Inspired by our trip up to Keswick last month, we felt that the Lake District definitely deserved a repeat visit. There are very few campsites available at this time of year, which narrowed down our options. Luckily, I discovered that the National Trust campsite in Great Langdale was open, and with a wealth of fell walking in that area, it felt like a solid choice.
I used the WalkLakes website to find a hiking route, and then pitched the idea to Ciaron.
We’ve never done a lot of hiking, our main activities are of the two-wheeled variety. However, now we had the van, I saw it as an opportunity to do more. The truth is, I wanted to get up into the hills, but I didn’t want the hassle of sorting out mountains of dirty gear afterwards. Ciaron had always found walking a necessary evil, rather than something he’d choose to do for fun, hence why this was a bit of a sales pitch.
The route I’d picked over Crinkle Crags was hilly, with a bit of scrambling thrown in. Happily, Ciaron agreed without any debate. We’d been out walking a bit more of late, and I think without me realising, he’d come around to the idea.
The perils of winter driving
We set off after work, got through the motorway sections surprisingly quickly, and soon found ourselves on the small roads of the Lake District. Some way past the top of Blea Tarn, and just before a sharp bend, Ciaron stopped the van. ‘That’s sheet ice’, he stated flatly. I peered out of the front windscreen, then volunteered to go out and take a look. Exiting was difficult, that section of the road is barely a van’s width, and there was nothing but fresh air to my left. In the gloom, I couldn’t make out how far I’d go if I slipped, but it wasn’t something I was keen to find out.
Squeezing carefully past the van, I checked the road surface. Oh no.
Squashing down the panic, I reported back. ‘Yep, it’s sheet ice. It goes solidly down past the bend.’ No way could we risk driving over it. I imagined us shooting off the end, into the abyss, screaming.
There was nothing for it, we’d have to reverse the van back up to the cattlegrid, where there’s room to turn around. I should point out, that the road has a gradient of 25% here, it is STEEP. Tentatively, Ciaron inched back up the narrow road at snail’s pace, being careful to avoid the drystone wall on one side, and the unknown drop on the other. It was so, so dark, with the reversing light illuminating only just enough of the road behind him.
Talk about tense! I think I held my breath the entire time. When he reached the cattle grid an eternity later, the relief was palpable. He still had a 20 point turn to do, in order to get the van pointing in the right direction, but the toughest part was done!
Not surprisingly, we don’t have any photographs from this part of the trip…
Always have a plan B
We checked the weather, and discussed the day’s route over breakfast. The skies looked pretty grey, but we were well prepared for rain. Once again though, we met our foe: ice. I nervously negotiated my way around treacherously icy steps, and allowed myself to be distracted by the amazing views.
It’d been a growing concern, and the closer we got to Crinkle Crags, the more obvious it was that we were not equipped for the route we’d chosen. They’d had a decent dusting of snow, and based on the amount of ice we’d encountered, probably more of that to boot. Without proper winter gear, we’d be fools to continue.
Consulting the map, we veered left before Great Knott, and diverted our route to Pike o’ Bliscoe. It was a good decision, there was still a fair bit of snow and ice underfoot on the way down, and still challenging enough to keep it interesting.
On the way back, we decided to check out the town of Ambleside, the idea being to find a decent Sunday lunch. We found that, and more. The Fulling Mill Bar & Bistro, housed in a 15th century, grade II listed building, served us a very tasty plate of food in charming surroundings.
Afterwards, we got a bit spendy in the many well stocked gear shops. If more winter camping was on the cards, we’d need to be armed with some warmer clothing at least. We came away with some good, warm technical clothing, and some micro crampons (aka mini spikes) to help us in icier conditions. Leaving Ambleside with full bellies and empty wallets, we drove home tired and happy.
The Great Langdale Campsite is a National Trust-owned site with superb views, and convenient access to the surrounding fells. There are a couple of pubs within walking distance, and the site has a shop where you can purchase essentials, including maps of the area.
We had a hardstanding pitch without electric hookup (they were all taken). For a weekend, this is absolutely fine, and we survived easily on the leisure battery. I kept forgetting that some plugs in the van won’t work off the leisure battery though, lesson learned!
The facilities are decent enough – warm water, lots of toilets and showers, and most importantly, clean.
Thoughts on the trip
Once again, the van is encouraging and enabling us to see and experience more than ever. We would never have booked somewhere just to go hiking in the past. We came away knowing already that we’d be back for more.
Honestly, I so enjoyed this trip, and have a newfound love for winter walking. One of the reasons we’ve not given it a go in the past, is because I’m truly terrible at getting up in the morning. Being in situ the night before, has meant we can get out at a decent time, and take advantage of as much daylight as possible.
We have unfinished business now though. We’ll be back for you, Crinkle Crags!