A few weeks ago, I visited Heather and Alan Rhodes of Pacerpole who live near Windermere in the Lake District, one of the most popular places for hiking in the United Kingdom. It was my first visit to the Lakes and they were eager to take me hill walking so I could experience the lovely countryside and views there.
I’d arrived at the start of several days of great weather, but on a bank holiday (three-day weekend) and the end of term break when the Lake District fills up with children and their parents for a week long vacation. Determined to find a less crowded but still spectacular walk, Heather and I poured over Harvey’s BMC Map of the Lake District and several volumes of Wainwright’s Pictoral Walking Guides looking for a loop hike that didn’t require a lot of driving and where we could be dropped off and picked up later in the day by Heather’s husband Alan. The Kentmere Horseshoe (also known as the Kentmere 7 and the Kentmere Round) seemed like a perfect 12 mile walk with plenty of big hills and excellent views.
Having just backpacked aross Scotland in the TGO Challenge, I had low expectations that hiking in the Lake District would exceed the splendor of my latest ramble. I didn’t know anything about the Lake District before I arrived or about its history, but now I can’t wait to go back!
Once on the hills, I was instantly captivated by the color of the land, the hills, ridges, stone walls and the lakes. With gently rounded mountains and high level moorland, the views are vast and unobstructed by trees, but can become disorienting when the mist comes down and landmarks are hidden from sight.
In addition to walking the seven hills that make up the Kentmere Horseshoe, Heather wanted to show me Harter Fell, Haweswater Reservoir, and another peak called High Street which is named after the old Roman road that runs over it.
Though not a technically difficult hike, I had problems keeping up with Heather who is a very strong and fast hillwalker. Not that this should come as a surprise – she is the inventor of Pacerpoles - a trained physiotherapist and their most experienced user.
I’ve been using Pacerpoles for over two years and they helped eliminate the years of ITB (illiotibial-band syndrome) that I used to suffer from when I hiked. I think Heather is a genius and so do a lot of other long distance hikers and mountaineers who swear by Pacerpoles.
Once we’d climbed up to the hill called Kentmere Pike, the remaining peaks on the eastern side of the horseshoe form a nearly uniform plateau interspersed with the inevitable boggy bits that one encounters on moorland. Once past The Knowe, we walked a ways down Harter Fell to get a view of Hawaeswater Reservoir before turning to take in two tarns called Small Water and Blea Water.
Backtracking to the ridge that joins the eastern and western ridges of the horseshoe, we stopped for lunch in the sunshine amongst the crags of Nan Bield Pass. Heather had packed us a hearty lunch of free range eggs (raised in their backyard) on spelt bread with fruit cake and apples which we tucked into as she gave me pointers on my pacerpole technique and form.
I’d been placing the tips of my pacerpoles a bit too forward on the climbs, effectively pushing myself backward as I ascended, a very common problem that is also experienced by regular trekking pole users who try to climb hills hunched over their poles. Pacerpoles unique angled handgrips make it possible to break this bad habbit while standing up straight with your shoulders back, making it easier to hike uphill with far less fatigue.
After lunch we climbed up Mardale Ill Bell and walked over to the trig point at High Street. By then, more people had arrived to walk the peaks, but we had chosen well because the walk wasn’t as crowded as other popular walks probably were on the sunny holiday weekend.
Heading south by a large stone cairn named Thornwaite Beacon, we headed toward the most dramatic peaks on the route, three distinct hills overlooking the Kentmere Reservoir named Frostwick, Ill Bell and the Yoke. At 700+ meters, these hills weren’t as high or as difficult to climb as the ones I’d been on in Scotland, but their arrangement along such a beautiful ridge was no less spectacular.
Descending from the Yoke, we headed back east via the Garburn Pass down to a church that Alan, an architect, had restored years before. This had been a lovely walk, my first in the Lake District, and I will alwys have fond memories of walking with Heather on that beautiful sunny day.