Hooray!! Today, Saturday 29 October, I visited the FINAL SUMMIT – Carron Crag, in Grizedale Forest between Windermere and Coniston.
Not only did I have the privilege of walking with over 50 good friends but also with me were Mark Richards (‘Fellranger’ of the Cicerone series of Guide Books) and the man himself, Mr Bill Birkett, who has given his name to the 540+ summits I’ve climbed this year.
Also present were several people who had found my ‘summit cards’ over the last few months and it was an absolute pleasure to welcome them along.
I’ll post more details tomorrow but for now I just wanted to say that the Big Challenge has been successfully completed. This means, of course, that if you’ve pledged a donation, it’s now due (!!) – have a look at the HOW TO DONATE link in the menu at the top of the page if you’re not sure what to do next, and please don’t forget Gift Aid if you pay tax.
Last weekend saw the annual visit to Eskdale in the Lake District by Clitheroe 41 Club (ex-Round Tablers) – which is now named the Trevor Wilson Weekend in memory of a much loved and respected member who succumbed to cancer over two years ago whilst only in his 50s.
Fourteen of us stayed at the Brook House Inn in Boot. Five, including me, started the weekend by climbing Wallowbarrow Crag from Seathwaite (Dunnerdale) – this happened to be the only one of 227 ‘Fellrangers’ that I hadn’t climbed (‘Fellrangers’ are fells described by Mark Richards in his excellent series of Cicerone guide books).
It was certainly cold, with frequent sleet and hail showers and settled snow at higher levels. Mark Richards describes a longer walk to the summit which takes in some attractive scenery, but which also involves crossing a beck via stepping stones – and given the amount of recent rain and the high state of the rivers, we decided this would certainly not be safe, so opted for the direct route there and back.
We were back at the Blacksmith’s Arms in Broughton Mills soon after 1.00, where we met up with more members of our party – eleven of us altogether meant that the poor couple who had perhaps expected a quiet lunch had to endure our jolly banter for the best part of an hour!
On Saturday eight of us walked from Boot to Low Birker and then up a fascinating track (the suggestion was that it had been used for bringing peat down off the fell) to Green Crag and back via Kepple Crag and Penny Hill Farm. Lunch at the Woolpack consisted of some shared pizzas and a couple of beers.
We’d intended to do Cold Pike on our way home on Sunday – starting at the Three Shires Stone at the summit of Wrynose Pass – but when we encountered sheet ice on the way up Hard Knott Pass, and considered the consequences of meeting more on the way down (1 in 3!) common sense suggested we re-route to Birker Fell and do a tour of Devoke Water instead, taking in Rough Crag, Water Crag and Seat How.
It was a beautiful day, with a milky sun behind high thin cloud. As we drove home we spotted a pair of sun dogs – strange rainbow-like halo effects caused by sunlight being refracted by ice crystals high in the atmosphere.
A great weekend. My first visit to the fells since I finished the Birketts, during which I completed my round of all 227 Fellrangers, enjoyed great company and even had a few beers. Big thanks to the Brook House Inn who made us really welcome, with everyone there being so friendly. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
It’s seven years since I decided to visit the summit of every one of the fells in Wainwright’s seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. I had a very particular reason – to do something special in memory of a dear friend who’d lost her battle against breast cancer – and (I’m not sure why) I decided to do them in one concerted effort which lasted under two months. Elite fell runners, like Jos Naylor and Steve Birkinshaw, had run them all in a week, but I’ve yet to hear of any ‘normal’ walker who’s done them as quickly as I did.
It was quite a thrill, a concentrated experience. A lot of planning was required and I was lucky enough to get accommodation provided in the Lake District. There were disadvantages – the most serious being that, because every day was timetabled, I had to get out and walk whatever the weather, and although most days were fine, two horrendously wet ones will never be forgotten!
For any keen, reasonably fit walker, I’d recommend it.
Turn the clock forward seven years. I’d picked up Bill Birkett’s ‘Complete Guide to the Lakeland Fells’ and wondered whether I should visit the additional 327 fell tops over a period of time. In those seven years I’d asked my friends to sponsor me on other challenges, notably a 4,500 mile cycle around the British coast (and they did, to the tune of over £30,000 for Cancer Research UK). I’d also become seven years older and was finding that the body certainly doesn’t improve with time.
I felt that maybe I’d had a long enough break – perhaps friends would tolerate just one more request for sponsorship. But I’ve always been ambitious. Shamelessly, I wanted sponsors to part with more money than they would normally do, but at the same time they would have to be able to afford it, and I would need to give them value for money. The idea stayed on the back-burner for a while.
Then, on New Year’s Eve ten months ago, when we were staying with friends in a rented cottage in Windermere, Val and I went for a walk up Wansfell Pike. As we trudged upwards, the cogs in my mind starting turning, and suddenly I had a brainwave – do ALL the Birketts in one year (as far as I’m aware, nobody has done this) and ask people to sponsor me for 10p a summit. £54.20 – more than you’d normally sponsor someone for, but spread over a year, with entertaining updates on a blog, it would be a matter of a little over £1 per week ‘ less than half a pint of beer of a litre of petrol.
But if I was going to do them all in a year, the start would be the next day! No planning! Well, to cut a long story short there was a lot of planning, but it was very concentrated! Those four weeks in January were a whirlwind – plotting routes,arranging sponsorship, a website, publicity, accommodation, and so on. But I was lucky enough to get lots of help.
The first walks were in mid-January with thick snow on the ground. So deep – and soft – in places that on one occasion it was easier to lie on our bellies and paddle forwards for 30 yards! But mostly the weather wasn’t too bad, and I had time to pick my days and not walk too much in wet weather. And of course in summer it would be even better… but of course, I’d forgotten what English summers are like, especially in the north-west.
From June to September the weather was rubbish. I don’t think there were two consecutive dry days in three months, the ground was saturated and the streams were full and fast-flowing. The bracken grew thick, high and at times almost impenetrable. Just as I was becoming concerned that I might slip behind schedule, September arrived, and soon the weather began to improve. Eventually it seemed likely that I’d finish the challenge before the weather got too cold and the days too short.
As I was planning the routes I discovered that one of the Birketts – Pillar Rock – was a proper rock climb. This came as an unwelcome surprise, but I nervously made some provisional arrangements to tackle it under expert supervision. At the same time I also found that not one but two Wainwrights weren’t on Bill Birkett’s list – in addition to Castle Crag (not high enough), Mungrisdale Common was absent, perhaps because of its remarkably nondescript qualities!
As it happened, I was overtaken by events – the plan to climb Pillar Rock was scuppered by a large and very angry boil right on my waist line. Peter, my rock-climbing babysitter, decided that no medieval torture would come close to the pain of a climbing harness in that region, and Pillar Rock remained unassailed. At least Mungrisdale Common kept the numbers at 542!
As the weeks and months go by, the mental side of the challenge becomes more and more of a factor. You reach a point where progress feels laboured and the end still seems a long way off – and motivation – to get out of bed, to keep the blog up to date, to plan the next few days’ walks – becomes tough. Then in July came the worst weather of the challenge – and it wasn’t even forecast. A bright day was promised for Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, but the weather thought otherwise, depositing probably 3” of rain in four hours and making progress extremely difficult.
17 years ago I had an operation to remove a bowel tumour, since when I’ve had a permanent ileostomy. It’s surprisingly easy to manage, even in remote places, walking or cycling, but really bad weather with high winds, heavy rain and freezing cold hands present quite a challenge. That was one tough day!
On the whole though, the walks were enjoyable. Much of the time I had to be content with just my own company, and I found myself to be much more safety-conscious than I ever remember before. The logic being that if you take risks day after day, the chance of something going seriously wrong is just too high.
The scenery in the Lakes can be magnificent – the combination of fell and water, the quality of light at times, all combine to make it a truly magical place. A gleam of sunshine always helps, of course, and I remember a sign outside the pub in Stonethwaite, carved a bit like a gravestone, that reads “In memory of a sunny day in Borrowdale”.
So would I recommend others to tackle the Birketts in one year? Certainly not! Some times of the year are better than others, and to squeeze all the fells into ten or so months inevitably means that many have to be walked when they’re not at their best. Visit all the Birketts by all means – you’ll see parts of the Lake District that many people overlook – but spread them out over two or three years to get the best out of them.
Having summited all the fells, it’s too early to relax completely. I have to make sure all the pledges become firm donations for Cancer Research UK. I need to put down some thoughts, like these, before I forget. But it’s a nice change, I must say. And there’s a bike in the garage that hasn’t been out on the road for nine months – time to pump the tyres up and take a spin along some local lanes I think!
I do need to acknowledge the contribution of several people:
So many have helped: I’m bound to forget some, so I apologise now, but the contribution made by the following has been much appreciated. I couldn’t have managed the Challenge without them.
For help with accommodation: Robert & Margaret Berry; Bill Taylor; Nuala and Susan at the Royal Oak, Rosthwaite; Laura and Jerome at Howe Keld, Keswick; Clive and Sue at Thornthwaite Grange; Christine Thomas at the Elterwater Hostel; Michael Parkinson (Fell & Rock Club);
Mark Goossens for help with the website, and Kath Molyneux for helping with e-mailing lists.
To those who spent time walking with me and giving me some lifts: Ian Hardy; Iain Poole; Duncan & Emma Metcalf; plus many other walkers on odd days. Special thanks to my long-suffering wife Val Honeywell who did more fells than anyone except me at 84.
Corporate Sponsors Melt Candles; Evans Accountants; The Printed Cup Company; Crow Wood Leisure (Burnley); West Coast 4×4 of Clitheroe, and all the hundreds of individuals who have donated hard-earned funds. Jonathan Brown of Pendle Print for providing all my flyers at no charge.
Other supporters, both on social media and elsewhere: Mark Richards (the ‘Fellranger’ series of walking guides); Sarah Howcroft (Rohantime); John Manning of Lakeland Walker magazine; That’s Lancashire TV; Emma Harrison, Kathryn Driver, Andy Belcham and John Honeywell who all drummed up support; and especially Alan, Janet and Lyndsay Shaw for their unceasing support and for having the great idea of raffling the McRae / Grindrod rally print. And of course Val, who clearly had no idea what she was letting herself in for all those years ago. Nowhere, between the richer & poorer, the sickness & health, did they mention anything about these challenges.
I must thank all the people who have found the cards I’ve left at summits. Although I agree with the principle that you should take only photographs and leave only footprints, I decided to leave a card at each top, asking the finder to take it away with them (so as not to leave anything for long) and send me a ‘selfie’ photo. Over half the cards came back and many of the finders have been generous enough to sponsor me. Some even came to walk on the final summit, and it was a genuine thrill to meet them.
I think that’s it. I’m sorry if I’ve gone on too long, but I hope I’ve given you some insight into the Challenge. The main purpose remains – raising funds for Cancer Research, because together we will beat cancer sooner.
By now I’m sure regular readers of this blog will know that during the course of 2016 I’ve visited the summits of 539 Birketts – Lakeland summits over 1,000′ – plus 2 ‘Wainwrights’. This has involved 85 days of walking – almost 750 miles (the same as Land’s End to John o’ Groats and then back to Fort William – as the crow flies) and over 42 MILES of ascent – equivalent to climbing Mount Everest from base camp 19 times! (or Blackpool Tower 418 times!)
And now, on day 86, the final day, the final summit, has arrived. I guessed a few friends might want to come with me on this last one, so some time ago identified Carron Crag as a suitable ‘candidate’ – not too high, not too far, not too difficult – and by starting and finishing at the Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre we could even be sure of some civilised facilities, including a cafe, at the finish!
I didn’t quite expect so many people to turn out! Not just friends and family, but also the man who wrote the Complete Guide to the Lakeland Fells and gave his name to them – Mr Bill Birkett, and the author of the best series of detailed Lakeland guidebooks since A W Wainwright, Mr Fellranger himself, Mark Richards (though this would be his first visit to the top of Carron Crag). Also present were several walkers whom I’d never met before, but who, during the course of the year, had found and returned some of the cards I’ve left at each summit. It was really good of them all to come.
Sadly, the weather hadn’t made such an effort. The clouds were low and a light drizzle was in the air. But there was little or no wind and it wasn’t cold – so it could have been much worse!
After assembling outside the Visitor Centre toilets (where else?!) around sixty of us set off along the Forestry Commission’s waymarked track, climbing and twisting through the forest, with much conversation and throwing sticks for various dogs, until we reached the summit of Carron Crag (1,030’, 314 m). It’s a surprisingly rocky top, very slippy on a wet day, having been polished by thousands of boots over the years.
Many in the party quite sensibly stayed on the path just below the summit, while the ‘peak-baggers’ carefully tiptoed to the trigpoint at the very top. marked as a ‘viewpoint’ on Ordnance Survey maps but with no views in today’s murky weather!
Some alcohol appeared! A couple of tots of cherry brandy (I think) followed by a bottle of champagne which magically appeared from the rucksack of David Evans – and was quickly opened and shared around.
I left my final summit card – suitably personalised to show this was the final summit – and then we all headed off along the footpath to make our way down again. A piece of woodland sculpture formed a nice backdrop for a photo of me and Val with Ian and Carol Hardy. Ian has been a great help, accompanying me on several walks and chauffeuring me to and from the Lake District.
I thought we’d all arrived safely back at the Visitor Centre, and didn’t realise that some walkers (including, ironically, Mark Richards!) had been so busy talking they’d missed a turning and ended up doing a bit of a detour. So as we gathered in The Yan centre for some welcome coffee and cakes (generously provided by the Centre Cafe – thank you!) this small (but lucky?) band missed my short speech.
In a day or two I’ll also publish a few ‘Notes in Conclusion’, which will include some thank-yous to a number of people and organisations who have helped the successful completion of this Big Challenge. And I think my great nephew Dylan will be producing another video. In the meantime that’s it folks! The show’s over!
Except… let’s not forget WHY I decided to do this Big Challenge in the first place. The idea is to raise as much money as possible for Cancer Research – and I’ve been amazed and humbled by the number of donations and pledges.
So now the time’s come to empty those collection tins and donate the money! If we’re going to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer then we need the money to fund all the work being done by organisations like Cancer Research UK. So PLEASE have a look at ‘How to Donate’ and MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Thank you!
You may think that as the end of a long campaign approaches, the pressure eases, and perhaps even a hint of “de-mob crazy” starts to show. In reality the opposite probably happens, as your brain thinks of more and more ways the Challenge might be derailed – a sprained ankle or other serious injury, a call to jury service, or in my case a stinking cold which refuses to go away. Although to be fair, things aren’t helped by the fact that I don’t like to take anything like aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen unless I absolutely have to.
So Ian Hardy (with Meg, the flat-coat retriever) kindly drove this snivelling wretch (wreck?) to Whinlatter Forestry Visitor Centre above Braithwaite, near Keswick, where we met Duncan and Emma Metcalf and their somewhat smaller dog Koshma. While our two canine companions got to know each other (mainly by snarling and barking) we got our boots on and obtained a Whinlatter Trails Map from one of the rangers who kindly let us into the centre before official opening time.
Incidentally, allow me to write the following, in case one of the Forestry Commission app developers is reading this. Your app, with details of all the visitor centres, attractions, maps etc is a lovely thing to download and browse through in the comfort of your own wifi-equipped home. It doesn’t work at all in the absence of 3G, 4G or wifi. Which is precisely what is absent (I think this is a reasonable bet) from almost every single Forestry Commission visitor centre. Please – all you need to do is make it possible to download the trail maps and it would be a lovely, useful resource, instead of being about as helpful as a chocolate fireguard!
By-passing the ‘Go-Ape’ attraction and enjoying paths which after the last nine months felt like motorways (even the junctions are numbered!), and with the dogs now good friends, we climbed through the woodland and on to the summit of Seat How (1,627′, 496 m), a small area of flattish rock with views of Grisedale and Ladyside Pikes. The sun was shining, the air was calm and cool – perfect walking conditions.
We dropped down to another wide track and headed for the quaintly-named Barf (1,536′, 468 m), which has forbiddingly steep rocky crags facing Bassenthwaite but from the west is simply pleasant (if a bit knobbly) moorland. Take a few steps east from the summit though, and the precipitous drop to the road is quite impressive!
Out of the trees now, we enjoyed a saunter across open moorland, first to Lord’s Seat (1,811′, 552 m), where we met a couple from Essex reconnoitring a route for their group of friends next April (only just in time then) and then Broom Fell (1,676′, 511 m) with a very fine stone cairn indeed, where we met John Brown from Cockermouth with his two Jack Russells.
John was part-way through his second round of Wainwrights, and I felt slightly awkward telling him that we were standing on my penultimate one – in an hour or two I’d be at no 214, completing my second round and doing them all in under a year!
We retraced our steps now, re-entering the forest and then trying to find a path (unsuccessfully) to the top of Ullister Hill (1,722′, 525 m), realising as we did so that we’d passed within 50 yards of it on our way up to Seat How, and I could have saved us a bit of walking if I’d been paying more attention (once you’ve got a route in your head it’s very difficult to change it!)
It’s a pretty inconspicuous summit surrounded by heather, but a good place to stop and have a spot of lunch, despite the fact that lots of walkers, runners and cyclists now seemed to appearing from all directions!
If this top was inconspicuous, it was soon outdone in the mediocrity stakes by Tarbarrel Moss (1,617′, 493 m). Before we got there we were hailed by a walker and his family who had collected one or two of my summit cards and spotted the 542 logo on the back of my rucksack. We accompanied each other for a quarter of a mile or so until our ways parted and we headed up a dark narrow path through thick trees. It did occur to me that if all the sphagnum moss were cleared away, the top might be in a completely different place!
Only two more left now, on Whinlatter Fell, and although our route started off pathless and hard going, we eventually picked up a path over the fell, enjoying great views of the fells opposite. The first top – Whinlatter Top (1,722′ 525 m) is the higher of the two, but isn’t the Wainwright. It is a Birkett though, so was claimed as no 540 this year… at which point Emma realised that she and her phone were no longer together. Oh no!
She’d last used it at the top of Tarbarrel Moss so after a brief discussion Duncan decided to head back and look for it. We pressed on to Brown How on Whinlatter (1,696′ 517 m), the penultimate Birkett of this Challenge and the final Wainwright – meaning that I’ve done my second complete round of the 214 Wainwrights, this time in 9½ months.
Duncan reappeared soon after, with Emma’s phone in hand (he’d done remarkably well to find it) and we descended to another track in the forest and from there back to the Visitor Centre, after almost 10 miles and 8 summits.
It’s difficult to describe my feelings now. Relief, I think, but not the same as the ‘banging your head against a brick wall’ relief, as much of the walking has been a great pleasure. Disbelief, partly, that I’ve managed to find time to spend 85 days on the fells and climbed every summit virtually unscathed. Gratitude, for all the help and support I’ve received (more about that in a later episode), and some satisfaction, certainly – divided between the achievement of climbing all the summits (including walking almost 750 miles and ascending the equivalent of a 42-mile high staircase), and (hopefully) raising some serious money for Cancer Research UK.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still one last summit to go – Carron Crag, this coming Saturday. I’m hoping lots of friends – old, new, and some I haven’t even met yet – will be there. Please come along and give your support.
If you can’t wait until Saturday to donate all those 10p’s you hopefully collected, please visit the ‘How to Donate’ page on this website or simply click here to be taken to the Challenge’s Just Giving page. Thank you!
I had four summits to do to the north of Wastwater, and would have done them last Friday but overnight Thursday-Friday I found myself cruelly struck down by that merciless affliction, Man-‘flu. I could hardly get up the stairs, never mind Lake District mountains!
By Saturday afternoon I wasn’t exactly better, but wasn’t as bad as I had been, and with the weather forecast for next week looking mixed, I thought I’d have an early early night on Saturday, get up super-early on Sunday morning and set off before the world had got out of bed.
And so, after a pleasant, traffic-free drive, I arrived at Wasdale well before 8.00 am. Well to be precise, I arrived at Greendale, which if I remember rightly is where Postman Pat hails from. Even Mrs Goggins must still have been in bed, although I had been beaten to it by One Man and His Dog, who were about to leave!
A soft green path sets off from the roadside parking area, carving a wide gap through the bracken (now all brown and lifeless) and where, to use the words of Wainwright, it bifurcates, I forked right and headed up the ridge to the summit, just as the sun came up over Illgill Head and the Wastwater Screes.
Brrr! It was a bit chilly (and windy) at the summit of Middle Fell (1,908′, 582 m). I moved on quickly, heading down with Haycock directly in front to the wide col at the foot of Seatallan. At first there was no path up the steep slope, but I could see something that looked more like a path than a stream higher up, so made for that. And path it was, steep but reliable, taking me to the summit plateau and then the trigpoint and cairn at 2,270′ (692 m). Seatallan would be the highest point reached today.
The way now continued along a well-defined path over wide moorland, gradually descending for over a mile to the cairn at Cat Bields, where the path made a sudden left turn to a boggy depression before rising again to Glade How, where an impressive cairn stands at 1,420′ (433 m). The views to the coast were improving all the time, although in this part of the world there seems to be no way of getting away from Sellafield!
From Glade How it’s not far to Buckbarrow (1,388′, 423 m) – really just the very distinctive end of Seatallan Fell. It doesn’t seem out of the ordinary at the top, but the crags on Buckbarrow’s south-east face are rocky and vertical. So it’s not a good idea to go down that way; instead I picked a way south-west until a faint path appeared, taking me down to the east side of Gill Beck, where the rowans and larches looked spactacular in the autumn sunshine.
Soon I was back on the road for a half-mile trek back to the car. Still no sign of Mrs Goggins, but a few more cars had arrived since I’d set off. The route out of Wasdale was extremely tedious, with motorists coming the other way having not the slightest idea of the width of their cars, but at least I had time to visit the Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre on the way home.
So now I can tell you that on Saturday 29 October we can do the final summit – Carron Crag (a baby at 1,030′, 314 m) – in some luxury, with good parking (although you have to pay) and all facilities at the start and finish. If you’d like to come along to this ‘grand finale’ you’ll be very welcome. The plan is that we’ll all gather at 10.00 am and the walk itself should take no more than 2½ hours. More details by following the link at the top of the page.
Before then I’ve eight summits to do in the northern Lorton Fells, and the plan is to do these tomorrow (Tuesday 25 October). Hopefully supporters will have saved enough 10p’s by the time I’ve finished – Cancer Research UK need our support!
It’s still Monday 10 October. Duncan and Emma headed for home, whilst I turned left at Newby Bridge and headed to the Gummer’s How car park, having in mind the two Birketts of Gummer’s How (a popular viewpoint) and Birch Fell.
My good friend Howard Blackburn had only a few days before sent me a message to say that he’d taken his new hip to the top of Gummer’s How, presumably to break it in, so to speak. I’d replied by asking him if he’d continued to the nearby top of Birch Fell, to which the answer was no. If I’d known what Birch Fell was like, I wouldn’t have bothered asking. All will become clear as you continue reading…
The path to the summit of Gummer’s How (1,054′, 321 m) is very popular and entirely straightforward. I guess hundreds of tourists do it every day, to be rewarded with an attractive view of Windermere when they reach the top.
There’s a stone trig point and a few cows thrown in to make it a very pleasant scene.
Looking to the north-east one I could see the adjacent Birch Fell less than half a mile away. The fact that there were trees all the way across the top didn’t register at that point…
After a short descent and negotiating a small marshy area, I started to climb back up by an old wall, to find that a lot of the larch trees had fallen, blocking the way. The next quarter of a mile may as well have been five miles! It was a case of trying to find a way through, past, over or under fallen trees, roots, branches and general detritus, whilst at the same time managing a generally upward direction.
My hair, down my back, inside my boots – everywhere – was getting filled with pine needles and twigs. Eventually I reached a grassy hummock next to yet another larch tree: I couldn’t see any higher ground and the GPS said I was at the top, at 1,043′ (318 m). No view, no sense of being on top of anything, just trees – upright and horizontal – all around.
I was quite ready to get away from this awful place, but I now realised how Hansel and Gretel felt, as the way back was anything but clear. I thought I was retracing my steps but clearly wasn’t, as yet again one obstruction after another barred the way. Finally, and with a great sense of relief, I reached open ground where I could head back, via Gummer’s How again, to the good path and the car park. If you’re in the vicinity by all means visit the charming top of Gummer’s How. Don’t bother with Birch Fell unless you absolutely must!
As promised, the statistics: 7 summits today, total now 529 (13 to go); mileage for the two walks, 8.34 (13.42 km); height climbed 2613′ (796 m). Total mileage for the Challenge 728 miles (1,171 km) and total ascent 217,900′ (66,375 m).
Next walk: Friday 21 October – 4 summits N of Wastwater (see elsewhere on the website for details).
Monday 10 October. Day 10 on the hills out of 11, and I have company! Duncan and Emma Metcalf (and their wee dog Koshma) will join me for the first time on a pleasant (hopefully!) round of five Dunnerdale fells, west of Coniston.
Some people might consider the starting point to be almost inaccessible – the road past Carter Ground, Jackson Ground and Stephenson Ground is narrow, twisty, undulating, gated… I remember it as a classic night rally section on events like the R L Brown, that demanded the utmost concentration. Today the main focus of concentration was to make sure you didn’t encounter someone coming the other way.
We parked at Stephenson Ground – a few cottages and farm buildings – and headed north along a bridleway which looks down across a small valley to a parallel forest road alongside the delightfully-named River Lickle.
After about a mile and a half we headed west, away from the track, and climbed over grass and rocks to the summit of Pikes (1,539′, 469 m). The morning was clear and the views towards the Scafells and Bowfell quite stunning.
The highest top was next – Caw, at 1,735′ (529 m), with a proper OS trigpoint. The way forward to Brock Barrow seemed clear, but as we made our way down towards it, the crags became less easy to negotiate than they appeared from further up. This made for an interesting interlude with a few ‘hands on’ moments, and a feeling of satisfaction as we looked back up once it was over!
A track ran up parallel to a big stone wall as we approached Brock Barrow, and I decided to follow the track to its highest point and then traverse across. A good plan except that there was no stile in the wall – but being built on top of the odd huge boulder, it proved to be relatively easy to cross without danger or damage. The dog was reluctant to follow Emma, despite coaxing, and she explained that this was because it understands Spanish better than English (I can’t quite remember why!) – so I shouted “Venga perro” and it came to me straight away! ¡Bueno!
The rocky top, at 1,125′ (343 m) was a bit breezy, but once again the views on this lovely clear day were worth waiting for.
The next two fells involved crossing undulating ground, where, just when you thought you were near the top, you came across another dip followed by another rise… and so on. Fox Haw (1,263′, 385 m) was first, with a top comprising a long rock mini-ridge, followed (eventually) by Raven’s Crag (1,184′, 361 m) which enjoyed another lovely view over rugged little fells amongst a patchwork of rusty-coloured bracken.
To get back to our starting point we had to aim for Jackson Ground. I opted for an innocent looking route directe and we ended up thrashing through a fair bit of tall, brown bracken. At this time of the year it still presents quite a barrier to progress, with the added problem that your boots fill up with small pieces of dead fronds and twigs.
We finished before 2 pm. Emma had to be at work for 7 pm and so she and Duncan decided to head back. Although I also had an engagement at 7, I felt more confident of being able to get back (just) in time, so we said our goodbyes after a most enjoyable walk. I headed for two fells on the SE side of Windermere…
… which I’ll tell you about in the next post, and bring you up to date with some statistics.
Sunday, 9 October. Today would hopefully see another nine fells added to the growing list and take me nearer the final target.
Despite being well into October, three Swallows flew in front of the car as I got to Ennerdale Bridge, almost as if to persuade me that summer was not quite over. At the same time, skeins of geese were flying south, reminding me that it probably was! I’d already seen a Stoat in Eskdale as it ran across the road and jumped over a dry stone wall, and a Buzzard on the Cold Fell road.
Kelton Fell (1,020’, 311 m) was the first of the nine, an easy walk from my roadside parking area NE of Ennerdale Bridge, and at the top I was received by a delegation of locals, as you can see from the photo.
Godworth was next, at 1,197’ (365 m) reached after a quick up and down (past someone’s discarded kitchen unit!): I was there less than an hour after starting, and beginning to think that today’s walk might be over quite quickly.
I hadn’t realised that no one, apparently – and I mean no one – goes from Godworth to Banna Fell. Not only is there no path for the mile or so between them, but the deep descent to Croasdale Beck is not just clad with thick heather, but gorse. Gorse! As if you didn’t know, it’s damn prickly stuff and in order to avoid it I had to re-ascend some way, and make a fairly sizeable detour.
Once over the beck, of course, I had a steep ascent back up on to the next fell side, followed by a trek across the pathless top to the plain, featureless summit of Banna Fell (1,496’, 456 m). So featureless, there was nowhere to leave a card. Next up was the oddly named Floutern Cop, a steep-sided knoll which I’d gazed at a few days before whilst on Hen Comb.
Once again the summit (at 1,480’, 451 m) lacked any particular feature (a surprise as the fell’s appearance suggests different) so once again I left with my card still in the rucksack.
Crossing a large marshy area I arrived at a fence line which would take me to the summit of Gavel Fell (1,726’, 526 m). A large boundary stone has been preserved in the fence line, and from the fell top (the only Wainwright today) there was a good view of the Isle of Man and southern Scotland.
Half a mile from the main summit is the North Top of Gavel Fell, also known as High Nook (1,601’, 488 m), a straightforward walk.
Back now to two summits on the same ridge – High Pen and Low Pen, at 1,558’ (475 m) and 1,427’ (435 m), with views towards Banna Fell, which Val and I had done back in August.
From here there was only the final fell left – Knock Murton (1,467’, 447 m) – this pudding-shaped fell had been in sight a few times already today and looked very steep-sided and rather daunting. Furthermore, I had to descend a long way before being able to start the climb. Further furthermore, the path described by Bill Birkett no longer exists – and I looked for it most carefully and diligently – so I had to follow the forest road a long way west (and down!) before starting the ascent almost from scratch, as it were. Lots of afternoon walkers were about, having parked either at Cogra Moss or east of Kirkland – this is clearly a popular area for a weekend stroll.
The fell has an interesting top, with various stone artefacts as well as the summit cairn, and the slopes have seen plenty of mining activity in the past. Having reached nine summits today I was ready to get back to the car and then put my feet up. Before I did I was overtaken by a runner who had just found my card, so we chatted on the way back to the road. That was certainly one of the shortest spells a card had been on a Birkett summit!
I was pretty happy, with the total now at 522. One more day left in the Lakes on this visit, and tomorrow I was to be joined by Duncan & Emma Metcalf on what will hopefully be a scenic route on some Dunnerdale Fells.
This was my second walk to start at the Bowness Knott car park, near Ennerdale Water. One problem (if problem it be) is that this involves a long trek of almost two miles along the north side of the lake before the climbing starts – but it’s a pleasant warm up on a good track (cars are restricted but can use it for access to the Ennerdale Youth Hostel).
Before I reached the end I encountered two gentlemen, also walkers, and after a brief greeting they recognised me from my various posts on social media, which they’d seen. They turned out to be Graham Saunders and Dave Galloway – aka Fat Boys on Tour, so our encounter ended with a lot of back-slapping and a very generous donation from them – thanks so much guys!
A good modern bridge takes the path over the River Liza at Char Dub, and in to the forest plantations.
Once the climbing started, through the woods at first and then on to the open fell, I caught two groups of students, both from the University of Manchester. They didn’t seem sure of their destination (I think they were just being coy) and as it turned out we kept a very similar pace all the way to the top of Haycock so were never that far from each other. Unlike me though, they didn’t make the slight detour to the summit of Lingmell (Ennerdale) (1,427’, 435 m), and then they caught back up with me as I stopped for something to eat.
I met them all again at the summit of Haycock (2,617’, 797 m) where they posed for a group photo, and a PhD student from the Netherlands gave me a liquorice spiral, which I promised to make last until the next summit, Little Gowder Crag (I did too!). They then headed in the opposite direction to Scoat Fell, Steeple and hopefully Pillar. Haycock is an imposing summit when seen from the Wasdale side, and it’s a long way from every direction, but the views are well worthwhile.
It didn’t take too long to get to the very rocky top of Little Gowder Crag at 2,405’, (733 m) (a good job or I’d have finished the liquorice).
From here it was a case of following the Ennerdale Fence, which if you read yesterday’s report isn’t a fence at all, but a stone wall. There’s a path on each side of the wall here and it doesn’t matter which side you walk, as the wall is easy to cross by stile when you get to Caw Fell (2,288’, 697 m). A large cairn marks the spot and the views are pretty good.
The final fell, known as Ennerdale Fell or more poetically Iron Crags (2,113’, 644 m), also lies just to the north of the wall, but the path (which drops down a long way to a col before rising again) is on the south side. So naturally I expected there to be a stile near the top. No such luck. It seemed very odd to have the summit on one side and the path on the other, but there it was, and without a stile I had to ‘hop’ over the wall (now adorned with barbed wire), taking extra care, of course.
Mr Birkett now describes the return journey to the Ennerdale path as a simple descent by Silvercove Beck – naturally I assumed there would be a path, but I was clearly being optimistic. So there followed a mile (it felt like two) of difficult hacking through rank heather, with harsh ups and downs to cross the little tributaries, then bracken, and it was with some relief that I finally arrived at a decent path leading down to the Ennerdale track again.
Just before arriving at the car park I passed a couple with a toddler; whilst taking off my boots at the car the young man came up to me to say that he’d found one of my summit cards several weeks ago. So ‘Hello’ to Michael Rodney and family, and thanks for your donation!
After 5 fells today the total is now 513. Quite a long walk at 11.2 miles (18 km) with 2,636′ (803 m) of ascent.
Later on I headed to the Woolpack in Eskdale for something to eat, only to find a group of cyclists from Clitheroe, including Big Al Taylor and John Wilmott, who were in the area for the weekend. It’s a small world!
Excuse the delay in posting updates. I’ve been to the Isle of Mull for four days with no wifi, but a great weekend with lots of rally friends old and new. Now back to the Big 542 in 2016 Challenge for Cancer Research UK…
From Appleby Val and I went home for a day. I guess it was really a laundry trip for me, having done six consecutive days’ walking, and with the weather forecast still looking good I wanted to get back to the Lakes as soon as I could, without smelling worse than the sheep.
The next day I had a group of nine fells to do in the far west, starting from the road known as Cold Fell which is definitely a short cut from Ennerdale Bridge to Calder Bridge and no doubt gets busy with Sellafield traffic at certain times of the day. It’s a long way from home – nearly 100 miles and 2½ hours. A huge flock of Goldfinches flew ahead as I passed the first farm.
It looked like another day for wellies, although without any significant rain for the last few days it’s remarkable how quickly the ground dries out. It didn’t take long to march to the top of the first fell, Blakeley Raise, 1,276’ (389 m) above sea level, where the summit is at the corner of a fence and marked by a cairn which now almost hides the big boulder underneath. Bill Birkett’s notes refer to forestry plantations all around, but these have long been felled – a great help for navigation!
Once again skeins of Pink-footed Geese were on the move, always flying from north to south, with the birds constantly chatting to each other. As on previous (and future) days, they seemed to peak between 8.30 and 10.30 am. Grike (1,599’, 488 m) came next – a Wainwright as well as a Birkett – and getting there involved a straightforward march and climb. The top was always in sight, which presumably wasn’t the case before the trees were felled.
From the Bowness Knott car park by Ennerdale (I was last there on 5 August and will be there again tomorrow) a large crag dominates the opposite side of the lake: Angler’s Crag forms the lower part of Crag Fell (again a Wainwright), and today I was to approach from the opposite direction. Much of the ground from Grike was boggy, and a communications aerial dominates. The summit (1,716’, 523 m) is set back from the crag edge so the view wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped!
Three down, six to go. I dropped down to cross a marshy area on a raft of old fence posts, then headed up alongside the Ennerdale Fence. This is a well-known landmark several miles long, and very substantially constructed in dry stone – so you’d think it would be called the Ennerdale Wall, but it isn’t. After a while I veered away across the moor to the unspectacular top of Whoap (1,676’, 511 m), where the complete lack of features other than grass meant that there was nowhere to leave one of my summit cards. But I did flush a Snipe (they ‘explode’ from just a few feet away as they fly off) and then I saw the day’s first human being, together with his dog, and soon after (almost like London busses) another man and his dog.
After a steep climb I was on top of Lank Rigg (1,775’, 541 m), standing next to my first proper Ordnance Survey trig point for some time. About 100 metres further on, past a little tarn, was another stone cairn on top of a feature which turned out to be an ancient tumulus. Whose bones was I standing on, I wonder…?
On the descent to Kinniside I stopped to have a sandwich. I’d heard the occasional plaintive whistle of a Golden Plover when all of a sudden at least forty of them came out of the blue and shot past my left ear, crazily wheeling this way and that before disappearing into the distance. Nearly dropped my meat pie!
Kinniside (1,230’, 375 m) and Latter Barrow (1,161’, 354 m) are two smaller hills, the former completely grassy, the latter (or Latter…) with a boulder top which continues down the north-western slopes, where I was surprised to see a Wheatear. These birds love areas of mixed grass / heath and rocks, but like Swallows fly south to Africa for the winter, so this one was leaving it late.
It was a steep (and quite long) descent to the River Calder, and I was now well below the level of the road where I’d parked. Crossing the river (more of a little brook really) required care and was then followed by a steep climb to the top of Swarth Fell (1,099’, 335 m) and a further march to the ninth and last summit of the day, Burn Edge (1,050’, 320 m).
From the top I could see the car, and it was a short and gentle descent to get back after another good day, with 9 more summits claimed (508 in total); 7.51 miles (12.08 km) walked and 1,883’ (573 m) climbed. I’ve now walked a total of 700 miles (1,127 km) and climbed over 210,000’ (64,000 metres).