England is not known for its mountains, especially when compared to the rest of the UK. So before I visited the Lake District, I pictured gently ambling among low lakes and rolling hills.
The first indication that I might be mistaken was the expression on the Derwentwater Hostel manager’s face when I described the route I planned to take the following day: Keswick to Windermere, via Grasmere, an I-thought-quite-doable walk of less than 20 miles. Even as the manager described the unavoidable way mountains pinwheeled across the land lying between the hostel and Grasmere, and how I’d have to go over at least one peak of about 3000 feet, I still had it in my head that the Lake District was more hilly than mountainous.
So I set off the next morning with about a liter of water, no snacks, and a stomach full of greasy hostel breakfast eaten almost as an after-thought.
The day started with a modest climb into the hills above the hostel, and this extraordinarily pretty view:
Moisture hangs in the air of the Lake District – it’s the wettest part of the UK, supposedly – moss grows over everything and skin feels like it’s just come out of the shower even when it’s not really raining. Water rushes in rocky brooks and rivers, mists from the fast-moving clouds and collects among the spongy moss and ferns as tall as my shoulders.
Then, after an hour or two, I came around a bend and saw the mountains ahead (oh). Soon, I was climbing up into them on trails that puddled and occasionally turned into streams. Reaching the first summit, I’d expected to see the town in the distance but only saw… more mountains. This state of affairs continued for the next few hours. The path periodically disappeared as I trudged through a light rain, mud and boggy ground sucking at and flooding my shoes.
For a while, I thought I was good and lost, though my phone was connected enough to show that I was moving toward Grasmere the whole time. I hopped streams too deep to walk through, and plunged right through the shallow ones because I was already soaked anyway. Ironically though, I was out of drinking water, and had no snacks, so as I followed a distant group of hikers down through a sort of valley I cursed the very land and sky. Out loud. Offending only the sheep.
But oh, the beauty of the place!
Finally, I emerged from the wild and came into Grasmere, covered head to toe with sweat, mud, and sheep *hit. Casual walkers were everywhere, their spotless shoes in stark contrast to my own bedraggled state. A guy selling ice cream from coolers sat at the trail head.
I would have bought any food for any price at that point. An elderly woman in fine clothing looked me up and down as we stood waiting for ice cream (“oh my“). She expressed surprise at how far I’d walked, while the ice cream vendor told me frankly he didn’t know how I’d come into Grasmere the way I had (through a mud puddle portal, sir). Anyway, a scoop of toffee vanilla ice cream in a cake cone has never tasted so good.
I was far too sore and tired (and late) to delay in Grasmere or continue walking, so I continued by bus and train to Manchester via Windermere, and ended the day eating a candy bar in a hotel shower.
I can’t recommend a trip to the beautiful Lake District enough, but more research than I did is key.
If you feel like approximating my journey: After a train and bus to Keswick, I walked south from town to the Derwentwater Independent Hostel on the lake’s edge. The path I took the next day followed the path alongside the waterfall behind the hostel, past the much-photographed Ashness Bridge, then tranquil Watendlath, skirting Rosthwaite and Stonethwaite before heading up into the mountains… where I lost the path and began improvising.