Nothing is as close to magic as nature.
It’s happened again. I’ve found myself in a pub, talked into trying the local liquor, a Lakes vodka. Hit the spot after a long, satisfying day.
The alicoop has been carried to Wasdale, a village not on the official C2C, but full of history with a reputation as the most photographed town in the district. It’s luscious green valley is sectioned into intricate squares and rectangles of sturdy rock enclosures for the local sheep. A sign warns us that every ewe is pregnant, though some must have birthed recently as countless lambs in black and white bounce around, testing out their balance, looking for the good grass outside the fence and mewling non-stop. I know this, because my tent is set up in one of the enclosures reserved for people with tents. It’s likely the most bucolic place I have ever slept.
The very best fell runners come from Wasdale, and right here where I write, Wasdale Head Inn, is the preferred meeting place for climbers headed up Sca Fell, Napes or Pillar, a peak I summited today gazing longingly at the rocky cliffs, their sharply defined crags seemingly pulled straight out of one of Wainwright’s pen and ink drawings.
Why did I come this way? To bag a few peaks and linger longer in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The morning began with heavy winds slapping the alicoop. Breakfast was a challenge as I hunkered behind the rock wall. Though Ms. Wind was in the starring role all night, she finally exited the stage to make room for the midges waiting in the wings. Fortunately, I was packed, so suffered only briefly before leaping the fence and heading up Ennerdale Water.
It’s the Lakes, so it’s rocky and slippy, but soon I arrived in an enchanted forest of oak, gnarled and covered in moss with the smallest leaves I’ve ever seen. The birds kept up a chorus of morning song egging me towards the faint path up the mountain – or hill, as they’re deprecatingly called here. So, by logic, if they’re a hill, then why bother with switchbacks. Just go up, straight up. My pack is still fairly full this early in the hike, so I chuffed up happy to have my poles.
I want to say one thing about my pace. It’s not fast, but it is steady. One guide, long ago, told me to walk ‘under my breath.’ He meant to never get out of breath, even if breathing hard and to stay in that perfect zone that allows you to keep going. I usually pick a spot and simply head for it, one step at a time without taking many breaks. It’s rhythmic, meditative and moves me along at a surprising clip.
That’s not to say that after I’d gotten about 1000 feet above the lake, I happily found a spot to contemplate the beauty, breathe in my solitude and marvel that the wettest place in the UK was bone dry and sunny. I found several special spots all on my own, rising higher and higher towards the ridge, the ridge that would take me towards some of the highest spots in the Lakes. It was made famous by a challenge called the Bob Graham Rounds, a physical endurance test requiring a runner to hit over 40 mountain tops under 24 hours. That’s an elevation gain the size of Everest, in case you were wondering. As I took in the view at the rock cairn atop airy Steeple, a young man in training heaved himself up, touched the same rock pile, and flew back down.
Next was to figure out how to get down to Wasdale to get into position to summit Sca Fell and Mickeldore. I had my heart set on following a series of ridges, but the loss and gain of altitude felt a bit much and I would come out on a road south of town. So instead, I pushed towards Windy Gap, discovering my descent and subsequent ascent likely added up to just about the same in the end.
And there it was, the direct route off the tops of the peaks down to Wasdale. But it was straight down, eroded and with a pack seemed foolhardy. So I did the logical thing. I headed up another mountain top, straight up this time on a steep and eroded, rocky, hand over hand path up Pillar.
And what a spectacular spot! As I looked back at what I’d done, seeing the peaks I had in mind next, the mist came down. Fast and unrelenting. And that meant my trip down was fast and unrelenting. As fast as one can go on rocky trip hazards of ball bearing rocks giving way to one of the miraculous things in the Lakes, the paving stones. Large stones brought to the area by helicopter in big black bags and left to be placed by hand. There was something loving and touching about stepping on these, making the footfall calm and even and safer and taking me to the picture-perfect village and lamb for dinner.