I’m not one to normally listen in to other people’s conversations, but when you are on a walking trip and the weather is ugly, eavesdropping can be more fun than walking. So this morning, with the wind blowing the rain sideways onto the breakfast room windows, I listened attentively as one of the guests discussed the Ullswater Steamer with the innkeeper.
Sara and her friends were headed to Shap, just as I was. I leaned my ear towards her to better hear the conversation.
The innkeeper said there were two alternatives: one was to slog along the traditional route for 17 miles over a high, wet, windy and muddy ridge; the second was to ride the steamboat 8 miles to Pooley Bridge, and then walk an easy trail 10 miles to Shap. Steamboats are a close second to steam trains on my fun scale. I leaned a little closer.
The innkeeper said that Alfred Wainwright, the guru of walking in England, often took the steamboat on his treks. I idolize Wainwright almost as much as I idolize Shackleton, so if a steamboat was good enough for Wainwright, it would be good enough for me. It didn’t much matter that the boats are now powered by diesel, they are still called steamers, so that should count for something. By this time my ear was closing in on Sara’s cereal bowl.
“Would there happen to be room for one more person on the steamer?” I asked non-chalantly.
“The steamer holds 200 passengers, so there will be ample room on today’s sailing,” replied the innkeeper. Just then, two Canadians sitting at an adjacent table looked at each other with a silent nod of mutual understanding. I wasn’t the only eavesdropper. “Leave here by 9:00, and you can get to the pier by 9:25 and catch the 9:45 sailing.”
The room’s air pressure dropped noticeably as a half-dozen guests raced for the door.
Despite the winds, the one-hour cruise to Pooley Bridge was smooth and comfortable. As the scenery unfolded, we chatted with one another and with other passengers. Tracy wasn’t hiking today, but rather reminiscing about having recently swum the length of Ullswater, 14 kilometers in 5 hours. She is training to swim the English channel, and is in the process of swimming all the lakes in the Lake District. The longest, Windermere, at 17 kilometers, is next on her agenda. We all wish her luck in her endeavor.
At Pooley Bridge, I disembarked along with Leo and Lynn, from Yukon, David and Sara, from Washington D.C., and Dennis from Austin. (I may have gotten some of that mixed up, but since we’re all walking the same route over the next few days, I’m sure they’ll correct me.) Because the steamer route was a last minute itinerary change, I was the only one with a map. (Dennis conjured up a map on his smartphone, but Wainwright wouldn’t approve, so that doesn’t count.)
|Leo, Dave, Sara, Lynn, and Dennis|
Our route took us through the hamlet of Bampton and past Shap Abbey, dating from 1199, but destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540 when he split with the pope. Perhaps he thought the monks were eavesdropping on him.