Saturday, 16 October 2004

Lake District: navigation failings on Red Screes - October 2004

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Langdale Pikes in the distance, right
I was up well before sparrows fart, preparing bacon rolls to feed everyone before the early Saturday morning drive from London to the Lake District. This overnighter in Ambleside was definitely a smash and grab introduction to the Lake District for me and a steep learning curve, alerting me to my lack of navigating skills.

Lynn was driving, so Christian, Simon and I buckled up and braced ourselves for G-forces on her land speed record attempt. Sterling work, as we managed to book into our hostel accommodation at Windermere AND be ready to walk in Ambleside by 10.30 am.

Almost immediately, I was labouring with the ascent. This terrain certainly was a change from my regular jaunts in the Chilterns or on Dartmoor. Their challenging hills test you but mercifully come to a conclusion quickly whereas these were an entirely different ball game! Red Screes, at 774 metres, was the highest hill I had tackled since Ben Nevis back in May 2003!

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View of Lake Windemere at the start of the ascent to Red Screes
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Walled footpath on the way up
The route to Snarker Pike was clear, with good views, but we could see we were walking into cloud higher up, which unnerved me. I was already knackered and I wasn't looking forward to the next phase of the walk.

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Simon enjoying the views below Flesh Crags
Red Screes
Red Screes and clag
At the summit of Red Screes, we could see little in any direction. The weather was hardly conducive to a lengthy break so I took a bearing for Scandale Pass. With the intention to follow a path clearly marked on the map, we headed off.

Simon went out of the traps at a faster pace than the rest of us, and I found myself following him rather than keeping to a bearing in the clag. It was soon apparent we were not on any defined track, and I was now disorientated. I called to Simon, we regrouped and I took a check of the map. The visibility was such that I couldn't call where we were. With no hint of the cairn on Red Screes to retrace our steps or take a back bearing, I reached for my GPS backup in my rucksack but it was little help. Even with a grid reference to within ten metres I had one of those moments in the cloud when trust in the compass was lost, as was my faith in the GPS!

As I considered the next move, trying to portray an air of calm, out of the gloom a group of hikers appeared, walking with clear intention and confidence. My judgement was to follow them and within ten minutes we had descended out of the clouds and could see Scandale Pass.

I was so relieved. The valley and Scandale Beck below fading into view was a reassuring sight, and a memory that will remain with me.

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Scandale Beck
Back on good track, safely housed within two drystone walls to keep us out of any more mischief, we had a brief respite from the rain and took a late lunch. 

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Late Lunch
High Sweden Bridge
High Sweden Bridge
Descending gently, we passed the lovely pack horse bridge known as High Sweden. We didn't cross it, though, and remained on the track down to Nook End Farm, and civilisation.

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Christian looking like he's had enough
A decent five hour walk of twelve kilometres, but I cannot say my first visit to the Lake District was an enjoyable one. It would be unfair to suggest I am attributing my disappointment to the area, it was a realisation of my own personal failings that put a downer on the weekend.

Down the pub, later that evening, I found out that my friends had been blissfully unaware of my complete incompetence earlier in the day. Whilst happy it hadn't affected their enjoyment, I still vowed to myself, there and then, that I would stop flirting with the basics of navigation, get myself some proper training and have the confidence to get myself out of tricky situations without having to fortuitously rely on others.

So, lesson learned, the experience would stand me in good stead.