Black Mountains Backpacking

Black Mountains Backpacking Weekend

4th & 5th September 2010

Day One:             10.4 miles / 2237’ ascent / 862’ descent / 5 hrs 30 mins
Day Two:             10.2 miles / 1200’ ascent / 2362’ descent / 5 hrs 30 mins

Llanthony Priory ruins

This was a trip to introduce my friend Sue to the joys of wild camping so we set off from Hampshire after breakfast on Saturday morning and arrived in Llanthony in the Vale of Ewyas by lunchtime.  It was surprisingly busy and we were lucky to find a space in the car park at Llanthony Priory ( ), where we ate our lunch at the picnic tables provided.  We also shared out the camping equipment – and were amazed to discover that our sacs weighed exactly the same – 12kgs each including food and water!

Setting off!

From Llanthony we climbed up the path to Bal Bach in hot and humid conditions along a narrow path lined with tall fronds of bracken, which threatened to trip us up, then we followed the ridge north over Bal Mawr, Chwarel y Fan, Twyn Talycefn and out to the trig point at Rhos Dirion.  The weather was deteriorating and everywhere was shrouded in a silvery grey haze that leached the colour from the landscape and distorted perspective.  What should have been a stunning view across to Hay-on-Wye and the Welsh Marches was absorbed and blotted out by the heavy grey light.

Bal Mawr

Chwarel y Fan


One of many trig points

One of many cairns!

Undaunted we descended to the col below Lord Hereford’s Knob, turning down the bridleway towards Capel-y-Ffin, hoping to find a sheltered wild pitch.  The valley was becoming  deep and steep sided – I prefer more open sites – and then, less than half a mile from the col we looked into the cleft and saw two men preparing to camp!  Thirty yards further down was a tent already erected and fifty yards beyond that was a couple searching for a site!  When we raised our eyes we could see yet another couple carrying big packs on the fellside above us!  I recalled that I had read about wild camping in this area in a recent Trail Magazine ( ) and assumed that such exposure accounted for the crowds.   It was time to re-think our plans.

Looking towards Talgarth from Rhos Dirion

Lord Hereford's Knob


The pitch - note the 'tripod' of walking poles for the waterbag

Re-tracing our steps up the valley we returned to the col and took a contouring path that led back towards Twyn Talycefn with the intention of dropping down into the next valley in search of solitude.   However, as we climbed it became clear that we were close to a tributary, Nant Uchaf, which looked promising in its upper reaches.  We scrambled through tussocks of grass & heather to reach the tiny beck and discovered, to our delight, the perfect camping spot.  It was a patch of level sheep cropped turf beside a tiny rill of fresh clear water, enclosed by gentle slopes and protected from the wind but open enough to not feel claustrophobic.  It was also deserted!

My trusty Bush Buddy stove

Preparing dinner

By now it was close to 7pm so we quickly erected the tent – my new and increasingly trusty Terra Nova Solar 2.2 – before setting up the Pocket Rocket gas stove to boil water for our freeze dried dinners & lighting the Bush Buddy woodburner for much needed cups of tea & coffee.  Before long we were leaning back on our sit mats, supping a brew & ladling carbohydrate into our mouths.  The extra treats of a whisky aperitif & small glass of wine made this the perfect restaurant.

Beside Nant Uchaf

The season meant that darkness fell early and we were soon tucked up snugly in the tent.  Later the skies cleared and we opened the doors for a view of the stars before falling asleep.





It rained intermittently during the night but was not cold.  By morning it was dry so we rose just after 7am and packed the tent before breakfast.  We had carried in milk so our porridge & muesli was pleasant and the tea & coffee more than acceptable.  However, the idyll was not to continue; as we finished packing the rain began.  It didn’t seem heavy to begin with and we expected it to be brief, so didn’t put on all our clothing.  We climbed back up to the path from our secluded and protected campsite – into thick mist and strong wind driving the increasingly heavy rain into the sides of our faces.  Immediately we added more layers and strode out towards what we hoped was Lord Hereford’s Knob.

Hay Bluff trig point

The weather did not abate and our legs were blown sideways by the strength of the wind, and the rain hit our hoods so hard it felt like hail.  Once over the Knob we descended to Gospel Pass with its narrow road and put on yet more clothing.  I was wearing almost all I had with me by now and I wasn’t hot on the ascent to Hay Bluff.

Sue, with woolly hat instead of hood

Once at Hay Bluff we turned south along Offa’s Dyke, into the full force of the wind.  Sue’s hood wouldn’t stay on and was whipped away over her shoulder every time she tried.  The mist was thick and swirled over the ridge, parting briefly when it encountered us, and heading off down to Hay-on-Wye.  It did make the walk exciting and the conditions were much more interesting than the greyness of the day before.  Tussocks of rushes appeared like boulders or were mistaken for people in the murk, and the wind and rain carved sculptures of turf topped peat were eerie in the fog.

Me, wearing everything I possessed!

We met a couple of walkers who turned out to be two Dutch men walking the Offa’s Dyke Path ( ).  They had set out from Chepstow a few days earlier and this was their first bad weather.  Shortly afterwards we were caught by Jeremy, also walking Offa’s Dyke but in the opposite direction.  This was also his first taste of bad weather and he had been on the trail for over a week, having set off from Prestatyn in August.  He was very enthusiastic about the trail and thoroughly recommended it.  This was his second attempt; thirty years earlier he had set out with a friend from Chepstow and abandoned on the second or third day.  He was carrying the same Karrimor Rucksack in Racing Green canvas and with a steel tubing external frame that he had used on his original attempt.  It was a real ‘blast from the past’ – I had once had a very similar rucksack – in dayglo orange nylon – bought for my first visit to the Lakes in 1978.  Fortunately his boots and waterproofs were modern or he could have been quite uncomfortable.  He had been camping and was deeply impressed by the generosity of the people he had met along the way.

Llanthony & the Vale of Ewyas

We walked with Jeremy until the path junction above Llanthony, where we parted company to descend to the valley.  He and the two Dutch men were the only other people we had seen until now but as we emerged from the clouds we met a number of people climbing up, all asking us about the visibility.  It grew rapidly warmer as we descended and we were hot by the time we reached the valley floor.  We had looked forward to lunch in the tiny cafe ( ) housed in the undercroft of the ruined abbey, and we were not disappointed.  The food was tasty and filling; a fitting end to an excellent weekend.

Posted in Black Mountains, Wales | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Coast to Coast – Equipment and thoughts….

First of all – congratulations to all of our fellow travellers who completed the Coast to Coast – we’d love to hear from you.  To those of you who didn’t manage to complete it, either through injury or lack of time, let us know when you return.  We are planning to return (with Barry this time) in late October, but I am in the process of arranging B&B accommodation instead of camping as the weather could be quite inclement & the hours of daylight severely reduced.

I found a number of websites invaluable for planning our trip: is a comprehensive list of accommodation and other services along the route. provides transport and baggage transfer. has a list of camping barns for those wet days..
I used the Traiblazer Guide by Henry Stedman at home for planning purposes but left it behind as it was heavy & I can’t follow directions, only maps!

Equipment carried:

Camping accommodation:

Gregory Z55 rucsac – excellent load bearing                         
Terra Nova Superlight Solar 2.2 (shared with Katie) – superb accommodation for two – review on its way – watch this space! Bought from     
Silk sleeping bag liner                           
Mountain Equipment Zero 350 bag                      
Women’s Prolite Thermarest + sac
Two pieces of very thin ultralight Karrimat type material, approx torso pad size, bought nearly 30 years ago off a roll & irreplaceable as sit mats & extra insulation in the tent!             

Paramo waterproof – the extra weight is offset by its warmth & comfort
Berghaus Paclite Trews                                         
Waterproof mitts                  
Mountain Hardware sleeveless shirt                    
Icebreaker merino wool T-shirt             
Smartwool L/S zip-neck top  (unused & not needed)
Lowe Alpine Powerstretch top                              
TNF zip-off trews                                  
Montane Litespeed pertex top (unused & not needed)
Arc’teryx wool & acrylic beanie                             
Berghaus cap                                                         
Powerstretch gloves
3prs Icebreaker merino wool socks                                       
Lightweight cotton PJs                                                          
5 prs underwear                                    
TNF flip-flops                                                         

Cooking & water:

Camelbak 2L bladder
2L collapsible bottle
Tibetan titanium plate + bag
Tibetan titanium 75cl mug + bag (10g)
Tibetan titanium cook pot + lid   – all titanium products bought from
Lifeventure titanium spoon & knife                      
Swiss Army knife                                                   
Scourers etc                                                           
MSR Pocket Rocket                                
Gas Cannister  225 ml           

Hygiene & safety

Trowel + bag                                                          
Compass & whistle                                                                
1st Aid kit

Reading book (unused & not needed)
Sketchbook (unused & not needed)
Moleskine exercise book for writing up the journal
Mobile phone
Powermonkey battery power supply for phone & Katie’s iPod
Harvey’s Coast to Coast West waterproof map

Our sacs weighed about 28lbs (just under 13kgs) when fully laden with water & food and decreased to about 25lbs (about 11.5kgs) by the end of our walk.

If we had continued walking I would have used the Post Office at Shap to parcel up unused items & send them home!  I would also have broken the stage to Kirkby Stephen in two stages to allow my knees & Katie’s feet to recover from the ordeals of the Lakeland Fells!

We could have managed without a stove as there were plenty of places to eat or buy cold food along the trail.  However, it was pleasant to be able to cook, even if it was only to brew up.  If we had camped wild we would have needed a stove, and we carried one freeze dried meal each & one freeze dried pudding each in case we had had the chance.  We also carried enough muesli for four days’ breakfasts & vacuum packed wraps with a tub of peanut butter for our lunches, accompanied by apples & crisps when we could buy them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of camping and wish we had had the opportunity to camp wild.  However, I may have chosen to stay in the bunkhouse in Shap for a rest and to dry the tent if we had been continuing.  I like the freedom a tent gives to change one’s plans at the last minute to suit the way you are feeling or the weather!

So, once again – Ian, Andrew, Debbie & Pat, Tom & Carole, the lads from Shap & the two Lancastrians, plus anyone else we met en route – please get in touch to let us know how you got on!

Posted in Coast to Coast, England, Equipment | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Coast to Coast – Patterdale to Shap

Friday 27th August 2010
Patterdale to Shap

16.5 miles / 3432’ ascent / 3211’ descent / 9.5 hrs

Side Farm Campsite seems to be a victim of its own success.  It has been featured in a number of magazines and ‘Cool Camping’ books as a lovely location – which it is, looking out as it does over Ullswater – but the site was packed with cars and very noisy.  There were a few gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award groups, who were on their final day and went to bed early like us, but there were also groups playing music and roistering, and car headlights & indicators which kept flashing on and off near our heads!  As our tent was so small we were scared that someone might drive over us in the night!  Luckily we were so tired that we fell asleep despite all this.  Later I had to get up and by then all was quiet.  The moon was up and both fells and lake were bathed in its ghostly light; it was very cold and very beautiful.

The foot of the climb to Boredale Hause

Looking towards the Kirkstone Pass

We were woken early by the D of E groups clattering pans and chattering so we were up before 7am and on the trail by 8.30am.  It was a glorious morning again, but cold: in fact the night had been the coldest yet. 

Looking back towards Side Farm


At Boredale Hause

Angle Tarn

We set out up the bridleway towards Boredale Hause with brilliantly clear views across to Helvellyn & Striding Edge and up the valley to Brothers Water & the Kirkstone Pass.  We made good progress despite tired legs and were soon at the Hause and heading south towards Angle Tarn.  We passed a group of D of E girls before we reached the tarn, where there were a number of wild campers, including a group of D of E boys, who ran past us then slowed to a walk.  We carried on at our plodding pace, nearly ascending Rest Dodd by mistake.

The ascent to The Knott

At the start of the main climb up to The Knott, and after the worst of the bogs, we stopped for a snack then passed the group of boys from earlier, sitting beside the path talking with their assessor.  We heard him saying, ‘Slow down, this is not a race,’ and smiled to ourselves.  We passed The Knott, descended gradually towards the broad back of High Street & Racecourse Hill but then turned sharply left up towards Rampsgill Head before heading out right to the summit of Kidsty Pike – the only summit on the Coast to Coast. 

Kidsty Pike

 The underlying geology must have changed because these fells were less rocky and more rounded than the hills of the last few days.  At the cairn on Kidsty Pike we took a long look back at all the fells of Lakeland before the tortuous descent to Haweswater with its views out towards the Eden Valley and the Pennines beyond.

Kidsty Pike cairn - and a last look at Lakeland

We had both felt tired on the ascent but the descent crippled us.  My knees were buckling and Katie’s feet were being pounded to a pulp.  We were both struggling by the time we reached the packhorse bridge beside the lake.  Nearby were some fallen stone walls and we perched ourselves upon them for lunch and a much needed rest.  Despite the rest we both suddenly felt drained and setting off again was very hard work.  

The path along the lakeside climbed and descended through bracken and across scree for about three miles or so.  It seemed endless, particularly as the sun was fully out for the first time on our journey and it was hot and sweaty. 

The descent to Haweswater

The packhorse bridge at the foot of Kidsty Pike


The start of the path along Haweswater



Is that dam getting any closer?

Close to the end of the lake...and the path is uphill!

The dam just didn’t seem to come any closer.  However, there was one highlight: we had seen almost no wildlife during our walk, apart from the occasional rabbit, but here we saw a lizard basking in the sunlight on the path.  I was very surprised as I didn’t think lizards lived in this terrain.  We have seen them on the heaths of the New Forest and Dorset but never this far north.  

The sign for the lakeside path

Naddle Bridge over Haweswater Beck


Whilst we were eating we had been passed by a couple of lads carrying big packs and, shortly before the dam, we passed them eating their lunch.  They, too, were walking the Coast to Coast and camping but had set off the day before us, breaking the previous stage at Grasmere.  They re-passed us whilst we were sitting on a much appreciated bench near the cottages beyond the dam.

We soaked up the sun on the bench for a while and as we were once more lifting our rucksacs onto our aching shoulders two more, older, chaps appeared, carrying day sacs and heading for Shap.  They refused our suggestion of swopping sacs but held the gate open for us!  They were Lancastrians from Colne & Barnoldswick & kept us company all the way to Shap.

Rosgill in the distance

Parish Crag Bridge over Swindale Beck, near Rosgill


Lakeland and its fells felt suddenly very far away once we passed the dam and we were suddenly in a different world.  The countryside was now rolling fields and deciduous trees, and very green. 

Climbing the last stile before Shap

Shap Abbey with Abbey Bridge over the River Lowther in the foreground

We followed a path alongside Haweswater Beck and over to Rawhead then down to a beautiful stone bridge below Rosgill.  From there paths across fields brought us to Shap Abbey with its ruined walls and tall tower.  We were glad that we had visited the Abbey before because we were too tired to investigate it now.  As we left we took the easy option of the tarmac for the last mile into Shap.

We parted company with our Lancastrian companions once we reached the main road, grateful for their company and envious of their continuing journey towards Robin Hood’s Bay.  Katie was on her last legs and we staggered down to the Co-op for provisions, where she slumped into a heap on the pavement.  Katie’s feet were very bruised but she hadn’t complained.  However, her suggestion of a taxi to take us to the self-catering cottage we had booked for the Bank Holiday weekend seemed sensible. 

Shap Abbey

At the nearby pub, The Bull’s Head, (,-shap-2.html  which also does camping in the garden) the landlady kindly called a taxi for us and whilst we were waiting we realised that the two lads who had passed us earlier were there.  One of them was on his third(!) Coast to Coast crossing.  On his first he had attempted to do what we had done & combine the Borrowdale to Grasmere & Grasmere to Patterdale stages but had been so tired he had caught a bus to Shap the next day.  I must confess that we felt quite proud of ourselves.  Then, to our surprise, Andrew appeared looking clean and fresh.  He, too, had made the decision to take the bus to Shap.  It was a very sensible decision: after his incredibly long day on Thursday he would have found today dangerously difficult & would probably been too shattered to continue.  He intends to return another day to complete that stage.  Both the two lads & the Lancastrians were staying at New Ing Lodge, ( ) an establishment that provides everything!  The Lancastrians were using the B&B & the lads were staying in the bunkhouse.  Had they wished they could have camped!  What an amazing place. We would have stayed there had we had the time to continue the walk.

It was very hard to leave our new-found friends to continue on the trail.  Although we hope to return in October to finish it, it’s not the same as walking it all in one go.  One day…..

Posted in Coast to Coast, England | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coast to Coast – Borrowdale to Patterdale

Thursday 26th August 2010


Rosthwaite, Borrowdale to Patterdale

17.3 miles / 3793’ ascent / 3572’ descent / 10.5hrs

Early morning mists

Greenup Edge from Stonethwaite

Last night was much more comfortable as we were pitched on level ground.  It was a clear night with a full moon and mists swirling in the valley.  There was still mist hanging amongst the trees when we got up and it was very cold.  The tent was sodden with dew, as was the grass.  We packed very quickly because it was so cold then set off before breakfast intending to find a dry rock somewhere en route.

Breakfast near Greenup Gill

Greenup Gill

It was the most lovely morning and we soon passed Stonethwaite and were back on the trail, following the narrow, rocky track between its stone walls up towards Greenup Edge.  We passed the campsite on the opposite bank of Stonethwaite Beck and came out from between the walls close to the bridge over Greenup Gill.  Here we scrambled up to some boulders and had our breakfast muesli, with milk and a hot cup of tea & hot chocolate.  Ian appeared, having had his breakfast at the Youth Hostel (an excellent service for campers).  We invited him up for a cup of tea.  Shortly after the chap from Leeds joined the party!  We were relieved to see him as the previous day had been tough and he had been very tired.  Sensibly he had arranged for the Packhorse service to take his tent & luggage on to his destination so he had only had a day sack yesterday. 

Lining Crag & Greenup Edge

The Fells of Lakeland!

The view from Lining Crag down towards Borrowdale

They set off whilst Katie and I packed up, suddenly realising that the American gang were fast approaching.  We wanted to stay ahead of them.  The path ascended gently and we caught up with a couple carrying day sacks, also on the Coast to Coast, then caught Ian, and Andrew from Leeds.  Ian was having trouble with his knee which was slowing him down so we went ahead and soon passed a party of four (also on the C to C!) that we had chatted to yesterday at Ennerdale Water.  We were moving strongly and were soon at the top of the steep ascent to Lining Crag.  However, the crossing of Greenup Edge was as boggy as usual and it was hard work with a full pack.  The descent was equally tough down Flour Gill and across the head of Wythburn before the short ascent over into Far Easedale.  Here we met a young Barvarian heading for Borrowdale and from there on the Buttermere.

The path to Far Easedale

Far Easedale looking down to Grasmere

Once into Far Easedale the path became firmer underfoot. 

Footbridge in Easedale


Easedale with Blind Tarn Cottage in the distance

Once we were down the first steep section the going was swift and easy and we soon passed Sour Milk Gill and were down in the flat valley bottom.  Over to our right we could see Blind Tarn Cottage ( )where we had stayed one snowy New Year.  When William Wordsworth had lived nearby there had been a young family living in the cottage.  The parents had set off one snowy night to return home from Chapel Stile, Langdale and died lost in the darkness above their home.  Wordsworth had helped arrange foster care for the orphaned children.

Lancrigg Hotel

I vaguely remembered visiting a tea room nearby and sure enough, just through a gate, there was a sign to Grasmere & Walkers’ Teas! Bingo!  We followed the woodland path to Lancrigg Hotel ( ), a delightful, pale yellow building, and sat outside at picnic tables waiting for our lunch.  It took a while to arrive but was delicious, and eaten above the croquet lawn.  All very civilised, apart from the fact that the Lancrigg Hotel is actually Fawlty Towers!  It was disorganised last time we visited and not much has changed.  This time when I ordered cakes for our sweet they didn’t appear and we joked about them still being in the oven.  When I went inside to see where they had got to I was informed that the chap was sorry, we had slipped his mind and one of the cakes was still in the oven!  I cancelled the order, paid and left as we had already been there an hour.  However, Katie felt that the rest had been needed as she was feeling quite tired.

The start of the climb up to Grisdale Hause

Further up the climb up to Grisdale Hause!

A short road stretch brought us to the A591, which we crossed onto a bridleway up beside a beck.  There was a tiny disused reservoir surrounded by high railings and some ruins nearby.  The path ascended at a gentle gradient to the right of Great Tongue and was hemmed in by bracken.  We kept a careful eye out for ticks.  Because of the gradient we made good time, despite Katie’s aching feet, and soon reached the steep section below Seatallan.  After a brief respite on more level ground we climbed the final steep pull up to Grisedale Hause.


More Grisedale - it's a long valley!

Below us were the grey waters of Grisedale Tarn – and the wind was cold.  The skies had clouded over and by the time we reached the end of the tarn we needed to stop and put on jackets.  Fortunately the descent from Grisedale Tarn was well angled and never too steep so we galloped down it remarkably quickly.  Having passed Ruthwaithe Lodge, a hut owned by the Outward Bound Trust ( ) we were soon in the flat fields of Lower Grisedale.

The road goes ever on....down Grisedale!

We thought we would be in time for the shop in Patterdale, but had been told that it closed at 6pm, and we were cutting it fine!  Both of us were surprised at how fast we were walking at the end of such a long day.  However, the final part of the route to Patterdale had a sting in its tail – a sharp ascent before a long gradual descent into the village.  We found ourselves jogging the last quarter of a mile and when we arrived at the shop it was open!  ( ).  The shop sells souvenirs of the Coast to Coast which can be ordered online – worth a look!). We bought milk and the most delicious chocolate brownies, and were given 2 bread rolls for free!  We sat on the bench opposite the shop and ate the brownies before walking the final mile or so to the campsite at Side Farm.  The sun was shining again and there was hardly a cloud in the sky.  A lovely end to the day. 

The lady at Side Farm was lovely and very helpful.   ( ).  We chatted about ‘Fawlty Towers’ as she had had a similar experience there herself.  There were a final few hundred yards to stagger before we reached the camping field which was busy.  I put up the tent whilst Katie showered then once I was clean I cooked a meal – the first cooking of the trip.  The wind had dropped and the midges were beginning to make their presence felt.  Shortly after we had eaten, at about 8pm,  Andrew arrived bearing the sad news that Ian’s knee pain had worsened and he’d had to abandon his walk at Grasmere.  He had intended completing the route as far as Kirkby Stephen and it was a real shame that his plans had been dashed.  However, it was a very sensible decision as the climb over to Patterdale had been tough and tomorrow’s route looked just as hard.  We were sorry to not share our final evening with him.

I made Andrew a cup of tea to revive him whilst he put up his tent and then Katie and I dived into our tent to escape the increasingly persistent midges.  We need the wind to get up again!

Posted in Coast to Coast, England | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coast to Coast – Ennerdale to Borrowdale

Wednesday 25th August 2010

Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite, Borrowdale

19 miles / 2178’ ascent / 2536’ descent / 10hrs

Leaving Low Cock How Farm

Neither of us slept very well as the site was slightly sloping and various cockerels, horses and people kept making a racket!  Because of this we were up and packed by 7.45am with a tent damp from the condensation created in the night.  The warmth of the kitchen was appreciated when we ate our muesli and I bumped into Ian setting off after his B&B breakfast when I went to pay our fees.  We also realised that the two Australians we had met briefly in St Bees, Debbie & Pat, had stayed at the B&B that night.  They had walked as far as the village last night, not realising that Low Cock How Farm was about a mile before Ennerdale Bridge and had to retrace their steps. They were also about to set off but hoped to walk over Red Pike & Haystacks, rather than follow the long trudge up the valley, as they didn’t have such heavy packs to carry.

Ennerdale Water from the western outflow

Looking up Ennerdale from below Anglers Crag


Looking west towards Ennerdale Bridge

We set off about twenty minutes later.  The skies were cloudy but the cloud was broken and the temperature was pleasant for walking.  We were about a mile or so from Ennerdale Bridge and there was a footpath just off the lane so we didn’t have to compete with the traffic.  However, from Ennerdale Bridge it was tarmac all the way to the lake.  We passed two couples that we had spoken to briefly in the cafe at Moor Row yesterday, and then walked quickly along the lakeshore along a rocky path that rose and fell over outcrops, until we reached the head of Ennerdale Water and level fields.  Here we stopped for a snack and a rest as our sacks seemed heavy this morning.

The River Liza

The route crossed over to the right side of the valley and followed the forest track up past High & Low Gillerthwaite, a Field Studies Centre ( ) and a Youth Hostel & camping barn ( ).  Shortly after these we passed the Americans we had seen yesterday at St Bees and then caught Ian, walking with him for a couple of miles before marching off on our own to try to find a lunch stop.  Before we found a suitable spot, however, we came out of the trees & saw Black Sail Youth Hostel ahead.  There was a chap standing beside the path looking down the valley – for the American group, as it turned out – and he said that we could get a cup of tea & cake at the hostel.  He was there to guide the Americans – members of the Sierra Club – over to Honister. 

Black Sail Youth Hostel

It was too much of a temptation to miss so we carried on to the hostel & had our lunch there, in the company of about 20 Americans and their guide and his wife, who even made tea for us.  There was an honesty box to pay for the tea and the delicious cake provided by the warden for walkers.  It brought back memories of steaming waterproofs & midges when we had stayed there one wet night a couple of years ago.  ( )

Loft Beck

It was pleasant chatting to our companions and eating our lunch.  We benefited from local knowledge as we were shown a short cut up to Loft Beck, the steep path leading up to a col between Haystacks & Grey Knotts .  The ascent had been paved and was just like climbing the stairs.  It was surprisingly easy after our rest and we were soon at the top.  The view of Great Gable and its surrounding fells was magnificent.  Below Gable drumlins clustered like eggs in a basket and beyond the bulk of Pillar towered, dark and menacing.   

Great Gable, Green Gable and drumlins

The Buttermere valley from above Honister


Above the descent to Honister Pass

A reviving cuppa outside the Honister cafe

Below Grey Knotts we met Ian again – a little off route.  Again, we kept company for a while then went on ahead to descend the knee-wrecking track down to Honister Pass, and a very welcome cuppa and cake at the cafe.  Ian re-joined us and we then walked down to Seatoller together.  It was pleasant to have such good company at the end of a tiring day.  We bought ice-creams at the Yew Tree Inn at Seatoller and were hailed by Debbie & Pat, looking very tired.  They had found the ascent of the Haystacks ridge tough.  As they were staying at Hazel Bank B&B in Rosthwaite ( ) we all walked together down the valley towards the village, parting company close to the Youth Hostel.  Ian was intending to stay at the same campsite as us, run by Gillercombe B&B, which turned out to be my usual campsite when I stay in Borrowdale.  I bought crisps & milk from the B&B before pitching the tent. ( )

Katie, Pat, Debbie & Ian at Seatoller

The bridge over the River Derwent at Longthwaite


The tent at Gillercombe campsite

Katie and I decided to use the shower.  This was quite a performance!  It cost 50p in a meter outside the cubicle.  There were two showers but nowhere to hang clothes inside the cubicle & very little space outside.  Alone one would have had to undress totally in the public space with a door that opened out onto the world!  In the end we took it in turns.  Katie used the shower first, handing her clothes out to me whilst I put the coin in the slot for her.  When the water ran out the clothes were passed back in & then I followed the same process.  How one manages alone I have no idea!  There was a lot of grey concrete, empty shampoo bottles and damp tissue.  These showers were worse than the ones I had endured earlier in the summer in Snowdonia!  However, we were clean and ready to join Ian to walk down to the Scafell Hotel ( ) for dinner, following the route of the Coast to Coast.  The sun was now shining, the skies were a clear blue and it was very warm.

The meal was acceptable, the bar area welcoming and the company pleasant.  Once we had finished our meal we walked, in fading light, on along the Coast to Coast path as far as Stonethwaite.  The path is lovely stony track, contained between narrow stone walls which we left after a mile to cross over the bridge into Stonethwaite and then back along the road to the campsite.  A full moon was rising over Greenup Edge, bathing the whole campsite in its pale light; beautiful.  It was very still and the dew was already heavy on the grass and on the tent.

Posted in Coast to Coast, England | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coast to Coast – St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge

Tuesday 24th August 2010

St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge

15 miles / 2936’ ascent / 2171’ descent / 8hrs

Looking south from St Bees beach

Heading down the beach to the sea

I woke at 7am and shortly afterwards it began to rain!  Our fellow Coast to Coaster was already up, packed and eating breakfast at the farm, warm & dry whilst I listened to the rain on the tent & hoped it would cease.  After about three quarters of an hour it stopped and, once I had managed to prise Katie from her pit, we were packed and away by 9am. Our toes were in the sea by 9.30am.

The very edge of Cumbria!

The air was very clear and we could see the Isle of Man & the Scottish hills easily and although the skies were filled with cumulus clouds the day looked set fair.  The biggest problem was the wind on the cliffs which was strong enough to blow us over.  As we prepared to leave the beach a small bus of Americans was unloaded and set off ahead of us.

St Bees caravan site from st Bees Head

It was a steep pull up to the top of St Bees Head, past dark red cliffs.  Guillemots flew by, undercarriage down for a landing.  We soon passed the Americans & saw other couples ahead of us maintaining a steady distance. 

The view from the cliff

Black sands looking back towards St Bees

To the lighthouse


Coastguard lookout station

It seemed to take a long time to reach the lighthouse and coastguard lookout but  reach them we eventually did, despite the battle with the wind.  Shortly after we came to a quarry where red sandstone was being extracted.  We had seen evidence of earlier quarrying all along that stretch of the cliffs.  Beyond us was the blot of Whitehaven & Mirehouses but before we reached them we came to a cottage, with a stranded boat in the garden, and turned inland towards the distant hills.

'High & dry'

A tarmac lane took us to Sandwith, a small settlement of sandstone houses.  There was a couple sitting at a picnic table on the narrow green who turned out to be more Coast to Coasters.  Tom & Carole were from California and had come to Britain specifically to walk the route.  They were using the Packhorse service which arranges B&B accommodation & takes luggage on each day ( ).  We left them eating their snack and followed paths across fields, in intermittent sunshine, until we reached the railway.  There was a bank above the track in the sun and we sat there and had our lunch, passed by another heavily laden walker and our American friends.

Can you see Scotland?

Birkhams quarry



Under the railway

Moor Row tea garden


Once we crossed under the railway the fields were very boggy until we reached Moor Row and an unexpected cafe in a garden.  This is not on any website and deserves to be frequented.  If we had known about it we would have bought our lunch there as the cakes were very good and the tea piping hot.  Once again there were small groups of people walking the C to C.

The Coast to Coast path leaving Cleator

At Cleator, a rather grey village on a main road, we found a small shop and bought a tin of beans & some eggs intending to cook them for our evening meal.  Once we left Cleator we soon entered forest and faced a steep climb up through the woods before reaching the open fellside and finally the grassy summit of Dent, a rounded hill with views out to Sellafield and back to the coast.  We took a last look at the sea before the descent towards Ennerdale, once again in the company of Tom & Carole.

The ascent of Dent



As we reached the steep slopes down to Uldale and Nannycatch Beck we left the Californians behind, in a hurry now to reach our campsite.  The valley was steep sided, narrow and very pleasant.  It felt as if we had reached the Lakes at long last and it wasn’t long before we saw signs for Low Cock How Farm and our campsite for the night – in yet another B&B garden! (Bradley’s Riding Centre: ). 

Nannycatch Beck

It rained briefly just before we arrived but didn’t last.  The farm has a riding stables and there were about 20 or so large horses milling about in the yard, with nearly as many dogs.  The owner showed us to our pitch and pointed out the kitchen that she provides for campers and those staying in the bunkhouse.  After we had put up the tent we discovered the solo walker again, whose name turned out to be Ian, in the kitchen.  He was intending to order a takeaway pizza – so we abandoned the baked beans & did the same.  We boiled up the eggs for lunch tomorrow.

The garden at Low Cock How Farm

Camping nearby were a father and son who were planning to walk the route of the Ennerdale Horseshoe fell race tomorrow.  Later another person appeared, also camping.  He had set off at 5am from Leeds, caught a train to St Bees & set off walking at noon.  It was about 8pm when he arrived, very, very tired with a heavy load as he was also carrying a lot of food.  He’d done very well but was paying the price.

Posted in Coast to Coast, England | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coast to Coast – introduction

Arriving at St Bees

Monday23rd August 2010

Katie and I only had four days to spend walking the Coast to Coast trail as we had to meet Barry on Friday in the village of Askham, near Penrith, where we had booked a self-catering cottage for the Bank Holiday weekend, so we took a train from Basingstoke to St Bees via Birmingham New Street & Carlisle, arriving (somewhat late) in St Bees at about 4pm. 

Stonehouse Farm B&B

We had decided to camp, carrying full packs, but very little food as it meant that we could be flexible in our itinerary, and so pitched our tent in the garden of Stonehouse Farm B&B where Carole Smith extends her hospitality to campers, providing a loo & shower (and breakfast if required!) ( all for the sum of £4 per person: an excellent service.  We had already spoken to a couple of Australians who were setting off on the route tomorrow & now a solo walker joined us in the garden, intending to walk to Kirkby Stephen.  Luckily the rain of the day ceased as we settled in.

St Bega's Priory

Ancient cross outside St Bega's Priory

Main entrance, St Bega's Priory

Once the tent was pitched we strolled down to the Priory, an imposing sandstone constuction still in use today despite the attentions of Henry VIII.  St Bega, after whom the Priory & village are named, is reputed to have fled Ireland in the 7th century, running from an arranged marriage with a Norwegian prince.  She founded the abbey and there are various memorials to her locally. 

St Bega's statue

St Bega's statue

Dinner was taken at the Manor Inn, accompanied by the sounds of Black Sabbath & Pink Floyd from the Public Bar.  When we emerged from the pub the rain of earlier had passed and the skies were filled with huge cumulus clouds tinged pink, peach and gold by the setting sun.  We walked the mile to the beach, past the statue of St Bega, pushing against the gale force winds to see the sea and headland where we would walk tomorrow.

Breakwater, clouds & headland

The Isle of Man is out there somewhere!

The beach was beautiful with a backdrop of billowing clouds and the dark mass of the headland to our right.  On the horizon the Isle of Man was crystal clear and seemed very close.  Behind us, however, were the squat shapes of a caravan site and an ugly white hotel sprawling behind the tarmac car park.  A small tea shop perched above the beach, braving the wild weather.

St Bee's Head

Once the cobwebs had been truly blown away we were blown back to our tent.  We expected a wild night with the wind buffeting our little haven but the garden was remarkably protected and, although we could hear the wind we were not affected by it.

Our little tent in the garden of Stonehouse Farm

Posted in Coast to Coast, England | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment