The Lake District
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
Of old geezers in Porsches
( William Wordsworth* )
Time for the annual lads weekend away – our annual trip to drive fast cars (for those who have them), eat too much and drink a load of beer in one of Britain’s more impressive locations.
This year we’d chosen the Lake District, and had found a very nice looking hotel in Great Langdale called the New Dungeon Ghyll ( https://www.dungeon-ghyll.co.uk/ ). It looked very nice, and it turned out to be as nice as it looked. More of that later. First of all, we had to get to the place.
We decided ( or probably Jimmy decided ) that just driving up the M6 would be a total waste of a fairly sunny day, so instead we decided we’d try crossing the Pennines on one of its roads which are famously bad to drive on when the weather turns a bit sour.
When we got to the hills we decided it was high time for some lunch. We stopped at a likely looking pub in Owler Bar. To be honest, there are pretty much only two dwellings in Owler Bar, and both are pubs. We chose the Peacock, mainly because it was the first of the two that we came to. It did a fine selection of snacks and more substantial comestibles that were satisfactory for passing Porsche drivers and their passengers.
From here, time was marching on a bit (what with it being November), so we headed out west over the hills in search of the bit of supposedly fun driving for the day – the Snake Pass. The Ladybower Reservoir seemed incredibly empty, but then we had just finished a very hot and dry summer, so I guess a lot of the water was taken away by consumers and wasn’t replenished by the streams. It was really very low, though.
The Snake Pass is the opposite of low. It carries the A57 over the Pennines on its route from Liverpool to Lincoln and is famous if you listen to radio traffic broadcasts in the winter by virtue of its being the first road to close and the last to reopen any time there’s the slightest flurry of snow. So driving over it in November might have been a bad idea had it not been for the lingering warm weather. By the time we heading over the top the sky was starting to look a bit gloomy though, and our mood was about to take a step in that direction too.
The source of our worsening mood was that we’d managed to descend from the hills into one of the busiest parts of Britain’s road network at 4pm on a Friday afternoon. First of all it took us ages to get through Glossop, a small town that’s as far away from Derby as you can get whilst still being in Derbyshire. It’s also busy on a Friday night, although that seemed mainly to be the result of one bad set of traffic lights. Continuing from Glossop dropped us into the nightmare of the Manchester Outer Ring Road. It was quite busy, and by now it was quite dark too. In truth, it’s not that bad, but like all British motorways it can feel a bit cramped when it’s busy, which it is most of the time. We eventually escaped onto the M61 and found ourselves at the Rivington Services in need of some coffee and some turning around of our bikes. That was much needed.
We weren’t really sure how much longer it was going to take from this point, but we weren’t in a desperate hurry and we were expecting the traffic to thin out somewhat, which it did. So the rest of the journey up the M6 and into the Lake District was pretty humdrum. It got a little more fruity as we passed Ambleside and started heading up into Great Langdale, because the road was quite narrow and twisty and it was a bit difficult to spot the corners. And a lot of the vehicles coming the other way were doing so on our side of the road. By the time we passed the last small settlement before the hotel I think the drivers had probably earned their beer for the evening and we were glad to get checked into the hotel, find our very nice rooms and then retire to the bar for some well-earned beers and dinner. The boys had earned themselves a day of not having to drive at all on the following day.
Saturday on the lads weekend away and it was the day for the long walk. This year it promised to be more of a “tall” walk rather than a long one, but whatever. We always do one day where we just do a long walk – it gives the two owners of the flash cars the opportunity to not drive for a whole day.
We were staying in Great Langdale, so were ideally placed for some excellent walking. We’d toyed with the idea of having a go at Scafell Pike but the lay of the land meant that it was about 11 miles in each direction from where we were staying. That felt a bit too far for a day in November, especially given that we’d be needing some breakfast beforehand, and there’s no way we were getting up early enough to have breakfast before daylight. We therefore contented ourselves with going up the Langdale Pikes. I’d been up there a couple of years previously (see Langdale Pikes), so I kind of knew what to expect, except last time it had been June and the sun was out.
I managed to dash out before breakfast to check on the weather and take a couple of photos. What a beautiful spot we’d chosen.
The breakfast at the hotel was pretty good, consisting as it did of a generous selection of cereals, bread products and fried things.
Anyway, when you’re a group of fifty-something males it’s fairly normal for most things to be downhill, or at least on the level, so it was a bit of a shocker to come out of the hotel and look upwards at the main task for the day. I’d done it before, so I knew what was coming, but the other three hadn’t. Due to my currently rather portly disposition the other three were therefore finding it much easier up the first stretch of mountain than I was. Still, it was a nice day, so bum to them. The climb up to Stickle Tarn starts off steep but well paved, and then closer to the top degenerates into a scramble over rocks with no obvious path aside from the stream of other people. Even in November there were quite a few other people on the way up. At the tarn you’re greeted by a nice flat area with grassy bits to sit on, and you’re also greeted by the fantastic sight of the sheer face of Pavey Ark, with Jack’s Rake running across the middle. We took the opportunity to rest for a while at the tarn before beginning the walk around the tarn and up to the top. All of us had gone with quite lightweight coats because the weather forecast was pretty good, and that was certainly an advantage when doing all that climbing, but once up on the top, and exposed to the full wind, I think we were all teetering on the brink of being cold.
From Pavey Ark we hacked our way across in the direction of Harrison Stickle to get a different view of the valley, and then headed back away from the cliffs towards Thunacar Knott and to the back of Pavey Ark, where we decided it was about time for lunch. The hotel does packed lunches for walkers, so we’d availed ourselves of those before setting off, and found ourselves nestling into a small hollow to get out of the wind while we sat and ate. It was a truly beautiful day up there and the small hollow meant it was pretty much warm enough to de-coat whilst eating.
After lunch, the next obvious target was to climb up to High Raise – a particularly un-mountainous mountain that’s basically a gentle upslope from where we were sitting. It is the highest point above Great Langdale in this area though, and the views were impressive in all directions. The centre of the Lake District is one big, extended plateau, of which High Raise is a part. Several periods of glaciation resulted in all the deep valleys and residual lakes, but if you can get above the level of glaciation, like you can at High Raise, you can tell what the landscape maybe used to be like prior to the glaciers.
From High Raise we decided it was starting to get a bit late so we started to head in the general direction of home. This meant hacking over some pretty flat moorland to Sergeant Man and then descending a fairly steep and not very obvious path back down to the side of the tarn, and then back down the way we’d come up. By the time we got back we’d walked 12.81km in a little under five and a half hours, which might not sound like a big distance, but quite a lot of it was either steeply uphill or steeply downhill, so it was much harder than one might think.
We finished the day off in the way we usually do on these trips – by eating too much, drinking some beer, and playing board games ( Or in my case, bored games. I’m not a great fan ). There was a bit of a crowd in the hotel bar when we got down off the mountain, but by the time it had been dark for an hour pretty much everyone else had left, leaving only the hotel residents, very few of whom were spending their evening in the bar.
Sunday on the lads weekend away was the day for the boys having a bit of fun in their flash motors while me and Stevie B were riding shotgun. We’d not really planned any kind of route, on the basis that unlike most bits of Britain, the Lake District doesn’t have a lot of roads that are exciting to drive but which also go through the best bits of scenery. In the Lake District there are either long, flat, traffic-filled nightmares or roads that require the packing of spare underwear due to their narrow, twisty, stone-walls-up-the-side character. The scenic roads would be more exciting if you could guarantee nobody was going to come the other way, but sadly most do have cars coming the other way, and you invariably meet somewhere that’s not quite wide enough for two cars to pass without slowing down, and which has either a vertical cliff, a bog or a stone wall on the side. Anyway, there’s not a lot of scope for going off the tarmac in a Porsche, especially in November.
One of the best compromises ( in that the road is mainly wide enough for two cars all the way ) is the drive over Honister Pass. To get there from Great Langdale you have to drive out to Ambleside and then up the main road to Keswick, before then turning south again into Borrowdale, which is reputedly England’s wettest place. The start of the road up to Honister Pass from Borrowdale is probably only 3-4 miles as the crow flies from where we’d started, but there’s some hilly bits in the way, so you have to drive about 25 miles around to get there.
At the head of Honister Pass is an old slate mine, where we pulled off the road to admire the view, but rather disappointingly the car park was completely full ( and very uneven ), so we did one lap and then exited again and drove down the hill towards Buttermere. It’s kind of pretty in Buttermere but we found an absence of decent-looking parking again, so decided to continue on and maybe go back to Keswick. To get there we headed out of the bottom end of the valley into Cockermouth, partly because the boys were getting a bit short on motion lotion and weren’t sure quite how far they were going to get without stopping.
Cockermouth proved to be a nightmare, because we immediately got stuck in a random traffic jam and had to try to figure out how to get out again without going back where we’d come from. We couldn’t figure it out, so eventually we did go back where we’d come from, and did a loop of 5 miles or so to get to a different road that had a junction with the main A66 road back to Keswick. That was half an hour of our lives that we’ll never get back.
Three years ago, when we’d been on a family trip up to the lakes ( see Happy Birthday ), we’d gone to Keswick and had a pleasant afternoon walking up and down the side of Derwent Water, so I suggested maybe we could go there for a while on the basis that I knew it ticked many of the required criteria for a Sunday afternoon stroll, in particular :
- There’s a cafe
- There’s a variety of walking options of differing lengths
- There’s a handful of geocaches that I’d not done before
- There’s a massive, tarmac-covered, easy-to-access car park that has lots of spaces in it
Parking up two Porsches in the car park proved to be a great way of drawing attention, apparently, despite the boys having done their level best to make sure they were miles away from anyone else. Or maybe they drew attention just because they were miles away from anyone else. Whatever. The cars seemed popular with the locals.
It was definitely time for lunch when we arrived, so we headed straight into the cafe at the theatre before then heading off for a walk around the edge of the lake. I’d been there before too, so had some experience of their lunchtime offerings. Pretty good, all-in-all.
When walking from here you pretty much have to head south along the lake shore, heading a very wiggly mile or so along the lake shore until we reached a point where the lakeside path and main road came close together. From there we turned back along the side of the main road to head back to the theatre again. We retired for a round of coffee and cake, as you do, and when we came out there was just about enough daylight left to take a few snaps of the setting sun over the lake.
On the way back we got stuck in a huge traffic jam trying to get back through Ambleside, so someone suggested we turn around and take the small road that goes out of the back of Grasmere into Great Langdale, bypassing the centre of Ambleside. It seemed like a good idea but by this time it was completely dark and the road was one of the proverbial 6’6″-width-restriction-not-suitable-for-HGVs variety. It was most definitely not suitable for HGVs. It was barely suitable for Porsches either. Definitely a few brown-trouser moments, but the boys did a grand job and eventually we found ourselves back on the slightly better road back up the valley to our hotel.
We stayed at the hotel for the evening again, not that there was really anywhere else to go, and feasted on some stuff in the bar again. The bar menu was more than adequate, and felt like more of a “lads weekend away” venue than the proper restaurant. There was some farting about with board games again, which I did my best to grump out of, but eventually gave in.
And that was it apart from another monstrously huge, lardy breakfast on Monday morning and a boring but ultimately painless drive back down the M6. Another year of lads-weekend-away-in-November completed, and once again we’d managed to pick a great location and had enjoyed some unseasonably warm and sunny weather.