Escape the City

How one couple opted for a rather unusual weekend getaway from London…

Living in the South East, one tends to be rather spoiled when it comes to options for getting away from it all for the weekend. In this age of cheap flights to anywhere, Eurostar, and countless close-at-hand escapes from glamping in a yurt to a canal boat trip along some sleepy waterway, there’s almost too much to choose from.

Such was the dilemma my wife and I faced recently, finding ourselves exhausted and confused merely by the process of deciding where to go and what to do for a few days away which, we hoped, would clear our minds, challenge, and reinvigorate us.

So over a quiet couple of drinks we set about applying some logic to the decision making process. With a little pondering and questioning, and the aid of the ubiquitous ‘back of a beermat’, we started to assemble a list of desired ingredients.

Somewhere completely different. Open spaces. A challenge. Fresh air. No crowds…

We considered and dismissed a few obvious options, before finally landing on an idea which at first seemed complete nonsense, but after just a little research suddenly started to sound not only realistic but exciting too.

The Lake District…

“What?” I hear you cry. But that’s nearly in Scotland isn’t it? Must be about a million miles away. Never stops raining. Full of people with beards and anoraks.

That was our initial reaction too as we initially dismissed it with a giggle, but then almost immediately caught each other with a glance and a raised eyebrow. So out came the tablet to start looking further into this preposterous idea.

Within minutes rail tickets to Penrith (the station for the northern part of the Lake District, and amazingly only 3 hours from Euston) were booked, maps were bought, along with a hire car for the short drive to a comfortable looking hotel in the little market town ofKeswick.

More exciting, though, the primary goal of this weekend of adventure had been established – to climb to the very highest point in England, the summit of Scafell Pike!

And so it was, that after a prompt getaway from work on Thursday afternoon, we found ourselves sipping excellent local brewed ale in the Lake District, not quite believing we were so far from home in so little time.

Friday was devoted to a delightful ‘warm up’ walk along the valley of Watendlath, past the picture postcard view of Ashness Bridge, and soaking up staggering views from cliff tops across Derwentwater Lake, before returning along the lake shore and taking in a short detour to see the remarkable Bowder Stone, a 2000 ton boulder perched precariously on one corner after falling from the crags above.

Over a well-earned dinner, we congratulated ourselves on our apparently reasonable level of fitness and eagerly scrutinised the map of tomorrows’ ascent of ‘the big one’.

Saturday dawned bright and clear, perfect! So with rucksacks brimming full of flasks and snacks and all the usual paraphernalia of the hiker, we set off for the short drive to our chosen start point of Seathwaite – a tiny cluster of farm buildings with the unenviable reputation of being the wettest place in Britain. Thankfully today wasn’t a wet one, even in Seathwaite, and we were soon marvelling at the towering peaks surrounding us as we made good progress up the valley of Grains Gill to our coffee and chocolate stop next to the delightful little mountain lake of Sprinkling Tarn, nestled beneath the vast cliff face of Great End.

Navigating our way around the bulk of Great End, the climb continued steadily and steeply, but the physical effort was easily justified by the magnificent views in all directions.

By late morning, our goal came into sight as we crested a small brow, and we smiled at each other in mounting excitement. In another half an hour or so, and a pretty gruelling steep and rocky final footpath to the summit, we were there! And what a place it is – the summit of Scafell Pike is a harsh, barren and boulder-strewn wilderness with no vegetation, but the views are just astonishing! You can see Scotland and Wales, and apparently on exceptionally clear days, even Northern Ireland too.

The feeling was just terrific, and we savoured it whilst devouring a well-earned picnic lunch and snapping the obligatory ‘thumbs up photos’.

Now one of the really good things about this mountain is that there are many different routes up and down it, so it’s not just a question of retracing the same steps which brought you to the top. Our choice of route home was a path known as the Corridor Route, and it must go down as one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and impressive stretches of footpath anywhere, as it clings to the side of great peaks and weaves around steep gullies and cliffs, all the while providing dizzying views downwards into the Wasdale Valley – and yet despite this it is not a technically difficult or hazardous route.

We dined on fine local beef that evening. And frankly, we could have devoured the entire cow! What a day, what a sense of achievement, and what tired legs! But worth every ounce of effort involved.

After a leisurely Sunday breakfast and a stroll and browse around the very pretty centre of Keswick, it was time to pack boots into bags again and head for home. Arriving back in London by late afternoon, the great open spaces we’d left only hours earlier somehow seemed a whole world away. And yet we know they’re not so far as you might imagine, and I somehow think it won’t be long before we’re back for more. It’s quite a place, Scafell Pike!

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