Our trip to Cumbria was a game of two halves, which is lucky. Had it been a game of one half, being Scafell Pike, I’d probably have killed someone.
Breaking bad (toes)
So, at some point last year, we decided to add the English Three Peaks to our walking “palmares”. We planned the routes, set out an itinerary, booked an AirBnB, and did precisely no training.
Lady Luck, or her sister Miss Misfortune, must have been watching our sloth with worry, and intervened. I broke my the big toe on my right foot, and we had to cancel our trip. Not to worry we thought, we could move it to September. We’d have ample light, it would be cooler, and it would provide more time for training. (it turns out none of these would turn out to be true).
My toe healed, my long-COVID miraculously cleared 3 days before the “event” after 18 months of blighting my life, and we were on!
After an anti-socially early 5am alarm I loaded the car with my kit, collected Andy, and we shimmied 340 miles North via the M6 Toll where we got a much needed full-English, and I spent an eye-watering £25.23 on food with the nutritional value of my socks. I seem to revert to a toddler when it comes to fuelling for events…
Just after 1pm we were alongside Wast Water in what can only be described as a mobile oven. The heat was bouncing off the bonnet, and the moment we opened the windows, the comically hot air greeted us. That said, the view down the lake was simply stunning, and we stopped to take some pics.
We pulled into the National Trust car park (via a detour), and I threw my food into my rucksack. I opened the first of my bottles of water, and tipped it into my camel bak – and promptly filled my boot with water. Attaching the tube would have been a smart move… I attached the tube, and tried again. The flow was lighter, but no less useful – as I’d cross-threaded it. I rapidly turned the pack upside down to stem the flow, with the water now finding a new exit point. With the tube properly tightened, I filled it again. And turned it upside-down, at which point a new and previously unknown hole came into play, and a fine jet hissed out. Fucks’ sake… Concluding that the hole was at the top, and could simply fill it 75% full, I did one final “tip test” – only to find some undiscovered kitchen roll inside. Fucks’ sake. I hid this from Andy’s bemused gaze, fished it out, swore again, and considered the simplest of tasks “done”…
We tightened our packs, splashed our boots, set Strava running, and set off alongside the stream, onto the lower approaches to the mountain. Happy days – walking again.
Now, normally the early hours of a walk together would be finding our stride, settling into a pace, catching up, and enjoying the freedom that comes with being outside in beautiful surroundings. Normally. This wasn’t normal.
With the sun beating down from the pale and cloudless blue sky, the heat was unforgiving. Within less than 15 minutes, and possibly less, I felt cooked. My lack of fitness was one thing, but this was nuts. I don’t know how long we walked before we stopped for the first time. Not very far…
Andy tried to rally me, but my brain simply didn’t want to play. “I wouldn’t sit in the garden with an ice cream in this heat” I glumly said.
We settled into a routine of mutual silence – the walk punctuated every 100m or so, sometimes less, with a pause for breath. The vista below us opened up slowly behind us, while the stream chattered happily beside us. In some places there was some breeze, and in most it was stifling.
Trudge. Stop. Reflect. Trudge. Stop. Reflect.
After 18 hours or so (it was a little more than 3) we reached the summit and sat down. There was a happy throng of people celebrating, drinking, smoking, chatting, and generally revelling in being the highest people in England. We looked at the optical illusion that is Scafell, wondering whether it had quietly overtaken its sibling. Or whether this was the best kept secret in the walking world, and we were all on the wrong hill.
And, back down again
After taking in the unparalleled views, we made our way down. Initially it was easier, and progressively became more taxing. With little mental focus or energy, and needing to watch our feet the whole time, I took ample opportunity to drink in the view as we descended. It took forever, and I was starting to feel like I was on the edge of heat-stroke. I fantasised about the number of Cokes I was going to buy from the NT shop at the car park, and settled on three.
About half way down, I stumbled while trying to maintain a pace that was beyond me. Fortunately I rolled only once, and suffered no injuries – except pride.
The views continued to be jaw dropping, and I slowed our collective pace to drink them in as much as I could. Even in my crotchety state I could appreciate the deepening colours, the haze, the distant peaks, and the mixing of blues, greys, and greens that extended in every direction around us.
At just before 6pm we finally rolled into the car park. Hot. Tired. Thirsty. Pissed off. Not relishing (a) the 90 minute drive to Keswick; or (b) two more of these the following day I announced that I was done with talking. This was a bit rich given I’d hardly spoken in 4 hours! If today had been our day for two peaks, I’d 100% have sat out the second one.
The drive away from Scafell Pike was a tired and impatient one, and we did well not to tangle with other cars. I decided that Frizington would not be my next home, and we got to the AirBNB in Keswick about 7:30pm – via a much needed supermarket.
Rugby and pizza rounded off Friday.
Tired legs, a full heart, and a sense of go-get-em was served up for breakfast the next morning. The main reason for this was that Andy had mooted, and I’d agreed, that Saturday should be more about enjoyment than “challenge”. My mantra from my triathlon days was “I finish what I start”, but those days were behind me, and I was wiser (and fatter) now. We would walk Skiddaw, then enjoy everything that Keswick had to offer.
Fuelled with a pot noodle, and with a sandwich in my pack, we headed off for Gale Road car park. As the road wended its way upwards, we chatted excitedly at the fact that half the mountain would be done before we started. The weather was simply perfect – about 18c, still, misty, and just plain lovely. We snaffled the last sensible parking space, hoisted our packs, and made our way along the lower slopes of Skiddaw. It was gentle, smooth, cool, and divine.
Stops along this route were now for the sheer joy of taking in the surroundings. While I’d tried, and tried, and tried to enjoy the views from Scafell Pike, it just didn’t really work. I was too hot and grumpy to truly let the views into my heart. Today was different.
The conversation flowed, we settled into our stride of chat, the metres of gain ticked nicely along, and I felt my heart grow a size bigger.
Before we knew it, we were on Skiddaw Little Man – drinking the views surrounding us. One direction looked back towards Keswick, one was over rolling slopes, and yet another up towards our final destination. We stopped to eat, and watched as the cloud rolled up the side of Little Man, and up and over the spine of rock that separated us from Skiddaw. It was hypnotic.
With a hunger for food that I rarely have when walking, I continued to fuel, walking slowly as I did. The final leg up to Skiddaw must have taken less than 20 minutes, but the cloud was starting to close in all around us. We took our obligatory selfie (I think the difference in my smile tells a story), got some pics taken by a terse and humourless Scottish lady, and sat behind the rock shelter for some more food and rest.
With visibility now about 50m, we started making our way down, sad to be leaving this behind, but happy in the knowledge that we had beaten the cloud by 15 minutes, and no more. The descent was constant, but with none of the focus required on the way down from Scafell Pike. We continued to chat. Continued to stop for the views. And continued to celebrate walking in such perfect surroundings, with such good company.
I could dress Scafell Pike up a bit, but I’m not going to. It was an ordeal that scored 3/10. I would walk it again (this was my 3rd time), but not the same route.
If Skiddaw had been as crappy as Scafell Pike, the weekend would have fallen very flat for me. Hurrah for Skiddaw!
By the end of Skiddaw, I was fully recharged, and ready to take on Helvellyn. Which we didn’t do.
As we sat in the Keswick ‘spoons, watching the old goat plug in the quiz machine that we’d been seeking out, but found to be switched off, we reflected that *had* we done Helvellyn, we’d still be coming off the mountain, with our head-torches in the Keswick apartment. Along with the maps…
If you’re in the area, give the Sultan of Keswick a go. Then every other curry you’ll have after that will be better.
What’s next Andy?