2016 is drawing to a close and unlike last year I am really enjoying December and the build up to Christmas and, part of the build up includes a birthday for me. Birthday parties have never really interested me, mainly due to the fact that when I was a child everything was booked up months in advance due to Christmas parties, and as this year has just been full of epic, happy outdoor adventures what better than to revisit the Lake District where 2016 began.
By the time we parked up at Coniston it was very wet and getting dark. (Got to try my new Petzl Tikka+ Plus Head torch, one of the many items on the birthday wishlist that I’ll need for next year’s Tour du Mont Blanc Trek.) Despite the head torch the early winter darkness was added to by a thick fog that meant you could not see anything. Anything except for pairs of eyes staring at you…Sheep, not wolves/dragons/whatever else lives in Cumbria.
We had planned to pitch up at Goat’s Water near the Old Man of Coniston but barely made any progress as the mist continued to hold us up so we pitched up early. Visibility was that bad that I was convinced there was a hill behind were we had camped but in the moonlight there was nothing but relatively flat ground all the way to Coniston Water. So turned out to be the least ‘wild’ wild camp we have ever done.
After an evening of eating canned Spanish Stew and rice (actually very nice) drinking a combination of wine and celebratory Prosecco, reflecting on the last (happy) year and sleeping amazingly well, we were treated to the most stunning and unexpected sunrise. The colours of the skies and the reflection on Coniston Water was not expected at all after pitching up in such glum conditions. Gradually a mist formed over the lake and up over Coniston itself and it looked as though we were above the clouds.
We packed up and headed for a day on the fells starting up on Brown Pike which was relatively easy even with all the camping stuff I was carrying in my new Berghaus Trailhead 60L rucksack (another Alps essential for next year). As soon as we were at the top the bitter wind started, and it continued all the way along to Buck Pike and Dow Crag. We cooked lunch on the side of Dow Crag and I thought my hands would never warm up ever again thanks to the wind!
Another layer added, we headed on to the Old Man of Coniston and the wind was relentless up there! Bitter, cold and strong but that didn’t stop you enjoying the spectacular views all around you. The temperature inversion made it look as though you were higher than you actually were. The peaks of the fells poked up from beneath the clouds all across the Lake District. These views were certainly not expected!
The walk back to Coniston was a little heavy going, too much steep ‘down’ with a heavy load made the legs fatigued after a days hill walking, and the crisp December day rapidly turned into a grey and misty one once we got beneath the clouds. It’s hard to believe that you don’t have to go very far ‘up’ to find some glorious December days in the Lake District even when it’s dark and gloomy in the towns below.
After the obligatory drink in the pub back in Coniston we headed to what was a surprise for the night. I had no idea where BG had booked us in to and about 40 minutes later we pulled into the Romneys in Kendal.
When you’ve carried a heavy load all day up and down the fells, wild camped the night before, lived off camping food and your legs don’t want to work anymore, there is no nicer feeling than walking into a mini-apartment inside a converted barn. It was warm, cosy, amazingly comfortable and it had a sunken bathtub to soak the aching muscles. Happy Birthday to me!
After transforming from tired, rugged fell walkers into tired, glamourous fell walkers we headed to the pub downstairs for a hearty meal and lots of wine and beer. The Cumberland sausage, mashed potato, giant Yorkshire pudding and gravy was heaven. My only regret was that I couldn’t finish it. Nothing makes you appreciate the warmer things in life than wild camping in December.
This trip was very welcome. Unlike Vienna last month I actually had chance to wind down before we went which meant life had slowed down enough to be able to relax and take it all in. The whole weekend was relaxing, getting away from the busy aspects of life for 48 hours was exactly what I needed. There were moments, even in the coldest of winds, that then, right there in that moment, was the feeling of actual happiness.
And it was nice that life had finally slowed down enough to enjoy it.