A couple of weeks ago, I headed up to the Lake District to spend a few days out rambling on the fells. I'd been keen to head up to the area in Autumn after seeing photos of all the changing colours of the hills; crisp blue skies, long shadows and falling leaves. I wanted to get up there before winter properly settled in and the colours of Autumn were replaced by the whites and greys of Winter (though I love this season as well!). So I made the two hour drive to Lakeland early one morning, meeting a friend in Keswick where a breakfast of pancakes and eggs was had before we laced up our boots and headed out rambling in the hills.
A lot of people think I know a lot about the Lake District, but in fact I've only ever visited a handful of times and I have a terrible tendency to visit the same areas again and again, when I know I like them and I can get some good walks in. So prior to this trip, the Langdale Valley was usually my point of call in the Lake District. Blea Tarn is undoubtedly one of my favourite places in the world, and I love walking over the Langdale Pikes and surrounding hills. Heading further north this time, I was keen to experience some different fells, and so to find inspiration for this particular trip I had been reading 'Wainwright's Favourite Mountain Walks'. Number one in the book was Blencathra. Being only 20 minutes from Keswick, it seemed like the perfect hill to tackle that day.
We parked in the little village of Scales, and as we kitted up and packed our bags, I realised that I'd left the map in my car... Lucky I was hiking with a Mountain Leader, so after a quick screenshot of a route we found online, we resolved to 'wing it' and head up into the hills. It was an overcast but relatively mild day, and our bodies were warmed with the strenuous upwards hike to reach the summit of the hill. Views from Blencathra look out to the surrounding fells; in one direction you see layer upon layer of yellow peaks with a craggy ridge and Scales Tarn below, while the other direction reveals small villages nestled amongst fields with a slight glimpse Derwent Water in the distance, on this particular day framed by a halo of light beams and dark, stormy clouds.
After getting suitably cold while eating our lunch at the summit, we began the return journey which took us down and around Scales Tarn, through yellow fields of grass and over a small stream, before the steep descent back to where we'd parked the car. We ate tapas at the Orange Square Cafe in Keswick (which I would highly recommend!) and then headed to our home for the evening.
The next day it would be just me out rambling in the hills, and since the weather was supposed to be clear and crisp all day, I resolved to hike until sunset and planned a long route from Rydal Water to Keswick, passing Fairfield Peak and Helvellyn. I roughly estimated that the hike was around 13 miles, but having started quite late in the morning at 11, I knew I'd be pushed for time. I'm usually quite swift when hiking alone but I hadn't accounted for how long I would spend taking photos of the stunning 360 degree views over the entire day.
From Rydal Water I ascended through tall trees and crunchy leaves until the hills appeared on the horizon; a patchwork quilt of orange grass with craggy rocks, partially lit by the sun sneaking between the morning's shadows. As I reached the ridge I would follow to Fairfield Peak (on one side of the Fairfield Horseshoe), the clouds dispersed and clear skies stretched as far as the eye could see. The air was bitter but the sun bold and confident, bearing down on the valley and warming my face as I hiked onwards, deeper and deeper into the hills.
It was 1.30pm when I arrived at the summit of Fairfield, at which point I realised - much to my dismay - that to reach Helvellyn I would have to follow a ridiculously steep path down to Grisedale Tarn which, of course, would then lead to a relentless ascent up the other side. Standing and looking down at the two paths was not exactly filling me with joy, after already having hiked two hours that day, but the sky was cloudless and blue and the hills were practically singing with beauty, and then I realised that there was nothing I'd rather be doing that day than walking... So after a quick bite to eat while chatting to a lovely older gentleman with a very cute dog, I began skipping down the hillside towards the tarn.
Anyone who loves the mountains as I do will understand the addiction of hillwalking; step by step pulling one’s body upwards as the summit draws longingly closer, all the while sneaking quick glimpses behind as the point from which you have travelled disappears into the horizon, becoming more and more beautiful as it does so. And standing at a summit and admiring peak upon peak in all directions, while the only sounds you hear are the whistling wind or your own hiking boots stomping on the ground. These were my thoughts as I gasped up this practically vertical hillside; call me crazy but I had the biggest grin on my face the whole time... If you haven't experienced the mountain drug yet, I urge you to try it and see.
But time was going fast and I couldn’t stand there looking down at that sparkling tarn and the path I had ascended for too long, so onwards I walked towards Helvellyn. My shadow had lengthened and the hills had all but emptied, but for a few sheep scattered on the sloping banks. I could now see the beautiful site of Thirlmere Reservoir in the valley, with Keswick in the very far distance beyond. By now the air was biting and the sun was descending fast, glowing upon the peaks to my left and almost blinding me with every tempting glance. There is nothing so beautiful as the November sun.
The summit of Helvellyn came quickly though not without effort. I spotted a cluster of people near the cairn stones, who I realised as I drew closer was a camera crew apparently filming Julia Bradbury’s newest BBC1 programme ‘Britian’s Favourite Mountain Walks’ (or something similar). If you end up watching it, you may see me wandering awkwardly in the background…
By this point, it was already 3.30pm and I was still another 6 or 7 miles from Keswick. As a result, I decided to descend on one of the paths from Helvellyn, hoping to catch sunset somewhere on the banks of Thirlmere Reservoir. But the colours of the sky were changing fast and I ended up admiring the evolving hues of the sky as I descended; from rich bright blue to a hazy shade of pink, with an orange glow brightening the yellow grassy banks and shimmering from the highest peaks. Then the sun disappeared altogether in one swift starburst. There is no better way to end a day in the hills than with a sunset like this one...
Once on the valley floor, my phone service disappeared, darkness descended and I just missed the hourly bus to Keswick by about 2 minutes… Yet in true British fashion, it only took about 10 minutes before I found a good country pub to sit in, and with cider and chips I chatted to fellow ramblers about cabins and dogs and how beautiful the hills had been that day.
I become more and more lured to the Lake District every time I visit, and I’m so glad I got to see the land of poets and ramblers in all it’s Autumnal beauty. I’ll be back when the hills are white with snow and frost soon!
Check out the walks I hiked over on Ramble: ramble-guides.com/lake-district