Borrowdale to Grisedale Tarn (15 miles / 43.1 miles)
The last time I stayed in a dorm room was in France on a University field trip around 20 years ago and, to be honest, I don’t think I have been missing out. Now, even in a tent, distant snoring will wake me occasionally throughout the night, so imagine how disturbed I was by the sounds of sleep apnoea playing out in the bunk below. At least five times in the night I heard the same cycle of ever louder snoring preceding a choking and gagging stage and concluding in a cacophony of coughing and spluttering to finally clear the airwaves.
Choking man got up and left the room at around 6:30am and half an hour later I had given trying to get any more sleep so turned my attention to my morning ritual of laying out my kit in readiness for the careful and methodical process of backpack stuffing. Quite why, in light of me sleeping in a bed for the night, things like my tent, sleeping bag and Jetboil had been unpacked, I’ll never know.
One last vital task to complete before setting off: tackling the porridge and full English chaser in the canteen with my new friends from the night before. Yorkshire Chris seemed quite concerned that my pack weighed as much as it did, but when I saw the size of his knife, I surmised he probably spends his time out in the wilderness living off small animals so didn’t have to bother with the inconvenience of transporting supplies from one stop to the next.
So he to Keswick and me to Grasmere: we said our goodbyes with him telling me to look after myself and not to take any risks. Definitely good advice and seemingly not too difficult to comply with on what, on paper at least, was a relatively easy nine mile walk to my destination. Unfortunately, as I was to discover, the paper was wrong on so many counts. Firstly, my overnight stay was a mile and a half back from the start of the official stage, but it was still only a ten and a half mile trip.
The walk out of Borrowdale started relatively easily tracking Stonethwaite Beck, unfortunately however the path then started to follow Greenup Gill and, just as the school lessons on water cycles showed, rivers start up high, and this walk turned out to be physical geography in action. Up and up I went, overtaking walkers here, there and everywhere completely forgetting my new ‘I am in no hurry’ and ‘stop every three miles’ rules until I stumbled across a small collection of drumlins and a rock upon which I could admire the view and refuel. And stare up to Lining Crag, my next obstacle, seemingly only accessible through an ephemeral waterfall. More scrambling just for a good view!
Let’s get to the secondly on the ‘paper was wrong on so many counts’ roll call: I added at least a mile due to getting lost and going the wrong way. My navigation of choice was Henry Stedman’s Coast to Coast guide book which has excellent small scale maps with unrivalled instructions. However, on Greenup Edge, shortly after scaling the heights of Lining Crag, the instructions became as vague as the path through the bogs I was encountering. I was trying to hunt for two fence posts (of which there were loads) and two cairns (of which there was a distinct lack). When some other Coast to Coasters turned up we managed to find the correct landmarks and I was back on my way again until erroneously I went north east down the valley and then over corrected to go off to the south. This time an east to west Coast to Coaster (happier than those I encountered on Day One) pointed out where I was on my 1:40,000 map and showed me where I needed to go by the power of pointing. He also suggested other routes I could go by.
All very well, but this wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t storing my compass in my bag which was a right pain in the backside to have to get out each time I wanted to use it. My compass has a lanyard on it. At that point, I put my compass around my neck. In addition to all this navigation equipment, I also had a GPS with integral 1:50,000 maps which unfortunately stopped working the day before.
Back on track I could now follow the stream of walkers heading to Easedale before making the decision to either go down the valley and take it easy or go high over Helm Crag. It seemed a shame to go to all the effort of the earlier climb and not fully get the experience of the views afforded by a ridge walk. It was slightly further up hill; there was scrambling; the footpaths were alarming close to the edge of vertical drops at more points than I would care to remember and the path down was steep and treacherous at the end too. But these were minor negatives compared to the peace up on the ridge, the endless views over to Easedale Tarn, Grasmere and Windermere and seeing a Typhoon jet doing its exercises below me.
So back slightly closer to sea level, I needed to find somewhere to stay. I knew some of the people I met at Borrowdale YHA would be staying at Thorney How Hostel, but, despite some encouraging signs stating that beds were available, the place was locked up and, when ringing the number provided a very rude man informed me there was nothing available. Grasmere YHA was full for both beds and camping too, so there was nothing left but to wild camp three miles further on at Grisedale Tarn. This is the thirdly part of the ‘paper was wrong on so many counts’.
So, I stocked up with ration packs at Cotswolds Outdoors in Grasmere, bought lunch at the local Co-op and, using a pair of scissors, tended brutally to a massive blister on my toe in front of some horrified school children before making the final push up past the Great Tongue and in to the little depression that housed Grisedale Tarn. I was exhausted and slightly dehydrated despite filling up my water bottle at every beck and stream I came across. The reward though, apart from a free night’s accommodation, was a deserted, peaceful lake. Well, it was deserted until, half way through pitching the tent when a group of seven or eight teenage girls turned up on a DofE expedition also with the intention to camp the night. Simon, their leader, came to apologise for leaving me with his noisiest group and check I wasn’t an axe murderer. We chatted for a while about walking, camping and Jetboils until he was satisfied I wasn’t carrying any weapons and then left
So all in all, nine miles became 15 and by 9pm, I was asleep.