Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Lake District - placing a losing bet against the weather forecast odds

On Friday May 10, I slipped out of work early to pick Kerry up at the bus stop in my People Carrier to meet up with four others - our travel buddies Doug and Tara of Brussels and London #4 fame, another American expat Megan (who does not blog :(...), and a work colleague Chris from Belfast.  Chris has been accused of being a faffer by American standards, but he added a special something to the group and the 6 of us had a very fun weekend together.  I strongly recommend everyone to  ask an Irishman to join you on your next road trip getaway - it's sure to make for a better time, more laughs, and great memories all around.  We set off for the Lake District; oh and you should read Doug and Tara's account HERE which has some funny, staged pictures.

The damp crew (Doug, Kerry, Chris, Megan, Jeff, and Tara) - before we even started (photo linked from Doug and Tara). Why am I not wearing my rainjacket?

My favorite English countryside scenery on the drive - during a brief appearance by the sun

Not the Lake District - this is a stock photo of our people carrier - a Peugeot 5008. Recall I've been driving rental cars all year, it was easy enough to swap out my standard issue with this big boy for a weekend, no questions asked.
7-passenger vehicles are about twice as expensive to rent out here, so having it for anything longer than a weekend and I probably would have raised eyebrows.  But I got the approval because I've taken about 2 weeks off in May where I returned the rental car, so I argued I was actually saving everyone money.  With the cost of diesel and parking restrictions in the UK, it was well worth it for the 4.5 hour drive north to the Lakes.

I've been corrected numerous times -it is the LAKE District not the LAKES district, even though there are many lakes.  But, individually they're all called waters or meres, not lakes.  Also the Lake district in Cumbria has taller and more numerous peaks than the Peak (not Peaks) district which is closer to home in Derbyshire.

Here you can see the tuns, pikes, tarns, meres, fells, dales, and becks of the Lake District.
This is England's most dramatic park, containing the highest point on Scalfell pike (note that up in Scotland is the highest point in the UK - be aware of the difference).  Here is also the most unpredictable weather in England.  To get the best chance at good weather you should go in July or August.  All those holiday cottages and even youth hostels are mostly booked up by February for this time frame, so if you're planning a last minute weekend trip in the summer, plan on packing a tent too.  Also there is usually a 3 night minimum at the nicer places.

With six of us and no camping gear, Tara found us a good deal early on in February for a small 3-story attached house in Chapel Stile in the Great Langdale valley west of Ambleside which we could book for two nights.  

We're in the one with crazy paving patio, bench, and table. Crazy paving is British for irregularly shaped flagstone paving.  Also you can see Chris and Kerry in the entry. We had no neighbors all weekend.
As it happened, more American expat colleagues were in the Peak District this same weekend.  Jay organizes the lunches that Kerry attends for the "Better Halves Club" while the "Other Halves" like myself and Lori work.  You know, that thing I do between weekend getaways that I never mention in the blog.  Anyway, in his account (which was published timely, unlike mine which is three weeks late) has a wonderful explanation about the etymology of the names of all the different things in the Peak District.  Thanks for the lesson, Jay.
I teased you earlier about crags, fells and meres.  Now we have forces and becks.  From my weekend research - the reason for these words is because the Norse settled in the Lake District when they tired of raiding so a lot of the local names are the Norse names were never changed from when they settled the area a thousand plus years ago.  Crags are mountains, fells are hills, meres are waters, becks are streams with stony beds, and forces are waterfalls.  England certainly embraces its history.
I do have a few more for you:  "Tarn" is another old Norse word for a pool or small lake up at high elevation. "Dale" is a valley, which is more common I guess.  "Tun" is a wooded area (not many in the Lake District).

Over hill, over dale,
 Thorough bush, thorough brier,
 Over park, over pale,
 Thorough flood, thorough fire.
 I do wander everywhere
 Swifter than the moon’s sphere.
 And I serve the fairy queen
 To dew her orbs upon the green.
-Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream
So what does one do in the Lake District?  Well, there was the Fred Whitton Challenge happening while we were there - a single day 112 mile hilly road bike tour of the whole park.  One of my colleagues at work participated.  Or, you can meander through the quaint towns of Keswick, Ambleside, Windemere, Carlisle, or Cockermouth (at the confluence of the River Cocker and River Derwent).  But, our plan was to hike, with the very ambitious goal of reaching the summit of Scafell pike - the route would take us about 12 miles with a large portion of challenging terrain roundtrip from the car park.

For Kerry and I this is the weekend prior to the CrossFit Europe Regional, when most other teams were busy training as the workouts were just announced two days prior.  Unfortunately, I was not anticipating having our team qualify for Regionals back when we were booking these trips, but I did try to use these walks as training substitutes - not ideal, but it was the best I could do.

Adding difficulty to my hike for training purposes by jumping on wet rocks near the quarry - probably not the best idea in hindsight, an injury would have likely DQ'd the team!
After detouring at the Kendal Asda for a b-double e-double r-u-n, we made it to our home base Friday evening.  Oh and we had to stop another time at an outdoor shop so Chris could buy some trousers. But when he was speaking to 5 Americans, we heard "Could ya stop over here for a wee bit so I can get some chargers."

After unpacking, the sun broke through the clouds (sun sets very late now, still light at 9 pm) so we went on a short walk up the street to admire the sheep and fences before making a group dinner - tonight it was Megan and Chris's turn - and going over the route once more.

View of Chapel Stile from our patio

Sheep and slate stone fences - classic

The lambs were frolicking

Doug and I went over the route details while Chris faffed about over chargers again - he didn't want to borrow mine, probably because it was the wrong plug shape and he didn't want to use the adapter.  Also, my regional beard is starting to show.

Kerry taking it easy waiting for dinner
Afterward we played Catch Phrase - a word guessing game with lots of American idioms which made it a blast with Chris.  It was men versus women.  The highlight was when he had to get us to say the word "brick" so he started to mime a throwing motion...oh, Irishmen.

We awoke on Saturday to rain.  The forcast called for a break around midday, and then torrential downpours later.  I reckoned our hike would take 10 hours - waiting was not an option.  I also had a few shorter hikes chambered in case of poor weather, but with the hope of a "break" and then playing the odds of the likelihood of "torrential downpours".  We forged ahead.  I made a calorie dense breakfast of chorizo breakfast burritos - damn were they good.  We packed extra water, some calorie dense sandwiches, fruit, and trail mix, and set off.  After paying for parking at the Dungeon Ghyll hotel around 9 am, about 3 miles down the road, I was already soaked.  We agreed to a deadline for the weather to break - 11:30 - that's what I would call mid-day.  If we were still walking in rain at that point, we'd turn around.

Kerry staying positive - she made the best decision of the week wearing her Hunter waterproof boots 

The beck was flowing strongly in the rain.  I put my route instructions in a plastic cover, but as my pocket filled with water from dripping down the jacket, even that was getting soaked.

Sheep don't care about rain, they just let it soak up in their wool.

Herdwick sheep are a breed that start out black as lambs and then turn white as they mature. This little guy enjoys sitting in the cold, wet grass.  He doesn't know any better.

11:15 - um guys?

Nearing the end of the Langdale Valley - the beginning of the ascent to Scafell , 11:20.

11:32 - we turned back.  I glanced back for one final look. The shutter on my camera was starting to get stuck in the rain.
We walked back home and were drying off by 1:30.  Then this happened:
2:00 pm - now I know this as British forcaster midday.
All of our shoes were soaked through.  Even Kerry's wellies had filled with water from the drips down her chargers (we had no gaiters).   We put all our things in front of the electric fire heater and enjoyed some tea.  But the n I got antsy.  The sun's out!  I need to see the Lake District's famous dramatic views!!!  But no one wanted to walk far distances in soggy shoes.  So we did the next best thing.  Put on foot condoms and drive to Keswick to walk briefly around the town.

Doug's foot condoms, thanks to Sainsbury's, provide a protective barrier to damp shoes and keep socks dry.

Tara demonstrates how to put on a foot condom.
Keswick is a pretty town.  The guys split off and found a pub while the ladies wandered around the outdoor shopping stalls.

The roof window in the people carrier was nice

Yeah sun! Yeah Derwent water!  Dramatic views!  No torrential downpours!

These little guys are a lot happier 
Panorama of Derwent Water in Keswick (kez-ick)

More landscaping ideas for when I get back home

Too perfect - I mean, this is out of a movie, right?

We found a nice Belgian pub to relive some memories from our prior roadtrip 
The product of trappist hard work, dramatic views, and sunshine

No brethalyzer required to see if Tara should drive us back or not...
As the sun set, Megan and I decided to go on a short walk up a fell to see Grasmere.  Everyone else was done with both wet shoes and foot condoms.

A nice picture of me by Megan at the top of the fell

Grasmere is just over the hill, I forgot to take a picture of it...

What a neat house, constructed from the local slate
Tara and Doug made us dinner on night number two.   We  chilled afterward, watched British music videos and played more Catch Phrase - this time it was Hoosiers vs. the Rest.  Hilarity ensued.

On Sunday, the sky was grey but the ground was dry.  We had to check out that day so we packed up and I made an English Breakfast minus beans, but with scrambled eggs. There was no proper spatula in the kitchen, so I couldn't do any better.  I had found a 7 mile hike route on the internet that takes you along the Lingmoor fell that we agreed to tackle, since we didn't need to head back until the afternoon.

A slight tangent here to say that I love the descriptiveness of British hiking route directions, and I'll miss them when we go back to the States.  I've used a few in the Peaks district; they are a pleasure to read.   They say things like this:
Follow the still-rather-indistinct path beyond the gate as it contours northeast along the side of the valley, just above a small larch plantation. At the end of the plantation, continue across the pasture and slightly downslope, to pick up a narrow but better-defined path that continues to head northeast along the valley side. 
It's needed because the public footpaths here are often poorly marked and just meander through privately owned fields, so the description helps a lot.  Just check the date - you don't want to try to follow something that's 5 or 6 years old.  Things change.

We got some great views even in the grey weather at the top.  On the way down, however, the rain kicked in and we got soaked - again.

 Follow this path directly up the fellside until you reach a padlocked, green metal gate with stile steps on it. Immediately over this, turn right to begin ascending the crest of the Lingmoor Fell ridge. 

The steep grade is not accurately captured in this picture, but someone had to stack all these stones to make this fence...

Windy at the top, and the misty low-hanging clouds were rolling in...

One of my favorites - dramatic!

On the way back down the fell on the other side

Cross another stile and climb up to the foot of the crags. Here, the path contours round to the left, where there is a choice of either a short scramble or a narrow squeeze...

I caught Chris faffing on the bridge

Wet again as we finished the descent back into the valley - not sure why Doug is kneeling in the heather

Even though we had checked out, the key was just in a lock box.  We let ourselves in again since the cleaners hadn't come yet to change into dry clothes before heading home.

It was one of those drives down the M6 where the spray from the cars kicked up such that you couldn't tell where the sky ended and the ground began.   A huge wall of grey wetness.  The  actual drive ranked right up there with the 3 am drive from Stansted.  We were all pretty beat by this point so it was a quiet drive home.

It was a very fun weekend with the group, despite the weather.  I hope Chris doesn't mind I poked a wee bit of fun at his expense; all trips from here out are just diminished if he's not tagging along!


  1. Great post Jeff - loved the panoramic pics especially and the brick description. Your weather luck was terrible altho your sunny pics turned out great. Thanks for the mention - think of all of the extra knowledge we will be losing out on when we return stateside and don't have new weekend activities to look up. Now quit faffing about and catch up on your blog.

  2. This was beyond hilarious. I can't tell if it will be funny to non expats or not, but i was loving it. I agree, the more Irish the better!