Or should that be “Where Eagles Dare?”… Eagle Crag lies on the opposite end of the High Raise massif to the Langdale Pikes. Along the top of this high plateau all is fairly undramatic, but at Eagle Crag the high ground comes to a very abrupt end with this impressive buttress overlooking the village of Stonethwaite. Wainwright describes it as one of the steepest climbs in the Lake District and I was about to confirm – not for the first time – that he was right.
Taking the ‘route directe‘ up the north face, I was a little intimidated by the great vertical rock cliffs but thought I could see a way up which would be on grass all the way. Funny how things change when you get close up. I ended up being squeezed over to the left hand side all the time, where a wall prevented further circumnavigation, and had to resort to a little scrambling over some almost vertical, but sound, rocky bits. Having made it to the base of the final buttress I felt that there must be a path somewhere, but couldn’t see it, until I noticed a stile up and to my left, from which – when I drew level – I could see a very welcome path threading its way up towards the top.
In a series of exaggerated hairpins this path avoided several rocky shelves (which could easily have been scrambled over) and eventually arrived at the solid rock outcrop of Eagle Crag’s summit, 1,709′ (521 m) above sea level. My eyes were drawn south to the next big lump – Sergeant’s Crag (1,873′, 571 m) and I set off without much delay.
It was cloudy but the cloud base was high, so things were nice and clear as I crossed the sometimes boggy half-mile or so before the path started to climb once again. The top of Sergeant’s Crag is quite rocky, and sitting just behind the cairn was a fellow walker who was having a quick breather.
High Raise (already visited, in February) dominated the skyline to the south but I was looking for the next objective – Lining Crag – a seemingly unobtrusive projection well below the skyline across the valley. The easiest way was to work around the head of the Stonethwaite Valley, just under the rock scar of Long Crag, cross more boggy ground and pick up a well-cairned path.
I hadn’t realised that this path is actually the high-level section of Wainwright’s famous Coast-to-Coast walk. It leads down to Lining Crag, where I found the last thing I’d expected to see – a group of people. Two Australian couples in fact, who I recognised from breakfast at the Royal Oak Hotel, where they were also staying.
One of the two ladies was very pleased to see that I was wearing gloves (I suffer from cold hands and it really was not warm!) as she had put gloves on too and felt a bit silly – that is, until she saw me. It was they who explained that they were doing the Coast-to-Coast walk, heading for Grasmere, as was another little family group who I met further down the path a little later (and a very nice path it is too, winding down the valley back towards Stonethwaite). Looking back (something one should so more often, it’s surprising what you would otherwise miss) I realised that from below, Lining Crag looks very much more impressive.
My plan was now to drop down almost to Stonethwaite before heading back UP to Grange Fell. The logic behind this was that although I could stay on high ground, thus avoiding a descent and subsequent ascent, I would end up visiting two or three summits (Ullscarf plus two on Coldbarrow Fell) twice, something I wasn’t keen on doing.
Well, you shouldn’t always follow logic. It was a long, long descent, followed, inevitably, by a long ascent made more cruel by its steepness, albeit on a pitched path through the woods on the side of Stonethwaite Fell. Cuckoos, Redstarts, Woodpeckers and Tree Pipits were all in evidence as well as the more common woodland birds, but I was still ruing the decision to put so much up and down into the day’s route!
Still, it’s a pleasant path through rocks and heather and past Dock Tarn once you’re on top, and I soon found myself at the summit of Great Crag (1,444′, 440 m), talking to a couple who were debating whether this, or the nearby top just to the north, was the correct fell top. I was happy to agree with AW and others that this was indeed the higher of the two, then set off on the 1.5 kilometre trek to the highest point on next-door Grange Fell – Brund Fell, at 1,363′ (415 m)
Navigation isn’t easy on Grange Fell – I remember having problems last time I was here, and resolved to take great care. Finding the rocky outcrop of Brund Fell wasn’t too much of a challenge, but from here the paths on the map don’t seem to correspond to those on the ground, so things became a little trickier.
I was heading for King’s How (1,286′, 392 m) – and now for a bit of history: Grange Fell is owned by the National Trust and was one of its first acquisitions in the Lake District in 1910; the fell was purchased by public subscription as a memorial to King Edward VII at the bequest of the King’s sister Princess Louise, who then was President of the Trust. The viewpoint of King’s How was named after the King as a memorial, and a commemorative slate plaque is situated just below the summit. Not having had time to do this research before I got there, I didn’t look for the plaque when I eventually reached the summit, and am grateful to Google Images for the photo shown here.
After an easy descent and half-mile walk along the road I was back at the Royal Oak, more tired than I’d expected (too much up and down!) and ready for a shower and a pint. The Royal Oak is one of three very welcome supporters of this challenge – I can thoroughly recommend them so please stay there if you’re planning a sojourn to the Lake District.
6 summits; 12.9 miles (20.8 km); 3,387′ (1,032 m) of ascent
Total now 177 summits, 245 miles (394 km); 74,103′ (22571 m).