With an open weekend on the cards and a wish to see the Lakes in winter, I agreed to take on an informal run of a classic circuit called the Old Crown Round. Traditionally starting from the Old Crown Pub in Hesket Newmarket, our group, organized by Joe Faulkner from NAV4, would modify that with a start outside our night's accomdation.
We arrived at Hudscales Camping Barn to find a roaring fire and comfortable mattresses waiting for us for the night. Sarah and I were so exhausted we fell asleep early to the chatter of the rest of the group. It was chilly in the barn, but not nearly as much as the prior year, when the temps were well into negative digits! Still, I was happy to have the generous temperature rating of my down bag to keep me warm. We slept late, too, along with everyone else, and it was a leisurely 9:15 departure for our "8:30" start!
Having never visited this area of the Lakes before, I had no expectations of the route, but had brought plenty of warm clothing, as wind and wet are usually a factor in the fells. In fact there was no snow on the ground and temperatures were well above freezing, but the high winds and descending fog meant that I wore more layers of clothing than I ever had before on a run. And still wasn't any too warm.
The footing was was locals would call "normal" and anyone else would call "atrocious". Namely, the route consisted of pathless bogs and rough footing, with some steep ascents of 5 peaks, including High Pike, Carrock Fell, Blencathra, Skiddaw, and Great Cockup. The recent downpours of rain meant that every bog, creek, river was bursting with water, with every step squishing water over my shoes. Even with waterproof socks my feet were soon wet through, and that was before the river crossing. Wait, what? Sarah (who had cajoled me into this run) had neglected to mention unbridged rivers to me until we were well into the route....hmmm.
Sure enough, after nabbing two peaks and descending to the Cumbria way, we scouted along the River Caldew until we found a section that didn't look like it would wash us downstream. Pluto the dog wasn't at all excited about getting across, but we managed with water no higher than our knees. Then it was a never-ending tussocky ascent to Blencathra. It got noticably colder on the way up and the wind was starting to deliver frozen bits of fog sideways into my stinging face. Sarah was cursing her cold fingers, the dog looked miserable, and the 7 other guys were disappearing into the fog. We found them crouching in the lee of the summit for a rest and a snack, but it was too cold to stop for long, even with Sarah's yummy cake on offer. I added a pair of waterproof pants over my thick running tights for the descent into the wind, but a short time without gloves left my fingers numb.
The running descent was the same way we came up (which really begs the question why we bothered going up in the first place!?!?!) and then over to the shelter at Skiddaw House to regroup. Losing the elevation helped my wet feet and hands warm up slightly, but a look at the map showed Skiddaw looming next. The fog was turning into proper rain, and Sarah, Stu, and I made the decision to take the low(er) route home via the Cumbria Way, as we had nothing to prove and digits to possibly lose to frostbite...? The other 5 guys were determined to finish the round, having been denied several times in prior attempts.
A few miles down the river with the wind at our back was easy enough, but once we turned north it was a serious muddy climb into Grainsgill Beck alongside a rushing stream. It would have been beautiful if I had been able to see past the hood that was a poor shelter for the driving rain and wind. I could think of nothing nicer than to lay on the wet grass for a few minutes rest, but knew the better decision was to keep putting one foot ahead of the other.
Back on the high fells, with only one map between the 3 of us (I know, slap our hands for poor preparation) we missed the turn to the north and found ourselves in boggy, howling nowhere. Visibility was poor to say the least, and we could only guess where we were. Luckily my GPS watch had a tiny map on it, and by lining up my current location and where we had started from, we forged ahead in that direction knowing we were only a few miles from our cars. We had gone far enough off route, though, that we ended up on the back (and windy) side of High Pike, finally dropping onto a path that miraculously led in the direction my GPS was pointing us!
After almost 21 miles we crossed the final bog in fading light to get to the barn. I think the dog was the happiest one of the group as he had been slowing down for the last few miles! Extraordinarily, my Paramo waterproof top and OMM waterproof pants had actually done their job admirably and kept me dry inside, but the same could not said for my feet. Granted, submerging my socks on the river crossing really didn't help! So it was really nice to change into warm dry clothes for the drive home. We were on the road before the rest of the group finished, but finish they did, quite impressive for the conditions of the day!