During the winter break for the past three years, my boyfriend and I have consistently taken a few days out of our busy schedules to visit a part of the UK’s amazing countryside – and this year was no exception! In the past we have often found ourselves traipsing about the wonderful valleys of the Peak District, usually staying in local B&Bs. We often mix hill-walking, scrambling and sometimes even trad-climbing.
This December however, we decided to venture further north than I have ever been before (a shocking fact, and one that I am ashamed to admit), and set the Lake District as our destination. My boyfriend was instantly planning a number of routes that we could take up and down famous hills in the Lakes, whereas I was focussed on the more immediate problems: How were we going to get there, seeing as neither of us drive? Where were we going to stay? Was there public transport readily available? The Peak District was always favourable to our reliance on public transport, with a great rail service passing straight through all the major locations from Manchester to Sheffield. Here however, we were once again in the dark. This meant that we had to be more realistic with our aims and leave the big classics such as Helvellyn and Blencathra for another time. Half an hour of browsing to find the perfect hotel, another half trying to discover if there was public transport from Windermere train station to the hotel, and we were set. We booked our tickets and were away on the following week, just on-time for my birthday on the 21st.
The journey itself was eventful, with one of our trains being cancelled after reaching the unfamiliar Oxenholme, a sign describing it as “the gate to the Lake District”. Thankfully there was a replacement bus service. Just two hours after leaving my cosy house in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, we were deep in a heavy fog, on a busy coach heading to our hotel, and getting brief glimpses of snow-capped mountains in the distance as a steady drizzle settled in. A bus change later and we quickly discovered that our hotel (and our room!) in fact overlooked Lake Windermere, despite the modest price that we paid to stay there. Freshening up after a day’s travel, and settling into our comfy bed, we were now ready to face the hills.
Our alarm was set for 7:30 AM. Both a little groggy, we stumbled out into the breakfast room, admiring the breath-taking views of the lake as we were served a breakfast of pancakes, cereal, toast with jam, and an entirely necessary coffee. By 9:30 AM we were already on the bus into the nearby village, Grasmere, intent to get in as much walking as possible in the limited daylight we had. Our quest was to walk up to the 766-metre summit of Great Rigg, and then circle back around and pass along a ridge to Heron Pike and back down into Grasmere. We took with us all the normal equipment needed to hill-walk, plus a few additions: namely, a walking axe and some Yaktrax (light-weight ice grips to fit onto the bottom of your boots for better traction on ice and snow). The latter were just a precaution we had taken due to it being December, but they turned out to be real life-savers when faced with the thick ice and knee-deep snow we encountered as we proceeded to the cairn (It was also a good chance to practice the self-arrest technique with my axe, given that I had never used one before in my life!). Just two hours after setting out, we stood atop Great Rigg, clear skies all around and phenomenal views of snowy ridges in every direction. We then proceeded back into Grasmere, picking up a warm tea before heading back to the hotel.
Upon waking we faced a fog so thick that it was hard to see even a few metres ahead. We decided that some of the harder walks were out of the question, and settled for the relatively short Helm Crag. The cairn was at 405-metres, and I was tasked with navigation for the day. A few pockets of ice lingered towards the top as we ascended, but not enough for us to use our ice grips. Sheep abounded, murky figures amidst the mist. We were up and down within two hours, and then on our way to a nearby tarn by the name of Easedale. There was not much of a view of the lake, but the desolate atmosphere that the fog created was electric. After a quick lunch we proceeded to the famous gingerbread shop in Grasmere’s centre, I myself picking up a stack of twelve to take home for Christmas.
The journey home! After just three days in the Lakes, but enough good memories to last until next winter, we were rushing back to the now more-familiar Oxenholme station to catch our train back to less adventurous but more familiar surroundings. I think it’s safe to say that we will definitely be returning this year, hopefully for some more technical winter routes!