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Ancient Feet: 29 - The Highest Road In England

...Having lost weight, presumably from all over his body, why would he have problems carrying a smaller amount of weight concentrated in a small area, namely his back, when we would have expected it to be the other way round? No doubt when the Department of Health hear of this, they will want to appoint a research group to investigate and report, in no less than ten years, at great expense (ours, of course) but before they do, I can give them a clue. Walking up and down mountains is bloody hard, however the weight is distributed...

Alan Nolan and his mates continue their happy way along England's Coast to Coast walk.

To purchase a copy of Ancient Feet, Alan's exuberant account of the long walk, please visit visit

Signed copies of the book are available from Alan

Before reaching the summit of Kidsty Pike, we joined the Roman road along the ridge and which leads to the summit of High Street, so named because, well, it is a high street. This was the highest road built in England by the Romans and travels for several continuous miles at a height above 2000 feet. What an incredible achievement! And what about those legionnaires? If they wore those skirts they're always portrayed in when they marched up here in the winter, the privates must have found it a bit nippy.

With the summit of High Street ahead of us, we left the Roman road and branched east towards our immediate goal, Kidsty Pike, with wonderful views of the fells all around, but now with our first sight of Haweswater below. After about two and a half hours walking from Patterdale, we reached the summit, the highest point on Wainwright's main route and the final opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Lake District fells stretching out westwards. Once the descent to Haweswater begins, it is the beginning of the end for lovers of the Lakes.

From Kidsty Pike, the Wainwright route continues eastwards and drops sharply towards the southern end of Haweswater, following which there is a four mile walk up the west side of the reservoir. At first, this is quite pleasant with views across and along the lake but, after a while, the route becomes quite tiresome as the view is obstructed for some distance by trees between the path and the lake and also because the bracken grows to head height on either side of the path for long stretches. Indeed, Wainwright suggested that a man with a scythe should be sent annually in August. It would be more appropriate for a hundred men with machetes to do the job these days!

We decided not to follow the Wainwright route from Kidsty Pike because we had forgotten to pack our machetes (apart from Don, of course), and so we headed due north from Kidsty Pike to High Raise, which is slightly higher at 2,634 feet, and then followed the ridge north eastwards to Low Raise and continued in the same direction before dropping down to join Wainwright's route along the lake at Measand Forces, where we stopped for a break.

This was the fourth day of perfect walking weather and we were enjoying our rest when the two Flying Dutchmen came along. They were taken aback to see us there as, hadn't they overtaken us a couple of hours earlier? They asked how we had managed to get ahead of them, but were in too much of a hurry to wait for a reply.

'You must have taken a short cut,' they said, in what was an unmistakably accusatory tone, as they disappeared along the track. I could see now why my companions had not taken to our Dutch visitors who seemed to be excessively serious. Saying that we had taken a short cut was almost like accusing us of cheating. How dare they? It is our Coast to Coast and we can do what we like with it. In any event, I thought Dutch people are supposed to be liberal about everything and, as long as we walk from one coast to the other, who cares what route we take?

As it happened, they stayed at the same B&B as us that night in Shap where they were as serious as ever but, fortuitously, we did not come across them again after that.

The walk from High Raise had its advantages. Firstly, the descent was not as steep as the descent from Kidsty Pike to Haweswater and, secondly, it avoided walking three of the four miles alongside Haweswater.

Interestingly, almost all the Coast to Coast walkers we met during the following days commented that the descent from Kidsty Pike and the walk through the bracken was the section they remembered as the least enjoyable. So, despite the disapproval of our Dutch visitors, we were very happy with our choice of route.

We walked on alongside the lake and had not travelled far along this section before we caught up with a Geordie, who was carrying an enormous pack, and he explained that he was aiming to complete the Coast to Coast Walk in a total time of ten to fourteen days. We joked with him about the size of his pack and he mentioned that he had been slimming for a few months.

'I've lost a load of weight over the last three months like, and I weighed meself with me pack on before I set off an' I weighed less than I did three month ago. Being so used to carrying weight, I thought I'd have no trouble carrying me pack, but I'm really struggling.'

As we walked on, we puzzled over the Geordie's weight issue.

Having lost weight, presumably from all over his body, why would he have problems carrying a smaller amount of weight concentrated in a small area, namely his back, when we would have expected it to be the other way round? No doubt when the Department of Health hear of this, they will want to appoint a research group to investigate and report, in no less than ten years, at great expense (ours, of course) but before they do, I can give them a clue. Walking up and down mountains is bloody hard, however the weight is distributed.

Passing the dam at the end of the lake, the path reached a gate upon which there was a sign, reading:


Well, I admit the last one was my imagination, but why would anyone (in this case, presumably United Utilities) place such a sign on a gate leading into woodland where none of those dangers were present?

This path used to lead into the almost derelict community of Burnbanks but something has been happening in recent years.The decaying buildings are being replaced by new houses and there is an instructive sign at the other end of the development which reads:

REBIRTH OF MODEL VILLAGE The Manchester Corporation Act 1919 authorised the construc¬tion of water works at Haweswater. The construction of the dam was finally completed in 1940. The remoteness of the site, severe weather and unyielding rock tested stamina to the limit. The workforce could not be supplied locally so from the late 1920s hundreds of unemployed workers were recruited from Manchester and West Cumberland using grants from the Ministry of Labour. Labourers were the first to arrive digging foundations and constructing roads to transport building materials. In the first place the workers sought lodgings in scattered farmhouses but Manchester set up a model village close to the dam and provided sixty-six self contained bungalows of a sturdy cast iron construc-tion with electricity, hot and cold running water and modern kitchens and bathrooms which were the envy of many a local farmer. Community life flourished and Manchester provided a Mission, recreation hall, dispensary and shop and paid for a policeman, nurse and a shopkeeper as well as financing the expansion of Bampton School. In the 1960s and 70s, the population of Burnbanks began to dwindle and some of the houses were dismantled and re-erected elsewhere. Later when local government was reorganised and the Lake District National Park was established responsibility for Haweswater and Burnbanks passed out of Manchester's hands. Much of Burnbanks became hidden under self-seeded trees and shrubs. The uncertainty over its future was resolved when planning permission was given for the rebuilding of eighteen surviving bungalows and the creation of the new village green.

The new houses are mostly semi-detached but with one or two detached and it really is an attractive little development in a very pleasant woodland setting and is an area where red squirrels survive. We were fortunate to spot one scurrying along a drystone wall just before we reached Burnbanks. However, the place is so remote that most of the properties will serve as holiday homes.
Leaving Burnbanks through a wood, we entered open farmland and we were now out of the mountains of the Lake District into completely different countryside. This was limestone country; farmland of fields, pasture and rolling hills and this pleasant countryside stretched out ahead of us all the way to Shap. Although Tom might claim that I don't have much in common withWainwright other than a love of the Lake District, I do have to agree with the great man's sentiments when he said, farewells to Lakeland are always sad and what follows is an anti-climax. Anti-climactic it may have been, but there was still plenty to look forward to over the next eight days.

The absence of shops along the ¦way meant we had to carry an adequate supply of fluid. Of course, this added to the weight of our packs but I try to keep the weight down to a minimum by buying half-litre plastic bottles of water and sports (or energy) drinks. Not only are these relatively light, but also the half-litre bottles fit nicely in the side pockets of the backpack, so that it is not necessary to go rummaging through the main pack every time a drink is needed. I started drinking sports drinks a few years ago after being impressed with the marketing of the product. I picked
up a bottle in a supermarket and read the label Orange Body Fuel. Body fuel — I like that. Whoever came up with that earned his fee. Their advertising claimed — keeps top athletes going thirty-three per cent longer. I had to have some of that, even though I was supremely fit already. Not surprising really after all the football I had watched over the years. Anyway, what's ¦wrong with a little supplement to keep us in top condition?

'Those sports drinks don't "work,' I told Tom a few weeks later, 'I drank a bottle last week and I can't keep going thirty-three per cent longer.'

'Two things, Al,' he said, 'first, I don't think one bottle's enough. Second, they claim it keeps top athletes going thirty-three per cent longer and I don't think they were thinking of you when they came up with that catchphrase.'

Despite Tom's disparaging comments about my athletic prowess, I continue to buy the product because the bottles do fit snugly into the side pockets of my rucksack. And anyway, more recently I've noticed that they have dropped the 'keeps top athletes ...' crap from their advertising, so they must have had complaints from other top athletes!


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