I had an excellent night’s sleep between 11pm and 7am, which led me (mistake I fly, it turned out) to believe all symptoms of jet lag were behind me.
I packed my bag and went downstairs, taking one more, slightly wistful, look at the wallpaper in my bedroom. I know this would never suit a mid-century house in Melbourne suburbia but…
Before I left I found Rachel, who ran the farm, and asked if I might see her dogs. She seemed a bit hesitant and explained that, in the shed where the dogs were kept was a pile of dead sheep. I said I grew up in the country and was fine fine with that (which I sort of am, I know animals have to die and it was lambing season) however the first thing I saw in the shed was a lamb’s head lying on the floor, no body attached. Rachel moved it out of the way but it wasn’t quite what I expected to see.
Anyhow, I got to pat a few dogs and saw Minty, her champion border collie. I didn’t end up taking any photos because of the dismembered ovine situation, but the dogs were interesting and some were pure collie, others were kelpie mixes.
The walk from WinterCrag to Patterdale was only about 11km but, after an easy start along the road, it became an up and down, stony zig zag along the edge of Ullswater.
Along the way I saw a lot of sheep, a few small waterfalls and a lot of mossy rocks.
At one point I chatted to a couple from Canberra while I stopped for a drink then stopped a bit further on a rocky outcrop and scared the life out of a woman who didn’t see me sitting up on the ledge as she rounded the bend.
I hadn’t booked any accommodation, figuring that if worst came to worst, I could camp at the YHA, but the lady at a cafe on the way recommended the Patterdale Hotel, saying they had rooms for £40, which is incredibly cheap for this area.
As I got got closer to Patterdale the hills got higher and there were a few more people on the trail, some running and one or two riding bikes.
When I got there they were booked out and so was the pub further on, The White Lion, which the lady at the cafe said she could not recommend, simply because it was sometimes open and sometimes not and sometimes doing food and sometimes not. I certainly got a somewhat ‘Fawlty Towers’ vibe when I went in to ask.
The apologetic guy behind the bar said they were moving furniture around upstairs so, while they normally had rooms, right now the rooms were full.. of stuff. Half the downstairs bar was also full of stuff, including a gigantic carved lion, Egyptian sarcophagus, fish tank and about a hundred other random objects.
He told me a friend of his was doing music and comedy later that night and I said I’d come back for dinner and the show. To say I had low expectations would be an understatement, but I had nothing better to do so why not?
I headed a little way further down the road to find the YHA had just one private room left but I couldn’t check in for an hour so I sat in their lounge to wait and rest my feet.
When I took my shoes off I was intrigued to find that blood from a blister had soaked through two layers of socks on one of my feet and I hadn’t felt a thing. This happened last time I was hiking here. I’ve got a very low threshold for pain so it really surprises me when this sort of thing happened and I don’t even notice.
I’ve been wearing these shoes for a year and had no problems so maybe it’s the greater distances and more varied terrain. Walking on uneven rocky surfaces is certainly working my muscles and joints more than they are used to, even on short walks.
Outside the lounge window was a bird feeder and at least a dozen different tiny birds flew in and out. The hostel, quite helpfully, had a bird identification chart on the wall so I entertained myself trying to pick which was which. At least half of them were Tits and you’ll notice I’m resisting making jokes about them, which is difficult when a matching pair of Great Tits arrived.
I had though jet lag was finally behind me, with my 11pm to 7am sleep last night, but once again I was assailed by the mid-afternoon drowse. I checked in at 5pm then decided to walk to Glenridding, just a couple of kilometres further down the road.
The store there was still open so I bought a packet of exotic chips and then walked back. On my short walk I saw two tiny rabbits nibbling at the lawn of the Patterdale Hotel, then spied a doe behind the tree line.
I returned via the White Lion, thinking to have some dinner, only to be told a long story about the kitchen being closed because of the extractor fan, the log fire and the whole place filling up with smoke. Thankfully I had a backup plan (the YHA) so I just had a gin and tonic (after being told they had no traditional ciders or white wine) so I had the worst gin of my life (apple and insect repellant, to go by the flavour) and said I’d come back for the act that was happening later.
After a dinner of lasagna at the YHA I headed back out. I’d had a chat to the young people working at the front counter, who had also looked a bit dubious about The White Lion’s reliability in offering any decent entertainment, and told them that I would give them a report on how the night of ‘music and comedy’ turned out. With expectations as low as they could possibly be (at this point it wouldn’t have been surprised to arrive and find the place had burned down or simply disappeared into a hole in the ground) I set off.
I arrived to very little noise emanating from the hotel, despite being late for the show. The barman was standing in the doorway looking down the road and gave me a hug when he saw me and said I was late. I reminded him that this was his fault, since they no longer offered dinner. I got a glass of wine (red, obviously) and sat down, the only person on the room apart from the musician, a middle aged, slightly portly man, who was playing guitar and singing covers.
He asked where I was from and said he hadn’t met any Australians in the area in years and we talked a bit before another middle-aged couple came in and sat down. They were also staying at the YHA.
The musician (his name was Decca) said hello to them and asked where they were from. They got into a conversation about Decca’s previous jobs prior to being a travelling pub musician, and he said he’d been a bus driver and worked for Outward Bound, an educational institution that is all about getting people into outdoor pursuits.
The man Decca was talking to said what a coincidence, he too used to work for Outward Bound and used to go overseas on mountaineering excursions with groups. In fact just last week his sister had found a packet of letters in her attic that this man had been given in Pakistan, thirty four years ago on a climbing expedition, but never managed to deliver to the mountaineers he knew in England. He was given the letters by a Canadian man who needed them sent on – this was how mail got around the world from remote places before the internet. People just handed things to others who were going in the right direction and preyed they eventually got to the person on the envelope.
One of the letters was for a guy named Al Smith and it was from this Canadian man’s daughter, who had met Al in England previously but had since gone home to Canada. This couple in the pub, with this pile of ancient letters, were going to try to trace the owners of all the letters, but particularly Al Smith, who the man had known at the time through the organisation. They hoped that if they could find him one day, they could track down all the people the other letters were addressed to. Having heard Decca mention Outward Bound, they asked him if he happened to remember a guy named Al Smith.
Remember him? He’d just spoken to him last week! They used to go fell running and biking around Ullswater in their twenties and were still close mates to this day. So Decca immediately phoned Al but unfortunately the reception in the pub was so bad that he said he’d try again when he got out of the valley and get the couple’s details so he could make sure they got in touch.
Well, you can imagine how gobsmacked we all were by this series of coincidences. I had to get Decca’s contact details to find out what happened with the letter. The couple had not even opened any of the mail and we were all speculating as to the subject matter. Al was apparently now happily married to an English woman (apparently he was quite the lady’s man back in the day) but could his life have been very different if this letter had been passed along decades ago?
Decca played ‘I Come From A Land Down Under’ for me and we both realised we only knew half the lyrics. I had a good chat to the couple before I left and then walked back to the YHA in the dark, marvelling at the way life goes. We’d all agreed that if there’d been even a few more people at the pub that night the whole conversation probably wouldn’t have happened and the couple might never have traced down Al and sent the letter onwards.
I’m not sure if I’ve really done the story justice, and please don’t ask me to clarify any of the details, but if I hear from Decca I’ll definitely follow up!
2 thoughts on “WinterCrag to Patterdale”
I went on a walking tour in Bangkok and was the only person to turn up. The woman hosting it ended up telling me her life story, including that her family had taken in a baby from a teenage mother who showed up at their door one day. It was fascinating and I doubt would have happened if the other 4 people who were meant to be in the tour had turned up.
Wow! That’s amazing! I love those chance events and glimpses into peoples lives.