The Vault Regulars

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Grange over Sands to Seathwaite, 4 day Lakes walk.

Many times i find myself reading blogs like Conrad's or Alistair's, to name but two, who spend quite a bit of time wandering the Southern Lakes areas, they post wonderful descriptions and photographs. I usually comment that it looks great and i must get to walk there at some point.

We were lucky enough to be invited up to a friends in the Duddon Valley for a weekend and this gave me an opportunity to plan a walk in that area, Sheila unfortunately had to work but would meet me at the weekend.
I chose Grange over Sands as my start point because it was easy to get to from Manchester and a first class ticket only cost me £7.50. My kit was as light as my current gear would allow, it weighed 9kl which included food and fuel for 4 days.

The train got me to Grange at lunchtime so i still had plenty of day left to make inroads. I had a rough outline of a plan but only one definite overnight pitch that i wanted to make which was at The Bell, just west of Coniston Village, the rest of the plan was open.

After a coffee and a chat to an old friend i hadn't seen for 30 yrs, a chance meeting, i set off through the lovely deciduous Eggerslack Wood which took me up to the "Hospice" on top of Hampsfell. The hospice is a basic stone shelter built for travellers to shelter from bad weather. It was built over a hundred years ago and is a great viewpoint.

Route Day 1.
From here i crossed a limestone plateau and started the descent into Cartmel via Pitt Farm. Weather wise it was a scorcher and the nice walk into Cartmel, passing the famous Abbey had me dripping in sweat. I was glad of a seat outside a coffee shop although the price of a small coffee and a small water left me gasping for breath.
Why Cartmel gets so busy mid week without any horse racing on has always left me pondering. I for one am always glad to leave Cartmel and today was no different.

I thought i was going to get stopped crossing the race course, but i was ok. Once on the other side and through some woods i chanced across a large Boy Scout tent city and i noticed that they were still making all the same pieces of camp wood lore that i made 55 yrs ago. The difference being was they were all looking at phones instead of acting like monkeys on a rope slides or tree climbing.

I headed west to the fine viewpoint and os trig point on top of How Barrow. The map shows a spring marked but i couldn't find it.
Then north along the top edge of Ellerside which turned out to be a fine route incorporating Bigland Tarn. This is indeed a scenic stretch of water and would have made an ideal camp spot if it didn't happen to be part of a large private estate with the main hall only a hundred yards away.

I was feeling dehydrated, i had drank all the water i carried and i needed to find some more. I didn't find any flowing into the tarn and then i heard estate vehicles approaching. I asked one chap if there was any running water about and he suggested i go to the stables which was just out of sight at this point.
The stables had a filtered water fountain, i was offered a coffee and a place to put my tent up. I took the offer. Showers, toilets and the comfy tack room with pot washing facilities were pointed out.
I was taken aback by the generosity and the no problems welcome i received.
My tent pitch was perfect and as the evening wore on the peace and quiet and the views were very special. I sat quiet and watched Buzzards and Hares and Mistle Thrush's going about there business. I must say a big thank you to Sheelagh and Mike Myers for the hospitality.
I slept sound. What a brilliant day.
If anyone is camping doing the Cumbria coastal path then give the stables a call on 01539 530333.

That was until 6.00am when i heard thunder and it started raining, fine rain at first and then progressively heavier. The wind picked up and the tent shook. I lay there warm and cosy thinking how can two days be so different. I had left the tent doors open all night but now i had to close them.

All things done and wet tent packed i headed off to pay for my pitch.
Kindness again, they didn't want money as it had been no trouble but if i wanted to pitch there again would i please ring and let them know so that they could ensure the horses would not be in the way. Horses and small tents don't mix well.
I left a small donation towards the stable which was accepted with thanks.

My plan was to go to High Dam but one of the stable hands said good luck with that and a bit of a smile. This had me thinking that i needed to take an FWA (foul weather alternative). The weather was atrocious and i could imagine what the High Dam and surrounding woodland would be like under the circumstances. I looked at the map and decided that i would head for Satterthwaite and camp there on a recognised site.
Route Day 2.
I headed first for Haverthwaite where there is an old railway museum and where i knew i could get breakfast. The clag was right down to just above rooftop level, the rain not abating. When i got to the cafe it was packed, it seemed that the bad weather had brought lots of holiday makers indoors. I studied the queue at the cafe and decided that i would give it a miss. I had really convinced myself that a full English Breky would be wonderful and i hadn't had any breakfast at the tent for that reason.
Disappointed i set off up Rusland Pool heading for Rusland itself. The lanes were quiet only the odd car passing. On a fence post stood a large raptor, a Buzzard, amazingly as i passed it within about 10ft away it didn't move, it just looked at me. I stood there looking at it for about 20 seconds, it still didn't move and then i realised it was probably as sodden as i was and it didn't want to fly.
I said to it, "so your as stupid as i am then eh". Turned and carried on squelching up the lane.

By the time Rusland Church came into view the water on the lanes and in the fields was getting quite pronounced and my thoughts turned to wondering if the campsite would be flooded. I kind of prayed that the Church would be open and allow me to get out of the weather for a short while, it was.
Placing my sack down in the porch i instantly created a large puddle and i felt guilty at the mess. Opening the door into the Church, there was a few benches at the back where i could sit down. I was trying my best not to wet anything as i took my waterproofs off, but it proved impossible. The base layer i was wearing made by ODLO proved to be useless as it soaked up water and didn't wick like the bumf said it would, i took it off hoping i didn't get caught by some church lady. Wringing out my top and seeing just how wet it was had me thinking my waterproofs were useless. That was a wrong assumption.

I sat down and raided my lunch bag eating a few energy bars and drinking 1/2 litre of water. I couldn't be bothered brewing up as i would have had to go outside again. Eventually though that's exactly what i had to do.
I found the footpath leading off to Force Mill and paddled my way there. The river was massive and the sound of the Force was tremendous. I stood in awe at the sheer power of the water. I didn't take photo's as the rain was just to hard. At the top of the falls i stopped in the woods and found a bit of shelter, i took 2 photos but my lens was misted over, they don't do the falls justice anyway.

A short time later i was at the campsite Bowkerstead Farm, ringing the bell for attention.
I asked if i could camp and was told that "we only take advance bookings but seeing that it was quiet you can camp". Well thanks a bunch i thought. Thanks a lot.
I was told where to camp and off i went. It was awful. Up in the woodlands there are a number of sad looking glamping pods but the woodland was dank, dark, boggy, mossy, muddy, slippery and generally a place best not frequented by a backpacking tent.
Deciding that no way in the world was i camping here i headed off back down to the house. I asked if i could camp in the field and was told ok. I wondered why i had been sent into that God forsaken hole in the first place if the field was ok to camp in. But what do i know.

The field was fine, not waterlogged and the showers (2) were free and hot and lasted as long as you wanted. So from that perspective i was a happy bunny. Camping was £7.
Around 4.30pm it finely stopped raining and a few specks of blue sky appeared. I rigged up a washing line and tried to dry out my base layers with little success.
Later i headed into the small village and sampled 2 pints at the Eagle Pub. A nice wee place with friendly staff doing well with the food trade and the beer of which four were cask hand pump beers  in good form. Shame i couldn't stay longer but i was knackered and wanted my pit.

I had a reasonable nights sleep until around 6.30 ish when i was startled into eyes wide open mode by an almighty racket. It was two donkeys in the next field braying like it was the end of the world. Well that's put paid to a lie in then. Porridge time and black coffee. It wasn't raining but it had rained quite a bit during the night, i knew this because there were a few large puddles where there were non last night.
I wonder if i can get the tent dry and packed up before the next rain shower i thought. Sponging down the tent and removing about a litre of excess water i managed to pack it seconds before the patter of rain drops hit me. It didn't last long fortunately so i had another coffee before setting off at 8.11am.
Route Day 3.
Through Slatterthwaite i took a left over Sawry Bridge and followed the boggy path through Hall Wood exiting at the Grizedale Visitor centre. It looked abandoned but it was just that i was first there except for a couple of Warden type fellows. I took the opportunity to drop the pack down and wait a while until they opened the cafe, i just fancied that breakfast i missed at Haverthwaite.
Alas, speaking with the Warden the cafe didn't open until around 10 am and it was only 9.10am. So i slung the pack back on and away up Carron Crag i went. I got about 500yds up the track when i realised my hands were empty and i had left my walking poles leaning against a chair.

Sugar or something like that was heard echoing around the woods as i went into panic mode and sped back down to the cafe to retrieve them. Phew they were where i left them.
Half way up Carron Crag again, my ODLO top was again wet through as were my undies. This time i didn't have my waterproofs on, so it proved to me that the top just absorbed sweat rather than expelling it as i thought it should have done and from that sweat my Uniqlo undies were wicking it back.

Its a pretty easy walk up the waymarked paths to the highest point in Grizedale Forest but picking out the right path heading over the top into Coniston proved a little tricky and to be honest i was glad at this point to use the GPS. Forestry paths/roads have a habit of being modified and the route down to Coniston is not way marked. There were quite a few alternative routes i could easily have taken and been wrong.

Once i was satisfied that i was indeed on the right path and started to gain open ground, the views opened up and cheered me up no end. The Old Man, Dow Crag, the Yewdale Fells all covered in a grey white blanket. Then it started to rain again.

Rain continued all the way into Coniston village but it was a nice walk all the same. Passing the Meadowdore Cafe i was pulled in by the aroma of that breakfast. I don't eat eggs but i did on this occasion and it tasted so good along with the bacon, sausage, mushrooms, beans, hash brown, toast etc. It was expensive but i didn't care at this point.

I sat there using the cafe internet but the rain didn't let up, if anything it looked like it was in for the day. I did a quick walk around surveying the tops of the fells and took the decision that it might not be good to camp at The Bell and opted for the easy option, Coniston Hall Campsite. Bad Decision.

Once pitched i had a brew and laid out my sleeping bag, 3 hours later when i awoke to the sound of kids running around my tent and kicking footballs against the wall 10 ft away. I wished i had gone up to the Bell, i knew it was a bad decision.

After the large lunch i had eaten i wasn't particularly hungry, but i had been sent a free sample of Curried Rice and i wanted to try it on this trip. I waited until about 8.oopm and then heated it up.
It was really nice, not what i would call a full backpacking main meal but a good sized lunch and if other bits were added to it, Tuna just as an example, you could easily turn it into a main meal. It took 140ml of water, so that's economical and quick. Takes 6-7 mins to re-hydrate.
For the photo i tipped the packet contents into my dish but just like any other dehydrated food it can be eaten straight from the packet.
Curried Rice, supplied FOC from Mark Trodden at Mountain Trails
I finished my meal off with half a packet of Birds Custard, i just love packet custard.

As darkness came so did the rain. Bed time came at about 9.00pm, and because of the rain the racket from kids and shouting parents dissolved. I don't remember anything until 8.00am when the smell of bacon cooking and dogs barking woke me up. It was still raining.
The ablutions on this Coniston Hall campsite amount to just one block and i think 5 or 6 loo's. With a rough estimate of about 500 people camping today i judged that it would be quicker to pack up and walk to a cafe rather than queue up on the site. And a lot more hygienic too.
 I am a little surprised that they can get away with such a few toilets on a site so large but i guess its down to the local authority. I have it in the back of my mind that its something like 1 loo for men 1 loo for ladies per 25 pitches.

I managed to shake off as much water as possible from the tent and packed up. I headed back to Meadowdore cafe for a Bacon and Sausage on Toast and a mug of black coffee. Asking the young lady for the said meal caused a bit of a flap. Erm, how many bacon do you want and how many sausages do you want, do you want brown or white toast, do you want milk in your black coffee!!!!!!
Just get on with it Love. How Much!!! £8. Phew. I don't know if i should eat it or get it framed.

So i paid a large fee to go to the loo.

It was still raining as i set off past the Sun Inn, that famous pub from the Bluebird days of Speed records. It's a bit of a pull up the hill and you think its never ending. The fells eventually come into view and the rain eases off. I stop and change waterproofs to wind jacket. The Bell is clear but the higher fells are capped in clag.
Through the metal gate at the road end i get onto the open fell. I stop to take some pictures and chat to a lady runner from Cockermouth Mountain club. She's intending on doing the Coniston tops round.
Todays walk for me is an easy one. The Walna Scar track which i have done many many times but i never tire of its scenery. I forgot though just how many good camping spots there are on this fell side. If only i had remembered yesterday.
I took a break at Torver Bridge and was lucky enough to sit in the sun. Great to feel the warmth for a change. The sun stayed with me for a while but the wind had picked up quite a bit. As i reached the watershed the fell runner i had spoken to earlier in the day was running down off Brown Pike. Upon reaching me she stopped and said that she had nearly been blown over and it was treacherous on Dow Crag. She had turned back instead of dropping down to Goats Hause and up onto the Old Man. Wise lady.
I sat down on the Duddon side of the watershed and watched as people were buffeted on the descent from the ridge. The views across to Harter Fell, The Scafells and Green Crags were looking very dark and ominous. It looked as though it would pour down at any minute.
I hurried along to Walna Quarries where i knew of a spot to shelter if it did pour down but as it happened it didn't. I had lunch here which was basically an energy bar and some water. Not very appetising but good enough.

There was a strong smell of smoke in the air which seemed to be emanating from Turner Hall Farm. Then i realized that it was sheep clipping time and farmers now burn the fleeces instead of selling them for next to nothing. We used to help out at clipping time but now Anthony has enough hands to cope.
Coming through the farm yard i spot his new tractor, a Massey Ferguson 5612, its a good loader tractor which is mainly what a hill farmer needs but they are such a price now at around £50k.
I have a quick word with Anthony who's a bit busy and then i head off to the Newfield Inn where my journey ends.

Its been a mainly wet journey, not a great distance overall, not a hard walk by any means but a satisfactory one which i would do again with a few alterations. It could quite easily be done in 3 days.

Here are the photo's i took if the post hasn't bored the life out of you.
CLICK HERE





15 comments:

Gayle said...

Not the best possible weather for a summer backpack! Sounds like you were lucky at Coniston Hall - I've many a time wished for rain just to send noisy neighbours scampering into their tents and to drown out their noise.

AlanR said...

Hi Gayle. Summer eh. It was very humid but hardly summer. I was kind in the blog post about the inhabitants of the lunatic asylum at Coniston.

Sir Hugh said...

Good account. Lot's of familiar ground for me. Didn't know about the café at Haverthwaite - will bear in mind. That stream at Force Mills can be spectacular in wet conditions. I have gone there specially to view it when conditions prevailed.

AlanR said...

Thanks Conrad. I would have liked to investigate and see more of the waterfall at Force Mill because it looked fantastic. So powerful.

Gayle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Al said...

Well Alan,
I enjoyed reading of your travels in the South Lakes. Such a shame about the weather :-(
I should really do a similar backpack myself and see it through different eyes. I am spoilt of course and only post photos when P and I have had good weather generally!!
I know you love the area so I'm sure you'll come back....hopefully in better weather.
PS...High Prices and a general lack of "service" are sadly not uncommon...many folk/services are in danger of killing the proverbial Goose!
Once again thanks for taking the time to post :-)

AlanR said...

Thanks Alistair, We do enjoy south lakes. Sheila's mum used to live in Gosforth and as i mentioned we have lots of friends in the Duddon. However the Outlying areas as covered in this post only came about because of posts like yours. Although the tops are not particularly high the cracking scenery does more to make up for it. (when its not raining)
As for the high prices, i will never call Manchester's CBD again. The Lakes will probably get even more extortionate with the World Heritage Label now pinned on it.

Anonymous said...

Just a point. There is no such thing as Boy Scouts (The media is the worst offender) and they have not been since 1966.They are just Scouts. Also girls are a large part of the movement.I am a Assistant Explorer Scout Leader (14-18 year olds). I enjoy the blog just thought I would comment.

Dawn Linney said...

Wonderful post Alan, well done. Coniston Hall campsite is one I would avoid in future. Using it when I did the Cumbria way was a mistake. It looked fairly empty when I was there and, despite bad memories of my last visit, I booked in. Bad mistake. Just down from where I pitched, a large group of students, very noisy, but packed in soon after nine in the evening. The same could not be said for the screaming banshees at the other end of the site. A large group from a girls school where just running riot.. Using the loos was a nightmare. Overcrowded and mayhem sums it up, plus some very impolite remarks about 'old wrinklies' Will have to arrange another trip to the Duddon valley. By the by, I used the cafe opposite the two outdoor shops in Coniston, good service and not bad prices.

AlanR said...

Anon. All comments welcome. They were Boy Scouts when I was in them and that's really where I was coming from. I take your point though and I will re program the old grey matter. I didn't see any girls at this particular group. Maybe it was just boys.

AlanR said...

Thanks Dawn. You summed it up well. You would be very welcome in the Duddon, it would be good to meet up sometime and do a wee nimble. I will try that cafe next time I am in Coniston and do a comparison.

John J said...

What a fine advert for wild camping! I was on Lleyn last week and walked past plenty of commercial campsites - I was just so pleased that I didn't have to camp on any of them. Apart from one site in Llanystumdwy they all looked awful.

You had a nice trip, shame about the wetness though!

AlanR said...

Hi JJ. Something has changed drastically over the years on campsites. The people and the attitude is different, as well as the huge home from home tents. Even my mates campsite in the Duddon has become a last resort for me.
Still, the walking is good and I will have learned another lesson.

Rich said...

Nice write up Al, and sounds like a good trip despite the weather

AlanR said...

Hi Rich, it could have been a lot better as being wet for 3 days is not an ideal way to see the Lake District. However, no rain equals no lakes so you just have to get the walk timing better.

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