This bit of memoir first appeared in my Endless Streams and Forests blog in June 2009.
It started with my old boss, Gerard McCloskey, loaning me his Wainwright books about walking in the Lake District while I was over in England for work in October 1989. From there it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to do some exploring in the wilds of the Cumbrian Mountains as a side trip. I had no real hiking gear, but I borrowed a backpack—more what you would call a knapsack— from Gerard and, since my raingear was inadequate, I also borrowed an umbrella from his wife Sheila. For footgear I wore shoes that are hard to describe: not hiking boots, not running shoes, but comfortable shoes that were a bit dressy, like something you would wear with slacks to a social gathering.
I got from London to Windermere by train and from there to Grasmere by bus, as I recall. (I am going by memory on all of this.) It was a windy, overcast afternoon as I dutifully looked in on Dove Cottage, the home of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. I am quite willing to journey iambically with Wordsworth, but I wasn’t really in the area to look at points of historic interest. I was there to see mountains. I found a small hotel and had a dinner that involved Cumberland sausage and a brew called Old Peculiar.
In the morning, after my breakfast of eggs and sausage, fried tomatoes, and toast, I called over to an even smaller hotel in the village of Rosthwaite and made a reservation for the next two evenings. I then started walking toward Rosthwaite.
It rained most of the day. To reach Rosthwaite, I had to climb over the wide divide that separates the watershed of the River Derwent from the chain of lakes that includes Thirlmere, Rydal Water, and Windermere. It was a rough, stony track that took me past guardian sheep.
My route took me up the valley of Far Easedale Gill, past the Deer Bields and the Pike of Carrs, and across the height of land at Greenup Edge. At that point my umbrella nearly blew inside out from the wind. Passing through an unmarked junction of rough paths, I continued northwest along the headwaters of Greenup Gill, between Long Band and Bleak How, and down into Stonethwaite Fell.
I passed some small farms. All of the streams were running high (or as they would say in that region, the becks were in spate), and in the picture below you can make out a cascade glimmering in the distance. It was starting to get a bit dim.
Right around 4:00 I found my Rosthwaite hotel, folded my umbrella, and walked in. The proprietor said, “Good to see you, Miss Bennett. We will be serving tea in ten minutes.” Hot tea and cookies, which I had in the dining room with three or four other guests, have never tasted so good.
The next day I walked down the Borrowdale valley and climbed Scafell Pike, the high elevation point of England (3209′). From where I started, it was a climb of about 2900 vertical feet. The Pike is a rugged mountain studded with sharp stones and riven by steep gullies. I took a well-traveled route, going up along Grain’s Gill.
Then I passed Sprinkling Tarn.
The clouds were just brushing the mountain. I believe the next picture was taken looking past All Crags over Angle Tarn, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
The path was easy to follow, but at no point were there any signs—not at trailheads, junctions, or destinations. I hope that is still the case, and I applaud the English for that tradition. It was not hard to find my way to to the summit, but when it was time to descend, many somewhat confusing paths led toward widely separated valleys. Picking my way carefully over the scree, I sorted things out and followed the path that led past the Round How and back toward the Borrowdale valley, a route that roughly paralleled my ascent. I saw some interesting formations of grass and hill on the way down.
I remember that at this point, my ankles were getting a little tired in my thin, low-topped shoes as I stepped from rock to rock, but I am strangely proud of the fact that I managed to pull off this … feat. Eventually I wended my way back to the Rosthwaite hotel in time for dinner.
The next day I headed north toward Derwent Water, a large, clear lake. I followed the River Derwent a short distance, then scrambled up to the top of the ridge that lies to the west of the river. The ridge, or at least part of it, is labelled as Narrow Moor on my map. I passed High Scawdel, Lobstone Band, and Nitting Haws. Clouds were scuttling across the sky, creating a patchwork of light and shadow (see top picture). The ridge terminates in some hills called the Cat Bells, which I descended down to the lake.
I knew that a boat circled the lake in a clockwise direction, touching at various points at scheduled times. I recall that I had a timetable for the boat, and at any rate, I walked to Hawes End and waited for the boat. I had a bit of trouble at first believing that the boat really existed, but eventually I saw it approach, and I boarded it for the journey to Keswick.
I strolled around Keswick (pop. 4800) in the late afternoon. The next morning I visited the Pencil Museum, another whole story that concerns pencils going into outer space, graphite mines, and my mother’s attitude about pencils.