Anyone wishing to join me on one of the remaining 3 walks (depending on conditions) please click HERE for full details (updated Saturday 22 October). UNLESS THE WEATHER IS TRULY DREADFUL, THE FINAL SUMMIT WILL BE CARRON CRAG from GRIZEDALE VISITOR CENTRE on SATURDAY 29 OCTOBER. More details soon.
I’ve now climbed 529 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 500 people have pledged or donated over£30,000. 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.
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).
Wednesday 5 October. Still based in Appleby, and today Val had decided to join me, as had Jeff Ford (he’s Chairman of the Mountain Heritage Trust that does a lot of good work in the Lake District and elsewhere) and Andrew Jackson from Clitheroe. Whilst Jeff had a short drive from just north of Keswick, Andrew had been on the road for two hours by the time we met at the Maggie’s Bridge car park near Loweswater. It would have been less but both Andrew and ourselves, a few minutes earlier, had been ‘herding’ sheep along the narrow lane so the last half mile took a lot longer than expected!
I love the signpost in Loweswater village, and always hope no-one has removed it since my last visit. With its completely negative indications, and really of no help whatsoever, it’s marvellously British! As you approach Mellbreak its north face looks a bit like a miniature North Face of the Eiger, and seems to be equally forbidding, but there’s an amazing path that winds its way up between the crags and rocks without any sense of exposure. The rock is a bit crumbly though, and I would say that the path has deteriorated since I was here seven years ago. Then again, no doubt thousands of boots (and a few wellies, like mine) have trudged up there in that time.
Once on the top it was pretty windy. Mellbreak has two tops about a kilometre apart, at 1,670’ (509 m) and 1,678’ (512 m) separated by a shallow col: each one is a Birkett, the south top being slightly higher and therefore (in this case) is Wainwright’s ‘official’ summit. There was no shortage of conversation as we walked along, although the wind made it difficult to catch every word!
A steep descent from the south top led to a quiet area out of the wind where a couple had stopped for sandwiches and a hot flask. After a quick chat we headed slightly ‘off-piste’ to the top of Scale Knott (1,109’, 338 m) for our third summit of the day, before heading across to the Mosedale bridle path. It’s surprising what the passage of time can do – an old gate, a full track’s width off the path, could only have been situated on the track itself originally: now it looks most peculiar as gradual change has taken the track completely to one side (it seems I forgot to take a photo, sorry.)
Also rather odd – although easy to overlook – is the Mosedale Holly, a lone tree standing completely isolated in an ocean of long grass, heather and bracken. How did it ever take root, then survive, and… does it feel lonely I wonder?
At this point there’s no choice but to leave the track, wade through boggy, rushy ground (with a half-hidden smug smirk if wearing wellies) to cross Mosedale Beck and head up the ridiculously steep grassy flanks of Hen Comb. After a long descent (from Mellbreak) being aware that Hen Comb is exactly the same height as Mellbreak (N Top) leaves you in no doubt that it’s going to be a slog – and it was. We headed towards the north ridge to make things a little easier, then as we arrived at the summit the wind was even stronger than before.
One more to go – this time a fairly pleasant stroll north along the ridge, descending all the way, until a slight rise took as to the top of Little Dodd (1,188’, 362 m). The path off the north end continues to be straightforward and it was only a few days later when looking across to Little Dodd from Gavel Fell that I realised how craggy the west ‘nose’ of the fell is.
As we lost height the wind dropped, the sun was still in charge and the views towards Grasmoor and Whiteless Pike were magnificent. I believe it to be one of the fundamental laws of nature that it’s impossible to walk through Loweswater village without calling in the Kirkstile Inn, and what better way to finish a good day’s walk than with a pint of Loweswater Gold? We met the couple with the flask in the beer garden – having reached the north end of Mellbreak they didn’t fancy the steep path down so returned to the col where an easier path brings you to the bridle way.
So after a day of good walking and good company, I was another five Birketts nearer the final target – on 499 (what a shame there wasn’t just one more today!) – so 43 to go. We’d done almost 8 miles (13 km) and climbed over 2,500’ (780 m). Tomorrow was to be my only day off in 11 days, before returning on Friday. At long last I was feeling pleased with the weather-gods!
After yesterday’s walk I drove to Appleby, where Val and four friends were having a ‘girlie’ weekend. What an experience! Five women, 15 simultaneous conversations going on for hours – without, apparently, taking a breath. Amazing! I sneaked off to a quiet room…
Today’s plan was to do seven summits to the east of Skiddaw, four months after I climbed the main mountain itself – though it doesn’t seem that long. I was also to have some company. You may have noticed the pin map which I sometimes use to show what progress has been made: this comes from an iPhone app called the ‘Hill Lists’, which is developed and maintained by a gentleman called Graham Haley. Graham and his wife Ann were in the Lakes for a week’s walking holiday so we agreed to team up.
Graham’s ‘Hill Lists’ is available on the iPhone AppStore and has lots and lots of great features including this map. Red = yet to climb, green = already climbed. Looking good!
Also walking part of the way before he dashed off to visit other summits was David Elliott from Langho – so it was a nice change not to be walking alone.
We met at the Latrigg car park above Keswick and after polite introductions set off on the main tourist route to Skiddaw before heading off right on the Cumbria Way, following an old bridleway which contours above the Glenderaterra valley, the big geological fault dividing the Skiddaw massif from Blencathra. Although it was windy, the weather was once again fine.
We must have talked a lot because it didn’t seem to take long to get the three miles to Skiddaw House, a Youth Hostel in the middle of nowhere – and certainly many miles from the nearest tarmac road. At this point Graham and Ann wanted to visit the summit of Skiddaw, so headed off left, while I needed to start with Hare Crag (1,765’, 538 m) so carried straight on with David. Before long we had to leave the main track and take an almost non-existent footpath up through heather to the top.
Now David headed up towards Skiddaw summit, leaving me to return the kilometre to Skiddaw House and then set off up the track in the steps of Graham and Ann. The path was boggy and muddy in places, but on the whole it was a nice steady climb to the summit of Sale How (2,185’, 666 m), which is really just a medium-sized bump on the ridge – so after a brief descent it was back to climbing, heading for the col between the main Skiddaw summit and Skiddaw Little Man.
Graham and Ann were waiting for me at the col, and David appeared at exactly the same time as I arrived, said a quick ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and headed down to Sale How! Graham reported that the wind at the top of Skiddaw was at least twice as strong as here – and it was windy here! Three summits followed in quick succession (Skiddaw being a happy Birkett hunting ground!) – Little Man (2,837’, 865 m), Lesser Man (2,674’, 815 m) and Jenkin Hill (2,411’, 735 m).
Because the main summit of Skiddaw is hidden from the sight of those walking up the main path, we guessed that many of those toiling upwards assumed that Little Man was the summit, not realising that they had almost a mile and another 217’ to climb!
The last two summits were Lonscale Fell (also a Wainwright, the highest point on its eponymous fell at 2,344’ (715 m), and Lonscale Pike (2,306’, 703 m), by far the most spectacular, situated at the edge of a steep drop to the Glenderaterra valley.
From here it was an easy walk back down the shoulder to the Cumbria Way path and back to the car park again, where a mobile brew-van was in attendance – so we could enjoy a cup of tea / coffee before parting company. I headed back to Appleby, while Graham and Ann set off on the briefest of walks to the summit of Latrigg, the Wainwright which overlooks the town of Keswick (and which I did way back in January).
David arrived back just as I was leaving!
7 summits; 11.05 miles (17.78 km); 2,545’ (745 m). Total now 685 miles (1,102 km) and ascent of 206,000′ (62,750 m).
However hard you try to devise your routes efficiently, sooner or later geography gets the better of you and one single solitary summit refuses to be included in a larger circuit. Hobcarton End is one such summit. I could have included it with Grisedale Pike but then how would I have got to Crag Hill? I could have put it in with Hopegill Head, but then Swinside and Ladyside Pike would have been left on their own little spur. So there was no alternative but to include Hobcarton End in a round of one, and do it on a simple there-and-back basis.
The best place to start is from near the Whinlatter Visitor Centre. I’d been told that roadworks had closed the road from Braithwaite and a 13-mile diversion was needed via Lorton. But when I got to Braithwaite the signs said “Road Closed at Whinlatter Pass” – which was a bit vague, so I thought I’d go and see for myself. Half way through the village I found myself behind the local bus, and thought that if the bus could get through, so could I! In fact the roadworks turned out to be a minor affair, not blocking the road at all, and it was a simple case of having a polite word with one of the workmen and you were allowed through.
I thought I’d go to the Forestry Commission visitor centre to see if there were any waymarked trails to the top of Hobcarton End, but to my disappointment and surprise the answer was “You can’t go to Hobcarton End”. “Why not?” “Because they’re taking out trees in that part of the forest and it’s not safe. The only safe access is via the top of Grisedale Pike.” (a MUCH bigger walk!)
So once again I thought I’d go and have a look. The signs didn’t actually say you couldn’t go past. I was reminded of those occasions when you drive past mile after mile of cones on the motorway without seeing a single workman. There was neither sight nor sound of any work-like activity. So I headed upwards and was soon out of the forest – where the tree stumps suggested that felling had taken place many months, if not years, previously.
Up the open heathery fell I went, on a well-used path with plenty of recent boot-prints, until I came to a Christmas tree. “Ah,” I hear you say, “There are lots of Christmas trees in Forestry Commission plantations” – but this Christmas tree was (a) all on its own and (b) adorned from top to bottom with SILVER BAUBLES! Who would go to all that trouble?
Still smiling, I met a walker coming from the summit in the opposite direction to me, then soon arrived at the top (2,080’, 634 m), turned around and headed back. When I caught him up and had a chat, Mr Other Walker hadn’t noticed the Christmas tree at all.
Tiptoeing back through the forest I was soon back at the car, unscathed. It was at this point I decided that if I were to do the two western-most Lorton summits now, I might manage all the others another day on a more compact route from the Visitor Centre and still have time for a bit of ‘Go-Ape’ afterwards (only kidding – not likely!!). So I drove to the Spout Force car park, noticing with some consternation the near vertical appearance of the path up to the summit of Graystones (1,496’, 459 m). And from the car park the path went steeply down for ages, meaning even more height to regain!
I crossed the river on a footbridge and followed it downstream for 100 metres or so, coming across evidence of last winter’s floods where the river had washed away part of the footpath entirely.
The path to the top of the fell was really steep, and the going was slow. I had a break to examine a rather lovely Angle Shades moth, and then later a flock of sheep came rushing over the wall, followed by a sheep dog who promptly adopted me and appeared to ‘clock off’ for the day. I could see the farmer some distance away with his other dog, but my new friend didn’t seem to want to know!
Graystones is one of a small number of fells where the ‘Birkett’ summit is not in the same place as the ‘Wainwright’ summit. As usual, I visited both (don’t worry if you’re hard up this week, they only count as one!) by which time Shep was getting a bit nervous and, as I didn’t seem capable of helping him, he ran off in the last-known direction of the farmer and I didn’t see him again.
I crossed a little col and ascended the fairly unexciting Kirk Fell on Lorton (1,437’, 438 m), before heading down the steep slopes again, this time turning right to join the road and take a slightly easier route back to the car park.
Avid readers may recall that back in July I had a bit of a nightmare on Scafell Pike – a monsoon, a WD (wrong-direction for non-rally people) and a nasty fall. The plan on that day was to include Lingmell, a big fell at 2,649′ (807 m), but having gone past Lingmell Col without realising it, I was in no mood to turn back and prolong the day any further. It would have to wait – until last Sunday.
What a contrast! The weather was gorgeous, even before 8 am, cool but promising sunshine. There was quite a breeze though, as I set off from the NT Car Park at Brackenclose, and I needed to keep an extra layer on all the way to the top.
The route starts on the main Scafell Pike path and then heads up a steep ridge, and it’s a steep and unrelenting slog for a long way. I saw a party of five people coming down towards me – perhaps they’d been camping out… but when we met, there was no sign of rucksacks, and in Dublin accents they told me they were doing the 3 Peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon – but had gone the wrong way and ended up on Lingmell instead. I explained that it would have been possible to reach their goal but they replied with “Ah well, it was near enough for us” and carried on, en route to Snowdon. Whether they tell their sponsors…?
As you set your sights on the apparent top, the gradient levels off to reveal… a long way to go! The path takes you over Goat Crags and eventually to the lovely rocky top of Lingmell.
A few yards further there’s a huge drop to the deep declivity of Piers Gill, a jaw-dropping sight. I looked across to Scafell Pike: there were already walkers on the path en route to the highest point in England as I set off back down again. In another direction, Great Gable imposed its character on the head of Wasdale.
The views were certainly fabulous on this clear morning: the wind had dropped too, and as I started my descent the number of walkers increased – to the point where I thought a coach party must have arrived!
It was a question of simply retracing my steps; on the way, I heard once again the calls of Pink-footed Geese as two skeins flew over. Well before lunchtime I was back at the car and heading home – but only for an overnight stop. Tomorrow (Monday) I’ll be on my way back to the Lakes, making the most of this great weather.
It rained heavily overnight but by morning it had cleared, and another dry day looked on the cards. As I stepped outside I heard the familiar autumn calls of Pink-footed Geese and looked up to see a skein of 80 or so flying over – the first of five skeins I would see today as these amazing birds travel south from the sub-Arctic to wintering grounds around the UK estuaries.
Today’s plan was another four summits, but with two on one side of the River Esk and two on the other, I was worried about getting across and thinking that if it looked at all dangerous I would have to walk several miles extra. I parked in the layby just up the hill from Brotherilkeld. The only other vehicle was a motorhome which had obviously been there all night. The windows were steamed up and the vehicle was rocking gently, so I guess someone was enjoying a nice warm shower.
Ahem. For the first time in four days’ walking I met someone I could talk to – about half a mile into the walk, four men were walking towards me out of the valley – they had been camping out, on a Mountain Leader course, and were surprised to see me walking in wellies. After I assured them that my feet were not only dry but blister-free, they began to lose their initial misgivings.
The path to Lingcove Bridge was very wet and splashy. I crossed Lingcomb Beck on the bridge (but not the Esk, which it joins here) and began to climb steeply; once past the cliffs of Throstlehow Crag I turned up the steep grass to the summit (1,325′, 404 m) and for the first time realised what a big drop there was between Throstlehow and the nearby Scar Lathing!
After crossing the inevitable bog it was a steep climb around the side of the foreboding cliffs to the top of Scar Lathing (1,440′, 439 m), devoid of any cairn or loose stones, but enjoying (like the other summits today) superb views of the Scafells, Esk Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags.
Now was the time to go and have a look at the river. I descended to Great Moss, waving to a couple headed for Scafell and looking for somewhere to ford the river, which I was please to see running fast, but wide, under a foot deep, and with a pebble bed that would be good to walk on. I got out my walking poles, tightened the velcro on the bottom of my waterproof leggings, and strode across, safe and dry-footed. What a relief! The couple, wellieless, continued on, looking in vain for somewhere to cross and keep their feet dry.
A steady pathless climb led to the top of High Scarth (1,698′, 487 m), once again with fine views, and then a descent, bog (of course) and gentle climb to Silverybield at 1,296′ (395 m). The cairned top flatters to deceive, being a tad lower than the unadorned slab of rock 60 metres away. As well as enjoying the views, you can see from the terrain how tricky the navigation can be in this area of small craggy, knobbly hills.
It was a long walk out, across more bog (actually the route I took on the way to Scafell just over a week ago, in reverse), past a strange holly tree growing out of a rock (some people would pay thousands just to have one in their garden like that!) and down the zigzags.
The sun was getting warm and I was about to remove my waterproof pants when I felt a spot of rain, looked back and saw a shower coming. So it was with but a sprinkling of rain that I arrived back at the car and missed the downpour by a few mnutes!
Four more summits done (total 483) without the need for a big diversion. 7.63 miles (12.27 km) and 1783′ 543 m of climbing. Tomorrow will be a short day but a vital one – picking up Lingmell, which I missed during the Scafell Pike ‘monsoon’. Let’s hope it stays fine this time!