DAY 30: Carlisle to Caldbeck – 16.15 miles
Not sure if it was the spicy Thai, the guy in the bed opposite snoring, or my mind replaying my run in with a herd of zombie cows all night, but I really didn’t sleep that well. Awake early I thought I might as well get up and get stuck into the free hostel continental breakfast before the masses descended. I also wanted to sort out my route for the day, having decided not to head straight south to Penrith (where I had visited before) but to swerve slightly west so that I could enjoy at least some of the beautiful Lake District. Most the accommodation in the north part was coming up expensive, so I was pleased to finally find a nice little B&B in Caldbeck, who also agreed to discount the room.
So with the skies clearing and a new area of England to explore I set off through Carlisle, stopping to take photos of the lovely cathedral, then to pick up food at Tesco’s and Subway. In Subway I got chatting to Leslie who was serving me and – on hearing what I was doing and why – ended up giving me by tuna salad and bottle of water for free! Usually I feel quite lethargic the first hour setting off, but this morning I now had a little spring in my step… which was about to get even bigger, after I happened upon the little town of Dalston.
Honestly, I could probably write a whole blog on Dalston, and I certainly would have enough photos to fill an album. The first thing that stood out about this tiny village, just five miles south of Carlisle, was the random scarecrow and large plastic flowers by the Dalston sign as you approach. Next were the posters about the local festival currently taking place and then just a few minutes further you come to the centre of town with the village hall, pub and cafe. Excited to finally have the choice, I decided on the Country Kitchen Cafe and headed through the heavy green front door. Like stepping into someone’s front room, all around were ornaments and nicknacks, with brightly coloured table clothes and lots of friendly local faces. Each one looking up at me as I edged on in with my backpack… immediately one gentleman asked “you’re not doing John O Groats to Lands End are you?” I’m still not sure how he knew or whether it was simply a lucky random guess, but that was it… I was the talk of the cafe and when it soon emptied out – except for this one gentleman and his lady friend – and filled again with a new set of patrons, the JOGLE conversations continued.
I’d taken the only spare table in the corner and by the time I’d drunk my cappachino, there was £10 on the table with donations from the adorable “Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Clooney”. By now I had spied the yummy looking homemade cakes on offer so decided to take a piece of coffee cake away for later… always nice to have a treat to look forward to at the end of a hard days walking. When I finally came to leave, Joyce the owner, would not take any money for either my coffee or cake. Again I was blown away by the generosity of the people of Cumbria… so very grateful and very much appreciated. Joyce had also explained about their festival, which would be climaxing on Sunday with a big market day, live music and judging of the best scarecrow in town! I’d only noticed the one at the entrance on the way in, but now I slowly made my way out of town I could see more and more of them on display. Not sure how many crows some of them would scare, but they were creative and hilarious! As well as scarecrows, this pretty floral town also has a picture postcard stream running through it, with the perfect walking path running next to it. All in all a wonderful place so if you are ever in this area, please go check it out and definitely drop in say hi to Joyce.
I now had some serious mileage to cover which as always meant decisions. Stick to the side roads, which are of course quicker, or take the often longer rough tracks, which are never so forgiving on the body and also run the risk of cow encounters. Almost reading my mind, at the next junction I came across the warning sign “Suckler Cows” who may be protective of their calves. About to turn around and take the road option, I thought best to double check with a local who was standing nearby. He confirmed there were no cows only sheep in the next few fields “what about that cow I can see further down the path” I asked “you mean that cow that is actually a sheep… you should have gone to specsavers” Haha well that told me! So I decided to risk it, and spent the next hour traversing fields full of sheep, as well as an unbelievable amount of sheep shit! If I hadn’t eventually given up trying not to tred in it, I reckon I’ll still be tip toeing across that field now.
From then it was back onto the road and after enjoying my Subway tuna salad, the incline began… And then the weather started to take a turn. And suddenly all the warmth of earlier became just a distant memory as the next few hours I endured by far the worse weather on this whole journey. Once I reached the top and became totally exposed the wind and rained lashed from all directions, and it got really really cold. It was definitely on a par with West Highland Way day 2 (holiday from hell) and if I could have clicked my fingers there and then to be anywhere else in the world, I would have done. I couldn’t even appreciate the views from up here, as the weather was so drawn in you couldn’t see anything further than the other side of the road.
As I started dowhill again towards Caldbeck thankfully the rain and wind died down, however I still had a further 20 minutes to walk out of town to reach Swaledale Watch B&B. Arriving on the door step like a bedraggled rat, Nan was there waiting to greet me and immediately showed me to my wonderful little room, which included a four poster bed, bath robe, spa bath and selection of biscuits. And as I put on the bath robe so Nan could take all my clothes to put through the wash… I again counted my blessings for all the people that had come my way today. Declining the offer of a lift to the local pub, I finally got to enjoy the coffee cake I had been saving, as well as filling up on apples, cheese and biscuits. I then enjoyed a relaxing soak in the spa bath and slipped into bed… I couldn’t relax quite yet however, as I still needed to sort out tomorrow and was starting to realise that maybe with the Lake District I had bitten off way more than I could chew!
It took just a few minutes of research to work out that ooops yes I did it again! Like the West Highland Way, I had started along this path not really knowing what was in store; just assuming that the Lake District meant lots of lovely lakes and flat open countryside. Quite the opposite, as it turns out most of England’s largest mountains can be found in this region and when a local news report came on the tele showing people having to be rescued due to unpredictable weather and taking wrong paths, I really started to panic. Turns out the road I initially had my eye on to travel south to Windermere includes “the highest pass in the whole of the country”. With no apparent solution and my head about to explode, in came Nan to bring me back my freshly laundered clothes.
Bless her… sitting down with me to go through my options, rather than retreat to Penrith at the first available opportunity, Nan confirmed there was a road that initially headed west but would then take me south through the towns of Keswick and Ambleside, before reaching Windermere (where it was easy to exit the Lake District to Kendal). This route was not too hilly, and whilst it was mainly on roads, they were not too busy and were punctuated with smaller track options along the way. Better still the distances between each stop were bang on my daily mileage and turns out both towns have cheap accommodation options. So panic very much over, I booked a dorm bed in Keswick for the following night and was finally able to enjoy a good sleep, as I popped my 4-poster-bed cherry.