aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A Wet and Wooly Adventure, Part Two

Aiming for the Heights

Ellettsville to Ennerdale
Main Objective: Climb Scafell Pike

Getting there is half the fun

Friday morning, October 11. Frantic activity. I thought we had a second driver to take us to the airport, but it turned out we didn’t. I asked Valerie, who promptly said yes. Problem solved. I handed in the last Charge Conference stuff and we were ready to take off. We got to the airport on time, checked in, went through security, and then – were told to wait. Our plane was delayed taking off because of weather conditions in Philadelphia.

When we finally did take off, we were seated in the back of the plane, which made for a bumpy ride. Errol, all 6’7” of him, was stuck in a middle seat. We evicted T.J. to give him some relief. We made our connection in Philly easily and boarded a less-than-full plane for Glasgow, taking off about 7:00 p.m. We landed in Glasgow at 6:45 a.m. local time, which means that our heads were gearing up for the day while our bodies were telling us that it was still 1:45 a.m. back home. Ugh. I said, “Welcome to the home of Scrooge McDuck, where capitalism was invented.”

We had half an hour to kill before the car rental desk would be ready to assign us a car and get rolling. The British are very strict about opening times. Nobody can ignore you so magisterially as a British office worker before official opening time. When they did deign to work with us, they came through rather handsomely. They had a “people mover” – a mini-van - ready for us, but looking at our gear, they said they had a second choice for us to consider – a similar mini-van with more internal room for seating and stuff. It had a diesel engine and an automatic transmission. It was only slightly more money. It looked like a good deal, so we took it. Then we started talking insurance. The choice came down to a £1,000 deductible (or “excess,” as they term it) or a no-deductible plan, which would mean we could total the car and owe nothing for it. Something prompted me to take the no-deductible plan. And with that, we took off down the road for the English border.

Ennerdale will do

We went through Carlisle, bought groceries along the way, and turned south at Cockermouth. The roads began to narrow and wind. We arrived at Ennerdale in the middle of the afternoon and set up camp. Nobody was about. Eventually, some Scouts and their leaders began to dribble into camp from a day's hiking. They were from Otley. There were some Cubs and Beavers, a Boy Scout and a girl (whether Guide or Scout I never found out), plus a couple of kids still in diapers. The Otley group was staying in the Chalet, as it was called.

Ennerdale Water

Ennerdale Water
Seen from Kirkland

Later on, we met with all the Otley Scouts. I went over to give them all some American Scout patches. They returned the favor with one of their neckerchiefs, which has a griffin on it, which is their symbol. The Otley Scouts were celebrating their 100th anniversary by climbing the 100 highest peaks in England in their centenary year. This is what brought them from Yorkshire to the Lake District.

When evening came on, Mr. Arnott arrived to say hello. He was dressed for work, which obviously had something to do with livestock. His two dogs arrived with him and showed great interest in what we were cooking. They follow him everywhere. “Never had a lead, never had a collar,” he said; nor did they seem to need such devices.

I asked him why the other cabin at the camp was called the Bothy. He said it was a Scots word, meaning a hovel of sorts, originally a two-room house where people occupied one room and their livestock the other. This particular bothy seemed rather new and very nice, so I wondered about the appropriateness of the name. He explained that the original cabin on the site was a small hut with a pot-bellied stove in the middle, called the Bothy because of its hovel-like coziness. It was built in the ‘30s when Ennerdale Scout Center was a fairly new Scout camp. It was much loved by the Scouts, but the stove was always in the way. So the current warden had the stove moved out of the center of the Bothy and placed nearer the back wall thereof. Soon after, the Bothy caught fire and burned to the ground. The camp trustees assumed that the insurance on the little cabin was only about £5,000, and were shocked to find out that someone had insured it for £35,000! So, taking the insurance plus other monies from grants and other fund-raising, they set out to build a new Bothy worth something more than £60,000. It was certainly a beautiful cabin, though we were set to sleep on the ground.

It’s all uphill until it’s not.

I heard birdsong at 5:45 the next morning and got up at 6:00. By 7:30, we were on the road to Wasdale. By 8:45, we were starting up the path toward Scafell Pike, at 3,209’ the tallest mountain in England. The path is very steep, even from the start, and Jeffrey, our hike leader, set a blistering pace. Errol and I were struggling to keep up. Eventually, my lungs acclimated to the exertion; however, Errol had increasing trouble with his legs. He was really banged up before we were halfway up the mountain. His height was a great disadvantage for such a steep path; at some points, he was all but going hand over hand. Eventually, even the boys began to complain about the rigors of hiking uphill. I remarked that mountains are all uphill until they aren’t anymore.

Faces pointed uphill

Faces pointed uphill
Scafell Pike in the distance

Up, up, and away

Up, up, and way

Wind began to trouble us. It was blowing hard. We were buffeted and chilled. Halfway up, the trail divided. The way I had ascended before took one under the lee of the ridge on the right hand side. It was steeper than the left hand way, but more sheltered from the weather. At the end, one had to scramble up ten feet or so to top the ridge from which one could simply walk over to the Pike. We elected to follow the left hand way, which promised to be an easier walk up, but was more exposed.

Rocky Path

Rocky path

The summit in view

The summit in view

Easier or not, the trail was a tough one. The wind picked up harder as we topped the lesser fells around us. Near the top of the ridge, we got into low-lying cloud. The final ascent to the summit was through a haze even the fiercest wind couldn’t dissipate. At the very top, we could hardly stand up in the gale that blew over the top of the ridge.

At the top

At the top
The wind was so stiff it was difficult to stand up straight.

The descent was long and painful, too. Every step down such a steep trail provided a shock to back and knees. Errol was always lagging behind. At the last gate, I let Jeffrey and T.C. go at a normal pace to the car with me while T.J. accompanied Errol the rest of the way down. We got the van and drove across the bridge into the campground to pick them up. Errol was very concerned about his ability to do Ben Nevis, given his painful experience on Scafell Pike. I assured him that Ben Nevis, though a bigger mountain, was less steep.

The way down is just as steep

The way down is just as steep

We summited at 12:45 and were back down the mountain at 3:30. A little over seven hours in all, which was pretty good time.

The natives are friendly

The Otley Scouts were gone by the time we got back, but Mr. Arnott (and dogs) were awaiting our return. We hadn’t officially registered yet, so he invited us into the Bothy to finish the paperwork and pay. We had a great visit. He brought out some patches to trade with me for the American patches I had given him. Then he invited us to use the Bothy to cook and wash dishes in, for free. This invitation was particularly welcome to us because the rain had begun to fall and was threatening to make the night a wet one. We asked Mr. Arnott about the weather and he said that the forecast was for lessening rain as we approached the weekend. This was good news.

There was more good news. The Otley Scouts had left us part of their Sunday dinner: roast pork, mashed potatoes, and other traditional British fare. It would go very well with the fresh pork and apple sausages we had planned to cook. They also left us a tasty Raspberry Crumble. Huzzah! We ate like kings and retired to our tents early.

The Long Way Around

Ennerdale to Dilston
Main Objective: Hadrian’s Wall, Durham Cathedral

Over hill and dale

We packed up and left Ennerdale, heading for Eskdale and Hard Knott Castle. Two hours later found us high on the fellside walking through boggy grass while we explored the remains of this Roman outpost. The Romans maintained a lookout for pirates at Ravenglass. At the pass above Ravenglass stood this fort. Backup forces were maintained at Galava (Ambleside), where we went next. The way took us over Hard Knott Pass. The road is the steepest public road in Britain, with grades up to 30%. It’s also single-track in some places. Driving it is not for the faint-hearted. From Hard Knott Pass we went over Wrynose Pass into Langdale, which took us down to Ambleside on Lake Windermere.

T.C. and Jeffrey look out over Eskdale

T.C. and Jeffrey look out over Eskdale
Hard Knott Castle

T.J. under Hard Knott

T.J. under Hard Knott

Ambleside is sort of like Lake Placid, a quaint, touristy, outdoor sports kind of place. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a camping gear store. We did some window shopping here. We found a chip shop and had our first experience of dining out in Britain. We all ordered fish and chips. Each of us got a huge fillet of haddock, fried to perfection, and what looked like two pounds of fried potatoes. The portions were simply enormous. Plenty of malt vinegar was to hand. We were in heaven.

Short cuts make long delays

Leaving Ambleside, we headed north toward Penrith on a narrow mountain road. In many places, the road had curbs, in other places granite rock came right to the pavement’s edge; in no place were there any shoulders (which is typical in the UK). I was driving no more than 40 mph, for safety’s sake. A few miles above Ullswater, I hit a rock at the left edge of my lane which bounced me into the middle of the road. I knew I’d burst a tire, but I didn’t know how bad it was until we pulled over. I had bent not one, but two tire rims. The first rim was destroyed; the rear wheel could have been pounded out with a sledge, if we’d had one.

Well, the thing to do in this case was to call for Roadside Assistance. Instructions for doing so had been provided in our rental info, so we flagged down a car, which took me up to the pub at the top of the hill, where I called for help. I was told that someone would be with us within an hour. I thought that was pretty good, given our remote location. I wanted to keep us all together, so I jogged back to the car – about a mile down the road – in a cold rain. And there we waited.

When the RA truck came, he found we had no spare tire. Nothing for it but to tow the beast in. He said he would take two of us to Kendal and the tow truck coming after him would take the rest of us and the van. I was very dubious about splitting up the crew – something one does only in dire emergency – but he explained that he couldn’t take all five of us and neither could the recovery agent. So T.C. and I went on ahead to Kendal while Errol, T.J., and Jeffrey awaited the arrival of the wrecker.

I couldn’t figure out why we were being taken to Kendal at the south edge of the Lake District when we were trying to get to Penrith at the north edge of it, but I figured these guys do this all the time and went along with the plan we were given. T.C. and I were dropped off at a tire place in Kendal; figuring we had a half hour at least before the rest showed up, we found a grocery store a few blocks away and did our shopping for the next couple of days. We were trying to use our delay in an efficient manner.

When we returned to the tire place, we discovered that our crew had been right behind us, but that they and the van had been taken to a Vauxhall dealership for repair. We were given directions that didn’t make sense, but we trudged off to try to find the place. We asked several other persons for directions along the way, and we kept getting different directions. Eventually, we did find the dealership after walking a mile or so. There we found Errol on the phone with the Europcar agent.

Things were in a pretty pass now. We had been taken to the Vauxhall dealership because some idiot thought we were driving a Vauxhall, when it was plain we were driving a Volkswagen. T.C. was disgusted. Throughout the rest of the trip, every time we saw a Vauxhall, he’d sing out, “Vauxhall!” I mean, who couldn’t tell the difference? Now it was nearly closing time for the dealership, the recovery agent wanted to drop the van and go home, and the Europcar agent was trying to fob us off with all kinds of bizarre solutions. According to him, we could 1) stay the night in Kendal, 2) let him arrange to take three of us to Dilston while the other two followed as best they could, or 3) have all of us find our way to Dilston by train or something while he arranged for a replacement car to be brought to Dilston.

I was flabbergasted by these options. I refused to split the crew; eventually, the Vauxhall manager got hold of the Kendal Youth Hostel and we made arrangements to stay the night. Right after making those arrangements, the Europcar guy said he’d found a recovery agent who would come pick us up and take us all to Dilston. So, we canceled the hostel arrangements. The crippled van was dropped at the curb, the dealership closed, and we were left to wait for rescue.

John, the recovery agent from Penrith, picked us up about a half hour later, and we were towed to his shop, where he left the van. He then got a car out, put us and all our gear in it, and we took off for Dilston in the dark. Up to this time, we had been as patient and cooperative as we could; after all, we thought, these people know how best to handle things here, we don’t want to be pushy Americans, etc. John told us we should complain in strenuous terms. He told us we should have immediately been taken to Penrith (where Europcar has a depot); we could have had a replacement car brought to us from somewhere before dark and been on our way.

We eventually got to Dilston Scout Camp. John got the help of Mrs. Oliver, the elderly lady who lives at Dilston Lodge just outside the gate, who called Allan Kelly, the District Commissioner of Scouts. He came out from Hexham. Mr. Kelly opened up the Hut, their sleeping cabin there, and showed us how the kitchen worked, etc. He invited us to stay both nights indoors at no charge. So, we didn’t have to camp in the rain on the wet ground. We were all settled in by 10:30.

We finally got around to making a very late supper of Cumberland sausages – another new taste sensation. I told the boys I’d let them sleep a little longer in the morning, and we went to bed. I had hopes that a replacement car would be awaiting us at the camp gate when we got moving in the morning, but something told me I’d have to prod things along.

In the morning, the boys went exploring. The ghost of Lady Derwentwater was supposed to haunt the bridge, and the boys were anxious to see all the sights. I waited until almost ten o’clock before going up to Mrs. Oliver’s and imposing on her for assistance. She was very helpful and gracious; I really cannot praise the hospitality of the people we met too much. Using her cell phone, I called Europcar. No one had been working on our situation, apparently. The lady on the other end of the line said she’d have the Carlisle office call us back. Within five minutes, Carlisle called and said we were in the Newcastle district, and they’d call us back in a few minutes. When Newcastle called, they said they had a People Mover (mini-van), but it was manual transmission, not automatic. That’ll do, I said. Well then, the manager said, he’d just top off the tank and have the first driver available run it out to us. So, in an hour? I asked. Well, not quite that fast; maybe two hours, he replied. I’ll expect you then by noon, I replied.

Errol and I decided anything before two would count for “by noon,” according to the efficiency of Europcar we had witnessed, so we had lunch and kept our impatience in check. At 12:10 p.m., our car was delivered, and we were back in business after a twenty-two hour delay. In my opinion, four hours would have been praiseworthy assistance. Six or eight hours would have been understandable, and no complaints from me would be forthcoming. But twenty-two hours to solve a routine problem like putting spare wheels and tires on an otherwise undamaged car is just ridiculous. I will never book with Europcar again.

This whole digression is only a minor part of our trip and doesn’t really deserve the space I’ve given it here, except that we had published an update on Facebook saying we were getting repairs and jauntily asking for prayers. We downplayed the situation because we didn’t want people to think we were in serious trouble; we were just massively inconvenienced. But still, having noted the issue in a public post, I thought our friends and prayer partners would like to know what really happened – and what their prayers wrought for us. We thank you all, who held us up throughout our trip. When we needed help, help always was forthcoming. Angels and ministers of grace were constantly in attendance upon us. No doubt one had whispered in my ear when I resolved to buy the more expensive insurance.

Bridge over the Devilswater

Bridge over the Devilswater
The ghost of Lady Derwentwater did not make an appearance.

Making up for lost time

We were packed and ready to go and immediately set off for Vindolanda. This was an important mile castle on Hadrian’s wall. The Emperor Hadrian himself visited it during his reign (AD 117-138). A vicus (town) grew up around it. It was the farthest outpost of empire, maintaining standards of culture and style even at the back of beyond. On our way, we stopped for lunch at a country pub. There, we discovered the joys of bangers and mash and other British fare.

Vindolanda went through several phases over more than two centuries. It was replaced or remodeled a couple of times. We saw the foundations of bath houses, the regimental latrine, temples, granaries, barracks, houses, administrative offices, defenses. A wooden tower illustrative of the fort’s earliest incarnation and a stone tower from a later period had been reconstructed on the site. Down the hill, there were other buildings that had been reconstructed and stocked with mannequins and such, with recorded dialogue to illustrate the daily life of the settlement. A nymphaeum (shrine), a home, and a shop from Roman times was there, as well as a restored crofter’s home from the early modern period (showing how the English later re-used the site).

Errol mans the battlements

Errol mans the battlements


Reconstructed shrine at Vindolanda

From Vindolanda we went over to the Roman military museum to see more displays and artifacts. Then, we put the hammer down and headed for Durham. If we could get there before it closed, we would have caught up with our itinerary entirely. We pulled into Durham near sunset. When asked where we were going, I pointed up to the cathedral on its cliff and said, “up there.” The crew was astounded, and well they should be. Durham Cathedral sits next to the castle (now the University of Durham) on one of the most defensible sites in England. The River Wear makes almost an entire turn around this humongous rock; it has been a defended site since Anglo-Saxon times.

We parked the car, crossed the bridge and hastened up the high street. We got to the cathedral doors, only to find we were half an hour late. The cathedral closes after Evensong. Touring the inside was the only thing we would miss on our whole itinerary; in the final analysis, that’s not bad. But that’s what the twenty-two hour delay cost us, in the end.

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

We wandered back down the streets, looking for someplace to eat dinner. There was a little restaurant tucked under the bridge which looked good, so we went in. It was called Bishop and Langley, and I highly recommend it. T.C. and T.J. had the chicken burger (a fried chicken breast on a bun), which came with dessert. Errol had fish and chips. I had the roast beef dinner. Jeffrey had missed out on bangers and mash at lunch, but tucked into them here. The boys all agreed that British food is AWESOME.

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