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.
With the weather forecast distinctly unpromising for most of the week, and keen to reach the halfway point before the end of June, I set off with stalwart walking companion Ian Hardy – and Meg, who is, without doubt, (I’ve been getting the breed wrong so many times that I’ve given up trying) a dog. A very nice dog at that.
Today’s objective? Eight rounded fells south-east of Haweswater and west of Shap, in the Haweswater Nature Reserve, managed by the RSPB. As well as the old roads around Shap, there is one very useful concrete road, presumably built by the water authority when Haweswater was dammed in 1929. It’s several kilometres long and a useful shortcut, but it’s not a public road, as the many signs tell you clearly. Other signs tell you in equally clear terms that the road is affected by serious subsidence and likely to seriously damage your vehicle, but there’s no sign of this and I suspect it’s what’s known as a Health & Safety phenomenon.
The road took us to a useful parking area on the road leading to Swindale Foot, from where an old track led up the fell to the top of Scalebarrow Knott, the day’s first summit at 1,109′ (338 m). Regaining the track, we pressed on another mile to Harper Hills (1,375′, 419 m) and then continued further before striking up boggy, pathless ground, decorated with Bog Asphodel and Butterwort, in search of Powley’s Hill (1,526′, 465 m).
I say ‘in search of’ because the position of the summit is far from clear. Whilst these fells can hardly be described as likely to quicken your pulse in excitement, they do present a navigational challenge, especially when there are three rocky outcrops, all within 100 metres of each other and at apparently the same height. The obvious answer is to visit them all and check your exact position by the extraordinarily accurate GPS that’s an integral part of a decent mobile phone these days. So accurate that even one footstep results in a change in your latitude and longitude readings.
It was a further challenge for Ian as, whilst looking ahead for the summit, he failed to see a half-hidden, deep boggy patch of water and went in almost up to his knees. More bog hopping followed as we headed SW towards the knobbly top of Hare Shaw (1,650′, 503 m). Now from here I made a bit of a mistake, opting to add Brown Howe to today’s itinerary, in order to save the extra distance (and height) it would entail on the Selside/Branstree round in future. It was a long slog, a hack through tussocks and bogs, helped only by sheep trods, and it was only when we reached the Old Mardale Corpse Road that I realised it would have been but a minor diversion on the way up to Selside, rather than the major expedition it was now turning out to be!
Never mind. The steep-sided top stands at 1,736′ (529 m) – each successive fell today had up to now been higher than the last, and each gave better and better views towards High Street, Kidsty Pike and the Riggindale neighbourhood on the other side of Haweswater, which now came into view for the first time, though only just.
Another hard slog took us to a gate in the wall by Naddle Forest, where the vegetation suddenly changed from grass and sphagnum moss to bracken and heather. We climbed to the little summit of Naddle High Forest (1,427′, 435 m) and then headed for the obvious top of Wallow Crag, at 1,421′ (433 m). This was no 271 out of 542 – at last! Halfway! Mixed feelings – an important milestone in the Big Challenge, coupled with the realisation that I’ve still got it all to do again before the year’s out.
Positive thinking required. I’ve only got half as much to do as I had in January (negative thinking – and only half as much time left). Positive thinking – I’ve had a lot of fun and good weather (negative thinking – what might go wrong, how bad will the weather be from here?)
More massive tussocks of heather and grass led to the day’s final summit – Naddle Low Forest, at 1,398′ (426 m), from where it was an easy descent through improving pasture (with lots of orchids, for the first time this year) and alder woodland to Naddle Farm, which seems to be a mixture of working farm and RSPB Reserve HQ. From here we walked back to the car along the concrete road again – for over a mile on a steady uphill gradient, contemplating that if you were going in the opposite direction you could freewheel the entire way (great venue for a Soapbox Derby!).
Today’s summary: 8 summits, 9.11 miles (14.66 km); 1,487′ of ascent (453 m)
272 summits visited; total mileage 354 (569 km); total height gained 104,138′ (31,720 m).
Here’s to the next 270!!
Referendum Day. A good time, I thought, to head for the hills; the Polling Station hadn’t opened by the time I drove past, but I’d done my duty with a postal vote so was free to head back to the Lakes once more on this gorgeous sunny morning.
Dockray was my destination, or more precisely the Upper Aira Falls car park just south of the village and north of Ullswater. National Trust-owned, so free parking in this old quarry. An overgrown path climbs away steeply, a fallen tree creating a significant obstacle on the way to the open fell. The name Bracken How is no coincidence – there’s plenty of it on this fairly low summit (1,224′, 373 m) which I soon reached.
I met a jogger (or fell-runner?) on the descent towards Round How (1,270′, 387 m): he was to be the only person I saw all day. The bracken on this next fell was even thicker, and waist-high. So far I haven’t collected a tick, but surely it can only be a matter of time. I carry tick-tweezers but I don’t want to have to use them!
Enjoying the view of Ullswater, I descended again to follow the path by the wall up to the distant, and much higher, Common Fell. Near the top there’s one of those ‘false’ summits that you think is the summit… until just as you reach it, you see the real summit beyond, and higher. This high point has a big boulder balanced on top, which is rather nice. It has a better view than the real summit, at 1,811′ (552 m).
A gentle, slightly boggy old grass track leads, in about half a mile, to Swineside Knott, almost the same altitude at 1,814 (553 m). The top is set back from a great view of Ullswater – it was only a half-minute walk to reach the edge of the ridge and get the full benefit. Brown Hills is a further quarter mile further along, with a rounded, heathery top 1,808′ (551 m) above sea level.
Now I had to get to the other side of the Aira Beck valley, and the choice was to contour around on pathless tussocky ground, or follow the path further up the ridge before encountering another path coming over from Deepdale. I chose the latter (the route directe looked like very heavy going) with the rather unusual result that the highest point I reached all day was not one of the summits. It was in fact the point on the ridge where I intersected the next path, just below 1,968′ (600 m).
The views here, to Sheffield Pike, Birkett Fell and Helvellyn, were quite captivating. The path was not, however, being rather wet and marshy, but it soon took me all the way down to Dowthwaitehead, a tiny hamlet at the end of a very quiet cul-de-sac road with a couple of farms and the odd cottage or two.
I now had to go all the way back up to 1,886′ (575 m), the highest summit of the day – High Brow – up a pleasant path slanting up the hillside at first before ascending more steeply to the top. After descending to a small col it was a short climb to the day’s last top, the green and rounded Low How, at 1,631 (497 m).
The nearby path took me down to the Dowthwaitehead road, where lots of Dark Green Fritillary butterflies were fluttering around the flowers in the verge. In fact the verges on the road back to Dockray were absolutely full of different grasses and flowers. A pair of Buzzards literally ‘buzzed’ me, flying so low over my head I could hear the wind in their wing feathers, and if I had enough hair I think they’d have parted it!
From Dockray it was just five minutes back to the car to end another day, with 7 summits in the bag and a total of 264 altogether.
It was back in February when I combined three planned walks into two days – first a round from Grasmere visiting Steel Fell, High Raise, Sergeant Man and Helm Crag, and then a blitz on the Langdale Pikes and Rossett Pike. The only problem was that I couldn’t fit Tarn Crag into either walk, so it was left, dangling, as it were, an unclimbed summit that would need to be done some time.
Today (Tuesday) I had to be back home early and I was feeling pretty tired after yesterday’s big day, so it seemed like a good time to make amends and cross Tarn Crag off the list. Not a big walk, but not really suitable for a short evening stroll either – over three miles each way from Grasmere, with 1,600′ (490 m) of ascent, so it would take three hours or so.
After a good night’s sleep at the Elterwater Youth Hostel (good supporters of the 542in2016 Challenge – try it out if you’re staying in the area) I drove to Grasmere and looked, unsuccessfully, for a National Trust car park (where I could park for free) but there wasn’t one. The Lake District National Park car parks are eye-wateringly expensive so I’m very grateful to The Grand Hotel for allowing me to leave the car on their car park.
Along the Easedale Road, past the turning for Helm Crag and a field full of campers (no idea who they were or what they were doing!): the lane continued in very pleasant surroundings, then crossed Far Easedale Gill on a footbridge. Soon a small steep path headed off up the ridge – difficult to spot at first because of the proliferation of waist-high bracken. The summit of Tarn Crag appeared, seeming a long way off still. But I was quickly gaining height, as I realised when I glimpsed Easedale Tarn down below.
A medium-sized bird like a small kestrel flashed across in front of me, pursued by a Meadow Pipit. It’s not often you see a Cuckoo, but’s that what it was. The adult Cuckoos are probably the first of our summer visitors to head back to Africa: they’ve just about all gone by mid-July. The young Cuckoos are gone by the end of August, having (of course) had no help or guidance from their parents. It makes you think how amazing instinct can be: they know when and where to go without any outside help whatsoever.
As you approach the summit, it looks almost like an impregnable tower, but the path gently winds its way up with no dramas, and arrives at a pleasant rocky outcrop with a cairn on top and great all-round views.
I decided to head down to Easedale Tarn but found huge amounts of bracken masking the confusing maze of paths – and ended up taking a wrong turn and ending up above a steep rocky crag, which took a bit of circumventing. The bracken hides your feet so well that every step has to be taken carefully.
But I was soon at the tarn, from where it was a simple matter of crossing the outflow stream on stepping stones and following the path back down to Grasmere, passing the attractive waterfall of Sourmilk Gill on the way.
I’ll provide a summary in the next blog – seven summits on Watermillock Common above Ullswater, from Dockray, on Referendum Day.
Postscript: Yesterday I received, via Facebook, a summit card from Armboth Fell in the shape of a selfie taken by Mary Stewart Coates, who had just found it after it had been there for 13 days. As I was writing this episode of the blog she sent me another selfie of… Tarn Crag, found today only 2 days after I’d left it. Given the number of walkers in the Lakes I wouldn’t have expected anyone to find two cards, yet Mary is the second person to do this. It’s like winning the lottery, without the money.
A difficult start, with Lingcove Beck running deep and fast after overnight rain. A tricky finish, descending very steeply from Little Stand. And lots of effort in between!…
I parked at Cockley Beck, at the foot of the infamous Hardknott Pass. Despite the fine forecast the cloud was low, and the rain looked set to stay for some time. Heavy overnight rain had left bright white ribbons of streams spewing water from the hillsides. I soon turned off the Hardknott road and headed along the bridleway up Mosedale. After 1½ miles the track degenerated to a swampy area.
I climbed out of the Mosedale basin, then dropped down to Lingcove Beck, which I had planned to ford.
Some chance! The beck was running fast and deep, and I was in no hurry to fall into it and break a leg – or worse. I walked upstream for almost a mile; every time I crossed a feeder stream I thought there would be less water in the main beck, but I could never discern any change! Eventually I came to a point where the beck widened and the bed comprised smallish stones – safer to cross, but still at least 9″ – 12″ deep. I tightened the bottoms of my waterproof leggings, got out the walking poles and went for it, emerging remarkably dry-shod on the other side!
A long hard slog to the top of High Gait Crags followed. My legs were stiff after half a day’s weeding, and a chest cold was tightening up my lungs – but I got there eventually, to stand 1,877′ (572 m) above sea level. The cloud was receding slowly, but the view to the nearby Scafell group was still veiled by a grey curtain.
Another hard trudge followed, around the edge of Pike de Bield Moss and then up the Ling Cove ridge, to the rocky thumb of Pike de Bield itself, standing at 2,657′ (810 m). From here the view to Scafell was (would have been) even better, whilst the clouds had cleared from the next two objectives, Esk Pike (2,903, 805 m) and Bowfell, just a shade under 3,000′ at 2,960′ (902 m).
Despite the paths being rough and rocky, they were an improvement on the last four miles of pathless bog and heath! And a few walkers were about now too. At the rocky summit of Esk Pike I discovered that I hadn’t brought a card (because it was on another route, but I decided it was near enough to do today!).
The walk to Bowfell was pleasant enough, the top being in view nearly all the way, although the section after Ore Gap is strewn with boulders, making the frequent cairns welcome path-markers. And the sun came out! For the first time on this Challenge I found someone else’s calling card at the summit – a nice idea leaving your message on a stone, though I wouldn’t fancy starting the day with 12 of those in the rucksack.
Passing the massive Great Slab, a remarkable feature above the Climbers’ Traverse, the stony path descends steeply to the col at Three Tarns – and then another ascent begins – leading first of all to Shelter Crags (2,674′, 815 m), a rocky knoll above the path with a great view back to the whale-like grey buttresses of Bowfell.
I won’t go into all the details of Crinkle Crags. From a distance they really do make the mountain top look like it’s been crinkled up: there are five separate tops, all rocky and needing a modest separate ascent – and careful navigation too, to ensure that they’re all visited. Doing them from N to S, I started with the Fifth Crinkle; the highest one, Second Crinkle or Long Top, stands at 2,816′ (859 m) and is followed by the difficult Bad Step. In my case it was side-step, as I took the longer but safer path around the west side.
While most people continue towards Red Tarn and Pike o’ Blisco, I headed south to Stonesty Pike (2,510′, 765 m), which looks more dramatic from the other side I must say, and then the final summit of the day, Little Stand – atop Ulpha Fell at 2,428′ (740 m). From the summit the route follows a natural corridor between crags before a fabulous view opens up towards Cockley Beck. At the same time, the realisation dawns that it’s a long way down in a short distance!
After carefully picking my way down, sometimes skirting crags, sometimes wading through bracken, I reached a boggy field where there had been cattle earlier in the day. They were gone, but it was lovely to see an area full of cotton-grass and the dainty yellow Bog Asphodel.
It was almost 6 pm when I got back to the car, tired out. But at least I didn’t have far to go: tonight I would be staying at the Elterwater Youth Hostel. The owner, Christine Thomas is another enthusiastic supporter of the Challenge, and I was most impressed by this well-run budget ‘hotel’ – clean and tidy, with really friendly staff who have a great local knowledge of the area.
After a meal in the Britannia, I went to bed early and was sound asleep in no time!
Summary: 12 summits today; 10.1 miles (16.2 km); 3,604′ (1,098 m) of ascent. Total now 256 summits (285 to go); 331 miles (532 km) and 99,215′ (30,221 m) of ascent.
Howe Keld is an award-winning 12-room guest house in Keswick run by the very friendly Laura and Jerome Bujard. Luckily for me they had just one single room available when I asked them – at the last minute – to put me up for the night. Along with nearby Thornthwaite Grange and the Royal Oak Hotel at Rosthwaite, they do this for free to support the big 542in2016 Challenge for Cancer Research UK (and keep down the number of journeys I have to make) – so please help me show my appreciation by using them next time you stay in this part of the Lake District.
After leaving, I called at Booths to get something for lunch. The lady in front of me was buying three packets of cigarettes, and it seemed clear from her conversation with the check-out lady that this was a daily purchase for her and her husband. A few pence short of £20. Every day – £140 a week, over £7,000 a year. This set off a long train of thought – about lung cancer and people’s health generally, about the cost to one household of being locked into this addiction, about the cost to the NHS of dealing with the consequences, and so on. Surely it would cost less than a year’s supply to pay to break the habit?
The Carrock Fell group was my objective for today, and I parked just outside Mosedale, looking at the low cloud cloaking the fell tops and wondering when it might lift. I walked through the village, noticing a car number plate tossed on the ground – was it discarded by some Brexit campaigner, miffed by the EU flag above the GB?
North of the village a track heads steeply up the fell, becoming badly eroded in places where it clings to the hillside. Yesterday and today I’d noticed mats of tiny white flowers almost everywhere – now that I’ve looked them up, I know they’re Heath Bedstraw. I’ll no doubt be able to see how long they remain so prominent. It’s interesting to see the succession of different plants – Foxgloves are another flower becoming conspicuous everywhere just now.
I passed a ruined stone sheep fold and was then passed by a lady, running at such a speed I felt like I was standing still! There were black slugs everywhere and now I was up in the cloud, so I’m afraid there won’t be many views for you to relish in this edition of the blog!
Although many of the stones have been removed, there is quite a structure – a kind of hill fort – at the summit of Carrock Fell (2,174′, 663 m), and I’m not sure whether it’s Iron Age, Bronze Age or something else. It’s certainly very old. It’s also interesting because some of the rock here is gabbro, the same igneous rock found in the Black Cuillin of Skye. Its composition is similar to basalt, but it’s formed in large intrusions which take much longer to cool, and therefore the crystals are larger. Much of the rock below the oceanic sea floor is gabbro, but whether the Carrock Fell rock was formed this way and then uplifted, I’m not sure. I did however meet two students from Edinburgh University who were doing a geological survey, so if they read this, perhaps they could comment!
In the mist I soon found the path along the top which led first to Round Knott (1,978′, 603 m), an odd-looking protuberance, and then – by way of contrast – the flat-topped Miton Hill (1,991′, 607 m). There is evidence of former mining at the head of Drygill Beck, which I had to skirt on the way to the most north-easterly of the recognised Lakeland fells and the most northerly over 2,000′ – High Pike, at 2,157′ (658 m).
Here is a strange summit: a huge pile of stones, an OS triangulation point, and a slate bench. In Wainwright’s book there’s a sketch of an old metal bench, the kind you’d expect to see rusting in the corner of some Victorian garden. It’s replacement is certainly sturdy, with an inscription that reads “HE IS A PORTION OF THAT LOVLINESS [sic] THAT ONCE HE MADE MORE LOVELY”. I think it refers to a young gentleman called Mick Lewis, who died in 1944 aged only 16. The summit is also frequently used as a beacon site by the population of Caldbeck.
Easy slopes followed, with little-used paths (apart from a small section of the Cumbria Way) that were fairly easy to follow. There is a cairn at the top of Hare Stones (2,057′, 627 m) but the top is so flat and heather-clad that you almost trip over it before you see it. The summits of Great Lingy Hill (2,021′, 616 m) and Little Lingy Hill on Miller Moss (1,998′, 609 m) soon followed: I’ve no idea where they found all the stones for the large cairn on the latter!
Now the path seemed to disappear completely and I ended up wallowing through thick grass, heather and sphagnum, and over a makeshift bridge at the head of Thief Gills before a steep climb, back in the cloud again, to the highest summit of the day, Knott, at 2,329′ (710 m). A central fell with great views all round on a clear day, but just a grey, misty top today with visibility restricted to 100 m or so.
Hence no reason to linger. I set off down the ridge towards the day’s last top, Coomb Height, with the path often strangely fizzling out and then reappearing several metres to one side or the other, with peat hags and sphagnum not helping progress. But as I approached the top at 2,057′ (627 m) the clouds slowly lifted to reveal a panorama of where I’d just been, as well as Bowscale Fell and Blencathra to the right and a wonderful vista of the Caldew valley ahead.
The path was marred, however, by a large area of badly burned heather, so badly burned that it was quite dead – and very unpleasant to walk through. Just before, I’d almost jumped out of my skin when a pair of Red Grouse and their four chicks ‘exploded’ right under my feet! A strange man-made ditch of considerable proportions crosses the fell at one point. Birkett warns not to follow it down, unless you want to disappear into the mineshaft at the end.
Reaching the track at the end of the ridge (after a stretch of shoulder-high bracken) I chatted with four gentlemen who were walking the Cumbria Way, then walked the last mile or two along the pleasant open lane, with Caldew Beck on one side and lots of interest including gorse and juniper bushes, vivid orange lichens on some boulders, and a Great-spotted Woodpecker at Swinside.
Nine fells completed, making a total of 244. Half-way gets steadily nearer.
I’d looked at the map and thought that the Skiddaw group, that massive massif above Keswick, would be a long, hard day. I really must review my estimating skills! Admittedly there are eleven Birkett summits in there, but closer examination shows them to be a generally compact group, and in particular it’s questionable whether the four which make up the summit ridge of Skiddaw each deserve separate status. There’s very little distance, or change of height, between them.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself. The day started near High Side Farm, east of Bassenthwaite, as I opened the gate for me – and the young farmer on his quad – and headed off for the knobbly-looking hill called Watches, which stands like a door-stop at the foot of the exciting-looking Long Side ridge leading to Ullock Pike and beyond.
Suddenly this week there’s cuckoo-spit everywhere. Nothing to do with cuckoos of course, this familiar frothy deposit on grass and other plant stems is created by the tiny Froghopper. It’s an insect (a bug, to be precise): when the larva hatches from its egg, it sucks up sap from the plant and then blows bubbles with it, covering itself in a protective liquid bubble-wrap. It’s surprisingly difficult for humans to find the little blighter, and I presume the same goes for hungry predators that would like nothing more than a tasty baby froghopper on the menu.
From the top of Watches (1,093′, 333 m) began the long climb along the attractive Long Side ridge, with Ullock Pike (2,270′, 692 m) the next objective. A Blackbird-like bird making a Blackbird-like chatter flew up from just in front of me – but the distinctive white crescent on its breast identified it as a Ring Ouzel, the first of two I was to see today. Despite the early hour I spotted figures right at the top of Ullock Pike and presumed they would be runners (who seem to get up at ridiculous o’clock).
But when I soon met them, as they were coming down and I was going up, they turned out to be a gentleman and two ladies of Asian appearance. Wondering how they’d got here so soon, I asked where they’d come from. “South Korea” was the answer. “Ah… where did you start from this morning?” “London.” I could see this was unlikely to get us very far without taking a long time, so we bid each other a cheery farewell and “Have a nice day” and carried on our separate ways.
The ridge path from Ullock Pike to Long Side is truly impressive, a narrow top with steep drops on each side, today made more melodramatic by the cloud swirling around Skiddaw to the east, across the gulf which is Southerndale. As always I stopped at the summit of Long Side (2,408′, 734 m) to leave a card and take a photo or two, and was struck by the presence, amongst all the stones of the cairn, of a brick. Where did that come from? (Well, Whitehaven, obviously, but I mean how did it get there? Who would carry a brick all the way up to the summit, just to leave it there?) It’s a funny old world.
The ridge flattened out and lost its dramatic impact on the way to Carl Side (2,447′, 746 m), with a top more like a dumpling than a knife-edge. From here the ugly scar of the path to the top of Skiddaw is quite an eyesore, slanting across a steep scree slope, pounded by hundreds of boots most days of the year and – like an appointment at the dentist – something that you would just want to get over with quickly. However, I had a cunning plan…
Difficult to pick out, but visible on closer examination, is another path to its right, appearing (by an optical illusion only) to ascend a vertical wall of scree and leading directly, give or take a few zig-zags, to the South Top of Skiddaw at 3,034′ (925 m). This was the way I decided to go. It was probably even harder than the main blot-on-the-landscape path, and not easy with or without anaesthetic, but it was a more rewarding route providing some great backwards views and a definite sense of “Thank Goodness That’s Over!” at the top – where for the first time today I saw… other people. Not surprising – Skiddaw must have visitors on every single day of the year – hundreds, even thousands sometimes.
As I said earlier, this and the next three tops (Middle Top – 3,044′, 928 m, High Man, the main summit at 3,053, 931 m, and North Top – 3,024, 922 m) are really just undulations on the summit ridge with no great effort at this point – all the hard work having been done before getting there. But there’s an interesting wind shelter at Middle Top and the summit is – well, the sixth highest Birkett and the third highest Wainwright – the third highest mountain in England. Wind and rain have eroded the base of the concrete trigpoint and I fear the boys from the OS will have to come and repair it soon.
I met a couple from Newcastle who gave me £10 for Cancer Research UK (in case you’d forgotten what this is all about!) – I do hope they post the photo which they took with the summit card. It was a bit chilly up there, so I put an extra layer on – but not before I lost the circulation to a couple of fingers due to my annoying Raynaud’s Phenomenon.
‘Tis just a saunter to the North Top, where there’s another stone wind shelter, and where the human population immediately decreases again. I headed down to Broad End (2,762’ 831 m), a whaleback-like hump with – when you arrive there – a flat top which makes finding the highest point a bit of a challenge.
Bakestall next – quite a descent, but the summit is still 2,208′ (673 m) above sea level. On the way down I bumped into a couple who recently retired to St Bees from Southport and two ladies from Preston and Blackburn (one wanted to know the particular make of my Meindl boots, but I couldn’t remember). After our meeting of Lancashire folk I went on to meet two American sisters (from Boston, Massachusetts) on Bakestall summit – they were staying at the Skiddaw House Youth Hostel.
A faint path wended its way through the grass and cotton grass and crossed the ominously-named Dead Beck (I still hadn’t got the blood back to one finger!) before rising again to the green rounded top of Cockup (1,657′, 505 m), the third and last Cockup of the Challenge – I hope! Then it was downhill almost to the road before heading west on a pleasant track back to the car.
It was only 2 pm. Dodd, a lone summit at 1,647′ (502 m) suggested itself as a way of passing the afternoon – the Old Sawmill Tearoom, a good starting point, was only a mile down the road. Last time I climbed it, route finding was tricky, as several tracks were closed due to the nesting Ospreys, now a popular tourist attraction, so I guessed that if I just followed the waymarked trail I’d be OK (a strategy which worked fine).
The woodlands were very pleasant, the gradients civilised (at the expense of a greater distance walked) and the whole experience was one to be recommended. Wainwright describes Dodd thus:- “…a whelp of Skiddaw, crouched at the feet of his parent… the old man must feel like denying his paternity and disowning the little wretch. Dodd is stunted… and clothed [in trees] from tip to toe so scarcely any part of the fell remains in view.”
What a difference half a century makes. Acres of sitka spruce have been felled, replaced by a mix of native broadleaf trees, whilst the summit has been completely cleared and is now a delightful spot, a place to linger and enjoy the exquisite views of both Bassenthwaite and Derwentwater. If there is an opposite to turning in one’s grave, AW would be doing it now.
After a brief chat with a couple on the summit I retraced my steps to the Old Sawmill and back to the car. It was then a short drive to Howe Keld in Keswick, where my hosts Laura and Jerome were once again supporting me and the Challenge with a comfortable bed, saving me a long journey and keeping my CO2 emissions down.
So today I managed to tick off another 12 summits, walk 11.9 miles (19.2 km) and climb 4,325′ (1,318 m) – the most ascent in one day I think. This makes 235 summits, 310 miles (499 km) and over 95,000′ (29,000 m). Getting closer to that half-way mark…
Last Saturday when Val and I walked the Ullscarf group, the fell top – normally a squidgy, slushy wet mess – was unusually dry. So having just one day to spare this week I thought I’d take advantage of the good conditions and do most of the other summits in the same area on Thursday. But Sod’s Law being so reliably devious, the Lake District experienced heavy showers on Wednesday. And I think the heaviest rain must have been on the Central Fells!
Dreary and wearisome. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long forgotten summers… Not exactly the plateau which holds the reluctant source of Fisher Gill and Launchy Gill, but Tolkein’s description of the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings comes quite close!
I left the Armboth car park on the west side of Thirlmere and walked past a couple of massive boulders (one looking remarkably balanced) and headed up the fell. Even before 8 am it was very warm and very humid. After a steep start the fell levelled out and the bog-hopping started, with paths notably absent.
My first objective, High Tove (1,689′, 515 m) is the highest point of a fairly unexciting, gently-sloping area, and for some time it wasn’t easy working out which direction to walk, as the top always seemed hidden. But there is a stone cairn there (not quite at the very top, but I made sure I visited that too). From here a fence strides south, accompanied by a path. Or is it a linear shallow pond? It was hard to tell at times – I put gaiters on (making my legs even hotter) but soon the inside of my boots was wet through.
Middle Crag (1,587′, 484 m) was next, a rocky outcrop on the other side of the fence, which I scaled without problem, and soon after the wonderfully-named Shivery Knott (1,610, 491 m) – another rock outcrop atop a distinctive knoll, followed by Watendlath Fell completing a trio of rocky little tops and coincidentally exactly the same height as High Tove at 1,689′, 515 m. About 100 yards on the other side of the fence (again) I spotted a distinctive cairn, so I went on a little expedition to find a pleasant view of Blea Tarn, invisible from the summit.
Turning NE I crossed more swamp, and then found the head of a stream about 10′ wide – it was impossible to tell which direction the water was flowing in, but after a giant leap of faith I got across! Like the previous tops, Armboth Fell (1,570′, 479 m) has a smooth rocky summit. I was having to use a bit of ingenuity to place those pesky summit cards, making sure they couldn’t blow away!
I was concerned that I might not be able to find Fisher Crag easily, but as I lost height – disturbing a Snipe on the way – I realised I needn’t have worried – it’s a very distinctive little top overlooking Thirlmere. Apparently there are no rights of way to the top, but crossing the little fence isn’t difficult and it’s an easy climb to the little cairn which enjoys a great view. I was almost there when I heard two or three powerful RAF jets screaming up Thirlmere but I couldn’t get to the top in time to see them, much to my regret.
Ignoring Bill Birkett’s directions I followed a fairly obvious path down to the conifer plantation which – almost – led back to the car park. Almost, because near the bottom the track turns in the wrong direction altogether, but it’s an easy little scramble across Fisher Gill to find a decent path back to the road.
I had a visitor sitting on my car when I got there – A Double-banded Longhorn Beetle (Rhagium bifasciatum). Almost an inch long, the adults lay their eggs in dead wood and the larva then spends two years munching away before emerging as this good looking chap.
I was in good time so drove a couple of miles to another small car park near the dam, parking just as the heavens opened. The rain didn’t last long but it wasn’t much fun putting soaking-wet boots back on over wet socks – if only I’d brought a spare pair of each, how much more comfortable would my feet have been!
The ascent to Raven Crag is over 1,000′ (328 m) in under a mile – an average gradient of about 1 in 4 – and in the sticky, humid conditions I was dripping by the time I reached the top. What a change from last time I was there, seven years ago! Then, there was a lone little rock outcrop with a tiny cairn on top. Now, United Utilities have treated us to a stairway to heaven and a viewing platform!! All very new (the stairs won’t last long) and not bad actually. Also a couple of feet higher than the summit’s 1,512′ (461 m). People can get a better view without the risk of falling over the edge to certain death.
Back downstairs I soon found a way to the craggy top which is the site of the ancient Castle Fort (not much remains, but to the south I’m sure those barrow-shaped ridges are man-made). Great view down Shoulthwaite from the top of Castle Crag (1,381′, 421 m)
Then one more summit – that of The Benn (1,463′, 446 m), with a splendid view back to Raven Crag and Thirlmere, above a surprising little boulder field that the path neatly skirts. From here it was downhill all the way back down to the car. My idea of finishing the day by climbing modest little Great How on the opposite side of the dam was aborted – my feet were so wet that I thought I’d get some blisters if I did any more, so it was a case of changing into trainers and returning home.
9 summits today; 8.1 miles (13.1 km); 2,562′ of ascent (780 m). Total number of summits climbed now 223 – approaching half-way – can I get there by the end of June…?
I’m deeply involved in the organisation of an annual cycle sportive event, the Ribble Valley Ride, promoted by the Rotary Clubs of Clitheroe and Accrington, which raises funds for various charities, mainly the Rosemere Cancer Foundation. It takes place next Sunday 12 June, so this week I need to concentrate on all the final arrangements. I may just be able to squeeze in a walk on Thursday 9th, but otherwise it’s wall-to-wall Ribble Valley Ride this week.
So after two good days in the Lake District, it was time to return to Clitheroe last Sunday. But it was a glorious day, warm with blue skies, and… some hills don’t fit well into a full day’s walk, but seem to have been placed there just for a short excursion, so on the way back…
We parked in Staveley, between Windermere and Kendal, and set off up the road past Barley Bridge to the wonderfully-named Scroggs Bridge, which a vehicle has recently attempted to demolish – with some success, I must say. Much of the bridge parapet’s stonework is lying on the ground or stream bed below. Through the little hamlet of Elfhowe, along an old walled lane, over a stream and up the field to Ghyll Bank, once a farm but now a holiday let, like many other properties in the area.
Val remarked that this was one of the nicest walks we’d had, but the shine was soon taken off by the number of horseflies which suddenly decided that I’d make a delicious meal. Fending them off, we carried on upwards to Brunt Knott Farm (more holiday cottages) and then on to the open fell. But just before the gateway we passed through an area of big gorse bushes, full of starlings, all initially out of sight; each individual bird seemed to wait until the last moment breaking cover, so it was a strange feeling walking through, as bird after bird (there were dozens!) burst from a gorse bush and flew off.
It was a steep climb to the top. Which wasn’t the summit – it was still quite a walk along the undulating crest to find a rather shy stonebuilt triangulation point set back from the ‘natural’ walking line. After a rare selfie (!) and a final gaze north to the hills of the Kentmere Horseshoe and beyond, we found an easier way down, keeping further east for a more gentle gradient.
After walking through the valley of the ‘exploding’ starlings again we turned along the road before finding a footpath which gave an easy descent back to Barley Bridge and Staveley village again.
I’ll update the blog if I manage to get back to the Lakes this week; if not, from early next week I should have much more time for the Big 542in2016 Challenge, so don’t spend all your loose change! Which reminds me… I’m up to 214 summits now, which is £21.40. Now, nearer the end of the challenge I’ll let you have details of how to get the donations to Cancer Research UK, but for practical reasons, and because I’m sure we’ll all want to take advantage of the Gift Aid scheme where possible, you’ll understand that receiving over 400 bags of 542 10p pieces will cause me a few problems! So feel free to swap 200 of your 10p’s for a crisp £20 note if you wish!
It’s an extensive fell top between High Raise (Langdale) in the south and Castlerigg Fell (south of Keswick), taking in Watendlath and Armboth Fells, and I know from previous experience that in normal conditions it’s one huge bog. Much of the time it’s like walking on a deep sponge and it’s not easy to keep your feet dry. So after all the dry weather of recent weeks I though this would be a good time to do some of the summits in this area – without getting my feet too wet!
We (Val and I) drove along the recently re-opened A591 at Dunmail Raise and arrived at Dobgill Car Park, on the quiet road west of Thirlmere, to find it recently resurfaced. There’s a lot of work going on in the Lake District. After our sometimes tricky navigation yesterday I thought we were going to have a repeat performance, as I couldn’t make anything on the ground fit the description in Bill Birkett’s book – but I went for what looked most likely and we threaded our way through the erupting bracken and found a faint track up the steep hillside.
I’m always cautious in this kind of territory, because so often bracken + sheep = ticks, and I don’t like the idea of getting Lyme disease (did you know it’s closely related to syphilis?) I always carry tick tweezers with me so I can get the little blighters out quickly, although I haven’t had to use them for a year or two.
After passing an odd metal railing enclosure (an old well perhaps?) we crossed the stream and continued up even steeper slopes by the side of a wall. At every step several of those ground-hunting spiders would scurry across in front of my feet. Eventually the gradient eased, and as we walked along the side of a conifer plantation the top of our first objective, Brown Rigg, came into sight in the form of a very odd-looking small-car-sized boulder apparently perched on the very summit at 1,519′ (463 m).
It looks delicately balanced but it doesn’t move when you stand on it (I tried!). As we stopped to take a photo and leave a card, the midges found us – hundreds of them – and it was at this point that Val realised that although she’d brought insect repellent with her to the Lakes… it was back at the house where we were staying. So we hastily packed up and got going again.
In this little-visited part of the fells there are few paths, so it was quite a slog to get to the top of the next summit, the rather more imposing Blea Tarn Fell (1,830′, 558 m) which, not surprisingly, overlooks Blea Tarn. With fewer midges it was a more suitable place to have a short rest. I was hoping for a better path from here as the route follows the line of a fence, but although a path can be seen, it’s not well-trod and I’m sure would be a bit of a swamp in places after it’s been raining – i.e. most of the time.
The summit of Standing Crag, another notch higher at 2,005′ (611 m), lies above a very impressive rock face which looks like a dark pyramid, reminiscent of a miniature Buachaille Etive Mor, the big mountain seen on the left as you enter Glencoe from the south. Sadly the ground falls away from the very top much more gradually than you might think, so my hoped-for view down the abyss was not to be.
From here, Low Saddle and High Saddle on Coldbarrow Hill could easily be picked out, oddly enough with Low Saddle (2,152′, 656 m) looking higher and much more impressive than its counterpart at 2,215′ (675 m). I had intended to contour around the head of the valley to reach Low Saddle first, but it was pretty clear that the easiest way would be to keep following the fence line, even though it meant gaining (then losing, then gaining again) more height. Coldbarrow Fell overlooks Stonethwaite to the west, and so opened up views of the imposing Eagle Crag, and even gave a peep to Derwentwater.
So that’s what we did, visiting High Saddle twice on our there-and-back route. I’d been struggling with my Ordnance Survey app all day – it refused to show a map on the phone’s screen; so I had to keep checking our position more often than usual. Even switching the phone off and on made no difference.
Although it was the highest summit of the day (2,382′, 726 m), Ullscarf was perhaps the least impressive: you wouldn’t guess this if you read Wainwright’s opening words – “Ullscarf rises from the surrounding valleys so steeply and with such a display of fierce crags that, up to 2,000 feet, it has all the makings of a great mountain.” But he does go on to describe the view that we saw, arriving from Coldbarrow Fell to the north – “the higher slopes do not live up to the promise of the lower, being, in fact, quite featureless and inexpressibly dreary…” So we only lingered at the summit cairn long enough to have a chat with a fellow walker, who we possibly woke from his lunchtime slumber, before we carried on.
More pathless sheep-grass as we skirted Black Knott and dropped down to the rocky mound of Wythburn Fell (1,667′, 508 m) from where an interesting stone beacon could be seen on the nose of the ridge lower down. Just as yesterday, navigation became difficult as we followed directions – probably out of date – to a deer fence with no way through, over or under. After a detour we found a gate and a way across to Harrop Tarn.
It was so warm that two older children were swimming, as we crossed the footbridge over the outlet stream and followed a path, much overgrown by spruce saplings and then half-obliterated by beech leaves (they must be really slippery most of the time!) back down to the Dobgill car park.
Yesterday (Friday, Tilberthwaite) 11 summits, walked 7.46 miles (12.0 km), climbed 2,282′, (695 m)
Today (Ullscarf) 7 summits, walked 8.25 miles (13.27 km), climbed 2,282′ (695 m)
Total: 213 summits, walked 286 miles (459 km), climbed 85,275′ (25,974 m)
There are some days which turn out to be completely different to what you were expecting. This was one. To the west of Wetherlam, between Coniston and Skelwith, Bill Birkett describes ELEVEN separate tops over 1,000′ within a very small area. Apart from Birk Fell Man, which really belongs to Wetherlam, the others are no higher than 1,450′. So how easy could ‘bagging’ eleven summits be?
Well, not as easy as you might think. The hills are knobbly affairs, with very steep sides in places, and rocky crags that require circumnavigating at best (traps for the unwary at worst). Nor is navigation as straightforward as you would expect, even on a clear day, with constant vigilance required if you don’t want to end up having to retrace your steps (we did!)
But in this neglected part of Lakeland, only a few miles from the hordes at Coniston, Tarn Hows, and the Langdales, lies the most delightful scenery, with additional interest created by former mining activities, and simply glorious views all around, including the surrounding fells. It’s well worth a visit.
Have I told you I like to start early? The Tilberthwaite car park was empty when we (Val and I) arrived, despite having driven from Clitheroe that morning. The sun shone from a clear blue sky, and Val heard her first Cuckoo for years, surprised how blasé I appeared – having been hearing them for weeks!
A steep track which serves the quarry on the fell top took ensured that we gained altitude fairly quickly; the farmer came by on his quad with his two dogs – not sheepdogs but foxhounds! Once through the quarry (which appears to be working, but not today) the rocky summit of Great Intake wasn’t far off, but first we had to avoid a soaking from a leaking water pipe that was creating a rather fine fountain. A couple of awkward scrambly sections were soon dealt with and we were on the top, enjoying the views towards the Langdales and the Coniston Fells.
I won’t go in to all the details of all eleven tops, but in trying to follow Bill Birkett’s directions we went rather a long way around and past High Fell -only realising when we were well on the way to Birk Man Fell, so we climbed that first, then came down the Wetherlam path to get High Fell on the second attempt.
Near the top we met a couple with two dogs. delighted to have just found the card I’d left on top of Great Intake and keen to hear more of how the Challenge was progressing. More ups and downs (and watch those little rocky cliffs!) to Hawk Rigg – a fell with many Larch trees – Haystacks (not Wainwright’s favourite but another one) and Blake Fell.
Now we had a 1½ mile walk, including a lunch stop, past old mine workings, ending in a long, gradual and pleasantly easy climb on a path called Hole Rake to the point where, when coming from the Coniston direction, you head up for Wetherlam by a little tarn.
In our case we left the path in the opposite direction and then visited the summits of Kitty Crag, Long Crag, High Wythow, Low Wythow and Brackeny Crag.
From here back to the car park, the presence of any path on the map seemed to be about as fictional as Harry Potter. Some cursing and muttering followed until finally we arrived at the top of a steep, stony path down the side of Yewdale Beck, past a quarry on the right accessed by about four openings at different levels, all like recessed gateways or windows – very impressive. Once back at the car we encountered a party setting off to rock climb in the same quarry – I think I’d rather walk than climb though!
And now a postscript – more of a rant really. This walk was on Friday. On Sunday I received a Facebook message from someone whose ‘friend’ had collected ten out the eleven summit cards I’d left; set them all out neatly, photographed them, and accused me of ‘littering’ the fells. In a good cause, but poor execution apparently. I replied politely saying that the cards are picked up by the next person along and scores of people have enjoyed finding them and getting involved in the challenge.
There followed what I can best describe as a verbal ‘death by stoning’ from about six FB friends, some of whom mentioned that they’d been barred from other groups of Lake District enthusiasts, Friends of Blencathra etc. – they’re not sure why (but I could suggest a few reasons). The straw that broke the back of my ‘camel’ was when one wrote “Perhaps a few tourist walkers may get a naïve thrill from finding a card, but people like us who spend a lot of time on the fells think it’s litter. Perhaps a little humility, Bill, and a change of tack.”
Well, I couldn’t have written irony better if I’d tried, and yet I’m sure irony wasn’t in this gentleman’s thoughts (I don’t think he would recognise it if it hit him in the face). I could only stand, bottom jaw near the floor, amazed at such pomposity.
I won’t be taking any lessons, or any notice, thank you. And to those of you who’ve said you’d love to find one of the cards… keep looking, because I’ll keep leaving them (but be quick – most of them only stay there a few hours!) End of rant. I’ll do a summary of fells and distances etc at the end of the next blog.