I love the days between Christmas and New Year. Not for the Christmas TV, piles of chocolate or Boxing Day sales. Instead it’s the call of the mountains.
As in previous years I’d booked a short walking holiday with Country Adventures. This year the destination was Keswick in the Lake District.
Our base was Keswick YHA. At the welcome meeting on the first evening it was great to see familiar faces from previous trips and meet new ones. Joe, the leader, talked through the walk options and the format of the break.
I shared a dorm room with three other ladies from the trip. However if youth hostels aren’t for you, Keswick is packed with hotels and B&Bs. It definitely has the feel of a holiday town about it. We ate out in town both nights; there’s plenty of options to choose from and I can recommend the Fellpack.
Day 1 – High Seat
Our first walk was a 10 mile route via Walla Crag, Bleaberry Fell and High Seat.
For me, the weather can make or break a walk. Purists might roll out the ‘no such thing as bad weather only unsuitable clothing’ saying but I beg to differ. I’ve been soaked enough times (in suitable clothing) to know I don’t like walking in rain.
I was therefore relieved when the drizzly stuff that accompanied our walk out of Keswick towards Walla Crag eased off.
Once up on Walla Crag the weather started to improve and we were treated to views back over Derwentwater, its islands and the surrounding fells.
We met another group of walkers at the stile which crosses the stone wall. With typical English politeness each urged the other to go first so it took twice as long as it needed to.
At Bleaberry summit we stopped in the small sheltered area for lunch number one (one of the benefits of walking). Another couple, fully kitted out in walking gear, surprised us by asking which fell they were on. Closely followed by another couple asking the same question!
Between Bleaberry and High Seat the ground gets boggier. Over the years I like to think I’ve perfected my bog walking technique. Move quick, step lightly and when you need to make landfall choose the brown reedy sections. It’s not always successful but I’m pleased to say it worked well on this walk.
I thought we’d escaped any further rain but the presence of a rainbow behind us suggested otherwise. Sure enough the rain clouds caught up with us as we reached the summit of High Seat. Fortunately a rocky platform provided some shelter and the opportunity for lunch number two.
The shower blew through quickly and we started a lovely descent from High Seat. The sun even made an appearance.
At the foot of the hill we reached Ashness Bridge. This is evidently the most photographed bridge in the Lake District. Probably something to do with it being next to a car park! Cynicism aside the backdrop of Skiddaw makes for a great photograph, particularly with the fading afternoon light.
Our route home took us under Falcon Crag and down and around the shore of Derwentwater. Dusk fell quickly and it was dark by the time we reached Keswick.
Day 2 – Causey Pike
Joe offered two walking options for the second day. An 11 mile walk with 3400ft of ascent taking us over Sail & Causey Pike, or a slightly shorter lower level option. As I hail from the flatlands of Oxfordshire there was no hesitation, I chose the higher option.
Setting out from Braithwaite, the first couple of miles took us along a well made track into the Coledale Valley. Our path was an access route for Force Crag Mine, whose abandoned buildings sit at the head of the valley. Lead, barites and zinc were mined here until its closure in 1990.
We diverted off the mine track to cross stepping stones across a ford and started our climb uphill. Looking back down to the mine we could see two large pools which I’ve since discovered were for water treatment. It turns out the environmental impact from the mine was one of the worst in the UK as metal polluted water used to flow into Coledale Beck and onwards. It’s hard to take this in when you’re surrounded by the grandeur of the mountains; somehow you always think of pollution as a city problem.
Onwards and upwards. Climbing into the mist. And the wind. In equal measure of hating rain I love walking in the wind! There’s nothing that makes you feel more alive than wind whipping across your face. It was a day to blow the cobwebs away.
The first summit, of Crag Hill, arrived in a blur of mist and cairns. We stood beside the trig point for the obligatory group shot. Although the barren plateau could have been anywhere!
From Crag Hill we picked our way down the rocky path, on towards Sail. As we descended the mist slowly cleared and we were able to glimpse the valley below. It’s a fabulous section of the walk, even if the wind was doing its best to take us off our feet.
From Sail we followed the relatively new zigzag path down and on towards Causey Pike. Many walkers call this an eyesore; I rather like it.
There’s a short scrambly section to get off the summit of Causey Pike. It’s a straightforward scramble if you’re walking up the fell although a little more interesting descending it on wet rock.
The only downside to this walk was the 4 mile traipse back into Keswick. It was a perfectly good route but for me the walk is finished once you get off the hill. There was one saving grace, a cafe, serving Rolo brownies. It was dark once more by the time we left the cafe; I so look forward to long summer days again.
Joe offers a third shorter day of walking but unless the trip is closer to home I leave early to beat the traffic. Although I’d much prefer to be in the mountains than on the M6!
I walked with Country Adventures. The trip cost £235 including YHA accommodation and breakfast but excluding packed lunches and evening meals.
Joe gets a lot of repeat business (almost everyone on the Twixmas trip was a previous customer) which is a testament to his professionalism. If you enjoy mountain walking in a small group without the hassle of map reading check out his trips for the coming year.