July 16, 1985: Longthwaite to Keswick
I returned to the Cumbria Way two days later. Following our departure from Coniston, on Sunday afternoon, we had driven to Patterdale and used Monday to complete a missing link in the Coast-to-Coast path. It had been a strenuous thirteen-mile high-level traverse to Bampton Grange but we were quite pleased with ourselves. Tuesday was supposed to be a rest day, and so it remained for the others in our party, but a quick return to Patterdale in the morning (we used a taxi instead of a bus at one point) opened up the possibility of completing the gap which now existed for me on the Cumbria Way section from Longthwaite to Keswick – where we would spent the night. It was decided that we would all drive into Borrowdale and that Harold would let me off near the Longthwaite Youth Hostel. The others would have lunch at a hotel and return to rest and shop in Keswick while I walked the missing seven and half miles.
Harold didn’t believe that he could get his car up the hostel drive, but I assured him it was possible. Soon I was unloading my pack from the trunk in the parking lot of the same hostel where I had experienced the last seconds of my great anxiety over the whereabouts of eleven students the previous October. The Lees announced that they were going to do laundry that afternoon so I gave them my green cords and my U of M sweatshirt. Then we said goodbye at 12:40 and I looked for the “permissive path” along the Derwent. I desperately wanted to take a pee but first I had to shake off two geriatric strollers. They went ahead at last and it will say something about my state of exhaustion if I admit that it took me a long time to overtake them – almost an hour.
The Derwent was a delight, bubbling over a bed of rocks, clear and bright. I crossed the New Bridge in order to take its photograph and proceeded up into the High Hows Wood. There were quite a few daytrippers about, some finding the going a bit rough on the rocky sections near the old quarry – it was not a place for street shoes. Some eroded sections and some wet patches added to the misery of one family obviously out of their depth (“Sharon, that’s the third time you’ve dropped your coat in the mud!”).
A descent brought me to the crossing of Broadslack Gill and into a campsite full of cars. I was happy to escape all this on the access road to Hollows farm, though I did have to dodge the thundering Allerdales sanitation truck, which pretty well choked off access to the farmyard that I had to squeeze into a moment later. I now followed farm tracks north and went through a gate specified by Trevelyan – but there was no clear track beyond the advertised holly tree and I had to guess at the right angle to descend over a sheep scoured grassy hill. Without straying too far out of line I arrived at a tarmac road near the Borrowdale Gates Hotel. Indeed I entered this posh establishment in pursuit of refreshment but it was like death inside, not a sign of life or clue as to where the pub might be. It didn’t take me long to decide that I would feel like an uncomfortable intruder under any circumstances – so I crept out again and headed north, away from Grange. I passed, on this stretch of flowery cottages, two brave instructors (including a leggy blonde) accompanying a party of 30 8-10 year-olds.
At Eller Beck I left the road in order to follow paths in a north-easterly direction. It began to drizzle but I didn’t put on my rain gear and the drops soon stopped. A jogger passed as I got my first view of Derwentwater and I following his footsteps, which avoided the shore in favor of an inland path. I stopped shortly after reaching the shoreline woods for some peanuts and raisins and pop. Trevelyan hints that some walking is saved in choosing inland alternatives, since the shoreline is indented with bays and headlands, and I found this to be true as I walked by Myrtle Bay – but a moment later I ended up too close to the south shore of Abbots Bay. There were some very nice views of the lake and its islands hereabouts.
An inland passage brought me to the head of Brandelhow Bay and I almost followed a file of German tourists over a stile and back along the shore – but I checked myself, after getting one foot over, and headed north on a track instead, soon finding a woodland path that brought me back to a straightforward mile of lakeside walking. Much instruction in kayaking was taking place at a nearby landing stage and one to the north as well. I seemed to be making only painfully slow progress, still worn out form the previous day’s march and getting quite footsore.
Near Otterbield Bay I encountered an evangelist from Uganda preaching to a large crowd under a tree. (There was a religious convention in Keswick.) My own feeling was that, especially in this uniquely beautiful scene, the imposition of a scare-mongering theocracy was stunningly superfluous. Such conventions ought to stay in Blackpool.
The route was inland now, continuing in a northerly direction, but some distance from the Lake. Some parts of the path were a bit wet in overgrown sections. I passed the tea rooms at Lingholm (no dogs). I headed north through Fawe Park, concerned that I might have missed an attractive shortcut from the Lingholm Road. (Five years later our party circumnavigated Derwentwater and I did use this alternative.) After an open stretch I paused for a second time; I ate a Mars bar while sitting on a rock. I was feeling a bit lightheaded.
Eventually I reached the tarmac of the Portinscale Road. There was sidewalk, in places, but the hard surfaces were punishing my feet now. In Portinscale, which seemed to be quite a charming village, I had to share the pavement with an attractive estate agent on her way home from work; she was another hard surface. Before I crossed the Stormwater footbridge I was overtaken by another drizzle and this time I had to put on my rain cape. Bored local youths were looking for mischief on the banks of the Derwent.
I took a metaled path through some fields – a short distance that seemed endless to me now. I cleared the last cow and reached the Greta, where I paused to remove my rain cape. Then I inched my way though tourists and convention delegates on Keswick’s crowded streets. I ducked into Boots in part to escape another shower and in part to buy some Anadin. When I made my purchase I asked the clerk where the George Hotel was but she had never heard of it. Such is fame – a 17th Century inn unknown to a Boots clerk two blocks away. I continued, under awnings, eastward, and located the hotel easily. It was just after 5:00.
I was given a key to room 18 but found only Bertie at home. At least I was able to get my boots off and relax a little. At 5:30 Dorothy and the Lees returned laden with laundry and shopping. I tried to snooze a bit but at 6:30 we all went down to the George’s dining room. Dorothy and I had plaice. Our waiter brought us some literature on the local mountain rescue unit, including a catalogue of the previous year’s activity. Many incidents were truly tragic, but some were confusing or amusing: “67- year-old man overtaken while delivering turkeys” or “Broken tibia while relieving himself.” Two words were added to our vocabulary. The inability to move from one’s spot on the rocks (through fear or misfortune) was described as “cragfast.” And, back into its original context perhaps, being overtaken by darkness was described as “benighted.” Generous Tosh soon became a benefactor of the rescue unit.
My flagging spirits revived a bit during this meal, but I was profoundly relieved when Dorothy volunteered to take Bertie on his last walk. She headed up to the church and followed a lane until she heard a dog barking. A lady rushed out of her house at this point to ask if that weren’t a Schnauzer tugging at my wife’s lead. Then she produced one of her own, Bonnie, who soon saw off our own swain. The rain had stopped by this time. In our rooms it was necessary to divide all of our goods and chattels into two piles, for we had decided to leave the car in Keswick until the end of the trip. Thus, for the next three days – and much to my wife’s chagrin, we would have to carry everything we wanted on our backs.
To continue with the next stage of this route you need: