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Dispatches from the UK, July 1997

Before disappearing for a spell from Webdome en route and getting set up in Abu Dhabi, Vance indulged in a bit of fell walking in the UK. Here are his dispatches. Read chronologically or make use of the contents below:

In Which:

I decide where to go
I settle on Windermere
I go to Seatoller, in the valley below Scafel Pike
I commence my ascent of the English alpine region
I scale Scafel Pike, highest (and practically only) mountain in England
I climb back down again
I overnight in Keswick
I allow myself to become distracted and have to hitchhike to Buttermere
I muddle through despite the rain, lengthwise up and over this time
Things turn decidedly wet and squishy
I still have to walk for miles up country roads
I finally come to rest at a youth hostel outside Grasmere
The trek ends with hike almost to Ambleside


In which I decide where to go (like which country)

When I decided to take a few days off for walkabouts in the UK, I had my choice of a few destinations. One was Snowdonia in Northern Wales, and another was the Ben Nevis area in Scotland. Of the two, the Welsh area would perhaps be a bit limited and the Scots one too vast for the two days I would be able to spend walking there. So I settled on an area in northwest England, an area of Cumbria called the Lake District. This mountainous area was of manageable scope, about 30 miles by 30. The mountains were high enough. The area contained the tallest mountain in England, Scafel Pike, 3206 meters tall, and many other peaks in the 2500 to 3000 meter range. Plus, I'd heard about the Lake District from innumerable British friends. So that's where I headed.

I'd read up on walking in the area in my limited spare time my last days in California before coming out to UK, but I hadn't made notes and I didn't have much on me in the way of specifics once I arrived in London. But a visit to a train station showed me that the only way into the Lake District by train was to Windermere, so I bought a ticket to there, 55 pounds round trip, a fare known as SuperSaver. It seemed expensive to me, and I think you can get a bus from London to Keswick , even further into the lakes, for $13 pounds one way. The bus takes forever though. The train ride was 4 hours. Still I noticed fares advertised in Preston station an hour from Windermere for 17 pounds round-trip to London. Who cares, right?


In which I settle on Windermere

At any rate, I wound up at Windermere at a quarter to six on a Sunday evening. The tourist office at the train station was well staffed and the staff were friendly and helpful. I bought a walking map there and found that I would need to go to Keswick by bus next day and get from there to Seatoller to get in close to Scafel Pike if that's where I was headed. Keswick was at the north of a large lake in a region dotted with them, so it seemed a pleasant destination. I could get only as far as Grasmere that day, I was told, so I decided to have the information centre book me into a b&b nearby, and by six I was in a quiet little room off the street with a nice view of the pub I'd been recommended to try, the Grey Wall, where Theakston's was the bitter.

I got this latter information from the lady who ran the b&b. She also recommended me a short walk down by the lake, and I got her to suggest a couple more pubs in nearby Bowness. One in particular was traditional, called the Hole in the Wall. So I headed out down pleasant graveled walking paths which followed streams down to the lake, which was a little windswept, but attractive with its hulking green hills on the opposite shore, beyond which you could just see the really tall mountains in the clearing air, quite an unusual site in England. The shore was lined with boathouses and small docks with varnished wooden sailing dinghies. A few sails were about, and some skiers wearing wetsuits buzzed by walking on water. There were beaches with campers and picnickers dressed appropriately against the chill.

Further on toward Bowness the walking paths disappeared, and the land of "attractions" began. There was a quaint museum with old boats, including the rotting skeleton of a hundred-year old lake ferry, powered by two long oars, on outdoor display. There were cute little steam powered dinghies, some putting about on the lake. There was also the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, which spawned a wealth of curios available in shops, and I constantly saw people carrying Beatrix Potter books and biographies. I wandered about till I found the Hole in the Wall and had a pint there, nearly fell asleep over it, I was so jet lagged. I found there were be music there later that night, so I went off to find food and decided to find out for myself why so many people would be lining up for one particular fish and chips shop. I had chicken breast and chips fried in grease with curry and vinegar for about 3.50 pounds, and despite the cholesterol load, it was delicious. I ate mine on a park bench at a crossroads, and then wandered back to the Hole in the Wall where the traditional music was in full swing. I was too sleepy to drink and no one seemed to mind one more on the premises. It was late and growing dark when I wandered back up the road to my lodgings. I stopped off at the Grey Wall just short of my destination to try out the Theakston's, which I found to be very flavorful, but the clientele in the pub were a bit prim and proper to deign to chat up the likes of me, so I had the glass by myself and then took me-self off to bed without taking the barman up on his offer of last calls.

The sun set late in that part of England in the summer and was brightening the summer sky before 5 in the morning, when it woke me up. I'd have liked to have been off, but I dozed until 7:30 when I had a shower in the shared bath and went down to breakfast at 8:30. The man taking orders for breakfast ordered me to a corner and carried on the minimal sort of patter with the customers necessary to going through the motions of orderly breakfast assembly, usually the standard breakfast of bacon and sausage and a half a baked tomato sitting near a fried egg smothered in beans, plus cereal and orange juice and a pot of coffee, the perfect start to a hard day's walking.


In which I go to Seatoller, in the valley below Scafel Pike

By 9:30 I was on the bus to Keswick, which called in a Ambleside and Grasmere, two pleasant looking English small towns, the latter on its own small lake. Then the road rose along Thirlmere before dropping into Keswick, a robust town on the northern shores of Derwent Water (lake). I was looking about for information as my bus for Seatoller pulled away and by the time I'd negotiated the electronic postings I saw that I had an hour to wait for the next one. Perhaps it was a good thing because it gave me a chance to shop for a sandwich and some fruit in case I'd need it on the mountain, and I had a pot of filtered cafetiere and Danish in the sunshine at an outdoor cafe while awaiting my next bus. I figured I'd better eat when I could.

When the bus came, I rode on the open deck on top. We dropped south along the shore of Derwent Water under canopies of trees with stone bridges and the ubiquitous stone fences and structures. Traditional building was with slate or with the stones that had lain in the vicinity of the property, a style that blended well with the greenery on the hillsides. The road continued beyond the lake and into a narrow valley to the end of the bus line at Seatoller where the mountain peaks around Scafel Pike loomed off in the distance. The road itself went west another 5 miles over a pass to Buttermere on the lake of the same name, and from there you could take back roads back to Keswick or follow them north as far as Cockermouth, at which point you'd be leaving the lake district.

I finally got started walking at a little before 1:00. I could have started an hour earlier than that if I'd effected a smooth bus connection, and half an hour earlier still if I hadn't confused Seathwaite with Stonethwaite and got off at the wrong stop, leaving me with a mile to walk up the road to where I could start properly from Seatoller, where there was a sign for Seathwaite a mile again south. Seatoller was a small collection of mainly slate buildings, holding a pub I believe and a couple of b&b's, and an information centre with big maps and trail and weather information available from the lady there who gave me pointers on what I could expect on emerging at the other side.


In which I commence my ascent of the English alpine region

My trek began with a march down the motor road to Seathwaite, a sheep farm that was going about its business while tolerating a steady stream of passers through utilizing the public footpaths leading up the mountain, a lot of which was again marked off in grids of stone fences designating pastures. The farm had also turned itself into an "attraction" in this case a trout farm, plus it was renting lands along its road to campers.

I got more information at Seathwaite from the guardian of the National Trust, counterpart to our park rangers, one of whom was stationed at the entrance to the parks in a sort of kiosk run out of a land rover. Their job was to chat up people walking through and provide information if needed, and man a till in which donations were accepted for running the parks. I found them friendly and facilitative and wondered if they met needs from donations as opposed to the $20 fee you get hit with whenever you enter Yosemite in California (not a lot of blacks from Watts are likely to go there at those prices). I asked the guardian two questions. One was, could I drink the water up there (I could, he said, as long as I took the fast moving water running into tarns). The other questions was, what was the most remote area of the National Trust, to which the guardian indicated the Ennerdale area. Some of those trails are 6 miles from the nearest road, he said. This rang a bell. I remembered reading about Ennerdale with some interest in the books I'd taken to bed with me in California. The books had remarked on how isolated were the trails around Pillar, the 2927 meter mountain dominating the valley up mountain from Ennerdale Water.

This information casually gleaned from a guardian of the National Trust and subsequent realization were to become central to my planning over the next couple of days. My plan at that point was to head up to Scafel Pike and look around, but I had intended to exit the area to the east out Langdale Valley, which in turn debouched at the north end of Lake Windermere, which was the busy, touristy end of the lake district. Now, each time I would stop to look at a map, I would wonder how I could steer my trip over to the east, to the more remote and rugged Ennerdale side.


In which I scale Scafel Pike, highest (and practically only) mountain in England

It was a great day to climb Scafel Pike, which, to make a long story short, I did in about 3.5 hours. From Seathwaite (400 meters), the trail led up a river rushing down and crossed a stone arch-bridge at which point it somewhat vigorously headed up the mountainside and above the tree line, coming out eventually on a large tarn known as Sty Head, at around 2000 meters. From here the trail led eroded across a saddle and one option from there could be seen to be etched up a facing mountainside toward the pike just visible. Parties of hikers coming down suggested that this was a viable way. Halfway up that trail I had good views down of Sty Head Tarn and the trail leading up from there and to the west over the low point into Ennerdale, which I couldn't see due to the intervening presence of two crags, Great Gable and Kirk Fell. But I could see the way down into the valley to the south, Wast Water, which was laid out below like a map with farmhouses. Wast Water would be a convenient exit from the mountains in case of need. The only drawback to Wast Water was that the ranger couldn't vouch for the existence of any b&b's for some distance into the valley.

The route I had chosen up Scafel Pike was known as the "corridor" and on the corridor I met many people coming down, people of all ages. The clouds were yet high in the sky, above the peaks, and near the top I could see the ocean and a huge nuclear energy factory in the distance. When I finally reached the peak I could see over the edge of the mountain region on all sides. It was odd, but from there I could see clearly the extent of the funny little mountain patch I was in the middle of. I could clearly identify the lakes in the area and see the plains and oceans distant, and I could pretty well see where I'd be going for all of my options down now. I was lucky to have such a clear day for that. I ate and apple from my bag and thought about it.


In which I climb back down again

I had added clothing against the wind at the summit and I had to stop and remove some of that as I peak-hopped down. I dropped off Scafel Pike but climbed the next one over, and repeated the process just beyond that. The trail was indistinct at the peaks but marked by piles of rocks every fifty yards or so. A lot of work must have gone into piling those rocks over the years, and into planting the steps where the trail was good. I dropped down to a point where trails met, marked 2370 on my map, and where there was a stone structure in the shape of a cross made out of slate and with slaps for sitting on near its base. Perhaps it had been constructed as a wind shelter. This was my decision point. As trails at the crossroads led either east or west.

I sat there from about 6:00 to 6:30 trying to think what to do. On the one hand I was curious about Langdale, a valley that though at the busy end of the lake district at least had very small roads leading up it. It seemed it would hold quaint pubs and country lifestyle. On the other hand, the remote Ennerdale region beckoned. There was a youth hostel over the pass from Sty Head Tarn, but the ranger had thought it would likely be full, and the next was another 3 miles further down the valley on the shores of EnnerdaleWater, a long way to go at the end of a rugged day. I thought a more viable lodging option would be the b&b's back in Seatoller I'd seen earlier that day. If I went there, it was a long way down to be true, but had taken me only an hour or so to get up to Sty Head Tarn from there. The only problem there was it was a route once traveled, and the novelty of dropping into Langdale appealed. Another consideration was that I was letting myself in for a couple of drops to 1500 and climbs back to 2500 if I went from Sty Head Tarn to Ennerdale, and transport would be iffy from either Ennerdale or Buttermere, which was also a possible outlet, so basically I was making one of those choices typical to me, whether to go the hard way for whatever rewards that might bring me or take the relatively easy and pleasant way down to Langdale and forego the austere pleasures of the remote Ennerdale area. I sat and pondered the dilemma studied maps and had a break for half an hour before I decided, it was late either way and I had better move, to return to Seatoller.

Easier said than done. I was after all 2370 meters up. Still the way was downhill. It wasn't simply a matter of retracing steps; there was an alternate way just short of a second tarn that would take me back to Seathwaite. I headed down until I caught sight of the tarn and found the way into a ravine that led where the ravine was emptying into rivulette that would become a sizeable stream by the time it reached the sheep farm. My impression of its course at the time was that it had cut an impressive gorge, like something I would associate with China.


In which I overnight in Keswick

I regained Seatoller by around 8:00 in the evening. The small town was mostly indoors, and no vacancy signs graced the windows of the two b&b's. The only other two people on the streets at the moment were an elderly couple who had driven down for a slide show at the information centre and had got the wrong night. In passing we exchanged problems and they offered to give me a lift to the next village on their way back to Keswick.

But I got them to take me all the way to Keswick. It occurred to me that if I slept in Keswick, I could get a bus the next morning out to Buttermere and walk up the Ennerdale valley from there, broach the crest at the trail leading down to Sty Head Tarn, and return to the spot I'd sat with indecision only hours before, and then continue my walk into Langdale. This would satisfy all my curiosities and give me a bit of a workout besides as the walk from Buttermere to Langdale had been estimated at 13 miles with terrain rising and falling 2000 meters in undulations. Whew. I must have been nuts, but that's what I decided to do.

I easily found a b&b in Keswick, 12.50 without breakfast, another 2 pounds with. I almost took it without, but the proprietor agreed to have breakfast for me at 8:00 so I could catch the 8:40 bus to Buttermere. There were a number of pubs in the attractive town centre, so I had no problem eating drinking and being merrie. The first pub I tried, purported to have good meals, had finished serving grub, as it was by then almost 9:00. So I polished off a pint there and moved on to another pub chosen at random. Here I had a tasty chicken a la Cajun and another pint. However, this pub was a little too veddy British and I didn't feel encouraged to stay, but moved to another pub which had a sign out for live music. This one was crowded and smoky, but some people moved over and let me sit at their table. The bloke's name was Adrian and he turned out to be a caver and paraglider instructor. We were having a nice chat when a woman came and sat on his lap and sort of took him over. He had mentioned being recently separated from a lady and the one at hand was apparently therapy. So I listened to music and talked with some of the other young people there, and eventually left to take me-self to bed.


In which I allow myself to become distracted and have to hitchhike to Buttermere

The problem with the morning was the weather. I had the story on the telly in my room: showers over Ireland and pushing up to Scotland and the western coastal regions of English. Outside my breakfast window, the cars glistened with raindrops and clouds leered overhead. It could go either way, not the perfect day for a strenuous walk at altitude, but I said what the heck.

I got to the bus station in plenty of time to catch the bus. A handful of others were about and they'd left their bags at the Buttermere stop. I sat on a bench and was joined by a pleasant young lady who started chatting. She was going home to see her mum in Watford, she only worked the bars in Keswick on weekends. Meanwhile a bus pulled up marked Buttermere and the driver got out his side. He left the passenger door closed, and the girl figured he'd pull around and pick up the other passengers. The other passengers, at the Buttermere stop, made no move to go to the bus. Suddenly the driver got back in the bus and closed his door. He never opened the passenger side. And then he drove off. "He's goon," the girl said in a thick Cumbrian accent.

Well, there were two strikes on the day: the weather and a missed bus. The next one was not for two hours, too late for me to undertake the walk I'd set myself up for. There were of course other options from there, but I can get determined not to let the little things prevent me from accomplishing my goals, so I decided, ok, I'll hitchhike. And I just set off looking for the road to Buttermere. I had to round the lake to the village on the far side and walk down a road junction or two before I was on a road marked "Buttermere". It was about 8 miles to Buttermere from Keswick, but on a road with little traffic, and them that did pass didn't stop. There were the odd workingmen about: a postman and a milk delivery truck that kept passing and ignoring me as I walked into my 3rd mile. Eventually the postman stopped in the road to talk to a motorist coming in a land rover from the opposite way, and while they were blocking the road, and elderly couple pulled up behind. I had my map out on which I'd written Buttermere in big letters, so they were stopped and they knew where I was going, and in the extra moments I guess they worked out that I was gentle, so they opened their doors for me and got me down to Buttermere by about 10:30.


In which I muddle through despite the rain, lengthwise up and over this time

Finally under way I set off alongside the lake. The lady guarding the National Trust at that end warned me about getting lost in low clouds if I was going to pursue the idiocy of walking all the way to Langdale, a long way, she said, making sure I had a compass. And the weather, she added. I'd heard the report I said, 30% chance of rain. Perpetual optimist, I had taken that as a 70% chance of sunshine, good odds, but what it really meant was that it was going to rain 30% of the time I was on the mountain.

It started raining about the time I headed uphill at the end of the lake. I had to rise from Buttermere at 500 meters to Scarth Gap at 1400 in order to drop down to the hostel at 700 meters in the Ennerdale valley beyond. It was a discouraging climb with my feet getting wet and the rocks slippery and making for tedious going. At the gap the way was not obvious though further on I sited the hostel. Still I was weighing my options, including an escape out Ennerdale Valley. What a hassle that would be I thought, there being not much in the way of roads for miles.

The next best escape would be Seatoller, and when I reached the hostel I found a pair of British walkers resting outside who were going for a low route there on the "coast to coast" route. By then it had stopped raining, and despite the fact that the peaks were all shrouded in cloud, I thought I'd just continue and see how I got on. Even Pillar, looking even more remote on a rainy day, was obscured at the top to the south of the hostel. So after a brief rest at the hostel, which was closed (not even a warm cup of tea, which I had expected to find, as at most hostels in Europe), and which had a car track leading to it, I decided to head up the wall of green enclosing the valley, if I could distinguish the walking trail from sheep tracks.

I must admit I had misgivings about doing what I was about to do. The weather had definitely gone off and I was heading into cloud. I wasn't so worried for myself, but I was carrying my new $3000 Winbook laptop, essential gear as any backpacker knows, and without which my pack would have been 7 pounds lighter, but there you are. Worse case scenario for me would not be that I would get soaked and cold, but that my laptop would get even one drop of water in it that would short it out of commission at next bootup.

My map showed two tracks up from the hostel, one leading to a peak to the south and the other a more or less straight shot up the valley and down to Sty Head Tarn. I therefore avoided the turning to the south, but the track to the east seemed to be the one the other two were following. Mine petered out, as it seemed it might be pointing up an incline forming a ramp into the void where the mountain met the cloud. The best I could make out from my own map was that my path led between two streams, and there were streams to either side of the grassy ramp, so I headed up. In places bare spots showed the possible wear of human foot, but the path was narrow and strewn with sheep shit, for which the other occupants of the hill bore certain responsibility. I pushed on up and up and eventually made out on the other hill where the path leading south rose to do a traverse of the next peak over. The traverse was not shown on my map; my map showed you had to do the peak. The traverse led to another low point in the crest whose V was well below the cloud. That's where I should be, says I to myself in hindsight. But it was by then too late. I was committed to the portion of mountainside my level of skill and intelligence had allotted me.

At the top I found that I was separated from the V by a huge cirque I wouldn't have wanted to traverse. However, an alternate trail came down from a nearby peak. I was tempted to try that one, but I met some hikes coming down it who assured me the one I wanted was up to the left, a steep scramble up bog and scree which, it turned out, led right to the top of the trail leading up from Sty Head Tarn.


In which things turn decidedly wet and squishy

It was a long pull up, and at the top (2500 meters), I found a half dozen other hikers and the weather closing in. We could see nothing and it had started to rain again. I pulled my poncho protectively about my laptop and headed down to the tarn. It was a long downhill ramble to get there, and the cloud didn't clear to reveal the tarn till I was almost there. It was pouring rain by now, staccato on my poncho, and others on the mountain were scrambling to get off it. Seatoller, an easy route down, was the option favored by most. But I was moving against the flow. I knew the area now and where to go and it was just a matter of bulling my way on. The rain running off my poncho had soaked my jeans long ago, and my feet were soggy, the boots soaked through. But I wasn't particularly uncomfortable. As far as I could tell, my body was still watertight and hence my laptop. And I had only one rise to conquer now before the downhill slog to Langdale. I saw no reason not to damn the elements and complete the walk.

It took another hour in adverse conditions, walking mainly uphill, for me to reach the Scafel Pike peaks area and the crossroads where I had stood the day before. It rained the whole hour. I was hungry and thinking to eat the sandwich I'd bought in Keswick the morning before, but I couldn't find a place to stop. I just kept walking. I saw it pretty much as an allegory on my decision making process, that I would have put myself in this position as opposed to the easy day I could have had walking from pub to pub in the Langdale, Grasmere, Ambleside area. Of course I was wrong. I would have been bored down there, running into tourists at every step, and this water world would end with no damage to my laptop, and I would be able to tell people that night and the next day, "Me, oh, I've just walked over from Buttermere," and swell up inside as they fumbled to describe the puny walks they'd made. For the moment, I was pretty miserable, wet, hungry, 2500 meters above where I wanted to end up, legs aching, and wishing I could go home now.

I reached the crossroads at 4:00, two hours earlier than I had arrived the day before, and a two-hour advantage in sorting myself out once I reached the valley below. But unlike the day before, I couldn't see the valley. And it was raining too hard for me to want to stop and rest at the windbreak. So I pushed on, going mostly downhill now with a couple of uphill exceptions. The scenery was superb and would have been better. But I remember passing a green valley with a river running down it and thinking what shades of green I would need to paint that in all its splendor. The valley was cloaked in gray from the mist and cloud, but there were bright spots of green where the light showed through, and infinite variety of green-gray to describe its features, and where are the artists today who would bother?

Another lovely spot was Angle Tarn, a large pond where water collected in a mountain crevice. Here the paths bifurcated and parties of walkers I could see on my way down to it chose either direction. According to my map I took the way up and ascended the other side. It was still raining hard and it was not easy to enjoy the scenery. From there the trail dropped into rocks reminiscent of Oman, and eventually I got below the cloud and could see the valley. It was still a long drop into it, but finally I was on the gravel track leading for a mile or more to the farms at the head of the valley.


In which I still have to walk for miles up country roads

There were a lot of walkers out walking their dogs and acting for all the world like there was no rain. Like the walkers I had seen in the mountain, everyone seemed prepared for rain and dressed for it, and not to be bothered by it. The crowds had thinned near the top of the mountain, but there were walkers up there, and lower down, people just starting out. What a race are these mad dog Englishmen.

It was after 6:00 when I reached the pub at the end of the road known as Dungeon Ghyll. There I met other walkers and enjoyed a pint in their company. But room rates were 30 quid, and despite the fact there would be a bus in the morning, I didn't especially want to stay there, not at that price. So I drank my pint and headed up the road.

A mile further on there were a couple of rather isolated hotels and b&b pubs looking like they catered mainly to the motoring trade, and despite the placidity of the countryside I didn't want to stay in those. I met some walkers on the road who told me how to negotiate the paths leading to the town of Chapel Style an hour away. Following their directions I had a nice walk there through cow and sheep pastures and over stone bridges following the river, and avoided the motor way.

In Chapel Style I had trouble finding a place to stay. I passed a b&b well off the road because it was, well, off the road, and I was too tired to walk the 300 meters to get there. That particular place had a few caravans parked nearby and was renting part of the estate to a handful of campers. I continued on the attractive paths into the town proper and saw straight away a b&b that turned out to be full, but the lady pointed up the road to another place which I visited and rousted the man of the house to the door. Ah, yes, there is a room, the man said, but it's made up for a dooble like, you know a dooble, two people, and it's my wife that does it, and she's out now, and so could you call back later, around 9:30 like, when she'll be back. I dutifully took his number, wadded it up as soon as the bloke had retreated back inside his house, and put it in my pocket so as not to litter, where I found it weeks later after laundry. Then I walked out to the road and headed up it and soon came on the town's pub, the Wainright. Lots of cars parked about attested to the wealth of the clientele, and inside, I found the place packed with a gentry crowd. Belly to the bar, I told the barman I was hungry, thirsty, and in need of accommodation. The barman told me I'd exhausted the b&b's to that side, but there was one more up the road. He had someone call, but it too was full. That's it then, he said there's just the hotel, and that'll cost you 30-40 quid. I'll walk before I pay that, I thought, and remembered I'd seen a sign just up the road marking Grasmere 3.5 miles. Yes the barman agreed, there's Grasmere, over the top, he said, indicating the way over the mountain.

I was a bit disappointed I wouldn't be eating and drinking in that pub but I headed up the road. It was 8:00. It would take me maybe two hours to get to Grasmere, too late to eat, since all the pubs stopped serving at 9:30 max. I'd be lucky to find a b&b open. But it was a fine evening, the rain had stopped, and the countryside opened up as I headed up the thin strip of tarmac.


In which I finally come to rest at a youth hostel outside Grasmere

I wasn't really in the mood for a hike, especially an uphill one with dusk coming on, so I was very pleased to come on, of all things, a youth hostel. That turned out to be the solution. I stopped in and was being registered for a room before the lady at the desk remembered to ask if I was a member. My not being a member posed a slight problem, one the lady tried to resolve by registering me on the spot with the YHA association, but she couldn't find how to do international memberships, and in the end she gave up. It wasn't really cheap compared with the b&b's, about 11.50 for the bunk and breakfast. But it was nice to stay in a youth hostel, which for a youthful senior like myself, is a hostel wherein one may recapture one's lost youth. I left my pack there on my bunk with the laptop stowed inside, assuming that no one would rummage in my bags, that they were safe there, and I hiked back down the tarmac the 20 minutes into town to reach the pub while it was still serving.

After my earlier rebuff, it proved to be a reasonably convivial place. Because I was eating they had to seat me, so they seated me with a family whose head turned out to be in the computer business. He went to San Jose every month and he and his missus had a beautiful young daughter with them named Claire, a Brooke Shields sort, not quite ready for prime time by virtue only of being with her parents. They were joined at table with another couple they'd met touring the region and as quiz night was cranking up, and as they could use an additional brain, they welcomed me into their little unit (and as it turned out, I was the only one in the group who knew that the "Bridge of Sighs" was in Cambridge). Before the quiz, I had time to eat a lamb shoulder in mint sauce (I'd seen plenty of those on the walk up) and drink the first of a couple of dark bitter beers, and at the end of the evening I left the place more enlightened for my having been there. An hour before closing, the odd couple offered to drive me up to the hostel, but I was finishing my beer with Claire and her parents and refused the lift. Half an hour later, when we all indeed did leave, Claire's folks did not renew the offer, and I had to hotfoot it uphill to reach the hostel by the11:00 curfew in the rain (no big deal; I had my hiking poncho on me). I found the place in an uproar with British school kids getting ready for bed.


In which the trek ends with hike almost to Ambleside

The next morning I awoke with a hillside of bracken outside our open window and ate one of those cholesterol-rich breakfasts the brits are so fond of, my last for a long spell. There was a fire alarm that emptied the hostel and contrary to instructions, I didn't evacuate the building but went to my room and got my pack with its valuable computer and left the assembly standing on the lawn to continue my journey, heading uphill into the bracken. I walked over the fells until Grasmere came into view and then descended into town on the public paths. In Grasmere, it started a misty rain again and I decided to take a coach to the train station at Windermere for the ride back to London, but in looking for the bus stop, I just kept walking and skirted a hillside which took me for another hour over to Rydal, halfway to Ambleside. This was William Wordsworth country, and I passed two residences of the venerable man, one of which had a line outside. I didn't stop, but continued to the motorway where a bus came right on schedule to take me to a train which left on schedule and carried me comfortably into London where I sorted out my by-then cancelled Gulf Air booking and got it restored, and so life goes on. Here's to the interludes.

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Last updated: November 14, 1997

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