Dawn light filtered through the green curtains as the bleating intensified in both volume and pitch. Just one of those things about staying in the Lake District; being woken by a bleating sheep. Feeling concerned I eventually slunk out from my bunk – my girlfriend was wearing earplugs – and inspected from the window the scene outside. Somehow a sheep had navigated down and was now imprisoned inside a walled garden courtyard. Futile attempts were soon made to leap up a 4-foot stone wall and escape via a grass bank. Then the bleating would start again, after eating more greenery, naturally. I showered, dressed and promptly walked down to the hostel reception to alert of the sheep stramash. “Oh bloody hell, the edible plants….” the staff member blurted out as he leapt from the building as though it was on fire. No really, you don’t need to enquire if our sleep was interrupted, we’re fine thanks. I silently kept this thought to myself.
Actually the sheep incident was just one of many things about the Lake District. I counted a few. To start with, the individual weirdness of many fellow hostel dwellers was somehow mirrored by the catatonic atmosphere inside one of the two local pubs. In fact, the pub and the hostel lounge area were clearly competing for an award to best resemble an undertaker’s waiting room. In my sombre opinion the latter would’ve quietly won, aided by the crimson-red, velvet upholstery and superb extras from [insert name of a zombie film].
There was also a major traffic incident that caused chaos on a narrow Western Lakes’ road. Typically, this occured on the morning when we’d erroneously decided to support local public transport. ‘Highway Hedge Hairdressers’ had deployed a tractor with supplementary cutter to provide the necessary agricultural version of a short, back and sides. The seasonal hedge cutting created significant vehicle queues in both directions. Honestly, we were delayed by what seemed like most of the morning. On another day we were almost forced due to persistent rain to head outdoors wearing waterproofs. Thankfully, the pitter-patter stopped as we were otherwise occupied with an early lunch so found no need to inform social media. Ha, social media, there was another thing – intermittent wifi connectivity that could only have been bettered had I climbed to the nearest high point and bashed two rocks together.
Oh, and the ridgeline views, just where do I start?
Upwards, labouring hard towards Skiddaw, many descending ramblers nodded a greeting. But each looked at us, up and down, with a sense of bewilderment. Seems their head to toe waterproof attire was somewhat in conflict with our more minimal shorts and T-shirts. Each time I smiled in return and waited until they passed before turning around. Immediately I was drawn away from their confused state and slapped in the face with unique landscape views that whisked the breath away. This scene was repeated day after day: on Grasmoor, Causey Pike, Brandreth, Great Gable and around Haweswater; it almost even happened at Castlerigg Stone circle.
The mountain views were also frustratingly peppered by wispy cloud and, here and there, an occasional flash of September sunshine. Annoyingly this offered no real consistency for taking photos so each time was different to before, and some images displayed vibrant valley colours while others contrasted ridge against rocky summits. All this before I even mention the challenge of having to navigate. Just as well I carried a map, unlike the unfortunate rambler on Skiddaw who was rightly annoyed that there were no installed signposts to offer the most direct route to the summit. Call me paranoid, but sometimes I even supplemented the relevant Wainwright walk book with the map.
Perhaps the only time we weren’t sartorially inspected was during a solo blast up and down Robinson. I received a dignified and almost salutatory cap-tap from an elderly shepherd in wellies, holding a crook and escorted by a trustful collie; a bit like the Lakeland equivalent of Gandalf, perhaps. After navigating across the treacherous plateau of Buttermere Moss, I turned around to see if he too was now inspecting with disdain. But the shepherd and his dog had disappeared. Maybe he was transported away on the back of a giant eagle? More likely the Moss had claimed another victim? I even questioned if I’d imagined the brief encounter. No matter, the blinking low cloud blew hither and enveloped man, beast and moss so we were all soon hidden from view.
In summary, if you want a Lakeland break while retaining some thread of modern life then I’d strongly recommend staying in Keswick, Ambleside or Windermere. You’ll get pizza, internet and your usual imported lager at a broadly similar, inflated price. Maybe plan your excursions around travelling only on principal A-roads, especially if you want to keep to a schedule. I wouldn’t bother supporting the rural bus service as when delayed the drivers will likely offer no solution and probably only smile. Take extreme care if out running. The fleeting glimpse of views might lead to an unexpected stumble and unwanted fall. Other fell enthusiasts may not observe your sense of adventure and quite rightly question why you are moving swiftly – and at risk – over rock and boulder, while in clothing best suited for a Pilates class at Pure Gym. They may even froth at the mouth when it is pointed out that you are in fact not even wearing Scarpa hiking boots. It would be shear recklessness to consider anything like wild swimming or scrambling.
Should you book into a hostel – with two village pubs nearby – then I’d suggest avoiding Room 4 (and possibly 5). While dozing here there’s a high probability that you could be woken by either the bleat of a sheep or from the regular ping of the self-catering kitchen microwave directly below. Similarly, best to only visit the pub that isn’t fishy about its atmosphere. While you’re at it avoid the hostel lounge completely unless planning a death by bare walls and muffled whispers. And if trudging through spongy bog is your idea of adventure, keep eyes peeled at Buttermere Moss for a mystical Lakeland shepherd – he could still be searching for a lost sheep, maybe the one last seen being escorted from a nearby hostel by an irate vegetarian.
We really did enjoy ourselves – honest. The escape to the fells was just what was needed, although maybe my girlfriend (for months prior a desk-bound writer) hadn’t seen the memo outlining 30+ miles and over 11,000 feet of climb. We’d strongly recommend catching the bus from Buttermere to Braithwaite then discovering a ridgeline route back – possibly via Grizedale Pike, Grasmoor, Sail etc. And there’s an amazing AirBnB (Goodcroft) near Shap from where you can run directly to the fells above Haweswater. We can endorse that the Lakes are open, we embraced a spot of wild swimming and supported local businesses where possible – rum butter was purchased, I ate Cumberland sausage and ONLY sipped Hawkshead ales. Who knows, we might even return to the hostel life one day? But if in Buttermere, we’ll likely eat out at The Bridge.