Coast to Coast

Day Two – 23rd April 2011: Ennerdale Bridge to Stonethwaite – 16.5 miles

Breakfast was good with a varied selection to choose from. We were joined by half a dozen more walkers, all on different schedules but one couple, Caroline and Peter, would finish on the same day as us. Poor Caroline had forgotten to pack a coat and had lost her purse on the way up. The kind owners of The Stork had a thin waterproof which they gave her which was really good as the weather was going to get worse as the day went on.

After being suitably filled, we collected our sandwiches (we already had other food supplies) and finished our packing before meeting everyone outside ready for the minibus drive back to Ennerdale Bridge.

The drive back was short but from our elevated position in the minibus we could see the threatening weather in the distance, it looked like it was going to be an interesting day. We arrived, grabbed our packs and set off in the direction of Ennerdale Water. There was quite a procession walking along the road to the weir. Ebony & Ivory had reappeared but no one else from the day before. We had decided to take the North shore route but everyone else took the south shore. Many people had said the South shore was dangerous as parts had been washed away during the winter rains but in addition we liked the idea of looking across at everyone else having a harder time than us! We made the shoreline and looked up and along the expanse of water and realised that today could be rather testing. One of the areas that I was concerned with was the exit at the top of Loft Beck and here we were looking at a valley and hills shrouded in mist and threatening cloud. My fears regarding the top of Loft Beck were well founded as we were to find out later.


Ennerdale Water

The path was easy going and we made good progress and had soon reached the access track. Many say the walk up Ennerdale valley is boring and with the trees it can make for a claustrophobic experience. We found it to be not too bad as felling had opened up areas so it never felt that oppressive. We had glimpses of Pillar and then the High Stile range and for a time it appeared that the head of the valley was brightening up.


Cattle in Ennerdale


Ennerdale forest track


Ennerdale

The valley walk is a long way, but, it was the prospect of Black Sail hut that spurred us on not having visited before, but as yet though it was nowhere to be seen. We kept going and eventually we saw our intended rest stop in the distance. Even in sight, it seemed to take ages before we arrived outside the doors of this famous refuge.


Black Sail Youth Hostel

There were already a couple of people there along with the warden as we grabbed a table and refuelled ourselves. After about half an hour, Ebony and Ivory arrived followed by another couple who were also doing the Coast to Coast. This couple seemed to think they knew it all but appeared to be badly prepared. They did have boots on but other than that they looked as if they were going for a Sunday afternoon stroll. She was quite loud and domineering, he much quieter, not a couple we bonded with but we were to find out later that they were staying at our B&B that night. Although they seemed very ill prepared we are fairly sure they made it as we saw their name in a couple of B&B’s that we stayed in later in the walk. We read all about the hut and its glorious history and saw the plaque commemorating Chris Brasher’s final night hostelling there. But, we had work to do and needed to press on.

Outside the hut Caroline and Peter had arrived as had several other walkers. The ill prepared couple had, not surprisingly, started off along the main (wrong) track rather than taking the higher indistinct one directly from the hut. They eventually cut across to our path at a rate of knots, seemingly determined to keep in front of us. We were more than happy to let them go as they seemed oblivious to the weather that was changing up ahead. The brightness that we had seen earlier, that was directly over the route up Loft Beck had now been replaced by thick cloud and as we approached the Beck proper we were instantly in cloud and mist. Many of the other walkers from Black Sail had set off after us and were following us up the hill. As the ascent took its toll we started to bunch up but no one was in a hurry and we were all quite happy to keep together. Most of us, I would suspect, subscribing to the notion of safety in numbers. Loft Beck is pretty steep, especially when carrying all your own kit, but as we neared the top, with visibility of no more than 10 yards we slowed even more to make sure of our next move. We could see none of the drop down to Ennerdale valley, which for the more faint hearted was perhaps the only plus point.


Loft Beck

On reaching the col our little group seemed to have found a self appointed leader who was quite determined to dictate direction without proper checking of guide book or more importantly, map. We needed to find a stile in the fence but we couldn’t even find the fence let alone a stile. Our ‘leader’ was determined to continue to gain height whereas I was not so sure. I dropped back with Rachel and voiced my concerns to her. I looked at the map and took a bearing and felt that the fence must be 90 degrees to the left of our current position. We slowly walked over, making sure that the distance between us was never greater than the reduced visibility. If I could keep Rachel in view she in turn could just keep the others in the party in view. I found the stile, re-traced our steps and re-joined our party. I was as sure as I could be that I was right and our ‘leader’ was wrong, but being nervous of sticking my neck out I didn’t say anything, other than to Rachel. I was prepared to just drop off the back of the group and go with my instincts. If I was wrong it would only affect us if we ended up miles away from where we should be. Rachel on the other hand had more faith in my abilities than I did and called out as loudly as she could to the group, ‘hang on!’ We put our concerns to them and made our suggestions and almost on cue the visibility increased just enough to make out the stile. Our ‘leader’ disagreed and walked off with his wife on his pre-determined course. Incredibly, and rather flatteringly, the rest of the group followed us. In one way I was pleased as I was convinced I was right, but on the other hand I now felt responsible for looking after the other people, I just hoped I wouldn’t let them down.

Just as we started off in the gloom that had returned with a vengeance, a shout went up from behind us. Out of the murk came our old foot fetish friend from Fannythatch, I mean Nannycatch. After making a comment about being strange to see us with our boots on, we welcomed him and his wife into our merry band of wanderers. Just as we expected, the initial couple of hundred yards were a little damp and boggy but this soon made way to a feint but definite rocky path. As we continued along we struck up conversations with the other walkers and although we enjoyed their company my mind was still on the route and whether we would get to the disused tramway. Every so often we could hear shouts in the clouds, some worryingly desperate, sometimes from below us and sometimes from above. We continued on our chosen course and slowly but surely we arrived at the tramway. The route from here was easy, albeit steeply, downhill to Honister and the quarry. We had been here before on our ascent of Great Gable a few years previous with our son David, so maps could now be stowed away and I could relax. It felt good, and I have to admit I felt quite proud, to have got everyone off the hill in those conditions.


Our merry band of coast to coasters


Honister Slate Mine


Looking back to the route

On reaching the slate quarry we celebrated with a cup of hot chocolate and with the possible exception of the one I had on top of the Jungfrau in Switzerland it was the best one I’ve ever tasted. We spent a half hour or so looking at the tourists coming and going in their cars, the odd walker appearing out of the mist and joining us on the seats outside the café. We were starting to get a little chilly as the wind had picked up, so we shouldered our packs and set off to Stonethwaite in Borrowdale. The rest of the days walk was all downhill and the miles clicked by. The sun had come out on the odd occasion as we descended and so every now and again we were bathed in warmth which was most welcome. We arrived at Jonny’s Wood and had to negotiate the rock that bordered the River Derwent via the metal chains helpfully put in place to hold on to, otherwise a dunking in the river could have been the order of the day.


River Derwent

But we remained dry and after walking through the grounds of the youth hostel prepared to cross the Honister Pass road. There, we happened to see a lamb being born in the field next to the road, what a lovely sight at the end of the day.


New born lamb

As we were taking photos a mountain rescue helicopter flew along the valley and was heading towards the direction we had come. The thought came into my mind of the quote ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I’. I hoped that all was well with whoever had called them out, but the remembrance of the cries we had heard earlier in the mist took a while to leave my head. We crossed the road and entered the lane that would take us to Stonethwaite Farm, our bed for the next two nights. Up ahead we could see two people standing in the road looking lost and then we realised that they were the ‘ill prepared’ couple. How they got there we didn’t know and more worryingly they didn’t know either. They asked us whether we knew where Stonethwaite Farm was as it was their B&B for the night, so we would be having company. A few minutes later we were knocking at the door of the farm, our new best buddies having decided to have a drink in The Langstrath first.

Our room was quirky with uneven floors and walls as you would expect from an old farmhouse, but most comfortable all the same. We crashed out as the efforts (physical and mental) of the day hit us. Suitably refreshed we headed for The Langstrath and our pre-booked table. The amount of people that were turned away due to lack of space was incredible. Even our table was taken when we got there but the squatters had already been warned that come 6.30 they would have to vacate the table, which they duly did without fuss or bother. What proceeded was the best meal of the walk, my venison and Rachel’s fishcakes were fantastic and the bottle of red that went with it, equally good – but not cheap. We noticed a familiar looking man in the corner cradling a pint. It was ‘Single man’ who we had met at our B&B in St Bees. He had got lost coming over Loft Beck and descended into another valley but eventually had made it. Our schedules wouldn’t overlap again so we wished him well.

We returned to the farm and once again had an early night. We were looking forward to the following day. It was the first of our two rest days. Both were Sundays, the ‘day of rest’ after all, but this first one would give us the opportunity to take stock of how we were doing, fitness as well as equipment wise. We also wanted to spend a bit of time in Borrowdale, an area we had visited often but we had never seen it in good weather, it had always been wet and we had always just passed through. The forecast was good for the next day and so we were hopeful of a pleasant, easy day. What we didn’t know at this point was that there would be a problem that had the potential to scupper the whole walk.

I was woken in the early hours of the night to the sounds of Rachel being violently sick, several times. She looked dreadful. I had never seen her look so ill in all our 27 years together. We suspected the food from The Langstrath especially as she had had the fishcakes. She was adamant that it wasn’t the food, but was convinced that it was a migraine type headache, which she said she had woken up with in the night and had progressed to the point of needing to be sick. She has bad heads every now and again and she just has to hide away in the dark and after a couple of hours it will go, but leave her drained. This was different. She had never been sick, associated with a headache before, and at that moment in time we both feared the worst, the walk could be in jeopardy. But, and it was a significant but, we had our rest day. We both finally got to sleep, we would have to wait and see what the next day would bring.

 

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