Our final hiking trip of the year was a whirlwind weekend full of long hikes, scrambles and, you guessed it, potatoes! From a few brave souls tackling striding edge, a delightful Christmas dinner and an angry pub owner we had a brilliant final trip to sum up the year in arguably one of the best national parks the UK has to offer…the Lake District!
Our weekend started with the long 4-and-a-half-hour journey from the depths of Churchill college and my first experience driving a very large automatic car, which had the privilege of listening to my extensive music playlist.
Our bunkhouse for this trip was one of the more luxurious abodes we have resided in, accommodating an ensuite bathroom for every shared room and possessing enough seats for everyone to sit down in the living area! However, the absolute climax of the weekend focused on the flavourful and exuberant Christmas dinner on the Saturday evening, prepared and cooked by our designated head chef, James Walsh (Walshie) sporting turkey, gravy, Yorkshire puddings, sprouts and enough potatoes to last until Lent term!
It is at this point I pose a critical question to the reader: are sprouts essential in a Christmas dinner? This very topic proved a contentious conversation, and I will leave you to guess where I stand on this particular issue.
My final memorable note of the weekend was the incapability of our local pub to close at their agreed and advertised closing times as it seems not all are friendly to rain-soaked and wind-beaten students.
On this year’s Bridgemas trip there was wet and windy walking, late-night games in the bunkhouse, and smiling for scores of cameras.
Joining the sea of backpacks and sleeping bags, I chatted to other people in Mountain Warehouse coats as we waited for the cars to arrive. A tall and quiet man who we deduced was Oliver drove us to Wetherby Services, where we stopped for food, before co-driver Darius took the wheel for the second half of the journey.
We arrived at what the Satnav was telling us was our bunkhouse, stepping out into the darkness of the countryside. We excitedly burst into two neighbouring bunkhouses (one with its own resident puppy, which slightly slowed our apologetic and otherwise hasty departure) before finding the right bunkhouse.
The bunkhouse was warm and spacious, and we enjoyed a cosy evening of planning the next day’s hiking routes.
The next morning everybody woke at 7am. Routes were finalised, external bladders filled, and each sub-group set off on their walk. Some groups attempted a technical scramble, one group a café jaunt, and the majority undertook a hike of about 10 miles.
From our vantage point on the rocky hillside path, we were treated to gorgeous vistas of Glenridding village and the Ullswater lake beyond, one of the longest and deepest in England. Shrouded in a cloak of fog, the rolling hills which hugged the lake looked mysterious and imposing. The paths were waterlogged, painting our walking boots in mud as we were sucked into bogland. We slipped and giggled about.
We reached Grisedale Tarn (a tarn is a mountain lake), which was shrouded in mist. The wind was relentless, its powerful gusts sending us to our knees. We had passed a group of middle-aged men on the steep ascent towards the lake who said they had had to turn back, but we had fancied ourselves young and fit enough to continue. We were certainly humbled. It was a hard climb but a very rewarding one.
Once we were back at the bunkhouse having flailed through the dry room in search of a gap on the radiator, the Bridgemas festivities could begin. The cooks did a sterling job, fuelling 28 hungry hillwalkers with the most delicious and plentiful Christmas dinner. The paparazzi (in the form of Joonas and Oliver) were there to capture every moment, which I think was a neat technique to avoid cooking/cleaning duties. After dinner, some hardy souls ventured back into the rain in search of a pub whilst others (including myself) played Cheat into the small hours with a certain someone who profoundly disagreed with the concept of cheating.
The next morning, everyone on the top bunks was blinded by a terrible brightness when the overhead lights were abruptly switched on at 7am. By 9am, we’d all left the bunkhouse, including a very well-rested hillwalker who had somehow managed to sleep through the morning preparations.
My group’s hike was a steep one – less than half the distance of Saturday’s walk but at the same elevation of over 650 feet. Our route took us past the stunning Red Tarn, bathed in a warm glow as the sun’s rays pierced through the low cloud, and beyond the formidable Striding Edge of Helvellyn. The next leg of our hike was the most stunning. The view of the valley below stretched beyond us like an azure-blue ribbon, and we took numerous group photos courtesy of our personal photographers.
Our walk culminated in a trip to a tea room in Glenridding, where we shared chocolate desserts before returning to our bunkhouse. After cleaning ourselves and the bunkhouse, we gathered together for one final group photo. The fresh air of the Lakes must have done us all good because everyone was glowing.
Heading back to Cambridge with so many fantastic memories, a big smile on my face and soggy clothes in my rucksack, I thought what a brilliant final trip of term this has been.
On Friday evening, I was in the last car to leave for Helvellyn, the third highest peak in the Lake District with spectacular views and famous scrambles up its two ridges. Excited and apprehensive, with an ominous weather forecast predicting stormy weather, we headed North with driver Sam W. After an initial wrong turn leading us to a dead end, we got up to speed with a banging Spotify playlist. We took a service station KFC refuel and enjoyed an unexpected encounter with another group whose car we had caught up with. With satnav (Sam-nav?) functioning as intended, we made it to the Lakes with minimal fuss and began a bumpy ride uphill to the Bury Jubilee Outdoors Pursuits Centre, our bunkhouse for the weekend. Discombobulated by both the potholes and Sam’s choice of tunes – Spongebob Squarewave, we made it to the right bunkhouse and settled in.
That evening and night were overshadowed by a gloomy weather report, with an expectation of strong gusts of wind up to 60mph at the peaks, heavy persistent rain, and wind chill well below zero. Groups prepared for an early start and a wet day out hiking.
Saturday morning was grey and drizzling. Eager to do a longer walk but uneasy at the thought of being blown off Striding Edge, I ended up plotting a path up Grisedale Tarn via Grisedale beck, a seemingly more sheltered route via the valley, South of Helvellyn.
First heading south-east, we enjoyed a sheltered but muddy trek down the side of the mountain until eventually reaching the beck at the bottom of the valley. Following Grisedale beck, we climbed slowly but steadily. Every bit of ascent came with stronger winds and heavier rain, and by the time we reached Grisedale Tarn the visibility had vanished, and we were struggling to remain steady in the wind. Rather than doing the loop around the tarn as planned, we settled for a wet selfie at the waterfront instead before descending back down the valley. After stopping for a quick, cold lunch, the walk became easier with the wind behind our backs, and we had time to appreciate the quiet views in the valley as we returned to the bunkhouse.
By the time we arrived, chef James and sous-chef Jamie were busy preparing a Christmas meal for the group. I joined the potato and parsnip station with a few others, and soon tray after tray of boiled and roast potatoes were being filled. Three stuffed turkeys were removed from the oven ready to be served, with vegan wellingtons provided for the food-conscious. To accompany this, we had roast parsnips and brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets (of the pig and the vegetarian kind) and a generous portion of gravy. We enjoyed a fantastic Christmas dinner catching up on each other’s adventures of the day.
The wholesome meal and general exhaustion from the hike made for a good night's sleep. Sunday morning came, with a hint of excitement in the air. The weather had cleared and the MWIS forecast promised cloudy but rain-free skies. I put on my still-soggy boots, packed my camera and joined a route heading up towards Helvellyn via Red tarn.
The ascent was good fun, a little windy but nothing compared to the previous day, and we made fast progress. On reaching Red Tarn, our route leader Michael earnt the nickname Poseidon after succeeding in a daring rescue attempt to fetch a fellow walker’s water bottle that had fallen from her bag and was rapidly heading down the beck, as well as for his remarkable beard. Motivated and equipped with a fresh pair of dry socks, Michael and the rest of us headed up towards Striding Edge. With no intention of doing scrambling, myself and fellow hiker-photographer Oliver made good use of our cameras, enjoying the spectacular views down into the valley as we descended towards Hole-in-the-wall. The low sun managed to shine through the cloud cover, revealing a beautifully-lit landscape in every direction. There were great views down to Ullswater, with Helvellyn covered in cloud and mist.
After a very windy lunch break at Birkhouse Moor our group headed down to Glenridding and ended the hike at the Glenridding Hotel with some desserts and a gigantic portion of fish & chips. It was soon time to return to the bunkhouse for a final clean-up, as we packed our bags and set off for the long drive back to Cambridge.
Helvellyn, see you next time!
The final trip of 2022 crept up on us unawares, with Dartmoor seemingly barely in the rear view mirror before once again it was time for me to brave the Friday rush hour to collect my trusty 9 seater (for the third time this term!) and putter on over to Churchill for a 1800 departure, destination: Helvellyn. An uneventful journey was punctuated only by the standard stop at Wetherby services. The tunes on the way up were once again impeccable with my Finnish copilot managing the playlist. That was until the final 5 minutes when, as Ullswater rolled by and we turned right up the rough track to the bunkhouse, I assumed control and the unmistakably frenetic sounds of the now traditional* Spongebob Squarewave track woke the more soporific passengers of the car.
The bunkhouse was clean, spacious, and warm, and with the obligatory intro talk conducted by safety officers Grace and Thom done, everyone drifted upstairs. Save, that was, for the committee subset who - perhaps worryingly - seem to be getting in the habit of staying up far too late.
Saturday dawned misty and drizzly, but undaunted everyone eventually set out into the lakeland landscape - even the unnamed individual who was discovered still in sleeping bag past 9am! Some groups headed high to brave the forecast gusty winds up on the tops, while others - mine included - opted to stay low in the valleys.
All groups returned without incident, and the kitchen soon became a hive of activity as Team Xmas Dinner begun preparations. After a marathon and highly coordinated (and incredibly low stress?) few hours, no less than three gigantic turkeys (and suitably vegetarian alternative) emerged, along with plenty of accoutrements - sprouts, roasties, and a huge jug of gravy. To a well deserved round of applause, we all tucked in.
The evening was documented throughly by the dual in-house photographers and passed in a very pleasant haze of fire and wine induced warmth, save for a very heated discussion around the rules of Cheat**, and the bunkhouse fell silent by 0030.
Sunday proved slightly better weather-wise, and as such I (and some other committee members) made the most of it by staying inside and dozing on the sofa, the term's now four trips and lost sleep finally catching up with us. Leftovers were carved, a Going Postal audiobook was idly listened to, and I took the opportunity to continue work on the club's new website. Eventually we managed to drag ourselves out for a late lunch at the local tearoom, before all too soon it was time to return to the Bunkhouse, clean up, and squeeze in a group photo before cars gradually filled and left back for the flatlands of Cambridgeshire. A festive and relaxed end to a very successful first term of hillwalking.
*I mean, I'm the one making it traditional...
**I'm still salty about this Oliver
Trip List: Chris K, Liliia A, Ilia M, Chloe K, Natalie F, Thomas S, Lauren M, Morgan H, Michael A, Isabella M, James W, Grace S, Jamie B, Thomas R, Isabelle G, Oliver N, Darius K, Asher H, Chloe C, Saffron C, Sam W, Morgan H, Nick N, Joonas M, Jiannan S, Linying S, Nikhil G, Qin-Qin L