Cumbrian short circuit - days 1 to 3

Day 1 - Ambleside to Coniston

The first day begins from Ambleside with a belly full of breakfast from the bakery, and a pack full of jelly babies and pasties.  Luckily it hugs the valley bottoms in the main, apart from a small pull out from town onto the base and contouring around Loughrigg Fell to Elterwater.  The countryside is gently undulating pastureland, and just the thing for soothing jangled city nerves and warming up sedentary muscles after a 4am start.

A jar at Elterwater and then gaining ground to a perfect footbridge at Little Langdale, where the path becomes sketchy by old quarries.  Over the top and the way opens up a little - we collect firewood and adjust straps in the languid air.

After Tilberthwaite, we make the first of many detours this week, climbing sharply up to the flatlands around Crook Beck.  Here the afternoon light and mid fell magic take over, and we amble lazily amongst the grasses slowly making our way to Coniston.  Under Red Gill Head is bewitching, this place is its own.

A classic first day mistake sees us walking too long and aiming for Low Water, but we run out of puff and camp half way up the Old Man of Coniston down from Scrow Beck.  An inauspicious first night under the new tarp, much faffing, condensation and bright moonlight.

distance: 9.98m/16.06km
elevation range: 361ms
map here

Day 2 - Coniston to Harter Fell

We move slowly through mining ruins to arrive at Low Water under Coniston Old Man at about 10am, and watch the cloud roll in.  Its a fine spot for a second breakfast.

After stopping at the summit for a while we step left onto Dow Crag, which looks enormous but takes us less time than we think.  By lunchtime it is very busy, we make for the rocky, knee-busting descent of the Walna Scar road - less painful for us than the gurning mountain bikers going up, by the look of things.  

As the afternoon temperature rises, we enter the enchanting world of the Dunnerdale forest.  Sweet farmland in the first flush of green, and stepping stones across bubbling rivers show another side of this Land of Lakes to the rugged mining and climbing country of our morning's walk.  In even sharper contrast the valley and woodlands are deserted, and offer tranquil respite from Sunday peak bagging - simple, silent, with trees.

The light charms our gentle ascent onto higher ground by Grassguards, where the going gets not boggy but downright swampy.  Through the FSC plantations and out to Hardknott forest, where efforts are being made to restore indigenous woodland once again. 

We stop for a break, to dry the tarp and our feet, then walk gently down towards Eskdale.  It is past Harter Fell and nearly 6pm when we stop early for the light, and the view of the central fells.

A fantastic wild camp barely an hour from Eskdale village, with wood fire (with stove and base to protect the ground) and a flat grassy pitch, the sun hits the sea in a shower of early summer sparks and an hour later moonrise behind Harter Fell.

distance 7.8 miles or 12.5 km
elevation range 660 ms approx
map here

Day 3 - Harter Fell to Black Sail Hut

A much colder night but more comfortable with the tarp poles in an A frame.  As we pack a couple we met briefly on day 1 came to say hallo.  Matt and Sharon were great company for most of day 3, down into Eskdale, over to Wasdale and onto Black Sail Pass.

From Eskdale the ground becomes wide open moorland with Pillar and Scafell standing sentinel and hunting birds hovering over unseen prey.  It feels old around here, ancient drove roads and peat huts speak of past lives worked short and hard. 

At Burnmoor tarn the weather grows murky for a while whilst we negotiate the several paths down to a pub lunch at Wasdale Head.  Baked potato!  Decisions about whether to stop early for the day were made for us, as the campsite here has no showers.  A great gear shop sold us the BMC map.

Onwards, and past shepherds training errant collies high up through Black Sail Pass to high drama and late light on the Gables.  We part our good company and dither over whether to take the right hand path to Styhead Tarn, another wishful wild-campsite.  But its too late and the weather looks as if it might turn on a pin, so we reluctantly follow the others down to find a grassy pitch next to the River Liza, just out of sight of the historic Black Sail Hut.  Its still a magnificent spot and what it lacks in drama it makes up for in security as the clouds come in a little.  

We have realised we are not eating enough and resolve to change both amount and types of food - less sugars and more proteins and carbs are needed, especially whilst we find our feet again.  Thankfully eating is less of a chore than carrying the stuff, and we fill up with oodles of noodles whilst the river fills our ears with all the colours of the frequency spectrum.  Pink noise means I sleep like an angel.

distance: 10.6m or 17km
elevation range 500ms approx
map here