I’ve reached the halfway point in my bid to visit 542 Lake District summits in 2016, raising money & awareness for Cancer Research UK. Over the last 6 months over 400 people have pledged or donated over £25,000 by agreeing to donate 10p for every summit (about £1 per week over the year). You can still pledge support here. New ‘recruits’ who’d prefer not to commit to this amount over the remaining 6 months can still donate on my Just Giving page and make a very valued contribution. Thank you! – together we will beat cancer sooner.
Val was so pleased when I told her I’d booked a few days’ holiday for us both. She was less than delighted (but still happy, I think) to learn that it would be in Eskdale, so we could be handy for some of the many hills in the south and west of the Lake District. A friend of a friend had said we could use his house as a base, providing we didn’t mind workmen on the adjoining barn.
We couldn’t get away until lunchtime, but I reckoned we could still tackle a group of three smaller fells to the east of Coniston Water. Our starting point was the Nibthwaite NT car park: this is hidden from the road with no sign and only a narrow gravel track visible. Although there were cars parked in many passing places and roadside verges the car park, being so secret, was empty. Map reading comes in handy sometimes.
It had been a beautiful day, but as we arrived there was a heavy shower, which kindly soaked all the vegetation overhanging the path and consequently soaked us. To make matters worse, after a kilometre or so, the route went through dense bracken and all signs of a path disappeared. I could have done with a machete. Despite the modest distances involved, it was a long hard slog to the top of Stang Hill even though it’s only 1,037′ (316 m) high. It has a fine cairn which belies its modest stature, and views over Morecambe Bay. The tide was out.
All bird song seems to have ceased now that the breeding season is just about over. All the cuckoos have already set off back for Africa, and the Swifts will soon follow once we get well into August. So it was a quiet trudge across squishy ground, with the main interest coming from plants rather than birds – Bog Asphodel doesn’t seem to grow unless it has its feet in very wet ground; some pale pink orchids, and lots of yellow cinquefoils.
Arnsbarrow Hill (1,056′, 322 m) has no cairn, the summit being a solid rock outcrop, and there is an odd-looking stone construction, probably a sheepfold, just a bit lower down.
Another trudge, taking a wide sweep in order to avoid more bogs, and then a short climb, led to the final summit, the quirkily-named Top o’ Selside (1,099′, 335 m) once more with a cairn so big one wondered where they found all the stones for it.
The descent took in views of Coniston as the weather brightened and warmed up. But our short walk of under 4 miles had taken three hours to complete, so rough was the going. And with all that bracken I wondered whether I might have picked up some more ticks – and as I took off my boots at the car, another pinhead-sized beastie walked across my left shin prior to being removed and given fresh lodgings.
Another three added to the total, which is now 323. Tomorrow we should be able to set off from our Eskdale lodgings without the need for a car.
As I woke at 7 am it still seemed dark, until the first flash of lightning lit up the sky, and was followed by a massive rumble of thunder and the beginning of a torrential downpour. Water poured across the road where it narrows in Rosthwaite. The ferocity of the lightning suggested it might not be wise to head out for the high fells just now.
By 9.30, and with the storm continuing, I decided to head into Keswick. Because I’d arranged to meet Dave Bleazard, the owner of Oban’s Outside Edge Outdoor Sports store, after lunch, I couldn’t wait and then start out on Rosthwaite Fell later, so instead I decided to visit the museum, where I knew there was an exhibition on the life and work of Alfred Wainwright.
I almost got soaked waiting for the lady in front of me at the Pay & Display machine – she must have tried a dozen £1 coins which kept being rejected, to her obvious frustration. The Wainwright exhibition was excellent – well worth a visit if you’re in Keswick this summer. It’s at the Museum and Art Gallery in Fitz Park.
Now, if you remember the farce I made of Great How, by the north end of Thirlmere, you’ll know that having not visited the summit proper a few weeks back, I promised to return. It seemed a good fell for a short walk with Dave, allowing him plenty of time to get back to Oban before it got too late.
If I had to return to any summit, this was the best one! About three miles (it could have been shorter if we hadn’t made it a circular route) and 500′ or so of ascent, and as you can see from the photo of Dave at the summit, this time there was no mistake. The ‘false’ summit is also clearly in view from the right one, so I still can’t understand how I missed it. Anyway, it’s in the bag now, and the total stands at 320.
So after that welcome bit of company Dave set off back to the glorious NW of Scotland and I headed for Clitheroe. Time to do some statistics –
320 summits (222 to go); total distance walked 433 miles (697 km); total ascent 131,000′ (39,900 m) – over four Everests now. Next stop Eskdale to tackle a few in the west and south-west.
I arrived at Seathwaite, officially the wettest place in Great Britain with an average annual precipitation of 3,500 mm (138″) of rain, at 8 am on Tuesday on a dry, sunny summer’s morning. Already cars were parked everywhere, although I suspect most had been there all night as plenty of people seemed to be camping.
The plan today was Seathwaite Fell, Great End (at 2,984′, 910 m the fifth-highest Wainwright and the highest under 3,000′) and the undulating ridge from Allen Crags to Glaramara – eight summits in all. The forecast was for the hottest day of the year with temperatures (at sea level) exceeding 30º C.
An easy start follows the bridleway to Sty Head, over Stockley Beck Bridge, and then up past Taylorgill Force. Seathwaite Fell looms ahead, the rocky face of Aaron Crags staring fiercely back up the valley. The path is pitched much of the way, which is sometimes a help but at other time the big rough boulders can be awkward to negotiate.
At a little cairn a faint path heads up behind the crags and to the right of a small gill: it’s not difficult to follow, and the steepness is compensated for by the great views back down Borrowdale. Soon after the steep section ends, the summit appears: not the highest point on Seathwaite Fell (1,970′, 601 m), but because of its prominence overlooking the valley below, it’s acknowledged at the nominal Seathwaite Fell by almost everyone.
The actual highest point – another Birkett summit over 100′ higher at 2,073′ (632 m), is called Great Slack, and it’s an undulating short trek of a quarter of a mile or so to get there. It has a really pointy little cairn and from here, nearby Great Gable looks like the biggest mountain in the world!
A path drops down past small tarns to the larger Sprinkling Tarn, lying at the feet of the great rock buttress of Great End. From the tarn a well-used path climbs towards Esk Hause. Although short-cuts are available, I kept things simple and stuck to the main stone-pitched path before turning right towards Calf Cove. This is one of the main routes to Scafell Pike, and there were lots of walkers on it.
Just before the col a small path heads off right to Great End, whilst the main track heads left like a six-lane motorway towards the highest mountain in England. Once I’d turned right it was like being in a different world. I only met one person on Great Fell, whilst I could see hundreds heading, as if attracted by a magnet, to Scafell Pike. The top plateau of Great End looks is a great stony wasteland, like a moonscape.
I returned to Esk Hause, continued down to the next col where there’s a stone windshelter in the shape of a cross, then started back up towards Allen Crags (2,574′, 785 m). The weather had turned a bit cloudy, and the heat had gone. I wondered if the heavy showers, forecast for tonight, were going to arrive early, but the clouds soon dispersed ant the warmth returned.
All along this ridge the views back to Great Gable and Great End are stunning. The path twists and undulates, a pleasure the whole way. I remembered the last time I was here, seven years ago, when Mike Watkins and I were caught in a heavy thunderstorm, with rain coming down in stair-rods and violent thunder and lightning. I even thought I recognised the big boulder we sheltered behind.
High House (2,244′, 684 m) is a strange block of solid rock (more like a block of flats than a house). Then Lincomb Head, at 2,365′ (721 m): on the little climb up, a lady was coming down towards me in the opposite direction, taking it very gingerly. As she passed me she remarked “My knees aren’t what they used to be” to which I replied “Nothing of mine is what it used to be!”
Around 300 m before the summit of Glaramara is a large separate summit topped by a huge boulder which wouldn’t look out of place in a Star Wars film. This is Looking Steads (2,543, 755 m).
After a short descent the path soon rises to Glaramara. According to Mark Richards this attractive, typically Lakeland name comes from ‘Houedgleuermerhe’, presumably Old English, meaning ‘headland of the shieling by the chasms’. There are two summits, 100 m apart, both 2,569′ (783 m), of which most authorities (Wainwright, Birkett, Richards) claim that the NE top is the better and therefore the ‘proper’ top. But for some reason Graham Haley’s Hill list gives the co-ordinates for the SW top, so this is where I left my card. I really must spend more time doing advance homework – but I’ve never enough time!
The only reason I didn’t visit the NE top is because the path down by Hind Crag leaves the top between the two summits. But worry not – firstly, the two tops are the same height, and secondly… I have to return to Comb Head, less than ¼ mile away, on a round of Rosthwaite and Thorneythwaite Fells. It’s so close to Glaramara that I’ll call at the NE top so there can be no doubt!
A very steep descent took me back down to the bridleway on which I’d started the day. The one big disappointment was that there’s no-one in Seathwaite selling ice-cream – I could have murdered one! A short drive took me to the wonderful Royal Oak Hotel where I was to be looked after for the night – I hope you can stay there if you’re in the area as a great way to support those who support the Big 542in2016 Challenge.
8 summits today, the tally now 319, and ready to do another 5 or 6 tomorrow, if the weather’s OK. But heavy thunderstorms are forecast for late night / early morning – what will happen next? You’ll have to wait until the next chapter.
Please consider pledging support for Cancer Research UK if you haven’t already done so – it’s such a worthwhile cause. Interesting too, that a couple who found one of my summit cards last week were both cancer survivors, and amazing how often this seems to happen.
On Sunday Val and I were to return from the Lakes and wanted to fit in a short(ish) walk in the morning, so we headed over the Kirkstone Pass to the Cow Bridge car park at Hartsop to do two summits on Hartsop above How, Gale Crag and Gill Crag, sounding like some unlikely twins. I’d left these for some time because when I tackled Caudale Moor and Red Screes in March I hadn’t wanted to scramble across the rough ground below Dove Crag – I’d done this when I walked the Wainwrights and it really was a struggle!
It was a lovely sunny morning and the path up the ridge is a real delight (we walked half a mile along the road towards Patterdale to get on to it) with great views of lots of nearby fells. Gavel Pike on St Sunday Crag has a wonderful pyramid shape, Place Fell and the turrets of Angletarn Pikes rose above a mainly unseen Ullswater, and Fairfield, together with its satellites of Cofa Pike and Hart Crag, dominated the scene ahead.
The path continued to weave and undulate, with occasional little scrambles, until we reached the summit of Gale Crag – the highest point (1,680′, 512 m) being a modest rocky outcrop looking towards the higher objective of Hartsop above How itself (aka Gill Crag), rather higher at 1,870′ (570 m).
A steeper scramble preceded ‘Dick’s Seat’, a chair-sized rock which looked a tad uncomfortable to me, and then we were at the summit of Gill Crag, which has a surprisingly exposed edge to the top looking down into Dovedale far below. It was time to give Birkett Bill a bit of fresh air after he’d been sitting inside Val’s rucksack all morning.
After retracing our steps past Gale Crag we crossed the stile to take the steeper way down through Low Wood: in places this is extremely steep, and the loose path surface does little to inspire confidence. Val was relieved to reach the bottom (it returns directly to the car park) in one piece!
These two summits took the total to 311. For now it was back to Clitheroe before heading back to the Lakes two days later.
Val and I travelled up to the Lakes late on Friday afternoon in horrible wet weather, and drove through thick fog to meet our friends Frank and Bern at the Kirkstone before heading on to our Fallbarrow ‘digs’ and meeting more friends.
First thing Saturday (the rain had gone and the sun was shining) we drove to the Three Shires Stone at the top of Wrynose Pass and walked DOWNhill to Wrynose Bridge before heading up the fell on the path to Pike of Blisco. We soon left this, however, forded the feeder streams of Wrynose Beck and made for the top of Blake Rigg (1,755′, 535 m), passing a wonderful bouquet of heather in the rocks along the way. Great views from the top, especially towards the Langdale Pikes.
The rain had made the next section rather boggy but soon we were at the rocky top of Long Crag (1,788′, 545 m), looking towards Pike of Blisco, our next port of call and the highest top today at 2,313′ (705 m). I thought we’d head towards the motorway-standard stone pitched path coming up from Blea Tarn, but intersected the smaller path which we’d started off on an hour earlier, so carried on up that instead.
Pike of Blisco has a lovely rocky top with a good-sized summit cairn. A runner arrived whilst we were there and I made the assumption that he wasn’t a frequent visitor to the Lakes when he told us that he’d come up via Winrose Fell. I’ve never heard it called that before, even though (back in my youth) when I first heard of Wrynose Pass I wondered why it was named after big thick-skinned African animals that charge a lot (some people say they have much in common with estate agents…)
The long descent to the col at Red Tarn was followed by a long climb towards Crinkle Crags, although we weren’t going that far. Instead, we were heading to Great Knott – I hadn’t really noticed previously the massive ravine to the right of the path, or the substantial buttress of Great Knott (2,283′, 696 m). We stopped at the summit, as I thought there might be a bit of shelter behind the cairn for a ten-minute break (Val likes to take her boots off to give her feet a rest). It turned out to be the windiest place we could have chosen, so her feet got about three minutes and that was that!
Another boggy hike took us to Cold Pike, a rocky bastion with a craggy top at 2,300′ (701 m). Another great viewpoint but (living up to its name) no warmer than Great Knott, so we didn’t linger. From Red Tarn the path meandered its way gently downwards back to the car, where Val called it a day.
However, there was one more summit to climb, so we drove past Blea Tarn to the Old Dungeon Ghyll at the head of Langdale, then I left Val with a book and headed past Stool End Farm to The Band, and a long climb up to White Stones, 1,863′ (568 m) above sea level and an ascent of 1,500′ (470 m). Most people were on their way down and I met some who we’d passed earlier on the first part of the day.
I didn’t feel like I was far from the top of The Band at Three Tarns when I reached White Stones (it’s a small detour to the right). Arriving at the stony top I caught my thumbnail on the rock and broke it – blessing my good fortune that the corner broke off without touching the quick. I soon turned around and headed down again, maintaining a fast enough pace to overtake several of the people I’d just passed on the way up.
There’s a tremendous variety of flowers in the verge along the Stool End road. For the first time I noticed Yellow Rattle (complementing the Yellowhammer that I’d heard singing a few minutes earlier!) I’m not sure whether I woke Val up when I got back to the car but she said she’d enjoyed a couple of hours reading!
So that made 6 summits today and a total of 309 so far. 10.1 miles (16.3 km) and 3,777′ (1,151 m) of ascent.
On Tuesday evening I’d been asked to give a talk to the Rotary Club of Upper Eden, so I asked if one of the members could give me a bed for the night to save two long journeys. Rotary, by the way, is NOT a secret society, though it does get that kind of press and this stuffy, social climbing impression wasn’t helped by a recent play, on BBC TV I think. It’s an all-inclusive international organisation for people who want to make a difference to their community (from local village to the whole world); Rotary has almost eradicated polio worldwide and is involved in countless schemes to help the underprivileged. You can find out more here.
So after a very pleasant evening’s fellowship (and some generous donations via the collecting bucket) and a good night’s sleep, I drove through Shap to Mardale Head, ready to head off up the Gatesgarth Pass track to tackle three summits, of which two are Wainwrights – Branstree (2,339′, 713 m), High Howes (2,208′, 673 m) and Selside Pike (2,149′, 655 m).
The first three summits were reached without much difficulty – it’s a pleasant climb on a good track to Gatesgarth Pass, after which it gets boggy for a while on the ascent to a fell which Wainwright describes as ‘dreary’ (with some justification!)
There were a few showers about but I managed to avoid the heavy bits, being caught by the edges only, as I continued past the fine cairns on Artlecrag Pike and the odd, almost Tardis-looking stone survey tower before reaching the NE top of Branstree, known as High Howes. NUMBER 300!! Another milestone (and a reminder, if you like, that if you’re collecting 10p per summit there should be £30 in your tin by now).
Another easy walk led to Selside Pike and was followed by a grassy descent to the Old Corpse Road, where in days gone by funeral processions must have gone on horseback from Mardale to Shap, though (again according to Wainwright) the last such journey was in 1736. This reminds me of a tale concerning the Pennine Way, where the remote Birkdale Farm lies a full 8 miles from the nearest village of Dufton. Around 100 years ago the old farmer died: friends and relatives accompanied the horse-drawn coffin all the way to the village, arriving with an hour to spare before the funeral, and so they decided to commemorate the deceased with a couple of beers in the Stag’s Head. Meanwhile the horse, which hadn’t been tied up, became bored and decided to head back home. There must have been some rubbing of eyes when the mourners left the inn: there was nothing for it but to head back to the farm and repeat the whole business the following day!
Back at the car park in just over three hours, I reckoned it would take about as long again to visit the next two summits – Rough Crag (2,060′, 628 m) on Riggindale, and Castle Crag (1,296′, 395 m), the site of an Iron-age hilltop fort (or at least the ruins of one).
I underestimated the difficulty. The climb to Rough Crag was long – but interesting, especially where the path clings to the edge of Riggindale’s sharp south ridge and looks dizzily down upon the lakeside and car park below. I met two couples (one from Australia) and then a big walking party from Ulverston – one of whom said he’d seen me on TV last week. Fame at last! (the ‘That’s Lancashire’ interview is here if you’ve got a few minutes to spare).
The top of Rough Crag is adorned by a remarkably white cairn, and has a great view of nearby High Street (I was wishing I’d come DOWN to it when I was on High Street with Dylan – it would have been easier) and Blea Water, the deepest corrie tarn in the Lakes at over 200′ (65 m). And once I’d got there, and left a summit card… I turned round and came all the way down the ridge again!
At the bottom I turned left along the Coast-to-Coast route towards Bampton; it was quite a way along the head of Haweswater, crossing the different streams coming down from Riggindale. The track rose over the shapely hump of Flakehow Crag, from where there is a way up to Castle Crag, but it looked far too steep! There’s an easier way up further on, apparently…
The path started to fall, the bracken got thicker, and I couldn’t find a path anywhere. Eventually I just hacked a way through the awful stuff until I found a little copse that’s marked on the map. Perhaps the going would be easier from here? Not a chance. More shoulder-high bracken and steep going until eventually it thinned and I made it to the top of the Crag, out of breath.
You need some imagination to picture the iron-age fort, as all that remains is a long line of broken stones and a cairn. A light shower created a pleasant little rainbow above Haweswater. I didn’t fancy the very steep descent so retraced my footsteps back through the ‘orrible bracken, hoping that any ticks would be sleeping (they were) before following the path all the way back – 2¼ miles – to the car and the end of a long, exhausting day.
5 summits making a total of 303 – 13.5 miles today (21.7 km) and 3,972′ (1,210 m) of ascent. I’m back in the Lakes this weekend with Val – it would be nice to get some settled fine weather some time!
After a few days of solitary walking it was a pleasure to have the company of friends Iain Poole and Julie, plus Max and Sandy, the border terriers. Despite the early start it seemed to take for ever to get to Sandwick, down a long cul-de-sac from Pooley Bridge, past the Sharrow Bay Hotel. This is not a reflection on Iain’s driving (which is excellent) although perhaps a comment on the FIVE minibuses we were stuck behind for several miles after the Rheghed junction!
Today’s plan was to do five Birketts – starting with Low Birk Fell – plus the Wainwrights of Place Fell (2,154′, 657 m) and Hallin Fell. The two dogs were clearly getting excited with the anticipation as we parked at Sandwick. I got my boots out and found that I’d left the insoles at home – doh! Luckily the insoles from my trainers were a reasonable substitute and fitted OK.
We set off up a narrow track: my route notes mentioned a path heading up the steep hillside through bracken – and what bracken! So tall and thick the path, already faint at first, kept disappearing as the bracken was so thick it completely obscured the ground beneath. It was just a case of heading up and doing one’s best until the fell top was reached (not before Sandy disappeared for five minutes, causing Iain to panic, before she innocently appeared again out of the blue).
For a small fell (1,224′, 373 m) Low Birk Fell has a very big cairn! Most impressive. And although it was cloudy, it wasn’t raining, which was a plus. More bracken on the way to Bleaberry Knott, the highest point on Birk Fell at 1’680′ (512 m), but at least it wasn’t quite so lush and there was the added thrill of a herd of deer on the way. Another big cairn at the top, from where we headed off towards the spiky top of The Knight (1,778′, 542 m), almost overshooting before realising that we’d got there before we knew it.
The wind had picked up and now it started to rain. By the time we were at the summit of Place Fell, today’s highest point, it was raining in earnest. Sideways. Penetrating rain. Horrible. Apart from the trigpoint, the top is bare rock: nowhere to put a summit card, but there was a group of five or so walkers, so (not for the first time) I handed the card to them. Up to now, whenever I’ve done this I’ve never heard from the recipient again, which seems odd. But I thought this time would be different, and sure enough I’ve now received a great selfie from Jill Melton, Cath Lee and friends (see Rogues Gallery 2).
The rain followed us all the way down the descent, and then ascent, first to the rounded top of High Dodd (1,644′, 501 m) and then the occasionally steep (and slippery) descent to Sleet Fell (1,240′, 378 m), before what for me was a pleasant grassy slope back down to Sandwick. Unfortunately for Julie, Iain and I had got a bit in front, with the result that Sandy, on the lead, pulled her over, leaving Julie with a sore knee. Oh dear.
We got in the car and drove a mile or so to Howtown, from where it was a straightforward climb of 450′ or so to the summit of Hallin Fell (1,273′, 388 m), marked by a huge construction far too big to be described as a cairn and possibly even bigger than the structure atop Thornthwaite Beacon. The views over Ullswater are superb, but the wind was by now so strong that we didn’t linger very long to enjoy them, heading back down to the car and our long journey back home, punctuated only by a stop for hot drinks and cake at the Rheghed Centre.
Another 7 summits today, total now 298. Ready to break through the 300 barrier next time.
Having climbed Fleetwith Pike the previous day, I had the relative luxury, after parking at Gatesgarth Farm, of taking the easy start along Warnscale Bottom before starting the climb to Haystacks. This shapely mountain which I think sometimes looks like an open fan – has a north face of rugged crags which always look dark and brooding. I wonder if that’s what resonated with Mr Wainwright, who declared it his favourite mountain.
When walking the fells one should always remember to stop every now and again and look back. This advice is particularly good for the climb up the stony path up the flanks of Fleetwith Pike, for the
views back towards Buttermere get better and better. A well-engineered corner around the edge of a ridge above Warnscale Beck had me humming “She’ll be coming round the mountain” as the path above the stream became rockier before levelling out as it approached the old Dubs quarry.
I forded the beck and headed up the clear path, passing a large group of students from Winchester College on the way to Blackbeck Tarn with its fine view of Great Gable. The path meanders, sometimes along the undulating top, at others on the edge of crags – the change of views can be rapid and dramatic.
Innominate Tarn is where Wainwright’s ashes were scattered. If you’re wondering where I’d like my ashes scattered, the answer is Marks & Spencer. That way I can be pretty sure Val will come and visit me at least twice a week.
At the summit (1,959′, 597 m) I caught up with a group of three walkers who’d spent the night at the nearby Warnscale Bothy; one had hurt his knee and expected to cut short the day’s walk, leaving the other two to carry on along the same ridge as me. It’s a very steep, rocky path down to Scarth Gap, from where the path quickly rises again to the next summit, Seat, at 1,840′ (561 m).
At the top the weather was showing signs of change, with spots of rain starting to appear. To my surprise a passing walker, Alex, recognised me and said he was a regular reader of this blog. Hello Alex! The next climb, to High Crag, is a long steep trudge, at first up a well-pitched path, before it degenerates somewhat over loose rock and scree. Once at the summit (at 2,442′, 744 m), rain had set in with more of a vengeance, cloud had descended to restrict visibility and the wind had got up to a chilling near-gale.
Careful navigation was required to find the next two summits with certainty: both are summits of High Stile, with Grey Crag being one metre higher at 2,648′ (807 m) compared to High Stile itself at 2,644′ (806 m). Views were hard to come by (apart from one or two looking down steeply towards Buttermere) and it was getting decidedly unpleasant!
Red Pike (2,478, 755 m) marks an amazing change in geology – it really is very red, the cause being a high proportion of haematite (high in iron content) in the rock. The problem is that the rock is also relatively soft, with the result that the steep NW face consists of crumbly scree, very difficult and uncomfortable to walk on, badly eroded and an overall uncomfortable place to be. If you don’t have to descent that way, find an alternative; but it’s the only way to the next summit, Dodd, so that’s the way I had to go.
With walking poles deployed for extra support I edged carefully down the very steep slope, yearning to get on to the grassy path to Dodd I could see below. A couple coming up had decided to turn around, not wanting to spend the rest of the day in cloud. The discomfort was soon over and I was at Dodd summit (2,103′, 641 m) where a large cairn overlooks both Buttermere and Bleaberry Tarn.
From the col the path was much more comfortable, being stone-pitched and well-engineered. Bleaberry Tarn was a welcome place to stop for lunch before continuing down towards Burtness Wood and the final trek along the length of Buttermere’s south shore back to the car.
At the end of another week I was now up to a total of 291 summits (after 19 this week, 7 today). Mileage today was 9.75 (15.7 km) and height gained 3,362′ (1,024 m). Total mileage for the Challenge 387 miles (622 km) and height gained 115,050′ (35,045 m).
Back down from Grasmoor and Whiteless Pike by 2.30, I decided to use my time serviceably by parking at Honister Hause on the way back, calculating that this would give me a good start on Fleetwith Pike and Black Star (Honister Crag) and make the next day’s walk – over the High Stile Ridge – a bit easier. Mind you, it still takes almost 1,000′ (305 m) of climbing to get to the summit of Fleetwith Pike (2,126′, 648 m).
Rather than take the Drum House incline up the former tramway, I followed the Honister Quarry road steeply upwards, admiring the big clumps of Yellow Mountain Saxifrage until, eventually passing spoil heaps and general quarry paraphernalia, the open fell was reached on the far side. There’s a faint path but it disappears here and there, mainly just when you need it, where it gets boggy.
The summit sits at the edge of that long, steep nose that’s so prominent from Buttermere lake, so enjoys a fabulous view down the valley. It had turned quite windy so after spending a few minutes contemplating the surroundings, I headed east for the final summit of the day.
If you drive from Buttermere to Borrowdale then you may be struck by the fact that to the left of the impressive Fleetwith Pike ridge, the side of the mountain appears as an almost vertical wall hundreds of feet high. This is Honister Crag, the top of which has the odd name of Black Star. It’s an easy and quite pleasant path, terminating in the slightly raised summit of Black Star, an area of bare rock which looks perfectly normal…
Until you walk up to the top of it, notice a bit of an edge, and decide to have a look-see what’s on the other side. Those of a nervous disposition would be advised not to do this. You are at the very top of that vertical wall I just mentioned, and it looks (because it is) a very long way down. I do believe that if you were to fall off, you’d have time to write a postcard to explain what had happened. And your clothes would probably be out of fashion by the time you reached the bottom.
Not being phased by heights providing both feet are firmly planted on terra firma I lingered for a while, enjoying the magnificence of it all, before heading back to the quarry and back to the Honister car park. (By the way, last time I used this expression I wrote, as a joke, à la Del-Boy, “terra cotta” but more than one reader, unaware of my attempt at humour, corrected me. So this time I won’t bother!
I had a very large cup of tea at Honister, and (another) ice cream. A good day’s work – 8 more summits ticked off. The next chapter will include a report of the High Stile ridge and another summary. I hope you’re enjoying reading these as much as I enjoy writing them, but also hope you’ll remember that all this mullarkey is in aid of Cancer Research UK, so please send a link for this website to anyone you think may be interested. Thank you!
Today started cloudy, with the mountain tops obscured, but the forecast promised better. Grasmoor is the highest Wainwright in the North-Western Fells, a huge block towering 2,795′ (852 m) above sea level, and I planned to climb it from the SW, starting by the side of Crummock Water and heading up the ridge over Lad Hows – a Birkett summit about half way up at 1,398′ (426 m).
Soon after crossing Squat Beck the path headed up through bracken, wet after the overnight rain; the bracken disguises the route at times, leading to a few U-turns, and my trousers were wet through. A cairn is marked on the map and in the guide books at the summit of Lad Hows: not only has it disappeared, but so have all the stones! All that’s left at the top is grass, and I was left wondering why anyone would go to the trouble of removing all traces of it.
With hardly any descent, the climb continued. In fact from the start to the summit of Grasmoor it’s an unrelenting 2,500′ of climb: from Lad Hows the path cuts through heather (more wet legs) and then steepens with some loose rock. Around this point I entered the cloud, though visibility was never too bad, and after turning west on to the summit plateau finding the stone shelter at the summit was no problem. Just a shame that there was no point walking further west for the celebrated view over Crummock Water.
Dropping to the crossroads (it really looks like it!) where I’d been before this year – on the way from Hobcarton Head to Crag Hill in April – I made a boggy beeline for Wandope (2,533′, 722 m), a gentle, benign-looking fell from this direction but overlooking a deep chasm over Sail Beck on the far side and looking spectacular from the Knott Rigg ridge. (Incidentally, Crag Hill has a similar appearance until you approach it from this angle, when its steep rocky SE face removes any doubt as to how it got its name).
Returning to the path from Hobcarton Head to Buttermere I made a slight diversion to reach the summit of Thirdgill Head Man (2,402, 732 m). Looking back to Grasmoor I realised I’d set off half an hour too soon, as the cloud had now lifted and the top was clear.
Whiteless Edge, with big drops on either side, is a lovely narrow ridge always leading the eye to Whiteless Pike, a shapely hump at 2,165′ (660 m). Just before reaching the top I passed a group of six teenagers who were on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme: how they carry their enormous packs I’ll never know – I’m sure they could get by with much less!
A further steep descent brings Rannerdale Knotts into focus, showing as a very long ridge that looks like it will take an age to walk along (it does!) – but it’s actually a very pleasant stroll, climbing much of the way with various false summits, to the rocky summit at 1,165 (355 m), from which a steep pitched path heads down to the road a few yards from the car park.
It was only 2.30. Too early to end the day – so I headed to Honister to shorten the next day’s walk by ‘bagging’ a couple more tops – which I’ll tell you about in the next chapter.