Picking Dawn up at Kirkby Stephen train station is almost routine nowadays – as is a dramatic weather-induced end to the walk’s programme. And so, this was to prove no different .
We set off, as per routine, with a swift nosh of butties and ham broth at Junction 38 services (very nice too…) and wandered Westwards over the Lune and under the west Coast mainline and M6 to Roundthwaite where we started on the gentle climb into the hinterland in almost warm sunshine. A good start.
Soon, intending only a short walk at the start of the trip, we were spotting camping spots and it was only early afternoon where we came across what was possibly the last sheltered spot before the the path started on up the ridge. So, despite the early hour, we camped at a nice and dry spot by Burn Gill. This was an excellent idea and it was nice to sit and brew inside the greenhouse-like confines of the the akto with a nice view and a chocolate biscuit…
Only one person passed during the afternoon – a runner with his two dogs and after that we had the place to ourselves.
A bit later, I had a little trundle up to Jeffrey’s Mount – a 378 metre lump overlooking the Lune valley but appearing from the fells around to be connected directly with the Howgill Fells. I wandered along the ridge a bit and then came down to camp. Dawn explored up by the beck whilst I was on my little stravaig. Quite good fun so far.
The night was warm and I kept the tent door open and watched the sky late into the night but in the morning, we had been smothered by clag.
We set off for a bit more of the Westerly direction, following a bridleway, which we lost, and we arrived on the ridge in a different place to where we first thought or intended – but we made the map fit my fantasy about where we were. That’s proper navigation, that is. We forged along the obvious ridge to another hill with a cairn, which turned out to be Wintersceugh, 464 metres – the only top on the ridge with a cairn marked on the map.
More claggy ridge followed – over an unnamed hill and then Winash at 471 metres and then , whilst Dawn sheltered behind a wall, I bagged Pipers Hill at 485 metres. (They’re getting higher, see?)
More expert navigating followed where we took an obvious path instead of doing the obvious and following the wall along the ridge – and ending up several hundred yards from our target layby on the M6 and having to do circuitous manoeuvres through evil boggy tussocks and heather to avoid some very spiky barbed wire fences. We got there eventually, ruffled but unbowed and proceeded further West, having conversations with a Kendal Wainwright Outlier bagger (bless ‘im) and two Radio hams who were radio hamming from Wainwrights. They told us it was going to rain, starting at 3:00 pm and he’d managed to contact a bloke in Leeds and one in Bangor. The bit about the rain was prophetic to say the least.
Dropping down to Crookdale beck, we soon found a spot by the beck and settled in for a wet and stormy night during which the rain slashed down in sheets from about teatime onwards and various shades of hurricane tried to remove our tentpegs, sneakily weighed down by boulders and rubble from the beck. It was a fractious night, but we had a plan for the next day, involving a lightly equipped assault on the nearby tops, including Grey Crag and Great Yarside, leaving the tents in situ. This was to be done in spring-like sunshine with light breezes and the slightly-bored peep peep of the local plovers.
But this was not to be. The morning dawned grey and mizzly and the rain mizzled greyly all day, sometimes with heavy bursts and sometimes almost stopping, but generally drifting across the landscape in damp sheets. This was the stuff that gets you really really wet. Nobody enjoys damp sheets, innit? We moved not at all. The day passed in eating, drinking, brewing, reading and snoozing. I passed some time away by counting my limbs or having short dreams about having my brakes done. I also formed a Plan B for the next day when it would all be much much better.
At dark, the wind picked up again and the rain took on a heavier sort of mood. The tent lurched around and was sometimes hit by hard and sudden gusts whilst all the time being generously sprayed. At about nine o’clock, on a draughty trip to service Mr Bladder, I noticed that the beck had risen by about a foot, but had a way to go before it would be a problem. With each hour passing, the beck got noisier. And it ultimately got itself into a more worrying mood completely. If anything goes wrong with anything at all, it’s usually at 3:00 am for some reason and I had a little bet that this would be the time when we’d have to leave. In the dark and storm, this wasn’t likely to be an easy option.
At half three or so, I went out for another look and found myself on an island. Dawn’s tent appeared to have a new branch of Crookdale beck disappearing under the back and coming out from under the front. She’d packed all her stuff at this point and I decided to do the same. We would take the tents down at first light and head for Tebay. Dawn’s tent soon became untenantable and was filling up with water, so she joined me in the akto and, a couple of hours later, we bailed out – quite literally for Dawn as her tent floor was now under a foot or so of water. Final packing was quick and we left our island by a short but deep paddle. The main river was roaring and showing some quite big waves (!) It was still chucking it down. There are no pictures of this bit because the camera was tucked up in a dry bag in my pack along with all other electronics.
And so, we crossed back over Whatshaw Common and followed the vague line of a bridleway into Bretherdale, where it stopped raining and the sun came out. It was too late, though, even though Bretherdale is very nice, we had no time for it and we soon came to a riverside path back to Tebay.
Next time, we’re going to go for even more exciting weather. I’m thinking electrical storms including very close shaves involving huge bolts of lightening. Or maybe it will be too hot.
We take many lessons from this episode – and one of them involves recognising the absolute futility of taking any notice of the Countryfile weather forecast for the week ahead. Sunshine and showers does not normally involve 38 straight hours of continuous rain, I wouldn’t have thought.
There’s also the point about not kipping close to a big beck I suppose….. but we went for the shelter from the gale and the flat green bit with no tussocks, only expecting a night of rain at the most. Not the sort of thing to wash you away and kill you. Coldly…
Dawn’s tent now has a shallow end and a deep end by the way, and there’s a sign warning against running, jumping and petting. On Tuesdays, she’s leading ladies’ aquarobics and on Thursday nights there’s the kayak club.
In spite of (or , more probably because of…) all these excitements, though, I had a whale of a time. I think we did about twenty miles altogether.