If you’d asked me when I was 21 where I thought I might be spending my 30th birthday, clinging to a rock on the side of a mountain while gale force winds threatened to blow me away and ice cold needles of rain stung my face, probably wouldn’t have been my first guess. But in the last few years, I’ve discovered the thrill of being outdoors, getting sweaty and muddy, and have learnt to love that feeling of tired, aching muscles, and complete exhilaration.
Still, when I suggested to James that we go for a weekend away in the Lake District to celebrate my milestone birthday I did have to veto the suggestion that we opt for our usual canvas tent accommodation. February in the Lakes can be rather wet and cold (as I soon discovered), and the Daffodil Hotel and Spa in Grasmere looked like the perfect dog-friendly option.
We headed up ridiculously early on the Saturday morning to miss the traffic and were actually sitting down to breakfast in the hotel restaurant at around 8am, having whizzed up the motorway while it was still dark.
Refuelled with a full English cooked breakfast, we headed just up the road to tackle our first fell of the trip, Helm Crag. At 405m it’s one of the smaller peaks in the Lake District, but with the remnants of Storm Doris blowing through it still made for a challenging couple of hours of hiking.
The summit is pretty cool in that it has two rocks at the top known as the Lion and the Lamb, as they are supposed to resemble these creatures. I will admit whilst I was struggling to remain upright it was hard to examine them too closely, so I will have to take the guidebook’s word for it!
We headed back down and made our way to the Sticklebarn in Langdale for a hot chocolate and chips to warm up, and a game of Scrabble – I love a pub that has board games J
At 3pm we were able to check into our room at the Daffodil Hotel and Spa, which yes, allows dogs to sleep in the room with you – we did make sure to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door when going down to breakfast however so as not to frighten any unsuspecting cleaner coming to service the room! I’d also recommend taking some ‘dog towels’ to dry off your pup when coming in from a hike, as the hotel probably wouldn’t take too kindly to using their white, fluffy pristine ones. The room was lovely, with a huge bed, TV, tea and coffee making facilities, and massive bath and separate shower – which came in pretty handy the next day.
Even better was the onsite spa, which we visited for the next hour or so before dinner. With a hydrothermal pool blasting bubbles and different jets of water, plus a sauna and steam room it was a brilliantly relaxing place to recover after our walk, warm up and ease aching muscles! I could have happily stayed there longer, but with food calling we decided to give the restaurant a go and sample their dinner menu.
Roast pork for me with broccoli, prawns, barbecued corn and mashed potato, followed by a passionfruit cheesecake. Along with a couple of glasses of bubbles in the room, and a glass of wine at dinner and my head hit the pillow almost as soon as we returned to the room!
Sunday dawned grey and rainy, but we kitted up and headed out towards Helvellyn for our challenge for the day. Helvellyn is the third biggest fell in the Lake District after Scafell Pike and Scafell at 900m high, and a pretty significant hike on a calm sunny day, never mind a snowy, windy one! The summit is actually a broad, flat plateau once you reach it, but this involves traversing either Striding Edge or Swirral Edge, two exposed ridge walks, Swirral Edge being slightly shorter and the one we had opted for.
However, after only an hour of continuous climbing up big stone steps into the hillside, I was completely soaked through from the constant heavy rain, and feeling rather despondent – the thought of pushing on for another five hours in the cold and wet wasn’t an enticing one! This is where James tried to bribe me with Mars bars, and keep my spirits up with singing and the alphabet game (how many words for gale force wind can you think of?) as well as attempting to point out what little scenery we could see – mainly waterfalls, which were pretty I will admit. However, while I love to push myself out of my comfort zone, and don’t mind putting up with a little wind and rain for the sense of satisfaction you get at knowing you’ve completed something amazing, this was pretty much my limit. The wind was getting stronger as we hit the snowline, and I couldn’t really feel my hands and feet anymore. There were definitely points where I found myself inwardly cursing at both James and myself for thinking this was a good idea!
I was so glad that I had my Polar BUFF with me. I have a few BUFFs, but this one has Polartec Fleece at one end which was much appreciated both to warm my ears, and to make it a little easier to breath the cold air. (As an aside, it also dried really quickly when hung over the heated towel rail back in the hotel room!) I was also wearing my new Skins K-Proprium tights under my waterproof trousers, which were fantastic for increasing blood circulation and keeping me a little warmer. They have ‘proprioceptive power bands’ on them (like KT-taping your legs) which are designed to improve proprioception and joint stability to reduce fatigue – I definitely think that they helped my tired legs keep going!
When the strongest gusts came through you could actually hear them approaching, and we knew to crouch down and brace ourselves against the wind – I found myself grabbing rocks and clutching my hat and hood to my head as the force of it threatened to whip me off the mountain. Eventually we decided that it was getting too dangerous to carry on, and had to accept that we wouldn’t be able to reach the summit today. I am not ashamed to admit, I was pretty happy at that decision – the thought of a long hot bath and a cup of tea sounded like pure heaven, and this image basically carried me all the way back to the car. It was a weird sensation that as we descended things sounded quieter to my ears, without the wind howling around and my eyes felt like they could open up again properly after squinting against the hail!
This probably sounds like I’m being dramatic but we found out, when we’d made it back to the hotel and I was up to my ears in bubble bath while James watched the rugby, that Storm Doris had been followed by Storm Ewan, so this was probably rather worse weather than normally experienced. Still, it is a pretty awesome story to be able to tell, and as with any unfinished challenge, just means we will be back to tick this one off another day…
Pizza, wine and apple crumble was on the menu for dinner that night. In my opinion, one of the main perks of exerting yourself is being able to enjoy an awesome meal afterwards!
Even though the weather might have been against us, I loved the combination of our outdoor adventures and indulging in a little relaxation and pampering in the spa and hotel restaurant, it made for a pretty perfect celebration weekend.
Outdoor adventures, rocks, green space, a spa and fantastic food – happy birthday to me J