The Perfect Weather – Alison (June 2001)

Well it was the perfect weather for walking, if only we could have walked! I’m talking about the early May bank holiday trip to the Lakes of course; blue skies, a refreshing breeze, and empty hills. A perfect combination you might think, but not when all we could do was stand at the bottom and look up onto the fells – very frustrating!

Eskdale has always been my favourite part of the Lakes, perhaps slightly biased by the fact that it was the first part I went to many years ago. My abiding memory is of the first sight of the Scafell range from the fell road up from Ulpha and down into Eskdale. “Wow” just about sums it up! But the main reason it’s my favourite area is because it is quieter than the more eastern areas, although it’s still in the heart of the big hills and it’s only an hour from J36. This weekend it was even quieter than usual.

The Woolpack bunkrooms, our base, were spacious and had excellent shower facilities. I could have had a room to myself, but it would have meant a trip outside down some steep open iron stairs to get to the loo, which I thought might not be a good idea in the middle of the night after a few pints, so I joined the 3 chaps in a large 12-bed room.

We were the only non-locals in the bar that first night. In fact it was the same all weekend; they only seemed to busy during the day and into early evening as they drew car-trippers coming over the Hardknott Pass and on their way back from a trip on the Ratty (more of which later). By 7ish, all the visitors had eaten and gone. Before settling in for the evening though, we walked down into Boot and to the little Church there before searching out some Bluebird in the Poachers Bar of Brook House. We were lucky, the barrel was nearly dry so we probably got the last 2 pints; Terry was a bit dubious about his though – literally scraping the barrel! Back at the Woolpack we honoured Chris by having huge and delicious curries; stuffed is not the word!

We drove over to Cleator on the Saturday to hire some bikes. We could still only use the roads so we headed off for Ennerdale Water. Adding to my lack of fitness, I found it hard going with full mountain bike tyres on tarmac; they may have had 21 gears, but it wasn’t long before I seemed to be in the bottom ones most of the time! Soon after that weekend, a trip round Richmond Park seemed a doddle on my lightweight 5-gear road bike! After a long descent to Ennerdale Water and an even longer ascent back up (although it wasn’t as bad as expected, and I only had to walk on a couple of sections) we had a leisurely lunch in one of the Ennerdale pubs. We had wanted to cycle back to Cleator via Cross Fell, but we were told that, although the road wasn’t officially closed, people were being asked to stay off it. This was to become a recurring theme. Being responsible citizens we complied and headed back to Cleator a bit earlier than planned, and then went into Whitehaven to find a teashop.

We walked into Boot that evening to eat at the aforementioned Poachers Bar. But alas, they hadn’t replaced the Bluebird. They did have some other interesting beers on though, not that I can remember the names! So far, we’d only frequented 2 pubs. We wanted to spread our custom around though, so for Sunday we planned to do a linear walk from the Bridge Inn at Santon Bridge to Wasdale Head, up the Wast Water valley, taking in both the Wasdale Head Inn for lunch and the Bridge Inn on the way back.

On the drive in to Wasdale itself though, to drop off a car at the far end, we noticed signs saying the road was closed to all but vehicles, and asking people not to get out of their cars. On checking at the shop at Wasdale Head, they said it wouldn’t be illegal to walk on the open fell road, but the landowners (the National Trust) were asking people not to. As they said on the sign, in appealing to our consciences, with animals roaming the road it would be no different to walking across the fells, which was banned. Again we decided to play the good citizen. We could however walk the few kilometres from the Head to the first cattle grid, which was not ‘open fell’. So we took a stroll up and back, taking lots of pics on the way. Even after killing time, the Inn still wasn’t open for another half hour, so we gave up on that and went back to the Bridge Inn via a convoluted route to get petrol.

For the afternoon, we decided to join the tourists on the Ratty (although Rob chose a lazy afternoon in the Woolpack garden reading the papers). Although we arrived in plenty of time, the train was already almost full. The 3 of us squeezed into a seat normally for 2, so it was a cramped journey on the way out. Most people were doing the return trip from Ravensglass, so the journey back to Boot wasn’t nearly as full. Bill and Terry retreated to the closed carriages with padded seats! The views on the way back are much better as you look towards the mountains. It was the first time I’d done the complete trip in daylight, and it was well worth it. Rob met us off the train and we headed off to the other pub in Boot for a swift pint. It was the first time I’d been in that one, normally frequenting the Poachers Bar; but it won’t be the last. No Bluebird, but they had Black Sheep, another favourite of mine. The little garden was secluded and sunny, and full of Goldfinches! Actually, I saw loads of different garden birds over the weekend that I hadn’t seen for years – the others probably thought I’d gone barmy when I was raving about a Thrush I’d seen from the bunkroom window!

Terry and Rob headed off back south on the Monday morning, but with still sunny skies, Bill and I decided to try some coastal walking, which, according the web earlier in the week, was open. We drove over to Maryport only to find that in fact it wasn’t. The only stretch that was open was about a mile long at the edge of a golf course. So we decided to give it a go just to walk on some grass for a change. It didn’t take too long to do the return journey of course, and we then headed off to Gosforth for some lunch before hitting the M6. Apart from an accident causing a very long tailback (which we avoided with the aid of Trafficmaster) at the top end, the roads were amazingly clear, even for a normal weekend let alone a bank holiday! The one good thing caused by the FMD I suppose.

But although the perfect walking weather didn’t come with any walking, it was also perfect weather for Rob to show off his new Merc SLK convertible! Hope it didn’t smell too much of disinfectant afterwards!!

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