Borrowdale, Grey Knotts, Otto and Kathy

Y’know, sometimes you meet someone that you instinctively like!

A couple of years ago this month, the Pilgrim was walking the Camino in Spain and I’d arranged to meet her at the end point in Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela – 2016 – First Meeting

I’d checked into an excellent hotel and walked into the city where we met at the Cathedral which is the end point for all the ‘Camino Peregrinos’. After a brief visit we headed for a bar where we could catch up and during that time various peregrinos would wave or come and sit with us.

One particular pilgrim wearing a baseball cap and a genial smile was Otto. Otto’s from Canada and as we sat together, beer in hand, I asked, “So what’s your story?”. He feigned disappointment and replied, “Hey, that’s my line”

It turned out that he’d lost his wife just over two years previously and as we told each other of the joy of our respective marriages through smiles and occasional tears we began a friendship which would be maintained through Facebook over the coming years.

Earlier this year Otto had agreed to walk the Coast to Coast here in Britain with a delightful American from Missouri and they’d start in early September. Kathy is the American in question and turns out to be an inspirational lady whom, I hope, doesn’t mind me mentioning that she’s 76 years old and doing one of the most testing walks in England. She also turns out to have a pin-sharp mind and a great sense of humour but more of the pair of them later. Since then the Pilgrim has been in touch with Otto for itinerary and dates with a view to meeting them for a beer or maybe to walk a sector or two.

So, Kathy and Otto set off from St Bees Head a couple of days earlier and were walking from Black Sail Hostel tomorrow morning.

We’re heading towards Borrowdale with a feeling of excitement. We’re staying in the Youth Hostel that they’re booked into tomorrow night. It turns out to be a nice timber building nestled in the valley on the banks of Hause Gill near Stonethwaite. It’s certainly better than I’d anticipated with our own room, TV Lounge, bar and very pleasant eating area with hot food at night and full English, should you require it, in the morning. You can go in the dormitories if you prefer but we go for the room.

There’s the usual slightly chaotic activity as walkers variously, get breakfast, check boots, pack or re-pack rucksacks and don wet weather gear ready to leave. We’re quietly excited at the thought of meeting Otto and Kathy who’re probably already on the track and tackling what a local resident referred to last night as the ‘toughest stretch from Black Sail Hostel to Grey Knotts and over to our comfortable little hostel here in Borrowdale. We do have a concern though, if they come over the top of Grey Knotts and we walk the expected route along the dismantled slate mine tramway, then we’ll pass like ships in the night. We will see them towards the end of the day of course because we know they’ll end up here but it would still be disappointing not to surprise them on a mountainside.

We walk out of the hostel and follow the beautiful river. It’s slightly swollen with the rain but still running clear and the noise of the water increases our excitement. We’ve only walked a couple of hundred metres when we become concerned that we may not be on the right track as it disappears onto a raft of large stones overhanging the stream and there are a couple of stumbles before we get to a point that resembles a track; however, after a little perseverance we resume normal progress and the track becomes a maintained path that’s a little easier to negotiate although some of the rocks that have been used to infill the muddy way are loose and prone to rolling in the event of a careless step.

There are ferns and bracken in equal measure with the odd bramble thrown in to maintain a culinary interest and whilst the path is decidedly ‘up’ it’s not really challenging until we’re through Seatoller then there’s a short burst that raises the heart rate and enables unhindered views of the beautiful dale below. The track then follows the contour and we increase our step rate as it gets easier.

As we pass through the slate mine we see another youth hostel on our right followed by an unusual mix of slate-preparation-factory, shop and cafe.

We stop for coffee and a chat to Jason who helps us with the routes that they could take and eventually home’s in on the likely one that surprisingly doesn’t go to the summit but is still a good climb. We analyse his findings on an OS map on my phone and cross our fingers as we look at the contours on the other side and realise Kathy and Otto have an even more serious ascent themselves.

This is Jason at the Slate Mine Cafe at Honister – extremely helpful and accommodating – thanks Jason.                      Web Cam Here:

We take our leave and thank Jason who has willing shared his thoughts with us and see that the people are not just queuing for food or drink, quite a number are proffering their maps and pointing at various dales and tracks. This man is more than a cafe manager, he’s a public servant too. Thanks Jason, you’re a star and your cafe and facilities are an oasis.

Before leaving we call into the toilets and are impressed with a sign that states:-
“These Toilets are for Anyone to use”

…now that’s impressive and much more generous than the pathetic cafes and bars that put up signs “For Customer Use Only”, I think they’d get more custom if they took the former approach, it certainly seems so here.

Almost immediately after the slate-mine car park the steps begin, they raise the heart-rate yet again but the physical challenge is more than mitigated by the view that gets progressively better as we ascend. There are a couple of ladies on their way down and we ask them if they were at Black Sail Hostel last night and did they see Kathy and Otto?

“Yes we did – great people”, was the reply and they added that they were about 40 minutes behind.

We don’t quite throw our arms in the air but we are extremely relieved that we chose the right track. The sense of excitement returns and the Pilgrim says it’s like Christmas when you’re getting a very special present.

The steps take us up another 250 metres (800 feet) or so in a little less linear distance and we turn left to walk around the summit of Grey Knotts when we see a couple of blue anoraks making their way along the track some quarter of a mile away. It is still too early to be definitive but we do know they’re in blue.

The wind is quite strong up here and the clouds are shrouding some of the peaks so their timing is excellent, another hour and we could all have been walking in thick cloud that’s disorienting and grim. It could also have meant we’d walk past each other only a few metres apart and not know.

Otto sees me first but his face lights up and he grins from ear to ear when he spots Cecilia, it’s not quite slow motion running into each other’s arms but I think we’re all delighted and Kathy joins in too. It’s a great moment and one that will stay with us for life.

Although it was planned, there was significant chance that we would miss each other by virtue of detour or weather or both – but we didn’t…to say we’re pleased is an understatement and the walk down is done with a spring in the step and seems to be seconds rather than over an hour and even the start of the cloud and rain doesn’t dampen our spirit.

Thanks, Kathy and Otto, you’re a pair of stars and coming with us for the trip to Keswick is well beyond the call of duty after the walk you just did. We’ll join you on other sectors of the walk as you enter Yorkshire.

Our two days in Santiago de Compostela can be found by clicking the picture below (it’s worth a read and the photos are nice too):

Enjoy the snaps and take care – G..x

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This is life after an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm open repair. Don’t be afraid of the operation, it set me free. Please be encouraged and inspired to walk, it’s liberating.
You can read about it here:


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