Cumbria Way – afterthoughts

A week after the end of the trip, I can now look at what went well and what didn’t…..

The route

Overall, I did all of the key elements that I had planned except Black Fell and Blencathra & co, both of which were abandoned due to conditions.

Although at the time I wrote that day 9 was worst, day 3 was just as bad – it was wet and miserable, the path seemed to go all over the place and I frightened myself with the descent of Holme Fell. Apart from the last day, day 3 was the only day that it felt like I crawled or limped the last couple of miles to my overnight accommodation. I had absolutely no regrets about ditching a large chunk of my planned route that day. The official route between Coniston and Langdale also meanders a lot as if the path is trying to put off arriving there. This would have driven me nuts if I’d have followed it.  I think this would still have been a bad day even if the weather had been better.

Day 9 was bad purely because of the weather, and but for that could easily have become the best day.  At the time I could have rationalised a decision to chicken out and walk around the base of the fells, but I am glad I did the high level route because it wouldn’t have felt right saying I’d done the Cumbria Way if I hadn’t passed through its highest point (High Pike).

I wrote previously that day 10 was the hardest.  It certainly was the hardest on the feet and I think it was also tough mentally because it was the end.  Lose the last 5 miles though, and the whole day would have been a joy.  Either way the walk would have been incomplete without this last day.

Whilst I did enjoy the lower level days, this was because they offered good contrast with the higher level days – I wouldn’t have enjoyed a predominantly lower level route overall, which would have been more the case if I’d stuck 100% to the official route.

The day I was most worried about, day 6, which involved over a kilometre of ascent with my load at it’s heaviest of the whole trip turned out ok.

My day walk over the High Pike fells was modified on the day to cover the fells I was due to cover on my walk out to Caldbeck. This meant a longer walk on the Sunday, but saved me some distance and climbing on what turned out to be a monumentally crap day when I finally left Skiddaw House..

Accommodation

Overall I think I did ok with the accommodation I chose. I’m glad I ditched the original plan to use the tent and whilst the barns were a good alternative, I think I’d have been better off sticking to youth hostels and B&Bs for the whole trip. I carried an extra 3kg+ which only got used on 3 nights. But if I’d done this, I’d have had to alter the route significantly on days 1 and 2 due to lack of alternatives, and the whole trip would have felt a bit light in terms of hills in that case.  I’m glad I had the experience sleeping in the barns, but don’t know how much I’ll repeat it in the future.  I certainly don’t think I’d want to do them on consecutive nights.

Specific thoughts about each place:

  • Fell End Camping Barn. Very basic with no electricity, showers or hot water. Of the 3 barns I stayed in, this was the most spartan and the one that best met the definition “stone tent”. But at £8.50 it was good value. Also glad to have company on the first night of the walk.
  • YHA Coniston Holly How. Good. I had a room to myself, slept reasonably well and the food was good. Staff were friendly and helpful. Once again proved my rule of thumb that youth hostels are best mid week. Drying room, although it felt impressively warm when I went in, didn’t dry all of my stuff. Cost £16.40 plus £4.95 for breakfast.
  • Millbeck Farm, Great Langdale. After my worst day, this was really welcome and what made this place was the tea and cake in front of the log fire when I arrived. It has 2 doubles and a twin with one shared bathroom and an additional toilet. My room, the twin, looked directly onto Lingmoor Fell. Breakfast was good, again in front of the fire, with all guests around a communal table. Nice touches like hot milk with the coffee. Breakfast took an hour and a half as it was so congenial and the weather outside looked so bad. Cost £30 per person and they didn’t seem too bothered about single occupancy, but that might be because it’s still at the slack end of the season. Would definitely stay again if I need to overnight in Langdale. Situated just behind the New Dungeon Ghyll.
  • Dinah Hoggus Camping Barn. I had this to myself. This one has electricity, hot water and a shower and a single ring electric stove. So on the face of it better value as this was also £8.50. Main plus point though is that there’s a pub nearby, which was welcome even though it wasn’t great.
  • Latrigg House, Keswick. A B&B with two single en suite rooms as well as the usual doubles/twins. My room looked out onto Skiddaw and Latrigg. Bathroom a bit squashed, but that’s not surprising. Breakfast was good and staff friendly. Slept well and good value at £31. This is now my yardstick for B&Bs in Keswick, and will be my default choice in future. The youth hostel didn’t have online bookable availability (meaning it was full or nearly full) and it’s quite an expensive one and I don’t like it so it’s always a B&B in Keswick for me, especially as the price difference can be minimal.
  • YHA Skiddaw House. If you need your modern home comforts you won’t like this one. Situated at 1,550feet it’s the highest youth hostel in England, is 3 miles from the nearest road and has no mains utilities. But in crap weather on the fells it’s a little oasis of warmth and dryness. The common room is heated by a wood burning stove, and it has gas stoves to cook on. This hostel still uses the old-fashioned sheet sleeping bags – presumably to minimise laundry. Personally I loved it, especially the first night when there were two other guests and we, and the wardens, spent the evening yarning in the communal room. The next two nights were a bit lonelier, especially on Monday when I sat out the weather in the hostel by myself. Skiddaw House is handy for walks on Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra and saves a big chunk of ascent. Cost £14 per night and you have to bring and cook your own food.
  • Hudscales Camping Barn. Also £8.50 (although I got given £2 change from my tenner) but you get a whole lot more. Electric lights, kettle, fridge, microwave, hot shower, wood burning stove and it even has a lounge area with pool table and dart board. Despite believing no matresses were supplied, they are, which meant I’ve now lugged a sleep mat I didn’t need for the whole trip. At the foot of High Pike and pub is a 3 mile round trip by road, less if you squelch across the fields.
  • Travelodge Carlisle Central. I actually got one of those fabled £19 rooms, and paid for breakfast on top. But what can I say, it’s a Travelodge. Not an inspiring way to end the trip.  And next time I stay in one, I won’t be having the breakfast.

Eating

I only ate out some nights due to being in the middle of nowhere on several occassions.

  • YHA Coniston Holly How. Spicy tomato and lentil soup (nice), cumberland sausage and mustard mash with yorkshire pudding, cabbage and carrots and gravy (good), followed by raspberry pavlova (ok) all for £12.95. Ate here because too far to the pub, but didn’t regret it.
  • New Dungeon Ghyll. Chilli with half rice/half chips (£9.95) washed down with a pint of Langdale Tup. Had equivalent meal in the ODG a few years ago and the NDG version was superior. But it wasn’t as good as the previous night’s meal at the hostel.
  • Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite. Chicken, Leek and Ham Pie with Chips and Veg washed down by two pints of Cumberland Ale. Ok, but pie dish looked dodgy and beer was nothing special. Meal was £9.99.
  • Royal Bengal, Keswick. One of my usual haunts in Keswick. Chicken Saag and a selection of side dishes washed down with Cobra set me back just over £21. Peshwari naan is recommended.
  • The Old Crown, Hesket Newmarket. Famous as the first co-operatively owned pub. Steak and ale pie at £8.50 was a good size, tasted good, especially with a pint of Blencathra. Recommended.

Kit

Overall, I had too much weight but did get used to the weight of it. If I’d have stuck to one sort of accommodation, I’d have got more bang for my buck out of the kit I did take, as it’s questionable whether my sleeping bag, sleep mat and cooking gear in particular were worth the weight for 3 out of the 10 nights.

The pack weight undoubtedly contributed to my day 1 accident in Ulverston.

In my desire to carefully manage the weight of my load, I spent much of the weekend before departure weighing everything and did a lot of culling. Some culled items I ended up buying anyway. Having said that, the strategy of resupplying in Keswick was a good one.

Some specific kit pluses and minuses:

1. My £2.99 Gelert solid fuel camping stove was brilliant. Much lighter than my Trangia and with skill I could eke the fuel out beyond what was claimed. Blacks also do a Eurohike branded one at £4.99. Even though I only really needed it for 1 night, it was well worth it.

2. The Powertraveller Minigorilla I bought meant I never ran out of power to charge my gadgets, in particular my GPS watch used to record stats and to provide valuable progress info and motivation. A charge only lasts 8-9 hours so I needed this topped up every night. From a full charge of the gorilla, I got 6 device charges out of it (4 for my GPS and 2 for my Blackberry) which was enough to get me to a power point in my Keswick B&B. It’s heavy and clearly a luxury but I felt it earned its weight. The GPS itself is actually useless at telling you where you are as coordinates are in latitude and longitude – that’s because it’s French. But I use it to record distance, ascent and pace and I have to say the altimeter is superb. The watch is also waterproof. It also gives wonderfully generous figures for calories burned, allowing me to over-indulge in the evenings.

3. My new Lowe Alpine Khumbu 65:80 rucksack did the job well and on the 2 days I only needed a daysack, it crushed down sufficiently. But it’s heavy at 2.3kg and I managed to rip a hole in it on a kissing gate on the last day.

4. I took a bag of art materials, which probably only earned it’s weight because of the day I ended up spending inside at Skiddaw House.

5. I wear North Face Apex softshell trousers with no additional waterproofing down below. This meant I got soaked through below the waist frequently. But this dries reasonably quickly and the key is to keep moving. It works for me, as I feel an additional layer of waterproof trousers too restricting.

6. Similarly I wear a pair of, allegedly, waterproof Meindl Respond XCR trail shoes. These got wet and don’t dry that fast. But I can live with wet feet and being light on my feet and able to feel the ground does make me more stable. These work for me, but not everyone would agree with me.

7. A winter baselayer and softshell from Decathlon were cheap, are comfortable and warm enough and I walked in these every day. The softshell is good enough in all but the heaviest rain too. It only cost £60 originally, but is one of my most valued pieces of kit.

8. I took flip flops for the evening. This had the advantage of being light, but I looked a bit odd and it left me with no alternatives if my trail shoes were soaked at the end of the day (e.g. Day 9). They worked a treat on my Eskdale trip last year, but then I never had to go out in the evenings. I got some funny looks this time, especially given the weather. They aren’t recommended for long walks in the dark to pubs through farmyard shit, or limping through the streets of Carlisle after a foot-destroying walk that day.

9. I probably cut my clothing too close to minimum level and ended up buying an additional shirt in Keswick.

10. In desperation, I bought some SealSkinz waterproof socks at twice the price of a decent pair of normal socks. The jury is still out on them. They clearly aren’t totally waterproof, but do hold up longer than normal socks.  Looking at various people’s reviews of them, it does seem to vary a lot depending on your expecatations.  Personally immersing my meet in water or mud up to the ankle means I don’t expect my feet to stay dry irrespective of how “waterproof” my socks are supposed to be.  They did, however, cure a long-standing issue with mismatched foot size in my trail shoes.

11. Baby wipes worked well on evenings there was no shower.

12. A4 sheets of 1:25000 OS maps printed from Anquet and held inside lightweight plastic sleeves (given out by my wife’s orienteering club with each course) were better than a full OS map in terms of weight. I could also fold them easily and put them in my trouser pocket.

13. I brought a 2 man storm shelter instead of a survival bag. I got this as a free gift with a subscription to TGO magazine. It proved fiddly to put up in wind and rain, but am sure it would have done its job well if the rain hadn’t stopped straightaway.

14. I used a variety of Trekmates and Sea to Summit dry bags and was glad I did. They kept everything dry.

15. Camera. I used a Sanyo Xacti HD1010 video camera. This is an odd gun-shaped device but has an 8MP camera as well as full HD video. It produced some wonderful pictures.

Final Thoughts

Although originally conceived as a training trip for a go at the Cambrian Way and a way of mopping up some fells that weren’t efficient to do as standalone trips, it was worthwhile in its own right. I’m glad I devised my own route though, instead of following just the waymarked route. Would I do it again ? Probably not, because the best bits are quite familiar territory to me and I’ll do them again anyway, and the duller bits are only worth doing as part of the challenge of completing the walk. According to the warden at Skiddaw House, a lot of people get as far as Caldbeck, having left the last of the fells, and then get a bus into Carlisle rather than walk the last bit. I can understand that and if I did it again, my route would stop short of Carlisle too. What I will probably do instead is devise my own long distance walks that cross the National Park in various different directions. For instance, Cockermouith to Kendal, or Ravenglass to Penrith.

And the trip was succesful in terms of its use as a preparation trip for the much harder Cambrian Way. I may not be doing that trip this year after all, but I reckon I’ll be able to make a much better job of planning it as a result of this trip.  It looks like the experience will be used instead on the Coast to Coast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s