UK COAST TO COAST ADVENTURE JOURNAL | Day 2

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The short version of day two of my UK Coast to Coast hike goes something like: “lovely lake, six gnarly Wainwrights, the steepest hill in the world, and teary feelings of failure”. This isn’t a pretty blog post.

After 14 reasonably simple miles from St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge (which you can read about in my day one adventure journal), day two of my Coast to Coast hiking experience was a bit of a wakeup call. It was a very long and tough day, one which made me question whether I should be out on the trail. The Lake District smacked me hard.  

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Zoe on Red Pike
Celebrating the struggle atop Red Pike (all photos of me by Jenni)

UK COAST TO COAST HIKE ADVENTURE JOURNAL

Day 2 | Monday 11 October | Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale

I love my Vango Banshee. It’s such a great little tent. I’ve got the two-person version, which has enough space for me and all my gear to live in comfort, without feeling cramped or hemmed in. I can sit up in it, can arrange my kit so I can get to everything without feeling like I’m having to move things around all the time, and even have just enough space to make a cup of tea in the porch if it’s not nice outside.

I don’t know what it is, but I just sleep so well inside that tent. Maybe it’s because I tend to only use it for particularly active trips such as multi-day hikes, where I’m truly exhausted by the end of the day and would sleep well wherever I laid my head.

Trusting My Kit

It helps that I completely trust the tent. I know it will keep me dry in heavy rain, that I’m not going to get condensation inside, and that it stands up to wind. It’s not a top of the range tent by any means, I chose it because it seemed to provide the best value (I paid less than £100 in 2017, the latest version is £140 from Go Outdoors) to weight (2.4kg all in) to spec ratio for what I could afford at the time.

I can’t deny that I’d love to have an opportunity to compare it with a lighter tent at some point, one that is free standing. In the meantime, I’m very happy to keep getting the Banshee out for trips like this – whether I’m carrying it myself or using my or someone else’s wheels to carry it for me.

Whatever the reason, tiredness or trust or both, I woke up to my 6.40am alarm on Monday morning, having had a restful night in the Fox and Hounds Inn garden. I would even go as far as saying I was ready to get going – mind and body both recovered and happy.

Packing Up

The pub wasn’t serving breakfast because there were no B&B guests, and naturally weren’t open in the morning for drinking (!), so all was quiet when we got up. Thankfully, Jenni and I had that key to The Gather for our morning ablutions, so it didn’t matter.

We knew we had a big day ahead of us but at the same time weren’t in any rush, so we made tea and porridge, and spent a bit of time sorting our kit out. We decided we would go with the flow and see if we were still around when the shop opened. No pressure.

Cue the bag explosion.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Bag Explosion
The contents of my camping bag at Ennerdale Bridge

Anyone on a multi-day trip of any kind, whether that’s backpacking, road tripping, or anything else, knows that it’s much much easier to pack your bag in the comfort of your home before you start, than it is the first morning when you’re away. In fact, packing up on that first morning is probably the most stressful thing you’ll do. As I mentioned in my day zero post, I’d squeezed as much stuff in my duffel bag as I could, knowing that it would only get easier as I ate my way through the meals and snacks I’d packed, but on this first morning, I had to get everything back in.

Damp Tents

Added to that was the fact my tent was wet. Camping in October meant that we would wake up to a heavy dew each morning, meaning our tents would be damp every day, even if we didn’t get any rain. And the morning of day two was no exception. That moisture makes the tent just a little bit bigger than it is dry, and therefore my duffel bag was a teeny bit harder to pick.

We both managed to repack our duffel bags, even if it did involve a little huffing and puffing. Having arranged with the pub where to leave our bags for the baggage transfer company the night before, we stowed them away and decided it we would indeed head to The Gather for lunchtime supplies before getting hiking.

We bought sandwiches and extra snacks, as we knew we wouldn’t see another shop or café until Honister towards the end of the day. I plumped for cheese and tomato, wishing I’d packed my SIGG sandwich tin, but doing my best to stow them at the top of my day pack without squashing them too much over the first few miles of the day.

Ennerdale Water

Our hiking day started with a three-mile walk along the south shore of Ennerdale Water. What an absolutely stunning footpath that was. It had everything; the water, sometimes lapping right at our feet, hills towering above us all around, beautiful ancient woodland, rocky crags, and plenty of interest underfoot, too. Honestly, I would go back there just to hike around Ennerdale Water itself.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Ennerdale Water
Ennerdale Water

When we got to the western edge of the lake from Ennerdale Bridge, the water was completely flat. We were also blessed with a lovely sky, making the whole scene as perfect as it could have been that morning. It was hard to stop taking photographs and get the miles in.

It wasn’t an easy lake-side walk, by any means. That interest underfoot I mentioned came with a real variety of terrain. There was grass and mud, loose gravel and rocks, rooty woodland floor, a few boulders to get over, and even a bit of scrambling.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Jenni scrambling down Robin Hood's Chair
Jenni scrambling down Robin Hood’s Chair around Ennerdale Water

I found it quite tough going in places, especially coming down the scrambly rocky outcrop that was Robin Hood’s Chair. I find my height is a real issue with scrambles, and I tend to steer clear in the main – short legs and poor upper body strength means I rely on my knees a lot. Knowing that we had a particularly steep climb to come, I was worried at how energy sapping I found the lakeside walk, but enjoyed it none-the-less.

If the section through the valley along Nannycatch Beck was my favourite path of day one, the path through woodland at the eastern end of Ennerdale Water was my favourite of day two. It was just wonderous, a fairy tale mossy forest with little streams running across the path, dotted with perfectly formed toadstools. If I was a fairy, this is where I’d want to live.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Toadstools
Fly Agaric Mushroom, Ennerdale Forest

Taking the High Route

I now know, looking back over the guidebook to help inform this series of Coast to Coast adventure journal posts, that Wainwright described the high route via Red Pike as “suitable only for very strong and experienced fell walkers in clear weather”. I’m not entirely sure how I missed that at the time, given how much I studied the book, a sentence that I should have perhaps paid more attention to.

Even though the story I’m going to tell you now consists of much difficulty and upset, I feel tired just thinking about it, I would suggest it’s not quite as tough as Wainwright suggests. Unless the weather is bad, that is, I wouldn’t go up there in poor visibility. Maybe you just need to be a bit fitter than me.

We picked up the high route just after YHA Ennerdale (which was unfortunately closed to passers-by due to a private event). This opportunity to get up high was the reason we’d paid for the baggage transfer service (read my day zero journal), and given that the weather was good, off we went.

If we’d have taken the low route, we’d have continued along the forest track to YHA Black Sail, the country’s most remote youth hostel, before heading up to Grey Knotts. Instead, we were heading straight up Red Pike. And I mean “straight up”.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Jenni Hiking
Jenni hiking towards Red Pike

Contour Lines of Evil

I knew before heading to Cumbria that it would be the mountains of the Lake District that I would struggle with the most. On the other hand, I also felt confident in my abilities, and I knew I could get up the big ascents, even if I would do so panting and needing to rest along the way.

But Red Pike made me doubt everything. Depleted my energy reserves, leaving me with nothing. This hill made me wonder if I should have started this hike at all. And, worst, made me cry. The towering summit of Red Pike, at 755m, very nearly beat me. In fact, if it wasn’t for Jenni, I’d have turned around and gone home.

The contour lines did not lie. Squished together like someone was playing silly games with orange string, the climb up Red Pike was a very steep one indeed. One minute we were on a lovely forest track along a lake, the next we were rising up towards the clouds.

I guess Red Pike is really just a very tall grassy hill with a bit of a pointy top. It’s not rocky, or technical. But it was particularly hard going.

We stopped halfway (ish) to eat those sandwiches we bought earlier and make a cup of tea, taking a boots-off break by a lovely fast-flowing brook. I noted in my journal that I hoped to be able to buy sandwiches every day, that was a good move.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Lunch on Red Pike
Cheers! (Do I look tired yet?!)

Hills for All Kinds

As we sat having our break, we watched two other couples enjoying Red Pike.

First, a couple of fell runners came racing up to where we were, and continued on and up the hill without difficulty. I don’t mind admitting I was jealous of their fitness, their ability to keep moving their bodies, making what seemed like very fast progress up the steep grassy bank. One minute they were near the bottom of the mountain, I’d spotted them in the distance, the next they were heading over the brook we were sat by, then they were up and out of sight. I know that these guys would have spent a huge amount of time and effort making sure they are in shape to run up hills like this, but it’s still amazing stuff to me.

Then there was a couple making their way down towards Ennerdale Bridge. I might say they were at the other end of the scale to the fell runners, but I mean that in the kindest possible way – they were out in the hills, enjoying things in a much slower and more careful way. They were taking their time, each looking out for the other as they made their way from the top of the hill and down to where we were eating our lunch. This was clearly a real challenge for them, but they made progress, step by step, using their hands to make the descent as easy on their legs as possible. Slowly, but surely, they worked their way down.

I guess as I sat there, I put myself somewhere in the middle. Okay, not the middle, but certainly somewhere between these two examples. Much less fit and able than the fell runners, but much less concerned than the couple heading down to the lake. And if nothing else, it was good to remember that the outdoors can be all things to all people – but it’s nothing if you don’t get out there. This was a lesson I had to remind myself of many times over the course of the following few hours.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Views from Red Pike
View of Crag Fell, Ennerdale Water and Bowness Plantation from Red Pike

Summiting Red Pike

Fed, watered, and somewhat rested, it was time to get back on our feet and head up the rest of the way. Up, up and up. So much up. Possibly the most up I’ve ever done in one go in my life.

Honestly, it was utterly awful. It took an absolute age, much longer than either of us thought it would. Jenni, being much fitter than me, seemed to steam up the hill without any difficulty. Maybe not as fast as the fell runners we’d watched, but she didn’t stop every few steps to ease the burn like I had to.

I, on the other hand, felt like my lungs and legs were going to explode. It sounds completely dramatic, but it really was the worst I’ve ever felt on a hike. I tried desperately to find more oomph (technical term), but failed, miserably. At one point I was so frustrated in my inability to make any progress up the hill, that I had a tantrum at a sheep. I screamed and shouted at that sheep, at a complete loss as to how I was going to get to the top. I don’t think I’ve ever expressed my anger at a sheep before. Sorry, sheep.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Jenni Hiking up Red Pike
Jenni hiking up Red Pike

Hiking whilst Anaemic

It would be a good point to reflect from the present day, and add, that not long after getting home from my UK Coast to Coast hike, I was diagnosed with worryingly low levels of Iron and B12 in my blood. My doctor said my B12 was the lowest they’d ever seen, and they were surprised I was functioning day to day without needing to rest, let alone going out hiking.

There is no doubt that I had this deficiency during the Coast to Coast hike. It’s probably been low for years, depleting so gradually over time that I didn’t notice. The diagnosis explained a lot; the feeling I was having to drag my legs up the hills, the extreme tiredness I felt when I was on anything other than a gentle gradient, the brain fog getting in the way of making sound decisions, and even the inability to hold in my emotions in as I made my way up to each summit.

But at the time, I had no idea I was anaemic. I just thought I was unfit. And that I was failing. I believed I was letting Jenni down by being super slow, and that was really very damaging to my self-confidence.

(You can read more about my B12 struggles in weekly blog episode 91)

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Views from Red Pike
Buttermere and High Snockrigg from Red Pike

High Stile, High Crag and Haystacks

I – we – did eventually make it to the top. And what an amazing top Red Pike has. Views for days, from where we came at Ennerdale Water as well as over Buttermere in the north and Great Gable in the south. Looking back now it was definitely worth it, but at the time I wondered. Once on the summit it was coats-on time thanks to the wind being super strong, but we still stopped to take a few photos, before carrying on.

Our challenge for the afternoon was far from over. After Red Pike we had High Stile (807m), High Crag (744m), and Hay Stacks (597m), each with an unnecessary amount of descent before heading up the next.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - High Crag
Having just descended High Crag – the path down is just visible.

I cannot begin to explain how steep and knee-twinging the descent from High Crag was. It might as well have been vertical. And then there was the scrambly mess that was Hay Stacks after it. I mean, this was one of the most amazing and beautiful peaks I’ve ever climbed, but I was really pushing my limit and having to concentrate so hard on moving forwards, it was hard to enjoy it properly at the time.

We navigated our way along the route using cairns and boundary posts, but still had to check we were going the right way regularly to make sure we didn’t end up doing more miles than we had to. We moved along, up and down, all the while with Jenni a little ahead (which meant she got some great photos of me during the afternoon), and me desperately trying to keep up. I was pretty much fine on the level bits, but the steep ups and downs were testing my resolve way beyond my comfort zone.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Hay Stacks
View of Seat and Hay Stacks from High Crag

To Honister

To top it all off, I fell over. Exhausted, I stumbled over my own feet and walking poles, and ended up in a heap on the floor. I looked around trying to work out what I’d tripped over; a rock, some loose gravel maybe, but there was nothing. Too tired to laugh at myself, and unsure if I’d twisted my knee or if it was just sore from the miles already walked, I got up, had another little cry, and vowed to just keep moving until the end of the day. Honestly, I was not having a good day on the trail. What a sorry state I was in.

Eventually, and I mean eventually, we were on familiar ground. I’d been here before, the scenery around me was bringing back nice memories, and once we’d got ourselves on the bridleway, I knew my way down to Honister Slate Mine, and from there down to Borrowdale. I know some people don’t like Fleetwith, but I think it has a beauty and charm to it, and if nothing else, that sense of familiarity gave me a teeny bit of extra energy to get to camp.

It was 6pm by the time we reached the shop and café at Honister, which was a shame as we’d both been hoping for a hot chocolate before doing the last three miles of the day. At least my lungs had stopped trying to explode and the tears had stopped falling.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Honister Slate Mine
Jenni walking down to Honister Slate Mine

Borrowdale in the Dark

Watching the clock, which is never a good thing when you’re hiking, we knew we’d be pushing it to get to our campsite before sunset, our self-inflicted deadline for each day’s walking. But we were going to try. We grabbed a quick snack from our carried supplies, a finger of fudge for me (never grow up), and got on with it. At least this easy downhill section of the route was an opportunity to stretch out our leg muscles after working them so hard on the steep sections.

Honister Pass itself was closed for filming. It looked like it was Top Gear or Grand Tour or something like that, but we were able to walk down that way without a problem. There was a group of cars and trucks off to the side of the road with what looked like a catering truck handing out meals. If we’d have been in less of a rush, we’d certainly have gone to say hello and find out what was going on, but we really were trying to beat the clock by this point.

We weren’t on the Pass itself for long; there was a lovely footpath off the road which kept us away from any traffic there might have been if the road had been open. Knowing that the path went right through the middle of the YHA we were stopping at that evening meant we didn’t have any night-time navigation issues, so this last section really was pretty easy, certainly by Red Pike standards.

An honourable mention goes to the short section of footpath just before Longthwaite that required chains to help us get over the moss-covered rocks, via ferrata style. Which was very interesting in the dark, to say the least. Any other day I would relish the opportunity to hike along a stretch of path like that, and I’m a bit sad even now that I didn’t have the time or energy to enjoy it. I was grateful that Jenni took the lead over the rocks, and I could use her guidance to get me across without falling in the river. I relied on Jenni a lot that day.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Innominate Tarn, Hay Stacks
Innominate Tarn, Hay Stacks

Camping at YHA Borrowdale

We arrived at YHA Borrowdale (Longthwaite) just after 7pm, 9.5 hours after we left Ennerdale Bridge. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a camping field!

I was fortunate to have been gifted a couple of nights at YHAs along our UK Coast to Coast hiking route, this being the first. We were camping, but doing so meant we had access to all the other normal YHA facilities. We quickly got checked in, including ordering our dinner and breakfast (which we paid for), and headed out to put our tents up.

It’s a good job I can put my Banshee up with my eyes closed, because that’s how it felt – it was so dark. A guy staying in one of the pods around the edge of the camping field came over to lend me his head torch, as mine kept flickering on and off as I tried to put the pegs in the ground. I was very grateful; he made the next ten minutes much easier. Thankfully my head torch wasn’t broken, it was just being a bit temperamental; I reckon I knocked it when I fell over earlier that afternoon, dislodging the batteries, or something like that anyway.   

Once we were set up, we headed into the YHA dining room for dinner. It was chilli night, and we each gladly received a big steaming bowl of chilli with rice and garlic bread. It’s amazing how good food tastes after a hard day in the hills. Oh, and dessert, of course there was dessert; lemon meringue pie with ice cream. Perfect. We sat in the dining room reflecting on the day, contacting friends back home, and looking over the guidebook for the following day’s route, before retiring to our tents hoping for a very deep sleep.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Stepping Stones, Ennerdale Water
On stepping stones in woodland around Ennerdale Water

Reflections on Day Two

Looking back at day two of my UK Coast to Coast hike, reading through my journal from that evening, re-reading the guidebook description of the route, and looking again at the map, is painful. There is definitely something of the feeling of failure left inside, I don’t think I’ve let go of the emotions I felt that day yet.

Of course, now I know that while fitness and ability might have played a role, I had some vital ingredients missing from my body at the time of this hike. I am trying to be a little kinder to myself about how bad I felt that day, and to learn from it rather than wallow in it.

If I think about it properly and objectively, I didn’t fail. I hiked 14.5 miles, taking in (what I think are) six Wainwrights, with 1,400 metres of ascent in 9.5 hours. My body and brain got me from Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale, in (more-or-less) one piece, and I am a stronger and more resilient person as a result. So, while it wasn’t the happy day in the Lake District I hoped it might be, it wasn’t a failure.

And if you can believe it, even with the way I felt during the day, by the time I got into bed that night I felt pretty okay. Tired and worn out, yes, but already recovering. It wasn’t a total disaster.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Jenni hiking around Ennerdale Water
Jenni hiking around Ennerdale Water

The Red Pike Effect  

Some might say we should have left earlier, or broken up the afternoon with another decent length break (or two), or even just not bothered with Red Pike and taken the low route over to YHA Black Sail. But we didn’t do any of those things. We chose our route and hiked our hike, and that was okay.

I wouldn’t say that I ended day two of the Coast to Coast hike feeling like I could tackle anything that was thrown at me, but I certainly did a lot of comparing things to Red Pike from that point onwards. And I’m sure I will be doing that for years to come.

Splodz Blogz | Coast to Coast Day 2 - Taking a photo of Ennerdale Water
Taking a photo of Ennerdale Water

To Jenni, I am sorry that I held you up so much. I’m sorry that it felt like you were having to drag me over those Wainwrights, give me regular pep talks, and deal with my tears. Thank you for not giving up on me that day, because if you had, I would certainly have given up and gone home.

I hope, genuinely, that I can find an opportunity to go back for a rematch with Red Pike, High Stile and Hay Stacks, in the not-too-distant future. I feel like I need to see those views again through fresher eyes, so I can enjoy the beauty and take time to find some peace on that ridge.  

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