Three Czechs on the roof of England
A wet and windy introduction to the hills on Scafell Pike
The word was that Lucie’s brother Vlastik (aka Vash) and two of his friends were planning a visit to the Lake District with their sights firmly set on Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. At this I had mixed emotions. While I was extremely excited that maybe three more souls would find themselves falling under the spell of our hills the weather looked lousy and I feared that three beginners may find themselves hopelessly lost on the balding pate of the Pike.
I had two choices; I could let them get on with it and say a little prayer for their safe deliverance or I could offer my services as a guide, a not altogether altruistic measure but one which would enable me to sleep easy with the knowledge that they were safe and sound at the end of the day. As it happens, sleep easy I didn’t but the tale of a tent filled with water is probably better left for another time.
So there we were, Tomas, Zdenek, Vash and I greeting a filthy morning in Great Langdale with at least one of our number wondering what to do for the best. My original plan had been to beast the boys on an ascent from our base; however, after some sober reflection it seemed a foolhardy plan, especially after inspecting Tomasz and Zdenek’s footwear which, while perfectly suited to skateboarding was hardly up to the task of a trek across eleven miles of rough and sometimes boggy terrain. Despite the deluge the boys were not so much still game as champing at the bit to bag the big one. So as not to disappoint I had a rethink. Now, while Lucie had warned Vash about the perils of ‘Old Rosie’ cider at the ODG she had neglected to mention the peculiar delights of the Hardknott Pass so after asking if his car liked steep, twisty roads and receiving an affirmative response we set the new plan in motion, albeit slow motion!
After a protracted journey over both the Wrynose and Hardknott passes we arrived in Wasdale where the rain had (temporarily) come to a halt and though mountains were beheaded there were occasional glimpses of tantalising light through breaks in the cloud illuminating small sections of fell in shows of extravagant colouration. As is the (often misguided) optimism of the compulsive fell walker I hadn’t given up hope of a view, however fleeting from the summit. I’ll tell you now, it didn’t happen! Before setting off I gave my companions a short briefing and asked if they had any last requests; none were forthcoming apart from Vash’s plaintive plea that once the day was done could we perhaps find a different way back to Langdale!
With the formalities out of the way, off we trudged with trainers splashing through puddles and jeans wicking water up to who knows where. Our first obstacle which at first acquaintance seemed insuperable was a raging Lingmell Gill, in spate and threatening to scupper our plans. However, an exploratory mission up stream provided a solution and we crossed dry shod. I say we, but…
And then onto Brown Tongue and into the cloud where we said goodbye to the view down Wasdale and hello to a world of opaque, vaporous grot. Still, you don’t miss what you’ve never had so as the boys were completely oblivious to the looming presence of Scafell Crag and the grandeur of Hollow Stones I didn’t see anything to gain from mentioning them and instead just encouraged the boys onwards and upwards knowing that the crux of our route would soon be underfoot.
The Mickledore screes hold two very vivid memories for me, the first involves my inaugural ascent of the pike and twenty minutes spent scrabbling around for purchase, convinced that my demise was imminent. The second is of a young lad cart wheeling down them like a rag doll much to the horror of his father who had declined the use of our rope after we had seen them in difficulties minutes earlier. So, the next bit had the potential to be ‘interesting’! As it turned out we had no problems at all, on the contrary in fact with the boys really enjoying the short gully scramble up to the ridge. I must confess that as I didn’t remember the gully from my last visit I had a nagging concern that we might have found Lord’s Rake by accident, though of course I kept my thoughts to myself keeping in mind that if we found our way up Scafell they would be none the wiser!
The ascent was all but in the bag and before long the trig point and huge cairn appeared through the clag. Handshakes and pats on the back were exchanged and the atmosphere was one of celebration, a great moment indeed leaving me feeling justly proud of such a hardy bunch. Then, right on cue the heavens opened spectacularly and that’s not all. No, there was beer too and knowing the Czechs as I do I shouldn’t have been surprised though sadly they’d hauled up some Belgian muck, not the delicious nectar from their homeland and as such I chose not to imbibe. On England’s stony roof we must have looked a right motley crew with our assorted hill-wear, lager and soggy cigarettes but care not did we for it was mission accomplished; I got some navigation practise and the lads fulfilled their ambition. All that remained was to follow the cairns to the Lingmell Col and back down where once below the clag we were treated to a fantastic view down Wasdale with the light doing all manner of marvellous things.
At the car we changed into some dry clothes and talked of our options for the return to Langdale and at the suggestion of the coast road Vash’s ears pricked up. Being an island race we brits take the sea for granted but to the landlocked Czechs it is something really special so a trip to Saltcoats (where, incidentally, the weather was in stark contrast to that in Wasdale) proved to be a real treat for all present, me included as I was quite taken with the view of Black Combe which I endeavoured to capture in all its sombre glory.
What next? Well, they’d been up the pike, seen the sea and to my mind there could only be one suitable way to end our trip, and it wasn’t sitting in a bath masquerading as a portable abode swatting midges, oh no, that wouldn’t do at all. The only fitting finale would be a night in ODG where big steaks were washed down with pints of Budvar for them, Old Rosie for me and a large side order of banter with anyone who would listen. Apart from the inclement weather it had been a perfect day and I hope my friends return to Lakeland one day to put the hills beneath their trainers and hopefully drink in the views that were so sorely missed on this occasion. Well done lads, see you next time.