Saturday, 11 June 2011

Sky Walking.

The dorm began to stir from about 5am this morning as the serious walkers methodically checked their gear, laying out each item on the floor in front of them before packing them away in a solemn ritual. Grasmere itself isn't really a place to hang about in of a morning, most of the shopkeepers focus on being ready for the tourists who flood in on coach trips after 10am and seem indifferent to the needs of any rambler looking for a breakfast cuppa before then.

So off we set around the foot of Helm Crag, across the busy A591 before starting the two hour ascent around Great Tongue up to Grisdale Pass. It was a warm day and the way fairly unrelenting. Towards the top we refilled our water bottles from the cascading waterfalls, but it was still a relief to reach the pass and see the calm waters of Grisedale Tarn below us.

The day was still young and the weather good so we decided rather than take the direct route along the beck into Patterdale that we'd zigzag our way up Dollywaggon Pike and detour round Nethermost in order to approach Helvellyn from the South.

We paused for a moment by the worn poem carved into the Brothers Parting stone, the place where Wordsworth last saw his dearly loved brother John, who was returning South to captain the ill fated East Indiaman ship the Earl of Abergavenny. Sadly it was John's last visit to the Lakes. His ship sank some years later off the Dorset coast en route for Bengal and China. Here though I imagined all was bonhomie and farewells as John, whistling, headed down the valley to catch the stage coach at Penrith, whilst William having watched him hurry out of sight turned on his heels and set out back down the valley to Dove Cottage and the ever waiting Dorothy.

It took a further hour to reach the summit, finding a path over the slate and rock of an almost lunar landscape, but we were rewarded by great views and a cup of coffee provided by an entrepreneurial backpacker who'd lugged a giant urn and and catering tin of Nescafe up earlier in the day. We stayed for a short while but when we began to sense the weather closing in decided it wise to begin our descent.

When I made this journey this time last year I froze when it came to conquering striding edge, but this time, aided by Eleanor's conviction that all would be well I made a determined attempt to try and scramble back down. The first bit, sheer and terrifying, felt unnaturally risky but ,despite the odd moment of paralysing self doubt, I began to find a steady momentum and clinging tightly to whatever rock seemed firm enough to take my weight found a way to lower myself onto more reasonable ledges. After about half an hour the ridge broadened again and the last hour of the day was spent heading gleefully across Birkhouse Moor and into Patterdale as the sun set.


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