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Sunday 18th June 2006 - Ennerdale Bridge to Stonethwaite
"Trees have life, but thank goodness they have no feelings, else here would be cruelty on a mammoth scale"
The buzzing inside my head has stopped but I still have that Logical Song still playing around in my mind. What was the bit about being sensible and practical? A month ago we both bought new boots (Kev's idea!!!) in the hope that they would be a little cooler. Realising that it would not be sensible to use them on this walk without making sure they were comfortable we broke them in by doing several long day walks.
All seemed fine until yesterday, Lizzie's boots started to rub above the ankles and she finished the day with badly bruised legs, it was unlikely that she would cope with another day using them. Luckily we had subconsciously (and because they looked so lonely being left) thought this might happen and packed her old boots in the baggage being transported around for us each day. So, with old trusted boots and a spring in her step we made our way from the guest house to the footpath skirting around Ennerdale Water.
A day of contrast, unlike yesterday when we enjoyed views of the mountains, mist obscured all but the bottom of the fells. As we made our way along the forestry tracks we came across a group of young kids who were doing an outdoor course but had managed to lose their map. Luckily we were able to give them one covering the area that they had to head towards, later we passed other groups of youngsters doing the same course, most badly prepared, many without waterproofs. Its good to see young people outside challenging themselves and enjoying the country but whoever was in charge of them should have made sure they were correctly equipped.
In his book Wainwright bemoaned the fact that there were so many trees - an unnatural forestation along the edge of Ennerdale Water which now obscured the grassy fells, in the rain we weren't that bothered and welcomed the shelter the forest gave, there appears to be some attempt to deforest certain sections. Mist turned to rain and by the time we had reached Black Sail hut it was a little stormy with driving rain and high winds.
Not knowing whether it was possible just to go inside the hut we stood outside for a while before finally we turned the handle and opened the door to be greeted by a bunch of steaming smiling faces. We had encountered a little community of walkers all like us taking shelter from the storm outside; one family out for the day and half a dozen people doing the coast to coast. We stayed inside away from the elements for a while before summoning up the enthusiasm to go back out and tackle what would be the hardest part of the walk so far.
On a normal day this would have been a demanding but nice ascent up a river bed and then over fells around the bottom of some crags before dropping down to the valley below. Today though the wind was almost blowing us off our feet and sleet mixed with rain made the going difficult, having ascended the path at the stream we could not see anything in the mist.
Normally at times like this I wonder whether we are wise to continue or if Lizzie is going to end up struggling up the hill only to find that we are lost or have more problems getting back down.
Thankfully though we had left the hut with a group of 3 others, the 'silver crag rats' as we would come to know them and took shared responsibility for finding the way over the fells, although we were slightly concerned when we saw 2 of the others - Dominic and Naomi - who had been sheltering in the hut and were now on the opposite side of the valley to us!
'Crag rats' is a term local farmers use to describe walkers. I would like to think it is an affectionate term but some walkers are irresponsible, damaging walls, scaring animals and leaving gates open so that stock escapes which doesn't endear the rest of us to the locals!
Our silver crag rats were a couple in their late 50s and a lady who had wanted to complete the Coast to Coast before she was 65. Her husband had died last year and the 3 of them were walking in his memory as he had wanted her to do the walk as well. Having people to walk with is a bit of a novelty for us but the fact that they walked at Lizzie's pace meant that she was able to chat and take her mind off the terrain we were going over.
There didn't seem to be any break in the bad weather although from time to time it felt that old Mr Wainwright was smiling down on us as the cloud glowed giving hope that the sun might break through. When the cloud did lift, very briefly at first, we caught a glimpse of the old slate mines we were aiming for and by the time we reached the valley the cloud had lifted enough to reveal the slate mine workings and relics of a lost industry that once employed hundreds of workers.
Oh! Just how good was the coffee in the mine visitor's centre! Probably not that great really but it was just what we needed to boost the spirits, meanwhile Naomi was squeezing enough water out of her shorts to flood a pit!
We parted company with the silver crag rats to head towards our guest house whilst they carried on towards the youth hostel and after checking in to our guest house we spent a nice warm evening in the Langstrath pub in Stonethwaite, very well fed, reflecting on the day and looking forward to the great views tomorrow.
Sitting in the pub later that evening looking at the old black and white pictures hanging on the wall showing men and women busy working in the mine made us realise how important this must have been.
All that is left now is a quaint, idyllic village dependent on tourists.