AN OBSERVANT angler, gazing across the benighted waters of Stonethwaite Beck, might raise an eyebrow as a window opens in the rear of the Scafell Hotel, sending a beam of light into the shadows.
In a flurry of imagery reminiscent of From Russia With Love – that memorable scene where the bad guy squeezes through a trapdoor in the Anita Ekberg billboard – a teenager slides headfirst from the diminutive window and plops into the river. Unlike the bad guy, Sean Connery doesn’t shoot him. The teenager just flounders about in the water swearing softly.
The angler might raise a second eyebrow when another teenager slides from the window and plops into the river. The angler might draw on his pipe reflectively as he sits in the darkness, watching the disorientated youngsters sloshing about in the water.
Had the angler possessed a third eyebrow, he might raise it at this point as a third teenager attempts to squeeze through the window. Alas, the third teenager fails miserably. Having hoisted his mates out of the gents toilet to escape the police – who are raiding the pub for underage drinkers – there is no one left to heave him through the hole. Unable to escape, he sits on the loo and reads graffiti as the probing torch beams of Cumberland Constabulary flicker along the riverbank in search of miscreants.
Ah, memories. Misty water-coloured memories. That was November 1972. Plenty of water has flowed under the Borrowdale bridges since those distant days.
So last night I was propping up the bar of the Scafell Hotel, drinking Old Peculiar and contemplating having another bash at scrambling through the toilet window. More than 35 years have passed since my last failed attempt, when I watched my mates splash about in the river with the police after them. And I don’t like to be beaten – especially when I’ve had a couple of pints.
Anyway, that was last night. This morning I’m up at 6.45am and marching out of Rosthwaite campsite for 8am, taking the path to Seathwaite Farm then gunning up the fellside to Styhead Pass. I take the Corridor Route for Scafell Pike, and can’t work out whether or not I have been this way before. This might have something to do with the Old Peculiar. I certainly tried to climb up Piers Gill once and was forced to clamber out onto the upper stages of the Corridor Route after getting wet and scaring myself.
The Corridor Route, I decide, is by far the best approach to Scafell Pike. From the crest of Styhead Pass, the path traverses beneath the crags of Great End then winds its way above the impressive ravine of Piers Gill. There are no crowds and no hassle. Just peace, solitude, a little hands-on scrambling, and fantastic views of Great Gable.
I make an unplanned deviation to Lingmell summit and have a bite to eat before climbing up the Pike. Arrive at the top and become the highest person in England at precisely noon. After a quick nap in a stone shelter, I visit the summits of Broad Crag and Ill Crag before taking another nap on the top of Great End. From there I drop down to Allen Crags and Glaramara.
Great day. Warm autumn sunshine and light breezes. Like going back a generation or two.
Anyway, getting back to November 1972. We were staying at what was then the K Shoe bunkhouse behind Seathwaite Farm. The police didn’t catch us underage drinkers. My mates, Martyn Jones and Graham Henry, hid on the riverbank while a copper shone his torch in the bushes. I just sat on the loo. Eventually there was a knock on the door. A voice said: “Fancy another pint?”
And the toilet window challenge – did I have a go? Did I succeed? Did I fail? Did I get stuck halfway like a silly middle-aged bugger who’d had one pint too many?
The window no longer exists. They’ve moved the gents. Probably just as well.