I’ve never been on a Daunder before. I’ve read about them; I’ve seen the photos; but I’ve never actually been – so I was excited and honoured to receive the invitation email. This year, Messrs Lambert and Sloman had hired a minion to undertake the planning and administration. (I presume they’d hired him, because I can’t see how he’d have put up with the Daunderers’ whinging and complaints if he wasn’t receiving some sort of remuneration?)
The planning was executed to the highest standard. A series of emails detailed where we were to meet; a daily schedule; and a choice of pubs for Saturday night dinner. The route was described clearly and there was a table of distance and heights to be acheived ….. although I’d stopped reading after the “choice of pubs” bit, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the numbers.
For a backpacking trip in the English Lake District in April I knew that my standard TGO Challenge kit would suffice. I mean, that’s the whole point of the Daunder; to give the kit, legs and lungs a trial run a few weeks before leaving the West Coast of Scotland for the long trek East. I dithered for a while about which stove to take. I’ve always been a fan of simple gas stoves but have recently bought a Speedster Stove and was pondering cooking on meths for this trip. However, it just didn’t appear to be a reasonable balance of weight to convenience for a 4-5 day trip. I calculated that I’d need to take a 500ml (over 500g) bottle of meths – but a full gas canister would only weigh 370-ish grammes and has always got me all the way across Scotland for 12-13 days. I took the gas stove and will save the Speedster for overnight bivis.
The other bit of non-standard gear I considered – and took – was my Exped Down UL7 sleeping mat. It took up slightly more room in my pack than the Neoair but it ain’t half comfy. (I’ll probably revert to the Neoair on my next Challenge, though).
I took the train up to Penrith. This was a bit of a faff due to engineering works on the track nearest to home, but Virgin Trains sell a very nice Tilting Ale and I was soon in holiday mood.
From Penrith I caught the bus to Keswick then set off on the 2 mile walk to Braithwaite. Of course, I went the wrong way having convinced myself I could take a shortcut across the campsite. I have no idea why I thought this but was grateful when the site warden very helpfully pointed me in the right direction – and I walked all the way back to where I started.
At Braithwaite there was a strange pale green near-see-through tent in the middle of the site. Not finding anyone at home, but guessing that this was probably one of our tribe, I pitched nearby. I was soon joined by two young (4 or 5 year old) children on scooters. They were very keen to know why I didn’t have a hammer. It was difficult to know how to answer that question and they didn’t seem convinced by my statement that I didn’t need a hammer as I had very thin, sharp tent pegs. Their Mummy and Daddy had just put up their tent and these kids knew that I needed a hammer. They also wanted to know “Why is your tent so small?”. This was asked in a rather dismissive tone that, I admit, did irk me somewhat. Cheeky young tykes!
The rest of the Daunderers gathered over the next few hours and we were soon exchanging kit reviews and asking “Where are you starting from?” which – if you’ve never met an actual TGO Challenger in the flesh – is always a good opening gambit.
A trip to the pub [two pubs, actually] gave the opportunity to discuss the plan for the morning. There was talk of huge ascent but I hoped this was just the beer talking.
After a good night’s sleep (once the non-Daunderer rowdies had shut up and gone to sleep in the early hours of the morning) I awoke to drizzle which had developed into rain by the time I was packing up my tent. As experienced, hardened backpackers we shrugged off the miserable weather ….. whilst sitting in the cafe hoping it would pass.
At 10 o’clock, our Leader cracked his whip and we shuffled outside. There was some muttering about today’s planned route making a mountain out of a molehill, and how there was absolutely no need to go UP when ALONG would do nicely. I could have joined in the conversation, I suppose, but I was in sheep mode and couldn’t really be bothered looking at my map. Baaaaa!
We set off as a group of 14, walking on tracks and a bit of road. The drizzle dried up quite soon so the waterproofs came off. My GPS was playing its usual game of refusing to tell me where I was [I’m going to buy a new one] so I didn’t record a track and am not sure exactly where we went although we did stop for a sit down and a snack at Newlands Church. By now, the schism was tangible. We’d already lost two of our number to a tea-room and there was now clear dissent in the ranks. It was time to nail my colours to the mast and stand up for what I believe in. I said I’d join the group which was going to walk up the valley and camp early. Well, it seemed the right thing to do. Some principles need to be defended, come what may.
Thus, relieved of the burden of impending mountains we carried on our way with a spring in our step.
The valley walk was enjoyable but no walk in the park. There was a fair bit of UP and we had to go over a bealach near some craggy bits. (I know all of the technical language).
By late afternoon (well, OK, shortly after 2pm) we reached our intended camp. Or somewhere near there. Anyway, wherever it was, it was flat and there was plenty of room and some fast flowing drinking water nearby.
We put up our tents/shelters and did camping-type things – like having a cup-a-soup then going to sleep for hours. The wind was a wee bit gusty (OK, it was blowing a hooley) but Phil and I had discussed the best way to pitch a single-hooped tent in strong winds. We came to complete agreement then pitched our tents at 90 degrees to each other. One of us obviously wasn’t paying attention!
I was abruptedly woken from my snooze by some rowdy ruffians standing in the middle of our camp and loudly criticising our choice of site and the kite-like attributes of some of our tents. Apparently they’d been up a hill and they seemed to expect some sort of medal and a welcome committee. Yeah, whatever. I’d walked up a valley then camped in a wind tunnel so naaaahh!
The noisy macho types pushed on (or off, if you like) and I went back to sleep. Waking again at 7pm, the wind had dropped and I could hear people drinking whisky so I decided I’d better have my tea then join them. I was probably back in bed for 10pm ….. but these long hill days are so tiring. (To be continued).