Coast to Coast Day 4 – Patterdale to Bampton

Published 30 August 2010

Angle tarn in the mist

"I’m sorry. We’re a bit wet…"

I’m not sure I can say I’ve stayed in a truly awful youth hostel however Patterdale YHA must be getting close. It was cold, damp, grubby and I’m convinced there was more space reserved to corridors than there was to beds.

Built on stilts in some sort of Scandinavian style, the place clearly needed a lot of work to bring it up to some sort of reasonable state. The gents toilets were half flooded, reminding me more of a campsite toilet block. Ironwork and metal girders sat rusting, drops of rain getting through. The paintwork in our room looked like it was covering damp. Oh and when I put my boots on in the glass windowed corridor near the front door, I got a lovely view of a rotting, long dead bird in the outside courtyard.

But in its favour YHA Patterdale has two vaguely redeeming features:

  1. it has probably the most comfortable and widest bunk beds in the whole of the YHA network
  2. it has a truly amazing drying room

Given how wet our stuff was after the previous day, and how full the room was with residents’ clothing, I was astounded that our possessions were all pretty much dry the following morning. Indeed just before breakfast I found a t-shirt and some socks that I’d somehow missed the night before and popped them in. An hour later they were in a pretty good state. It was like some sort of miracle working drying room and given the room didn’t feel particularly warm AND had a window open, I’ve frankly no idea how it did it.

Packing up and hitting the road, we surveyed the drizzle in Patterdale before heading to the village store for some provisions.

Patterdale Village Store and Post Office

Patterdale Village Store is like some sort of Coast to Coast heaven. As well as selling groceries to the locals, it caters well for the walker from its range of freshly made sandwiches through to walking equipment including boot leather waterproofing stuff that I later regretted not buying.

Outside the shop is a C2C notice board featuring a photograph of the new patron saint of the path, Julia Bradbury, who had presented a TV series on the Coast to Coast for BBC Four. Many a pub conversation seemed to turn to Julia’s name and how easy she made the whole thing look…

The Coast to Coast message board at Patterdale Village Stores

Julia had, naturally, visited the shop as part of the TV programme as it has another important Wainwright connection – it was the first store to agree to sell Wainwright’s first pictorial guide. And from those humble beginnings, a legend was born…

Wainwright’s decision to route the Coast To Coast may, or may not, have been related to that first purveyor of his wares, although it’s far more likely it’s because he really loved Patterdale. Either way there’s no doubt the Coast to Coast has treated Patterdale well. Unlike the weather which hadn’t.

“I’ve just got back from Sunny London and found a river running through my back garden!” proclaimed a rather over the top posh man in his best Queen’s English, who had arrived in the shop. He might as well have added “Wot ho!” for good measure.


Looking south from the path

It was a stiff but not too bad a climb out of Patterdale up to Boredale Hause and we walked along a well made path which seemed to have no major ambitions of providing water flow. Despite it being a Monday the climb was full of walkers, most of whom dispersed in different directions at the top of the first ascent and many of whom seemed to be clutching copies of various Wainwright guides.

We’d now entered into the cloud and the light drizzle had turned almost imperceptibly into showers. Having not put on my new, shiny and well fitting waterproof trousers, my legs were soon wet once more and a good stiff wind meant that trying to put them on would have been at best a futile endeavour and at worst, a good slapstick comedy routine for anyone watching. Cloud cover meant that the views were limited and by the time we reached the beauty spot of Angle Tarn, we were seeing very little at all around us. The tarn itself was almost invisible in the gloom until we were almost right on top of it.

The rain was biting, almost whipping our faces and a good walk had quickly turned into trudgery. The higher we got, the worse the rain and wind got.

A momentary break in the clouds

Passing by the putrid remains of a dead sheep (cause of death presumably drowning) we found an almost miraculous gap in the cloud. All of a sudden we could see for miles around. The wind had gone, the rain disappeared. Down below, Hayeswater glistened. Then, all of a sudden, the views were gone, the rain back, the wind trying to blow us over once more.

Wet and wind weary, we clambered over the soggy rocks of “The Knott” and passed down to the almost Tolkein-esque Straits of Riggindale, before abruptly turning north east towards Rampsgill Head.

At the summit of Kidsty Pike

For a moment it seemed like the direction change would reward us with better weather however by now we should have known not to get hopes up too high. As we approached the highest point of the “normal” Coast to Coast walk (normal being the version where you didn’t take any insane high level alternatives in the Lakes) at Kidsty Pike (780m above sea level), the weather was at its worst.

It was all downhill from here but our boots – now letting in water like there was not only no tomorrow, but no day after either – were sodden; our socks like sponges, just letting it all in.

I was already fed up and miserable, but now I had to contend with a steep descent as well and I was having real trouble. My feet were slipping and sliding around inside the boots and I was having serious trouble regulating my speed. I’d try to come down slowly, then my socks would slip and I’d find myself coming down far too fast, with little to no control over my speed – seriously really not good on the steep, slippery rocks. I had images of trying to come down slowly but somehow finding that my feet were forcing me down at running speed. Oh hang on, that DID happen, and it took an almost Herculaneum effort to do an emergency stop. Oh and one of my walking poles had broken.

Damp, cold and fed up, I slammed my rucksack on the grass and sat on a rock. Struggling in the rain to take my boots off so I could wring out my socks, I lost my rag and ended up shouting my frustration across the valley. The two horrible days of rain and the constant rain on the Pennine Way earlier in the year had taken their toll. It was summer. The country was in a heatwave. There was a hosepipe ban. Yet here was I removing half a pint of water from my boots. We later found out that the Lake District had had a whole months rain in two days. And we’d been out in every minute of the worst of it. If someone had turned up and said "Helicopter to London for Mr Bowden", well I would have gone straight back home and no mistake.

Getting close to Haweswater

At least the sock de-watering session had helped. My feet were still cold and damp, but I could at least make it down hill without slipping, but as we made it to the valley floor at Bowderthwaite Bridge I was in extremely bad mood. Wainwright’s name was cursed under my breath. He’d written “A Coast To Coast Walk” after experiencing the “horribleness” of the Pennine Way, but after the last day and a half I was seriously wondering what the difference was. This was a nightmare of walking and my mood didn’t lift much as we attempted to eat our lunch in a soggy wood just off the trail.

The driving rain – which according to the forecast should have been, at worst, drizzle by now – penetrated even the dry plantation floor. We’d barely rested all morning and even here there was no shelter and little rest for two weary walkers.


From thereon in the walk was alongside Haweswater Reservoir. Created in the 1930s to supply water to Manchester, it extended a smaller lake and drowned the village of Mardale.

There was a hosepipe ban in force and the reservoir level low, but water was streaming down hill as fast as it possibly could. The winding reservoir-side path was a huge stream; every step making our boots wetter and wetter.

For me, the salvation at the sight of the end of the reservoir was much appreciated. Most people press on another four miles to Shap – a fifteen mile day followed by nineteen the next – however we’d spotted that we could break the two long days up in three more comfortable ones by stopping at Bampton and then Orton before arriving at Kirkby Stephen. The reservoir end meant our turn off to Bampton and the simple trek up a main road to the pub we were staying in.

Burnbanks

My gloom began to lift, raised even more so by the odd sight of an old signpost marked MCWW – Manchester Corporation Water Works – which had somehow lasted all these years even though the MCWW had been absorbed into North West Water in 1973. Something about this long surviving sign amused me. And to cheer me up even more, a sight that would raise the spirits of even the most drenched walker. For there in the middle of the road sat a very relaxed looking red squirrel! We abruptly stopped. It looked at us briefly then scampered into the undergrowth, its work done.

Maybe it was that we were on the home stretch. Maybe it was the squirrel, but even in the non-stop rain, I felt invigorated as we passed through the model village of Burnbanks, originally built to house the workers building the reservoir in the 1930s, and as we arrived at the Crown and Mitre in Bampton, there was a spring in my step – even more so when we found out we’d been given a better room than the one we’d expected.

The Crown and Mitre, Bampton

After the best shower we had on the whole trip, we had the best meal too as we ate some absolutely amazing food. It was so good that we had three courses. Any place that can make me enjoy baked figs had to be credited and my sea bass in prawn and saffron sauce was amazing. I’m not even a fan of Brûlée but the Raspberry Brûlée they served was divine. And whilst the other two handpulls were off, the Black Sheep was extremely well served.

You get used to “pub food” on long distance walks. It can be good, it can be awful. But it’s pub food. And usually served with chips, chips and more chips. Well here in the middle of Cumbria, on the edge of the Lake District, was a pub with the most outstanding bistro style dining, big portions and great prices to boot. It was like manna from heaven. It’s so good I wholeheartedly recommend making a HUGE detour just to eat there. Hey, 100 miles should do it!

And hey the place was so good that we went to the expense of having our sodden clothes tumble dried. And that was probably the best £5 we spent on the whole trip.

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

The whole Coast to Coast adventure is available to read now in paperback, and for Kindle, iOS, Kobo, and Google Play or other e-readers.

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