Back in May Mr Fletche and I spent a weekend in the beautiful Lake District where we bagged our first two wainwrights – Catbells and Loughrigg Fell. A wainwright – for those not in the know – are 214 English peaks within the boundary of the Lake District, all over 1000ft high. We couldn’t wait to return to add a few more Lake District hikes to our list. And if Catbells is the 189th highest wainwright at 1480ft, this time we planned to up the ante by scaling Haystacks, 131st highest at just under 2000ft. And a baby wainwright by comparison, Hallin Fell (203rd, 1273ft).
Mr Fletche has once again come up trumps, finding 4 College Court through Airbnb. It almost backs onto where we stayed last time, which means we’re even closer to the pubs and cafes of Windermere. Just driving through the town feels like returning home as we spot the familiar sights of Crafty Baa and Cafe Italia. Our first task though, after checking in and unpacking, is a trip to neighbouring Ambleside. Someone has lost her expensive pair of walking boots. How, when and where is still to be determined. If anyone finds a pair of slightly muddy, slightly smelly size 3.5 Keen walking boots somewhere please let me know. But new boots are a must so I leave Ambleside an hour later and £50 lighter.
Dinner is an awesome sharing plate from The Crafty Baa, with enough bread, meat and cheese to keep us going for days. All washed down with their own locally brewed beer. We’re ready for a day of walking tomorrow.
The starting point of our Haystacks hike is Gatesgarth Farm, the same car park we used for our circumnavigation of Buttermere earlier in the year. We pass through a field of Herdwick sheep, wondering if these are the same ones we saw as newborn lambs back in spring. It’s been a dull and drizzly drive from Windermere but the sun has made an appearance. So much so that we are eager to shed layers after the first steep ascent. As we cool down, we watch a rainbow emerge over Buttermere, and watch the rain as it slowly creeps over the lake and towards us. We make a dive for our discarded raincoats, but the cooling rain is welcome.
It’s time to continue upwards. The initial path is well-marked, sometimes following the path of a trickling stream, looking out for the waymarking cairns kindly left by previous hikers. And then we face a wall of rock. The only way is up. We tentatively feel around for suitable ledges for hands and feet. The shower has left the rocks slippery. We test the stability of rocks with our walking poles. Having short legs sometimes puts me at a disadvantage when I’m hauling myself up between safe places. Although having tiny feet means I can wedge myself onto ledges that are almost invisible. Sometimes our path looks almost inconceivable but a bit of puzzle-solving and a lot of stubbornness means that even the most impossible way becomes passable.
There are several false summits before we reach the top. We pick our way amongst the loose rocks to touch the rusted fence post signifying the summit. The views back over Buttermere and Crummockwater beyond are spectacular. It’s time to sit down and reward ourselves with lunch. A ham and cheese cob of course, our standard hiking fare.
It’s time to start the descent. We’re confident that this will be an easier path. We’ve followed a couple with a black Labrador up Haystacks and spot them descending in the distance. The path down is not so easy to spot but we follow what appear to be well-trodden paths. There’s a bit of downward scrambling involving me sitting on my bum and sliding down rocks. And then there’s something of a fork in the path. We can’t see Labrador couple anymore so take a gamble on the left-hand path.
After 10 minutes of downward scrambling we spy Labrador couple. On the other path. From our vantage point this looks like the main path. Our current route down is pocked with rocks to clamber down. We’ve made an error. Between us and Labrador couple there is a rush of water, and what looks like a ravine. We could carry on down our current path, but we’re not sure where this will take us. Or, we could retrace our steps and take the other path. We reluctantly agree that it’s better the devil path you know.
Labrador man has spotted us and is gesticulating. Can he see the panic on our faces from so far away? He is thrusting his hips in a 70s dance move. Then I realise that this is hikers sign language for “you can cross over the stream here”. Mr Fletche and I conclude that Labrador man is not trying to lure us to our death and can probably see our path better than we can. So we start the trepidatious path towards the stream, picking our way down rocky slopes. Finally, and with wobbly legs akin to a newborn baby deer, we reach the stream. Labrador man is kindly hefting rocks into the water to make stepping stones but even I can see these stones are too far apart for someone with my short legs to make. Mr Fletche is having flashbacks to the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye and is sweating profusely at the thought of taking another dip.
Unsure of the stones we do the only other thing possible – we wade across. Turns out that my nice new waterproof walking boots are no good when you’re knee-high in a mountain stream. But rather soggy feet than a broken leg trying to leap from stone to stone. Labrador man hauls us ashore and we thank him for guiding us from a possible night spent on Haystacks.
It doesn’t get easier. Mainly because the path down is loose gravel and every step seems to displace a small avalanche of stones. During the seemingly never-ending descent we notice that the path we were originally on appears to eventually converge with our current path. Via a footbridge over the stream. Turns out we didn’t need to take a dip after all. Finally we are on a solid path, the ground no longer shifting beneath our feet. I’m very grateful to see the car, to take off my rucksack, and to remove my soggy shoes and socks. I remember that when we started, six hours ago, I needed a wee. Should have gone when I was knee-deep in the stream. No-one would have know any different.
I can’t wait to get back to Windermere, have a beer, have a fish and chip tea and have a bath. In that order.
Our limbs don’t feel too weary when we wake up the next morning. And our walking boots have dried out a little. Our plan today is to take it a little easier though. We take the 40 minute drive north to Glenridding, and to Ullswater. Our intention is to get a ticket for the Ullswater Steamer and travel across to Howtown for the Hallin Fell hike. The boat is at 11:30am. We arrive at 11:31am. We wave bye-bye to the boat. Plan B. Let’s drive directly to Howtown. We get as far as Pooley Bridge when a “Road Closed” sign obstructs our way. We feel like this journey may be cursed. As luck would have it though, the Steamer docks at Pooley Bridge so Plan C it is. We park up (free parking, yay!) and make our way to the pier. We decide to make the most of our day on Ullswater and purchase all day passes. (Useful Info Klaxon: there are toilets and a bar available on the boats. It can get a bit chilly on the water if you’re above deck so make sure you’re adequately dressed!)
We disembark at Howtown Pier. There’s a little confusion as to which way we head for Hallin Fell (a signpost might be useful?) but we find our way back onto the lakeshore path and soon find an upwards path. We’re still unsure as to whether this is the right path but we’re getting pretty views back over Ullswater so this will do. Finally assured that we’re on the right fell, we continue our ascent. Unlike yesterday’s craggy face, our route to the summit is a wide grassy slope. Which looks almost vertical at times. I’m not sure my legs will carry me up – they’re a lot more weary now I’ve started climbing again. But I’m nothing if not determined, so with a good few rest stops I propel myself to the top. I even manage a jog to the summit which alarms Mr Fletche somewhat.
Compared to yesterday, today’s wainwright-bagging is a breeze. We’re under a tight schedule though to get back to the pier for the next boat so there’s no time for lunch at the summit. Instead today’s ham and cheese cob will be eaten at the pier, legs dangling over the lake, with hungry doggos keeping an eye out for dropped crumbs. We continue our way across Ullswater, this time to Glenridding. Where our car would have been parked had we stuck to Plan A and not been thwarted by shoddy timekeeping. We have an hour to kill before the final steamer of the day. So of course, where better to kill an hour than in the pub. We head to the Ramblers Bar at The Inn On The Lake. It’s had a facelift since we the last time we were here, for a family-not-a-wedding. Which is a whole other story.
Finally we’re back at Pooley Bridge; I feel like we got our money’s worth from our day passes on the Ullswater Steamer. We head back to Windermere, where we have a date with Crafty Baa, tapas at Tapios, Bohemian Rhapsody on the telly and a bottle of red wine. A perfect way to end another lovely weekend in the Lake District.