June 23, 2007

We had pre-ordered breakfast at ₤4.20 each, so we went over to the main house at 7:45 am. The food was really good: an assortment of cereals, juices, fruit, yogurt, and a hot meal. Today the hot meal was sausage, bacon, waffle potatoes, and baked beans. It wasn’t raining, but the clouds were hanging near the tops of the mountains. So after some discussion, Neil declared “Helvellyn or bust” and we loaded up our packs with wet-weather gear.

Off we went with Neil driving, first down the main road to Ambleside and then up the side road steeply up to the Kirkstone Pass. The roads were very narrow, with tall drystone walls on either side most of the time. From the pass the road went down to Patterdale on Ullswater, where we turned into the car park for the Helvellyn area.

We organized our packs and set off up the hill through the village. It looked like nobody lived there anymore and all the houses had been converted into holiday rentals. The weather was cooperating very nicely—no rain—although the clouds did look threatening. There were several routes up Helvellyn and Neil chose one of them. The path went steadily up through grassy meadows dotted with sheep and bracken and divided by drystone walls almost as tall as us.

For lunch we stopped at a spot called “Hole in the Wall”, where several wide paths branched off. We had tea, buns, and some Grasmere gingerbread. The gingerbread was very good, nothing like any gingerbread we had tasted before. Rosemary and Christine tried to figure out the recipe, which definitely included bits of candied ginger and possibly some pepper.

After lunch we continued our way up. It still wasn’t raining; in fact it was quite warm even without sunshine. Before long we came to the famous Striding Edge. This knife-edge ridge took about half an hour of climbing to negotiate. There was a path below the top of the ridge which a lot of people were following, but Neil called that the “wimpy” route and urged us over the top of the ridge. This too was a well-trodden route over stable rocks. So far the weather was still holding out and we even saw blue sky near the top of Helvellyn, but periodically there were strong gusts of wind.

Coming down off the end of the Edge, we had to wait for several members of what appeared to be a school group to be directed down a little scramble, which wasn’t as difficult as they made it look. From there we had to negotiate a very steep bit before we hit a scree area on the final ascent. For the most part the trail was good and once we reached the shoulder of Helvellyn it was a lovely ridge walk. But by now the clouds had descended, so the visibility was not that good.

At the top was a stone wall windbreak that provided a nice shelter. We squeezed in with the other hikers and had more tea, a piece of chocolate, and a granola bar. We were visited by four sheep who were very interested in our food. Rosemary found a piece of doggie treat in her pocket, so she fed it to one of the sheep, who accepted it very quickly.

Now the cloud came back down over the summit again. Instead of going down via the Swirral Edge, we took Christine’s suggestion and followed a longer route down some ridges that took us by the old mines. By now our knees were getting sore, but finally we got back to the car park at about 5:30 pm. Neil phoned in our dinner orders and instead of stopping for tea, we decided to head back to the hostel to have showers.

The dinners at Butharlyp Howe are just as good as the breakfasts, both the quality and the value for money. We were the last ones to eat, so we got the extra left-over custard on our rhubarb crumbles.

Later in the evening we went for a walk down to Grasmere to check out the shops. It was extremely quiet in the town and very few places were open, with the exception of restaurants. On the way back we followed a public footpath through the woods, passing a couple of big holes in the ground which may well have been the home of the badgers we had heard about. It was nearly 10 pm when we got back, and Neil and Christine were already asleep.

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