I’m well over halfway through my career break, and I’d originally planned to be doing the second half of the Cambrian Way at the start of July, having done the first half in early May. That plan changed when I realised that I didn’t want to do it in two parts, which my Cumbria Way trip helped clarify as I liked the fact that it was a journey between defined start and end points, rather than between some arbitrary and flexible points I’d chosen for scheduling convenience. At the time I also realised that it was the Snowdonia bit that I was most interested in, so in the end opted to just go to Snowdonia for a week and do day walks there. Coccyx injury aside, it turned out to be a successful trip.
When I sketched out the walking I hoped to do during my sabbatical, I’d always expected it would involve more than one Lake District trip, just as my break in 2007 did. So with an empty slot to fill in July, and a realisation that in every one of the last 5 years I’ve been to the lake District at the end of June or start of July, it seemed clear what I need to do.
But I’m faced with a bit of a planning challenge:
- I’ve done almost all of the fells that are in convenient places (i.e. near towns or on bus routes).
- Two big clumps of fells remain – the western fells encircling Ennerdale and the far eastern fells – and they are the least well served by public transport.
- I’ve managed to leave a number of odd man out fells in my previous walks, which individually don’t seem worth a whole day of precious holiday to knock off. Examples being Black Fell, Lingmoor Fell, Carrock Fell, Dodd, Rannerdale Knotts, Arnison Crag.
- With the time available to do the trip justice, obviously I want to bag a big number of fells.
- From previous experience I don’t want to take camping gear unless I’m going to use it for the majority of my accommodation.
I sat down in front of my chart and the answer was something I’d already known for a long time – realistically I could only completely cover one of the big groups (western or far eastern) in a trip. I could spend a couple of days trekking between them, but this would involve no new fells. Or I could do one, then take a bus to the other, and do two mini-trips in effect. But I knew that if I did this last idea, it would be too long a trip and all I would be left with afterwards is the odds and sods. Fundamentally the choice came down in the end to a trek through mainly the western fells, moving east to mop up a few odds and ends, or a focussed camping based trip in the eastern and far eastern fells.
Eventually, it was the dual desire to (1) not create even more odd man out fells and (2) not wildcamp for multiple nights having never actually done it before, that swayed my planning, and I worked on the premise of a roughly circular trek built around the odd man out fells. This would start from somewhere convenient to either Penrith or Windermere, being the two main rail stations (I rejected use of the coastal line quite early on due to the journey time and the fact that a start in Wasdale, for instance, didn’t work for my accommodation availability – but more on that later…). I worked out that in theory I could do this round either clockwise or anti-clockwise.
The next thing to do was look at accommodation. In summer for single night stays for one person, B&Bs are both expensive and scarce, requiring 2 or 3 night stays minimum or hefty single supplements. And there aren’t a multitude of B&Bs in the places I need to go anyway. So accommodation needed to be primarily based on hostels and/or bunkhouses/camping barns. And this is where the planning became more complicated. Having looked at availability for all of the YHA hostels, stringing them together with the walks was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, especially as I could be a bit flexible about start and end date for the trip.
Ideally, my round would have started in Windermere; walked into Langdale via Black Fell and Lingmoor; over the Crinkles to Eskdale; over Whin Rigg and Illgill Head to Wasdale; via Lingmell into Borrowdale; knocking off remnants on the Rosthwaite-Glaramara ridge; travelling to Buttermere and spending a day doing something there; then via Rannerdale Knotts, Outerside and Barrow to Keswick; over Hart Side and Sheffield Pike to Glenridding; mop up some odds and ends around Patterdale; then finish with a walk to Windermere via Caudale Moor and Froswick, Ill Bell and Yoke. This would have got me somewhere in the region of 25-30 Wainwrights.
But after several attempts, there was no way that I could string this together accommodation-wise. And with so many variables to play with I went around in circles for a couple of days. I needed to prioritise and also to create something fixed I could build the trip around. I started with the start date – 4 July.
And then I looked at all of the odd man out fells I was targetting and worked out which would be hardest to do if I didn’t do it on this trip – this turned out to be Lingmell because it only really works from Wasdale (or via a walk into Wasdale from Borrowdale or, at a push, Langdale). Availability at YHA Wastwater made things easier – 9 or 10 July. So I sat down to put together a trip starting on 4 July and getting me into Wasdale for 9 or 10 July. I had the luxury of using Buttermere, Ennerdale, Ambleside, Windermere and Keswick (or good chance of B&B options for the latter 3) for any dates I chose. My preferred options to walk into Wasdale from Eskdale or Borrowdale didn’t work with these dates, leaving me with an Ennerdale-Wasdale walk, and a Wasdale-Borrowdale walk the following day.
So now I planned a walk that got me to Wasdale via Buttermere and Ennerdale for the 9 or 10 July, and I ended up with:
- 4 July – arrive, do a quick warm up walk, stay in Keswick.
- 5 July – Barf and Whinlatter group, staying in Keswick.
- 6 July – walk Keswick to Buttermere via Barrow, Outerside and Rannerdale Knotts.
- 7 July – circular walk of High Stile ridge or Blake Fell group from Buttermere.
- 8 July – walk Buttermere to Ennerdale via whichever one I didn’t do the previous day.
- 9 July – circular walk of fells on the south of Ennerdale, focussed on Grike end.
- 10 July – walk Ennerdale to Wasdale via Haycock etc.
- 11 July – walk over Lingmell to Borrowdale, with options to extend the walk. Stay in Borrowdale or Keswick.
- 12 July – walk over Sticks Pass, Hart, Sheffield Pike etc. Or better still get the bus to Glenridding and do a whole horseshoe of these plus the various Birketts on Watermillock Common.
- 13 July – either Striding / Swirral Edges, Deepdale Horseshoe or Place Fell.
- 14 July – walk out towards Penrith via Gowbarrow Fell, Little and Great Mell Fells.
- 15 July – home
Subject to the weather playing ball, and my fitness holding up. If I manage it all, then I’ll have…
- Done another 38 Wainwrights, including completing the North Western Fells, and all but a few of the Western Fells except a few easily bagable from the Buttermere side – including Haystacks which is being specially saved to be my last Wainwright,
- Done 1 Trail 100 (High Stile), leaving me with just 4 to do in the Lakes (Place Fell, High Street, Blencathra and Haystacks).
- Done 20 Nuttalls, of which 12 are also Hewitts. This total could go higher if I take up any of my walk extension options.
- Done 7 Marilyns.
- Done an amazing 72 Birketts. The reason many of my days are so long is that I have tweaked routes to take in all Birketts that lie conveniently close to the routes.
- walked in the region of 130 miles.
- climbed in the region of 11,000m.
Now I don’t for one minute expect I’ll actually achieve all of this, but I’ll make some judgements along the way and if I need to shorten any days then it will be Birketts that get thrown overboard.
With me still needing to recover the cost of my YHA membership, and the need to keep costs down as far as possible, plus the fact that I’m going to remoter areas and it is peak season, I’m going to be staying in hostels for 8 of the 11 nights, 1 of which is at an independent hostel:
- Buttermere – stayed here before in 2008, and it was fine apart from the big school group there at the same time. Still a risk at this time of year, but there are few options in Buttermere. I remember the food being decent though, and even if it isn’t there’s 2 pubs.
- Ennerdale – never stayed here, although I have stayed at Black Sail up the valley. No trouble booking here (could have had almost any night I wanted), so hoping it will be quiet.
- Wastwater – stayed here on that same trip in 2008, and it was ok. Planning this whole trip hinged on the bed availability here, although that shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a sign of how great the hostel is!
- Helvellyn – earmarked for closure at the end of this season, so better stay there quick. Actually, Patterdale would have been my choice for convenience but wasn’t available. Thought I’d give it a try. As it’s due to close, sods law says it will be great.
- Denton House, an independent hostel in Keswick. I really object to paying £20 a night plus £5 for breakfast to share a room in the YHA in Keswick when I could get an entry-level B&B room to myself for £27-30. I couldn’t get a B&B for a single night, so thought I’d try this. It’s only £14.
The other 3 nights are in B&Bs I’ve used before – Latrigg House, which as of earlier this year is now my default Keswick B&B, and Norcroft House in Penrith which I’ve used before to save an early bus ride on the day of travelling home.
Now all I need to do is pack and go.