Coast to Coast Day 3 – Borrowdale to Patterdale

Published 27 August 2010

The bridge outside Borrowdale YHA

"I think the YHA should do a butler service. Someone who will sort out all your drying and stuff for you. Yes okay, I know it’s not in the true spirit of hostelling, but I’d use it!"

Little is recorded on what clothing Wainwright favoured for walking. Well okay, it might be extremely well recorded but I couldn’t be bothered to do any research. It wouldn’t have improved anything I’d written, so frankly I’ll stick to the assertion above.

In my mind I always have him in tweed although it’s far more likely he wore a grey anorak, flat cap and had a flimsy blue plastic pacamac for when it rained.

In contrast the modern walker is spoilt rotten. Outdoor clothing companies offer everything from high tech waterproof jackets which clouds will take just one look at before promptly moving elsewhere… QUICK!, through to antibacterial, sweat-resistant t-shirts that you need to wash less often and also look pretty stylish in the pub in the evening to boot.

But even the amazing feats of the hiking boot with Gore-tex in it is never going to keep you dry if you put your foot down and suddenly find yourself up to your knee in a fast flowing, ice cold stream that’s been swollen by heavy rain.

Ah yes, rain. If the wetness of the previous day had felt bad then the next two were to be horrendous. The forecast promised light showers, maybe some drizzle.

The forecast lied.


Eagle Crag, seen near Smithymire Island

It all started reasonably enough as we left Borrowdale Hostel and headed down the road to Stonethwaite. Wainwright’s “official” route actually does a little loop round the village of Rosthwaite, but that seemed to be more for accommodation purposes more than anything else so we headed down the road to join the path on the other side of Stonethwaite Bridge. The lovely sun of the previous afternoon had gone, the fells were covered and the rain was coming down gently. Even so it was a lovely start to the day.

I was in familiar territory having walked up this stretch in the opposite direction the year before whilst doing The Cumbria Way, albeit in much nicer weather.

When we arrived at Smithymire Island we stopped to admire the waterfalls. The rain showers and early time of our arrival (we’d left the hostel at 8:20) meant it was a quiet spot compared to the crowds on my last visit, and I longed to linger but we had a long trek ahead of us.

The exact distance from Rosthwaite to Patterdale seems to be a bone of contention. We’d seen estimates ranging from 14½ miles from our guidebook, through to 19. Wainwright himself lists it as 17¾ but the exact distance varies on which routes you pick – this one simple day contains three points where you can pick between different options and the exact distance depends on whether you make a diversion into the village of Grasmere.

Off up into the clouds

Leaving Smithymire Island (and the Cumbria Way) behind, we started the steady climb up along Greenup Gill.

Recent heavy rains meant the water was crashing down the valley and seeking out new routes to get there – one of which was our footpath.

The further up we got, the more flooded the paths became and things got especially fun as we approached Lining Crag.

Lining Crag

A steep, rocky outcrop jutting out by itself, some kindly footpath engineer had made some lovely stone steps cut into the rock. However the very steep path had naturally taken on a new use as a most pleasing waterfall.

The thought of slipping was not a particularly good one given the rocks below, but in many respects it looked far worse than it was and we soon reached the summit and headed towards Greenup Edge.

Up high and deeply in the clouds the weather was getting steadily worse and we were getting a good soaking. My shorts were drenched but even so I was filled with optimism that as soon as the weather cleared, I’d quickly dry off. The forecast had promised heavier rain in the morning before easing to light showers and drizzle in the afternoon. It would be fine.

However the weather was just one of our problems. Our path required us to ford several small streams, but in the rain they’d swollen and dramatically expanded.

Shallow stepping stones were suddenly inches below water and several points required huge leaps in order to cross. At Birks Gill even that was impossible and we resorted to huge detours in order to attempt a safe crossing.

After seeing a large party with a dog appearing from the opposite direction, we hoped for some local knowledge to help guide us to the other side. The dog proved it was possible, making a big leap. It almost didn’t make it, having to fight the torrent of water to avoid being washed away before eventually climbing onto our side of the bank.

However any hopes of humans giving us a handy tip were quickly dismissed as we heard the cry of “Come on dog! We’re not going that way” and the poor hound had to make its way back to join the walkers who strode off in a different direction.

Still if a dog could cross, so could we. Taking a huge run up we just about made it with only a minor soaking.

However the crossing lead us on to Grasmere Common and that resulted in yet more rain and sodden stone paths getting us more and more soaked. When we should have seen the mighty sight of Helm Crag, all we got was grey shadows in the gloom.

Alongside Far Easedale Gill

By the time we arrived in the valley near Grasmere we were drenched and hungry and we had some shopping to do.

Earlier in the day I’d idly wondered if I could get away without any waterproof trousers however the weather had persuaded me otherwise. After eating our soggy lunch on a soggy bench on the village green (the local burghers having clearly decided that having benches in their attractive stone bus shelters might attract the wrong kind of people) I got my wallet out and marched into the local branch of Cotswold.

In my soaked and muddy state trying anything on would be difficult and I’d prepared myself mentally to pay an insane amount in order to get a decent pair of breathable waterproof trousers, purchased without even trying them on. Which is why I was more than happy to walk up to the shelf and instantly spot the exact same type as I’d accidentally left at home in London and for a reasonable cost. Standing in the doorway I clambered into them and instantly felt a lot better. And warmer.


Leaving Grasmere

Many people break for the day at Grasmere and from experience I’d recommend it – even in good weather the next stretch to Patterdale would see us going more steep climbs over tough terrain.

But with thoughts of the weather forecast telling us that the worst of the weather should be behind us we headed off up alongside Tongue Gill. Catherine had walked the same path the year before and believed it to be good and well made. An easy traverse. Mind you, she’d done it in blazing sunshine…

The low lying cloud had refused to budge and the rain was coming down harder than ever. The paths were horrendous and as we neared the top the streams we had to ford were getting worse and worse.

Water was literally pouring off the hillside by any route it could find. Several new streams had formed and on one outcrop a new waterfall was merrily flowing down over the peat.

Tackling the route to Patterdale

The streams we had to ford were mixed with very slippery rocks to scramble up and any pretence my boots gave at keeping out water was well over as I slipped whilst fording and I suddenly found myself up to my knee in the strong flowing water.

My only hope as we reached the top and the Grisedale Hause pass was that going over into a new valley would see an abrupt change in the weather. Our guide book proclaimed it to be a strong possibility and it was right. There was a major change.

The weather got even worse.

Howling winds greeted us as we tried to pass Grisedale Tarn, and the descent down to Grisedale itself was truly horrible. The wind felt like it could pick me up and blow me off the rocky path and crash down onto the beck far below. These were no conditions to be out in, and the weather forecast had left us completely mentally unprepared for it. There was no option but to keep on going. At times I had to resort to crawling on the ground just to try and keep myself from falling. When we finally made it down hill and out of the cloud, all I wanted to do was collapse.

Grisedale Beck

Alas there were still several miles to go – most of which seemed to blur into nothing as we marched as fast as we could for shelter. It was past six and we still had several miles to go. By the time we reached Patterdale I was beyond running on empty.

Exhausted and sodden, we eventually arrived at Patterdale hostel, dripping puddles everywhere we went.

It was 7:30 when we had finally arrived and as such had missed out on the hostel evening meal. The warden told us we’d be able to eat at the nearby pub but they stopped at 8:30 leaving us with just under an hour to sort out our rucksacks, stretch and thrust everything we could into the drying room before rushing out to the White Lion.

Patterdale YHA

Everything was drenched. We’d lined our rucksacks with bin bags and had had our rucksack raincovers on but the sheer amount of rain had worked its way past every barrier. My notebook was a big mess of soggy paper and the notes from the day before, extensively written in fountain pen, had just washed away. Catherine’s drawings had faired better but had smudged. A sodden and broken iPod I could have coped with. But this was a heartbreaking sight.

We trudged to the pub and collapsed on a bench. I was mentally and physically exhausted. When our food came I was merely eating as a refuelling exercise – taste just didn’t seem to come into my thought process. The beer was good but whether the lamb shank was excellent or awful, well I just can’t tell you. I just sat, ate and shook my head at the thought of what we’d just been through, thanking our lucky stars it was all over; that we’d made it safely and were alive.

White Lion, Patterdale

Thoughts of being winched up to a helicopter on a stretcher had filled my mind half the afternoon. We’d probably never been in any major danger – we were both experienced walkers – however it was by far the worst weather we’d ever walked in and all it would have taken was one small accident.

On the bar was a donation box for the local mountain rescue team. I dug into my pockets and found as many pound coins as I could.

Back at the hostel the weather forecast proclaimed that there would be more heavy rain overnight, clearing in the morning. And sure enough as we headed to bed, the heavens were doing their finest outpouring. Damp and tired we headed for our cold room, collapsed on the bunks and slept… slept… slept very well indeed.

One Coast To Another: Following Wainwright from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay

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Your Comments

Martin

30 August 2014 at 12:58 pm

Sorry to hear about your rather somewhat wet day. I know the feeling, having the Coast to Coast, amny times and have had some awful weather on some crossing’s. I use a Alpkit Airlok Xtra drysac for lining inside the rucksac and come in various sizes. Bin bags simply don’t work, I know.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

5 September 2014 at 11:28 am

Hi Martin – after that day, I did head out to the shops and now have a couple of drybags of varying sizes. Not had a problem since (phew!)

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