Sounds of Skiddaw 2004

posted 6 Oct 2016, 08:47 by Dave Tomlin
Most people I know think I'm mad! And the question they ask is "So just what is the attraction of driving nearly 200 miles to spend two cold nights in a tent in March and take a lung busting, leg aching trek up a mountain into cloud so there is no view when you get there?" And the question I ask myself is "Just why was such a trip such brilliant fun, so much so that we're already discussing the next one?"

It hadn't been a great week and by Friday evening I was tired, down in the dumps and not at all sure I had either the energy or desire to take the planned trip to Skiddaw. However it had been planned for some months and not wanting to let down my friends I loaded my kit into Titch's car, mustering up some enthusiasm. We picked up Shep and the three of us were on our way by 7:30 Friday evening.

In the dark on the M6 it wasn't long before long we resorted to singing (badly) to various CDs to pass the time. Fortunately we all share similar taste in music. 

I have another question... "What is it that is so exciting about the first night away in a tent, every time you do it?" Having pitched the tent in the dark and dived into our sleeping bags, we all agreed we felt more awake than we'd been all week! We talked for some time then laid quietly listening to the owls. Soon the guys were snoring gently and I decided I really did need something more comfortable to lay on for our next trip. I'm sure the owls were hooting until the cockerel started cock-a-doodle-dooing but maybe I did drop off to sleep at some point, I'm really not sure. The dawn chorus built to a crescendo then subsided again to the persistent cawing of a crow. I was glad to get up in the morning; it had been a long night!

And here's another question... "Why do sausages and bacon smell so nice when cooked in a tent?" I normally hate the smell of fried food in the morning.

Because there were only three of us we were pretty quick at getting ourselves ready for the day ahead and set off to find a suitable place to park in Dodd Wood for the start of the walk. The first bit through the wood was easy walking but the traffic on the A591 was noisy. We started our ascent from the Ravenstone Hotel where a steep track lead directly up onto the open fell. Titch was pretty fit from the Southern 50/50 but Shep and I quickly felt the impact of our winter spent in front of computer screens. With my heart pounding and the sound of my breathing filling my head I wondered why I'd ever thought this would be fun. We stopped frequently 'to admire the view'. 

Because of the steepness of the track we were soon high above Brassenthwaite Lake and had left the sound of traffic and other walkers behind. The scenery that now opened up to us as we continued the ascent to Ullock Pike and onto Longside was breath-taking and the walking became easier (not just less steep but I actually felt fitter as I walked). This is a lovely ridge walk with views both sides. Skiddaw itself to our left was shrouded in thick cloud.

We took it in turns to lead the way and shared water from our drink containers. Several false summits later we paused at Carl Side and became aware of complete silence. It was as though we were completely alone in the world. I can't remember the last time I heard such silence; I wanted to go on listening to the nothingness but the summit of Skiddaw beckoned. A little further on we joined the more popular tourist path to the summit and suddenly there were other people on our mountain! 

The final ascent of Skiddaw was unpleasant and has little to recommend it; at least when there is thick cloud and no view except the person in front. Loose, dark grey shale moved beneath our feet sapping our energy and for the first time it was my legs that hurt rather than my lungs or heart which were working well by now. I was grateful when Shep and Titch decided to stop and build a snowman; the pause was welcome. Ok so the snow wasn't very sticky and it wasn't a very big snowman but it's the thought that counts.

Our route had been uphill all the way and the last bit was the steepest but we soon reached the top of the snow-covered plateau that is Skiddaw. The cloud lifted briefly to reward our efforts with a view to the west and north. We walked onwards to the Skiddaw trig point. At 931 meters (3054 feet) Skiddaw is the 4th highest mountain in the Lakes. We sat behind the snow filled wind shelter to have some lunch... well you have to stop at the top don't you? The fog was thick but it didn't matter... we had a snowball fight instead and laughed like children!

We decided to return via a different path to take in the view over Derwent Water, a favourite place of Titch's. I'm so glad we did. We were rewarded with more magnificent views. The walk down was tough on the knees and we gratefully stopped at some rocks to watch the world go by. It was fantastic to just sit in companionable silence and watch absolutely nothing happening except the changing patterns of the shadows cast by the clouds on the valley and water far below. This was a magic moment. There is something very liberating about sitting on top of the world like this. I loved this place. I wanted to wrap it up and take it home with me, along with the silent soundtrack. Since returning home I have sat there, looking at this view over and over again in my mind. 

We were all quite tired and achy by now and the walk from here back to the forest tracks seemed to go on steeply downward forever. The last bit of the walk in Dodd Wood to where we'd left the car was easygoing and actually rather pleasant in some spring sunshine only spoiled by the sound of traffic and the return to civilisation. 

Following welcome hot showers back at the campsite we headed into Keswick for an evening meal. Warm, full up and well exercised we could happily have gone to bed but refused to give in as it was only 8:20pm. By 9:20pm however, we'd agreed to put our watches forward an hour and head off to bed. I didn't hear anything that night!

The following day we did not stir particularly early and as we needed to leave by 1pm the planned walk up Cat Bells was replaced by a lovely stroll along the edge of Derwent Lake, followed by a ferry ride back in the sunshine. A perfect end to a smashing weekend. I returned to Warwick totally refreshed and ready to face the world once again.

And so back to the question, why did we do it and why will we (hopefully) do it again? The answer... personal achievement (making the top), liberation (standing on top of the world and briefly escaping from civilisation) and friendship (need I say more!). Isn't this what scouting is really all about? What more could we ask for? Thanks guys.

Sally (March 2004)