Trails and trials of the writer who walks
Can you be barred for bus pass abuse? I’ve been clocking up around a 100 miles a week. When I decided to walk the 26 mile ridge route known as High Street (an old Roman thoroughfare) it made sense to travel on my bus pass. As well as being free, I wouldn’t have to get back to the start point to collect the car. A wild-camp somewhere on the fells would take care of the overnight accommodation (my old little legs could never do 26 miles of ups and downs in one go).
It took all day to get there on local buses: Preston, Lancaster, Kendal, Keswick, Penrith Railway Station. (I took an afternoon tea-break of an hour at Keswick to get some feeling back into my bum).
The first hitch was that I didn’t get to Penrith until 6 pm. The second hitch was that the footpath route I chose to get me up on to the hills was dire: signless, stiles hidden in nettle forests, a ‘ford’ that comprised stepping stones with some missing (I waded across and arrived at a bank with no further obvious path), more stiles leading to locked gates … you get the picture. There are ‘map’ footpaths and real footpaths. This was the former. One of the signs read ‘footpath to Stockbridge via ford’. The village is called Sockbridge. The sign indicated an impossible route to a village it couldn’t even spell. Obviously no one has passed this way in the last fifty years (except me).
Having finally gained some height at Heughscar Hill and reached unenclosed moorland, I was ready to pitch as soon as I found water. By this time it was 10 pm and I had covered just 8 miles of the walk instead of the 13 miles planned so there were 18 left to do the next day.
The moorland is usually boggy, but the recent dry spell made it a firm comfortable pitch. Clouds of cotton grass resembled snow drifts. In the early morning, tiny floating midges feasted on my scalp and hairline while I decamped. I wished I’d brought my highland midge jacket.
The glory of a ridge route is the double-sided view. From High Street, the mountains to the west are darkly powerful, soaring into the sky like gods with silhouettes of mightier gods rising behind them. Most of it doesn’t feel like a ridge with its broad and grassy top, but a mist could see you plummeting over the western edge and down a ragged cliff-face which is not visible from the path, even on a clear day. I wondered why there was a fence on that side and went to look …
Wainwright describes the peaks in his book ‘The Far Eastern Fells’. Water glistens from both sides: first Ullswater on the west, then Haweswater Reservoir to the east. The dramatic views from Kidsty Pike are worth a small deviation from the main path. Blea Water sits in a deep bowl that’s been scooped out by a giant hand and you walk along its rim. This is where the ridge narrows, with views of Kentmere Reservoir.
Is it just me, or do all long walks save the toughest section for last? If I’d done it from south to north instead, would I be saying the same thing?
High Street’s final challenge are the three peaks of Froswick, Ill Bell and Yoke, each exceedingly steep and pointy, especially Ill Bell.
After those three b—-s, the last one looks a doddle, but it hides a very long and dreary downhill trek which is steep with shifting rocks and stones that twist your ankle at every step, just when the knees are singing out their own complaints.
I staggered into Windermere after 7 pm (having started walking at 7 am) thinking only of pub and food. But then I would have to walk some distance to a campsite and if I sat down in the pub I would be too stiff to get up again. Instead, I took the next train to Oxenholme, (making do with a small bottle of wine and a sandwich from Booths), and then Preston in time for the last train to Croston. Home and bed. Aaaaah … Zzz.