I’m continuing a series on the Coast to Coast walk that my father and I did, with one of his friends, Ernie and two other friends who drove us. This is part three. Here is part one and here is part two
Patterdale to Kirby Stephen
The next day, out of Patterdale was, I think, the best of the lot. Perhaps it was that we had been inspired by the glories of Helvellyn and the excitement of Striding Edge. Most likely it was because, after three full days of walking the clinker in our legs was settling and we were into our stride. Oh the cliches; oh the puns. At least it wasn’t Oh the legs.
This was the first night that I remember us staying with other walkers all, exclusively, doing the Coast to Coast. And the snobbery. There were the Under-our-own-steamers who looked down on the rest of us, much like those who do all their own DIY or knit their own personalities do. There were the We’re-doing-it-in-sections-when-the-time-allowers who emitted a sort of righteous smugness born of having such busy lives. Like people who tell you they fall just into the next tax bracket or buy Albanians toilets because they can. And the Ones who were Doing-it-East-To-westers who loved to tell you it was into the prevailing wind and so required 31.74% more energy that those of us who were going west to east and who at some point on the walk would certainly self-beatify and possibly immolate with the heat of their own fabulousness.
And then there were we three who were like those who always manage to be the ones, on a picnic, who sit on a dog turd. We had, whisper it in case the style police hear you, ‘help’. Our packs were being ferried. We were just ‘walking’. We had an out if something went wrong. We clearly spent our days stealing from blind beggars and selling other people’s children for egregious medical experimentation.
Quite honestly, after three days of toil we didn’t really give a fuck and having bought the rest of the hostel a pint, neither did they. So much for principles.
Perhaps I should digress here, and briefly reference beer. I’m teetotal and have been since 1989. This walk therefore fell into the sober years. The same could not be said of the senior faculty. However all of us were from the Deep South and for those of you who are not familiar with the socio-cultural antipathy between those of the North (self proclaimed as hardy, worthy, honourable and straight talking) and we Southern Few (reckoned by those true bloods of these Shires as lily-livered, effete, slipper-wearing, duplicitous quislings) you might not realise that one of the many areas of contention lay in what comprised the ‘right’ way to serve beer. ‘Beer’ in this context meaning ale.
The honest toiling northerner takes his pint in a glass sleeve with a good head on it, sufficient to cover his manly tache in a creamy froth; meanwhile the sneaky snarky softy from the South receives his pint in a fancydan handled mug with pretty little windows and with little or no head thus rendering his facile excuse for a top lip merely moist.
To this point, my comrades had been polite but rather less than impressed with the beer on offer as we strode west. However in the pub in Patterdale they discovered Jennings Brewery and to say there was a degree of illicit enjoyment would underplay the way they took to their drinks. From then on, until we crossed the Penines and left Jennings behind they were happy Brothers in arms.
The climb, that morning was pretty tough, though the weather was sublime. Cool, a few fluffy clouds, the hint of maybe a shower later. But what made it special was that the light enhanced the views. We could see for miles.
We passed Angletarn and headed for High Street (over 2700 feet) and the long straight Roman Road the followed the ridge line. We could look back at St Sunday Crags and Helvellyn and think ‘been there, done that’. And ahead we had Kidsty Pike, a snatch below High Street But oh what a view.
And as we sat and they had coffee and I swore at my crap flask that had leaked again albeit into a polythene bag, blow me if a Golden Eagle didn’t rise past us on the thermals, one beady eye seemingly watching us for any sign of distress. The unblinking raptor is both terrifying and beautiful.
Things could only go downhill from here, literally and metaphorically and, if the up had been glorious and soul fulfilling the down was utter shite. We could see our destination, the reservoir of Hawswater but the path just drops. For knees more used to desks and barstools, this was a cruel way to discover how genetically unsound were our cartilages. Dad coined the expression ‘a knee-popper’ for such a slope and it has stuck in my family. It perfectly describes that appalling sensation that accompanies such a descent, the certainty you have that at any moment the patella will break free of its sinuous morings and burst out of your knees like a small round alien exploding from John Hurt’s gut.
But this was a good day. Once we were down the going was delightfully flat and often wooded. We didn’t see much woodland again until near the end. We followed Haweswater to the dam and then the Beck. The day became hot – Ernie, our third man coined the expression Hitler Weather which neither Dad nor I had heard used before. It seemed at odds with the day and rather gratuitous but it turned out to, indeed, be a thing.
Our end was now in prospect. We had time for a quick nosey around Shap Abbey – a ruin – before we crossed the main road the A6 and the railway south before we reached our youth hostel for the night. Of those who left Patterdale that morning we were the first to reach Shap and thus had the choice of rooms, the hottest showers. We also possessed a minibus and thus could ferry our tired fellow travellers to the pub. It’s funny how that, more than anything, can break down prejudice. Hey ho.
Patterdale to Shap had been 16 miles and a fair bit of up and down. The next day, to Kirby Stephen was 22 miles but with few climbs. The Lake District was behind us – early on we crossed the M6, a horrifyingly noisy invader of so much beauty. It is perhaps only from a bridge above a motorway that you really appreciate how crap so much long distance driving is. Why do drivers insist on being so close to the vehicle in front? I can see us now, staring down in rapt disbelief at the many articulated lorries looming like metal dragons over some scurrying family salon, as if it was just so much prey. If the Eagle was nature’s raptor then, to us, Tesco’s ten wheeler was man’s equivalent.
The day passed somewhat introspectively. We felt we had been spoilt, like being offered the petit fours and dessert before the starter. By going straight into the Lakes and crossing some of the stunning northern peaks we had enjoyed both the grandest of England’s outdoors and some perfect weather. Crossing the M6 therefore felt like a watershed and not in a good way. The countryside was nice. Oddendale and Smardale would, in the normal course, be delightful but as a counterpoint. Meah, not so much. There was a lot to see: Robin Hood’s grave (it’s not, it’s just called that) and a monument to Black Dub (seemingly in the middle of nowhere there’s this large monument to a time when King Charles II stopped for a drink on his way to fight the Scots, as you do). But these were small fayre, after the feast.
It was a longish old day and we were grateful to be staying in a B&B in Kirby Stephen with a sweet family who cooked us a dinner as well as the most humungeous breakfast. It was very welcome, because the weather had changed and suddenly it was, in the dialect of the locals, reet parky. Still ahead we had the Pennines to cross and the Dales to reach. Onwards, Oh Hand Picked Elite…