From Borrowdale into Great Langdale5th June 2008
Last Saturday was a day when I was torn between possibilities. One dilemma that I didn’t face was whether to go somewhere for a dander or not; that one was settled. It’s where I was going that was the outstanding question, and the choice was between Wales and Cumbria. Even though Dolwyddelan tempted and remained a backup in the event of anything going awry on the travel front, it was Cumbria’s Lake District that was to get my vote because a walk in Borrowdale was in my head for a while and I hadn’t been to the area since last July anyway. If my time was more restricted, then my decision could have been very different.
My journey to Borrowdale was set to involve many changes: Stockport, Crewe, Penrith, Keswick. With this number ahead of me, it would have been better if passengers could control themselves and police didn’t need to meet what was to be my train from Crewe. Luckily, I had a twenty-minute wait in Penrith in prospect, but losing ten minutes due to a delayed train soon chopped that down to size and delays can beget further delays. As it turned out, I had no cause for concern, and I easily made my bus to Keswick. However, I was reminded of my connection to Borrowdale when I saw slow traffic on the A66 and more people getting on at Threlkeld than I had ever seen before. It so happened that the Borrowdale bus was late, sufficiently so that one would start to wonder if it had departed without my seeing it. Keswick bus interchange was a busy spot that day.
Following all those opportunities for groundless anxiousness, I found myself in Rosthwaite, relaxed and enjoying wonderful sunshine. Eating an ice cream, I found my way onto the Cumbria Way that I was set to follow all the way into Langdale. Being a sunny day in the Lake District, solitude was not to be expected, but there were to be moments when I had a lot of space to myself. Still, it never seems to surprise me how easy it can be to lose them. Even so, Rosthwaite and Stonethwaite were hardly overrun anyway, but most of those perambulating about them seem to have got nary a thought of going further afield. With the sights that were on offer, I suppose that it is hard to blame them.
Having skirted past Stonethwaite, another choice presented itself: to stick with the original plan to walk to Dungeon Ghyll or tramp over Greenup Edge to Grasmere. If things got a bit too crowded on the former, the latter was to be my plan. They didn’t, and I managed to drag myself onward to leave the Grasmere option for another day. A sign for Watendlath had tempted me earlier, but I managed to put that into my stash of ideas for the future too. Thus, I struck on for and through Langstrath, a wide, open and empty space in keeping with its Scottish-esque name. Also in keeping with any pseudo-Scottishness, it was here where I met next to nobody but a goodly number of Herdwick sheep.
The seemingly obvious southbound exit from Langstrath is to follow the valley’s beck to Angle Tarn and drop down from there by the side of Rosset Gill. This is not the way taken by the Cumbria Way, though; instead, a more direct route over Stake Pass is its choice. On paper, this is a seemingly unimpressive 200–300 metres of ascent. In reality, as with many slopes in these parts, that apparent “walk in the park” can be a lot more testing than those numbers might suggest. For one thing, you can guarantee steepness and erosion means that route finding involves a spot of blundering about on a maze of paths, many deviating from the “correct” one. Couple all of that with the hot and often breezeless day, and you have to take it nice and slow on the ascent. A descent still offers plenty of footholds, but you still need your wits about you so as not to take a more horizontal position than you would like.
On reaching the top, I soon found a spot to rest a while after my exertions. By this stage of the day, the sky was full of cloud and the sun had become well hidden. It remained pleasantly warm, though, and I enjoyed the flatter gradients before the descent that faced me. The state of the path down couldn’t be more different than the one that I used on my way up. The National Trust have been keeping an eye on things and have been doing some further work over the past few months to improve things. I might have said that it didn’t need the attention and that the path from Langstrath to Stake Pass needed it more. There is a counterpoint to this of course: the way up from the floor of Langdale is a busier trail because of the proximity of such delights as the Langdale Pikes, Pike’o’Stickle and many more. The result of the attentions was that I made steady progress down a well-built and pitched path that would be obstructed in places by big bags of big stones.
That descent and obstacle dodging completed, the track really levelled out and, apart maybe from the deepness of the loose stone surface in parts, it was easy and undemanding walking all the way to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. If I had arrived twenty minutes earlier, I might have caught the 16:30 bus to Ambleside, but a wait of over an hour, in blissful surroundings with the sun attempting to get through the cloud, for the next one was no hardship. I did consider walking further along Great Langdale, but reconsidered it on the grounds of time and wiled away the time on a shorter stroll instead.
When the bus did turn up, we found out that it terminated in Ambleside rather than Kendal as per the timetable. There were those who were far from happy with this state of affairs, more than likely those with ongoing connections. I suppose that anyone who was going south of Oxenholme would have had the limitations of late Saturday evening services on their minds. As with my travel that morning, any connection anxiety was needless since we easily made a connecting bus from Ambleside. That got me to Windermere in plenty of time for the start of the railway journey home, with changes in Oxenholme and Manchester. The sun was out as I was leaving; was it an effort to coax me into a return trip for those walking ideas that I had to set aside earlier that day?
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