As usual, the words “I’ve planned a route!” coming from Kel’s mouth usually meant a good thrashing with plenty of thick orange chunks of contour lines to start with. I looked at the map and the Smörgåsbord of summits my beloved wife had set out for me and Alfie the Spaniel. “The weather is meant to be OK and we don’t even have to get up early cos it doesn’t go dark till late!” she stood with a smile on her face. Looking at OL5 I grinned and thought “Not too orange then!?”
“All we need to do is catch a bus from the end where we’ll park the car and get off at the start then finish at the Kings Head, simples!” she carried on excitedly.
“Bus!!?? Bus!!??” I said in amazement. I hadn’t been on a bus for about 20 years and the thought of having to depend on ‘others’ for a route plan made me cringe a bit (I’m weird like that). We had a look at the timings and decided to give it a shot and the route was sorted. Mill Bridge, Grasmere to the King’s Head via Seat Sandal, Dollywaggon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn and White Side. A full day!
Sunshine greeted us as we packed the car and headed for Grasmere and grabbed a parking space at the King’s Head. They have an agreement that walkers can park in their car park if you pay £5 for an initial ticket which gets you that amount of drinks if you have a post walk pint at the end of your route. Canny!
So there we were, stood at a bus stop with our daysacks waiting for a bus to Grasmere, which was approx 5-6 miles down a straight road. The sun was blazing down on us and we had a giggle about the fact we’d not researched if dogs were allowed on the bus and thinking of a plan B if the driver wouldn’t let Alfie on. 3 minutes after the due time the bus came rolling from St. John’s in the Vale and things were looking good. I put my hand out, just like 1979 when I used to catch the bus to school, and just like 1979 it stopped and I stepped onto the bus while Kel and Alfie sat down on the closest seat to the front.
“Two adults and a dog please mate” I said searching in my pocket for some change expecting a couple of quid each and half a nicker for the hound.
“£10.60 please!” Dick Turpin replied without even looking at me! You know that feeling where the ‘bus’ spins and you’re grinning to yourself but actually paying. There was some thought that Alfie had cost me even more money the little tinker. I paid up and the driver stopped pointing his musket in my face. Kel budged up so we could all fit on the two seater and I awaited the hostess with the Champers and Caviar which were obviously on route for the fee.
Grasmere came and we grabbed our kit and shuffled off the bus with our daysacks, puppy and a massive hole in my pocket. We’d travelled less than the distance we were about to walk (without the accent)! I sorted my cam and we made our way up through the little cottages at Mill Bridge feeling violated, but at least I felt a bit lighter. We’d decided to take the route up Little Tongue, west of Great Tongue through herds of sheep and the sun burning down on us. Hause Riggs was a short but welcome break as we sat for 5 minutes to absorb the stunning view of Grasmere and the surrounding fells. The going was quite steep but significant height was gained quite quickly before we levelled out at Hause Moss and a small pile of stones with ‘Julian’s’ black baseball cap secured on the top.
The hiking/hill walking community are a canny bunch, if any lost kit is found in the fells it’s put on social media to find the owner. Hence my tweet with the a picture of the afore mentioned cap!
With Grisedale Tarn in view we turned left up a shaily accent up Seat Sandal and the mother of all thigh burners. Slate Shale doesn’t have the ‘gripability’ of any other shale, its one step forward and 4 steps back. The descent was decent and bait welcome looking over Grisedale Tarn and a chance for Kel to do her usual ‘Peak assessment’ of our surrounding view.
We saw people coming down the wall south side of Dollywaggon Pike but we opted to take the Zig Zag route up the South East side of the peak which brought much amusement as we were about to see. We skirted the Tarn and slung a left in and up the windy route up to the summit. About two thirds of the way up we made space for a group of mountain bikers who were making their way down. The first section stopped because they were finding the going too dangerous to stay on their machines. One had gone face first into the stone of ‘Dolly’ and was playing it safe. Further up we bumped into the rear echelon of the daring mountain bikers, one who had a thick ‘Pit Yacker’ accent who stated he’d never seen such a “Mental” descent and had decided to ‘push’ his bike down, putting the blame on videos on YouTube for not fully showing the scale of the best part of a 300m decent in the space of 500m, which to me works out at…… well a canny drop in anyone’s money! Probably the reason why the path is Zig Zagged up the side. Anyway in the 5 minutes we had with the mountain bikers two fell off, I’ll stick to walking!
At the top the sun was beating down and the wind had dropped making the going pleasant, plus a lack of sheep making way for a clear run for Alfie.
Looking west the Wythburn Fells were clear and we worked out exactly where we’d ‘lunched’ with the Dicko’s days before on in slightly less windier weather. From here the path was set and Nethermost Pike looking slightly higher but with Helvellyn peaking over its right shoulder we knew the highest peak in our quest, was in sight.
The top of Dollywaggon was a welcome sight as we’d passed the ‘post’ taking the right to the cairns. The view east was breath taking with a clear view of St. Sunday Crag making a good view stop. We headed north down slightly and then back up onto top of High Crag and sheep. Alfie did well heading up Nethermost Pike to keep his eye off the ‘Herdies’, while I spotted Striding Edge and thoughts went back to that blistering hot April day in 2011 when we’d foolishly climbed Helvellyn after a crate of Fosters and a meat only BBQ the night before, took me ages to get the smell of lager out of my ‘Buff’.
I digress, I liked the sight of the top of Helvellyn as I, as always, like being one of the highest in England at a particularly time, even for a few minutes. As we make our way up to the summit and the robustly built ‘X’ shelter and the ‘dump’ left that was used to build it, we spotted the memorial Stone placed to point out the spot where the first plane ever to land on a mountain was. There was a steady but not too chaotic stream off people coming up the different routes to take in one of the greatest views in the area. I love the sights, the feel and the sense of achievement when we hit a high peak, the feeling of another well planned trek. What I don’t like is idiots that are stood taking selfies dressed in high tops, ¾ length trousers and no safety equipment. Ok it was a sunny day, but it’s cretins like them that call MRT when they get cold, get lost, feel tired or just can’t be bothered to walk down. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I pride myself that I carry enough kit to survive at least one night on a fell if ever we need to. Plus I plan even the simplest of routes over a certain height and ALWAYS carry safety kit, if not for me, for others.
Rant over and back to one of the best views in the district and my quest to find the snow we saw from Ullswater a couple of days before. Bingo, just passed Water Crag I find a patch of crusty musky snow about ten metre’s north east off the path. A couple of pics later of a 48 year old kid playing in snow for his 9 year old son then we’re back on track down onto Lower Man and a long decent down. If you look east into the valley you can see the dam at Brown Cove, it’s an unusual sight and it looks like it was built to store water for the mining in the area. My feet were aching and the balls of my feet were sore, feeling like I’d trekked 50 mile not the measly few we had. As we dropped down to the ‘pile of stones’ to take the left North West onto White Side, I could see down the valley to Thirlmere, but even though the it was downhill, the going was painful skirting the side of Whiteside Bank leaving me wishing we’d gone up to the cairn and straight down, instead of side footing down the side negotiating rabbit warrens and land slips kicking the s**t out of my knee and Kel’s ankle, God we’re getting old. Eventually we joined the path that ran down Brund Gill and down the North East side of Brown crag and a cracking view of the ultra-green grass around Dalehead Hall on the banks of Thirlmere. I hate descents like this, I’d rather climb miles up and a gradual way down, the new plantation was quite steep, or seemed like it and the crossing at the un-named gill near the back of Thirlspot Farm was such a relief to hit level ground. Alfie drank about half the water content of Brown Crag and we entered the grounds of the farm, passed the sheep and a Lama, or Alpaca, I was too goosed to care.
The cider at The Kings Head bit into the throat like a welcome friend and the £10.60 bus fare into Grasmere 7 hours earlier was a distant memory, but next time I’ll order a taxi!