Hills: Blencathra, Mungrisdale Common
Classification: Wainwrights – no.102 and 103
When: Tuesday 26 June
Time: Just over 5 hours, including a couple of fairly lengthy breaks
Conditions underfoot: Good paths on Blencathra – dry bog thereafter…
Who: me and the mountaineering minion
Post walk drink: Keswick Brewery Thirst Quencher, later Prosecco
Post walk watering hole: Horse and Farrier, Threlkeld then the Ambleside Tavern later
Mishaps: Transport. Although this is becoming such a frequent occurrence I am not sure it counts as a mishap any more, just the normal state of play….
After my last walk, and the subsequent beer extravaganza that ensued at Keswick Beer Festival, I had no walking planned for some time – in fact nothing actually in the diary for several months that involved being anywhere near a hilly part of the country. I had already hit my target for the year in terms of hills by making it to the ton on Steel Knotts – what was next? With no obvious hill walking goal next it was surely time to potter around the house/ garden and do some of the tasks that had been sorely neglected.
This lasted a couple of weeks. We did actually manage to get the garden sorted out although tidying the house and/ or any of the other tasks that could really do with being sorted didn’t happen. We did attend another beer festival, this one being near our house, and work got completely mental for a couple of weeks before what looked like a reasonably quiet week presented itself. This quiet week coincided with a week that Stuart was going to be away on business for most of it so inevitably, a plan was hatched… I had missed out on doing Blencathra when staying in Keswick due to reasons of knackeredness and later the weather starting to turn. Aha! I would book a couple of days off and – assuming decent weather – try and get it done as I have wanted to for ages.
Issue one was accommodation. Inevitably, there wasn’t very much available in Keswick, and what there was seemed either to be dorms (which I can’t do as I can’t sleep in them) very expensive, or B&Bs which either had no luggage drop/ storage facility or needed me to check in earlier than I was able to guarantee getting there (it would be a mad dash on the Monday night after work). As I was not taking the car, options such as Borrowdale didn’t really work either. After vaguely considering a Withnail and I strategy (i.e. Penrith) I ended up booking myself into a pub in Ambleside which does B&B that I’ve stayed in before and which has very reasonably priced single rooms. The location was obviously not ideal but I have made bus connections from Ambleside to around Keswick work on several occasions before so it would do the job. I had a plan! Everything seemed to be going swimmingly and a meeting I had on the afternoon before leaving finished slightly early with a dash to Euston giving me a fighting chance of catching an earlier train and getting to the Lakes at a vaguely sensible time. What could possibly go wrong?
Well regular readers will know how this one goes! The train I was aiming for was late. In some ways this was a good thing as it allowed me to catch it comfortably rather than having to do a Usain Bolt type sprint through Euston (which does not really work as it is usually heaving). The train eventually left 20 minutes late…and crawled. It got stuck behind a slow train somewhere near Crewe and by the time we got to Preston was running the best part of an hour late. The connection at Oxenholme was dodgy anyway due to the entire Lakes line having been temporarily suspended in favour of a rail replacement bus, which isn’t particularly well timed and was going to add time on to the journey… not a great operating decision by Northern Rail. Fortunately, common sense prevailed somewhere and a bus that was due to leave about 5 minutes before my train eventually got in was held at Oxenholme. This got me to Windermere and then to Ambleside in time to get pub grub, a couple of glasses of wine and a reasonably early night with the plan being to get the 8.30 bus to Keswick and get a taxi to the start point for the hill at the Blencathra Centre. I wanted to get started on the hill early given the forecast was for high temperatures, risk of sunburn and dehydration – not what you normally expect when hill walking!
This sort of worked. I was in bed fairly early and got to sleep without too much trouble. However I was wide awake at 5. Having tried and failed to get back to sleep I eventually gave up at around 6.15 and got up. I’d already sorted my gear the previous evening so getting the 7.30 bus was very doable. I rearranged my taxi pickup and was on my way – probably the earliest public transport to a hill ever. The only issue was I was too early to have breakfast at the pub but it seemed daft to hang about when I was ready to get going. There were no delays on the bus, and my taxi pickup at Keswick got me to the Blencathra Centre at 8.45 with a few people already heading up the path. For once there was minimal faffing, I wanted to get as much as possible of the ascent done before the heat of the day really got ridiculous so it was head down and set off up the clearly marked path up Blease Fell.
This is apparently the easy route up Blencathra – which was fine by me. The path is decently graded, and generally very good; I gained height steadily with the views opening out all round, although there was quite a lot of haze around meaning the views were not as clear as I had hoped. A good path always helps with the ascent and I was very glad of it given the heat was already starting to build; fortunately there was at least some breeze, but despite that it was still hot work.
By about 10 I had hit the engineered zig-zags, which do aid progress and are nowhere near as obtrusive as (say) the ones on Sail, but the heat was really starting to ramp up at that point and by the time I reached the top of Blease Fell I was seriously warm. Lots of fluid needed to be taken on – but at least by that point I was on the ridge and the classic view of one of the escarpment hove into view. Despite the haze the views were cracking.
From that point – despite the heat – it was a simple walk across the ridge to Hallsfell Top which I reached shortly before 11am. The last bit of the ascent seemed to have taken forever and taking 2 hours to do 600m of ascent and about one mile an hour was less than brilliant. I took the usual summit selfie and various other photos and pretty much collapsed in a heap near the summit for an extended break. The ascent had taken a lot out of me and I took some time to just chill out and appreciate the views as well as take on some more much needed fluids and snacks. The obvious question: where to next?
After 20 minutes, it was time to move on. The day was only going to get hotter and I seriously considered just heading back. However it seemed a bit daft not to add on another hill while I was up there. I had briefly considered going over to Bannerdale Crags then heading down to Scales – but the obvious contender was Mungrisdale Common. In the event I ever do decide to do the lot it would be a real nuisance to come back for – and the bog was likely to be dry!
Decision made, I headed off for Atkinson Pike and down a rather scrappy and eroded gravel path which I probably spent more time off than on – it being loose and slidy although at no point did the ar*e crampon need to be deployed. Once off that, the actual walk to the ‘summit’ of Mungrisdale Common was a simple amble through cotton grass and dry bog which was accomplished pretty quickly. Like my recent foray to The Nab this must be a complete quagmire in normal conditions but on that day was a breeze. (Fortunately there was an actual breeze as by that point it was boiling!)
Confession time: I sort of liked Mungrisdale Common. It’s clearly not really a hill but on a day like that was a lovely spot to chill out and take another extended break surrounded by views of big mountains. I am sure that on a wet or foggy day I would have felt totally different but then on that sort of day I wouldn’t have been anywhere near it in the first place. I sat there for a good 20 minutes again just taking in the views – not to mention taking on more fluids and applying yet more sun screen as despite having for once actually remembered the Factor 50 I was still getting burned. Ouch!
After my break it was time to head off. There was a path of sorts for most of the way but given it was a clear day the navigation was relatively simple even when I lost it (the path I mean, not losing it generally). I aimed for and then crossed a gill before eventually hitting the landrover track that goes to Skiddaw House hostel – in the process managing to find the only piece of non-dry bog in the entire district. I guess they don’t call me the bogfinder general for nothing!
The track back to the car park – once I hit it – was a bit tedious but at least made for quick progress which was just as well as by this point I was absolutely roasting. I got back to the car park at about 2pm – only one mile to the pub! That mile seemed to take forever but in reality was only about 15 minutes as by 2.15 I was in the Horse and Farrier in Threlkeld for a post walk pint which did not touch the sides. I was so thirsty that on getting back to Keswick bus station I had to dive into Booths for coke before even contemplating getting the bus back – and once back in Ambleside I coughed up for a swim in the Salutation Hotel as I seriously needed to cool off before hitting the pub for Prosecco (far too warm for Malbec). In hindsight I was probably rather dehydrated and should have taken on more water than I had on the hill (even though I had drunk quite a bit more during the walk than I usually do).
All in all an excellent walk and an iconic hill into the bargain but hard work given the heat and despite having another day off on the Wednesday I elected to potter about and head back as it was even hotter and I was – quite frankly – too done in to do any serious walking. Never mind! I think Blencathra is a hill I will definitely do again. Mungrisdale Common? Not so convinced…