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).