That day off made all the difference. P and I were both at the point where blisters were beginning to form on our hot feet and our knees were voicing their disapproval. A day pottering about in this tiny little village was just enough to recharge the batteries, cool the feet and lie to the knees about what’s next. Tom, being eighteen, had none of these issues of course. His knees just accept anything thrown at them.
This stretch of the Coast to Coast begins alongside Stonethwaite Beck which gurgles along in the shadows of oak and sycamore. Most of the names here are from the old Norse language of the Vikings. “Thwaite” is a clearing, “beck” is a brook and so on. Borrowdale was named for the Scandinavian Borg (fort) in the Dalr (valley) from the tenth century.
It was lovely to start in the line of woodland that followed the beck.
Before long though we had split away from the beck, leaving the trees behind. The occasional large glacial rock (called an “erratic” apparently) gave us a puddle of shade as we passed and on one, a small plaque marked the last moments of a walker “who died here in peace”.
And then, inevitably, we started to climb up the flank of the valley on a path stepped with big pieces of limestone.
The shift from walking on the flat in the leafy shadows to climbing in scorching sunshine was a shock. The sun was a hot, heavy weight on our heads and it struck me that this holiday is essentially a full English breakfast followed by a step class in a sauna. With great views.
Looking back at tiny Ennerdale you see the impact of the Lake District National Park, which Ennerdale lies within. Development has been kept to a minimum, so no shops full of tourist tat lining the roads. The villages haven’t been allowed to expand with dolls-house estates all around them and the farms are clearly obliged to be in good repair with gates and stiles and the old stone buildings all smart and functional. No abandoned tractors left to rot in the weeds here. In a way I suppose you could say it is artificial; that the area has been set in aspic as a sort of Victorian fantasy of country life. It couldn’t be like this everywhere, but I’m very glad this especially lovely bit of the country is being looked after.
Up we went. The heat settled on us like a hot blanket. We climbed to Lining Crag at which point a breath of a breeze took the edge off the heat. The walk from here was through boggy ground now drying off and bouncy from the heat. Dragonflies clattered and flit between tall grasses, their wings catching the sun. Day hikers popped up from Grasmere and colonised the lookout spots.
It was a rolling, shallow descent towards Helm Crag, a great stone buttress lording it over Grasmere below. We sat with sandwiches and let our feet cool off.
The descent was painfully steep in places forcing long jarring steps down onto sometimes unstable rocks. It was hard work and got hotter the lower we got. Eventually though we passed into some deliciously cool woods, our feet silent on the springy path.
A small engraved tablet marked the point where William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothea would stand while the great poet wandered back and forth composing.
We emerged from the woods to join a narrow road and we met an elderly man with a head of white hair, smartly dressed in a pale blue shirt and jeans. He asked about our route, gave us some directions and said the tarn up the next mountain was “the coldest I’ve ever swum in”. That sounded pretty good.
The main road to Grasmere seemed too big and too fast. We ran across the baking black tarmac and started climbing again. We’d lost the shade and we were down on water although we’d each set off with about four litres. When we booked this holiday through England’s wettest region the very last thing we thought we’d have to deal with was excessive heat. The sunshine does bring out the best of the views and is so much nicer than relentless rain but ensuring we have enough water for ten hours on the move takes some thought. Some of the little streams marked on the map are dry when we reach them. But half an hour up, there was a confluence of streams, blissfully cold, and I filtered enough water to get us all re-inflated again.
The rest of the climb in relentless, shadeless heat was brutal, the stepped path rising to a ridge, to reveal another and then up for another long slog to reveal one more.
It was a great relief to see Grisdale Tarn appear over the final ridge.
A young couple were sitting at the edge in swimming gear warming up in the lowering sun. “Nice swim?”. “Oh it was gorgeous” she said. It was now getting on towards 5.30 and we still had at least another 6 or 7k to walk and with pub kitchens on a strict timetable, any thought of a swim was lost.
The walk down, with the great bulk of Helvellyn towering up behind us was a lot easier than the climb up but we were all ready for the day to end.
In these little places (and Covid times) finding somewhere to eat is not always guaranteed. I’d booked a table to eat at the White Lion pub in Patterdale for 7. As soon as I picked up a dribble of phone signal I rang to see if they could take us a bit later. “No problem love. As long as you are here before the kitchen closes at 8”. We route marched onwards, imagining the cold drinks waiting for us.
The White Lion was exactly what we needed. “Three pints of bitter shandy (me and P) and a pint of lemonade (T) please”. The barmaid took one look at our red faces and brought them quickly on a tray. It was possibly the best drink I have ever had.
After big plates of comfort food involving much protein and many chips we had a final walk to the farmhouse B&B in the bright evening. Adam met us and showed us to simple, gorgeous, peaceful rooms. We’d covered over 26k in just under ten hours, climbing a total of 1350m and descending 1275m. That’s roughly the same as climbing Britain’s highest mountain (Ben Nevis 1345m).
Sleep was not a problem.