Thursday, April 9, 2015

Easter Weekend in the Lake District

I'm hiding in our apartment because I just told the restaurant host downstairs that my, wasn't he looking "sweet" today.  I really meant to say "sharp," as he was suited and tied today, when normally he is not, and we maintain a neighborly banter, the dialogue of which transpires whenever he is smoking outside the door of the restaurant and I am entering or exiting the door of our apartment.  I am the foreign neighbor lady that complains about the evening cigarette smoke that wafts up through our floorboards from their storage area, and he is the "good cop" manager who assures me that he always smokes outside.

The sun is shining here in Amsterdam and the temperature is what could be called "warm" without hesitation.  I went for a walk earlier, to collect groceries and whatnot, and it was almost as nice as hiking in the English countryside with mud under your feet and sheep all around and no people in sight.  But not quite.

We flew from Amsterdam to Manchester on Friday morning, and our friends collected us for the two-hour drive up to the Lake District.  Our first walk was combined two Wainwrights overlooking the town of Coniston, just south of center (centre) in the park.  Visibility was poor, with plenty of slush and wind on the ridge between Old Man and Dow Crag, by far the chilliest of the three walks of the weekend.  The clouds broke right at the Dow Crag summit, so I did manage one photo.

We loaded up on chips and beer in the Hesket Newmarket pub and readied ourselves for Day Two, much as I have loaded up on half a jar of peanut butter and a third of a loaf of bread in preparation for the pair of time trials I must run in one hour from now.  Hm.

Anyway, Saturday I opted to stay at lower elevations and go for a bit of run along the base of Blencathra, nearer to where we were staying.  It was sunny and beautiful and oh-so-glorious to be wearing running shoes in place of hiking boots.

So, while I scampered through the meadow down here:

The other three were moving slowly toward the top of Blencathra, shown here:

And scrambling up a steep little incline called Sharp Edge, here:

After overshooting the waterfall where we'd agreed to meet and trotting another two miles up the trail, climbing halfway up Blencathra without aid of a "permissible footpath," and making acquaintance with a few wooly grazers, I realized my navigational mistake and managed to return to the correct waterfall just as they were packing up to head back to the car.  I also saw some cool lichen growing on a twig.

That night, we cooked a proper English Easter roast (lamb, as it happens) at the little AirBnB we rented, and Ed and I caught two mouse-sized bats, like, with leathery wings and squeaking, in our bedroom and threw them out the window and then still managed to fall asleep.

Day Three was the "long walk," which would entail driving to Patterdale on the southwestern end of Ullswater and hiking about twelve miles:  first up to Helvellyn (950m) by way of a slight scramble called Striding Edge, then down and up again to Fairfield, over to St. Sunday Crag, and back down to Patterdale.   Google Maps it.  By the way, I hear people are playing Pac Man on Gmaps now?

Walk that ridge up there from right to left. Go.
Despite Ed's not feeling at all super, we made it up to Striding Edge and had a pretty fun scramble, following which there were some snow steps over a little cornice to the summit.  It should be mentioned that we saw more than one mid-calf-height dog sprinting up and down the slopes and rocks during the climb up.  Apparently little dogs thrive on razor-sharp shards of volcaniclastic sandstone.  Who knew?

Those trekking poles were a wedding gift, and they saved my knees.
Striding Edge is the ominous-looking one on the left.
Red Tarn down to the right.

After, I don't know, a while, we all made it over the rocks and up the steps in the snow, and ate some sandwiches and absorbed the many views from the summit:

We then enjoyed an easy stroll eastward along the ridge, over various pikes and crags, and down the hill to Grisedale Tarn.  Somewhere in the middle was an off-hand placard that mentioned a small aircraft had made England's first mountaintop landing here, in December 1926.  The sign said something along the lines of: "The men got out, looked around, and in a couple of hours, got back in the plane and flew away."  Must have forgotten the tea.

Ed was still feeling awful and I wanted very much not to piss off my ITB, so the two of us decided to head back down to Patterdale, rather than humping up and down an additional two fell peaks with our friends.

This turned out to be a solid-gold nugget of decision-making, because halfway down the hill stood a stone traveler's hut where two men from one of the UK's biggest cancer support organizations were greeting hikers and handing out huge mugs of tea and homebaked goods of every description.  We sat and enjoyed the view for about twenty minutes, and chatted with a lady from Leeds.

Then we ambled the rest of the way back into Patterdale, noting the places where frogs had lain their eggs in jellied coats over the soggiest parts of the footpath, and the giant bootprints where unwitting walkers had gooped their feet with frog spawn.

Then Ed threw up in the corner of the beer garden at the Patterdale Hotel, proving once and for all that he had indeed been pretty darn sick for the duration of the 18 km, seven-and-a-half hour loop.  We shuffled into the lobby and confessed to the nice man at the front desk, who I think might have seafaring experience because he cheerily told us he would "get the bucket and swab up."

Poor Ed slept out in the parking lot while the rest of us ate a pub dinner, but rose again on Monday morning and managed to stroll with me in the little town of Grasmere, where my oldest sister lived and worked for a spell over a decade ago.  We dabbled in the daffodils, lunched on tea and cake in the little shop where she had waitressed, and bought some famous Grasmere gingerbread for the road.

With some elevation in the legs, we're back into the Amsterdam routine, waking up to the cat's muttering and walking down to Ed's work with coffees in hand.  With the Amsterdam sunrise and the chittering of bike chains and buzzing of motorscooters, it's almost as nice as taking a mug of tea down the lane on a misty morning, when you can hear the farmer rattling through the paddocks on his tractor, but can't see him until he passes you on the other side of the hedge...

... almost.

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