In July of 2017 I did a solo hike, 24 miles across the Lake District. Yup. It was just me, two dogs and a one man tent. Cosy!
I had just left my job in teaching and had nothing lined up for the start of term in September. It was a pretty scary experience. Add to that all the other not great stuff that had happened over the previous year, and I was filled with the huge sense that I needed to get away on my own.
So I did.
The plan was to take the train from Chippenham all the way up to Seathwaite in Cumbria. For anyone who doesn’t know the areas in questions it’s a 6 hour journey.
Now my two dogs are little. But they had never been on a train before. As I climbed on board my first train I was suddenly filled with doubts. What if they hated it? What if they barked the whole way? What if they really needed to go?! Thankfully, none of those things came true and they were both – aside from always wanting to lie down in the aisle- good as gold. The problem came about 4 hours in, not from the dogs, but from the bloody trains.
I had made my second change at Birmingham New Street. The train was utterly jam packed and with a 20kg bag on my back and two dogs it was difficult as hell to find a seat and get sat down. I was a stressed and sweaty mess by the time I eventually collapsed into a seat.
But we set off and everything was ok after a while. That is until we stopped on the tracks and an announcement came that we would be terminating at Wigan. One stop before I needed to change. Somebody had been hit by a train further up the tracks.
Cue utter utter pandemonium. We stopped at Wigan for 2 hours. There were people everywhere. Finally there was a train that was heading North. We piled on. My poor little dogs and I were squashed inside the carriage entrance, but the train only went one stop and then terminated again. So I was stuck at Preston with a station heaving full of stranded travellers!
After a lot of waiting, I eventually did manage to make my final change onto a train that would take me as far as Barrow-in-Furness. But by this point I had missed the last train to Seathwaite which was still a good hour north of Barrow. I was a panicky mess. It was getting dark and I was booked in to a campsite in Seathwaite and had no idea what I was going to do!
Thankfully when I got to Barrow I went and spoke to the station master who got on the phone and booked me a taxi. So the taxi man picked me and doggies up – who had had a little walk around the station with an employee- and we set off. It took over an hour through the windy lanes. And we arrived in darkness at about 11:30pm. It had taken me nearly 12 hours to complete my trip!
But I was there. I set up the tent and crawled inside. I didn’t bother inflating my roll mat – big mistake – and the dogs took a while to get comfortable, but I eventually slept, at least a little.
When I awoke it was raining. Typically. I got up. The dogs were desperate to get up, a decision they probably now regret! Once I was out of the tent I made the decision not to get back inside. We had 12 miles to walk to the next site and I wanted to get going. It was only about 7am, but I packed up in the rain and set off. Dogs were miserable straight away. They hate rain. And let me tell you, this rain was like no other rain. It was utterly torrential. Within minutes my coat was soaked through, my feet were wet and I was soaked. I was so wet that my hands swelled up to twice the size.
It was horrible. And it took 6 hours. Partly because I was carrying such a load. By the time I got to the edges of Wast Water my hip felt like it had dislocated and my feet were burning and I thought I had trench foot! I (wrongly) assumed that when I got to the edge of Wast Water I was nearly there. A sensible conclusion – I thought – as the campsite was on the shores of the lake… but it was right at the other end and that is a big arsed lake. It took the best part of 90 minutes to walk the length of the lake and get into camp. I nearly cried with relief when I eventually made it.My poor little dogs were limping by this point, so unused to walking that far and from the fact that we had just ploughed on in the rain without stopping. Gadget was so mad at me that as soon as he saw his chance he bolted (on three legs) running away from the evil woman who had dragged him 12 miles in the rain. I eventually caught him and he went for a forced rest inside my little tent with Gizmo. They got their own back on me over the next 8 days by wiping their muddy selves all over my sleeping bag.
I stayed at Wast Water for the next three days. We needed it. I didn’t want to walk the dogs very far at all. Their poor little legs couldn’t really handle much for those first days. Bless them. But they recovered, and so did I. With short walks around the area. We explored the fells – we didn’t do Scafell which I was disappointed at but didn’t think the pups would handle it – and just relaxed a little. I read a lot of books and the dogs slept a lot. It was a beautiful place to relax.
I was dreading this day. Knowing how hard the first twelve miles had been really made me nervous. I had planned my route ahead of time. But now that I was here I could see that my path was a lot steeper than I had anticipated. I barely slept the night before leaving. I tried to get rid of as much weight as I could from my pack – giving my half used gas bottles to other campers. And then I set off.
Stupidly. In my hurry to leave early, I didn’t get any breakfast. I would pay for that later.
The saving grace really was the weather. No rain! In fact at times there was beautiful sunshine. But as I started the climb over Styhead pass, the clouds rolled in, like my mood. I had to release the dogs from my belt and let them run loose. They were wearing fluorescent jackets so they were easily spotted as they scampered up over the rocks and out of sight. Every so often one of them would come and stand at the top of the path and look down at me as if to say “are you coming or what?!”
I huffed and puffed my way up the side of the mountain. This was where the poles came in super handy! People passed me going up and down – eyeing the huge bag on my back in bemusement. Back at Wast Water the campsite staff had told me the journey should take me a couple of hours to get over to Borrowdale. In reality it took me that long just to get up to Styhead Tarn.
But the views were spectacular (see attached photos).
And once I reached the top it was largely downhill. I had to put the pups back on their leads as there were a lot of sheep around and I didn’t trust them not to jump off the side of the mountain – Gizmo already tried it, but thankfully he could get back up the steep edge! It was tough going as the dogs wanted to go down a lot faster that I could go and nearly ended up pulling me to my death a few times.But the time we got down the other side of the mountain it was beautifully sunny but I was feeling the effects of no food. My legs turned to jelly all of a sudden and my hands were shaking so badly. I had to dig into my emergency rations and gulped down a few energy gels just to get some sugar in me.I would have loved to stop but there was a little way still to go. Again, I wrongly assumed that because the hard bit was over it was all plain sailing and not too far. Well… it was flat at least. But the road wove and turned for what felt like miles and miles. By the time we got onto the main road a good 90 minutes later Gadget was so tired he kept trying to lie down every time we saw a bit of grass. My hip was so painful, though that I knew if we sat down I would never get up. So I was just contemplating whether I could carry two dogs and my backpack when we came across the campsite. Hooray!
A quick pitch in the sunshine and two doggies asleep on the grass and finally we were settled. I finally had some food- who know those dehydrated explorer meals could taste so good when you’re really hungry!
The plan was to stay at Borrowdale for 1 night. But watching my little pups hobble around on three legs I knew realistically that they were done and couldn’t walk another 12 miles. So I decided to stay there in Borrowdale. I only had phone signal though if I walked a mile down the road, so I did that a couple of times a day to ring my husband and let him know the plan. On day 11 we were due to go up to Scotland with friends, so he was going to pick me and the doggies up on the way.
Luckily for me he was able to get away from work a little early and he decided he would drive up on day 10. So I spent the next two days in the sun reading and resting my broken feet; taking short walks around the local countryside with my boys, until finally I was rescued.
So what did I learn from the experience?
1.Sleeping in a single tent with two dogs for 10 days really makes you stink.
I had to wash everything twice when I got home: sleeping bag, airebed, the lot. Camping in the rain is generally stinky; everything I had stank. I had to throw my boots away and buy a new pair on the way up to Scotland they were so ruined.
2. I am tougher than I thought.
I never would have believed I could do something like that. Walking 24 miles with two dogs and a 20kg bag… it sounds mad. But knowing that I did it, despite how hard it was, makes me feel so proud of myself.
3. There isn’t anything that I can’t do.
Yes it was hard and yes I desperately wanted to give up so many times and just go home. But I didn’t. I kept going and I proved to myself that I really can do anything that I put my mind to.
4. Life might get tough, but nothing will be as tough as that was.
Next time I whine how hard it is to lose weight or how hard it is to landscape my garden, I will be reminded of this trip and the climb from Wasdale head to Styhead Tarn. Nothing will EVER be as hard as that was (unless I go and climb Everest!)