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Climbing 542 Lakeland Summits in 2016 for Cancer Research UK

I’ve now climbed over 440 Lakeland summits since January to raise money and awareness for Cancer Research UK – read about them in this blog and if you can, please pledge support or donate – just follow the link you choose.  If anyone wishes to walk with me, please leave a comment with your contact details.

Over the last 6 months nearly 500 people have pledged or donated over£28,000. You can still pledge support here, or donate on my Just Giving page and make a very valued contribution. Thank you! – together we will beat cancer sooner.

Day 71 – Where Romans trod…

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The Scafell Pikes from Hard Knott

Hardknott Pass – a road charged with memories – with gradients of 1 in 3 it’s enough to strike the fear of God into motorists and cause a total loss of forward propulsion for cyclists. I’ve driven over it at high speed on night rallies, producing enough adrenalin to revive a dead horse. And the Romans built a fort here, manned by soldiers in what was perhaps the imperial equivalent of the Russian salt mines.

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The summit of Hardknott Pass

These days there’s room at the summit of the pass to park a few cars (providing they actually made it to the top!): not a bad place to begin one’s ascent of Harter Fell or the eponymous Hard Knott – and on Thursday my plan was to do both, together with four other subsidiary summits.

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Harter Fell centre of picture; Demming Crag directly below, and Horsehow Crags to the right.

After overnight rain the skies looked promising, but whereas in the past I’ve described the ground as saturated, now I’m beginning to run out of adjectives for how completely sodden everything is underfoot.  Being dry-shod has become a fond and distant memory.

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Demming Crag

I set of south first, for Harter Fell. The way up led very close to the bulky rock bastion of Demming Crag, and a short detour soon took me to the top at 1,722′ (525 m). The main summit still seemed some way off from here, so I pressed on without delay. I should have retraced my steps further, in order to rejoin the main path, but instead headed more directly to the top and ended up pathless for much of the way.

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As I rejoined the path near the summit, the daylight moon appeared directly over Harter Fell’s craggy top and looked magnificent. The fell is crowned by a series of massive rocks, and of course I had to reach the very top. This wasn’t as difficult as it looks, a short stretch of easy ‘hands on’ scrambling being all that’s needed.

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The ‘tops’ of Harter Fell
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and the view from the very top

There is a trig point, but it’s on a slightly lower rocky top, below the summit proper at 2,141′ (653 m).

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On the descent back to Hardknott Pass, the top of Horsehow Crags looked almost completely insignificant. It’s only when you look back up at it from Eskdale that it assumes a rugged, dominating presence and actually appears worth climbing! The main problem on this occasion wasn’t the ascent required, but the bogs that needed to be crossed.

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Hardknott Castle Roman Fort from Horsehow Crags

The summit (1,421′, 433 m) overlooks the Roman fort, of which more remains to this day than you might imagine.  It’s certainly worth having a closer look next time you’re in the area.

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Looking north to the Scafell Group. A bit of the Hardknott Pass road in the right foreground

My feet were so wet, and I was passing my parked car anyway, that I stopped to change into dry socks and boots. The couple who had parked next to me were reading the 542in2016 flyer that I always leave in the side window, which was encouraging.

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Border End summit. Along the skyline, L to R: Scafell Scafell Pike, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End, Esk Pike, Bowfell

From the top of the pass I set off once again, this time in the opposite direction, and before long found myself at the top of Border End (1,713′, 522 m) – one of the many tops that has a fine cairn, but not at the exact summit. In the case of Border End the cairn is 1oo metres away (although it’s often difficult to tell which really is the highest. I use the Database of British and Irish Hills, as found on Graham Haley’s Hill Lists app for the iPhone, which has been pretty accurate up to now.

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The cairn nearby on Border End

There’s a bit of a maze of paths between Border End and Hard Knott (1,803′, 549 m) and in the past, when conditions have always been misty, a bit of random wandering-about has been involved, but today the visibility was lovely and clear, so there were no difficulties.

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A series of photos from Hard Knott: Esk Pike and Bowfell
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The Scafell Pikes (notice Pen at the top of massive Dow Crag, directly below Broad Crag in the centre
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Slight SIde and Scafell. Mickledore is the notch right of centre, and Cam Spout Crags the major feature below.

The views north to the Scafells, Esk Pike and Bowfell kept on getting better and better and were quite captivating on the last little trek north to Yew Bank (1,637′, 499 m) – another hill which presumably looks more impressive from the valley below.

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Yew Bank

I retraced my steps past Hard Knott, from where it was an easy descent to the Pass.  Traffic was light but many of the cars stopped at the road summit – for anything from a few seconds to half an hour.  But few people indeed wander more than 50 metres from the safety of their vehicle.

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A final view, from Yew Bank

Another day done, another six summits, bringing the total to 464 and edging ever closer to the 500 mark. After exactly the same mileage as on the previous walk (6.82 miles, 10.97 km) and almost 2,000′ (608 m) of climbing, I’ve now broken the 1,000 km mark. It feels like it!

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Scafell tomorrow – England’s second highest peak after Scafell Pike, with a long walk in from Eskdale.  I’ll bring you up to date on that one soon.

Day 70 – Not for the faint-hearted but good paths – at last!

 

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Looking back to Ladyside Pike from just below Hopegill Head

Sunday 18 September. The night before I happened to be at our second wedding in four weeks, which may never happen again! And I drank fizzy water all evening.

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Robert Ward from Clitheroe Bike Club had arranged to walk with me (and drive there and back, for which I’m grateful) and with a fine forecast and light winds I’d decided that we’d do the Hopegill Head to Whiteside ridge, approaching via Ladyside Pike, after first checking that Robert had a good head for heights, as the top part of the approach from Ladyside gets very steep and a little exposed.

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The shapely form of Ladyside Pike (Hopegill Head to the right)

Parking is limited along the roadside by a little memorial bench, but at 8.45 we were the first ones there. The weather was fine but the grass wet through as we headed up towards the first Birkett summit on the ridge, Swinside (1,670′, 509 m), a fairly insignificant top at the corner of two walls, with good views back to Whinlatter and Hobcarton.

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The summit of Swinside

The path then follows the ridge up to the rather elegant Ladyside Pike. Whether I’ve regained my fitness after the last remnants of the boil now seem to have finally been conquered, or whether it was the fact that we hardly seemed to stop talking, the trek seemed almost effortless and we were at the summit (2,306′, 703 m) in quick time.  Several Wheatears are still around, not having returned to Africa just yet, and as on recent days there were plenty of Swallows too, so perhaps there are more insects (or more tasty insects) on the hills than in the valleys at the moment.

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Robert gets in on the act at Ladyside Pike summit

After a short descent the path rose again, towards a distinctively-banded grey and white slab of rock which marks the upper slopes of Hopegill Head and the edge of Hobcarton Crag. The path becomes very steep and rocky, and those of a nervous disposition would be advised not to look back too often. But at an interesting feature called The Notch there’s a great view across to the face of Hobcarton Crag, with a big vertical drop below.

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The banded rock slabs below Hopegill Head
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Looking across from The Notch

 

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Hopegill Head

But we quickly arrived at the ridge path and the top of Hopegill Head (2,525′, 770 m), marked by a small cairn, and from there made a brief and seemingly almost effortless diversion to the nearby Sand Hill (2,480′, 756 m), enjoying views of Grisedale Pike, Grasmoor and Crag Hill, all of which I’d done many weeks ago.

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Sand Hill

Returning to the ridge it was a relatively easy roller-coaster walk to three separate summits over a total distance of about a mile – Gasgale Crags (2,306′, 703 m), the East Top of Whiteside (2,359′, 719 m), and Whiteside itself at 2,319′, 707 m). The cloud was increasing and the wind was getting stronger and for a while I wondered if the evening’s forecast rain was going to arrive early, but we were spared.

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We retraced our steps a few hundred yards before finding the ridge path which leads to the final summit of Dodd (Lorton) (1,489′, 454 m), looking very much like the little brother from up here – yet looking back from near the road, Dodd itself appears surprisingly high and over-arching. There’s quite a cleft in the ridge just before the summit, resulting in a steep descent followed by an equally steep ascent, up heathery slopes.

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Looking down to Dodd

 

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The last little ascent

From this last summit we followed the path down to an area of the inevitable bracken, before finding another path on to the road and a final half-mile back to the car. A fairly concentrated walk – 8 summits in under 7 miles, and after some rough days walking what a joy to be on proper paths for most of the way!

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The total now stands at 458; total mileage 619 (996 km) and total ascent 187,634′ (57,153 m). Now for another three days off due to other commitments and hopefully a return to the fells on Thursday. Thank you to everyone who is still supporting the challenge, and if you can persuade anyone else to become involved as a supporter or sponsor, please do!

Day 69 – A Hard Slog Back o’ Skidda’

 

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White Hause, Dash Farm and Little Calva

Thursday – our last full day at Center Parcs. Time for Val to take a break from family duties and join me on an easy walk. Or so I thought! Seven miles or so, three tops, the highest at 2,265′ – it shouldn’t be difficult…

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The track to Brocklecrag

After parking near Orthwaite Farm we followed the bridleway to Brocklecrag, then left the track and sloshed our way through bog, bracken and reeds on an uphill course towards the col above Dash Farm. I’d been told that the farmer at Dash Farm was about as friendly as the one we were lucky not to encounter at Lamplugh, so we decided to give the farm a wide berth, although on the return journey we noticed it’s now advertised as a self-catering holiday cottage.

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Looking over to Skiddaw

It was warm and humid, and we were both beginning to leak somewhat! After crossing the beck (easy, as we were both in wellies) we made the steep climb up the face of White Hause to the top (1,525′, 465 m), where only a boulder marks the otherwise cairn-less summit (which looks across to Great Cockup, a summit visited many months ago!)

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Slogging up the face of White Hause
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Phew! The top!

Time for a bite to eat, cut short by the number of flies who decided that we would make a good meal for them, so upwards we pressed towards the ridge, where we expected to find a path to Little Calva. Initially we weren’t disappointed: a clear path headed up the ridge for a quarter of a mile, and then mysteriously disappeared, after tricksily leading us into a grough of heather and tussocky grass.

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Val looking happy now we’ve made it to Little Calva

Despite a search, no further sign of a path was to be found.  The next kilometre seemed to take forever as we tediously hacked our way through the ankle-twisting undergrowth, ever upward, until a quad bike track gave us a little respite.  After what seemed like a fortnight the summit of Little Calva (2,106′, 642 m) came into view – looking really disappointing for the amount of effort it took to get there!

Despite the warm weather, the sun had gone, veiled by misty, hazy clouds which robbed it of its strength and seemed to threaten only visibility – there didn’t seem to be any rain in them.

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The tastefully decorated cairn on Great Calva

At least we could now follow the fenceline – although to avoid further bogs the main path deviated away from it for a while, but always within sight – until a short steep climb led us to the much more interesting summit of Great Calva (2,265′, 690 m) where there’s a large cairn, decorated with all kinds of rusty bits of fence. I remember being here in 2009 and being hit so hard by a heavy shower of hail that I felt like I’d been machine-gunned in the face!

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Getting a bit misty

We almost had our heads in the clouds here, so I was keen to lose height in case visibility worsened. We dropped down on the path towards Skiddaw House (now an independent youth hostel) and then found another path heading SW, which was where we wanted to go.  Two walkers were approaching with a border collie, which must have mistaken me for a sheep as it seemed to want to round me up. This couple were on a very long walk, intending to head over Blencathra and the Dodds to Grasmere, all in one day.

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This is – believe it or not – the footpath!

The path was incredibly deeply eroded in places – I guess it must be used by a popular fell run as in places it lies in a rut or channel about two feet deep! We met another couple who were walking the Cumbria Way and heading to Great Calva and High Pike before dropping back down to Caldbeck.

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The Cumbria Way track

Once on the Cumbria Way the going was easy – a fine Landrover track which serves Skiddaw House – but it was a long way back to the road, passing Whitewater Dash waterfall and under the foreboding Dead Crags, back into sunshine and warmth. Even when we reached the road we had almost another mile to go to get back to the car.

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Whitewater Dash Falls

So our easy walk turned out to be 8½ hard miles, but at least it meant three more summits done, taking the total to 450. I had planned to do this as the start of a longer, linear walk involving two cars. Now I’m glad I didn’t, as it was quite enough on its own!

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I’ll be back in the Lakes for one more day on Sunday, then a few days off due to other commitments before – hopefully – a sustained attack on the remaining fells in the west and south. KBO.

Day 68 – Above the clouds in Martindale

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The Nab pokes its head out of the clouds, under a clear blue sky

always miss out on the spectacular thunderstorms when they hit Clitheroe! The few flashes and bangs near Penrith on Tuesday evening were feeble by comparison. But they left a legacy – on Wednesday morning all was grey, cloudy and misty, with the mist clinging to low ground in particular.

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St Martins Church, Martindale, in the grey mist

I parked by the old church of St Martin and was immediately invited inside by the lady who was cleaning – she also pointed out the ancient Yew tree behind the building, reputed to be used by the Martindale bowmen of yore.

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On the damp and misty way up the ridge – a metal bench!

All was damp as I headed up to the ridge of Beda Fell. The bracken was soaking wet, as inevitably were my trousers within a few minutes. What I found more remarkable was the number of spiders’ gossamer threads, spun across the path and with the fine mist robbing them of their usual invisibility. I reckoned that after half a mile at least 1,000 of them must have been ‘collected’ by my trousers.

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Emerging from the cloud into clear weather

The sky above was getting brighter as I gained altitude, boding well for later, and sure enough – before I reached the top of Beda Fell – I left the mist behind and entered a sunlit world with blue skies above and white cotton wool clouds below. These temperature inversions don’t happen too often, and are to be savoured to the full when the chance arises. Today the tops of the clouds came higher and then lower as the breeze dictated, whilst here and there only the highest point of nearby mountains poked their heads above the white cotton wool.

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The cairn before you reach the top of Beda Fell
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Clouds roll in as I look back
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From the summit of Beda Fell, Pikeawassa just pokes its head above the clouds

From Beda Fell (1,670′, 509 m) – 100 left to go!! – stopping briefly to chat with a man from Goosnargh who’d been wild camping at Angle Tarn, I headed over saturated ground (glad of my wellies!) towards the two summits of Angletarn Pikes.

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L to R: Dove Crag, Hart Crag, Fairfield, St Sunday Crag, Helvellyn, Catsty Cam – wow!

Just as interesting as the magnificent temperature inversion was another natural phenomenon:  there was a big hatch of crane flies taking place, with thousands of the long-legged insects everywhere. At the same time, down in the valley, the mist was no doubt making things a bit grey, miserable – and fly-less. So the Swallows and House Martins, clearly aware of the situation, had all headed upwards, above the clouds, and were up here in their hundreds, feasting on a crane-fly windfall.

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Angletarn Pikes (North top)
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From Angletarn Pikes South Top to Place Fell

At 1,860′ (567 m) and 1,854′ (565 m) the North and South Tops of Angletarn Pikes are like a pair of twins, separated by a 300 metre green corridor – boggy, of course.

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Looking down on Angle Tarn
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Another visit from the clouds as I walk around the edge of Angle Tarn

It’s then quite a drop down to Angle Tarn: as I got to a nice place for a photo, the clouds drew in again, and although I waited a few minutes, I couldn’t really get the shot I wanted, so I gave up and headed up to Brock Crags (1,842′ 561 m), reached by a slightly circuitous route from the main Patterdale path, which had suddenly become  busy.

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Brock Crags summit
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Looking to Grey Crags, with High Street behind

It was at this point that I realised the next objective, Rest Dodd, was considerably higher at 2,283′, (696 m), but of course the only option was to get on and do it. The light breeze that I’d noticed developing on Brock Crags now strengthened and within a few minutes all the cotton wool clouds had disappeared, leaving the valleys clear.  The magic was gone.

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From the highest point on Rest Dodd, looking towards the larger cairn – which really is a little lower!

In fact on the descent to The Nab I was buffeted for a while by the high wind, which then subsided as quickly as it had appeared. The route crosses lots of nasty peat hags but also gave me the chance to look across at the fells I’d visited on Saturday across the deep valley.

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The Nab

After leaving a card at the summit (1,890′, 576 m) I headed onwards to go down the nose of the fell. I’d obviously forgotten how steep it was and was rather taken aback when I got to the top of the (seemingly) almost vertical section, but actually there are no real problems if you remember to put one foot carefully in front of the other.

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The ground disappears at the end of The Nab!
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‘The Bungalow’ – formerly a shooting lodge, now holiday lets

It had been a warm day, and for the first time on the Challenge I ran out of water – on the way up The Nab – and had to wait until I reached Bannerdale Beck, after passing The Bungalow, before topping up supplies.

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Scots Pines by the road on the walk back to the car

A stroll along the road took me back to the car and the end of another day. 6 summits making a total of 447 – and only 95 left! and 9.25 miles (14.9 km) which took the total mileage over 600 (thank goodness the Proclaimers only did a song for 500!).

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Day 67 – Two Tiddlers near Mungrisdale

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Strange weather – “It can’t decide what to do”

I’d intended to do Eycott Hill and Little Eycott Hill last Friday on the way to Center Parcs, but the weather was unpleasant, so fancying an easy half day with Val, I decided to do them on Monday instead.

And I’m glad we didn’t do them last Friday. Bill Birkett, in the days before Open Access land, suggested doing them from the Mungrisdale side, and it looked like a wet, boggy hack, perhaps even with access problems. After looking at the map I thought it would be worth looking at the road on the opposite side, to the east, which would mean a shorter walk.

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A very posh car park. Eagle eyes readers will have spotted Carrock Fell in the background

When we got there (or near) after driving through the villages of Penruddock and Berrier, we found a brand new Nature Reserve, complete with car park! And waymarked routes! No contest then – we parked up, had a look at the route to the top of Eycott Hill, and decided that although it did a lot of winding one way and t’other, it would be worth a try.

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One of the drier bits en route

A bird watcher on his way out warned us of seriously boggy conditions, and smugly we pointed to our wellingtons. The are becoming de rigeur,  not just on the shorter walks but some of the longer ones, as conditions underfoot are, as one chap from East Yorkshire said, “sappin'”. I have no doubt that this is East Yorkshire for “so wet you’ll be lucky if it doesn’t go over your welly-tops, never mind your boots”.

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Strangely bumpy scenery

We found the Devil’s Bit Scabious and Grass of Parnassus, but not the Sundew, an insectivorous plant with sticky blobs on hairs on its leaves. I’ve never seen them in the Lake District but I remember once finding a place on the Isle of Mull where the Sundew were everywhere.

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Eycott Hill summit. Birkett Bill made it!

With less than a mile and only a modest amount of ascent, we were soon at the summit of Eycott Hill (1,132′, 345 m) and even managed a rare photo shoot with Birkett Bill, courtesy of Margaret Rose (I’m just sorry he won’t fit in my rucksack most of the time!).

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Little Eycott Fell. Val and Pal

It was then an easy stroll across to the nearby top of Little Eycott Hill (1,099′, 335 m) where the biggest problem was deciding where the actual highest point was (and finding there was nowhere to leave a card). We now had to get back to the car. With all the bogs, I thought the best way was to head for a large barn, then take the track from it back to the road. As we neared the track we found that several cows and a bull had taken possession of it. I was happy to shoo them away, but my companion (my companion of over 38 years) was having none of it, and headed off in the directly opposite direction, leaving me with no (practical) alternative but to follow.

So after a convoluted, undulating and boggy tour of the rest of the nature reserve we arrived back at the car 20 minutes later than we could have been, with Val feeling victorious and sensible, and me feeling, well, er, married, I guess.

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Not one of my biggest walks. Two summits (total 441); Only 2½ miles and it would have been less but for that bull! – total mileage 595 (957 km). This means that on the next walk I’ll go past 600 miles (is there a song for that?) and soon after I’ll break the 1,000 km barrier.

 

Day 66 – Four Fells North of Haweswater

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Today, for the first time on the challenge, I was joined by son Mark, who was keen to experience an outing on the fells. A relatively easy circuit seemed a good idea, so the four fells still to be ticked off between Haweswater and the High Street Roman Road looked like a good option.

When I booked the week at Center Parcs I didn’t give a thought to the distance between our accommodation and the car park (cars aren’t allowed on site once you’ve unpacked), so I’ve ended up with a walk of well over a mile at the beginning and end of the day, on top of everything else!

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Burnbanks, near the Haweswater dam, is an unusual little hamlet, with a scattering of bungalows all of similar age and style, perhaps provided by the Manchester Water Works when the lake was turned into a reservoir, I’m not sure. But it’s quite pretty, and there are a few parking spaces for walkers.

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Acres of bracken – a familiar sight!
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Doctor Tweak at the summit of Pinnacle Howe

The path to our first target, Pinnacle Howe, involved lots of the inevitable bracken and took a rather devious route around Aika Hill and Drybarrow Farm before the easy ascent to the top, at 1,257′ (383 m). To make a change from my rather stale ‘rucksack at the summit’ photos, Mark decided to pose on each one.

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The ruins of an old sheep fold
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Four Stones Hill overlooks Haweswater…

I think he was glad of my waterproof socks on the saunter over to the base of Four Stones Hill, which was, to say the least, boggy.  I’d taken even more drastic steps and donned wellington boots for the day – a good decision. A little rocky climb took us to the top of Four Stones Hill (1,362′, 413 m) which has a fine view of Haweswater, end to end.

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… an even better view nearby

Rather than the steep-looking route directe to Bampton Fell (1,604′, 489 m), we followed a couple of old grassy tracks that made the gradient more comfortable. A couple of Buzzards wheeled together high above us. The final part of the ascent was a pathless hack through tussocky grass, ending at a large cairn: no other stones were to be seen anywhere around, and we wondered whether someone had gone to a great deal of effort to bring them, and who would do that?

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The mysterious summit cairn of Bampton Fell

The view included Wether Hill on the Roman Road, where I’d been yesterday, and Low Raise, which I visited with great nephew Dylan back in June. At least every summit in sight (I think) had been climbed by me at some time this year – quite a thought!

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Local ponies on the way to Low Kop
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Anyone for bowls?

It was a further climb to Low Kop, at 1,877′ (572 m), but the path was clear. Not so the actual summit – an area larger than a tennis court was almost perfectly level, with no cairn or other feature to show the actual top, In fact, anywhere would do I guess, as the difference in height across the top could only amount to a few centimetres. With dedication it could become a wonderful crown bowling green.

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Measand Gill

Bill Birkett, and the OS map, indicate a path slanting diagonally down the very steep side of Measand Gill. It doesn’t exist. If it did once, disuse had resulted in there no longer being any sign of it, so we did the best we could, but ended up heading for a quad track without realising quite how much bracken needed to be waded through before getting to it. There are two big problems with bracken – (1) the possibility of ticks, which love it, and (2) the fact that you can’t see the ground as you walk, or rather stumble, through it.

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Measand Beck, after the boggy bit

Once on the track we followed its boggy route, through the lilac-coloured flowers of Devil’s Bit Scabious and the delicate white flowers of Grass of Parnassus, to a footbridge.  Once again the route guidelines were hopelessly out of date: a deer fence barred the way on the left bank of the beck, whilst on the right hand side (where we were exhorted not to go) held a fine path leading all the way, past picturesque waterfalls, to the reservoir’s edge.

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A good track led all the way back to Burnbanks and, after 6½ miles, the end of the walk.

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Day 65 – Center Parcs Heaven…?

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Just in case anyone from the south of England doubts my word – it has been raining a lot!

So here we are at Center Parcs (near Penrith), for a week of family fun with son Mark, Sandra (Mrs Honeywell) and grandson Alasdair. Family fun, that is, for everyone except me – I’ll be using our proximity to the Far Eastern Fells to keep on bagging those Birketss – of course!

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Mellguards, near the start

So after a wet, wet Friday afternoon and night, I set off on a dry Saturday morning to Howtown on the south shores of Ullswater, to do a round of the Martindale Fells. Thanks to Mark Richards I found a really good parking space by turning off the road and going past the Howtown Hotel up towards Cote Farm, and parking just over the cattle grid.

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Taking a breather on the climb

Taking the path behind the big house called Mellguards I set off on a long, steep (steepening!) ascent of the fell, eventually arriving at the grassy summit of Swarth Fell (1,788′, 545 m), from where (there being no particular reason to tarry) I immediately continued north to Bonscale Pike (1,718′, 524 m).

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Bonscale Pike summit and Ullswater

It’s funny how the changing seasons manifest themselves with occasional rapid changes. Last week it was the appearance of Devil’s Bit Scabious in all the marsh places. Today it was the dozens of Fox Moth caterpillars which seemed to be everywhere in the tussocky grass and heather.

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Fox Moth caterpillar

They were the first ones I’d seen this year and I suspect they’re not good to handle – I wouldn’t be surprised if all those hairs give you an irritating rash.

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Bonscale Pike’s impressive stone pillars

Just down from the top of Bonscale Pike are two fine stone pillars, clearly built with care and skill, looking like a pair of sentinels guarding the skyline above Ullswater.  Arthur’s Pike can easily be seen from here and it would be tempting to simply make a bee-line for it, but unfortunately the great chasm of Swarthbeck Gill lies between and demands circumvention.

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Arthur’s Pike

So I headed in the ‘wrong’ direction, crossed the beck at a ruined sheepfold and then took the path to the top (1,747′, 532 m), where I was joined by Madeleine Chadwick and Mark Mortimer, who took a selfie with my summit card and emailed it to me on the spot, making this almost certainly the fastest return of a summit card I’ll ever get!

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On some of the paths I didn’t know whether to wear wellies or just get a power boat

Changing direction, I headed south for Loadpot Hill, 2,201′ (671 m) above sea level and over 1½ miles distant. A sheep on the path appeared very moribund, not moving as I passed within inches. I thought it must be about to breathe its last, but apparently it soon got up and wandered off.

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The summit of Red Crag. Not much going on here…

The top of Loadpot Hill is marked by a fine stone trig point. Or is it? My GPS said the top was 200 metres away, and a spot height is shown on the map at 672 m, one metre higher than the trigpoint. Well, you’d struggle to spot the difference, that’s all I can say. I visited all possibilities and carried on towards Wether Hill along the High Street Roman Road.

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A bit of a crag nearby

I could just imagine those Roman soldiers, almost 2,000 years ago, not altogether thrilled by their posting in these cold, windy, wet mountains, when they could have been enjoying life in Italy!  Their road passes about 100 metres to the west of the highest point – coincidentally almost exactly the same height as Loadpot Hill – 2,205′ (672 m).

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Another trek of over a mile followed, to the grand-sounding but rather unspectacular Red Crag. Two stones in the midst of long grass mark the summit, at 2,333′ (711 m). Two fell-runners – not in the fresh bloom of youth if they don’t mind me saying so – asked from across the fence it this was Red Crag. I confirmed it was, and found that they were reconnoitring a ‘Joss Naylor’ run covering far more summits in one day than I would want to!

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One stone becomes two -weathering in action

Changing direction I headed north, past Ravens on fence posts, across a gill and down a steep slope toward the ridge back home and three summits, starting with Gowk Hill at 1,545′ (471 m). My details describe the top as having “one stone” marking it. When I got there I thought there were two, until I saw that the power of freeze-thaw had made it three. Water seeps into fine cracks, freezes, expands, and splits it in two. That’s where most of your screes come from. And so on…

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This dip in the wall reminded me of…
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Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall

 

 

 

 

Now the ridge undulated, crossing the top of Brownthwaite Crag (1,457′, 444 m) before, after more ups and downs, arriving at the exquisite Pikeawassa on Steel Knotts, with its modest height (1,417′, 432 m) more than compensated for by the dramatic rocky summit.

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Looking along the ridge to Pikeawassa
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And the attractive summit

From here – after a few hundred metres’ hesitation – the path descends very steeply down the nose of the ridge to arrive back at the starting point after 9.6 miles (15.4 km), 2,373′ (723 m) of ascent and 8 summits.

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A shorter day coming up tomorrow (4 Birketts), and then the next day I’ll hopefully pass the next milestone of fewer than 100 left to go!

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Day 64 – Stone Walls and Barbed Wire in Bannisdale

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The shapely cairn at the summit of Whiteside Pike

It surprises me that the fells on the Bannisdale Horseshoe are some of the most visited of Wainwright’s ‘Outlying Fells’, as there are no signs of welcome here, in wild country between Kendal and Shap. I have to agree with AW when he says this is “fine open country, but it is not Lakeland.”

Negotiating one’s way through Kendal is a bit tedious at rush-hour. Apparently I missed a major fire in the town centre yesterday, passing through the town too early and too late to catch the excitement. I took the minor road to Dryhowe Bridge, where the ‘limited parking’ was made further limited by a big pile of about 15 tons of gravel. Noticing the weeds growing through the pile in places, I reckoned I could park next to it without too much concern that someone might want to move it today.

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Looking to Whiteside Pike

Another steep start, though unlike yesterday it was dry and clear. Up through bracken, between hawthorn and alder trees, to a little rocky knoll described by Bill Birkett as ‘cairned’ (but now uncairned) and then on to follow a wall towards the distinctive top of Whiteside Pike, which at 1,302′ (397 m) was reached in not much more than half an hour.

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Devil’s Bit Scabious

 

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Bog Asphodel seed heads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a quick look around it was time to head towards the modest looking Todd Fell (1,314′, 401 m); the path, a pleasant short-cropped grassy sward, meandered its way through the heather in a most pleasing way before arriving at a stone wall stile. After this the path disappeared, so I trudged my way through the tussocky grass and rushes, noticing, in the damper areas, lots of Devil’s Bit Scabious (a blue flower like a pin-cushion) and in the very wet areas the brown seed spikes of Bog Asphodel, which a few weeks ago were pretty, star-shaped yellow flowers.

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Capplebarrow (1,681′, 512 m) was next – almost a mile away and almost completely pathless, a hard trudge made only marginally easier by following quad tracks, and definitely made more difficult by the presence of more than one barbed wire fence. No gates or stiles, but fortunately I’d put a length of pipe lagging in the rucksack before I set off!

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The summit of Ancrow Brow

I carried on – still heading away from the car – following the fence line and continuing gingerly to scale barbed wire fences, and disturbing a couple of Snipe and some Skylarks, until I reached the highest point of the day – Ancrow Brow, at 1,816′ (553 m), and then carried on around the head of Bannisdale, following the ruined base of a stone wall.

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At the summit of Long Crag on Bannisdale Fell

More trudging through pathless ground and vast boggy areas as I headed for Long Crag on Bannisdale Fell (1,617′, 493 m) – difficult to spot from a distance as it’s not a great stand-alone mountain but a little carbuncle on the fell side, topped by a rocky outcrop (reached by scaling yet another stile-deficient stone wall).

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The sun came out on the way to White How, where a proper trig point graces the summit at 1,737′ (530 m). I spotted a runner heading towards me – and the runner turned out to be the same person I’d bumped into yesterday! Stuart Backhouse had seen my cards and knew that if he and Christine kept up a reasonable pace they would catch me up. So the three of us walked the last two summits and back to the finish together, a nice change.

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Stuart and Christine Backhouse at the summit of Borrowdale Head

It wasn’t far to Borrowdale Head (1,734′, 528 m), but a much longer trek to the much lower Lamb Pasture, where steep crags needed to be skirted if you want to avoid the ill-effects of a very fast descent. The last 200 metres to the summit of Lamb Pasture (1,205′, 367 m) were on ankle-breaking tussocks again, but from here it was an easy descent (once more avoiding crags) to a wet stony track and the car.

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Looking back up to Lamb Pasture

8 summits, which to be honest are the kind that having done them once, you don’t rate the chances of revisiting them all that high! The 8.5 miles felt more like 20, and the modest amount of ascent (1,954′, 595 m) felt like a lot more too. But the total is moving upwards satisfactorily – now at 426, with 116 to go; the overall mileage walked is now 576, with 176,300′ climbed. That’s 340 times up and down Blackpool Tower, about six times the cruising height of your average passenger jet.

map

Next on the agenda is a week based near Penrith, and a serious attempt on the remaining fells in the north east. Thanks for reading this – and hopefully for supporting the work of Cancer Research UK.

Day 63 – I return to the Fells for a proper soaking

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A few of the residents on the Mardale Head bridleway

After an enforced two week break – mainly caused by a nasty boil on my lower back, but also including a trip to London for a family wedding – Tuesday 6 September saw me heading back to the hills a year older than my last visit, hoping to visit four summits on Sleddale Fell, including two Wainwrights (Tarn Crag and Grey Crag), plus two Birketts normally reached from Kentmere, but which seemed convenient to attempt from the same starting point. This also meant that if my back became very sore it would be easier to cut the day short. <always thinking>

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Sadgill Bridge and Farm, only just staying out of the clouds

The weather forecast for almost the whole of England was bright and warm, and so it appeared as I set off, but by Kirkby Lonsdale there were dark clouds ahead, and by the time I got to Sadgill (at the head of one of the longest, narrowest cul-de-sacs in the country) the name seemed very apt. Thick dark clouds were only a few feet above the rooftops, and there was a fine drizzle in the air.

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Not looking too bright for the start!

Optimistic (for no logical reason) that it would soon clear up, I set off up the very steep slopes and was almost immediately engulfed in the thick cloud. It was impossible to see more than a few yards, so when I got to a stone wall with no stile the only option was to follow it until I reached one (I knew there was one somewhere!). The usual thick bracken concealed the path for much of the way, and the ground was mostly saturated after weeks and weeks where a long dry spell has meant 24 hours without rain.

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At the top of Great How

From the summit of Great Howe (1621′, 494 m) it was a further climb to Grey Crag, the first Wainwright of the day at 2,093′ (638 m). I’ve only done it once before, and that was in mist too, but by now the wind had increased and was driving a fine, but very thick, drizzle. Not only was visibility less than 15 metres, but it was proving impossible to see through my glasses, which were rendered opaque within seconds of wiping them with a sodden thumb and forefinger.

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Not the summit of Grey Crag…
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… where is it then?

 

 

 

 

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Over here! The true summit of Grey Crag

However, I did know that the big cairn by the path on Grey Crag is not the highest point.  Trouble was, I couldn’t see the true summit, which would have been as plain as a pikestaff on a clear day. However, with a bit of perseverance I got there, and duly planted my summit card for someone to find before heading off for Harrop Pike.

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Most impressive cairn at the top of Harrop Pike

Conditions were now utterly foul, the thick cloud and wetting rain compounded by horribly boggy ground. More than once a boot disappeared above the ankle, and I was glad that I’d tightly fastened the bottoms of my waterproof trousers, as they’re surprisingly good at keeping out flood water!

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Not so impressive true summit

Following a pattern that was to prevail much of the day, the fine cairn on Harrop Pike is not at the highest point of 2,090′ (637 m), but it was a convenient point to leave a card (which, with the one at Grey Crag, was found the day after – see my third Rogues’ Gallery). The true summit is only a few feet away, being the top of a rocky outcrop. I wonder what the views are like…

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Compare my photo of the Tarn Crag summit with the next one.  Same place, back in 2009 when I did all 214 Wainwrights – Day 3, with Mike Watkins and the late, and very much missed, Gerry Bindless.

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Retracing steps for a quarter of a mile I carried on, cursing the weather and wet feet, but at least enjoyed (if that’s the word) easy navigation -simply by following the fence line. It was a short detour to the summit of Tarn Crag, the highest point today at 2,178′ (664 m). I thought you might like to compare the conditions with the last time I was here, in 2009 when visiting all the Wainwrights in 55 days. Plus ça change…

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Arriving at the Mardale Head bridleway

Bog and peat hags accompanied the fence line on the descent to the Mosedale bridleway, where I turned left on a track that time has almost obliterated in places. I spotted the day’s first human beings – a couple walking towards me; “Nasty weather Bill” the man said. Did I hear him right? Does he know me? Stuart and Christine Backhouse had found my cards several weeks ago on a round that included Pike de Bield and Crinkle Crags. They’d spotted the ‘flyer’ that I leave in the car window when I park, and were looking out for me. So it was nice to stop and have a chat for a few minutes – they’re trying to complete all the Birketts too, and were ‘enjoying’ a week’s holiday on the Shap Fells.

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After some tricky navigation (i.e. wondering where in all the rushes the track had disappeared to) I joined the bridleway from Longsleddale to Mardale Head. Some mountain bikers appeared, doing the Coast-to-Coast, and when I asked them which route they were taking they replied “We don’t know, we just follow the GPS.” I shuddered to think what would happen if the GPS packed in for any reason!

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The River Sprint

A quick sandwich on the return to Sadgill, then off up the Kentmere bridleway for the last two summits. At first the way was clear with no problems apart from banging my head on a low overhanging branch.

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Looking back to Sadgill from the Kentmere bridleway. That’s a signpost, not a pillar of salt

Around the high point of the path, I headed across pathless ground only to find a barbed wire fence barring the way. Using my patented barbed wire protector (a length of pipe-lagging) I crossed it unscathed, then hacked through big tussocks to the summit of Cocklaw Fell (1,197′, 365 m), marked on my list as having “no feature”. A wonderful piece of understatement. Even the cattle seemed bored stiff, but at least the clouds had finally lifted. I’d left my rucksack at the fence so couldn’t brighten the summit photo either, nor was there anywhere I could leave a card.

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Believe it or not, THIS is the highest point on Cocklaw Fell

A longish trek then led to Hollow Moor on Green Quarter Fell, where once again a large stone belies the actual summit – a patch of rushes 30 metres away, at 1,39’8 (426 m). I headed NE to the Kentmere bridleway and followed it back to Sadgill.

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Hollow Moor
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The true summit
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Not quite the top but it looks better
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It’s brightened up – at last!

Six Birketts today, making a total of 418.  11 tough miles (17.7 km), 2,496′ (760 m) of ascent, and feeling in reasonable shape for another day tomorrow.

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Day 62 – A Birkett, a hydro-electric scheme and some DofE students

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Brown Crag from just below the summit

After yesterday’s exertions it seemed the right time to ‘bag’ Brown Crag. All on its own, I couldn’t fit it into any other itinerary, so it had to be tackled in isolation, and what better time than a half-day after a tiring walk the previous day?

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Just missing the kitchen sink

From Legburthwaite I took the same track as many weeks before, heading towards Sticks Pass but this time (after passing a tent and plenty of signs of wild camping – but no camper) I kept right, heading on a lower trajectory towards Fisherplace Gill. The bracken was deep, and crisp, and uneven. Good King Wenceslas was nowhere to be seen.

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Ugh! More bracken!
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Fisherplace Gill

Near the actual Gill of Fisherplace, major engineering works are taking place to install a local hydro-electric scheme. The information board gives facts and figures, but wait! – look beyond the figures and work out what they mean. A head of 221 m – that’s a BIG drop! Blackpool Tower is 158 m high and The Shard 306 m.  Design flow 0.225 m³/s – that’s a tonne of water every 4 or 5 seconds! I was impressed, and also would expect the equivalent of 250 homes’ worth of power to be a bit more reliable than that provided by wind turbines. There never seems to be any shortage of water in the Lake District!

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Details of the hydro project

The path now rose steeply, still through bracken, until eventually it broke free on to the open, grass-covered fell (but continued its steady rise). The rocky top of Brown Crag was now evident, a blip on the way up to the higher summit of White Side.

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A glimpse of Thirlmere beyond Brown Crag summit

As I reached the top at 2,001′, (610 m) the cloudbase began to drop, cloaking some of the surrounding hills and even Sticks Pass. I still wanted to linger and have a sandwich though, so I took careful note of the route back to the path, and tucked in.  In the end there was no problem, and I was soon heading back on the same route I’d come up.

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Cloud descends on Sticks Pass

Not far from Legburthwaite I met a party of Duke of Edinburgh Gold candidates (I don’t know why they all seem to spend so much time sitting and resting – they must walk very fast the rest of the time!) They were from near Chichester, a happy group (pleased that this was their last day, heading for the school minibus in Keswick). I do hope they all get the chance to do some lightweight walking or camping some time, instead of lugging the equivalent of a small house around on their shoulders.

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Plenty of mud in this gateway – and when I say mud, I’m being polite…

Back at the car, I felt the lump on my lower back getting much more sore, not helped by being right on the line of my (sweaty) waistband. Little was I to know what a nuisance it would soon turn out to be…

Map

But for now, the total number of summits is 402 (130 to go). Total mileage 557 m (896 km), total height climbed 172,000′ (52,500 m). Oh – and total donations made or pledged are now over £28,000! If you could spread the word amongst your contacts, perhaps we could do even better, who knows?