July 14, 1985: Tarn Hawes to Coniston; Sunny Bank To Coniston
My original plan for this day had been utterly destroyed when – because of the madness of our hotelier – we had lost our opportunity to get in a lakeside walk (Sunny Bank to Coniston) on Friday afternoon. I had intended to walk today from Consiton to Tarn Hawes and to have Harold pick me up there; then we were all to drive to Keswick, take the bus back to Stonethwaite and walk the 7.5 miles to Keswick before driving on to Patterdale – for a second attempt at completing the Coast-to-Coast Path’s Lakeland section. At that moment I would have walked all of the Cumbria Way from Ulverston to Keswick – and Tosh, too, if she wished to accompany me.
These plans no longer made any sense because they still left Friday afternoon’s gap along Coniston Water – and I now had to devise an alternative. I had discovered, on one of my walks with Bertie, that Sunday bus service did exist on the Coniston-Ulverston route that we had used Saturday morning. I then realized that I could complete the two and a half mile Coniston-Tarn Hawes section in the morning and, checked out of our hotel rooms, we could all take the 12:00 bus from Ulverston, get off at yesterday’s lay-by near Sunny Bank and walk the four miles back to our car in Coniston – before parting for Patterdale. This would still leave a Longthwaite-Keswisk gap, but perhaps I could pick this up on our rest day or after everyone else had gone home. I was determined to finish the Cumbria Way on this trip; it had been so full of difficulties and disappointments that I wanted to put it all behind me. This might not sound like the right attitude for a holiday and, of course, I was deriving much enjoyment from the experience too. But it was certainly turning out to be one of my most frustrating experiences on the trail.
I had discussed my ideas at the evening meal the night before, proposing only one variation. Tosh or Harold would drive me to Tarn Hawes in the morning and I would walk back down to Coniston. I was assured that one of the Lees would accompany me but when Harold showed up alone at 9:15 I realized that Tosh, like Dorothy, wanted a quiet lie-in and a chance to read her Sunday papers. Harold was still complaining about the proprietor of his hotel, who had insisted on muzaking the muesli. Slugabed Tosh now lost all chance of actually completing the Cumbria Way but, of course, she lacks my compulsiveness.
Dorothy and I returned our ice cream cartons at breakfast and asked for four more lunches. I got in the car and Harold, using the one-way road system, soon had me driving past many spots negotiated with eighteen youngsters the previous October. The weather was much kinder today; things were at last brightening up, the clouds were scattering, blue sky was breaking through, the sun made an appearance. Harold drove me along the southern edge of Tarn Hawes and left me off near the spot that I had passed the previous fall. I walked down to the shore at the southeast corner – a spot where my lot had had an argument over when to have lunch. It was very beautiful, but I missed the added dimension of the fall colors. I was making a few adjustments to my light pack when Harold re-emerged. He had parked his car in order to have a better look at the lake. He offered to take my picture and I agreed.
I said goodbye again and began my walk back down the tarmac at about 9:40. The only disadvantage to doing this stretch downhill was that I also had to read Trevelyan’s directions backwards. Fortunately things didn’t seem too complex. Harold passed me one last time as I descended the road toward Tarn Hawes Cottage. Views were opening up before me all the time – real Lakeland vistas with crags and forests and waterfalls and it was very delightful. Nor can I say that I was entirely disappointed to be walking alone – though this was the first time I had done any solo walking away from London in six years.
I followed the access road to the delightfully situated cottage, relieved to see signs pointing clearly to the footpath that would take me down through the woods to Low Yewdale. Foxglove was rampant today, though I have never warmed to this flower as I have to its similarly-colored rival, the rosebay willowherb. I crossed a few becks as I descended and once or twice I had to do a little guessing as to which route to take, but I always found the dominant path heading in its southwesterly direction. Once I slipped on a wet rock and landed on my hands. There were no other walkers about.
At the bottom of the woods I reached the burgeoning Yewdale Beck – a real river after the recent rainfall – and followed its course south to Low Yewdale Farm. Then I walked away from the bridge up a track – having a little trouble discovering a path in the short grass near some ruins. Eventually I stumbled on a track heading in the right southerly direction and followed it as it paralleled a stone wall next to a conifer plantation. On my right White Gill was cascading down the side of the crags. I walked up to the crest of the hill overlooking Coniston itself and began my descent, often having to choose which path to take. Here I met a few walkers coming up the hill. I was making good time and reached the Ambleside road at the bottom just before 11:00. I came out not far from a spot favored by Bertie the previous day.
It was just as well that I had made short work of my morning walk because Dorothy was being kicked out of our hotel room by an eager chambermaid. I helped her move all our gear out to the front garden, paid the bill, and settled in for a few minutes in the sun while we waited for the Lees to make an appearance. Each of us made a few short excursions. I went to a tourist-choked general store (and bought some bitter lemon) and to a camping store where I purchased a new wet-weather map case. Bertie had a chance to growl at all the passing dogs and to drink from a water bowl provided by the Crown.
When the Lee showed up Harold parked the car in the lot across the street. We stowed most of our gear in the boot. Then we waited for our bus, whose driver had to dislodge a motorist who had parked in the bus lane while his mom went for a pee. An American girl with rucksack was the only other passenger. We took off at 12:00 and twenty minutes later we were deposited at our famous lay-by. Dorothy donned shorts. We followed a track over the hill and we were soon strolling north on a delightful path along the shore of Lake Coniston. There were gentle ups and downs only, streams for the dog to drink out of – and a sufficiency of tourists and their dogs for him to get excited over.
After about a mile we descended a small cliff and settled down on some shoreline pebbles for lunch. The spot provided both sun and shade, which is why Dorothy and I sat a few feet apart. Sailboats and Coniston’s famous gondola crossed our line of vision. It was a lovely peaceful scene, the day very much in contrast to yesterday’s gloomy prospects. Bertie had his own lunch and a bit from everyone else. Repeatedly he scaled the cliff to see what was happening on the trail. He chewed pieces of driftwood. What he would not do was go into the water, not even for a drink. He did not take the bait when I tossed his sticks into the water; we never knew if he could swim.
After lunch we proceeded northward on a shaded path. Both Trevelyan and the OS map indicate major diversions inland but we stuck pretty close to the shoreline. Curiously enough I was having a lot of trouble figuring out where we were – that is how far north we had come. The guidebook was silent and the OS map offered few noteworthy landmarks. To make matters worse we soon encountered all sorts of features that should have been on somebody’s map: buildings, jetties, footbridges, tent cities, caravan parks, roads, and tracks. We were swamped by a huge congregation of trippers and tourists heading for the waterside in the first thrill of real sunshine.
I was vaguely aware of the necessity of heading northwestward, away from the lake, via Coniston Hall, to the highway, but it wasn’t clear where to do this –Trevelyan offering no help at all in this matter and the footpath seemingly ending in a huge campsite. We wasted a lot of time circling this, amid sheep, no trespassing signs, caravans, and kids, before a kind woman explained to us that there was still more of the shore to negotiate. A footbridge and a stile were located and we marched on to the next tourist-choked strath before I finally decided we could attempt to use the exit road from a car park. This lead, indeed, to Coniston Hall, where we paused to buy ice cream. Then we followed tracks up to the Coniston road, back in meadow again, with two tall stiles to lift a Schnauzer over, and a mob of invading children coming the other way.
Bertie had to go on lead now and I marched us along fairly swiftly through Coniston traffic, often without benefit of pavement. The dog was ready for a rest. The others lagged behind but at last they caught up with me at the parking lot loo. We stuffed our light packs in the trunk and drove out of town along the Ambleside Road, heading for Patterdale. It was approaching 4:00.
The drive up Yewdale soon took us over some of the route traversed on last October’s Alternative – though Tosh could remember nothing until we passed the slate showroom’s tea house at Skelwith Bridge. At Ambleside we had a choice of routes. I opted for a left turn, away from the sinuous Kirkstone Pass (a sure queasy stomach) and toward the north. We inched through downtown Grasmere in a bout of nostalgia over last summer’s outing. After this we passed Thirlmere and took the right-hand fork directly north to the A66, turned east, then south again toward Ullswater via Matterdale End. Sun and cloudless skies accompanied us throughout the journey – a lovely drive with magnificent views. Nevertheless I was happy to get my only mildly reproving stomach out of the car at the Patterdale Hotel, where we arrived sometime after 5:00.
After our return to the Coast-to-Coast Path I returned to Longthwaite to continue north: