We feel like the only people in the world. A family of backpackers who have beaten the tourists and sheep to one of the best camp spots in the English Lakes. Standing at the trig point of Skiddaw, the peaks swirl and curl far behind us like ripples in chocolate ice cream.
The sun squeezes into a crack on the horizon as we pull our coats tighter and watch the gold sky turn to steel. And then, as dusk envelopes Bassenthwaite and the flats leading to the Solway Firth, a couple stroll up the path carrying a French stick. What are they doing in our story? And where did they get the baguette?
Of course people hike and camp in the Lake District all the time. But despite the fact we’ve cycled and camped extensively around Europe, spending a night on the high fells is new to us.
So when we are invited to pop up to Keswick for a weekend adventure, our mission is immediately obvious.
“Who’s for a sausage sunrise?”
It’s the mountaintop BBQ that clinches the deal for 11 year old Hannah and 14 year old Cameron. What we don’t tell them is that we are leaving our trusted king size family tent at home and trying out some new bivi bags. We also don’t mention they will have to carry their own kit in their own rucksack. They sag a little as we hike up Spooney Green Lane under the weight of their tent pegs and sausages until they see the huge backpacks that the paragliders are cheerfully lugging up the fell. As the afternoon currents gracefully carry the paragliders away, I wonder how such a gentle, playful breeze can make a guy soar so high. I later find out when we peg out our four shiny bivi bags into spongey grass on the saddle between Skiddaw and Little Man. We are about to go to sleep in four large wind socks.
As fairy lights start to illuminate Keswick far below, this is no place for storybook goodnights. The kids climb into their sleeping bags and zip themselves out of the wind. Stuart makes a hot chocolate under the moonlight but the romance of drinking it together is somewhat dampened by the howling around my ears. I crawl into my bivi, and imagine I am Shackleton.
When I awake, I half expect the world to be white. I unzip and watch Hannah hike up Little Man with her Dad, unencumbered by rucksacks, for a dawn photoshoot of Blencathra. They slowly disappear and I take in the hazy, heady view of Derwentwater. Time for a camp breakfast. Where’s the couple with the baguette when you need them?
On his return, Stuart has a better plan. We retrace our steps up Skiddaw and shelter behind a pile of rocks. He pulls out a full camp kitchen, and joy of joys, precooked sausages that take just a minute to fry up. Check out our sausage sunrise video below.
The soft floury rolls and sizzling fillings provide a welcome burst of energy which we use to push on down. While the ascent of Skiddaw from Keswick town centre was gentle, family friendly and sociable, the Millbeck Descent proves a bit more challenging. I slip and slide on a path seemingly made out of scree and feel thankful it’s a clear day and we can see our way. With Carl Side to our right, we make a plan to regroup at White Stones. We sit on stony perches and watch a timid Sunday morning fell runner trying to side step an overconfident sheep. On this warm day Skiddaw is a hub of activity. Walkers and runners stand aside to let each other pass, and at one point we make way for four mountain bikers, carrying their bikes on their shoulders up a path too steep for pedalling. I wonder how paths are kept so well defined with all this activity, especially in the summer months, and find out more on the phone with Sarah Dale, Acting Director of Nurture Lakeland. Nurture Lakeland fund raises for conservation projects and is one of Patagonia’s official non-profit charities. One of the ongoing projects the Eden based organisation raises money for is the Fix the Fells scheme. “Fix the Fells is a partnership project that aims to repair and maintain upland footpaths of the Lake District.” Sarah tells me. “20 years ago we had problems with erosion, and just the sheer volume of walkers was causing huge scars. These were not just unsightly but all of the soil that gets pushed away has to end up somewhere and often ends up in our streams and rivers, and negatively impacts on the water quality and wildlife there.”
Nurture Lakeland fundraises for Fix the Fells in a voluntary scheme asking visitors to help protect the landscape and wildlife by donating an extra pound on top of their overnight or restaurant bill. The money funds a whole programme of maintenance, explains Sarah, “Repairing paths. And then going back and checking those, and keeping drains clear.” These high-profile projects are popular with visitors. “They are iconic, with lots of pictures of before and after, and lots of chances for people to get involved.”
While Fix the Fells focuses on the whole county, and gives out many small grants to further reaches, the central fells are pressure points for erosion and there’s a traffic light system for prioritising the most vulnerable parts. “It depends how badly damaged the path is and how popular it is so how likely is it to get worse,” Sarah explains. “Obviously after Storm Desmond in 2015 there was a lot of work to go back out and reassess and regrade paths. The priorities were identified and are being worked on at the moment.” One of the routes currently receiving attention is a path up to Coniston Old Man.
Now more aware of where we are putting our feet, we follow tracks through the coppices at Dodd Wood. The light falls in shafts through bright green mossy trees as Scalebeck Gill gurgles towards the road and the end of our walk. Our faces feel warm and weather beaten and our backpacks lighter without the picnics. Descending steeply through Lyzzick Wood we cheer at the thought of Lyzzick Hall’s terrace; the perfect place for a cool down and a cooling drink.
But we can’t stay too long. We have a booking at the newly refurbished Keswick Youth Hostel and there are four little beds waiting for us. This Youth Hostel has one of the best views in Keswick, looking out onto Fitz Park, Latrigg and Skiddaw, with the River Greta immediately below. And very soon, selected first floor rooms will have a private balcony overlooking the river. The hostel was damaged by the floods of 2015 where water levels reached up to four feet above floor level. We take a tour with Deputy Manager Nathan Thomas who points out the new flood proof doors in the new self-catering area, and shows us around a brand new bar. Lake District Youth Hostels like Keswick and Ambleside have come a long way over recent years. In the Keswick building there are no huge dormitories; the largest room sleeps six and newer rooms have en-suite facilities. They are also decked out with USB ports and plug sockets for the switched-on traveller. Our teens are delighted.
As the sun goes down for a second time on our weekend we head off into Keswick. We stop for fish and chips in The Old Keswickian in the market square before pressing on to the charming Alhambra Cinema for some Disney action. Then back to the Youth Hostel for a quick game of Dominos in the bar before returning to our room where last night’s wind noise has been replaced by the gentle sound of the river. We drift off to sleep anticipating our Youth Hostel breakfast. Not quite a sausage sunrise, but surely the next best thing?
21 April 2017 by Family Adventure Project
5 Peaks Challenge in the Lake District to be completed in 5 hours Challenge
5 Peaks Challenge in the Lake District to be completed in 5 hours Challenge
10 Peaks Challenge in the Lake District to be completed in 10 hours.