I didn’t even know Mark had a bucket list but apparently walking the Old County Tops route was on it. Since the village ladies had already done the Coast to Coast and walked the Yorkshire Three Peaks it was felt time for the men to have their turn.
After several pub based training walks, including a trip up Helvellyn during the worst six hours weather in a particularly fine spell in April, the core group of four were ready for the challenge. The need to be back for last orders meant leaving at 5am and this also meant enjoying the beauty of a tranquil Lake District before the crowds woke up, and a cloud inversion first thing.
Walking through Grasmere without having to return the stares of those enjoying their full English was a change from last time and soon we were gaining height towards Grizedale Tarn. We’d had the odd waymarking flag on our route so far and the Hi-vis jacketed man on the side of Grizedale Hause told us they were for an ‘Ultratrail’ race that was taking place. Sure enough a couple of runners came past – they didn’t seem to know where they were going although one might have mumbled “Watendlath”.
In the opposite direction some fell runners appeared who confirmed they were doing the Bob Graham round. Then some more, all grunting a greeting before re-focussing on Seat Sandal and Dunmail Raise. We made a diagonal line onto Nethernmost Pike before meeting more fell runners….no, hang on, these are dressed differently and have numbers attached….ah, the ’10 Peaks Challenge’. Barely 8am and it was like Piccadilly Circus up there! Peeling off Helvellyn (after the summit selfie) was a pleasure to get away from the crowds.
We’d dumped some food at the Wythburn car park when passing the night before but unfortunately a hungry rodent had taken a fancy to my cheese sandwiches and dry bag. Since I was already recovering from a water infection I thought I wouldn’t risk any other diseases so had to make do with what was left.
Walking up the Wythburn always requires a stoic mindset, even when you know what’s coming. Robin found it particularly sapping so it was a relief to get to Greenup Edge for a change of view and gradient. I’m not sure my direct route to Angle Tarn was appreciated by all but I know from the fell race that it’s the quickest for me 😉
The maths started at the tarn – if a 10hr fell race time takes about 4hrs to get to Angle Tarn and we’ve just taken 8 then it’ll take us…..20hrs to do this walk! So, we should be done by 1am!! Without doubting the certainty of the science we had no option but to carry on and see what happened.
Robin’s appreciation of Scafell Pike as a ‘proper mountain’ on the way up was reinforced by the dramatic scenery on the way down – straight down the fell runners route to Great Moss. A pause for some water and a plodge through the bog then down the rough path to the oasis that is Cockley Beck. Here Dunmail offered me cake to make me feel like the Achille Ratti ladies were just around the corner.
Robin had suffered with his feet up to this point and having been tired on the Wythburn was close to exhaustion now. It seemed only piped Eminem had kept him going and although we were all tired he was ready for bed. However, if any of us thought he was giving up we were much mistaken – showing tremendous strength of character he dismissed any suggestion of stopping, instead turning the conversation to hookers (as an apparently naked lady drove past) and sprinkling some magic white powder on his feet. Perhaps we were all hallucinating.
Thus revived the climb out of Cockley Beck was broken down, little by little. Greeted by a strong cross-wind and misty rain at the col we struggled along the traversing path and over Brim Fell, each of us immersed in whatever thoughts were keeping us going. Magically at the top of Coniston Old Man the mist cleared and the huge cairn provided enough shelter for us to stop, eat and enjoy the magnificent view. We had done it! Now just the small matter of the six miles or so back to Langdale…..
That wind was strong. That path was rough. That road was hard. And steep. That daylight disappeared.
Eventually four tired but delighted men of the village stumbled back to the Langdale caravan and up that cruellest of steep drives into the caravan site. We had missed last orders but none of us felt inclined to much boozing when there was a shower and bed beckoning. Except Mark who had brought some beer but even so couldn’t be persuaded to reveal what else was on his bucket list….