Flat tyres, Liz Hurley, bacon sandwiches – Scafell Pike

Flying high on bagging our very first Munro – the one and only Ben Nevis – and sleeping like rocks in the bunkhouse, we packed up and hit the road for Scafell Pike in England’s Lake District.  Making a short stop in Fort William to check out directions to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, we came back to find the camper van had a flat tyre.

And that the roadside assistance had expired.

And that the spare tyre was rusted out and flat as a pancake.

While the repairs were getting sorted, we ate meat pies, bought tea towels and postcards, toured a castle ruins, had a beer, noshed on Haggis-flavoured crisps, checked out the Ben Nevis distillery, bought some whiskey, said hello to local livestock….and all was good.

Fort William killing time

By the time our camper van was roadworthy again, our leisurely driving day south to England turned into ~255 miles to get under our belt before it got tooooo late (aka dark).  We left Fort William late afternoon….yikes.

Getting out of Scotland was a lot of twisting turning lanes. Miz W. was the best driver ever, and thank the gods for her driving skills and Miz J’s navigation system, along with Liz Hurley’s input.  Our sat nav was totally Liz Hurley, embodied.  And most of the time Liz Hurley was sending us in the right direction.

But she started to fade after many, many hours of driving.  We also lost the radio.  The cigarette charger died all together. The interior van lighting extinguished. It was pitch black outside.  All started going straight to hell in a hand-basket.

The camper van became entirely persnickety (hot wires?) so we pulled over at a bus stop, possibly in Egremont, to let it cool off. I think it was about midnight at that point.  It wasn’t until we hopped out to find a bush to pee behind when we realized we were right next to a very old, scary-looking cemetery.  Only a rock wall separated us from … the undead.

Well, that was my only motivation required to move it. (The others were much more brave.)  Once the van had a decent rest, we were back on the road.  We ended up sleeping around 0230 hrs-ish in the Gosforth commuter parking lot where we popped the top and squeezed in amidst all the luggage for a snooze.

Later that morning, we woke to a busy little car park all around us.

Gosforth parking lot

We nipped across the street to the corner store and to the bakery for breakfast pastries, yogurt and a few hiking snacks, and were quickly on our way to Wasdale Head, where we’d eventually find both the trail head and Miz J.’s friend from York, Miz S. and her sister waiting for us to conquer Scafell Pike.

SCAFELL PIKE – DAY 3
(978 m or 3,209 ft)

About Scafell Pike: Wasdale Head is home not only to England’s highest peak, but also to the deepest lake, smallest church and biggest liar.  How could one NOT visit such a charming locale?  On the western edge of the Lake District, it also (as many places in the UK) seems to have it’s own weather systems, so be prepared on Scafell Pike! Fun fact: The peaks of the Lake District are known as ‘fells’ from the viking word ‘fjell’ for mountain.

Savvy choice: Camp (or stay) right at the Wasdale Head Inn (birthplace of British mountaineering) for easy access to the trail heads of many great hill walks. Fee for camping is just 5 GBP a night, and that gets you a lovely green, access to the toilets/showers, and a welcome to pop in the next morning for bacon sandwiches. Heck ya, bacon sandwiches!!

Closest pub: Wasdale Head Inn’s Ritson’s Bar is cozy and welcoming, with every drink under the sun available, packed with walkers and local colour as well.  Menu’s good, served to 9:00 pm, and dessert is available late. Customer service is spot on.

Our hike:
We met up with Miz S. and set off midday for our trek just down the road from the Wasdale Head Inn at the National Trust car park.

Scafell Pike Sarah

Across the footbridge, past the sheep, through the meadow and up the hill, we starting on a lovely path of stone steps – both manicured and natural – where National Trust workers were upgrading the path. Wonderful work! What a way to spend the day!  Looking back from the slopes of Lingmell, there are delightful views of Wast Water.

Scafell Pike first steps

After crossing Lingmel Gill on stepping stones our little group slowly separated, each finding her own pace, with Miz S. and her sister springing onwards like goats, while Miz. W. and Miz. M. chilled out on the slopes for a few photos and a snack.

The sunny, warm day was such a contrast to the rain and sleet of Ben Nevis. Stopping frequently to take a breath and repeat to myself – hills?  I have such respect for these “mountains”!

Scafell Pike upwards

We each continued up the steep ascent towards the Hollow Stones, a tumble of glacial debris that requires a sharp eye for cairns, as not to lose the path.  My path ebbed and flowed with those of Miz J. and Miz S.  It was steady hard work, step after step.  Lots of time to think and muse.  What I enjoyed about this trail was – due to the clear skies – that I could look up and pick out the trail above and beyond.  It was a different set of cards dealt on this hiking day.

On the traditional National Three Peaks Challenge, this leg is done completely in the dark, in the dead of night.  That is surely a challenge in itself as the approach to the summit is very rocky, where you mount a boulder field of shattered rock and the vistas of Lakeland which unfold from every direction wouldn’t be seen at all!

Catching up to Miz J., we hiked the final bit together to the summit.

Scafell Pike view

Glorious views of the Lake District!

Scafell Pike Melis

The whole gang met up together on top of Scafell Pike, then headed down slowly – sore knees today!! – to reconvene in Ritson’s Bar for drinks and supper. In total, I think it took about 5.5 hours.

Next stop: Snowdon!

 

 

 

4 girls, 3 peaks, 1 camper van – Ben Nevis

Our Canuck version of the National Three Peaks Challenge was to hike the highest peak in each Scotland, England and Wales within a week. (We decided against doing it in 24 hours as we wanted to remain friends afterwards, among other reasons.) A road trip through Great Britain, sleeping in a camper van, and epic hikes…what more could we ask for?  In fact, every hike began and ended with a meadow full of sheep, and a pub close by, which was icing on the cake.

BEN NEVIS – DAY 1
(1,344 m or 4,409 ft)

About The Ben: The “loveless loveliness” that is Ben Nevis – what a monolith, a beast, a beauty.  The highest mountain in Britain, The Ben’s North Face cliffs drop off suddenly, adding a bit of danger in to any common hike. Climbers, mountaineers, hikers, fell runners and tourists all flock to get a piece of The Ben.

Savvy choice: Watching the weather in early June, Miz J. booked us a guide for Ben Nevis, knowing that if there was still a lot of snow (which there was) we didn’t want to risk offing ourselves accidentally in Scotland by wandering over a cliff.

Weather report: Cloudy, misty, rainy and lots of snow at the top! By 1,200 metres it was a complete whiteout and for direction we depended on Dave and his compass.

Closest pub: Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse: stellar food, A+ for atmosphere. Tuesday nights feature live, local music. Perfect end to the day. Tip: for dinner, RESERVE A TABLE in advance because squatter’s rights aren’t recognized and the staff won’t hesitate to turf you to seat locals.

Our hike: After our first night in the camper van, at the Glen Nevis Campground, we packed up camp in the drizzle, ate our yogurt and berries, and drove over to the Ben Nevis Inn, where the parking lot also served as the trail head for the Pony Track we’d be taking up The Ben.

Glen Nevis campground

We met our guide, Dave Anderson from Lochaber Guides, and he set the ground rules, estimating the amount of time we should spend out on the mountain due to our abilities, and discussed our aspirations for the day. He didn’t make any promises with regards to the summit, and just said we’d play it by ear, seeing how we all made out.

Ben Nevis Dave the guide

The Pony Track – also known as the Tourist Route or the Mountain Path – rises gradually through the meadows (sheep!) with great views looking back into the valley below.

Ben Nevis first steps

Ben Nevis lower trackThe path continues upwards towards the lake, Lochan meall an t-suidhe, at which point there is a junction where hikers continue upwards on steep, stony switchbacks (or zig-zags, as they call them in the UK) climbing The Ben’s western slopes.

Ben Nevis zig zags

The path was very easy to follow until we encountered snow as we headed into the switchbacks. This is where I donned my middle layer (thermal – fleece – shell) as the temperatures began to drop. Dave stepped up to earn his weight in ale for skills and leadership, navigating precisely along the invisible path.

Heading skyward through the snow, Dave broke the trail and we all followed in his footsteps, taking it one foot in front of the other. The snow’s depth was to our shins most of the way.  Whiteout conditions ensued with the clouds and sleet, enabling us to only see about 2-3 steps ahead.  The wind, while not terrible, was constant.  The minute we stopped for a breather or a consultation as to progress, I could feel my body temperature start to drop.  By the time we’d reached 1,200 metres, the discussion became real: do we press on to the summit at 1,344 metres?

There would, of course, be no view at the summit. It would be a matter of doing it for oneself, tapping the marker, touching the ancient observatory. Ahhhh, the struggle to decide!! There’s a pass at home that has defeated me twice due to weather (aka safety) and it made me crazy every time to turn around.  This was no exception.  Dave made it clear, though, that bagging the summit would mean another steady upwards slog at a good clip for at least 30 minutes.  The die was cast: due to conditions, timing and general health/wellness of the whole group, we took our victory photos and headed back down The Ben.  Although 24-hour 3-Peaks-ers schedule only a few hours to run this mountain, it took us a good 8 hrs up and down the wee beastie, with plenty of breaks for snacks and rests. More than likely due to the rainy weather, we had the mountain to ourselves most of the way, which was a real treat. We only encountered about a dozen hikers, most of which were on their way up when we were coming down. Dave kindly gave advice to those who asked him, and pointedly made comments about their inappropriate outerwear (jeans, high-heeled boots, tennis shoes, etc).

Ben Nevis, my first real hike of the summer, was essentially very wet.  My waterproofs were excellent, but the sweat from the inside and the rain/sleet from the outside, just left me soaked. Warm, but soaked.  I’ve never been fond of rain, so I’m happy that I coped!  It helped, of course, not to be heading post-hike back to a tent, but to the Ben Nevis Inn where we acquired a prime table by the stove, stripped all of our wet things off, and hung them out to dry.

Ben Nevis post hike

With a vaulted ceiling, bench seating and a great cathedral window looking out to the mountains, the Inn’s pub was cozy as could be.

Ben Nevis ale

Boots off, socks drying, cold Cairngorm.

Ben Nevis Cairngorms

After a visit with Dave, he headed home to his little family, and we continued to chill out at the Inn for hours sampling ales, ciders and our first haggies, tatties and neeps of the holiday!

Ben Nevis Inn food

As the sun set, the musicians arrived and the evening become livelier with the additional of the toe-tapping 10-person band.  We had booked in to stay at the bunk house that night, so we popped downstairs to shower and change, and returned for the music.  I wish I could tell you what they played, but I haven’t a clue, all I can tell you is the call of a mournful pipe, a jovial accordion, an ancient drum.  All-in-all, an amazing start to our three peaks journey.

Ben Nevis Inn music

Next stop: Scafell Pike!

 

This is how we do it – #3Peaks

Road map to SnowdonI swear that prepping for the National Three Peaks Challenge was more challenging than the actual hiking. Admittedly, anticipation for me is 90% of the fun!

Bagging the three highest peaks in Scotland, England, and Wales all in 24 hours sounded like an awesome test of body and mind. Miz J.’s discovery of this little gem was ever so brilliant.

We’d start in Scotland, with Ben Nevis (1,344 m or 4,409 ft) for about 6 hours of trekking up & down; followed by a mad six-hour drive down to England’s Lake District to Scafell Pike (978 m or 3,209 ft) for a night hike up the rock peak, est 4 hours; and lastly, we’d haul ourselves along for another five (or more!) hours’ drive to Snowdonia to complete the final peak, Snowdon (1,085 m or 3,560 ft) in about 5 hours. Tah-dah!

However, coordinating the adventure from across the ocean (back home in Ca-nah-da) was a complete test of patience. It was mostly done, of course, from the comfort of the couch, laptop at hand, or at our weekly Wednesday night planning meetings in a bar. But still…lots of negotiation to find the best way for us to rock this goal.

Initially, we decided to go with a company that would provide an “open bus” where we could join in with others to do the challenge on a particular set of dates. Then we realized that if we truly wanted to do this in 24 hours, the group could only move as fast as its slowest hikers (which could ultimately be us) and did we want that wrath and pressure, given we’d be paying 375 GBP per person? Hm. Maybe not. And it just seemed so expensive, even though the price was on par with most of the companies offering the same services.

Then, we chose to switch it up and find our own van and driver, order topographical maps of the peaks, learn to use a compass, and do it all ourselves. We tried friends, or friends of friends, and no one had a spare van about or a driver willing to commit to driving like a bat out of hell through three countries and sleeping in the car parks while we hiked. We considered posting an ad on Kijiji for random lads with cars who’d be willing to take Canadian girls on a bit of a jaunt. But we never got that far.

Finally, we figured the 24-hour time crunch was the main obstacle for us completing the challenge on our own. We decided to rent our own van from Campers Scotland, and hike each mountain at our own pace over the period of a week. This way, we get to see a bit of Scotland, England and Wales (Ale! Beef pies! Tea towels bought for mum!) and the like.  Between the four of us, there’d be a driver, a navigator and a peanut gallery in the back (which would also double as the galley).

Flights and camper van booked, hiking maps reviewed and off to the mountains! Or hills. Or Munros. You get the picture. The Canadians are coming. Onward!