Wednesday, 2 September 2015


For some reason completely obscure, the thought of secret places came into my mind.  To be a little more precise, secret villages.  That led me to remember Watendlath, although - truth to tell - Watendlath is neither secret nor is it a village.  It is just a hamlet, situated in the English Lake district a few miles south of Keswick.

I'm not sure why the area is called the Lake District.  No, that's not true: I do know why it is called the Lake District.  It is because there are quite a lot of lakes in the area, although they are not actually called lakes.  They are known as waters, such as Ullswater, Derwentwater and Coniston Water, or meres, like Windermere and Thirlmere, or thwaites, like Bassenthwaite.  Most are natural but there are at least two - Thirlmere and Hawes Water - that are man-made reservoirs made to supply water to Manchester.

But I digress.

I discovered Watendlath in October or November 1961.  Again, that's not exactly true.  I didn't discover Watendlath, I was led to the hamlet.  The bank by which I was employed supported the Outward Bound schools and regularly sent a handful of young employees on their courses.  I have no idea how or why I was picked out to attend but I duly set off on the train to Penrith where I and a handful of other young men were collected and driven to the Outward Bound centre on the shore of Ullswater.  The next month would involve no smoking, no alcohol, and bromide in the tea.  The first week consisted of cold showers first thing in the morning as it was considered too cold for us to take a dip in the lake, classroom lessons in knotting, first aid and - most importantly - map reading.  My experience in the Scouts meant that I already knew much of this and was soon dragooned into acting as an extra (unpaid) instructor.  Also on the schedule was circuit training on an outdoor course: press ups, pull ups, sit ups, and all sorts of other horrors were involved.  We gazed at the purple hills on the other side of the lake and wished with all our hearts that we could stride along the ridge rather than suffer another pull up.

Just as in the Scouts, we were organised into patrols, groups of six, before we were allowed out on our own.  Our first excursion was as a patrol with no instructor.  My patrol was to catch a bus to Patterdale, a village near the head of Ullswater, then hike to the top of Helvellyn (3,120 feet so we call it a mountain although some might think it little more than a pimple) and on down to Glenridding, the village at the head of the lake, making a sort of U shaped route.  I thought our path to the top of the mountain was below Striding Edge, seen in the picture below, but we certainly used that route on another occasion.

Another patrol was walking in the opposite direction and we met them in a snow storm just before we reached the summit.  "Just keep going," they told us.  "You can't miss the path."

We found what little shelter there was to get out of the wind and snow to eat our lunch - Kendal mint cake, dates and a bar of Cadbury's fruit and nut chocolate - before continuing along the path.  After a while, the snow stopped and we got below the cloud line.  There in front of us was the head of the lake.

But something was wrong.

The lake should have been to our left - but it was to our right.  According to the map, there were no trees around the head of the lake - but we could see in plain sight that the area around the head of the lake was heavily wooded.  The others didn't believe me when I told them that we had missed the path and were descending the wrong side of the mountain.  Being in the minority (5 to 1) I had little choice but to go along.  Sure enough, when we reached the bottom there was a sign indicating we had reached Thirlmere.

By now it was too late to go back over the top as it would be dark long before we reached Glenridding.  We found a bus stop, hoping we might catch a bus to Ambleside and from there another bus over the Kirkstone Pass to Glenridding.  There were no more buses that day, so we thumbed a lift in a lorry.  At Ambleside, we discovered that buses didn't run from there to Glenridding so we set out to walk the several miles involved.  Eventually, one of the Outward Bound instructors in a Land Rover found us.  We were so late that search parties had been sent out and the mountain rescue team was on standby.

And I've just realised that we still haven't reached Watendlath but I've run out of time so we'll continue the journey tomorrow.


joeh said...

So you didn't have GPS?

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

"...we still haven't reached Watendlath..."
Ah, but you've taken us on an interesting diversion and we've something to which we can look forward.

Brighton Pensioner said...

GPS, Joe? This was back in 1961 and not even mobile phones (that's cell phones to you) had been invented then.

Sarah said...

But it WAS an adventure wasn't it BP? I love discovering secret places - we rediscovered on in Cornwall last week which I plan to write about very soon.

Sarah said...
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