July 17, 1985: Keswick to Overwater Hall
On the morning of July 17th, a Wednesday, I repeated Dorothy’s walk of the previous evening – but I had no success in flushing out any Keswick Schnauzers. It was cloudy and overcast, but there were a few bright patches to give a walker hope. We had breakfast at 8:30 and Harold and I moved all of our excess baggage to the hotel’s parking lot. Every time I came in or out of the hotel a giant Alsatian leapt to its feet behind the reception counter to protest at Bertie’s intrusion. By 9:30 we had finally paid up and Harold had gone to move his car to a municipal lot. Here he bought three days worth of tickets, fretting for the entire period, it turned out, because he should have purchased four.
Tosh went to the post office and Dorothy and I stood waiting for the Lees next to a bench behind the Moot Hall. In the meantime Tosh had spotted a pair of ginger jars in an antique store and when Harold arrived they had to return to the car one more time with their new prizes. I talked briefly with an Israeli, who was not here for the religious convention, as she waited for a guided tour to begin. Finally at 10:00 – not an early start – we were at last ready to hoist our packs.
We followed Station Road north, past Bruno’s Wine Bar and over the Greta Bridge. I had decided to carry my walking stick on this outing for I was still feeling footsore. I failed to note our first turn off and we ended up at the Station Hotel. Here Dorothy and I had arrived in 1967, when Keswick still had train service. After correcting this false start we followed our road around behind the station, through an underpass, and up to a housing estate. At Spooney Green Lane Bertie was unleashed and I paused to roll up my trouser legs. The lane led up over the A66 motorway and to a gate at the entrance of a track up the side of Latrigg. Although this was the only truly steep portion of the day’s walk, the lane was well contoured. We climbed past several plantations – with wonderful views to the south and the west. I took several photos here – never knowing when the weather might forestall further attempts. There were still some blue patches and a little sun was breaking through here and there near the southern end of Bassenthwaite – but the top of Skiddaw above us was enshrouded in mist.
At the top of our track we reached the end of the motor road behind Latrigg. We then followed a fenced path onto the moor – unfortunately there were sheep here and Bertie, back on lead, kept running his lead onto the wrong side of the fence posts. At a division we let some other walkers take the left fork for a direct scramble up Skiddaw while we passed below a Saxon cross and headed down toward Whit Beck. I was happy to see that we would not lose too much elevation in this maneuver. As we climbed eastward around the flanks of the fell a dog was barking furiously in a farm far below. A chilly wind was beginning to buffet us from behind.
We slowly made our way over some slippery rocks as the route crossed a line of crags; this gave us our first view of the valley of Glenderaterra Beck, also far below on our right. We now had a nice, high-level path to follow northwards. There wasn’t much elevation rise and there were occasional beck crossings in flanks of the fell that were protected from the wind. Harold was far ahead during this section and Bertie must have covered an extra mile running back and forth between the head and the tail of his flock. Harold had to be congratulated retrospectively, when he at last stopped for a rest, on the completion of his 300th mile of long distance footpath walking. He used this occasion to put on his wet suit for it was beginning to mist. Near some sheepfolds at the northern end of this section the rest of us followed his example, though Tosh stubbornly refused to don her wet pants – and paid the price.
I was following our progress on the OS map in my new plastic case. There were not many features on the route but the appearance of streams and gaps across the Glenderaterra valley permitted me to see where we were throughout this stretch. Still I was surprised, when we had rounded a corner, to see Skiddaw House above us to the west. I had told Tosh that there was a shelter here and she was now racing up the hill as fast as she could go. I was three or four minutes behind when I at last reached the grounds of this isolated dwelling. Harold had been posted out in front to lead me behind the house and into a dry but dark cellar, where six or seven other walkers were also seeking refuge from the pelting rain. A window admitted a little light.
I took off my rain cape, a requisite for reaching my pack, and hung these objects up on a nail. I was now able to reach the dog’s food and water and some flat bitter lemon that Tosh had bought for me the day before. There was a chair in the shelter that I slid into. The other members of our party had found benches or were hunkering down in various states of wet dejection. Matters were made worse by the other residents – who persisted in chattering gaily. One unpleasant woman was keen that Bertie not touch her with his muddy paws. Her punishment came when the group left to assault Skiddaw. Although she had no rain gear someone had taken a large square plastic sack and cut a hole in the top for her head (more’s the pity). This they slipped down over her shoulders so that she looked like a giant walking tea bag.
Tosh divided the sandwiches, jealously checking to see that everyone got no more that his or her fair share. In spite of her eagerness to reach this site she had now taken against the shelter, finding it claustrophobic and dank. She was even eager to resume our march, which we agreed to do after thirty minutes of rest. The weather had not improved and rain accompanied us for most of the remaining seven miles on this day. Ruinous Skiddaw House, which we now left, was later rebuilt as a youth hostel; it proved to be so difficult to keep it supplied in this remote moorland setting, that it had to be abandoned again.
Soon after leaving the house the Cumbria Way splits. One branch heads due north over the summit of High Pike. Our route, which would bring us back to some degree of civilization at the end of the day, headed northwest, down to a footbridge over the infant Caldew and uphill along the slopes of Great and Little Calva. In the shelter I had replaced the yellow North East sheet in the two and a half inch series with the old magenta Pathfinder Penrith and Keswick sheet. We were able to rely on well-drained tracks for miles of westward progress this afternoon. Views, of course, were now very restricted; even the heather at our feet was not yet in bloom.
The Lees were well ahead but they slowed down as the track crossed to the other side of Dash Beck on the lip of Whitewater Dash. We paused to view this waterfall when we had gotten a short distance below; everyone had a swig of gin at this time. Then when Dorothy and I again fell behind we used the solitude for an impromptu concert, lightheartedly reprising each of the famous Busby Berkeley numbers from Footlight Parade. I sang “Just a Gigolo” and was just about to go through my rendition of Fats Waller hits when we were surprised by an automobile and two men – who were parked at the top of a roadhead opposite distant Dash farm. We later held open one of the gates on our track for these people, who thereby escaped one soaking. In the last stages of our descent we walked on tarmac through fields of wildflowers. Water, I discovered, had gotten into the bottom of my map case and was climbing upwards toward the next day’s route.
When we reached the road near Peter House Farm I disdained the continuation over hill and dale as described by Trevelyan in favor of surefooted progress up the road to Orthwaite. There was not too much traffic, though we had a steep pull up the tarmac. A road sign informed us that we had three quarters of a mile to go to this village; Tosh declared it the longest three quarters of a mile in her life. We were now getting views of the north end of Bassenthwaite – amid lush green hilly surroundings. But the drama of high mountain scenery was now behind us.
At the top of the hill Orthwaite was reached and we were faced with another decision. Although there was a signpost pointing to a public footpath to Overwater I was not certain where this would come out: suppose it went to the lake but not to the hotel? It was certain that its use would put our boots back into the muck and the prospect of arriving at a nice hotel both wet and muddy was not very inviting. The alternative, however, would add about a mile of road walking. I took a vote and we were unanimous in choosing the road – nevertheless it didn’t take long for this exercise in democracy to degenerate unto ill-natured grumbling. Tosh wanted to know how much longer at every step. Dorothy was disgruntled and the dog, who had to go on lead because of the danger of traffic, was dragging.
We turned off at the entrance to Stockdale and began a circuit of Overwater. Views of this unspectacular lakelet were soon obscured by trees, which lined both sides of the road. We had a bit of a rest in the shelter of some of these and trudged on, at last finding the access road to Overwater Hall. There was a cottage on the corner and an exhausted Schnauzer ran up its front steps, convinced that this must be the end of his ordeal. We descended a tarmac lane past Pond Cottage and the pond itself, a peaty brown pool with a cascade at one end and a bower of rhododendron bushes at the other. Here the path from Orthwaite ended – a beeline we all regretted not having taken. Around a corner lay the driveway of Overwater Hall and the porticoed front porch and turrets of what had once been a very lovely private country residence. It was 5:30.
Harold ventured inside and fetched a helpful young lady who came outside and took us around back to the boiler room. Here we doffed our wet suits. Tosh, for some reason, felt embarrassed about coming in through the front entrance again, and lead a charge through a side door. This put us in the kitchen. A cook directed us to another passageway but when we tried this it was clogged with laundry bags. So we had to go outside and enter through the front after all.
We were obviously in elegant surroundings, rich oriental rugs and easy chairs abounding. We were taken upstairs to our rooms. The Lees were admitted to theirs first but when we were let into ours Dorothy protested, “I thought we were going to have private bath!” The girl explained that there was only one left when our booking had been taken and the Lees had just gotten it. She volunteered to show Dorothy where the public bathroom and toilets were located but my wife returned from this journey more irate than before – quite a distance had to be covered and this went against all her expectations of a comfortable warm bath in her own quarters after a wet and strenuous twelve mile day. She sulked for the rest of the evening and there was nothing I could do to appease her. The heater was on in our room and I laid out our wet socks and boots on the warm pipes, stuffing the latter with newspapers first. Other items went over the radiator. The effect was somewhat sordid and Dorothy was having a fastidiousness attack.
I knocked on the Lees door to see whether they wanted to go down for a drink. They were horrified to hear we didn’t have our own bathroom and insisted that Dorothy use theirs; this she declined to do. We went down to a lovely lounge. The piano had been glassed over and now served as a bar for Mrs. Kent, our proprietress, who made a double whiskey for Tosh and gin and tonics for Dorothy and me. We chomped crisps and studied the extensive menu. I can no longer remember what we ate, though it was of a very high standard, though I do remember the pavlova with which I concluded my repast. Coffee and After Eights followed in another lounge. The hotel was quite full, not only with residents but with a banquet group here to celebrate the retirement of a teacher from the Keswick School. Harold and Dorothy each had a Cointreau; I had nothing and even kicked over part of Harold’s glass as I was uncrossing my tired legs. Harold was really enjoying the unobtrusive luxury and uncondescending hospitality provided by the Kents. “This would be a good place to have a nervous breakdown,” he concluded.
A return to our room, however, set off another round of recriminations. I suggested to Dorothy that she take a bath now, but she refused to negotiate the public landing. I proposed that she return to London if this trip was becoming such a source of misery – but she wasn’t having that either. Nothing would do but that I must marry some woman more willing to put up with the rigors of the Overwater Hall than my present wife. I rejected this advice with some vigor. There is no telling how long this misery would have prevailed had I not started washing my hair in the room’s basin. As I was drying it Dorothy noticed that I had used the dog’s shampoo by mistake! This lead to such intense, hysterical laughter, on both our parts, that I actually saw stars. Spirits very much lifted, I took the dog for a walk down a nearby lane and we all went happily to bed.
To continue with the next stage of this walk you need: