Why 542 in 2016?

I’m attempting to climb 542 Lakeland summits during 2016 to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Watch my TV interview here and please Pledge Support by agreeing to donate 10p per climb. A recent new supporter wrote “Cancer research is vital. Every person who survives cancer does so because of the drugs now available. Better drugs are around the corner if we continue to fund the research.” I don’t think I could have put it any better. Read More …

Big Beautiful Blencathra – Day 25

125 Blencathra sheep lamb

On Tuesday I headed for Blencathra, a mountain that’s recently been on the market for £1.75m: the owner, the Earl of Lonsdale, needed to sell something to pay inheritance tax. Apparently he’s ended up selling a few works of art instead as no-one could raise the funds. I think if I needed to cash something in for a few million, I’d rather sell art than a mountain. It’s all incredibly over-hyped, value-wise, and you can’t walk on a Rembrandt or a Picasso – not really.

005 Scales village
Scales Village

Another gorgeous morning with wall-to-wall blue skies. I parked just off the A66 in the tiny village of Scales, east of Keswick, and had only a few metres to walk along the roadside cycle track before heading away on a footpath up the fell side. During those few metres fellow Clitheronian and bike club member John Keighley passed by in his lorry – an amazing coincidence.

015 View from Scales Fell
Scafell Pike and Great Gable in the distance, under the larger fluffy cloud

The path wound quite steeply up through bracken and heather above Mousthwaite Comb, and after seeing a Slow Worm on Sunday I kept my eyes peeled for Adders, as the habitat and weather seemed just right – but I was out of luck. I still haven’t seen a live Adder in this country. I reached the path coming from Souther Fell (which I did back in mid-March) and continued up the shoulder of Blencathra, or Saddleback as it is sometimes known.

030 Scales Fell summit
Looking south from the summit of Scales Fell

Blencathra is a very fine mountain, well-proportioned and buttressed on its southern side by big, beefy, steep-sided fells. From right to left they are Scales Fell, Doddick Fell, Halls Fell, Gategill Fell and Blease Fell and together they create a quite beautiful aspect. Right to left (east to west) was the way I was going, so the first top, at 2,238′ (682 m) was that of Scales Fell. From here the highest point (Hallsfell Top) was in full view but still a long way off.

035 Scales Tarn
Scales Tarn, with the Sharp Edge ridge just showing on the left of the photo and Bannerdale Crags in the background

Doddick Fell Top (2,434, 742 m) was next, just a minor feature underfoot but more obvious from a distance, and next the path skirted the top of one of the finest corries, cirques, or cwms, around, that of Scales Tarn – a huge, deep bowl, carved by ice, bounded by the ridge I was on to the south and the notorious Sharp Edge to the north.

050 Halls Fell
Looking back to Doddick Fell Top
055 Blencathra summit - Halls Fell
Hallsfell Top, the highest point of Blencathra

A few other walkers were already around on the which path zigzags up to the highest point of the mountain, Hallsfell Top on Blencathra (2,847′, 868 m), where there is another odd OS trigpoint set in the ground, rather like the one on Knipe Scar.

075 Atkinson Pike Cross
Perhaps Mr Atkinson built this cross…

On the short detour north to Atkinson Pike (the top of Foule Crag above Sharp Edge, 2,772′ (845 m) there is an unusual cross laid out on the turf, about 5 or 6 metres long and formed out of large white stones. A great spot for the air ambulance to land I would guess – unmissable from the air! Wainwright says that a Mr Robinson carried all the stones up on many many visits to the top, over 50 years ago.

085 To Gategill Fell Top
Looking to Gategill Fell Top

I contoured back just below the main summit and rejoined the ridge path which rises after a col to Gategill Fell Top (2,792′, 851 m). The views looking south down the steep fell sides were as breathtaking here as they’d been since the top of Scales Fell. There’s a real sense of being on a big mountain. I was going to say a big brute of a mountain but really, Blencathra is so elegant that brute is completely the wrong word!

095 Derwentwater from Gategill
At the summit of Gategill Fell Top with Derwentwater beyond

The last of six summits was Knowe Crags at the top of Blease Fell, 2,638′ (804 m) above sea level. From here the path descended quite steeply, continuing west at first. I met a couple on their way up who asked if they had much further to go. I suggested they look out for one of my summit cards and later in the day was very pleased to receive a photo of them both at the top of Gategill Fell, card in hand – so thank you Hannah and Ash (and the dog!)

115 Blease Fell summit to Derwentwater
Derwentwater, getting closer, from the top of Blease Fell

Eventually the path swings south, then joins another running east along the base of the fell, just above the intake wall for much of the way, crossing the streams which come off the mountain and divide the separate fells so decisively. There’s still a lot of evidence of the winter floods, in the form of huge fans of rocks and boulders – a reminder that will last for years, I’m sure.

140 Doddick Gill
Doddick Gill
130 Stile
This stile can’t have been designed to stop the sheep climbing over, because they can simply go through the hole in the wall (when the mesh isn’t there…)

At Gategill the farmer was gathering his sheep, blocking the path. I checked that I was OK to skirt around to one side and admired his two dogs as they kept the ewes and their lambs just where he wanted them. The path takes a cruel twist after crossing Doddick Beck, with a really steep rise over a shoulder – a far from welcome climb when your legs are ready for a nice rest!

145 Scaley Beck
Scaley Beck

I was back at the car just after 1.00, so looked at the map and decided to head for the nearby St John’s in the Vale and walk the ridge south to Legburthwaite, ‘bagging’ three more summits on the ridge and a fourth, the strangely-named Castle Rock of Triermain (a rock-climbers’ playground) on the way back. But I’ll leave the afternoon’s walk for the next chapter of this blog – I’ll add the summary details, route map etc, to that blog when it’s done.

By the way, the number of pledges are getting close to my target of £25,000. If you can persuade a friend, relative or colleague to offer their support too, we could reach that target – and then keep going!

Reaching New Heights on Helvellyn


190 Lower Man.03
Thirlmere from Lower Man on Helvellyn

Sunday saw the first summit over 3,000′ (two Birketts over 3,000′ in fact) and eleven new tops overall. For company I had my frequent companion Ian Hardy, together with Meg, who is definitely a Flat Coat Retriever (I think I’ve got it right at last!). Glenridding village saw some of the worst winter flooding in the entire Lake District, and remedial work is still continuing.  Glenridding Beck looks a bit like a bomb site, but the village itself is otherwise back to normal and certainly open for business.

020 Ullswater from Glenridding Dodd.34
Ullswater from Glenridding Dodd. I think the trees have grown since I was last here seven years ago!

Our first summit, Glenridding Dodd (1,450′, 442 m), was reached after a steep climb of 1,000′ and enjoys a great view of nearby Ullswater from its heather-clad summit. After descending back to the unnamed col, we climbed a very pleasant rocky path south of the crags which form Heron Pike (2,008′, 612 m), where I was surprised to find a heavy steel bar, bearing the capital letter ‘M’ which was presumably once concreted in to the stone but is now loose – no-one has walked off with it (though its weight would make it a bit of an encumbrance!)

030 Heron Pike Ullswater.52
Heron Pike – not the vertical steel bar in the distance

It was an easier walk to the slightly higher summit of Sheffield Pike (2,215′, 675 m), this time with a stone inscribed with original initials plus later graffiti. All three summits so far enjoy magnificent views to Ullswater, the district’s second-largest lake.

040 Sheffield Pike Ullswater.47
More summit-cairn furniture on Sheffield Pike and another cracking view of Ullswater
050 Greenside Mine.54
Strange patterns at the old Greenside Mine

Just before setting off again, we were passed by a runner. By the time we’d reached Nick Head, a descent of some 300′, he was but a tiny figure in the distance. The disused Greenside quarry looks strangely patterned from here, almost like the Palm Islands of Dubai, but not quite as warm. The green path headed straight up the shoulder in front of us, close to a disused quarry to its left.  We skirted the crags above Glencoynedale (another fine view here) and headed for the distant, appropriately-named Birkett Fell (2,378′, 725 m).

060 Glencoynedale.56
070 Birkett Fell summit.00
The plaque reads ‘Birkett Fell’

The cairn on Birkett Fell is a long way from the highest point, and has a stone plaque set in it. Perhaps someone can explain the history of who this particular Birkett was, and why the cairn is where it is.

090 Hart side summits.51
Hart Side – but which cairn is higher?

Easy strolls to Hart Side (2,481′, 756 m) and White Stones on Green Side (2,608, 795 m) followed, each top having a confusing array of cairns with the remarkable optical effect that whichever one you were standing by, the others looked higher. It could be my eyesight, of course.

100 White Stones Ian Meg.34
Ian and Meg at the top of White Stones on Green Side

It was now a quarter of a mile to Sticks Pass, where I had last been when I climbed the Dodds. On that day I approached from the West and turned left, whilst today I approached from the East and turned left, both paths not quite crossing! As we climbed towards Raise (2,897′, 883 m) we felt we’d joined a motorway, with large numbers of walkers and not a few mountain bikers, with whom we stopped to discuss their bikes. They didn’t look cheap.

120 Raise summit.12

Raise has quite a rocky top and a fine cairn of rough stone. The views in all directions were good, and about to get better as we dropped down slightly and then headed up the good wide path to White Side (2,832′, 863 m) where the summit cairn resembles the remains of an old stone wall. Meg was enjoying herself, making the acquaintance of several dogs who seemed equally pleased to meet her.  Views opened up of Bassenthwaite and Thirlmere as well as Ullswater and the hills we’d just climbed.

140 White Side summit Bassenthwaite.16
White Side. Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite beyond
160 To Lower Man.24
The climb ahead to Helvellyn Lower Man

A big climb followed to Lower Man on Helvellyn (3,033′, 925 m) the first foray above 3,000′ on this year’s challenge. The remaining stretch to the summit of Helvellyn itself (3,118′, 950 m) was an easy promenade with great views down to Swirral Edge and Red Tarn. And it felt like a promenade too, with dozens of Sunday hikers out on the fell, enjoying the fine weather. One party included several members wearing hi-viz yellow jackets, which seemed a bit TOO bright!

210 Sunday crowds on Helvellyn.42
Sunday crowds on Helvellyn
230 Helvellyn shelter.33
The famous summit wind shelter

Swirral Edge can be a dangerous place in icy and (or) windy conditions, and there had been a couple of serious accidents earlier in the year, but today it really held no threat – some books suggest that the exposure calls for a head for heights, making me wonder if the authors have actually been there. The worst problem was oncoming traffic!

270 Swirral Edge.16
Looking down Swirral Edge. The sharp top of Catsty Cam ahead, Red Tarn on the right

At the slight col where the path splits – one going down to Red Tarn, the other up to Catsty Cam, I could hear a Whitethroat singing somewhere below, even though I could only spot one or two gorse bushes that were likely to be its home. The easy climb to the day’s last summit at 2,919′ (890 m) led us to a neat little rocky top – number 11 for today – with a stony descent down the East nose to a path which descended steadily to Glenridding.

300 Helvellyn from Catstycam.20
Looking back to Red Tarn, Helvellyn and Swirral Edge from the top of Catsty Cam

It was Ian who spotted the Slow Worm on the concrete track just after Bell Cottage and the old mine working buildings, some of which have now been converted to hostel accommodation. Basking in the warm sunshine, it didn’t seem too concerned as I prodded it ever-so-gently – more to check that it was alive than anything.

320 Slow Worm.43
A photo for the herpetologists to enjoy

Back at Glenridding I popped in to the village store for a refreshing pint of milk and couldn’t help noticing the irony of a young boy, out with his mum, wearing a No 7 Ronaldo football shirt. A sporting type, you might think, but at around 5’2″ the lad must have been at least 10 stone, and would definitely have benefitted from a decent walk rather than the large ice cream he was demolishing.

So, today’s walk was 12.6 miles (20.3 km) with 4,064′ (1,238 m) of climbing. Total so far 218 miles (350 km) and 66,862′ (20.365 m) of climbing. 161 summits climbed, leaving 381 to go. I’m hoping to spend three days in the Lake District this week, so that by July I’ll start to get ahead of the calendar. I hope!

Helvellyn Route

Map 161

Please comment if you have anything you want to say about this blog, and feel free to share with friends. Let’s not forget that our aim is to help Cancer Research UK so that together we will beat cancer sooner.


Heading through the Coniston clouds to 150

070 Goats Water.23
Goat’s Water, below Dow Crag (on the R)

After yet another break I’ve only got one free day this week (well, I could perhaps have had two, but yesterday I was full of a cold so stayed at home instead). So it was off to Coniston, to drive up the very steep and narrow Walna Scar Road, park in the old quarry, and head up to Dow Crag.

050 Walna Scar .02
The Walna Scar Road

Despite the good forecast there was a lot of low cloud, covering the tops of Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag, which loomed ominously above Goat’s Water, reached after a straightforward climb up a pleasant pitched path.

060 Goats Water Dow Crag.27
Looking towards the top of Dow Crag (with Easy Gully and Great Gully creating huge defiles in the rock buttress)

The last quarter of a mile from Goat’s Hause was in cloud with very little visibility, but there were no problems route-finding. The summit of Dow Crag (2,554′, 778 m) is a rather satisfactory big rock outcrop, overlooking a sheer drop to Goat’s Water 250 metres below – at least the restricted visibility reduced the chances of acrophobia!

080 Dow Crag summit.20
The summit of Dow Crag is a big rocky outcrop

I made my way to the next two summits – Buck Pike (2,441′, 744 m) and Brown Pike (2,237′, 682 m) more by feel than sight. They’re quite obvious, separate tops, especially when viewed from Coniston Old Man.

090 Dow Crag Gully.29
Don’t look down! The top of Easy Gully (I think it’s Easy Gully…)

The top of Brown Pike isn’t far from Walna Scar Road (don’t let the word ‘road’ fool you – erosion over the years means that there are places which no vehicle can possibly negotiate). The SW side of the ‘road’ is very different in nature – you suddenly go from rocky, craggy mountains and stone paths to gentle slopes and grass.

100 Walna Crag.19
All it needs is a roundabout. Or at least a signpost! Walna Scar beyond

The summit of Walna Scar isn’t much lower than Brown Pike, at 2,037′ (621 m) and has a poor effort for a cairn at the top. I heard a Cuckoo in the distance, another reminder of Spring after all the Wheatears and singing Meadow Pipits.

120 Dotterel.44
A female Dotterel – intermediate in size between a Blackbird and a Collared Dove, related to the Lapwing. Apologies for the poor photo quality.

Still in cloud I found the summit of White Pike (1,962′, 598 m) and headed back on myself to reach White Maiden (1,995′, 608 m) which I’d deliberately by-passed, when I saw a bird fly and land a few yards in front of me. Thinking it was a Golden Plover I thought I’d try to get nearer, and found it was a Dotterel! They’re much less common relatives of the Plover, summer visitors which stop off on grassy fell-tops on their way North from Africa to the Highlands and Scandinavia. Unusually, the plumage of the female is gaudier than the male, and the male incubates the eggs too. A kind of ornithological women’s lib. I couldn’t get a good photo but at least I got something.

140 High Pike Haw.12
High Pike Haw

From White Maiden the paths disappeared and it was a question of making my own way over sometimes rough ground to High Pike Haw, a much lower top than the rest at 1,161′ (354 m) but quite a distinctive knobbly-rocky protuberance.

150 Slate works.18

The path back to the car (if you could call it a path) took me past an old slate quarry and over Torver Beck, where I met the first human being I’d seen all day – a gentleman from Southport by the name of Martin Connard, who gave me a fiver for Cancer Research – very welcome as he’d never met me before.

Quite an early finish. 8.48 miles (13.64 km) and 2,200′ (670 m) of climbing. 150 summits now in the bag. Now for another busy week elsewhere (four! speaking engagements and a car rally) after which, even with the demands of the Ribble Valley Ride cycle sportive, I should start to have more time to tramp the fells. And after 12 June, LOTS more time. Better get some 10p’s ready!

Dow Crag Route

150 Map

Day 22 – New-born lambs and a race against time!

005 Thornthwaite
Thornthwaite Grange

Yesterday the weather forecast was for rain and snow to arrive in Cumbria by 2.00 pm. I worked out that I could do the Wythop Fells in under 2½ hours and if it still looked fine I could go on and climb the lone summit of Hobcarton End. By breakfast at 7.30, the rain was due at 12.00: looking at the blue sunny skies I still reckoned I had enough time to at least do the Wythop Fells without any problem.

010 The Start
Not much sign of Spring as I leave the road to climb Ling Fell on the left

Talking of breakfast, I was being looked after and fed by Clive and Sue Beauvais at Thornthwaite Grange, their guest house just north of Braithwaite: to support the 542in2016 Challenge they’d generously put me up for the night in a comfy en suite room (actually I had a choice of bedrooms in the suite too)! Sue has obviously done a lot of running (including Land’s End to John o’Groats) and Clive once did all the Wainwrights in under 3 months, so we shared a pretty similar experience. If you’re staying in the area this year (or next!) please book in at Thorthwaite Grange, Howe Keld or the Royal Oak at Rosthwaite to support those who’ve supported the Challenge.

020 Ling Fell trig
Looking to Scotland again from the trigpoint on Ling Fell

As soon as I got in the car I realised that the blue skies were flattering to deceive. Looking east was all blue, but west was grey and foreboding. I found the parking space at the little quarry near Kelsick Farm almost full (at 8.30!) but managed to squeeze in, so soon the boots were on and I was off.

030 Ling Fell to Skiddaw
Looking to Skiddaw from Ling Fell – no sign of Bassenthwaite Lake, in the dip behind the spruce trees

It was a really steep climb to the top of Ling Fell, at 1,224′ (373 m), well-named considering the amount of heather on its slopes. The top is adorned by an OS trigpoint but the interesting thing, as pointed out by Wainwright, is the great view of Skiddaw, looking like it’s at the head of the valley – with Bassenthwaite completely hidden from sight. Not really an optical illusion, but a surprising view nonetheless.

040 Ling Fell from Burthwaite
Anyone for cricket? Looking back to Ling Fell from the flat top of Burthwaite Heights

The route to the next hill, Burthwaite Heights, was a bit uncertain, but I managed to find a way through the bog between the two fells without getting my feet too wet. A vague path rises through an area of Juniper bushes to an even vaguer summit – all is grass, without any feature whatsoever to mark the top (1,043′, 318 m), which is so flat anyway that you could have a football match up there!

050 New Lamb
A new-born lamb gets its first clean-up

A steep descent led to greener pastures, where lambing was underway – I came across a ewe licking her newly born littl’un clean, and thought what a cold day it was to be born!

150 Redstart
A male Redstart. You can hear them singing in nearly every area of scattered oak woodland in the Lake District at this time of year (Google Images)

Past Old Scales Farm, along a bridleway and through oak woodland (with Redstarts singing – after their recent journey from Africa they must have been wondering why they’d bothered to come to this freezing cold country). If you’ve never seen a Redstart you’ve missed a gorgeous little bird, slightly bigger than a Robin and very striking.

070 Bassenthwaite from Lothwaite
There it is – Bassenthwaite appears below the top of Lothwaite

Another steep climb, after a little scare when I came across a footpath closure notice for forestry works, but on careful examination realised it just (only just) didn’t apply to me, and then I was at 1,132′ (345 m), on the pleasant top of Lothwaite – short turf with some exposed stone at the summit itself.

080 Sale Fell from Rivings summit
Looking to Sale Fell from Rivings

And now I was heading west and could see the rain coming, a grey curtain looking very foreboding. I almost jogged – on a lovely close-cropped grassy path, I must say – to the top of Rivings (1,099′, 335 m) and kept up the pace to the last summit, Sale Fell, where I had to go backwards and forwards between the two high points to make sure I’d been to the right one at 1,178 (359 m)!

090 Sale Fell and rain
The summit of Sale Fell – that rain isn’t far off!

There’s an interesting rock scar at the top, and whilst looking at this I decided to put waterproofs on – just in time, as the sleety rain came in with a vengeance as I descended back to the car. A delivery van stopped as I reached the track, the driver asking if he had found Kelsick Farm. I was pleased to reply “I’m not from around here… but it definitely IS Kelsick Farm!”

100 Scar at Sale Fell
Rock scar near the top of Sale Fell

I made my escape just in time. Photos from a couple of hours later showed just how much snow fell in parts of the Lake District. I hope that lamb was OK.

110 Rain
The rain arrives

So at the end of a successful two weeks I’ve managed to increase the number of fells from 93 to 143, leaving the significant number of 399 remaining. I’ve a busy week followed by another pre-arranged holiday (the last one, I promise) – and just for a complete rest, I’ll be having a week cycling! If the weather is kind I may just get one more day’s walking before I go.

Summary: 5 Birketts (including 2 Wainwrights) – Distance walked today 4.97 m (7.99 km), ascent 1,400′ (328 m).

Wythop Fells route




A Birkett’s Dozen North o’Skidda

Dennis Norden

Some of you may remember Denis Norden presenting “It’ll be Alright on the Night” from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s, and in particular “Alright on the Night’s Cockup Trip”, when the laconic presenter introduced the show from the summit of Great Cockup in the Lake District. Oh how we laughed. Well I’ll wager good money he got there by helicopter rather than walking. Because today I was there, and forgive me, but I just can’t see Dennis Norden doing the climb the hard way.

040 Great Cockup
Great Cockup, viewed from Little Cockup

Actually, the last time I was on Great Cockup I was walking all 214 Wainwrights in 2009, and my toothache got so bad I rang Val from the summit and asked her to make me an emergency dental appointment (at which the offending molar was extracted).

030 Little Cockup in the centre
Little Cockup (centre of picture)

It’s not a huge mountain (1,726′, 526 m), but it looks the part, and of course it has an amusing name, which actually comes from the fact that it used to be the lekking ground of Black Grouse, and it stands with a group of other similar hills north of the massive 3,000′ + mountain that is Skiddaw. It was number three on the agenda today, after Orthwaite Bank (1,142′, 348 m) and (what else?) Little Cockup, at 1,296′ (395 m).

020 Orthwaite Bank
At the top of Orthwaite Bank

I’d started out early from home, arriving at Orthwaite Farm before 8.00 and checking with the farmer, who was conveniently just setting out on his quad, that I was OK to park. For the second time running, it was snowing as I started, and today it was bitterly cold. I’ve no idea where Spring has gone – it’s almost May and there’s me wearing a balaclava! There were good views to Skiddaw (once the cloud lifted), Bassenthwaite Lake, and the closer Over Water (also – like Orthwaite – named after the Norse word for the Black Grouse).

080 Trusmadoor

From Great Cockup the path drops steeply to a dramatic cleft in the hillside, called Trusmadoor, the result (probably) of a glacier lake bursting at the end of the last ice age – unlike many geological features, this one was probably formed in a few minutes rather than millions of years. At this stage I decided to transfer a couple of fells from a future route to today’s itinerary, so set off up the steep slope from Trusmadoor up to the top of Burn Tod.

090 Burn Tod
On Burn Tod as the cloud starts to lift from Skiddaw’s flanks

The top of this fell, which is really just a shoulder of its ‘parent’, Knott, is a large expanse of heather and tussocky grass. It’s not easy to find the exact top and there’s no feature to signify its presence. Or at least there wasn’t, but I did manage to find a few stones and so piled them together in a little cairn, weighing down the summit card at 1,952′ (595 m).

110 Frozen Frozen Fell
Frozen Frozen Fell

What a trudge around to Frozen Fell – it was rough, pathless going underfoot. And Frozen Fell was exactly that, with hoar frost on the blades of grass. This time there wasn’t even a stone to be found at the top (2,050′, 625 m). The descent was on steep mossy grass, with some crags at the bottom that you had to be alert to avoid.

130 Fells lined up
Great Sca Fell and Little Sca Fell from Frozen Fell


Next, Meal Fell – 1,804′, 550 m – has a massive stone wind-shelter near the summit, and I met a man in shorts. In shorts? It was freezing!, but he didn’t seem to mind.

150 Snow on Great Scafell
190 More Showers Brae Fell
Brrrr! again!

At the highest summit of the day – Great Sca Fell (not to be confused with Scafell of course) I was at 2,135′ (651 m), and it decided to snow again. Proper, white, fluffy snow. I’d seen it coming and now it was time to wrap up. But I kept on going to the big man’s little brother – Little Sca Fell (2,083′, 635 m), and soon after, as the weather cleared, the extent of the view to the north became apparent.

180 Brae Fell
Looking N to Scotland from Brae Fell

I was looking out over the Solway Firth to Criffel and the other mountains of Dumfriesshire. Small snow showers could be seen peppering the Firth and drifting slowly SE – it was quite an intriguing view.

200 Primroses


220 Orthwaite Hal
The rather grand, and interestingly coloured, Orthwaite Hall

The last three fells – Brae Fell (1,923′, 586 m), Lowthwaite Fell (1,670′, 509 m) and Longlands Fell (1,581′, 482 m) were all grassy tops, Brae Fell separated from the other two by the grand, and grandly named, defile of Charleton Gill. I then had a walk of a mile or so back to the car, having done 11 summits. The primroses adorning the roadside banks were everywhere, and stunning. It was only 1.30 pm. I must be getting a bit fitter.

240 Green How and Criffel
Green How with the Dumfriesshire mountain, Criffel, beyond the Solway Firth

To make best use of time, I drove through Uldale to reach the parking space on Aughertree Fell from where it’s only the shortest of walks to the most northerly Birkett – Green How (1,053′, 321 m) – which took me less than half an hour – not to reach, but to reach and get back to the car. But it was worth it for the view – again north over the Solway Firth to Scotland.

350 Gate to Skiddaw
The gate from the road by Binsey Lodge on to the path up to the summit

Finally I parked at Binsey Lodge and walked up the lovely green path (steep at times, mind, or so it felt at this stage) to the interesting top of the most northerly Wainwright – Binsey, at 1,466′ (447 m), a shapely old volcano with a Bronze Age tumulus at the summit (and a more modern OS trigpoint).

270 Binsey summi
The summit of Binsey
260 Bassenthwaite
There’s a lot of mountains in this view over Bassenthwaite

So after a record-breaking (for me!) 13 summits in one day, I made my way to Thornthwaite, where Clive and Sue Beauvais were putting me up for the night at their guesthouse, Thornthwaite Grange, for a shower, a good meal at the Coledale Inn in Braithwaite, and a warm bed for the night.

But today’s tale has gone on long enough. I’ll tell you more about Thornthwaite Grange in the next episode.

Summary: Summits today 13, total now 138. Today’s walking distance 11.94 miles (19.2 km); height gained 3,038 (925 m). That makes a grand total of 192 miles (309 km) and 59,198′ (18,031 m) 0f ascent – just over two Mt Everests now (or over 13 Ben Nevises!)

Caldbeck Route

Green How route

Binsey Route


Winter returns in Crookdale

Val celebrating at the summit of Lord’s Seat

“Where’s Crookdale?” I hear you say. Well, the Birketts are all hills over 1,000′ in the Lake District National Park, and (being west of the A6 and N of Kendal) Crookdale is in the Park – and contains six Birketts, the highest being Great Yarlside at 1,939′ (591 m), with another being the charmingly named Robin Hood, a bit lower at 1,617′ (493 m).

The road to Hause Foot probably isn’t bothered by too many visitors

Sunday was one of those rare occasions when Val wasn’t babysitting or otherwise too busy to join me, so together we set off under fine skies. But we’d seen the forecast for further north, and by the time we arrived at Hause Foot, the head of a long cul de sac, it was ‘proper’ snowing. It seemed slightly odd that in such rural surroundings, two parallel lines of massive pylons and high voltage cables were marching up the valley. The snow hitting the cables was even making a loud noise like running water nearby.

Looking down through the mist to a lonely farmhouse

Well insulated against the cold, we assaulted the steep grassy slopes of High House Bank, the only hindrance being a wall topped by a wire fence, but there were a few gaps so it wasn’t difficult finding a way through.

The first top – High House Bank

We came across several molehills, full of stones – the local moles must find digging difficult – and I was glad to be wearing wellies as I put my foot into a deep wet hole which would have soaked boots. The top, at 1,624′ (495 m) was unexciting with just a couple of rocks there to weigh down the summit card.

An ancient cairn near the top of Robin Hood, looking down the adjacent valley of Borrowdale

Over tussocky ground to Robin Hood, with a fine old cairn 50 yds from the summit, presumably a guide for travellers in the valley (the top itself is out of sight), and then on to the flat top of Lord’s Seat (1,719′, 524 m), after which it was a rough trek over peat hags and little streams across the head of the valley. At least it had stopped snowing, although there was a biting wind.

Lawyer’s Brow (left) and Great Yarlside (right)

It was really heavy going up the other side, through peat and sphagnum moss on to the strangely-named Lawyer’s Brow and then Great Yarlside, followed by a descent to its lesser offshoot, Little Yarlside (1,691′, 516 m). The tiny summit cairn is on the edge of a really weird depression, surely man-made. Although I’m not sure what the original purpose was, today it was full of black slugs. Val said “I’ve never seen so many, but they’re not moving very much” – I replied “Well, they’re just sluggish.” Ahem.

Val counting slugs at the summit of Little Yarlside

After another descent it was a hard slog (not steep, just rough) to the final top, What Shaw Common (1,593′, 485 m), the very flat, even uninspiring, summit of which was on the wrong side of a fence after a very wet bog – I’m not quite sure how Val got over it!

Relieved to be at the top of the last Birkett of the day

We weren’t far from the Shap Pink Granite quarry – a gravel road seemed to lead in that direction but fizzled out completely, leaving us a bit puzzled. So ended a short day with another 6 Birketts in the bag, making a total of 125 – I’ll soon be a quarter of the way there…



Day 19 – 8 Dodds (hardly a doddle)

Looking to Stybarrow Dodd from Sticks Pass

For my last of three consecutive days up in north Lakeland I couldn’t decide whether to do another decent round, or just have a short easy day. Both choices involved starting at Legburthwaite (St Johns in the Vale) with the easy option being Naddle Fell (High Rigg) and the other option being a long trudge up to Sticks Pass, do all the Dodds (and a couple more besides) followed by a long walk back along the road to the start.

300 Crags
The craggy side of the Dodds

The Dodds are a range of rounded hills north of Helvellyn, well seen from the A66 as you approach Keswick from Penrith. Their gentle slopes (on the East side) belie both their height and the steep crags which fall down to the valley of St Johns in the Vale on the west.

020 Stream
Crossing a stream near the start of the walk

My own bravado got the better of me and I was soon hauling myself up the 1,890′ (575 m) to Sticks Pass. The path crossed a water leet early on which seems to carry water TO nearby Thirlmere, but why it isn’t just allowed to enter the reservoir naturally, I don’t know. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

030 Skiddaw
Looking back to Skiddaw on the way up to Sticks Pass

At first it was warm work and I stripped down to shirtsleeves, but as height was gained and the cold wind increased I soon wrapped up again. Helvellyn came into view, along with a ski-lift – I didn’t know about that! An easy and very obvious path took me to the top of Stybarrow Dodd (2,766′, 843 m) – where for some reason the summit cairn has been built some distance from the top – and then an even easier path crosses the tops over to the day’s second top, Watson’s Dodd, at 2,589′ (789 m), where the view West, to the fells I was on yesterday, is fabulous.

060 Stybarrow view
Fabulous view from the top of Stybarrow Dodd – Ive usually been up in the clouds with no view at this point


A slightly longer trek led to the highest of the Dodds, appropriately named Great Dodd (2,811′, 857 m) this time with the substantial ‘summit’ wind-shelter 100 metres from the top. In contrast to yesterday I’d only met two people so far.

090 Randerside
Great Dodd from Randerside

It was a long descent to the stony bump which is Randerside (2,391′, 729 m), made worse by the knowledge that the only way forward was to go back to the top of Great Dodd again afterwards! I warned two ladies with bare arms that it was a top-coat colder up there (I now had my fleece on as well).

100 Thirlmere Little Dodd
Thirlmere from Little Dodd

From Little Dodd (2,575′, 785 m) a pimple under the armpit of Great Dodd, a pleasant trek led to the much more exciting rocky outcrop of Calfhow Pike (2,175′, 663 m), a proper bastion of igneous rock surrounded by mild green slopes. A great place for an egg mayonnaise sandwich, in fact.

110 Calfhow
Calfhow Pike
The path really isn’t as bad as it looks!

Then on to Clough Head (2,382′, 726 m) with a proper trigpoint, quickly followed by the much more vertiginous descent down its north face, suddenly feeling like you were in mountains again, rather than just big hills. Evidence of mining and quarrying became apparent as the final target hove into sight – Threlkeld Knotts, a little whale-back of 1,686′ (514 m). From the top, the views of Blencathra and the knobbly fell of High Rigg are absolutely stunning.

130 Sheep
Welcoming party
180 Blencathra from Threlkeld
Blencathra from Threlkeld Knotts

The descent continued down an ancient packhorse track and through more evidence of quarrying, until finally I arrived at the road – 2¾ miles from the car. It was a long 50-minute walk back, though full of interest.

200 High Rigg
High Rigg from near Threlkeld Knotts
220 Road
Less than three miles to go!


8 summits today, total now 119. Walked 11.7 miles (18.8 km), climbed 3,417′ (1.041 m). Total mileage now 172 (277 km) and total ascent 54,372′ (16,562 m).


Back in the lakes next week to do some more catching up!


The Queen reaches 90; the Challenge reaches 111…

060-Hobcarton Head
On the path from Grisedale Pike to Hobcarton Head

I spoke to some American guests at Howe Keld whilst having breakfast: they’d arranged an intense week with Helvellyn today, and Scafell Pike + Scafell planned for tomorrow – not exactly taking it easy then!  I set off on the two mile drive to Braithwaite village and found the little car park on the Whinlatter Road, almost empty at 9.00 am apart from locals going for a run.

010 Back to Bassenthwaite
Looking back towards Bassenthwaite from near the start

Today’s plan – the Coledale Horseshoe, starting with Kinn on the way up to Grisedale Pike (2,595′, 791 m) and finishing with Barrow, 1,494′ (455 m). I slapped on some sun cream and set off up the very steep path from the car park, listening to Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, and – once on the open fell where some tree planting has taken place – Tree Pipits, singing as they ‘parachuted’ down into the top branches. All three birds are summer visitors, another sign that winter is (almost) gone!

030 Kinn
The lonely top of Kinn – Grisedale Pike beckons beyond

The path becomes a grassy promenade up to the first ‘Birkett’ summit: Kinn. Until you view this from the other side of the valley you wonder why it’s a summit at all, and presumably the locals aren’t that bothered as there’s no cairn, no nothing to indicate the top – which isn’t even where Graham Haley pinpoints it, but instead, a few metres NE on the wrong side of a fence. But it’s such a tiny difference, it’s definitely not worth getting excited about. Although sadly, there was nowhere to leave a summit card.

040-Down to Sleet How
Looking back down the ridge from near the summit of Grisedale Pike

The path steepens and gets much rockier after a little pause at Sleet How, and on this section I had my first meeting of the day – with a couple coming down: they said they’d just been for a post-breakfast saunter (a bit blasé if you ask me!).  The top of Grisedale Pike was reached after 3 miles and 2,400′ (732 m) of climbing – that’s an average gradient of about 1 in 7. And it felt like it. But the views were well worth it.

050-Grisedale summit
At the top of Grisedale Pike

A quick down and back up took me to Hobcarton Head (2,425′, 739 m) where I met Anthony Bowles and his dog, who had driven from Newcastle after an early start. I mention Anthony because he recognised me from the article in Lakeland Walker. I must be getting famous (it turns out that the American family’s local mountain guide has heard of the 542in2016 Challenge too). However, we parted company here as Anthony had Hopegill Head on his agenda, whereas that summit is on a different day’s itinerary for the Challenge.

080-to Coledale Hause
Coledale Hause is the saddle in the centre, then it’s straight on to the ‘V’ on the skyline
100 Crag Hill
Somebody needs to fix the trigpoint at the summit of Crag Hill.

A grassy descent to Coledale Hause was followed by a long ascent by the side of the stream that becomes Gasgale Gill (a ventriloquist’s nightmare) and then a steady climb with almost unbroken blue skies to the top of Crag Hill, at 2,751′ (839 m) the highest summit today. The top is a wide stony expanse, with a stone trig point that looks like it’s about to fall over.

110 Force Crag Mine
A tiny patch of snow remains on the N side of Eel Crags, overlooking Force Crag Mine. Skiddaw and Blencathra in the background

A brief diversion took me along the edge of steep crags, where I saw a male Ring Ousel, another summer bird, like a Blackbird with a white crescent on its chest. There was no path but the crags overlook the old Force Crag Mine and led me to the  summit of Eel Crag (2,649′, 807 m) – after which I retraced my steps to the top of Crag Hill and headed down the very steep rocky path towards Sail – 2,536′ (773 m).

130 To Sail
Dropping down towards Sail

There were more people about now, in fact it was almost like a Bank Holiday for a while. I stopped after Sail for a bite to eat and was overtaken (again) by Anthony Bowles, complaining that he’d followed his dog instead of the map and so hadn’t done Grasmoor as he’d intended! The path down from the summit to Sail Pass is really odd, being built up above the level of the surrounding ground: it feels like walking on a zig-zag dyke.

150 to Outerside
En route to Outerside

I’d already visited Sail Pass on the Challenge, on the way from Ard Crags to Scar Crags; this time I turned left down a steep path which overlooks masses and masses of stones, presumably washed out by the winter floods. Perhaps in a few years they’ll be hidden by plant growth but just now they’re like a huge scar on the fell side. Across a bog and up to the top of Outerside, which at 1,863′ (568 m) looks dwarflike from the surrounding hills yet seems more of a proper hill when you’re actually climbing to the top.

200 Stile End
A quick rest at the top of Stile End. Q – which is knobblier, my knees or Causey Pike in the background? (Answers only accepted if written on the back of a cheque made out to Cancer Research UK)

Two more to go – Stile End (1,467′, 447 m), where the view across to the crinkly Causey Pike is lovely, and Barrow, both predominantly set in heather with easy stone paths between. From here it was downhill almost all the way to Braithwaite and the last cruel little climb from the village to the car park.

210 Barrow View
Looking towards Keswick and Derwentwater from the top of Barrow

So that made 9 summits for the Queen’s birthday and a running total of 111. Today’s mileage was 9.4 (15 km) with a total ascent of 4,070′ (1,270 m). Total mileage now 161 (259 km), total height gained 50,955′ (15,521 m) – a second Mount Everest is approaching!

OS Route

Please keep sharing details of this blog – especially if you’re on Facebook, Linked-in or other social media, and don’t hesitate to leave a comment, whether it’s with ideas for improving the blog or your own experiences of the hills… or anything relevant.

The First Century – in Newlands

It’s a long time since the Easter weekend. Two pre-arranged holidays – on the islands of Mull and Mallorca – have kept me away from the Lake District for three weeks, so now I’ve got some catching up to do. Collecting tins have been getting itchy and impatient, and we need to start filling them up again!

Derwent Water, with Keswick and Skiddaw in the background

So I’ve now got three consecutive days in the Lake District, with no commuting in between, thanks to the generosity of Laura and Jerome at Howe Keld Guest House in Keswick. I’ve also been offered accommodation at Thornthwaite Grange and the Royal Oak Hotel in Borrowdale, so if you’re coming to spend a few days in the area (and it is definitely OPEN after the winter floods) PLEASE stay at one of them, to support those who support – generously – this challenge for Cancer Research.

Rigg Head, looking up to Dale Head

In the last three weeks the clocks have gone forward an hour and the Earth’s gone a lot further round the Sun, so the days are much longer now and the early mornings bright. Nevertheless, there was frost on the car first thing, so full summer hasn’t arrived yet.

Arriving at Skelgill Car Park before 8.30 am, I was soon climbing the steep slopes of Catbells en route to Skelgill Bank, summit no 94 at 1109′, (337 m). The birds have changed in the last three weeks too – Willow Warblers were singing and there are lots of Wheatears on the fells, their white rumps drawing attention as they flit amongst the stones.

The summit of Catbells

I passed a gentleman who said he’d come from Kettlewell this morning, which seemed a fair achievement until he told me it was a little hamlet down by the side of Derwent Water. Catbells (1,481′, 451 m) was next: I’d forgotten there’s no cairn at the top, but I found a few loose stones to hold down the summit card – which has already been returned, enthusiastically, by Nick Griffiths.

Maiden Moor. Note the little patch of snow on Hindscarth

It’s quite a tramp, involving a long climb, to Maiden Moor, and I’d forgotten that the summit is off the main path. Although the fell top seems wide and rather featureless, the western side drops steeply to the valley floor and looks most impressive, either from across the valley or from the edge, not far from the Maiden Moor summit (1,890′, 576 m) which is marked only by a small pile of stones.

The cairn on HIgh Spy in the distance, on the left…
…and close up

On the other hand, then next summit – High Spy, at 2,143′ (653 m) has a magnificent stone cairn, beautifully crafted and with only just one or two nooks and crannies in which to squeeze a summit card! Having warmed up on the climb and stripped down to a short-sleeved top, the height gained and the cool breeze had me putting another layer back on, before the descent to the col at Rigg Head, 550′ below.

It’s a big climb from that tarn down there!

I met a group of eleven walkers here who promptly parked up for lunch before the 900′ climb to the top of Dale Head, the highest point of the day’s walk at 2,472 (753 m). It’s quite a gruelling climb and I was soon back down to shirtsleeves again! The cairn at the summit is even better than the one on High Spy and the views down the Newlands Valley from here are superb.

Dale Head summit cairn

It’s a lovely path from here to the turn off to Hindscarth, looking down the Newlands Valley on one side, to Honister on the other, and across to the slate mine and the black face of Fleetwith Pike. Familiar mountains seem to be everywhere around the horizon. A Peregrine flew over the ridge in front of me, heading towards Honister.

Hindscarth summit

I stopped for lunch, then carried on to the summit of Hindscarth – number 99, at 2,385′ (727 m), where I met two ladies from the North East who had also just seen the Peregrine. One of them was off to Mull in a fortnight.

No 100!! The not-so-exciting High Crags

On the way down towards High Crags I stopped to unzip the bottom of my trousers and get my legs out in the fresh air for the first time. And sun cream. What a change from January’s snow! Considering it was no 100, High Crags (1,736′, 529 m) was disappointing – just a tussocky top with no cairn at all, just two pathetic stones. I made a 200 m detour to get a couple of rocks from the path, then returned to weigh down the summit card, and continued to Red Knott…


(1,483′, 452 m) which also lacked any cairn. The path was closer here, so I picked up several stones and fashioned a wee cairn of my own! The ridge here is narrow and steep sided, quite a fun section, and leads to the last top of the day…


Scope End (1,352, 412 m), where some more cairn-building was called for! There were more people around by now: one couple had seen one of my cards and asked for an update on how many I’d done. The descent from Scope End is very steep and rocky, but can just be done without resorting to bum-sliding.


The only problem now was a two-mile (at least!) hike back to the car, past Little Town and across Yewthwaite Gill, where the winter’s floods had removed a substantial footbridge. Approaching the Skellgill car park I found myself walking past a lady who was attending to a call of nature. It seemed a natural thing to do but I got the feeling she was most embarrassed!

All that was left was to head for Keswick and check in with the charming Laura and Jerome and Howe Keld Guest House. It’s very comfortable and I’m having to fight off sleep to finish this blog! Tomorrow… the Coledale Round, from Braithwaite, including Grisedale Pike, Eel Crag and Sail. Let’s hope the weather holds!

Keeping in shape with a Busman’s Holiday on Mull

001 Ferry
Loch Linnhe and Lismore from the Mull Ferry

Val and I had already arranged a few holidays for this year before I decided to take on the Big 542in2016 Challenge, and this week was the first one – a week on the Hebridean island of Mull with good friends Carol and Ian Hardy and their daughter Katie. We’d planned a walking week, based in Tobermory, so it’s turned out to be something of a busman’s holiday!

005 Cows
The natives are used to rain, of course

After a calm crossing from Oban on Calmac’s MS Coruisk, we turned our thoughts to walking, and were immediately met with wet and windy weather. On Sunday we climbed Beinn nan Lus and Beinn Bhuidhe from the Glen Forsa track near Salen. Although the rain stopped soon after we reached the top of these low hills (Beinn Bhuidhe is only 1,355′, 413 m), we were still faced with an arduous descent over some of the roughest tussocky ground I’ve ever encountered. We had to be very careful not to twist a knee or an ankle.

010 Glenforsa Talaidh
Looking back up Glen Forsa to the magnificent Beinn Talaidh

On a pleasant section along the River Forsa towards the end of the walk, we saw a Sand Martin, the first summer visitor of the year. Perhaps Spring is on its way, even though it just feels more like winter.

015 Calgary
The white sands and basalt cliffs of Calgary Bay, one of Mull’s real jewels

Monday was forecast very wet, so we went to the beautiful Calgary Bay, where we could soon escape the rain when it arrived – which it did by mid-morning.

020 Calgary lugworm
There were lugworm casts everywhere on the sand, but only one was this romantic!

The sands at Calgary are beautiful, there’s plenty of geological, historical and biological interest, and when it rains, the cafe/studio is a good place for lunch.

025 Corra-bheinn
On the approach to Corra-bheinn, with Cruach Dearg in the background

On Tuesday Ian, Katie and I set off to climb Mull’s ‘Twin Peaks’ of Corra-bheinn and Cruach Dearg, each 2,310′ (705 m) above sea level. The whole island of Mull seemed to be one big sponge after the winter’s rain, and I was glad to be wearing the slightly unusual footwear of wellies – even though the climb to the top of Cruach Dearg involved a bit of easy scrambling up its rocky approach.

Glen Clachaig
A typical U-shaped glaciated valley – Glen Clachaig

We’d planned a linear walk, starting in Glen More and finishing near Gruline (where Val and Carol had gone with the car) and it was a long trek down Glen Clachaig and along Loch Ba to the finish.

030 Ba
The weather brightened up along Loch Ba
035 Garmony
Looking out over the Sound of Mull from Garmony Point

Wednesday was full of heavy showers – very heavy! We all went to Garmony Point near Craignure and walked along the shore and through forestry to Fishnish ferry terminal and back.

040 Carol Fishnish
Carol wraps up against the cold during lunch in the bus shelter at Fishnish Ferry Terminal

The sun did shine between the showers, but we still got wet – but then you can’t visit Mull without getting wet! And we saw our first Swallow of the year, so perhaps we really will get a summer some time.

045 Dervaig
Ian strides out at the start of Thursday’s walk near Dervaig

On Thursday Ian and I decided to do a longish walk – from Dervaig, through forestry (much of it now cleared) towards Quinish, then Glengorm Castle where we met up with the ladies for lunch, and on via Ardmore to Tobermory after a trek of 13 miles.

050 Ardmore Ladies
The ladies join us after lunch at Glengorm castle

The high point was probably watching a pair of magnificent Sea Eagles courtship displaying, rolling and locking talons, above Ardmore. Although the area is uninhabited now, it was once a busy crofting region: the evidence is everywhere, with the remains of traditional black houses and more recent homes, all now in ruins.

055 Ardnamurchan
Looking to the most westerly point of the British mainland – Ardnamurchan – from Ardmore on Mull

During the week I’ve been appearing on Radio Lancashire each morning, but despite modern technology I’ve missed every one as I’ve been out in the open countryside. On Thursday evening I also did a live telephone interview on Salford City Radio, talking about the Big 542in2016 Challenge for Cancer Research UK – so there’s still a lot going on!

065 Aros Park
The ladies again, this time by the waterfall on the path to Aros Park, Tobermory

Friday was another wet day, so just a short walk to Aros Park sufficed, after which we called on a few friends in Tobermory. For those we missed, my apologies, but we’ll be back again soon!

2016-04-09 09.00.11
Craignure and a snow-clad Dun da Gaoithe from the Mull ferry

The week passed quickly and this morning we were back on the ferry from Craignure to Oban – as you can see, it was chilly overnight, with the rain falling as snow on the high ground and giving a good covering to Beinn Talaidh and Dun da Gaoithe. Despite the calm conditions we failed to see any dolphins on the return crossing, but the views on their own were worth it, a fitting end to a great week.

You might think I’d be back on the 542in2016 Challenge next week, but somehow I managed to book two consecutive trips, so watch this space to see what next week brings! The 542 will recommence the week after next – with a vengeance I hope!