Thursday, 21 July 2011
It was not the best of starts to the day. When I got to the tube station this morning the Victoria line was closed, signal failure. A dash to catch a bus down to the next tube station and the Northern line which, although more roundabout also ran to Kings Cross. The one snag was that a lot of other folk where all doing the same; getting on a crowded bus with a heavy pack is not easy. These days purchasing tickets on line often requires you to collect your tickets from a machine. Well, the machine broke and refused to give me my tickets. Finally managed to get my tickets, from a human being over the ticket counter. Was just congratulating myself that I had managed to get to the station, obtain my tickets and still have almost ten minutes before the train left. Horrors, my train was cancelled. Fortunately I managed to get on the next train half an hour later. However, it would mean an hour's wait at Leeds due to missing my connection. Frustrating, but daft in a way, there was no appointment to keep or anything; all in all it just meant a later start than intended.
It was warm heading out from Appleby, shorts and tee shirt. My aim was to head over to Dufton and join the Pennine Way for a short distance. Sometimes one feels fated; heading over toward Blackhill I could hear the sharp crack of shotguns; folk where shooting ahead of me. This was annoying, the shots where very close and in the direction I wanted to go. Eventually I decided it prudent to detour over to Brackenthwaite and on to High Cup House and then take the lane down to Dufton. Not far but enough to add a few extra miles walking. From the village it was a steady uphill plod. Already I was tiring, however, the first few miles out went through farmland and I wanted to camp beyond that. Eventually I made it as far as Swindale beck and decided that was far enough. A nice spot to wild camp,lovely views and it felt good to on the hill once more. There was one slight problem and that was finding water. The beck was just a mass of tumbled boulders, testament to its fury when in flood. Following the beck down I eventually found a small, clear trickle of water issuing form between the rocks and forming a few pools. The end of a long day; it was after six thirty when I stopped, an early night is on the books.
Friday 15th July. Same map, GR 716363. (roughly)
Looking out of the tent this morning I noted the grey cloud shrouding the tops. It was noticeably cooler than yesterday, not a day for tee shirts. Packed up and was away quite early.Mulling over the map last night, I had decided to stay with the PW for a while. My progress uphill is somewhat slow and today I was content to plod. As I got higher tendrils of grey cloud began to envelope me and it was not long before I was enclosed in cloud. With little visibility the world takes on another dimension; hearing sharpens, the call of birds, water running in a gully off to my right. It was damp but not enough to need waterproofs; my windproof shirt was enough to keep the dampness at bay. Walking in dense cloud can make me a tad twitchy and I keep the compass to hand for reassurance. The piping of moorland birds, curlews added to the feeling of solitude. Probably in clear weather it would be a lovely walk up and over The Heights. Maybe next time I head this way I will camp high; that would be nice. A pause at the summit cairn for a drink and nibble, a check of the compass and I was soon on the move once more. Descending, I noticed a line of metal posts on my right and also found the way ahead paved with large slabs. Yes, I know it is a necessity due to the amount of traffic the PW generates, to pave parts of it but it is still ugly. Coming down out of the cloud level I was momentarily flummoxed when I encountered a tarmac road. A quick study of the map and I realised it was the track that led up to the giant golf ball that loomed on the hill ahead, Great Dun Fell. According to the map some form of radio mast? More of the yellow brick road but some pleasant walking over Little Dun Fell and then the long pull up to Cross Fell. Something that puzzles me is the plethora of cairns all over these tops and as I found coming over The Heights, more of an hindrance to navigation than an aid. Dark, ragged clouds where moving swiftly across the sky in a steadily rising wind. Looking at the darkening sky, I did not linger too long on Cross Fell, a bit of lunch, a photo or two and I was on my way. There is a regular track that comes around by Greg's Hut, a bothy that I am sure sees much usage. The bothy was clean and tidy though. It was tempting to stop but it being only early afternoon I wanted to push on a bit further. That was the general idea anyway but bad weather was closing in behind me. The sky was turning a bruised blue, black and the wind was getting stronger. A decision had to be made and soon; to push on regardless and possibly have to make camp in adverse conditions or to make camp before the storm hit? Finding somewhere to camp was not easy, a lot of the ground was bog. Eventually, coming down by some old mine workings, I found a couple of places and dithered over whether to opt for a damp but sheltered spot or a dry but exposed bit of ground? Opting for the dry ground I wasted no time in getting the tent up; the wind was now blowing hard. The Shangri La 2 tent can be pitched with six pegs but has an optional 6 extra peg points for storm conditions. This afternoon I pegged everything down snug and tight. This is where I am glad I have a few Easton alloy pins in the peg bag. Ok, they may be a wee bit bit heavier than some pegs but placed properly it takes an awful lot to dislodge them. Having experimented with titanium pegs I was not impressed, they ended up mangled very quickly. By the look of things I have timed it just about right; I had barely got the kettle on when the wind really began to pummel the tent, complete with driving rain. This is where I prefer the Shangri 2, it has a mass of space, which allows me to bring everything under the fly and more importantly I am able to cook even with the tent battened down. The tent is an old original, from what I have heard the newer models are actually lighter and come seam sealed. Certainly weight for weight tents like the Terra Novas come lighter or as light as but my personal preference is to opt for a bit more room.One suggestion I would make if anyone is looking at a Shangri 2, is to have a half nest specifically made for the inner. Look up www.oookworks.com, they will make one to a person's specific needs. At the moment I am using a Shanrgi 1 nest but it is a compromise.
Later that evening, I had managed to doze off, only to wake with a start, wondering what had woken me. It only took a moment or two to realise the tent was flapping in the wind's relentless onslaught. Immediately I knew what the problem was, my trekking poles also serve as tent poles. They are light, four section poles, but have a tendency at times not to lock as tight as they should.One of the pole sections had slipped a fraction. Grabbing the head torch, a few contortions and a wriggle and the rear pole was now firm once more. The flapping had stopped, replaced by a steady thrumming of the taut nylon. Outside it was now blowing a full gale, a mad symphony of wind and rain. Small tent, big storm, daunting, lying in the dark, not only listening to the roar of the wind and the rattle of the rain but also feeling the movement, the shifting and swaying of the tent.
By morning the wind had eased slightly but the rain had increased and outside was covered in a blanket of grey. It was quite an easy decision to sit the weather out; in fact there was little choice, heading up the hill in those conditions would have been a tad foolish. By early afternoon things appeared to be easing slightly and I considered possibly moving on. Just as I had made a brew there was blinding flash and an almighty blast of thunder, I swear the earth trembled; it certainly got the heart rate up a bit! Another flash but this time further away. The rain increased in intensity and suddenly it was coming down in a mighty deluge, with it came hail and even sleet accompanied by thunder and lightning; nature;s percussion side of the orchestra in full flow, awesome.
Sunday 18th. Alston.
The rain continued on through the night and it was still pouring down in the early hours. Needing to nip out to the loo, as I went to get out of the tent I encountered water. The ground had reached saturation point and water was now flowing every which way. A tent complete with running water!! Carefully packed most stuff up in the tent, the first priority was the sleeping bag, making sure it kept dry. Fortunately, despite the fact that the rucksack had been sitting in the flood a liner had ensured everything inside remained dry. A brew of tea, the gas canister actually sitting in water; before a final decision of what route I was going to take. Possibly I could have followed the track back past Greg's hut and back out that way, the downside though was a lot of mileage and some of it in bad conditions. My original intended route looked a no go as well. That would have involved dropping down to Garrigill and joining the South Tine Trail which would take me up to the Tees river. Looking at the map it seemed possible that the first part would be on a track. However, the second part, marked as bridleway, followed the Trout beck up and I was certain that would be in full spate and could prove difficult.The easiest option was to head over Alston, stop there for the night and try and catch a bus out in the morning. Route sorted I finished packing, wet tent rolled up and bundled under the rucksack lid. Grey mist and cloud swirled around me as I headed over to the track. Splashing through the water I noticed my first choice for a camp was now more like a large pond. As I descended down the track I finally popped out of the uniform grayness. Even the sheep looked sodden and grey, although the lanolin in their wool would keep them dry. Despite the continuous rain it was not that unpleasant walking. A local guy in Garrigill asked where on earth I had come from. His eyebrows where raised when I said I had been camped. At least he had heard the weather forecast; more of the same. That decided me and I headed in the direction of Alston. A nice, low level walk through rolling countryside. The green verdant countryside looked washed and clean. A spiders web adorned with glistening drops of water. It had a couple of surreal moments too, coming over a stile I encountered a herd of cows. As is my want, I spoke to them gently as I eased my way through them. Half way across the field I glanced back and there where the cows, all in line astern dutifully following me across the field, yikes!! The path led me through a small wood. Hens where busy scratching through the undergrowth; seeing me, the all came running, obviously looking for food. 'Cattle rustling hiker mobbed by chickens!'
The youth hostel at Alston was full, the warden rang a couple of b&b's that took folk when the hostel had no vacancies. Both where full and I was informed the campsite was flooded. A couple of hotels looked a tad too posh for me and probably where pricey. Eventually I came across a pub, come hotel, come takeaway. It was run by an Asian lady. She was immediately concerned "Oh lady, where you come from, you so wet, terrible!" I tried to assure her it was only my outer gear that was wet. She continued. " You want room? I have room, special deal, just room, no breakfast, all twenty pound, yes?" She led me up a couple of flights of stairs, still chattering away "Room all tidy, you leave room tidy for me, yes?" Finally I was able to get out of my waterproofs, have a hot shower and put on clean clothes. There was one small problem, emptying the rucksack to re-pack it, as is usual bits of grass and such end up on the floor. There was nowhere to hang the tent or air anything out, so the tent was packed at the bottom of the rucksack. After that time was spent on my hands and knees meticulously picking up bits of debris from the carpet.
Monday, having checked with the tourist information office I found that there is a summer service bus that goes to Keswick and passes through Langwathby, the next station up from Appleby.The rain had eased too, just heavy showers. Not the easiest of trips, however, that is the way things turn out sometimes. It has not been a bad trip. I have a few ideas for the next time I head up here. Food wise, I was experimenting with travel biscuits which I found on line;(Dried:2 Blazes.) Solid enough not to break up when packed in the food bag, they had a certain sweetness I was not too keen on though. Also I took some smoked cheese from Tesco, a bad mistake, rubbery and with little taste. The other place I purchase dried food from is, www.outdoorsgrub.co.uk. It is odd but I find it easier and a better range of food by ordering online.