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Will Renwick goes high and low around the Lake District town of Keswick


It was night, and a storm was raging when I arrived in the Lake District from London. The situation was reminiscent of the scene in the film Withnail & I in which the main characters arrive in Cumbria having “gone on holiday by mistake”.

Thankfully, the difference was that I had a warm hostel for the night rather than a cold, leaky farm house – and I wasn’t suffering from a hangover.

The next morning the storm had vanished and Keswick was serene; a gentle layer of snow just starting to settle. The 931-metre top of Skiddaw – my target for the day – was hidden above the clouds, but the weather didn’t appear menacing and the forecast looked good.

I began my ascent.

By the time I had rounded behind the mountain via a long, crag-topped valley, I had hit the cloudline and arrived on a mist and snow covered plateau. I clambered for shelter around a spooky youth hostel that was shut for the winter and lonely in the moorland.

It was one of those ‘touch and go’ moments when I reached the peak of Skiddaw. This is in the literal sense, meaning that I touched the trig point and left the top as quickly and as safely possible – it was near blizzard conditions.

I continued back down through the white, and soon the clouds cleared to show the rest of the Lake District. The evening sun was angled against the distant peaks of Borrowdale and Derwent fells to accentuate their sharp edges, and the lake with its scattered islands was calm below.

The next morning, my Wainwright-ticking hostel roommates scattered off throughout the park to tackle Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and other challenges. I planned to take it easy, staying low and local on a walk around the edge of Derwentwater.

I started with a gentle stroll through the woodland, enjoying the lake appearing in glimpses through the trees, but then I saw Cat Bells – a sort-of pocket-sized, snow-topped mountain ridge.

“If I’m here to enjoy the lake I might as well get a good view of it,” I thought.

With that easily scrambled, I rejoined the lake and was soon at the pontoon where I had planned to catch the boat back to Keswick. However, yet again the white mountains drew me in. I was then on my way back uphill, deciding to follow Walla Crag and the fell tops to town via the pretty Ashness packhorse bridge (used recently by the British tourist board to advertise walking holidays… in Wales).

Then I was stood above the town as the snow on the surrounding slopes turned a late evening shade of blue and streetlamps invited me down to cosy pubs to close the weekend. I had no regrets that my lakeside amble turned out to be more of a hill-bagging ramble.