We had agreed to meet for breakfast at 8:00, so I set my alarm for 7:00 – but, as usual, I woke before it went off. We got ready, I checked news and sports (trying to follow the hockey scores), we sent a few texts back and forth to each other, and then went down to breakfast. You pre-ordered this one, so I passed on the meat and just had scrambled eggs, toast and jam, the tomato and mushroom. Also, some cereal. So I felt properly set up for the day. Alyson had made us some nice sandwiches, too, for our lunches.
We set out around 9:00 again, out of Ennerdale Bridge and towards the lake known as Ennerdale Water. As we neared the lake, we passed Baz, the 70-year-old we had met the night before who camped in the yard at the pub. The lake was pretty, and we took off on the clear path along the southern shore.
At a point called Robin Hood’s Seat, we came to a fork in the trail. This had been identified to us by Chris, the barman and Alyson’s partner at the Fox and Hounds. He had said something about “avoid the easy-looking one” – so, when we got there, we tried to assess which one looked more difficult. I think we took the wrong one. We ended up scrambling up and over a pretty hairy outcrop right at the edge of the water, and perhaps 20 feet or more up. My heart was racing. But we made it, and continued on our journey.
The rest of the walk along the lake was easy and pleasant and we got to the end and lay down on the grass and in the sun for a few minutes. As we waited there, the older fellow with the red fleece who had passed us at St. Bees head stopped for a break, too. We chatted a bit and found that he was staying each night at a B&B with his wife, who was driving in support of his walk. We could also see a group of four coming along the lake, and we assumed it was the two couples from Hawaii.
Around a field, and we were on a gravel road that turned onto the road past the YHA Ennerdale Bridge. Very soon after that came the big decision of the day: straight on along the “low route”, or the “high route” over Red Pike, High Stile, and High Crag? Consulting our guide book, we saw that High Stile was the highest peak on the Coast-to-Coast, so we decided we could not miss this opportunity. We turned up, stopped for lunch at a broken-down sheepfold, and then began the ascent.
It was bloody hard going. Partly, you want to make sure you don’t get lost – especially when the guide book says something like “warning: do not turn east too early or you risk injury!” So we picked our way carefully up along the string of cairns, and kept our eye on a young man who passed us at a good clip. After about an hour and a half, we got to the top of Red Pike, where it was very windy and we had beautiful panoramic views of Ennerdale Water and Buttermere and the peaks all around.
Luckily, once we were at that height (755m), we did not have too much more climbing to do to get up and over to High Stile, the highest point on the C2C at 807m. The crags connecting the peaks were a bit scary, especially with the winds so strong that they could blow you over.
We ran into Mark, the carpenter from Cambridge, who was staying at the YHA Ennerdale Bridge, and was returning from the peak route plus The Haystacks. He said he had seen our hostel from the top, so we were pretty encouraged. The biggest thing in our way: getting DOWN. The descent from High Crag was a very hairy combination of steepness and loose scree. I tightened up my boot laces (thank you, Andrea) to minimize the impact on my toes. Two young women who had passed us were scooting down on their bums – luckily, we had our poles! There were lots of stone stairs, as well, but it was all very steep – only when you got to the bottom and looked up did you really appreciate how steep.
But we made it, and then we kept our eyes peeled for the trail down to the Black Sail through Scarth Gap. It was probably another mile or so to the hut – just after 5:00. Very charming, old-school hostel that was a shepherd’s hut. It seems everyone knows of this place. It’s very remote (read: no phone or wi-fi), and surrounded by sheep. We sat on the benches outside and had a beer and took our boots off. I think the middle toe on my left foot is my first casualty. Tom the host (with his partner Flo) filled us in on dinner and breakfast and the shower and stuff. He said they were pretty low on water, apparently, so short showers. A woman named Sarah was staying, and Tom said they expected another four men – so a grand total of seven guests (in the 16 segregated bunks).
Wonderful dinner at 7:00 of three nice Cumberland sausages and gravy with new potatoes and vegetables. At about 7:30, two guys rolled in – the other two were supposed to be with them, but could not make the trip for various reasons. This was Steve, a quiet copper with a wicked sense of humour, and Rob, an active fellow who liked to talk. We took some photos of the sunset around 8:30, and all chatted until about 9:00, when Erik and I went to our bunks to “read”. Of course, we did not get much done before falling asleep.