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Two Women, a Bothy and Maurice

Warnscale Bothy is a small mountain hut tucked into a rugged crag near Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks in the Lake District. It’s the perfect place for a wild(ish) camp and I’ve been on a mission to reach it for months.

So, with high hopes that it would be fourth time lucky, myself and my intrepid friend Becky set out from the guaranteed warmth and comfort of the van into torrential rain and blustery wind.

When we eventually reached Warnscale, we were determined to recreate Christmas. We were thinking cosy beds, a roaring fire, M&S buffet food, festive music and red wine. This craving for a bit of luxury in the wild hills meant that we weren’t travelling light on the walk-in. Becky had at least 10 kg of coal in her rucksack and I felt like the donkey heading to Bethlehem throughout our 2.4 mile hike.

Now. The weather forecast wasn’t great, but the horizontal, stinging rain and gale force winds were something else! As we climbed, the ordinarily stunning views of Buttermere and Crummock Water were non-existent.

We could have turned back, but we were confident in our skills, kit and resilience.

Character building. That’s what they call it! Navigating in the fading light, to a hut that is notoriously hard to find was super tough. Warnscale is made of grey slate, the same stuff that is strewn all over the fells in the North Western lakes, so it’s easy to miss.

Water, water, EVERYWHERE! Coming down from the dark and foreboding skies above and now cascading through the raging stream at our feet. Now what? Our boots and socks had come off for an earlier water crossing but this time, bugger it, we were going right through! So we steadied the enormous bags on our backs and ploughed into knee deep water.

All went well, the white water was being expertly negotiated, until Becky dropped her Nalgene water bottle and had to chase it downstream. Hopping from rock to rock, we couldn’t help but laugh. On the opposite bank, bottle safely stashed away again, I felt a surge of exhilaration. It was us against the wild and, it was a close contest, but we were winning.

As darkness fell, my night navigation techniques were being tested and I’d be lying if I said that my nerve began to ebb. Thankfully, Becky reminded me that we were more than capable of finding our way, even in abysmal conditions. (We are strong, independent women!)

Eventually, the elusive bothy came into view and my goodness it was a gorgeous sight! My screams of delight may have been heard in Buttermere village, despite the storm. We stumbled, relieved, through the door and out of the weather.

In minutes we had a roaring fire in the grate (turns out I’m very good at lighting fires!) and the hut was warming up beautifully.

We both then realised we needed a wee and bothies don’t have facilities for anything other than a wild one…though some kindly provide a shovel!

The storm made the outside a less than inviting place to bare our bums.

Becky was determined

‘Well. I’m using a carrier bag. Yes, I’d rather pee in a carrier bag than go back out in that weather!’

Me?! I went out into the storm. And it was definitely wild….oh the glamour!

We had ALL our kit drying on lines above the fire, its such a magical feeling watching your boots steaming from the heat.

We decided to put the wine next to the fire, red is always better warmer right?! Though the steam as we poured it made us think maybe it was a bit too close to a fire that was throwing out awesome amounts of heat (It burnt my sock too!)

Bothies are spartan places, but when you’re snuggled up in your sleeping bag, have a paper cup

of wine in one hand and a plate of your favourite nibbles in the other, they are positively palatial. The company was pretty perfect too! We had forgotten games, so ended up just chatting all night and eating, someone had left a bottle of Jack Daniels up there and Becky kept asking me 'How much would you accept to take a swig out of it?!' Ugh! So I said £10,000! It really was the best night chilling out chatting and giggling about the ridiculousness of our journey.

And then there was Maurice (read that with a French accent please!) His reputation preceded him, but we hadn’t yet heard a squeak out of our hut-mate. Cheese was the answer. No mountain dweller can resist a morsel of the delicious stuff.

Sleep wasn’t difficult to achieve. The bliss of being on a mountainside in the middle of a storm, yet being warm and sheltered in an iconic bothy is hard to beat, and seemed a shame not to stay up and appreciate it, but we were both exhausted.

The early hours brought the patter of teeny tiny feet, RIGHT BY MY HEAD! In case you hadn’t guessed Maurice is the Warnscale mouse and he was loving the supper we had left out for him – 10 pieces of cheese and he ate the lot but the time we woke up.

It’s 1.15am.

‘Becky!’ Becky!

‘I know Emma, I can hear him too!’

‘Maurice was on my head, can I sleep next to you please?!’

We sat up for another hour, with our fingers on our head torches….ready to catch him…but Maurice was far too clever.

All too soon, the light started to come in through the windows, the wind got angrier. And as we organised our kit and checked out how much of a feast Maurice had enjoyed, the thought of going outside was NOT pleasant.

But then, it’s on epic trips like this, when the bad weather isn’t breaking, you're miserably cold and wet and the route isn’t quite what you expected…..that’s when you learn what you’re capable of and fantastic memories are made.

I also had very limited phone signal for 24 hours. That’s a big thing for me as my business demands connection! Being able to switch off was simply wonderful. Thank you Warnscale!

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