Sunday, 27 June 2010

Catch-up Blog #2: Tackling an English to-do: Scafell Pike...


And a good evening to you from the City of Lights. That's right, Sammy's in ole' Perrie!!! I'm here for the next few days with work, and so expect some random shots from France before it's all said and done.
Okay, last time I left you, we were in real time and had just recounted a Saturday with the Tacy clan. Today, however, we’re going back in time to last weekend, a truly PERFECT 3 days in the North of England that showed me a side of this great country that I NEVER knew existed. I am speaking of the Lakes District, and of and adventure that had been calling to Jenny and I for over 3 years – Scafell Pike.

So back story – puffin and I have been trying to get to the Lakes District (a National Park in England) since 2007. However, between schedules, timing, and everything else, we hadn’t been able to make it a reality. But FINALLY in February of this year, we found a date that worked for everyone and booked tickets to Penrith – the gateway to the Lakes.

The problem with booking 4 months in advance, however, is a rather basic one – IT’S TOO FAR IN ADVANCE TO PICK YOUR SEATS. What does this mean? Nothing if you’re traveling to somewhere like Bromley, but it means EVERYTHING if you’re on an over-crowded trip to the Lakes. So yes, for the first 15 minutes of a THREE AND A HALF HOUR JOURNEY, Muffin, Yazz, and Sammy were wedged into a convenient but less than sanitary spot – the floor beside the toilet.

Luck proved to be on our side, however, as suddenly the conductor appeared and told us that he’d “de-classed” First Class (I’m sure those who paid for tix LOVED that). Consequently, check us out in the lap of luxury for the remainder of the trip!

We arrived on time, where we were greeted by Lady Catherine. Whilst sporting a dodgy knee due to a recent hiking injury, Cath was in great spirits and whisked us over to Keswick, where we checked into our Bed and Breakfast – The Dollywaggon. That’s right, folks – Sam Taylor staying with SIX GIRLS in a B & B called THE DOLLYWAGGON. If that’s not code for “Sam’s on a bender weekend in a brothel,” I don’t know what is. But seriously – it was all on the up and up (just like Target’s new label).

Actually, one component of this joint was REALLY up and up. Jenny and I were on the top floor (read: ATTIC), and our bathroom was a converted closet. This wouldn’t have been a problem save for the RIDICULOUS STEP UP TO GET TO THE TOILET. Basically, this one design flaw ensured I wouldn’t drink too much in the evening, as it made the bathroom a DEATH TRAP. Good times…

We rolled over to a sports bar called Sweeney’s ( I SO wish it would have been called Selwyn’s), where we had a few pints and enjoyed the AMAZING weather. After that, it was down to the boat dock, where we booked a cruise around Derwent Water and caught a glimpse of one of the two peaks we’d make a go at during the weekend – Catbells.

The sun, the breeze, the company – it was all just PERFECT. We’d heard from EVERYONE that the Peaks District was beautiful but WET constantly. Some folks had been there 6-7 times and had never had ANYTHING but rain. However, the rumor is that, on the 20 days a year when it’s sunny, it’s truly STUNNING. I am pleased to report that we had 3 days of EXACTLY that.

But more than just the weather, it was great to have a “country” holiday. Normally Jenny and I do “city” breaks, with an outdoor activity here or there to balance it out. In truth, our last big “outdoor” break had been Costa Rica in October of 2008, so this was WELL overdue.

We met the girls later on and rolled back to Sweeney’s, where we had GREAT seats on the couch and watched England vs. Algeria. And whilst it was, without a doubt, the WORST game of the World Cup so far, it was a GREAT evening, especially with all the Italian we had later at Casabella’s (we had to carb up for the next day!).

Saturday was, in no uncertain terms, AMAZING. We started the day with a delicious full English brekkie, and we set out around 11:30 to tackle England’s highest peak: Scafell Pike (elevation 2,823 – but don’t laugh if you’re an American – just keep reading, as this hike was NO JOKE). And so began one of THE BEST days I’ve had in a LONG time.

For starters, the owner of the B & B offered to show us a “short cut” to the mountain. Well, Alison and I (lead car driver and navigator) assumed this meant “I will take you to the peak.” However, what it really meant was “I will take you to a roundabout in the middle of nowhere, point a direction, and abandon you to the wolves.” And so here we are, with Alison driving and me navigating using a map that has NO LANDMARKS OR TOWNS ON IT. I am confused by the fact that, on the map we have, Scafell is something like FOUR THOUSAND MILES AWAY. This, coupled with Alison’s announcement that: “I’m out of petrol and I don’t expect to find a petrol station anytime soon.” Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat.

However, once we pull over, trade maps with Cath, and then get back on the road, we find the trail head no problem. And so begins the half mile walk from the parking lot to the trail head. As you mentally prepare yourself, let me give you the summit team (as they appear from left in the photo):

1. Sarah – perhaps THE FITTEST PERSON ON EARTH – just back from Ecuador (this gal hadn’t run in 2 months and did a 12 MILE RUN THE DAY AFTER THIS HIKE – Really? REALLY?)
2. Lady Catharine – the architect of the trip and the pride of Manchester and Sydney law firms
3. Jenny (not muffin puffin) – Training for Kilimanjaro and fresh off a week of work in Cairo and Madrid

4. Muffin Puffin – the hottest girl in the United Kingdom – especially in her sexy hiking gear
5. Yazz – Desperate to find Elvis (or a boy from Memphis at least), she was hoping one of those studly 3 Peaks hikers was rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes…
6. Alison – henceforth known as the BULLET – this gal walks 5 miles to and from work every day and hikes on weekends – she is pretty much .00001% body fat and is probably part Mountain Lion
7. Sammy (not in photo) – I’m pretty sure you know how I am by now. If you are a new reader, consult any of the 235 posts to your right.

So, a little bit about hiking in England:

THERE ARE NO SIGNS. You get a map with trails on it, but other than that you get NOTHING. Seriously – this was as close to off piste hiking as I’d ever been, and it was truly exhilarating.
Don’t let the sunshine fool you – IT WILL BE WINDY AS HELL.
Peaks are lower, but all hikes START A SEA LEVEL AND GO STRAIGHT UP. Seriously – this climb was like the last 2 hours of Pike’s Peak, only lower. I am NOT joking.

The entire hike took 8 hours and 15 minutes, including stopping for photos, lunch, and a break at the top. And while I’m at it, the view from the top – AMAZING. We could see the Ocean and even the Isle of Man! It was INSANE! It just couldn’t have been more perfect – fresh air, fellowship, GREAT views, a tasty lunch, and a challenging walk to burn off some upcoming beer calories. How does life get any better?

Granted, there were a few “rough patches” a long the way, like the time we COMPLETELY lost our way until we saw arrows carved into a rock. Basically, the arrow told us that we either had to a) base jump to our deaths down the side of a cliff or b) climb straight up an Eiger-style cliff face. It was at this point that Yazz says to us: “Guys, this could be a bit of a problem. I have vertigo.” Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet…

But we did get through it, and we treated ourselves with a DELICIOUS meal at the local Indian joint – The Royal Bengal. I have no lie to tell – Kingfisher NEVER tasted better – nor did a BRILLIANT (and flamingly hot) curry. SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies).

We sacked out at Midnight (it was light until 11) – new born babies don’t sleep this well.

On Sunday we got up, had another AMAZING breakfast, and then wandered around the CUTE little city for a bit before heading down to the water and taking the ferry across the lake to tackle our second hike – Catbells.

Now, a little bit about this hike: Catharine told us that this was “a VERY easy hike that 4 year olds and grandmothers could do. It’s the hike for families.” I’m going to tell you right now – unless your grandmother is also an Ironman Triathlete or your 4 year old does the Appalachian Trail every year, you should NOT take them up this hill.

Cath’s description of the hike when from “just 10 strenuous minutes” to “steady for an hour” to “it’s really a 3 mile hike round trip.” And whilst we got to the top in just over an hour, it was STRAIGHT UP. That thing was almost as bad as Scafell!

But we did it and even got down in time to cruise around the river a final time, taking in the sights and the PERFECT weather. We also got to make Sweeney’s a final time (seriously – they had Carlsberg AND an outdoor beer garden – what more do you want?) for a couple of pints before driving back to Penrith and hopping on the train, where we treated ourselves to First Class Upgrades (‘cause that’s how we rooooooooooooll”).

As I sit here typing this, I am still smiling thinking about that trip. I hearken back to a shirt that Dad and Alice once bought me from Claytor Lake State Park, upon which is printed a quote from John Muir: “The Mountains are calling and I must go.” I do love city life, no question about that. But weekends like this one remind me that there is always a piece of this country boy that will be staring off into the distance, looking at or imagining the lofty peaks just beyond the horizon. And eventually, I have a feeling that those peaks will get the better of me, their call will be too great, and Jenny and I will follow their song, wherever they may lead.

Lovely ladies, it was SUCH AN AMAZING TRIP. I had SUCH a blast being one of the girls, and I sincerely do want to thank each of you for allowing me to come along and be part of such a perfect weekend with you.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow for the next catch-up blog – I’m getting there!


Sam and (somewhere on the Thames back from Greenwich) Jenny

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