Monday, 4 April 2011

Hopes may rise on the Grasmere......

The stresses and strains of the last six months have really begun to bite for both Mel and I recently. With my work activity and Mel's masters degree dissertation and no holiday since October, we are both weary and more than a little frazzled. With no prospect of a visit to our place in the Limousin until June we decided last week that a weekend break was in fact fast becoming a household emergency.

The early spring sunshine and unseasonally warm weather of late meant a trip to the lakes was a feasible prospect. Both Mel and I spent so much time in the lake district as kids (not together, that would just be weird) that it almost feels like home from home. It is just an hour and a half drive away from our home in Manchester and after booking a hotel on-line we set off late on Friday afternoon for a weekend of fresh air, fine food and relaxation. 

The Oakbank hotel in Grasmere was lovely, the food even better than the reviews on trip advisor had reported and after a bottle of wine and dinner we were both asleep by 9.00pm which whilst not very rock n roll is an accurate portrayal of our general sense of fatigue. 

At about 3am I was awoken by the rumble of thunder and lay awake for an hour or so, willing the rainstorm to pass. The rain spattered rhythmically against the glass of our balcony door, eventually sending me back into a deep sleep. Alas, we woke at 7am to torrential rain and blustery winds which threatened to spoil our plans for a day of walking. 

A simply astounding breakfast lifted the spirits and we ventured into Grasmere village to kit me out in appropriate walking gear to replace the makeshift attire which was never going to survive the conditions. I had to work really hard to avoid the identikit look of the lakeland walker but eventually found an outfit that implies I like to spend time outdoors but without suggesting that I have a secret hankering to look like a geography teacher. 

We returned to the hotel to change, review the map and survey the planned route which Mel had chosen on the basis it was a 'moderately difficult' 7 mile walk. I was slightly concerned as whilst I have been living a very healthy lifestyle for the last 3 months, I still haven't started the fitness regime I keep promising myself. Things really began to look up though as the moment we left the hotel the sun came out, the wind dropped and the sky began to clear. By the time we left the main road and headed up the first path, we were bathed in sunshine and steam rose from the grass to signal the change in conditions. I'm not in the slightest bit religous but there was something celestial in the air. I could feel stress seeping out of me. 

I reviewed the directions for our walk, which Mel had helpfully hung around my neck in a waterproof cover so as to ensure that everyone was fully aware I was a complete dick who was new to this walking lark. The author of the directions was somewhat scant in his/her descriptions of the route, the first instruction being 'proceed up the path, you will soon arrive at Alcock Tarn'. Sounded simple enough and off we went at a pace which was almost a gentle jog. What the directions failed to point out was that the path became steeper and steeper until eventually it felt more like an assault on the north face of the Eiger. My calf muscles were screaming at me and my breakfast threatened a re-appearance but after a 45 minute ascent we eventually arrived at the summit and what a view.

Once I had caught my breath and taken in the dramatic vista, I began to feel quite pleased with myself on my achievement of reaching the top. Perhaps I wasn't so unfit after all. Maybe I was cut out for this hill walking lark. Perhaps there is an Olympic hill walking event I could enter in 2012. Typically it was Mel that brought me down to earth by pointing out this little fellow. 

It is of course a slug and it was sitting proudly atop the summit. Even worse, I had a strong suspicion I set off before it did. Still, we both got there in the end. 

We continued on from the summit and a couple of minutes later reached the first destination mentioned in the guide. Alcock Tarn was originally called Butter Crags Tarn and is a naturally occurring mountain pond that was made bigger and stocked with Trout by a farmer named Mr Alcock (hence the name) about 130 years ago.

After I'd fascinated my wife with a few of the many thousands of facts that reside in my encyclopaedic brain, we set off for the rest of the walk with the sound of Mel muttering her gratitude in my ear. I couldn't quite hear her exact words, they seemed to make no sense, at one point I thought I heard her say 'clucking boring bar steward'. What could that mean? I must ask her.

We descended down a steep gravelly path which was significantly more dangerous than the ascent. After all whoever heard of someone hurting themselves by falling up a hill? After a couple more miles we happened across the Badger Bar in the Glen Rothay Hotel who helpfully provided some emergency rations of pints of Cider and beef and horseradish sandwiches and not a moment too soon. It had been almost five hours since I had consumed my thousand calorie breakfast and I was in danger of wasting away to literally nothing. 

By this point (about the 5 mile mark) I'd started to seize up and we had to promptly pay the bill and set off again just to establish some momentum in my limbs before they went on strike and ground to a complete halt. I had a quick look around the foyer of the hotel for taxi numbers but a glare from Mel told me that we would be walking back to Grasmere.

The remaining section of the walk took us round Rydal Water in brilliant sunshine and was an absolute joy, with beautiful nature at every turn. We passed a swan trying to drown itself and a sheep that appeared to have collapsed under the weight of its own wool.

We arrived back at the hotel just in time for a strategic snooze before repeating our gourmet experience of the Friday night. We excelled ourselves by staying up until 10pm before hitting the hay once more.

Sunday was an early start, another olympic breakfast and a treacherous journey across the single tracked and  appropriately named 'Hardknott pass' which is probably the most amazing and simultaneously dangerous road in the UK. There were points where you travel perilously close to the edge of a ridge and meeting a car coming in the opposite direction caused me to grip the steering wheel so tightly I thought my hands might fall off. 

We descended down past Wastwater which was recently voted 'Britain's favourite view'. I have however replaced my photo with one from a BBC website as our luck with the weather had finally ran out. 

Britains favourite view had become Britains foggiest view and we wisely stayed for just a few minutes before heading home via Whitehaven (yes, that Whitehaven). 

The whole weekend was like a tonic for the soul. A perfect antidote to the stress and nonsense that has pervaded our lives recently and for me a kick start for my fitness campaign. Today, two days later I'm still walking like John Wayne with haemorrhoids but I'm determined that in future I will walk much further and for longer without discomfort and by this time next year I'm hoping I'll be able to beat that slug to the top. 


  1. Love the photos! And we always stay in Grasmere when we are in the Lakes. You should try Easedale Tarn and Codale tarn, equally great views and The Easedale Valley is surely one of the most beautiful valleys.The walk up to Helm Crag, and along the ridge then back along the valley floor makes you feel as if you are in another more peaceful world!

  2. We're going back for a long weekend in July Viv . We are planning on doing the Easdale tarn walk.It's my favourite part of the world.