The Lakes are stunning and yesterday unfolded in many unexpected ways.
The coach was an hour and half late in picking us up at the start point and a regular driver left his warm bed to stand in for a colleague that had got confused with his rota. I feel this threw a lot of our group off kilter.
The scenery is breath-taking and with a light dusting of snow everywhere, it had a magical quality about it.
I chose a gentle walk and there were fourteen of us who set off on this one. The rest of our group split up into other groups ranging from those with the highest summits in view, to those who ambled about the shops and had a roast lunch in their sights. It stayed below freezing all day and we negotiated frozen puddles and went past frozen waterfalls, as it snowed on and off. The wind chill was a lot lower than freezing, but we were all togged up and stayed warm, as long as we kept moving.
About halfway up the first hill ascent a voice came into my head saying ‘Double back and find the shoppers and a hot lunch Jane’. I ignored the voice, telling myself that I had set out to walk and walk I would. I asked our walk leader how much further we were going to climb and he replied ‘Just five more minutes Jane’.
Half an hour later we crested the top of the peak and I took the photograph above. As Lake Windermere appeared as a large puddle in the distance I surmised that we had climbed more than the promised 600ft. My fellow walkers confirmed it was at least double that.
Our group started to ask our leader how many more ‘ascents’ there were on the walk. We were promised just one and it was about half what we had just accomplished. For those that know me well I do try and come at things in a light way. Within minutes we were facing another steep accent. I asked what this was called and he replied ‘It’s an undulation Jane’. ‘I would call this a hill.’ I assured him. Undulation my backside, that was as steep as anything we had previously faced and whilst climbing it I twisted a muscle in my groin. The pain was instant and increased with each further step.
I felt that our leader’s interpretation of time, height and terminology was different from mine and some of the other group members. I took a deep breath and caught up with him and let him talk. It turns out that he used to lead groups of teenagers on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. All started to become clearer and I explained that I was injured and needed to know exactly what was ahead of us in time, ascent and scale of difficulty. He was unclear on details and explained that as a Yorkshireman, unless he had a limb hanging off, his Mum had always told him to get on with it. I replied that I rarely made a fuss and needed the facts, so that rather than being jollied along, at 58 years old I could make my own decisions. I know my limits and I was in trouble. Also, the last thing I wanted to do was hold the group up, because each time we paused we all got chilled instantly.
It is one of nature’s laws that water rests at the lowest point, so as we rounded the lee of the summit we were on, this view of Grasmere was before us.
It became apparent that we were headed to the water down below and then climbing the next hill to follow the track along. A few of us asked if the track we were headed for was on a level and we were assured it was. It wasn’t. Having managed to go down and back up again I stood at the bottom of yet another ascent on the track, which was rocky, icy and treacherous. My courage dipped. My left leg was screaming in pain and with tears in my eyes I looked up at our leader and asked if this was the last ascent, because I wanted to turn back to the main road down below. He assured me it was and crab-like I made my way up. At this point another one of our group lost the plot. She openly accused him of lying and started to verbally rant as she walked. I focussed on putting one foot in front of the other and thought ‘Think Jane’. No irony there at all.
He paused to wait for me and I had an idea. ‘Can I look at your map please?’ He happily showed me the map and I made a decision. ‘Please show me exactly where we are?’ He did. ‘That track ahead will take me back to the main road and that is where I am heading. I will find my way back to the town from there.’ I left no room for him to disagree. ‘What is the name of the car park that the coach is parked in?’ I asked. He didn’t know and started to bluff and bluster on directions. Our verbally venting group member then slipped in ‘loopy bananas’ mode at speed and opted to come with me. He offered me his mobile number, but I took the number of another long standing group member instead.
We walked down to the main road and I gently reassured her that she could trust me and I would get us back. As we got to the bottom there was a space carved out of the stone wall and several people were standing nearby. ‘I bet that’s a bus stop’ I said ‘and there must be a bus due’. We checked the route on the notice board and sure enough a few minutes later a bus turned up heading through Ambleside. It went slightly awry at this point, because the bus driver was not local and he thought he knew where our coach was, but it turned out that he didn’t. About half an hour later, there we were two women not at their best, deposited at an unknown bus stop and still not near our coach. Ambleside is layered up a hill with a one way system. My colleague was still venting verbally, as I am sure this was the only thing keeping her going through her frightened state. I gently reassured her and said ‘Walk with me, I promise I will get us back to the coach.’ I remembered the road number from the leader’s map and a sign had flashed by on the bus, so we headed for that. Turning left at the sign we walked down the road and as we reached the bottom nothing appeared familiar. I saw a couple walking with their dog and baby and I asked them. Fortunately, among all the tourists and walkers there that day, they were local. I described how the car park had looked to the ‘Dad’ and amidst all the noise of my colleague sounding off, his eyes locked onto mine and he gave me directions. We set off again and it was at this point that I lied. ‘I can see the coach.’ I told her and I kept saying it. As we finally went down a little lane, what I was saying became true. We changed out of our muddy boots and boarded the coach.
As the rest of the group started to come back on board and asked after us I said the same thing, again and again. ‘I have met some lovely people today and The Lakes are as beautiful as I had hoped. Unfortunately, I chose a walk that was beyond my capabilities.’ My colleague seated a good few rows behind me was still sounding off loudly with a different perspective.
I will return to The Lakes, just in a different way next time.