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My Saturday Mornings in The Lakes

Introducing Jonathan James, Lake District dweller and Nikwax user. Jonathan has lived in Cumbria for over 10 years and takes to the hills most weekends to exercise, decompress and take in nature. With some of the UK’s most stunning scenery right on his doorstep, Jonathan gives us a flavour of how a typical Saturday morning unfolds – and leaves us dreaming about a life in the Lakes…

My regular, early alarm goes off on a Saturday and it is always with a little trepidation that I look out of the window to see what weather the morning may bring. I am Digital Director for an advertising agency, with offices in both Kent and Cumbria, and my busy weeks consist of travelling up and down the country between offices and meetings, juggling workloads and managing client deadlines. Whilst I love my job, I often get to Friday evenings feeling quite drained!

So, over the past few years I’ve got into a routine of getting up early on a Saturday as often as I can and taking myself off for a few hours on the nearby hills – my version of going to the gym. I find it a great way to decompress, clear the mind, leave the previous week’s worries behind and recharge.

We are lucky enough to live in North Cumbria with the northern Lake District hills, or fells as they are called up here, on our doorstep. Whilst the fell weather forecast the night before may suggest good conditions, even a short walk can herald a multitude of seasons and the weather can change in minutes. The only consistency is, usually, rain. After all, as the saying goes up here – ‘No Rain, No Lakes’!

I always pack my bag with full wet weather gear, regardless of the day, except during the height of summer. Also, even though I know the area around here like the back of my hand, I always take a map and compass, just in case. If the weather changes and visibility is minimal, you need to be able to navigate. It’s rare that an early morning walk doesn’t require a warmer top layer and my Rab® Microlight Alpine jacket generally does the trick. It has a Nikwax Hydrophobic+ down fill and retains great warmth, even if caught in a light shower. I love Tech Wash® and always use that for cleaning my walking kit when I get home. Every month or so I also find it important to use TX.Direct® Wash-In to reproof my kit. It is invaluable to keep my kit both clean and waterproof, essential up here!

One of the great things about the far northern fells is that whilst they are very accessible from the M6 motorway, Carlisle, or some of the bigger towns of the Cumbrian west coast, they are far enough away from the honeypot villages of the south lakes to remain fairly tourist light – especially during the winter months. I have a few regular walks, but a 10km route around and up High Pike (2,159 ft) is one of my favourites, a real hidden gem. There is a small parking area by a cattle grid at the farmstead in Calebreck, a few miles away from the villages of Hesket Newmarket and Caldbeck. From here, an old mine track loops around the northeast base of the fell and the views slowly open up as you gain height on the northern side of the fell. The Caldbeck fells around here have been mined since the 16th century, copper and lead being the main ores extracted, and the historical evidence is now littered across the fells. Rather than being unattractive and a scar on the landscape, I find it adds a ruggedness to the area and gives a glimpse into the very non-touristy use of the fells of years gone by. Walking around the rocky, sandy soil heaped fell-side, with the various old mine workings now sealed off with wooden fencing, in the height of summer it can feel a little like being in a spaghetti western set. Whereas during the cold winters, it makes you realise the hardships that the local miners must have had working there in all weathers trying to earn a living. It makes my own previous week’s hardships pale by comparison!

Turning off in a southerly direction from the mine track and joining the main path from Caldbeck, you then take a well-trodden yomp directly to the fell summit. From the roads nearby, High Pike can seem quite unassuming, but being the most northerly Lakeland fell over 2,000 ft, the views from the top can be impressive – north over the city of Carlisle and Solway Firth towards the Scottish Borders, east to the Pennines, and over the nearby, more famous, fells of Blencathra and Skiddaw towards the southern Lakes. Of course, there are many times when you have to imagine what the view is like! An unusual and touching element of this particular summit is a slate bench, which bears the inscription “In memory of Mick Lewis who loved all these fells”. He died in 1944 aged 16 and a small, recent addition is dedicated to the memory of his mother, who died in 1970. Both lived in Nether Row, a small hamlet at the foot of the fell, and it makes you ponder just how many stories there are that live in the hills and valleys in sight of where you are standing.

Heading down in a southerly direction from the top you follow Carrock Beck, which hugs the southern side of the smaller West Fell. On the way down, the fell opens up to a wider valley between High Pike and Carrock Fell, it’s slightly higher neighbour. Doing this walk regularly, it’s wonderful to see how differently it can look during the changing seasons. In summer, the way the light hits the fellside, breaking through clouds whose shapes race in the wind across the lower farmland, with an abundance of wildlife dotted around the land and buzzards soaring high in the warm air. Through to cold, harsh winter with crisp, silent snow covering the higher landscape, frozen becks and only a few glimpses of visiting winter birds and the hardy Cumbrian Herdwick sheep. Both climates are very different but neither more beautiful than the other.

Following the beck down it eventually takes you back to the parking area where the walk started. Most of my Saturday walks have a habit of ending up in the little village of Uldale, at the wonderful Mae’s café for breakfast. Another hidden gem! It’s located in the old village schoolhouse, often with the log burner roaring, and it is a welcome spot to dry off, warm up and add back the calories just burnt off.

Heading home with that wonderful feeling you have after being out and about exercising in nature, knowing the rest of the weekend is ahead of you, really does make that early Saturday morning alarm worthwhile.

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