Winter Wild Camping; Thrust from Threlkeld to Thirlspot, (via several revisions).
At last, our weekend away finally arrived! One that was originally meant for Scotland, and for 6 of us, but none of that was to be. Instead, Sarah and I headed for the Lake District to take on the Helvellyn range from north to south via two wild camps, Scales Tarn and Grizedale Tarn.
Not much of what was originally planned actually panned out; one-by-one our compatriots dropped out for various reasons, complacency had us alter our first wild camp spot, and that damned south-westerly wind that has plagued our winter, tried to blow us off the ridge. Plus my Buffalo still hadn’t arrived so to remedy this, I popped into The Climbers Shop in Ambleside where, after weighing up it’s benefits over the Arc’Teryx Atom SV, I purchased a Mountain Equipment Fitzroy as a replacement insulating overlayer, but more on that later.
We made a super-early start on the Friday, (05:11 train from Sheffield), so as to make it to Ambleside in time for it’s awakening. We changed only once, in Manchester, and had reached Windermere just before 08:00. After purchasing a 3-day bus pass we set off for Ambleside, where we arrived after around 15-20 mins. We arrived well before anywhere was open and all this early morning travel had left me gasping for a coffee, so we replenished our spirits at Esquires, (some decent coffee there methinks), opposite the cinema.
We had ordered some New-Matic Grivel G12’s from Adventure Peaks, but upon arrival they had not them in stock, so G10 New-Matics had to suffice. We weren’t planning on doing anything so technical anyway. By the time we were sorted it was pushing 10:00, so being on ‘holiday’ we decided that another refreshment stop was in order, cue the pints of Hoegaarden! The lateral thinking afforded by such nutritious beverages had us check Sarah’s crampons, which turned out to have an extender bar fitted thus didn’t fit Sarah’s boots at all! We finished our sustenance and made haste, back in the direction of the Adventure Peaks store. Conveniently, it was shut for 5 mins, at least 10 in actuality but we were eventually sorted out. Anyhow, this kerfuffle was followed by a humid bus ride to Keswick, some sandwiches and another beer, before grabbing the bus out to the White Horse Inn at Scales.
We had intended to have a decent meal here before heading out early to our intended camp site at Scales Tarn. It turns out they stop serving food at 14:00! We’d arrived at ca. 14:15. Foiled, so another beer it was then, and not a very good one either. Balls!!!
Now for our next change of plan, for the sake of time and effort, we decided it would be best to camp on the other side of the main road. Leaving the pub, we walked back along the A66 until we could pick up the relevant path on the opposite side of the road.
Immediately we were greeted by a sodden path which led us further towards the River Glenderamackin and mid-shin-deep muddy water. Before reaching the latter delights we astutely decided to don our gaiters, putting my new’ish Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiters to their first proper test. Through around 500m of shin-deep sludge, they passed wholeheartedly, as did Sarah’s Rab Latok Alpine gaiters.
We crossed the river between the golf course and Threlkeld Quarry, then headed southwards and upwards to the path that follows the Old Coach Road. The wind was picking up and it was quickly getting dark, so we found a flattish area and pitched for the night.
It didn’t take us long to pitch or for the sun to go down, and what with our early start that morning we decided to hit the sack, unfed, but with an episode of BBC’s Natural World stored on my phone and a wee dram of Glenfarclas 10 yr single malt.
It wasn’t a quiet night, in fact the wind howled and it sounded like the rain was actually buckets of water being poured over our tent. The gusts were serious enough to startle us out of our attempted slumber each time they came around, and one of the porches hadn’t been pegged out as well as it could have been making it a tad rattly. We again didn’t get much in the way of sleep, at least not until closer to daybreak when the winds subsided a little.
We got up, frustrated, at around 07:00’ish and started to pack up, it was reasonably light by then. There was a morning chill in the air whilst packing up and making breakfast but the Fitzroy was on hand to shrug off the remaining wind, keeping me nice and toasty! We had the usual sausage sandwiches for breakfast and black coffee, (forgot the milk!), then we set off towards Clough Head.
Instead of continuing along the Old Coach Road, we decided to cut along the bottom of the crags on the north and north-eastern faces of Clough Head, taking up a path that deposited us at the beginning of the snowline, around 80m south-west of the summit. We then picked up the path towards Calfhow Pike and it’s continuation to Great Dodd.
The wind had quietened down since the night before, but during the latter stretch, it became more noticeable again. As we ascended Great Dodd we began to find difficulty in keeping our pace, the deep, thin-crusted snow drifts were beginning to make for hard work. Plus a combination of a lack of sleep, lack of food, heavy packs and the increasing wind began to conspire against us.
In the interest of ease and time, we circumnavigated the summit at Great Dodd, taking the snow-covered path around 60m to the south west. Despite this, the hike to Watson’s Dodd verged on the tortuous, as the south-westerly wind whipped over from St. John’s Common, threatening to push us all the way to Matterdale Common on the other side of the hill.
The wind was somewhat monolithic in it’s stature, being so strong it felt like it was beginning to penetrate my ME Kongur. A strange concept, probably something to do with it’s breathability, but regardless I was starting to get pretty cold. I managed, very slowly and very carefully, to get my ME Fitzroy on for it’s first field test. It proved itself certainly fit for function in this instance, providing pretty much instant warmth and protection from the wind. I was definitely glad of it’s wired hood peak and adjustment capabilities, which allowed it to securely clamp down around the rest of my headwear, (Kongur hood, Patagonia R1 Hoody & Montane Punk balaclava).
We managed to push on from Watson’s Dodd, to Stybarrow Dodd where we made the choice to drop down to Thirlmere once we reached the Stick’s Pass between us and Raise. So close, but it was the right decision, and given that the wind was allegedly only going to ramp up in ferocity over night, we also opted to call it a day.
Down we went to the bottom of Stick’s Pass, where we took up a path heading south to Thirlspot. After dropping below around 400m, the wind had long ceased being a nuisance, instead the rain began to pour yet again.
We trudged as fast as we could towards the warm, dry and welcome comfort of the Kings Head Inn. It took us just over an hour in this downpour and the Fitzroy shrugged off the rain with only a couple of small damp patches on the side facing the rain. I’ll submit a proper review once it’s had more use.
After a delicious beer & burger we scoured the internet for local campsites with winter opening. Hoping for Derwent Water we were unfortunately disappointed though to our pleasure, we did find that Rydal Hall was open all year. We called to ensure they had space, sure enough they did but we only had around an hour to reach them. We finished up and caught the next bus. It’s only two stops, and around 20 mins journey between Thirlspot and Rydal Church, so we weren’t long.
Arriving at the campsite, it was quickly getting dark and the rain was only getting worse. We were greeted and verbally directed to our pitching area, there was only one other pitch on the site we were told. As we arrived at our area it became obvious that the whole of Rydal Fell must drain into this place, as Rydal Beck was in full torrent and the ground everywhere was completely saturated with at least 1-2 inches of surface water on the ground in some places.
We scouted around a bit then plumped for a region that was slightly elevated and the least soggy. Time to test the integrity of our bathtub groundsheet on the Kangri, as again overnight it did nothing but pour down with rain.
Aside from a few patches from where we had come in wet, the tent again held up well. Someone on the OM forums had recently asked whether the Kangri was suited preferentially for snow rather than rain, this weekend certainly proved to me that it can handle some of the worst weather that the UK can throw at it.
Rydal Hall has one of the best shower/toilet blocks I’ve used in the Lake District, which we thoroughly took advantage of on the Sunday morning! After breakfast in the café and a semi-lazy morning, we took the bus into Ambleside to return Sarah’s unused rental crampons.
We had a late’ish train home from Windermere, (around 20:00), so for dinner we made our way there so as to minimise fuss. We had a walk around to scout for possibilities, but eventually bit the bullet and dined at the Lamplighter Dining Rooms. They welcomed us in, even with our large packs, and the sustainably locally-sourced food was nothing short of awesome. I had the game burger, whilst Sarah had the fish-of-the-day. An extravagant, but seemingly justifiably priced and delicious end to a somewhat frustrating weekend.
And with that, I guess there goes the remnants of our disconcerting winter. Better luck next time, I hope!