SUPing the English Lake District
By Aaron Rolph, featuring the Knog Bilby 400 lumen headlamp.
Returning to my old stomping ground in the Lakes is never complete without homegrown adventure of some kind, and we’d had this one in the pipeline for quite some time. Of course originally we’d envisaged traversing the English Lake District by paddleboard would be a summer affair, but having sat on the idea for too long it was time to make the idea a reality and besides, who wants to abide by the seasons?
On a suitably cold and moody mid-January morning, the late-rising sun is only surpassed by our own tardiness and incessant ability to faff. Despite an early start and our good intentions, we put in on the southern tip of Windermere around mid-morning with a view to heading to the northern tip of the Lakes. Our 60km route would combine five lakes, some river sections and the occasional hike to connect some of the most beautiful parts of England’s largest National Park.
Windermere is a notoriously popular lake in peak season, however, we were pleasantly surprised to have the entire 18km of glassy waters to ourselves. We passed only a few leisure boats and conditions were calm. After a few hours of hard paddling, we reached the quaint town of Ambleside and began packing up for the hike. A quick resupply and the stroll through this postcard-perfect part of the Lakes flew by, we passed Rydal (privately owned and forbidden to paddle on) followed by the famed Grassmere where William Wordsworth spent much of his time.
Before too long, we’d reached Thirlmere where we’d spend the night bivvying under the moonlight, Bilby headlamps strapped to out heads, before the clouds rolled in to provide the mesmerizing sound of drizzle to put us quickly to sleep.
Wary of the short winter days we were on the water before first light under the shadow of the towering Helvellyn ridge. Pushing out against a strong headwind and subsequent waves splashing on over our decks, it made for tough going before breakfast. Tucking into the shoreline as the sun provides beautiful pink and orange hues, the waters calm and we find a rhythm.
Once Thirlmere is complete, we get stuck into what I believe to be the crux of the trip – an arduous hike over rugged and soggy fells. The initial climb is steep and even our compact boards now start to really weigh us down. Powered only by the vistas that keep opening up, we reach our high point of Armboth fell before dropping down into the colourful Borrowdale valley.
Naturally, forced to carry our boards, paddles and kit on our backs between lakes, a light and packable board was going to be key. The Red Compact MSL boards were perfect for the job and the rugged but padded carry backpack made the pretty challenging hikes totally manageable.
Pumping our boards up for the final time, we follow the meandering river from Grange which is indescribably clear before the river mouth widens to become Derwent Water and we paddle toward the iconic massif of Skiddaw which sits high above Keswick.
As the evening light draws in, the final miles feel farther than all those before but we finally reach the north of the Lakes and what an adventure we had!
With the rapid advancements of paddleboard technology and ease of carrying the boards now, I wonder how many big SUP adventures this opens up.