If you’re a regular Radio Lancashire listener you’ll have heard the ‘Interesting Lives’ feature which goes out every weekday morning between 9.30 and 12.00 on the Sally Naden / Brett Davison programme. Despite the fact that I’m not that interesting, I’ve just been interviewed by the lovely Helen Randle this afternoon and hopefully it’ll be aired from Monday to Friday next week. Val and I are going to the Isle of Mull for seven days on Saturday for a relaxing week – walking (!) so I hope we can listen to it online somehow. If you’ve nothing else to do, tune in and learn some of the dark secrets from my past…
Saturday had been a complete wash-out, with the rain coming down like stair-rods all day. Having decided not to bother walking, we hit upon driving to the Sellafield Visitor Centre, reconnoitring various parking spots for forthcoming walks along the way. Strange, we thought, that there were no signs to the Visitor Centre when we got to Sellafield. Turns out this is because it’s been closed for years. So we decided next to go to Keswick and have a look at the Pencil Museum. Which was closed for refurbishment. So after a soup and a roll at Brysons we headed back to the hut (cottage) at Birkness.
We resolved to walk on Easter Sunday, come what may. And come what did, as it turned out. Storm Katie’s wind and rain greeted us as we stepped out on our way to seven summits in the Fellbarrow group. Five of us – me, Val, Michael Parkinson and John & Catherine Taylor – parked at the end of Loweswater and were half soaked by the time we’d got our boots on. Heavy showers, almost overlapping each other, were being driven by a gale force wind.
What’s more, it was a bloomin’ steep climb of 900’ to the top of Darling Fell (1,283’, 391 m), made harder by the crosswind trying to blow us sideways into the fence. A small cairn marks the summit, overlooking Loweswater. The wind was so ferocious that it was threatening to remove my glasses, and I didn’t dare put the rucksack down for a photograph in case it blew away!
Contrarily, the sun made an appearance as we dropped 300’ steeply to Crabtree Beck, followed by an equally steep climb up to Loweswater Fell summit (1,352’, 412 m). More storm force winds. The walk to Low Fell (a Wainwright at 1,388’ ,423 m) was straightforward, the wind finally at our backs, and the view from the top of Raven Crag to Whiteside and Grasmoor worth savouring. It even seemed that the weather might stay dry. at least for the rest of the walk.
A promenade, on pleasant turf with easy gradients, followed for the next mile or so, as we rambled over the tops of Sourfoot Fell (1,348’, 411 m) and Smithy Fell (1,286’, 392 m). Sourfoot Fell has a tiny cairn of four stones (the wind was so fierce here that I’m surprised they didn’t blow away!); Smithy Fell not even that – nothing whatsoever to denote its lofty status (!) as a Birkett, apart from perhaps an extra fencepost.
The sun had decided that an hour was enough, so retreated behind dark clouds as sleety hail showers returned to the fore. Fellbarrow (1,363’, 416 m) is honoured with an OS triangulation point, and was summit no 6. All that was needed now was to descend north, make the climb to the interestingly-named Hatteringill Head on Whin Fell (no 7, at 1,263’, 385 m), and return to Fellbarrow.
Michael wanted this second visit to Fellbarrow to count as fell no 8, but I couldn’t countenance anything of the sort! So we headed gently down, into the teeth of the wind, rain, sleet and stinging hail, west to the track where we’d started off. From here it was an easy stroll back to the car, made interesting only by a party of about 25 walkers who passed us, heading up the fell… only to reappear back at the road almost before we’d got out of our boots and waterproofs. I’m really not sure what was going on there!
A pint of Loweswater Gold in the Kirkstile Inn satisfactorily rounded off the day’s walk.
I hope you’re still enjoying reading these accounts and also that you won’t forget why I’m climbing all these hills. It really is important to me to help Cancer Research UK as much as I can, so if you haven’t yet signed up to support the Challenge, please do – and if you have, please share with your friends and persuade them to part with 10p per summit – around £1 a week for the year. I really would appreciate that.
Fells today 7. Total now 93
Mileage today 6.0 (9.65 km); ascent 2,050’ (624 m).
Total mileage 141 (227 km); total ascent 43,435’ (13,230 m)
Last Thursday afternoon Val and I headed for Buttermere, to the Fell & Rock Climbing Club’s ‘hut’ at Birkness to spend the weekend with friends Michael & Liz Parkinson and John & Catherine Taylor. The FRCC huts are really cottages which offer members basic accommodation and the fellowship of other walkers and climbers; Raw Head in the Langdales, where I stayed with Clitheroe 41 Club, is another example.
The weekend weather forecast was full of doom, gloom and Storm Katie, but Friday was fine, sunny and dry. I took the advantage of the company to do a linear walk, parking a car at Stoneycroft in the Newlands Valley and then getting dropped off at Newlands Hause with Michael and his friend Colin Grime.
The climb up on the right hand side of the picturesque Moss Force is steep but at least height is soon gained and it didn’t take us long to find the summit of the oddly-named High Snockrigg (1,726’, 526 m), which has a fine view over Buttermere and its eponymous lake, as well as Rannerdale Knotts and Crummock Water.
We now had a further 800 ft or so to climb to reach the summit of the imposing Robinson (2,418’, 737 m), and before that, Buttermere Moss had to be crossed. There’s no choice. It’s a bog, a marsh, a quagmire, but it’s on sphagnum moss rather than mud, so it could be worse. The path rises gradually at first, then much more steeply.
A fell runner stopped to ask if I’d just left the card on High Snockrigg, and shook my hand. A couple were descending towards us and I caught part of her conversation, so greeted her with the words “Are you from America?” to which she replied “No, Cumbria!” !?! – I’d better get a hearing aid (though some Americans think I’m from Australia)…
To the nearly-new glove left behind by someone at the semi-circular summit cairn I added another of my cards, then had a pork pie while waiting for Michael and Colin before setting off back down, to once again cross Buttermere Moss, this time on the way back down to Newlands Hause. Over twenty cars were now parked here and I kicked myself for not bringing any ‘flyers’ which I could have put under every windscreen wiper.
Two cyclists were taking a break, having climbed to the hause from Buttermere. “Where are you from?” I asked. “London,” came the reply, in a thick French accent, “Well, France before zat.” “Are you practising for the Fred Whitton Challenge?” “Oo eez ee?” “It’s a bike ride. So you’ve just pedalled up from Buttermere?” “Non – I don’t zeenk zo.” “Yes you have – I hope you know where you’re going!” “Well, where are you goeeng” “I’ve forgotten!” I said. Au revoir.
Off up the climb to the lovely Aiken Knott ridge and the summit of Knott Rigg (1,824’, 556 m) – a steep pull at first, then levelling out (slightly) to a narrow path along the top, breezy at times, with fabulous views on the left to Wandope, Crag Hill and Sail, and a steepening drop on the right. By now more clouds were forming, but the light was clear and you could see for miles. A group of runners passed by, panting, as we stood at the summit, a metre or two lower than the top of Pendle Hill.
A brief stroll took us to the top of Ill Crag (1,791, 546 m) – not impressive from where we’d come but more of a climb from the opposite direction. Then on to the highest point on the ridge, Ard Crags (1,906’, 581 m), which looks really daunting from near Stair, and from the top the steep drop is certainly intimidating.
But we were to descend a different way, to the NW. Tiny figures could be seen along the ridge from Scar Crags to Causey Pike, our next two objectives. A long descent was followed by an equally long ascent, mainly on a path sloping diagonally across the fell which clearly funnels rainwater as it’s now more of a deep, narrow trench than a path in places.
From the hause the landscape opens out to the bare, stony fell top and the summit of Scar Crags (2,205, 672 m).
The next top, Causey Pike (2,090, 773 m), is unique, like a miniature Crinkle Crags but with almost perfectly even and regular undulations along the summit ridge, culminating in the summit itself at the very end. I mean the very end too, because from here the ground drops away almost like a cliff: there is a path down it, but a few short stretches seem better negotiated on one’s backside than one’s feet. Magnificent though.
After this descent came a gentle trek through heather to the final top of the day, Rowling End, at 1,421’ (433 m), followed by a steep path down the nose, a little reminiscent of High Hartsop Dodd in its steepness. I chatted to one member of a large party of walkers, all from London on an Easter weekend outing, whilst the change in temperature as we dropped 1,000′ in 20 minutes – from a chilly summit to the balmy valley – was amazing.
We were now back at the car we’d left earlier in the morning and soon headed ‘home’ to Birkness after another successful day.
Fells today 8. Total now 86
Mileage today 8.25 (13.3 km); ascent 3,400’ (1036 m).
Total mileage 135 (217 km); total ascent 41,385’ (12,606 m)
Sorry, no route map today as the OS app was acting up again.
Still enjoying reading these accounts? I hope they’re neither too long or too short, but also I hope you won’t forget why I’m climbing all these hills! It really is important to me to help Cancer Research UK as much as I can, so if you haven’t yet signed up to support the Challenge, please do – and if you have, please share with your friends and persuade them to part with 10p per summit – around £1 a week for the year. I really would appreciate that.
The Fairfield Horseshoe is many people’s favourite and – for most – makes a moderately strenuous day out on the fells. There are eight Wainwrights on the circuit including the highest point dominating Rydal Head – Fairfield itself at 2,864’ (873 m). However, there’s another Wainwright overlooking Grasmere on a long spur off the main horseshoe: this is Stone Arthur, much lower at only 1,650’ (503m). Add to this list the North Top of Heron Pike (AKA Rydal Fell, not a Wainwright but a Birkett, taken in one’s stride on the circuit), and Cofa Pike, a very distinctive sharp peak just north of Fairfield, reached by a minor mountaineering expedition, and you have the makings of a full day indeed.
Ian Hardy had volunteered to come with me. This meant a slightly later start than usual as he has to help milk 271 sheep before the rest of his day begins! Our other companion was Meg, Ian & Carol’s three-year old flat-coated retriever.
We had to park on the little road by Under Loughrigg near Rydal (the road to Rydal Mount had been infected with a serious outbreak of cones); a local vigilante lady kindly informed us that we weren’t leaving enough room if an ambulance wanted to come past. Thinking “You could get a bus through there” I smiled as nicely as I could as she went on her busy way.
It’s a steep start even before you get to the open fell – there must surely be some cars that can’t get up the 1 in 3 gradient just past Rydal Mount! Once on the fell there’s a good pitched path which soon gets you up to the main ridge, and it’s worth looking back from time to time to enjoy the view.
The top of Nab Scar is a great viewpoint on a slight pause in the climb up the ridge, with a big pile of stones – it’s at 1,490’ (455 m), about half the height of Fairfield itself, and straight away the ascent continues, now on a more eroded path which even in misty weather would be hard to miss.
Heron Pike (2,008’,612 m) came next. No sign of any herons though, which isn’t surprising as the name is a corruption of ‘Erne Pike’ – and Erne is the old name for the White-tailed Sea Eagle, which would have been a resident bird in these parts many years ago (Arncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales gets its name from the same source).
There’s room for confusion here – Mr Wainwright and Mr Birkett consider the south top to be the summit, whereas ‘Fellranger’ Mark Richards puts the proper summit 400 m further North (which is a separate Birkett known as the North Top of Heron Pike, or Rydal Fell, at 2,037’, 621 m). It isn’t anything to get hot under the collar about, and we visited both anyway.
The first, south top has a small rocky quartz outcrop, whilst the stone outcrop at the north top is adorned by a small cairn. Onwards we went, enjoying the view down into the valley of Rydal Beck, along fairly level ground for a while. When it started to rise more steeply we left the main ridge and headed across on fairly easy going to the spur which leads down from Great Rigg to Stone Arthur.
This is another summit which is clearly more impressive from below – in Grasmere – than it is from the higher land of Rydal Fell. It’s an easy descent to the rocky summit where we enjoyed the view of the village before setting off back up the ridge on a long 900′ climb up to Great Rigg, at 2,516’ (767 m). This has quite a rocky top and as we arrived there were several other walkers there – more than I’ve seen so far this year I think, perhaps with the exception of the Langdales.
I’m sure the Ravens are getting tamer – waiting for crumbs and scraps from people’s lunch (they must need a lot to survive on). It’s an excellent view up to the highest point of the day from here, so we didn’t linger but kept on going until we reached the summit of Fairfield – where for only the second time (out of about seven visits) I was able to enjoy the view. But only just, as the cloud was coming in from the Helvellyn direction. Thankfully it wasn’t thick, as the route to the next top, Cofa Pike (2,700’, 823 m), would be the most difficult of the day and demand full concentration.
Cairns show the way in reasonable visibility. In thick mist it’s a dangerous place because of the unforgiving crags nearby. The path descends VERY steeply over solid rock and loose scree and great care is required. There follows a narrow path which goes around (or over) a strange rocky tor before climbing again to the top of Cofa Pike, where the view back to the north face of Fairfield is in stark contrast to the mountain’s more gentle southern slopes.
Once more we retraced our steps – well, not quite – we avoided the steepest section by taking the path to the right, which crossed a large patch of snow. This looked easy from Cofa Pike but when we got there was much bigger and steeper than it first appeared, so I ended up kicking a few snow steps in it to be sure of good grip.
Back at the top of Fairfield we headed east along the easy ridge path to Link Hause (more views of St Sunday Crag and down the Rydal valley) before rising to the summit of Hart Crag (2,697’, 822 m), where the rocky summit lies to the right of the main path and was our 8th of the day.
From here the route is easy to follow, following a stone wall along the ridge to Dove Crag (2,599’, 792 m) which looks benign, but boasts fearsome crags to the east (see the previous report from last week when I was looking up at them from Little Hart Crag and Scandale Pass, both of which were now coming into view).
We continued our descent along the wall to High Pike (2,152’, 656 m) and finally Low Pike (1,663’, 507 m), enjoying the improving view of Windermere and then Ambleside as we went. A final section towards Low Sweden Bridge and Rydal Park brought us back to the car after a great seven-hour walk.
Next stop Buttermere where (hopefully, subject to the weather) we’ll have an Easter weekend on the fells and perhaps even climb Mr Wainwright’s favourite where his ashes were scattered.
Fells today 11. Total now 78
Mileage today 11.5 (18.5 km); ascent 4,210’ (1283 m).
Total mileage 127 (204 km); total ascent 37,985’ (11,570 m)
I hope you’re enjoying these reports. Please feel free to add a comment and please don’t forget that the purpose of this challenge is to raise funds – in an enjoyable way – for Cancer Research UK. If you can introduce any friends or colleagues to the Challenge website I’d be very grateful.
I’m beginning to enjoy the early starts. Although a 90-minute drive is quite a commute, it only means getting up at 5.30 to set off soon after 6.00, and I’ve got my boots on before 8.00 – which can be the best time of the day.
The weather seemed gorgeous this morning, and as I started to climb the Kirkstone Pass from Troutbeck in sunshine, the ribbon of white cloud draped over Red Screes looked stunning. But by the time I reached the Kirkstone Inn I was in it, and of course being in cloud is a lot different to looking at it from afar. It’s just fog, and it stayed with me all the way down the other side, almost to Hartsop, just after Brothers Water.
A Green Woodpecker was drumming as I put my boots on at Cow Bridge car park. At the rookery in Hartsop, the glossy black birds were bringing nesting material – small tree branches – of which there was a good supply, with more evidence of the winter floods in flattened stone walls and great tidelines of twigs, branches and other flotsam.
From the village I crossed the footbridge (still intact) and headed steeply up the nose of Hartsop Dodd, an unrelenting 1,425’ (435 m) climb in about a mile, making an average gradient steeper than 1 in 4. Looking down was at times almost vertiginous, although there was no risk of falling off!
I was in cloud for most of the ascent, but the sun started to peep through near the top. Misty conditions are so deceptive: on arrival at the cairn I was sure that the ground 200 m further on was higher, but when I got there it clearly wasn’t. I backtracked to the summit cairn but noticed that even this isn’t quite at the highest point – this honour (at 2,028’, 618 m) goes to an old wooden post in the stone wall about 20 m away.
The wall continues towards Caudale Moor, and as I gained more height the sun plucked up courage and started to come out. The combination of mist, ribbons of evaporating cloud and sun on snow was magical – it really is worth getting up early!
The top of Caudale Moor is pretty flat, but there’s a cairn marking the highest point, Stony Cove Pike at 2,507’ (764 m). From here you have a good view of Thornthwaite Beacon on the Kentmere Horseshoe, but to its left, High Street was still wrapped in cotton wool.
‘Twas but a short walk across the top to the other high point with a rather fine cairn – the top of John Bell’s Banner, only slightly lower at 2,477’ (755 m). I can’t find any information on how or why John Bell gave the fell its alternative name, or who he was, or what the banner refers to. Maybe a reader can help.
Just below the summit of JBB is an unusual monument – a cairn with a wooden cross and two plaques commemorating Mark Atkinson and his son William Ion Atkinson. I don’t know anything about these two gentlemen either, or indeed why Mark chose the unusual spelling of Ion.
As I lost height towards St Ravens Edge and the Kirkstone Inn I kept looking across at the huge bulk of Red Screes, seeming higher and higher with every few steps, and soon to be my next objective.
But first the path halted its descent and rose a little towards the rocky top of St Ravens Edge (1,946’, 593 m). From here there’s a very steep descent to the Kirkstone Inn at the top of the pass. Three small (by today’s standards) wind turbines stand in the field behind the inn, and I doubt that they’re idle very often!
Resisting the temptation to stop for a beer, I crossed the car park and found the path. Even from close up, the ascent to the top of Red Screes looks impossible, but there is in fact a well-engineered stone-pitched path which, though steep, isn’t too difficult. Although the two walkers I passed may disagree – a bit older than me I think, they told me that they hadn’t climbed this path for 40 years and their fitness certainly hadn’t improved in the meantime!
It was quite busy at the top – where there is a fine trig point at 2,549’ (777 m) – with several walkers arriving from different directions. There’s a great panoramic view of many of the Lake District hills from here, and the cars on the Kirkstone Pass road looks very insignificant.
Next stop Middle Dodd, considerably lower at 2,143’ (653 m), which is on a spur heading north from its parent summit of Red Screes. It’s a straightforward walk on grass all the way, and on the summit I met a man from Dunfermline who’d come to the Lakes for a few days while his wife had gone to Las Vegas with her pals. I told him he’d probably got the better deal, and he agreed.
I had to get around to the parallel spur to the west, for Little Hart Crag and High Hartsop Dodd, but there’s no path and it was tough going through long tussocky sheep grass and around crags, streams and little rocky outcrops. I reached the path and followed it down to Scandale Pass, over some awkward slabs of sloping rock, before heading uphill again for Little Hart Crag (2,090’, 637 m). The nearby precipices of Dove Crag stand like a sentinel overlooking Dovedale, a valley which seems unusually rough-hewed at its head with a great jumble of crags and dips.
There are two tops to Little Hart Crag, of which the west one is the highest, though not by much. As usual, I visited both just to be certain, making sure I patted the highest bit (I guess we all have our little routines!). Then it was almost a case of déjà vu as I headed down the next spur to the final summit of the day, High Hartsop Dodd, which at 1,703’ (519 m) is lower than the ‘just’ Hartsop Dodd where I’d started the day. I wonder who makes these names up?
Another easy walk, with hardly any ascent to the summit, was made more interesting by the RAF, who decided that today would be a good day for low-level flying practice. There’s something really awesome about looking down on planes that are whizzing noisily by, chasing each other at a few hundred miles an hour, well below my position. A fighter pilot must have one of the best jobs going – so much fun AND getting paid!
The other thing about this ridge is that almost all of the day’s walk could be seen laid out around me and I even started to feel slightly impressed with myself when I contemplated the size of Hartsop Dodd, Caudale Moor and Red Screes!
The end of the High Hartsop Dodd spur is very abrupt: the path has to wind its way down in a contorted fashion otherwise it would simply be too steep to manage. Then it suddenly levels out at the bottom and heads through a field before following a gravel track past Brothers Water to the car park where I started. Day 13 ended without any mishap, which will come as a relief to any superstitious readers.
Fells climbed 8 – total now 67.
Mileage: 10.4 (16.8 km); ascent 3,640’ (1109 m).
Total mileage 115 (185 km); total ascent 33,775’ (10,287 m)
I hope you’re still enjoying these reports. Please feel free to add a comment and please don’t forget that the purpose of this challenge is to raise funds – in an enjoyable way – for Cancer Research UK. If you can introduce any friends or colleagues to the Challenge website I’d be very grateful.
Today – Monday 14 March – has been SPECIAL! After months of winter, admittedly with some great days but without doubt also cold and wet, today started with frogs cavorting in the pond and the haunting call of Curlews, a sure sign of spring. And the forecast is for a dry week – all week.
I would have arranged two or three days in the Lake District, but I’ve a speaking engagement in Burnley tomorrow, and we’ve also a long-standing commitment to attend the 41 Club weekend in Bellingham from Friday, so this week’s Lakeland trips will have to be short and sweet.
Hence today’s 6.00 am start from home, and my arrival in the village of Mungrisdale (pronounced ‘Mun-grize-dl’), between Penrith and Keswick, before 8.00! The parking area opposite the village hall has clearly needed the attentions of a bulldozer since the floods, but offers lots of room at £2 a day – there’s an honesty box.
The sun was shining and the breeze was light as I walked past the Mill Inn and headed steeply up the nose of Souther Fell (sorry, another pronunciation lesson – ‘Soo-ter Fell’) – 1,713’ (522 m). The weather may be improving but the legacy of the winter deluge remains – both in the soggy going, and the sight of a landslide across the valley, near the base of The Tongue, where an area of soil the size of a tennis court has disappeared, to be replaced by a grey, bouldery mess.
The views across to Bannerdale Crags, Bowscale Fell and Blencathra were superb. Most of the day’s route was in sight, leading to the inevitable thoughts that I’d be finished by lunchtime. It never happens that way, of course.
Now I had the slight frustration of losing almost all the height I’d just worked so hard to gain, ending back down at the River Glenderamackin -where the footbridge has been washed away. Thinking at first that I may have to do a bit of rock-hopping, I noticed a wooden plank had been put across at one point, so after a bit of careful testing with one foot, I gingerly walked across to the other side.
The next task was to climb very steeply up Bannerdale Crags by its ‘nose’, known as White Horse Bent. It is unremittingly steep for 250 m (820’) before the gradient eases for the last third of a mile across rough grass to the summit. More signs of spring – Skylarks singing everywhere, and I disturbed a Golden Plover –at least I think that’s what it was, but it flew off too quickly for a formal introduction.
The main cairn is close to the edge of an impressive drop, but isn’t the highest point, which happens to be a much more modest affair about 100 metres back, 2,240’, 683 m). I visited both, then left a card at the summit proper and headed west for Mungrisdale Common.
Now Mungrisdale Common isn’t a Birkett, presumably because it’s such an unremarkable protuberance that Bill Birkett couldn’t see the point. I’ve often wondered why Alfred Wainwright included it in his 214; overshadowed by the surrounding hills, with its highest point barely discernible from the rest of the extensive surrounding ground, it hardly seems worth the bother of visiting. But it IS a Wainwright and I’m doing them all, since 212 of the 214 are also Birketts and it seems an insult to the remaining two to miss them out.
The dangers of walking alone were now revealed. Not perhaps the kind of danger you’re thinking of, like a twisted ankle or worse, but the danger of talking to oneself. For at this point I remember thinking (and talking to myself) along the following lines: “Mungrisdale Common is my least favourite Wainwright. Why? Because it’s the least interesting. But hang on – if it’s the least interesting, i.e. NO OTHER FELL IS LESS INTERESTING – it must be, by virtue of that fact alone… er, interesting. So now the second least interesting fell must have just become… the LEAST interesting. Which makes it… well, you can see a pattern developing here, which could have got me bogged down, it it wasn’t for the fact that conditions underfoot were making a better job of it. It really was boggy in places. Very boggy. And I had to come back the same way!
I presume that whoever put the substantial stone cairn at the summit – 2,077’, 633 m – was sure they’d nailed the highest point. It doesn’t quite look it now, a bit of ground 50 metres away looking a tiny bit higher. Perhaps the weight of the stones has caused the sponge-like ground to subside a little.
After another trudge back it was a simple task to follow the path along the edge of the crags for a while towards the top of Bowscale Fell. One or two other walkers were now on the fell, including a cancer survivor from Brighouse who I chatted with on Bowscale summit (2,303’, 702 m) and who took my photo by the stone shelter there.
A kilometre further on is the top of Tarn Crags, aka the East Top of Bowscale Fell – 2,182’ (665 m) -and after visiting this I retraced my steps at first before contouring round the head of the valley beneath Bowscale and descending over completely pathless ground to the highest (and furthest) point of The Tongue. More boggy going, over tussocky grass and heather. A Snipe flew up, then a Partridge.
Several paragliders were out enjoying the ideal conditions – a steady breeze, adequate but not too strong and not gusty.
From the summit (1,814’, 553 m) I made a steep descent down the side of The Tongue (glad I didn’t go down the nose, which I could see when I got to the bottom was very craggy, difficult and downright dangerous) then joined a path heading back to Mungrisdale. Here, Bullfell Beck joins the Glenderamackin, and not only has the footbridge been damaged here (although with no alternative it was a case of ignoring the ‘Danger’ sign and getting on with it) but the river has taken away a complete section of the gravel road. Powerful stuff, water.
Back to the car in good time, I headed for home to try and find out what the heck I’m supposed to be talking about tomorrow. It’s one of three cycle tours so if I take my notes for all three I should be able to wing it from there!
Fells today 6. Total now 59 (that’s £5.90, still cheap at half the price!)
Mileage today 11.56 (18.6 km); ascent 2,318’ (706 m).
Total mileage 105 (168 km); total ascent 30,135’ (9,178 m)
Before I tell you about yesterday’s walk, let me thank three hoteliers / guest house owners who came forward after I made an appeal for accommodation in the North Lakes area via Keswick Tourism. Nuala Dowie of the Royal Oak Hotel, Borrowdale, Clive & Sue from Thornthwaite Grange, and Jerome & Laura, of Howe Keld, have all offered help with a bed for the night when I’m staying in the area as their contribution towards the Big Challenge for Cancer Research UK. So if you’re planning to stay in the Keswick / Borrowdale area at any time, please help me show my appreciation by booking your accommodation with them.
Sunday 6 March saw us heading to Aira Falls, a well-known beauty spot on Ullswater. ‘Us’ being me, my better half Val, and Iain Poole (Julie couldn’t join us this time) plus Iain’s two dogs of course. As often happens, we went on a little diversion right at the start (my fault) but quickly regained the correct route, across a fairy-tale bridge over the Falls and then steeply up the open hillside of Gowbarrow Fell.
Although not the highest point on the fell, Green Hill does boast the best views, and the aspects to Ullswater and across to the snow-capped mountains was simply breathtaking. It took a little while to decide where the actual summit of Green Hill was, as it isn’t shown on the OS map and there is higher ground nearby, but we checked the map reference on Graham Haley’s Hill List and decided that the top with the big stone cairn and the best view must be the right one.
Once again the mid-week rain made the next bit of the walk a squishy, swampy affair but we made it through long grass, sphagnum moss and heather to the steep craggy final pull up the rocky knoll of Gowbarrow Fell, where there’s a proper stone trig point sporting a National Trust sign. And more great views.
Descending, steeply at times, we met our first walker (well jogger, actually) before crossing a wall on a stile made of huge slabs of slate and taking the gently ascent to the rounded top of Great Meldrum, where not a stone was present to weigh down a summit calling card.
We were approaching forests of Sitka Spruce now, and as we got nearer, and Iain was talking, I heard strange noises from the trees. We stopped. All was silent. We started talking again, and the strange noises started up again. It turned out that we could hear our own echoes, distorted by the trees and all slightly weird.
Little Meldrum, unlike its larger cousin, has a little rocky top with the tiniest of cairns, and is half enclosed by spruce trees. Below, to the south, large swathes of forest have recently been felled, but to the north, where our route went, the trees were still present. So much so that our intended route off the top was now blocked by trees – and a small lake, which we hoped, vainly as it turned out, we could skirt around the left hand side.
We returned almost to the top and took a route to the east, arriving at a wall which took us on to open hillside for the last pull up to the little grass and rock ridge that is Watermillock Fell. Nothing to do with water mills apparently – the name comes from ‘wether’ (a sheep) and Mell (as in Great Mell Fell and Meldrum).
From each summit the view was different, sometimes subtly so, others significantly. Certainly the view from Watermillock Fell was excellent, especially towards Helvellyn, where the snow-clad arêtes of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge could be seen very clearly. The view also included a number of parked cars and several walkers heading up to, and away from our next and last summit, Little Mell Fell.
After walking down to the road we crossed to the quagmire that must sometimes be a field, and climbed the relentlessly steep slopes of the fell to another stone trig point, this time with views beyond Penrith to the Pennines, with Cross Fell resplendently white beyond. A small party of walkers arrived from Great Mell Fell, a copy of Stuart Marshall’s ‘Walking the Wainwrights’ book in hand. They had all 214 of AW’s fells in mind, though without a timetable.
After the steep descent and another squelch to the gate, we descended the tarmac road for a while before stopping at a bench – erected in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee – for a sandwich and cup of chicken noodle soup. Whist we were there, the party from Little Mell Fell came past, on their way to Gowbarrow Fell. They should have gone across the tops, but seeing us take the road thought that (a) we’d also be going to Gowbarrow and (b) we must know a better way. I had to disappoint them by saying that we’d already done it before we got to Little Mell Fell.
It’s a long path back to the start, but one full of interest, with ups and downs, woodland (natural and man-made), and ever-changing views of Ullswater and beyond. Above Yew Crag there’s a cairn, from where the views are incredible. A stone bench lies above, put there in 1905. It was clear that the recent storms have led to hillside streams on the other side of Ullswater bursting catastrophically from the hillsides and sweeping masses of boulders downhill, whilst tide lines of debris could also be seen a long way back from the present shore.
Finally we were back at Aira Force, going down below the main waterfall to get a good view and being rewarded with a constant rainbow from the spray. Back at the car we could contemplate another six summits in the bag before setting off back home, passing through Glenridding where there was more evidence of the floods – but do remember, please, that Cumbria is open: the local businesses are welcoming visitors already, and need your custom more than ever.
Summary so far – 6 today making a total of 53; 93 miles (150 km) and 27,817 ft of ascent (8,472 m) (or just over 5 miles!)
After being a Billy-no-mates for several days, suddenly I find that my good friends David and Ann Evans are in Bowness on Saturday evening and would I like a beer at the Hole in the Wall? Silly question! It’s a great pub with loads of character, although some may find the stuffed animals a little on the macabre side.
At the same time Iain Poole sent me a message asking if he and his partner Julie could join me on Sunday. I have to say I was ready for some company and – knowing how reliable Iain is – I didn’t hesitate. I was planning to start from the Three Shires Stone at the top of Wrynose Pass at 8.00 am, and I knew if I told Iain the where and the when, he would be there. And of course he was. Well actually he was there at 7.30!
I had a little fright as I found the Fallbarrow Park entrance gates closed at 7.15. Once I realised that they were neither electric nor locked, they ceased to be a problem… The road through Little Langdale to Wrynose Pass is narrow, twisty and sprinkled with blind brows. I’ve driven along it at full speed in a MkII Escort in the middle of the night during my rallying days, an experience which produces more adrenalin than anything else I can think of, but this morning the driving was genteel and sedate.
Accompanied by Iain and Julie, plus Max and Sandy, their two Border Terriers, we left the road and started to climb the path up to Wet Side Edge, the ridge that rises from Little Langdale to Swirl How. It was a gloriously calm, sunny, frosty morning and the time passed quickly as we chatted. As we joined the ridge path we took careful note of the two cairns there, as we didn’t want to miss the turning on the way back!
The climb continued until we reached the first summit, Hell Gill Pike (2,172’, 662m), a rocky knoll with a stunning panorama of the West Cumbria coast, including the nuclear power station at Sellafield. Before we arrived at Little Carrs, a path led off to the right which I recognised as the route to Grey Friar (2,536’, 773m), so I quickly decided to head for the Friar now and pick up Little Carrs on the way back.
A light breeze behind us helped us along and made the gentle climb to the summit of this Wainwright more like an easy stroll. When I walked all 214 Wainwrights in 2009 we’d had to miss Grey Friar on the day we did the Coniston Round because the weather was so severe, and it wasn’t until we’d done almost all the other 214 that we managed to fit it in. So I remembered it well, although I forgot to look for the rock pinnacle known as the ‘Little Matterhorn’ near the summit, something I’d intended to see. Too much talking.
An even better view was revealed at the top: it was clear enough to see the Isle of Man, whilst Harter Fell to the west looked much bigger than one felt it should have done. Next, a gentle promenade to Great Carrs, but this time with the chill wind in our faces, so it wasn’t quite as pleasant. But it wasn’t bad!
Below the summit we could see a wooden cross and a pile of… something – which turned out to be part of the wreckage of a Royal Canadian Air Force Halifax bomber. On 22 October 1944 the plane had left Topcliffe on a navigational exercise, encountered low cloud and worsening weather, and then crashed into the side of the mountain, with the loss of all eight crew. The oldest was 33, three were aged 20 and two were 19. Even after 70 years it’s sad to encounter something like this. They all had mothers.
Soon after, we were at the summit (2,575’, 785m), and as we stood there gazing at the other fells – Wetherlam, Swirl How, Dow Crag – a stunt aircraft, like those in the Red Bull Challenge series, appeared from the Coniston direction, flew overhead and… looped the loop! Was the pilot doing that for the Halifax crew, or because he (or she) had seen us, or was he doing it just for himself (or herself)? I’ll never know, but it was a lovely moment!
Heading downhill again we soon found Little Carrs (2,270’, 692m), the top that we’d left on our way up. It’s only a short ascent from this direction but, as with many of the Birketts, it probably looks a lot more impressive from the Greenburn Beck way below.
It was a straightforward walk back down the Wet Side Edge path, apart from a few icy sections. One of the difficulties was the light covering of snow: in most places this affords good grip, but unfortunately you can’t always tell when snow is overlying a big sheet of ice, and then it’s slippery, to say the least!
We found our cairn ‘signpost’ and headed back down the side of the fell to the car. There were now several cars parked at the pass, other walkers making the most of this sunny Sunday. We parted company, Iain and Julie heading off for lunch in Ambleside and me heading off home for a few days of ‘back to normal’. But I’ll be back on the fells before long…
A few statistics: After ten days of walking I’ve now covered 84 miles (135 km) and climbed 25,300 ft (7,710 m). 47 summits in total equates to £4.70 per person supporting the Challenge.
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