hermetically sealed waterproof trousers and jeans on simulataneously! It's then a slow descent back into Ambleside, by this time again accompanied by the Guiding Lights who've caught up with me.
The sun breaks through upon my stroll back to Ambleside.
Back at the Walmar I shower off the residue of sweat and fear before heading into town to relax at a real old school wooden-beamed pub called The Golden Rule. It has a log fire burning and smells so authentically of an Olde Englishe pub, such as the like I have not inhaled in such a while that my mind is cast back to memories of The Royal Oak in Collingham where my grandparents were landlord and lady for upwards of 30 years. Pleasant memories and a pint of Cumbrian Ale whilst I fail to focus on a single word of Conrad and almost drift away.
Today I've made sure to phone ahead and get a booking ("Yes, yes, for ONE, is that ok this time?!") for a meal and movie. The food is great, especially the ginger and treacle spunge pudding. A glass of red wine, and then upstairs to watch Sweeney Todd, before I head home in a musical frame of mind "Joaaaaannna!" and to bed, glad to be overfed and alive.
Ginger & treacle sponge-cake pudding, with mint-tipped vanilla ice-cream at Zeferelli's restaurant/ cinema. "Dish delish!" :D