We left the car just outside of the deserted hamlet of Bowscale on a baking hot June afternoon, both of us smothered in sun cream and each carrying a pack for the night. Initially we counted our blessings for the idyllic summer conditions; pale blue skies framing fells carpeted with lush greens and yellows, there was also the promise of some vast summit views unspoilt by either cloud or mist. There was little in the way of a breeze which left the north eastern fells were steeped in a silence broken only by the occasional distant rumbling engines of farm vehicles in the valley below, the shriek of a raven or song of a skylark above. Our plan was to approach Blencathra from the north and camp high before dropping into the valley below Great Calva following the River Caldew back to the start.
The first hour of a walking up a hill often feels like the toughest; legs not quite settling into the effort or the incline, the body not quite accustomed to the extra weight of the pack. It didn’t take long for the afternoon heat to become more of a burden than a blessing, whilst we made use of the occasional cool streams that dribbled off the hillside, the need for extensive rest stops was made clear by the subtle body language of a ten year old…Bowscale Tarn was an oasis which we had all to ourselves, as soon as it was in sight we threw off our packs and shoes and walked straight in. The shallow waters were warmed through by the sunshine and busy with slippery black tadpoles, we waded out to half submerged boulders and sat on them like miniature desert islands looking out north to the sandy coloured tops of the Caldbeck Fells. The decision to leave the tarn wasn’t taken lightly; a flat patch of sheep nibbled grass on the waters edge was practically bespoke for our tent. It would have been an easy sell to suggest we pitch early and elect for a lazy camp, the sole argument against was only that we hadn’t walked far enough nor seen enough to stop just yet. It was June and there was another seven hours on daylight to play with. A plan had been made to head for higher ground and to stray from the plan so early on with no reason felt like we were selling ourselves short. With mixed feelings we pulled our packs back onto our shoulders and resumed our route upwards, leaving the perfect campsite in favour of the unknown. The next few miles were as a result, a little bitter, we walked without a path over tussocks and cotton grass with a horizon rippled with headlines, the afternoon heat was unforgiving and in spite of our efforts the destination on the map didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Like most significant problems in life, it felt a little better after we’d slept on it. It’s so easy for a rest to evolve into a nap. A dried out tussock makes an excellent pillow for a mountain siesta. The main problem with an afternoon nap in the sunshine is that it only makes you want another one, I tried every trick in the book to coax him a little further towards the summit, but they all fell on deaf ears, we would walk no further. It was far too hot and although we were well protected and hydrated, there’s little pleasure to be had in marching further uphill when you’ve run out of steam. In the years of taking the boys out on the hills I’ve learnt the golden rule of quitting whilst you’re ahead. We agreed to camp a few miles shy of Bleancathra perched on a crease in the hillside over Blackhazel Beck. The tent gave some much needed time to find shelter from the sun and to eat till we couldn’t eat any more. It also gave us time to and reflect on the fact that an evening spent camped out above a hidden nook in the hillside hidden away from the world is about as good as it gets.
Summits are overrated anyhow, it’s all downhill after a summit.
Legs rested and bellies full, we had an hour for an evening walk to take in the sunset, happy to roam without packs and sit back and watch the sky change colour. There’s a warmth to be found in walking back to a tent as day gives way to night, the air temperature seemed to drop with each step cooler and as we neared the familiar shape of our shelter his yawns became louder and more sustained.The morning came bright and clear as the previous day but this time with a much needed cooler breeze, the idea of heading any higher was cut short by some moans and groans about aching legs from a certain ten year old. We looked at the map over breakfast and agreed to make life easier by following the beck down to the valley and enjoying the luxury of a footpath. The river was slightly wider and faster flowing than we expected and without any decent stepping stones we removed our socks and shoes to walk through, the slippery brown rocks on the river bed meant a slow crossing that had our feet turning white in the freezing waters. The sun wasn’t yet high enough or giving out enough warmth to dry us off as we pulled dry walking socks back on to our cold wet feet. The track hugged the river past thick and fresh smelling juniper bushes, we crossed paths and spoke with the first person we’d seen since we set out, a farmer out walking with an older border collie and its more energetic fiery coated pup respectively named Storm and Red. As planned we left the track and found the road whilst it was still morning, beating the sunshine before the heat became searing. Any feelings of having missed out due to the change in plan were comforted by the fact that our car was stocked with a much appreciated cool box full of drinks and snacks in the boot. We sat out in the sunshine the car the sunshine for the final time on the trip. He was still wearing his down jacket, refusing to take it off, because he likes the colour.