It was billed, by the BBC weather forecast to be a dry day with hardly any wind and clear skies and sunshine by the afternoon. What we got was low cloud, mist, rain, wind that knocks you off your feet and not at all what we were promised.......but did that dampen our day, did it heck, it just made it more of an adventure.
Our 7am arrival meant that we had an early start and it wasnt quite yet fully daylight when we set off up the track, Chris in his new boots and bags packed with every layer imaginable (thankfully!) we were prepared for any eventuality.
Following the old miners track (with only a minor detour) lead us up the mountain side to tackle our first peak of the day. The Old Man of Coniston. Trail magazine describes this mountain as rugged and industry scarred and that indeed was the case as we passed old mining works and reminants of a cabling system that brought quarried goods down the mountain side. There was a cave on the route that looked inviting until I ventured close and saw 2 eyes glowing back out at me from the darkness. I made a quick retreat not knowing if it was a cat, bird or something even more terrifying. I wasnt sticking around to find out......
The sun did try to come out and every few mins or so it would punctuate the sky and throw light on the landscape. Not the piece of landscape we were on, oh no, always somewhere else, to the left, to the right but never on us. An omen of what was to come perhaps? The time upwards passed fairly quickly with brains wracked to remember the name of the man who died on Coniston Water with his boat Bluebird. Yes he was Scottish and we went through several connotations of names including Douglas Adams, Douglas Fairbanks, Colin, Graham, before stumbling on Donald.....so now for the surname......hmmmmm yes that's it. Donald Campbell.......you know when something is on the tip of your tongue and you just cant reach it lol. It did however pass a few moments and gave us a few laughs......Donald Sutherland, hmmmm perhaps not hehe!
The climb upwards is starting to get steeper and although there were no views ahead as the summit was still obscured with cloud the views opening up behind us were spectacular giving a true sense of the height gained and the scarred landscape below. It was about this time that the great Carbonara debate started. So what constitues as the correct way to make a carbonara? Should there be ham/procutto? Should there be mushrooms? Oh noooooo aparently parmesan (not the sick smelling stuff in a bag but the proper stuff), cream and a touch of garlic and egg yokes are all that is required. Once the pasta has boiled and a little bit of the pasta water is retained, ingredients added and voila! The "alleged" best carbonara in the world.......we'll see ;-). A less heated debate was also had regarding chilli, steak and other culinary delights........Chilli made with lamb, interesting and certainly one to test out :)
Finally on the summit and the most surprising difference was we were now fully exposed to the elements. Gloves on, hats on, extra layers on and the wind was buffeting us so hard it took your breath away. It was about this point that hunger was beginning to set in. Even though it was still early the thought of stopping for first lunch was enticing but we'd have to find some shelter as the rain had started by this time and the wind just drove it into us like bullets. Icy wind and hail like rain was not the weather I'd ordered. Camera's packed away it would be a fair bit along the ridge before they were out again.
The next summit was Brim Fell and hardly noticable in the fight against the wind and rain but up and down it we went still looking for some sort of sheltered area for 1st lunch. It was coming at us from the left with gusts strong enough to rock you off your feet. The rain became intermittant and it was on the path over to Swirl How we finally found some rocks that looked like they could provide us with some shelter from the wind. So we settled down, opened rucksacks ready to devour sandwiches and fruit and realised that yes we were sheltered from the wind but here comes the rain again..........anyone for a soggy chicken mayo sandwich???
So off we ventured towards Swirl How with the wind still gusting in from the left. The cloud was moving in and out so we could see our target one minute and then seconds later it was a white out again but we knew we were headed in the right direction (us being expert navigators and all hehe!). Reaching the summit it was like a coach had just pulled in and I felt very at home...How many Scots??? People were milling about in all directions but the small bit of shelter, probably about 2ft wide beside the summit cairn was claimed while we got our bearings and decided whether to venture over to Great Carrs and Grey Friars which were off the main route but still peaks that were right there so it would be rude not to, wouldnt it? 1 woman did approach us at the summit but was met with the response "This is our mountain, you'll have to go find your own" Good job her sense of humour kicked in quite quickly Hehe!
From the summit of Swirl How you could see the wreckage from a Halifax Bomber which crashed here in 1944. Parts of the wreckage still lie at the bottom of the mountain, parts are in the museum in Coniston and parts are here by the memorial for the crew that lost their lives. Interesting but sad.
So onwards to Great Carrs we went. The visibility was getting better at this point and we could clearly see where we were going and the path ahead. The views to the left of us were opening up and the route we'd walked that morning was a wonderful sight showing the tops of Old Man, Brim Fell and over to Swirl How with Dow Crags over at the other end. The wind was still fierce and even trying to have a peek over the edge to get a better view of the Bomber wreckage was a bit dodgy as at any time a gust could have tumbled you over.
After Great Carrs before we headed back up towards Swirl How and since the weather was clearing slightly we decided to wander off in the direction of Grey Friars. It looked quite beautiful waiting there for us as we crossed the ferny plain to reach the start of the climb. A steady climb up a clear path and we were on the top. There were a good few people there already sheltering from the wind, having picnics and enjoying the scenery. From the summit the views to the North provided a beautiful scene of previous walks, Crinkle Crags, Bowfel, Pike o Blisco and Cold Fell, even over to Allen Crags and Glaramara. The cloud was still sitting atop the Scafell range and as I tried to take a picture an old man accused me of being a tourist........how very dare he!! After all the mist, rain and wind it was lovely to finally see what we'd come for even though the wind was still very much with us.
Back over to Swirl How and it was off down the Prison band (with trombone and cymbals in tow!). However before descending we decided to stop for 2nd lunch as there were a lot of people around and we figured we'd let them go on and we'd have the mountain again to ourselves. With horror we watched a group of lads settle down in the rocks in front of us and not only was their chatter disturbing the calm of the lunch stop they decided to strip off and change their clothes whilst I was trying to enjoy my chicken/mayo sandwiches.........how rude hmmm! So onto the Prison Band leaving the Full Monty Crew behind we started downwards. This was an arduous, steep and rocky decent with some tricky scrambly bits due to the wetness and slippiness of the rocks but we took our time and weaved our way down the mountain till we reached the plateau at the bottom before the climb up to Wetherlam and Black Sail. (The trombone and cymbas are now back in the prison cupboard aparently!)
On the path up to Wetherlam we spotted a rainbow over towards the Langdale area and its just a pity that the wind was so strong and my camera skills so weak that I couldnt make more out of this moment. Earlier in the day it had been mentioned that all we were missing was a rainbow and here it was, a beautiful sight.
On the top of Black Sail. Rollin Rollin Rollin....Rawhide :-), Howdy Pardner!
Next stop Wetherlam and by this time the wind is really taking the mickey. Not once today have we been on a route that hasnt been on the direct path of the wind. 20mph the weather forecast said. More like 40 ish in reality. Down off Black Sail and its another climb up to the summit of Wetherlam where we said we'd find a bit of shelter for the highlight of the day. Twirl and Nuts mmmmm yummy :-). Our last picnic stop of the day before the final descent and finally the sun has decided to make an appearance. The sky is turning more blue than grey, we still have the wind but the rain has now gone and everything is just a little bit brighter. One amazing thing we saw, sitting on the top of Wetherlam was layers of clouds all going in different directions. The clouds in front of us were going right to left and the clouds to the left of us were going left to right. Swirling clouds all around, some wispy, some puffier and all on their own path. As we rose from our shelter spot there was a man behind us in what looked like MC Hammer pants. He stood staring for a moment and as we moved away we realised that he was looking for his own shelter spot and when he saw us, was waiting for us to move. Disspointingly we never heard him utter the words "Can't touch this!"
Coming off Wetherlam should have been an easy task but for some reason we were seduced by a blue line on the GPS and ended up on the wrong path. Traversing across the mountain to find the right path was quite a funny moment as it was one of those times when you're "off piste", you have no idea whats in front of you but you know you're safe and not going to die or anything. Where's the path? Ohhh Path, where are you? At every bend or dip we hoped to see it in front of us but nope it wasnt there so we continued round the mountain through grass, bogs, rocks and all terrain until we finally saw a rocky cairn which indicated where the path was. Wetherlam Edge was where we should have been and with a bit of trickery/pokery we were back on the path. A rough scrambly path but a path none the less.
Little did we know then that that wouldnt be our only "off piste" adventure of the day. Down onto the plateau again the gps route said we'd have to take a sharp right to get us down to the path back to the mine area. There was no visible path off to the right so we made our own path. Ahead was the direction we knew we were headed so after a few mins to get some water we started down a steep and rocky part of the mountain that would ultimately take us where we needed to go but was hard on the knees and leg muscles. Concerns now was for the time as according to the map we were still a few miles from the homeward stretch that we'd started out on but we figured that we only had an hr or so of daylight left so once we'd reached the plateau at the bottom of the hillside we kicked it up a notch and tried our best to be as fast as we could. The sun was now out, ok it came out for a second then dipped behind the mountain as it was near the end of the day but we saw it for a moment.
"I wonder what's round that corner"? "I hope its not another 3 miles of nothingness"? Just one of the many funny quips of the day. A day filled with adventure, laughter, hard climbs and descents, sing songs, variable views, dreadful weather but at the end of the day we still had smiles on our faces and a rosy glow knowing that we'd acomplished something good, great even. It was a magificent day and one I wont forget in a a long time.
Again the Lake District never fails to surprise and delight me however I cant finish this blog report without mentioning the beautiful meal we had in The Sun pub at the end of the walk. A belated birthday dinner and we had the most delicious lamb with black pudding and pommes anna (thin potato layers cooked in butter). It was absolutely lipsmackingly great, thank you x