Forty One Years, One Walk

by frankbeswick

Doing the same walk over a period of years brings a sequence of memories

Stickle Tarn in Langdale,Cumbria,is a favourite walk of ours. I first did it at the age of twenty three on a cold and clear day in January 1974, when the sky was ice blue and the ice formed a thin and seductive veneer over the tarn, a Northern English word for a glacial lake formed in a corry [Cwm] at the head of what was once the path of a glacier. Throughout the years we have oft done this walk, sometimes as a couple, more times with our children. In this article I write about two differing experiences spread over forty one years. It is not just walking about which I write, but the whole human experience. You will discover why I remember that lovely walk in 1976.

Picture of Stickle Beck courtesy of Drewrawcliff

Summer 1976

August 2017 and we had finished our city break in Lisbon when Maureen wanted to go to Stickle Tarn. Well, we had planned to go on the day after we had returned from our holiday, but why was she so keen on doing a walk that we had done plenty of times before? The answer is that in August 1976 we went on our first holiday together, and Stickle Tarn was the first mountain walk that we did as  a couple. She was nineteen and I twenty six.  So let's go back in time to the summer of 1976.

We had been staying at the Achille Ratti climbing club, a Catholic organization, which I had joined a couple of years earlier, as I had been less than impressed with the behaviour of some of my club mates on climbing trips; and I wanted to take my girlfriend to a civilized place. The summer had been hot and dry, but the weather had begun to break and we were getting occasional showers, but the day was hot and clear, so we ascended the fifteen hundred feet or so to the tarn. 

The climb consists of a walk interspersed by occasional scrambles and a river crossing on large, well placed stepping stones.Soon we came to the first waterfall, where people were sitting to take picnics, but we moved upwards on the west side of the beck [stream.] The second waterfall, a much larger one, hove into view, and above that we did our first river crossing to reach the east side, where we continued walking upwards, scrambling over rocks before we took the second crossing on the large boulders, which were dry because the summer had been hot and water levels were low, but we were young and nimble on the rocks and confident.

The route is steep at this point and towers over you but not dauntingly, as the steepest bit is not long, but there is a section where you scramble up rocks. Then the climb evens out over land that is boggy in Winter, but then was dry as a bone. We came to the lip of the tarn and looked over the ever-chilly water, whose surface can be warm, but which has cold and dangerous depths.We rested and took in the view of the towering might of Pavey Ark behind the tarn. Then we picknicked and descended the way we came, for this is not a circular route. 

That night we dined in the newly opened Stickle Barn restaurant, which was  crowded because upstairs the elite of British mountaineering were meeting. She had scampi, I had steak. Then we walked back to the hostel through the warm night. Why is this so special in her mind? It was at the end of that holiday that I asked her to marry me and she accepted. 

We have revisited the walk many a time, always at her behest, and we have known it in many moods.There have been icy days and watery days, and sometime the sun has blazed. Once we walked up to the narrow summit of Pavey Ark. Another time Andrew raced all the way round the tarn just for the love of cross country running.  

The picture below is taken from the rocky end just below Pavey Ark.You can see the narrow lip of the tarn at the rear of the picture. 

Stickle Tarn

Stickle Tarn
Stickle Tarn

August 2017

Forty one years later, and we were back. This time we were not alone, as my second son, Peter, had come with us, without his wife, who could not get the time off work. He is currently training for a triathlon, so this shows you his fitness. I noticed that quietly and respectfully he seemed to be keeping a watchful eye on his not so young parents, and I was to be grateful for his help, but more of that later.

The weather was wet with the soft English rain a-falling at times. At the start we saw some young people leaning to rock climb at the first waterfall; no one was picknicking. I had taken the precaution of bringing with me my walking  staff, a stout pole of sturdy Irish hazel,for I have been having trouble with both knees recently and so I wanted support. It's a great help,allowing  me extra leverage as I ascend steep bits. There is a thong at the top through which I can place my hand while scrambling.  

All went well on the ascent, though the ground was slippery in places, especially the rocks, so we made the river crossing carefully, though without slips, moving as quickly as possible over the large boulders. I have noted, though,  that my speed has somewhat declined, though I was not breathless. But we reached the lip of the tarn and overlooked the long-familiar lake, where we dined on tuna sandwiches, chocolate bars, crisps and apple juice.  We began the descent. It went well until about two thirds of the way down.  

Then I fell! What happened was that I was lingering behind the others when I got my foot stuck between two rocks and I lost my balance. The staff saved me from a worse fall, but I landed with one foot stuck in the rocks and my right leg twisted under my body. Moving was going to be difficult without  causing further damage, so I called for help and Peter came racing back to help out.We carried on, but it was clear that I had hurt my leg, for my right thigh was paining me, so I told the others to get ahead out of the rain and made my own pace. We only had about three hundred feet of descent to go. Eventually, as I was nearing the second from the last gate Maureen came back to find out if there was anything wrong. I told her to hurry on to the Stickle Barn, as we were nearly there anyway.

As in 1976 we dined at the Stickle Barn, now run by the National Trust, where she had pork and I grilled salmon. Forty one years on, same  walk, same restaurant. An enjoyable meal, but I was glad that she could drive us home. My right leg took a couple of days to heal, but now is fine. 













Updated: 10/17/2017, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 09/02/2017

This was the first time that I have ever taken my staff up to Stickle Tarn, as I don't usually take it in walks that involve a scramble, but never has it been as useful as it was that day.

frankbeswick on 09/02/2017

Quite accidental, as neither of us had noticed the swap over. As life has moved on I have become much more of fish eater than I was then.

You are right that I was fortunate to avoid a break, but to some extent I was saved by the staff. As I stumbled forward, downhill, I thrust my staff onto the ground and it propelled me backwards , so I landed on my back, which meant that my immobile left foot was not twisted, thankfully, for in other circumstances that kind of fall would have meant an ankle fracture.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/02/2017

frankbeswick, It's fortunate that you didn't break anything what with your left foot immobilized and your right leg twisted under your body. In another direction, is it accidental or deliberate that you and your wife reversed your main dishes since in 1976 Maureen had seafood and you meat and in 2017 she had meat and you seafood?

frankbeswick on 09/01/2017

Thanks.We are going to Anglesey next weekend, but it is not a mountainous area, so we will probably do some coastal walking.

dustytoes on 09/01/2017

This is a nice story and it's wonderful to be able to share a special place with your children. Sorry to hear about your fall. I hope you will be able to hike again soon.

frankbeswick on 09/01/2017

Thanks. A minor hamstring strain at my age will take three or four weeks to heal.It will not prevent me from doing garden work, but it means that I will be impeded in tougher kinds of walking, like mountains.

blackspanielgallery on 08/31/2017

fascinating article, but wish you had not been hurt. Hope it is not serious.

frankbeswick on 08/31/2017

Why did I speak too soon and say that my leg was fine? It was when I was resting, but as the stiffness went away the residual soreness told me that the fall had damaged a hamstring. I can do the allotment, but no new hill walks or therefore articles thereon for several weeks.

frankbeswick on 08/31/2017

It is worth noting that Peter, who is several inches taller than I am told me to take his place in the front passenger seat to allow me to stretch my leg.

kimbesa on 08/31/2017

What a lovely place of wild beauty, and great memories, too!

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