An adventure in the Northern Lake District

I like to consider myself quite fit. I work out multiple times a week, play roller derby and eat well. I do know that I struggle with hills, though. I can run for miles but give me a little Norfolk hill and I’m huffing and puffing like it’s no one’s business. This is the reason I put off a trip to the Northern Lake District for so long.

At the beginning of this new round of fitness I decided that it would be my goal to climb Scafel Pike. I soon realised that was a big ask so we settled on Skiddaw in the northern fells.

When it came to planning a route and doing research, I began to panic. Those were some big hills. I soon decided that even Skiddaw was a little too far from my comfort zone. We eventually decided on a route and even that changed drastically as we went.

Monday

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On Monday night we checked into the Derwentwater Hotel and reorganised our rucksacks for two nights of camping. We thought staying in a nice hotel would be a good way to ease me into all this.

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After an okay dinner in Keswick, I was ready for an early night. The nerves were getting the better of me. Hill walking, mountains and wild camping.

Tuesday

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In the morning we set out for the foot of Catbells. As soon as I loomed into view, I knew I’d bitten of more than I could chew and this was the fell that Wainwright said was suitable for ‘grandmothers and infants’.

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It was a steady, tiring, lung-hurting climb to the first false peak. I thought I was going to die, I was sweating, out of breath and very red-faced. It was all okay, though, because the views were absolutely amazing.

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Another false peak later and I was feeling a bit better. It was then we realised we’d have to do a bit of a rock scramble to get to the summit. This really did make all the climb worth it. Even with our heavy rucksacks on this was so much fun.

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To be honest, I was just relieved to reach the summit. There wasn’t the sense of triumph I’d expected.

As far as we could tell when planning our route, that was the only real climb of that day. The rest of the day would be spent ridge walking. How wrong we were.

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After descending a little bit, we then had to climb up to Bull Crag. This was another 200 metre climb, which might not sound like much but it is.

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This was a nice steady climb with a little bit of a scramble at the top. Again, super enjoyable.

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Then we descended the other side. Next was High Spy, which as a great climb with a couple of plateaus. It got really rocky at the top but we were rewarded with a huge, impressive cairn. Now I was feeling that sense of achievement so many people had told me about.

Considering I thought we were only climbing one mountain, there was pretty good going. Of course, that wasn’t the end.

Descending High Spy was really difficult. It was very rocky and quite steep in places. We knew that we had to go down this side of the mountain, around a tarn and then up Dale Head.

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Here we lost the path and ended up in some really marshy ground. We eventually got to the bottom of Dale Head but there was still no path. In an effort to get to where we needed to be, we decided to start climbing. It was so hard and neither of us were enjoying it by then. Slogging through long grass and moss whole avoiding rocks on a steep incline was not fun.

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This seemed to go on for hours. Although I think we only about 40 minutes that we were climbing (with many, many stops) for.

Eventually we found the path and it was glorious. We got to the top, celebrated with fake smile photos then moved on. We still had one more mountain to climb before we could even think about camping.

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The descent was lovely. Not too steep and the were gorgeous views over Buttermere. The only thing that made it a little scary was Robinson looming ahead of us. We’d have to climb that and the further down we went, the more hill we’d have to tackle.

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As it turned out, Robinson was a great hill to climb. The sun was shining, there were some great views and we even came across two other walkers who we stopped to chat with. (They told us about a bothy just off Haystacks, where we could camp in Wednesday night if the weather turned).

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The descent from Robinson was tough but we could see our future campsite. We went down the very steep, rocky and sheep-filled path. We descended about 400(ish) metres and were completely done by then.

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We set our bags down and trundled over the moss to a stream where we filled our water bottles with clear, tasty water.

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Once camp was set up we treated ourselves to some freeze dried food. I had carbonara. We then looked at the map to plot an alternative route for the next day. Neither of us were going to be able to handle the route we planned.

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Then the temperature dropped and our dreams of sitting and watching the sunset were soon ruined as we had to zip ourselves up in the tent. Cue the worst nights sleep I’ve (never) ever had.

Although it didn’t look like a hill when we set up camp, we managed to set up camp on a hill… I had on two pairs of trousers, three tops and a waterproof jacket and I was still cold (we camped too high up, evidently). Not to mention the fact that I kept sliding down in my sleeping bag towards the front of the tent.

Wednesday

I had a few micro sleeps but it did eventually get to morning. That’s when I realised why camping in the wild was so awesome. We packed up our stuff and continued our walk. It was great and almost made up for the awful night’s sleep (almost).

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We made our way up and over High Snockrigg then all the way down the other side into the valley. This was a really difficult descent. Again, very rocky and very, very steep. We were heading for the town of Buttermere at the bottom and we had every intention to get a cup of tea and some food at whatever cafe we could find there.

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We could see it below us but it always seemed to be far away. When we got there, though, everything seemed worthwhile. We sat outside a little cafe with plenty of birdsĀ and dogs as company.

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I had a glorious cup of tea bad a huge BLT sandwich. I felt nicely refuelled and was ready for the next challenge. Then it started to rain.

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We donned our waterproofs and started off around Buttermere lake. Despite the drizzle, it was an amazing walk. The scenery was gorgeous and there was even a little cave to walk through. Once we were all the way along the north side of the lake, we knew another climb lay ahead of us.

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At first we began with walking a little way around Fleetwith Pike before starting the very rocky climb. We could see where we needed to go up and around the edge but after that we had no idea how much higher we needed to go or what the terrain looked like.

It was fantastic, such a fun climb despite the weather. We walked up into a cloud and got damper and damper with every step.

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We rounded the corner on a ridge and were faced with a structure peeking out of the mist. It was eerie and so different to any other scenery we’d seen. It turned out to be the bothy we’d been told about. We had a poke around before continuing on our way.

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We ended up at the top of Honnister Slate Mine. We walked down the road to the cafe and considered getting a bus back to our hotel as we were too wet and cold to camp. Eventually, we decided it would all be more or less on that flat and that we could handle the walk back. We spent the last of our money on tea and crisps.

While we drank our tea we heard some people mention they’d walked from Keswick. As it turned out, it was about 10 miles away. That was a long walk considering how tired we already were. But we had no choice!

We started walking and were about 50 metres from the cafe when a walker, who was coming in the other direction approached us and asked if we were okay and if we needed a lift anywhere.

We jumped at the chance (as it turned out, he was also from Norfolk) and we were back at our hotel within the hour. It was a surreal feeling to be sitting in the bar sipping on a pint of ale when we still should’ve been walking back from the mine. I am eternally grateful to that man.

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That evening we were craving carbs so headed to LB’s Pizzeria in Kewsick for an amazing meal.

Thursday

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Today was a rest day and we spent the morning shopping in Keswick. We visited Love The Lakes, a beautiful shop selling local jams, relishes etc. as well as alcohol, gifts and decorative items. It was very difficult to restrain myself. We came away with toffee vodka, piri piri mustard and some gifts for friends.

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We then took Lady Punto and went for a drive. We decided to tackle Honnister Pass, it was great fun. There were some steep inclines but beautiful views, windy roads and lots of low cloud.

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From there, we visited the Bowder Stone, a huge rock that’s balanced on its edge.

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We popped back to the hotel to grab some supplies before going to Honnister Slate Mine for our tour. When we booked we asked for the mine tour. We weren’t given the option so went on the one we were given. It wasn’t very good. We only got to visit two rooms (do caves have rooms?) in the Kimberley Mine. A little bit of research later and we realised that the tour of the actual Honnister mine seemed much more exciting. We left very disappointed.

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The cheer ourselves up, we headed to Castlerigg Stone Circle, which was about as exciting as a stone circle could be.

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That evening we went back into Keswick for a meal at Merienda. My god, it was gorgeous. One of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Expect a full review soon.

Friday

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The following day we were trying to work out whether to climb Skiddaw, climb Catbells again or just go for a walk. We decided on a 12 mile walk around Derwent Water. The weather had completely changed and it was bright sunshine, perfect for a walk.

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We stopped off in Grange at the south of the lake and had tea, scones and ice cream. This is definitely more my style when it comes to hiking.

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The scenery was beautiful, ever changing and we felt good. We got to Lodore Falls and decided to go and have a look. The falls were nice but we spied the steep stony path next to it and couldn’t resist. We climbed, scrambled over damp rocks to get closer to the water. We slipped, climbed then decided to descend.

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From there we popped into a pub and refuelled once again.

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The last hour and a half of walking was tough. Both myself and Ben were limping with knee problems. Perhaps climbing the waterfall wasn’t such a good idea!

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We didn’t have the energy to walk to Keswick that evening so we chose to go to The Chalet in Portinscale for dinner, what a great choice that was! The food was delcious and the wine amazing, it was the perfect way to wrap up our trip.

All in all, I love the Lake District, I love hiking and I can’t wait to climb more mountains. If you want to see more photos, you can find all of them over on Flickr.

Author: Jess

Writer, traveller, Norfolk gal.

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