A return to wild camping..
Its been a while since I wrote anything about a wild camp. What with the world ever changing to the isolating demands of the COVID-19 outbreak since March 2020, and what with the protracted eventual resumption of some kind of normality, its seemed that wild camping for me (and everyone for that fat!) has had to take a little bit of a back seat for some time.
Thats not to say I haven't had my 'fix' of being in the great outdoors.
Last year I was fortunate to have spent some time training in the military through 2021, which was an incredible experience to say the least, and was time spent with some amazing people. Training included a lot of field exercises - mostly hiking a lot in different areas. Getting wet, cold and muddy, then sleeping out in bivvy and poncho (tarp); often in the rain and other times under the stars. It always seemed hard at the time being cold, wet and tired, but deep down I absolutely loved it. Obviously the trade off from not being able to camp and hike as often at home, was countered by the fact I could do it in a more unconventional way whilst on exercises, wherever they may be and with a lot of other like minded people.
With me meeting a lot of like minded people during my time training, this post itself includes one of my good mates from my former weekend exploits in the military. For all intents and purposes, I'll not name him by first name, but by his last - accordingly 'Belton'. It only seems fitting anyway given that we were all not on a first name basis!
So me and Belton have always kept in touch since training. He's an amazing bloke who always seems to have a smile on his face no matter what he seems to be doing. Ive talked about going hiking and wild camping to him before and always suggested for him to come with me when I head out somewhere. Belton hadn't wild camped before. Or at least not fully fledged 'Wild' camping. I thought given what we used to do on exercise, the it would be a breeze for him and he would enjoy it.
So a number of weeks ago I'd been planning a trip - whether into the Peak District, or whether into somewhere new up in the Lake District. Ive always wanted to camp the Lakes, but at this time of year especially on the exit of Winter, I wasn't sure if it would be a good idea or a daft one.
So in the end I decided to just go for it. I'd keep an eye on the weather through the week, and see how it faired. The plan was for just a quick overnighter. Me and Belton meet up around lunch on Saturday at or chosen meeting spot, hike in for the first leg of a circular route, then pitch up at dusk with a few beers and food then get our heads down for the night. We'd awake at dawn, see the sunrise, then head off for the return leg of our intended route.
The route we decided on was to hike from Buttermere, then scramble directly up Fleetwith Pike at 648m, and camp somewhere near Honister. whether that was close to the slate mine or near Dubs Bothy. The return leg of our journey the following morning would then take us along Grey Knotts at around 697m, then towards Haystacks - where the popular camp spot at Innominate Tarn resides. I did contemplate Innominate Tarn on the outward leg of the journey, however we favoured against it for a more picturesque view of Buttermere if the weather conditions stayed good!
So that was it. The route was set. We had been checking the weather conditions for Saturday and Sunday and right up until the last check when we actually arrived in Buttermere, it remained the same, that we were expecting some 65km/h winds overnight. Id love to say it was 65km/h because it definitely wasn't!
When both myself and Belton arrived at Buttermere, we were both amazed with how stunning the area is. Buttermere is such a tranquil place. If you've ever visited it, its like a sleepy hollow nestled in the midst of some amazing groups of mountains, with Buttermere and Crummock Water lakes nestled in between them. Its a perfect places to explore and not meet groups and groups of people, who favour the more popular areas.
All our packs sorted, we set off on our route up towards Fleetwith Pike from Buttermere, taking us initially along the road unit we hit some footpaths dropping you down towards the shoreline on Buttermere itself. You can alternatively take the road to Winnats Pass, taking you to the foot of Fleetwith Pike. Whilst walking along the shores of Buttermere, there was some amazing light coming through the clouds. One such instance lit up what I believe to be Red Pike amazingly.
When we arrived at the foot of Fleetwith, we'd been chatting to a guy called Jake, who was giving us a few pointers for getting to the summit of Fleetwith. His first sentence was 'its steep, and you can go up, but you can't come down'.
He then told us a famous writer died on this hill and where she died is marked by a white cross. Immediately this made us apprehensive. Scrambling is a fairly new thing to me, and although I find I'm pretty confident, he did allude to some sections being steep and exposed, and for us, the task was only made harder with the weight of our packs, and the wind to our sides.
Undeterred, we pressed on. The first section was winding, and with short groups of steps. It was steep, and really got the lungs and upper legs going. Eventually, we arrived at the first small plateau and caught our breaths. From there onward the fun began. Immediately met with a well exposed scramble which caught us both off guard, we continued upwards and upwards until we eventually made the second plateau. From here we were contemplating our options. Looking further up and where we had to get to, we were concerned because the wind was picking up by then, and our scrambling confidence was filling us with some doubt. Jake, who had told us of the effort to get to the top, was almost at the top now, but he made it look incredibly easy.
Given our apprehension to push upwards, and knowing we couldn't really go back down the same way, we decided to take the soft slope back down the hill taking us into Warnscale Bottom. From there our intention was to push back u a second path leading toward the cut between Honister Crag and Grey Knotts. In hindsight, we should have just done this in the first place and walked up the back of Fleetwith to reach the cairn; however it was a good safety net and meant we could enjoy the rest of the day with a lot less worry over our own personal safety.
On the way up we were met with some incredible scenery with incredibly contrasted mountains from the scattered light between the clouds. We were both amazed at anything we saw as it literally looked like a painting or a photograph.
Eventually, at around 5pm we reached our camp sot, just slightly higher than the Warnscale Bothy, which was fully occupied at the time. We also met another group of campers who had been out for the past 3 nights. They looked happy to be out and loaded with a beer, looked to be having the time of their lives - casually watching the sun go down behind the mountains.
Camp is up!
At around 6pm after we had checked over the camp areas for suitability, we set up camp. It didn't take us particularly long - i'd say 20 minuets and then we hunkered down for the night. Food was on and we decided to crack a beer of our own whilst cooking. At that point the wether was pretty perfect. Very little wind, not cold, and with a decent view. Im almost certain behind the distant mountains you could make out what would be the Irish sea. Food in our bellies, we chilled out and waited for the sun to disappear.
By this point we were both pretty tired from the up's and down's of the day that we ended up in our sleeping bags by 8pm. Nevertheless we were both incredibly happy to be to in nature for the evening and couldn't wait to get our heads down. Or so we were to believe....
How the night changed so dramatically. Almost immediately after we both decided to get into our respective sleeping bags the wind picked up. The forecast 65km/h winds were catching up on us, however they seemed to be getting progressively more fierce. If my tents hadn't have been properly roped down in the night, I don't think it would have lasted. Belton's small 1 person tent also suffered some damage, where the wind has dislodged a pole and bent it beyond its extents, snapping the pole and rendering it unusable and unrepairable.
All said and done though, we hadn't slept a wink, but we were both amazed at how much fun we were both having. It was almost like the time spent in the military had kept us smiling even when the conditions were a bit difficult.
Kit packed up, it was time to head back on our return journey. We both decided that the most direct route; albeit we hadn't actually done the route yet, is to divert on a parallel path back down the mountain, from where we were. The path itself was very steep so caution must be taken going down this section. It tends to also have a lot of surface water eroding the path. I would also expect in winter this path becomes sheet ice given the flow of water going over it.
There were yet more amazing view despite the inclement weather...
Heading back towards Buttermere, we eventually arrived back at our cars. We were obviously tired from the lack of sleep, and the hike back; albeit the distance relatively short, but we remained cheerful at the fun and experience of our time out in the great outdoors, and in the amazing place that is the Lake District.
To say this was my first trip back out in a while; and Belton's first, it was one to remember! I think a lot of people would have shied away from the weather conditions we had, but we both took it in our stride and just enjoyed it for what it was. It was just the time spent in the great outdoors, without our phones and the stresses of work and home, that made it all the worthwhile. The weather just added a different spin on the adventure!
Im already planning my next trips out. Cant wait for the next one already...
Thanks for reading :)