Coast to Coast – Patterdale to Shap


What a blissfully quiet and comfortable night. There is an extra quality to sleep that comes after really hard work, but it helps to be in a place like the Crookabeck Farm B&B. Our rooms were in a converted cowshed with a small sitting room and we could very happily have had a few days there. The indefatigable Adam reminded us gently at 8.30 that our bags could be collected at any time and perhaps we should pack them and put them outside… So this we did while he made us breakfast and packed lunches. Outside the sunshine lit up the green valley and the sheep were feeling skittish, running in the fields and butting heads. Adam reflected on how quiet the season had been. “It’s mostly Americans, Canadians and Australians who do the Coast to Coast but of course we haven’t seen any this year.” It seems odd that he sees more foreign hikers than Brits, but that’s a common refrain from the places we’ve passed through.

It was hard to leave the comfort of Crookabeck and Adam’s friendly company so it wasn’t until nearly 10 that we got going again, walking back along the track towards Patterdale village in brilliant sunshine. This was to be the day we walked out of the Lake District with its muscular mountain scenery and into the rolling Yorkshire Dales. We were sad to leave lake and mountain country but as the path turned steeply up and up, and up a bit more it was also good to know that there might be some easier days ahead.

I’m conscious of how much we are missing on this walk. There are so many trails branching off up other slopes to different views and we get glimpses of other towns and villages that we haven’t explored.

By eleven the heat had built again and we were still climbing. Boredale Hause had the remains of an old chapel apparently, but we didn’t notice it among the old stone sheep pens. The path flattened out and then lurched through grassy dips and hillocks before rounding a bend to Angle Tarn.

And, you have to stop there don’t you? We walked along a narrow, boggy peninsula that shifted like a raft beneath our feet, and sat at a rocky outcrop to cool off.

The water was cool, not cold and would have been perfect for a swim but we contented ourselves with wading. We had the place to ourselves, the only sounds were from the sheep dotted around like balls of cotton wool and the occasional high pitched “wheep” from a bird of prey gliding over us.

We’d climbed about 500m and still had another 300m to do – a last frontier from the Lake District before it released us to the Dales.

The path’s highest point was once a crossroad for Roman Legionaires passing between various forts in the region. There is so little sign of the modern world up there that it wasn’t hard to imagine them stamping their way over the rough paths two thousand years ago.

The trail curved on towards Kidsty Pike, a great bump at the end of a long ridge. We sat on its flanks for lunch and watched red deer on the scree below.

You’ll have to take my word for it about the deer. There were rhino too.

At the top of Kidsty Pike we enlisted a passing hiker to record the moment for posterity.

Sobering to think that we still had to cross everything in the photo behind us

The loan hiker we’d enlisted was a rangy middle-aged chap who’d “dropped the wife off earlier” and reeled off a list of the places he’d already hiked to, and those he was going to knock off next. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the region as the enthusiasm to match. We could only smile and nod, with the occasional “Ah” to conceal our geographical ignorance.

The last big “down” meant we’d done the last big “up” for a while at least. The Haweswater reservoir revealed itself to us as we descended. The valley was flooded to create it in the 1930s inundating Mardale village. The occasional strip of village wall is said to poke above the water when the levels are low. But not today.

Which was a shame because it would have alleviated the utter tedium of the next couple of hours. We skirted the big dull stretch of water through waste-high bracken on a narrow, lumpy track. The view never changed and the far end of the reservoir never seemed to get any closer. Up, down, along, it made no difference.

Eventually though we turned away from Haweswater and passed out of the Lake District National Park – the giveaway being that the path became a lot more comfortable. The Park puts lumps of flattish stone down to protect the trail from the multitude of people like us, but it’s not the most comfortable walking surface. Now the rocks had gone and our steps seemed almost silent. We popped out at Burnbanks village, built in the late 1920s for the labourers who built the reservoir.

Enjoying the shade at Burnbanks

More than sixty little houses were built in what was seen as something of a model village with it’s own recreation hall, dispensary and shop. There was work available right up until the 1970’s after which some of the inhabitants began to leave and their houses fell into disrepair. Others were dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere but in 2005 those remaining were restored giving the village a lost-in-time 1930s feel to it.

We still had a few more k to cover, through fields of sheep, along walls, through stiles and gates, with the sun sinking behind us. We’d been walking hard through hot sun for more than eight hours and P and I were slowing down and feeling the day’s exertions. Even the indestructible Tom was weary.

The ruins of 12th century Shap Abbey gave us a boost and made it feel like we were closer to Shap than we really were. It was still half an hour’s walk and we were getting worried about the prospect of finding food when we got there. I got a bar of phone signal and rang our hotel. An answerphone gave me another number to try “out of hours”. I rang it and another message suggested I try the first number again. So I played that game for a bit before finding the number of a pub in town that did food. Could we eat there? “Yes, if you get here before 7.45”.

When we finally staggered into Shap we were exhausted. Unfortunately the landlord at The Crown was in a mood to be Difficult.

“Hi, I spoke to you about half an hour ago about food..?”

“Might have done” he said, smiling “I can’t remember”

“Well can we eat?”

“I suppose so”

He was oblivious to the fact that we’d been walking all day and were desperate to sit down with big drinks. We just wanted to order and sit down but some how he wouldn’t quite let us. Yes we could get bitter shandy (beer and lemonade), but no Tom couldn’t get a pint of lemonade. I interrupted a long explanation as to why not to ask what other soft drinks he had. “They’re in there” he said, pointing to a small fridge on the floor behind the bar.

“And what exactly have you got in there?”

“Soft drinks”

“Like..?”

“Not sure”

“J20?”

“Probably”

“What flavour?”

“Red or yellow”

And so on. I left Philippa to order the food not trusting myself to remain civil. We sat on a wobbly grey picnic table by the road grateful for the rest and the shade. I started shivering – on the edge of heat exhaustion and stayed shivering for twenty minutes or so despite being wrapped up in my down jacket and with the temperature still in the 20s. The big food and a couple of pints of shandy eventually sorted me out. And then on to the pub/hotel where we were staying where no-one behind the bar seemed the least bit interested in checking us in and some of the drinkers seemed to think it was hilarious that we were walkers.

It was One Of Those evenings which we didn’t really need after another 25K day in the heat.

Then again, Shap did have what we needed just as we needed it most. It was a day of ups and downs, in more ways than one.

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