Grasmere to Patterdale - Will Copestake - Coast to Coast Day 5
The morning started in bright sunshine and high hopes for a view later in the day. As I left the Chestnut villa stuffed with bacon & eggs I waddled uphill toward Grisedale tarn. There were three different route options to choose from once I reached it, the lowland, Helvellyn or St.Sundays crag. But first there was 500m ascent to reach the coll.
Forecast at Chestnut Villa
Leaving the farms
Two Australian walkers follow behind
The trail wound through farmyard tracks before forking around ‘The Great Tongue’ giving the choice between steep and short or long and gradual to the top of the tarn. Choosing to get the ascent out of the way I marched upward on the steeper trail. As I rose the mist descended, by the time I reached the top I was immersed in a dense fog.
Two familiar faces appeared from behind, Steven & Susan a middle aged couple whom I had played cat and mouse with along the trail all the way from St.Bees. No longer strangers we walked together to the end of the tarn to relish the occasional glimpses in the cloud.
Steven & Susan in the mist
I sat down to throw on some waterproofs and distill a plan. The junction at Grisedale tarn was where the decision would have to be made to which of the three options I would choose to hike. Although most walked the lowland route would mean arriving into Patterdale before midday but both other routes were likely to be in cloud all day. Finishing a cup of tea from the flask I concocted a compromise with the map. I would run to the top of Helvellyn, scramble along striding edge ridge then descend to just 1km before Patterdale. I would then jog back up toward the tarn where I could cut up to the summit of St.Sundays crag. From here I would descend to Patterdale on the ridge having experienced all three routes.
Leaving Steven and Susan I set off uphill at a jog. The wide cobbled path proved excellent to keep a fast pace and required little navigation toward the ascent, none-the-less I hiked with compass and map in hand just in case the path faded out. Passing the second team of path repair volunteers between a wisp of mist I thanked them for their dedication even in the poor weather.
Hard at work so we can enjoy such great tracks: National Trust Volunteers
By 800m the trail had levelled out significantly. I wandered onto a wide grassy plateau which rose toward the first of two Wainwright peaks preceding Helvellyn itself. Both were marked with small cairns shrouded within the thick cloud but yet easily located without a compass simply by following the wide trails.
As I rose the path became a track before developing into a road, as I neared the summit it could have been a runway for a plane… not a far cry from the truth. A small plaque bears memory to two very brave pilots who landed their Avro plane upon the mountainside, John Leeming & Bert Hinkler managed to not only land their plane but have a short stay on the summit before flying all the way home to Woodford. They became the first men to ever land a plane on a mountain in Britain.
A memorial to brave pilots...who survived!
Within sight of the plaque a large plus shaped structure stood as a wind shelter for hikers. It was in good use with roughly 15 separate walkers huddled out of the wind enjoying their well earned lunch. This was the summit shelter of Helvellyn, a few meters above a small unassuming cairn marked the true highest point.
I headed straight for the cairn and eagerly claimed my first English Munro, somewhat an easier challenge than the 282 in Scotland as England possesses only four.
Helvellyn Summit: Note the windbreak in the top right
After a brief break in the summit windbreak for lunch I descended toward Striding edge. It was the section described by Wainwright as the best stretch of hiking between St.Bees and Robin Hood Bay, I eagerly anticipated finding out if it would live up to the reputation. The start of the ridge is marked by a large slate memorial. It reads:
Beneath this spot were found in 1805 the remains of Charles Gough.
Killed by a fall from the rocks his dog was still guarding the skeleton.
Walter Scott describes the events in the poem ‘I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn.
Wordsworth records it in his lines on fidelity.’
The stone plaque reminds the walker not only of the dark events which unfolded one sad day in 1805 but also of the risk they may take ahead upon the ridge. It is essential to take care along the way.
The Memorial to Charles Gough
The descent begun with a thrilling rocky scramble to the main ridge, the ground was steep but dissected with a narrow winding trail which snaked in hairpins between the rough ground. Out of the mist ahead a narrow triangular shadow loomed in the murk, I could only assume this was the full splendour of Striding Edge itself.
First glimpse of the fun ahead
The rock was grippy to the touch even in the wet and had no shortage of holds to grip upon. I aimed to scramble the hardest route I could create along the way and to stubbornly stick to the very top of the ridge line. Where the ridge grew steep I climbed, where it levelled out I carefully set off at a jogging stride to honour its name. Even with the abyss below shrouded in cloud there was a tremendous sense of exposure, it gave a fantastic buzz to help spur energy along the way.
Hanging over nothing
Teetering along the ridge
Another reminder of the perils of being complacent on the rocky precipice appeared by way of a small Iron plaque. It read: In memory of Robert Dixon of ... on the 27th day of November 1858 following the Patterdale Foxhounds. I couldn't help but wonder how a fox would find itself on the ridge let alone a troop of dogs.
This time the fox won the hunt.
Beyond the memorial the ridge became wider and less technical. Large slabs replaced narrow ridges and before long I was returning to a fast descent on more grass than stone. To my delight I escaped the cloud by about 700m.
Looking down to Patterdale
I returned to a swift jog to descend to the bottom of the ridge. I still hoped to return up the valley and cut across to St.Sundays crag which stood brightly on the far side in dappled sunlight. A deafening roar suddenly erupted from above. A jet passed by barely 100m from my head before an impressive turn took it bravely low into the valley to buzz past Patterdale. I was glad it hadn't passed while I was on the ridge, it would have given quite the shock.
A close fly-by
A low pass over St.Sundays Crag
Recovering from a thumping heart care of the surprise jet visit I moved a little faster onto the cobbled trail leading gently down the slope to Patterdale. Passing walkers of all ages along the way it was clearly a well used route into the mountains. Views across the valley were tremendously worthwhile after the ridge walk, I was keen to return to winding along the narrow stone walls which criss crossed the fields below.
The trail down
Looking on to Patterdale from above
The temperature change from the ridge to the valley was incredible, out of the wind I had to stop to de-layer as soon as I reached the lowland track. Looking around the views up to the crags above seemed just almost more impressive as they had seemed when standing upon them. Looming over the track tall dark walls hung over the track which wound gently between hawthorn trees back up toward Grisedale tarn.
Looking back up to Helvellyn.
The trail down to Helvellyn
The road toward St.Sundays crag
Returning upward along the valley floor I set off at a slow jog to the tune of birdsong from the nearby woods. Spotting a zig zag trail leading upward along the spur to the northern end of 'The Cape' (The summit of St.Sundays Crag) I ascended in a single steady push to the ridge. Wainwright rated the ridge on St.Sundays as a fell for connoisseurs, with spectacular vistas over Ullswater lake below and a sun dappled 360º panorama of the lakeland fells it was well worth the extra effort to ascend.
Looking back to Ullswater and Patterdale from St.Sundays Crag
Views to the fells
From the ridge it was a short 200m stride to reach the summit of The Cape. The terrain was filled with interesting rocks and crags to explore along the way, there were few places where the foreground didn't rival the stunning views behind. From the summit cairn I could gaze across to Helvellyn which had entirely cleared from the cloud, to my south Fairfield peak rose from the ridge. A small flurry of rain scattered across the peak, it was time to head down for the evening.
View from The Cape
The trail into town wound gently along the ridge before descending in forgiving hairpins into the woods. The scenery behind distracted any effort in the knees after a long days hike, before long I was wandering onto the roads and into Patterdale itself.
The final descent.
Passing a tall church as I entered the town I soon found my way to The White Lion Inn where I had been booked to stay.
The White Lion Inn
Settled in for the night I could reflect on the highlights of the three options.
Route 1: The Lowland Valley - Grants spectacular vistas above to the cliffs on St. Sundays crags and Helvellyn, wonderful stone wall wanderings and the ever present gurgles of the nearby brooke.
Route 2: Helvellyn & Striding edge - Worth doing if you are un-perturbed by mild exposure and seeking the most adventurous route possible. Grand views and technical enjoyment are the highlights of this option.
Route 3: Slightly less ascent than Helvellyn offers possibly the best angle to view Ullswater and in my opinion the grandest view of the day, this could be bias as most of Helvellyn was in cloud. The descent into the woods is not to be missed and was a highlight of the day.
As the bar closed in the pub the barman procured a bottle of wine from behind the bar, would you like a taste? he offered. A New Zealander he had perfected home brew wine which was as delicious as many store bought bottles I have tried, a superb end to a long day in the hills.