A Patterdale Expedition


When you book rail tickets four weeks in advance, to get the cheapest prices, you play pot luck with the weather. According to the forecasts, I am going to come up snakes eyes, to mix a metaphor. Thunderstorms all day, England’s World Cup semi-final to be pushed into the reserve day, this is what is promised. Given the weather most of the time since I bought the tickets, sunny, dry, hot, it’s feeding my never very deep-lying paranoia.

Which, given that I am booked on the 7.26am train from Piccadilly, and I am relying on the 203 bus, the only bus to win a Booker Prize for its timetable, is always hyperactive at times like this.

Everything started well. I responded to the alarm at 5.30am. It had been raining until quite recently, for everything outside was wet, but when I got out, ahead of time, it was dry and getting drier, and there was a freshness in the airthat the suggested the grey skies would slowly peel back to reveal the blue beyond.

I’d barely gotten twenty yards when there was a ping in my left calf, suggesting not so much cramp as a pulled muscle. I walked it off gently but this was going to be a true omen for the day.

The 203 upset my model of the Universe by being on time. Indeed, I was inside Piccadily Station, in the ‘Departure Lounge’ for Platforms 13 & 14, by 7.02am, the only hitch being a minor and quickly resolved panic over whether my rail tickets were in my wallet. It was a long time wait but these are the marginsI prefer to work with.

The train was on time, my seat was by the window, albeit looking backwards, and no-one turned up to claim the reserved seat to Glasgow Central next to me so that was my shoulder bag sorted.

There was nothing I could do about the weather so I paid the cloud only occasional mind as we ploughed north, devoting myself to a second attempt to read The Illuminatus Trilogy without stopping, though still without understanding.

This was an express train, stopping only at Preston and Lancaster and due in Penrith after only ninety minutes. Once we reached the shores of MorecambeBay, I switched to scanning the Lakes skyline. It was unpromising: dark, wispy, fragile clouds with a base below 1,000′: not good.

I was hoping for better north of the equivalent of Dunmail Raise but there was a thicker, darker, more pregnant band of cloud, and then suddenly it seemed lighter. Skylines became clearer, sharper. The message was mixed: sunlight on the lower slopes of Mardale, pockets of low cloud around the valley head. Kidsty Pike stood proud but Rampsgill Head was deep-capped.

Out at Penrith for five to nine with an hour to kill, or so I thought. I walked down to the Town Centre. The main street was smaller than I remembered and all the touristy shops seemed to have left. There used to be a  good bookshop somewhere round the back, where I spent a half hour on the morning of my wedding, having run my sister-in-law-to-be and my wife-to-be’s best friend in for last minute essentials. Where it is, if it still exists, I had no idea and I decided against searching for it, the air being an odd mixture of fresh and stuffy.

Thank Heaven I didn’t! I got back to the Rail Station in time to catch the slightly-delayed 9.20am bus, whose driver was in a chatty mood, and who told me tht thee 9.50am bus I intended to catch doesn’t run until theTimetable that comes into force on the 26th!

If I’d missed this bus, it wouldn’t have been fatal to my plans, but as the next bus was 11.20am, I’d have been stuck in Penrith for two hours. Then again, I do have a partly-completed novel with a scene in Penrith, so I could have spentthe time in research.

The sky was a fractal mixture of dark cloud, light cloud and blue spaces. The bus was riding between high hedgerows so it took a while before I could get some sense of the air in Patterdale. When I could see, it looked clear around Ullswater’s lowest reach but cloudy further back. Given the forecast, this was good going.

But when I got off the bus in Pooley Bridge, it was trying to rain, fine, light, sprinkly lane. The Steamer Shop in the Village was closed despite its advertised opening time of 9.15am.

There was nothing to do here either so I strolled on to the steamer landing. This took me across the temporary bridge that stands in the place of the beautiful stone arches destroyed forever by the floods of 2015/16. It’s an ugly, practical thing of steel cross-girders, an eyesore, where the old bridge was a thing of grace and beauty. It’s absence is a pang.

Ullswater, looking down to Hallin Fell

There’s a superb viewpoint just before the landings, by the Birkett Memorial. We came down here on the Saturday evening, for our first view of Ullswater, that holiday, and I took a photo of the lake, looking towards Hallin Fell, with the family at the forefront. I took another one now, in colour, but without anyone to grace it.

Ullswater is my favourite lake, its beautiful curves and bays, and this only the least-interesting reach of it. I haven’t seen it in, probably, about fifteen years and I felt a tremendous sense of contentment. All the visible hills remind me of walks gone past. PlaceFell was capped and dark, so it was Hallin Fell and Beda Head that stood out for me then. The lake chuckled and bubbled past me into the River Eamont.

I narrowed my eyes. Something long and white was crossing below Hallin Fell, turning into Howtown Bay. In a moment’s silence between the passing cars, I heard a distant bell. If I’m not mistaken, that’s my steamer from Glenridding.

This would be my fourth trip on the Ullswater Steamer but the first for this end of the Lake. My first was an impromptu decision on a rainy, cloudy afternoon, when walking was out of the question, Howtown and back. Twice since, I’d taken a one-way trip to Howtown and walked back, the first a solo over Place Fell, the second a family walk down the lakeshore path, which is as lovely as they say it is.

Eventually the steamer emerged and headed towards us. I paid for my ticket (which included 50% off the Ratty for the next twelve months, which gave mean idea…)

‘Raven’ approaches

As soon as the Steamer docked, I was on to it and dodging through the saloon to the foredeck. The commemorative plaque confirmed this was Raven, and in five days time it would be 130 years to the day since it was first launched.

We seemed to race up the lake into the teeth of a flapping wind, Hallin Fell dead ahead, the zigzags of the Hause visible to its left. As we started curving into the Bay, Beda Head became our pointer and little flecks of rain started to flick against my face.

Leaving the Pier at Pooley Bridge

It wasn’t until we started to slow down for Howtown the the magnificent middle reach of the lake, and the fells at the end of it, appeared as if out of nowhere. Sheffield Pike stood proud and sunny but there wasn’t much to see behind it except dark cloud.

We drifted into the Pier, no-one waiting to board us, though two walkers appeared from the direction of the road, only to stand and watch us leave. Twenty-eight people, one baby carriage and two dogs  disembark. I looked at Steel Knott’s steep prow and asked myself, did I really go up that? (yes, I did).

Howtown and Steel Knotts

Off on the next leg. A massive convoy of ducks sat on the surface of the lake on our left bow as we headed outround Hallin Fell. This was the bit I’dreally come here for.

The taped message for the tourist informed us of what to look out for and only made two egregious mistakes in three facts. It places Birkett Crag (no, it’s Fell) on the wrong side of Ullswater and claims Helvellyn is the second highest mountain in England. I don’t dare look up what it said about Donald Campbell.

We took a rather more leisurely turn down the middle reach. Some part of the High Street range, still cloud-clagged, appeared in the gap between Hallin Fell and Place Fell, whilst on the other side, the Hellvellyn range was similar, but someqhat lighter, as if it might finally blow clear.

The middle reach, looking to Sheffield Pike

Approaching the turn into the upper reach, we passed Lady of the Lake on the port bow. Saint Sunday Crag and Dollywaggon Pike, either side of Grisedale, are firmly cloud-blocked, though there’s masses of blue sky above the lake itself. I’ve always felt these names to be strange and foreign-sounding to the Lakes, ever since I first heard my mother mentioning them, way back in the early Sixties. They’re just not Cumbrian to me. Things looked very dirty at the head of Patterdale, where we could see straight into Threshthwaite Glen.

Over to starboard, there was a big hotel on the lakeshore that I tried not to look too closely at. Under an older name than it currently bears, this was where I was married, and there are too many memories in that.

It was still not yet quite midday when I got off the steamerand walked round into Glenridding Village. My plans were flexible enough to give me either two hours or three and a half here, which would be fine if I felt in any way fit for a walk. Indeed, I’d half picked out Keldas, at the foot of Birkhouse Moor, and brought The Eastern Fells in my bag, but I’m achey and creaky and have been all day.

I was trepidatious about what Glenridding might look like, bearing in mind that the floods did a real number on the Vilaage, but the repairs here seemed more complete and nothing appeared to be out of place. I settled into a picnic table and got out my lunch.

The best plan seemed to be to kick back, relax, and enjoy just being here, but I did wander a bit in the direction of the path to Lanty’s Tarn, just to see how far I might get if I went at it slowly. All that got me was some spotty rain, a buzzy insect with an obsession with my right ear and some stomach cramps that suggested I might be better off keeping the Public Conveniences in closer proximity so, despite some increasingly encouraging blue skies, I strolled back.

Sunshine over the Glenridding valley

Down in the valley, the soft breeze was very welcome, and I took root at another picnic table, enjoying the passing pedstrians and returning to my book. I could have dome some writing if the energy possessed me but overall this was not the day for creativity, so I socked up relaxing in Patterdale. Mind you, I noticed a lot of references to ‘The Ullswater Valley’: another Stickle Ghyll in the making?

St Sunday Crag

There was another, slightly more serious spot of rain when I wandered back off to the Pier. We were on Raven again, though this time I headed for the stern for the best views. There was a ton of worrying grinding from the engine, turning to face back down Ullswater, but the mountainscape was at last wonderful, St Sunday Crag sunwashedand magnificent, Dollywaggon dark andslope-shouldered and even a glimpse of a cloud-free Helvellyn as we retreated.

Helvellyn

Howtown was the beginning of the end.  Everything after this was journeying back. Waiting in the sweltering heat for the bus in Pooley Bridge. Fifty-five minutes to kill at Penrith Station with nothing to do and nowhere to go, unless you count McDonald’s, so back to my book.

With the exception of the bus to Pooley Bridge, all the travelling’s gone smoothly, all day, but then I go and blow it. My travel notes have me catching the18.06 at Penrith, change at Preston. My ticket was for the 17.50 direct to Manchester Piccadilly, but I didn’t realise this until a mini-argument over who has reserved seat A11. On the 18.06. Oops.

That could have been very expensive, but the ticket inspector on the Virgin train was decent enough to stamp my ticket anyway so my only loss was to get stuck in an aisle seat on a gloriously sunny evening, and unable to see out of either window. And Northern Rail surprise me twice at Preston, first by being dead on time, and then by not coming to check my ticket at all. I was even blessed with sitting opposite a nice-looking young woman, with long brown hair almost the shade mine used to be, and a lovely smile.

I got back to Piccadilly nearly fifteen hours after the alarm woke me, and I didn’t half know it by then. One bus-ride later, and I got off in the only sustained rain I experienced all day, despite the forecasts, and the evening still sunny, offering up a full-arch rainbow above my flat. Mind you, everything that could ache did ache by then, and I’d missed England beating Australia to reach the Cricket World Cup Final. But I’d had a grand day, and I’d been back to Ullswater. Where can I go next?

 

Re-Planning a Lakeland Expedition


Maybe (again)

Yesterday, a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius was recorded in Britain, in winter, for the first time ever.

Today, that record has been broken.

The skies are an unbroken blue, albeit with a tinge of white haze around the horizons. I was hot coming in to work and since my shift started I have been sitting here in a short-sleeved polo shirt, and about five minutes ago I was feeling unconfortably stuffy.

This is Britain in 2019: everything is broken.

Of course, I’m not complaining in the short term. This is nice weather and I’m happy to revel in it. On Sunday, one of my neighbours was out in shorts, sunbathing outside his front door. People continue to deny there’s something wrong with the Earth’s climate.

And the weather, if it can be relied upon and there isn’t a backlash in the immediate future, is tempting me to a day out. And when I say day out, I usually mean a Lake District Expedition: is Patterdale possible yet on current steamer schedules?

The answer is yes: depart Pooley Bridge 12.50, return 15.35, with thirty five minutes stopover at Glenridding. Not great, but feasible. But I can get a bus from Penrith at 11.20 outside the Rail Station, arriving Pooley Bridge 11.50. There’s a much bigger delay on the return, with the only bus leaving Pooley at 17.25 and returning to Penrith Rail Station for 18.09.

And I can do the train journey as two singles (08.47 from Manchester Piccadilly, 18.50 from Penrith), total £27.80 this Saturday coming. I can save £1 by going on Saturday week, but if I book for four weeks in advance, I can reduce the train fares to £21.00, by taking a slightly later train from Penrith.

Hmm. This is doable.

The problem is daylight: it’s starting to be light after 5.00pm now, but it still makes any outing at this time of year a bit too like a Birthday week trip. And if the skies are going to be this clear, and bright, I want all the access to daylight I can get. Nevertheless, with a, say 5.30pm cut-off point for daylight, I’d just about be on the bus at Pooley Bridge when the views vanish.

I wonder if the weather’s going to last…

Planning Another Lake District Expedition


I’m coming back…

Having successfully managed to get myself a round trip on the Ratty and eighty minutes in Central Eskdale all by public transport in a single day, last month, I am now emboldened to plan another expedition to a part of the Lakes that I thought was more or less barred to me by distance and communication.

As some of you may now, for several years I’ve been in the habit of taking a week off in November, around my birthday, and treating myself to a day in the Lakes on the Thursday. Usually, these are pretty staid affairs: train to Windermere, bus to Grasmere, wander round Ambleside, blah de blah. There’s not much margin for variation.

But Eskdale has shown that maybe I’ve got more options that I dismissively thought, and another quick planning session has made it clear I can do something a bit less ordinary for 2018. I’m planning a Patterdale Expedition.

Credit for this must go to Drew Whitworth, whose splendid blog ‘The 214 Wainwright Fells without a car’ covers his determination not only to climb all 214 Wainwrights but complete a second round that includes every summit in the Outlying Fells as well, all via public transport (it’s in the Blogroll on the Home Page, and if you haven’t tried it, do so). His most recent walk included a trip on the Ullswater steamer from Howtown to Glenridding and a return from Patterdale on the 508 bus to Windermere. As Wally (Thhe Flash) West used to say, when Mark Waid was scripting his comic, Bing Bing, Bing Bing, Bing Bing.

So: by catching the 8.30am train from Manchester on the relevant date, and waiting 45 minutes for the 508, I can get to and from Glenridding (where I was married) and back for the 5.40pm train, returning to Manchester for 7.25pm. And, having safely arrived at Glenridding, I will have time for the complete round trip on the Ullswater Steamer, Glenridding to Pooley Bridge, calling in at Howtown both ways.

Of course, it’s not perfect. There’ll be no getting off at Pooley Bridge, just there and back, non-stop. And I’ve a 75 minute layover at Glenridding before I can catch the Steamer in the first place, not all of which I can fill by getting a hot meal. But I’m going to have two glorious hours travelling up and down Ullswater, my favourite Lake, the Queen of the Lakes, and I can say that even if it chucks it down the whole time I’m out there.

But if this comes out as well as Eskdale did, there’s all of next summer to play with, and with more sailings, who knows? Time to be a bit ambitious, methinks. Make this one work and we’ll see if I can contrive some quality time at Buttermere for 2019…

Storm Devastation


Gone

A couple of days ago, the outline news of the storm that has caused so much destruction and devastation to my beloved Cumbria prompted me to write a post that reminisced about those of my experiences of being caught in rain on the fells that I haven’t already spoken of previously on this blog.

That post isn’t going to appear for a while yet, because I’ve read more about the awful things that have been happening, and I’ve seen photos that fill me with a mixture of awe and horror, and lightweight tales of walking in the rain are wildly inappropriate right now.

News that Pooley Bridge, that lovely old bridge over the outflow of Ullswater, my favourite Lake, has been swept away. Stockley Bridge, in the Seathwaite Valley, was washed away by torrential floods in the great storm of 1966, which happened on the Saturday as we drove home after a week’s holiday (I remember the darkness and the thunderous rain on Buckhaw Brow, just before Settle). It was rebuilt, and eyes like mine who never saw it before would not be able to tell had I not known. But that was the Sixties, and a time of prosperity: from where will come the money to reconstruct Pooley Bridge in these times of austerity, depravation and criminally incompetent doctrinaire Government. It has to be rebuilt: it’s a 32 mile round trip to avoid it. But will something other than a functional bridge be built? Can it be afforded?

News too that, for a couple of days, Glenridding Village has been cut off, that Mountain Rescue have only today got through. Glenridding’s more than just my beloved Ullswater again. There’s a story of a woman whose husband is stranded there, gone to a stag do at the Inn on the Lake for the weekend and unable to return. Giving up his bed to elderly people who would otherwise have had to sleep on sofas.

The Inn on the Lake used to be a more old-fashioned kind of hotel. They closed it for refurbishment and rebranding in November 2000. The last function there before it closed was a wedding. It was my wedding.

I’ve seen photos today. One is of the Vale of Keswick, seen long-distance through a wide-angled lens. Once upon a time, in a younger era of the world, there was no Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake, just one uber-lake, stretching from the Jaws of Borrowdale to the beginnings of the North Cumbrian Plain. That uber-lake is all but with us again.

And I’ve seen a photo of the A591, the ‘Kendal-Keswick’ road, below Dunmail Raise, where the road is narrow at the head of the Thirlmere Valley, and almost half that road is washed away, a great, jagged ripping away of the western side of the carriageway, replaced by a massive earthen ditch along which water roils. This is not CGI. This is a road I have driven hundreds of times, north and south, the main central road through the Lakes and in that section it’s impassable.

Record amounts of rain have fallen, literally. The record has been broken, on, of all places, Honister Pass, not even Seathwaite, traditionally the wettest place in England. Seathwaite, out-rained! What is this world now?

I’m nowhere near and I could be of no help if I were. I’m in no danger, to life and limb and property and possessions. But my heart breaks along with those people to whom I am in spirit a brother, and this is no time for words that celebrate rain and rainfall.