Monday, 18 February 2013

Another pair of tiddlers

 After a decent walk around the Back o' Skiddaw on Saturday, my legs were not begging for more on Sunday, but the weather was so good I couldn't resist getting a couple of tops in so after a false start considering Helm Crag, where i found a crowd heading to the foot of the hill as though they were hosting the FA cup final up there, I changed plan and drove to Thackthwaite to have a go at Low Fell and Fellbarrow.  To be honest the weather was so good, an ascent of the local tip would have been worth a try...

Half the ascent up Low Fell is on an old miners track...

....though when this gives way to foot tracks the going is still obvious an direct.  I was happy to reach the summit in the most glorious sunny, calm weather, though mercifully still cool.

The view is great from Low Fell, so I tried to do a panorama with my phone - its a bit stripey, but not that bad.  I do wish I'd got my good camera with me this weekend though.

Across half a mile or so of somewhat of a boggy col lies Fellbarrow, (with a small intermediate hill) and Jocky enjoyed being top dog for a minute!

Over the top of Fellbarrow and down around its northern flanks Jocky found a sheep's leg bone to gnaw and I took one last shot of Buttermere before we got back to the car and off heading for food and home.  Back next week for a few more tops if the weather holds.

Back o' Skiddaw

I have been accelerating my peak bagging recently to attempt completion of a Wainwright round by the end of July when I am fifty, so I was looking forward to getting a few ticks chalked up this weekend.  The weather forecast was OK for Saturday, with a little drizzle possible but looking better for Sunday, so I hoped I would get plenty of walking in.
I planned a route that took in the Cockups, Meal Fell, Longlands Fell, Brae Fell and Great Sca Fell, but when I arrived in the country lane near to the start point of my route I couldn't see any easy way get access to the fell from were I had to leave the car.  Checking my route it seemed possible to reverse the route heading up a bridleway towards Great Sca Fell first and end up coming back off Little Cockup, and wherever that path emerged would not be my problem, in access terms.  When I designed the route I had deliberately left out Knott and Great Calva imagining myself to be tired and shagged out by the time I got near them, and not wanting to climb the highest at the end when I would frankly, my dear, not give a damn.  But reversing the route meant I could do those too early on and the rest would be a fait accompli, and largely a descent to boot.
So, off I strode with one of my dogs, Jock, towards Hause Gill and Burn Tod, which I didn't intend to climb but is the first big lump I would meet on the way to Great Calva.  Here's a pic of Jock running ahead up[ the lane which forms the first part of the bridleway.

This early bit steepens slightly after a quarter of a mile and hauls itself up to a rocky outcrop called Brockle Crag, which doesn't have a cairn as such, but would be a lovely place for one to rest were it not so early in the walk. 

On a clearer day the view of Bakestall and Skiddaw would be very striking, but it was already seeming a bit misty as I ascended.

A little beyond Brockle Crag the path levels somewhat to the confluence of two small gills that join to make Hause Gill.  I took the right of these two heading up the south flank of Burn Tod where I would eventually head more or less due south to climb up Little Calva.  The Gill looking back is very pretty just where the route turns sharply south and steeply up.  All that water has to go somewhere and  the ground further down around the feet of Burn Tod is horribly boggy in places.  By this point what had been a perfectly normal bridleway was suddenly very tricky and would be suitable only for mules and mad walkers.

More or less as soon as I begun to climb up the now snowy slopes towards Little Calva it started to get misty and by half way I would say visibility was only a hundred yards or so.  I felt pleased I have a GPS these days to help me out in mist, and it really does make a difference.  I must say though that its always easier glancing at a map to get a wider appreciation of the fell with GPS helping pinpoint the current location.  I often saw people on forums arguing which was best and now think the combination of the two is hugely beneficial.  With the help of these tools I eventually found the "pile of stones" that the OS choose to mark on the map;  not that its much to look at.  As you can see, it was a hardly photo heaven by now, but as I was only using my phone for pics its always worth a snap.

Probably the worst part of the walk was next crossing the boggy morass between Little Calva and Great Calva.  In clear visibility I expect its fairly clear where to go, but the absence of paths and the mist made it a "follow-a-bearing" proposition and I found myself navigating some horrible bogs and tussocks, risking a broken ankle with every others step, so deep were the concealed holes.  But, I aimed-off left from the summit of Great Calva knowing I could "handrail" the fence that crosses its summit and not long after got to the foggy top.  I had waded through so much snow and bog that I was beginning to feel a little moisture getting into my right boot somehow.  They are supposed to have goretex lining, but nothing keeps boots completely dry forever.

The traverse North to Knott also has some boggy sections so by the time I summited it I was ready to change my right sock for a waterproof sealskin one which worked excellently, although they are not the most comfy underfoot.  During the ascent of Knott which is steep five large gloomy figures had emerged only twenty paces ahead of us from the thick fog coming down.  This proper put the wind up poor Jocky and he howled and legged it down hill until I called him and persuaded him to return, but he gave them a wide berth.  They were all apologies and proved to be a very nice group.  Poor old Jock! 

By now I'm sure you have spotted a theme in these photos as its becoming a sequence of misty cairns and dog's graves.  With all the fog I'm afraid there was little else to snap.

The last of the misty mountains was to be Great Sca Fell which is a short walk in gentle descent from Knott.

I think I must have yelped when the fog suddenly began to clear as I started out from Great Sca Fell towards Brae Fell.  Suddenly the scene unfolded and I was able to get some kind of picture of the hills around.  The whole of Brae Fell appeared golden and warm looking, though for some reason I didn't photograph that view.  Nor did I take a summit shot of Brae Fell either as it was rammed with walkers unusually - the first I'd met at a summit that day.

Although I did tarry a bit on Brae Fell eating my lunch and talking to a couple of guys doing my route the other way round, I was soon off to Longlands thus requiring a long detour around the gorge between Brae Fell and Longlands which defies a direct beeline.  Longlands is not a steep hill and I got briskly to the top, took the requisite pic....

...and scooted off to Lowthwaite Fell, a Birkett among the Wainwrights.  there's not much on it to denote a top, but as its between Longlands and Little Sca Fell, my next destination I ploughed over it.  In the end, I lazily decided to skirt around Little Sca Fell and I wish I hadn't as the path around its southern shoulder is both uneven and bouldery; not to mention requiring a crossing of a gill near a waterfall on a quite dodgy slope.  I would have been better off putting five minutes of extra effort in and going over the peak to get to Meal Fell.  The saddle connecting Little Sca Fell and Meal Fell is in the middle-ground of this pic.

Once on the saddle, Meal Fell is a simple stroll away and probably the most interesting top of the walk with what looks like old fortifications and a cairn....

....and an impressive wind shelter on the other side of the summit.  Writer Bill Birkett speculates that the apparent quarrying is redolent of the hill fort on Carrock Fell, so it wouldn't surprise me to find this was once a fort too.

Beyond this shelter the hill drops away to the Trusmadoor Gap, here, which was the last significant ascent of the day up towards Great Cockup.

Great Cockup is deceptive.  From a distance the subsidiary peak looks higher but this indistinct summit is actually a little more elevated....

....than this one.  But I trudged over both anyway.

And I'm glad I did because the height gave me a good view of a lovely sunburst which made me curse not having brought my SLR camera.  I reckon I could have got a great shot of this scene with my good gear, though there is some impression of the view from this phone pic.

The last half mile takes in the charming compact summit of Little Cockup... 

...where a direct descent could be taken back to the start of the bridleway I took at the outset, but I chose to deviate slightly over Orthwaite Bank and got another snap of the sunburst which seemed to hang around for ages.

I contrived to slip in the last fifty yards of the path and fall arse-over-tit getting all muddy in the process but otherwise uninjured.

Back at the Travellers Rest in Grasmere, Jocky was one knackered dog, after 12 miles and 7 Wainwrights.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Base Brown and Kirk Fell

This weekend it was me and the missus fourteenth wedding anniversary, or as near as with the actual day being Thursday, and she demanded that we go up to the Lake District for a couple of days.  She even said she would join me for a bit of walking. 

Leigh does walk with me sometimes, but draws the line at much more than five miles, so the current rush I am in to finish my first round of Wainwrights is not really compatible with her idea of a nice weekend.  As I type this comment I am minded to admit that she is far from a soppy woman with no energy as she recently joined me for a walk up to Whin Rigg and Illgill Head above Wastwater.  That walk turned out to be a tough proposition in the end as we decided to descend to the lake edge for the return leg and negotiate the “screes”.  Had I realised what the scree route demanded I would have suggested against it, especially with two small dogs in tow.  The rocks were wet and slippery and only prolonged concentration and patience prevented us from coming a cropper – those screes are very treacherous in places.  I even had to pop one of our dogs, Tilly, in my rucksack for a mile or so as she was struggling and frightened by the big rocks.  My other dog, Jock is a bit braver, but even he looked at me very nervously once or twice and needed lifting over nastier bits occasionally.  I wouldn’t want a broken ankle any more than the next man, but I’d much prefer it to placing someone else in the same situation, so that fact that she managed the challenge is to her credit and she even mentions it with some satisfaction.

So, I was resigned to a shorter walk than I’d prefer, but still we set off late Friday afternoon for a B&B on the outskirts of Keswick, and arrived, despite some delays on the M6 at about 9pm.  It was too late for any decent pub food or the like, but we grabbed some pie and chips in Keswick town centre and scoffed those in the car, and returned the B&B for a bottle of wine via a swift pint in a pub.  You may be detecting a theme at this point!
Up nice and early for breakfast and the weather was, in my opinion, at its best for walking – crystal clear skies and bone-chilling cold.  Leigh gave the dogs a five minute walk so they could have a wee, and then we began to prepare for the day.  Unfortunately, she was a bit under the weather and suggested I might like to go up the fell alone.  She would take a gentle stroll into town for a bit of light shopping, lunch and spend the afternoon lolling about in front of the iPad watching soaps.  This met with my immediate approval and I soon set off with just Jock, leaving Tilly with Leigh to have a girls’ day in.

The arrangement opened up possibilities for me, and I realised I could mop up a couple of fells that have been nagging at my conscience for ages – Base Brown and Kirk Fell.  In both cases I have walked pretty much everything near them leaving them in less than splendid isolation as unconquered peaks, and demanding special trips just to bag a single tick on the list.  This is OK for some of the smaller “Oughts”, but a nuisance for bigger ones that could easily take half a day each.
It occurred to me that if I started a walk from Honister Pass I could do the pair as part of a circular walk and revisit a couple of previous conquests at the same time, so by about 10.30 I was changed booted and setting off up the steep path above the Honister cafĂ© toward Grey Knotts.  This path, running by a more or less straight fence is almost impossible to get lost on.  In places it deviated from the fence for a few minutes to get round eroded parts or, as was the case this time, to avoid badly iced sections where folk have detoured year after year and made secondary paths.  On the whole though it’s a good steady climb which makes height quickly and safely. 

 The view from the path gets good almost immediately you get above the roof of the building below and improves with every step, widening dramatically after a couple of hundred feet.  As the sky was so clear it was wonderful to keep stopping and just looking, although Jocky gets impatient with me when I stop and goes off patrolling with his nose hoovering the ground.  It was funny seeing him trying to scramble up some of the icy sections, with his little legs a blur trying to get purchase.  He’d already had me laughing earlier when we went into the Honister shop to get the parking ticket.  While I paid, he had let himself out of the automatic doors somehow, and couldn’t get back in.  I spent a couple of minutes searching the shop for him before I spotted him pressing his nose against the glass wondering why I was hunting around in the shop.

 Clambering up to Grey Knotts he was as frisky as a pup, and when we topped the crag to begin to approach the summit he found a patch of untouched snow, now very firm and gritty with big ice crystals, but untrodden and sculpted with wind ripples.  He ran around on this snow trying to plough with his nose and rolling around on his back thoroughly enjoying the sensation of the cold surface.  I took a couple of pictures of him and we made a cursory inspection of the summit, agreed it hadn’t moved since last time and trod on towards the inevitably dull Brandreth.  I can see how Grey Knotts deserves to be a Wainwright with its steep ascent, but the inclusion of Brandreth seems odd – it’s hardly a peak at all, and certainly wouldn’t merit a climb of its own were it not a natural stop off point on the way to Green Gable.  However, it was new to Jocky, if not to me and he gets a tick.  He also tried to beg a tuna fish sandwich from a family resting up on the rocks near the summit, but I called him away. 

 Brandreth does at least have a nice view down Ennerdale and once we were a little past it and close to Green Gable I was eying Base Brown and moaning about the descent necessary between it and Green Gable.

The valley separating Brandreth and Base Brown forms a wide corrie underneath Green Gable which is very steep and craggy in parts and requires the walker to climb around it quite close to its top, so it feels like a lot of up and down walking.  In reality it’s not as bad as it looks and the boggy section in Blackmoor Pots, the depression before Base Brown, even failed to inconvenience me being as hard as iron in the cold conditions.  In fact I found myself having to smash through some ice to give Jocky a drink as he was licking the snow – shortly afterwards we found ourselves at the top and sat down for a snack.  The good thing about such cold is that you can sit on the ground without risking a wet bum, though I did put my waterproof coat on the ground for Jocky who curled up on it for a rest of a few minutes.

 I had bought a sandwich, sausage roll and some chocolate for the walk, and foolishly left them at the B&B, so all we had to eat was a nutrigrain bar and a chocolate flapjack left in the rucksack from weeks ago.  Nevertheless, with a bit of help from Jocky, they were soon despatched and twenty minutes later we were away to Green Gable, now deserted despite a throng visible in the distance when I’d sat down to snack on Base Brown. 

I’d forgotten how steep and craggy Green Gable is on the Western side and it became clear I would have to approach Kirk Fell via a descent from Windy gap.  Last time I crossed Windy gap I climbed Great Gable, so I’ve never been on the path down towards Moses trod, or indeed down Aaron Slack to StyHead tarn.  The Western path is pretty difficult going with lots of loose scree, so I hate to think what Aaron Slack must be like as it’s very steep.  At the foot of the path I met two chaps who asked my opinion on the route to Seatoller – I suggested either Aaron Slack, with care, or the route over Green Gable and down the north-western flank of Base Brown.  They decided in the end there was still enough day light to climb Great Gable from Windy gap and I offered to give them a lift if they missed the bus at Seatoller – I knew I would be driving down that way at about 6pm when the last bus leaves Seatoller, so I wondered if I might see them again – I didn’t in the end so I suppose they either caught the bus or are still on Great Gable!

Haystacks from the approach to Kirk fell.

The path to Kirk fell is straightforward with a few undulations and a bit of a climb up the eastern aspect of the hill threatening you as it comes into view, but it’s not really the killer its western counterpart is reputed to be.  That is visible from Wasdale as a poker straight, steep trudge and I recall Wainwright giving it mention as the steepest continuous ascent in Lakeland, which I can believe. 

With some frozen snow to avoid and a few rough bits it took about 20 minutes to get up onto the top of the Fell, although the first part of the plateau is about fifty metres lower than the official summit about half a kilometre further west. 

During the ascent Jocky kept stopping to look at me in disgust as though I was slacking and should quicken up.  He can be real sarcastic that dog can.

The real summit is quite good actually with a very decent wind shelter where a cairn might normally be.  I had a short stop in there for a drink of water and change of gloves, and for once the wind shelter is high enough to shield one’s head and shoulders.  Oddly, while I we were up there the wind was hardly noticeable, so I didn’t really need the shelter.

The view of the Scafells from the top is bound to be marvellous of course!

To return to Honister by Moses trod, via the old pump house ruins I needed to return off Kirk fell the way I came up, which isn’t as simple as it sounds.  The one very obvious path coming up cannot be mistaken, but on the way down there must be five or six possible start points – whichever we chose, I got a great view of the majesty of Great Gable which even at 800 or so metres on Kirk fell still seems huge. 

 I consulted my GPS after about ten minutes and we were not exactly following the upward path back down until about half way when it gets clearer, and I recognised little stretches we’d ascended. 

When we were about a hundred metres from the low point at Beck Head Jocky suddenly went “on point” having seen something and with effort I could just make out a couple sat down seemingly miles away with two dogs.  As we continued our descent one of the dogs saw us and galloped over to meet us.  This dog was a nice little black terrier and all the dogs all had a brief chat before we pressed on for the final walk back to the car at Honister.  As we got a decent way along Moses trod, nearing the modern fence it crosses via a stile, I stopped to snap a pretty sky and we then hurried on as I hoped we could make the car before dark.  I was forgetting the long track after the pump house ruins, with all its switchbacks and steepness, so despite getting a good pace going we arrived at the car in near darkness, on the borderline of head-torch territory.  I stopped briefly to photograph the plaque commemorating the re-opening of the Honister Mine - I wasn't sure if the photo would work as I was only using my phone for pictures on this trip, but they seem to turned out OK overall.  I'd missed the plaque the first time I used the track and at first I wondered if it marked the spot where the poor owner of the mine perished in his helicopter not too long back.  Now I think of it, I seem to recall the accident was a bit further down.  A terrible shame wherever it was.

The last section after the plaque is a gentler gradient than the switch-backs and I was grateful as my right knee was giving me some pain – no idea why as I’d not jarred it as far as I could remember.  At the car, I was grateful it was still dry as the temperature was now falling and I made a very chilly quick change into ordinary day clothes.  All in all a good walk with plenty of great views.  Two more Wainwrights for me and five more for Jocky, who must be up to twenty or more now I suppose.  Still ninety-five left for me to do, and they must be done by the end of July when I am fifty, so I am plotting and planning some longer circular walks to mop them up.  I can see how Jocky and I might well be doing some wild camping this spring to get some extended ridge-routes in.  Bring it on!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Five little fishes - Jan 12/13th

I can see how the title of this post might imply a religious theme, but this would be a red herring.  Sorry, I didn't see that one coming until it was typed, but I think I'll leave it in now!  No, the religion angle is nothing to do with it, partly because I am not a person of faith, and partly because the fish I refer to are hills, not..erm..well not fish.

No.  When I say little fishes I mean tiddlers.  Small fry.  The tiny little hills among Wainwright's list of 214 that are either isolated or of such modest stature that unless offering another attraction are wont to be ignored or put off until later when they ought to be taken on and climbed - hence the ones I call "The Oughts".
There are too many of these little ones in Wainwright's guides; which isn't to decry small hills, but if you are Bill Birkett and offer a comprehensive account of the region, making mention of a small hill or a crag makes better sense than the huge song and dance made about dull fare such as Mungrisdale Common, or Armboth Fell by AW; although in both of those cases there is at least a grander walk to be wrapped around the duller hill if we wish.  The ones that jar for me are the isolated hills which Wainwright complains are without merit or hardly worth the effort, despite dedicating a chapter to them.  However, this is to caricature hills that might deserve a better reputation, and this is indeed what I found this weekend past - that some Oughts ought, so to speak, while other Oughts ought not.

I decided to do some of The Oughts the weekend of the 12th as I have suffered a heavy cold all week and despite walking five or six miles most days on the flat, I knew any climbing would punish me.  My theory was that I could take it easy concentrating on these on Saturday and if I felt OK, push onto something more substantial on Sunday.  In fact I got all my wild camping gear ready and planned an attack on the Dodds and related summits west of Helvellyn with the intention to get above Clough Head or perhaps even further, probably walking in the dark until a suitable spot to camp was found.

It sounds comically ambitious now.

I had decided to leave Kettering about 4am but despite setting my alarm woke about 7am to find the alarm was mis-set and I was late.  Facing another hour of delay before leaving and thus losing fully four hours of daylight for walking I re-planned.  Booking myself a single room at The Kings Head in Thirlspot I set off after 9am knowing that I would likely do little on Saturday and could decide what to do Sunday on the fly.

My intended Oughts had been as many from a list of seven as I could manage.  The list included Great Mell Fell, Little Mell Fell, Gowbarrow Fell, Binsey, Graystones (which would complete the book of Western Fells), High Rigg and Raven Crag.  All of these are quite distinct and require climbing individually; generally with a bit of a drive between them, although a walk connecting Little Mell Fell and Gowbarrow Fell can be contrived with the vicinity of Priest's Crag as a bridge between.  It's probably necessary to make a bit of a detour to achieve this if one doesn't want to ignore a short section of cart track marked as private with no access, which is almost directly opposite the path up to Little Mell Fell.
The first hill I targetted was Great Mell Fell, and with traffic delays and a couple of short stops on the journey up it was around 1.30pm when I got to the foot of the hill and put my boots on.  I gather from Wikipedia that this hill is owned by the National Trust and is considered free open land.  That's all very well but there's a fence all around it that implies private land, so it took me a while to find the right start point.  Actually, I always end up at the bit of road nearest based on the map, and its usually where everyone else is starting from too! So, I parked as close to the hill as I could.  A couple had just started off as I got ready and I decided that I would take the anti-clockwise path around the base of the hill as they took the clockwise.  I immediately found the path to be boggy and sloppy and difficult to walk on so after a couple of hundred paces turned steeply uphill and North to find firmer ground.  This tactic worked, but the hillside was steep and I realised that this tiddler was not going to give itself up without demanding effort on my part.  I was soon sweating and wheezing and wishing I was still in the car, compounded by my congestion and a bit of breathlessness as a result, but I always feel like that at the outset of any walk.  I ascended the forested part of the hill until the slope gave way to more open heathland and paths became obvious.  At about half height or so I could see a second couple on the brow of the hill almost out of sight, and shortly afterwards the first couple I'd seen too, who were a little way ahead of me. Just before spying them I'd stopped to take a couple of photos and was rewarded with a brief burst of golden sun which gave me a nice shot of burnished heathland and the gloomier distant hills. That's Little Mell Fell to the right.

This beautiful burst of sun only lasted a couple of minutes and then all was gloomy and it quickly turned absolutely freezing cold. As I approached the couple ahead I had a real momentum and rushed past them as the lady asked another couple returning from the summit if it was far.  I had a little smile as the answer came back in an almost theatrically exagerated posh voice.  At the summit I immediately fished in my bag for fleece and coat as I'd ascended in T-Shirt sleeves and suddenly stopping brought home how skin-strippingly bitter the wind was. 

The summit of Great Mell Fell is not much to rejoice over, though the OS apparently calls this dog's grave a tumulus, so it must be more significant than it looks, which is probably down to having possibly been a stone age burial mound.  I didn't know this at the time or i would have taken a couple of extra pictures to try to illustrate the point.  Nonetheless, I had now climbed the thing and could concentrate on more rewarding hills, although I must say, the view of the Dodds from this summit is impressive.  I was beginning to rue not having stuck to my original plan, but I could already see the white peaks betraying arctic conditions up there. Descent was rapid, as I took the more direct route traced by the path that starts clockwise at the bottom.  Perhaps a little boggy if the summit hadn't been so cold and frozen, but I noticed one or two very appealing wild camping spots on the way down, especially a lovely flat spot right next to a huge tree trunk bent horizontal by the wind such that it touched the ground for a good eight feet.  A tarp against that would be a snug den indeed.  I can't imagine why one would camp here though.  Its not on the way to anywhere and you'd need two broken legs to get be-nighted on this hill - I shouldn't tempt fate really.

Back in the car and considering what to do with the last hour or so of light I quickly checked my map for the easiest place to attack Little Mell Fell nearby.  A road passes very close to the hill and quite high up too crossing a shallow pass between Little Mell Fell and the small peaks near Priest's Crag, so shedding a good third of its height compared with anywhere else around the foot of the hill.  Several other cars and a group of walkers congregated in a lay by next to a five bar gate leading on to a cart track to the hill.  Through another open gate after a hundred yards a permissive path is sign-posted up the steepest part of the southern face with rights of way left and right to nearby hamlets.  I began to climb placing my feet in the well trodden sockets kicked into the path.  I know its erosion and all that but a "staircase" of this kind always seems easier to climb than a simple slope and I was high up and following a horizontal contour path for a short distance before zigging back up steeply again to the summit which flattens gradually as the trig point comes into view. 
The summit is a bit more formal and defined than Great Mell Fell, but doesn't really deserve any false respect.  Again though, the hill provides terrific views, and not least this time a great view down on to Priests Crag and Gowbarrow Fell which occupy two of the highest points on a long almond shaped body of hills and crags bordering the edge of Ulswater for several miles.   I eyed this temptation wondering if I could afford the time to hike along the undulating ridge from the vicinity of Priest's Crag to Gowbarrow and bag another tiddler.  Within ten minutes of this thought I was back down at the road and heading past my car to the gate opposite Little Mell where I sadly discovered a notice warning walkers away from the route across the meadow and onto the crag.  A real shame as I would have loved to ramble across the interesting ups and downs, especially by head torch as would be the case coming back.  I know I could have just ignored the sign, but if everyone does that I think we risk farmers denying access through permissive paths, and anyway, on another day I will make the slightly longer trip from further down the valley below Priest's Crag on a proper right of way.  Then if I stray a little from the path I am only bending the farmer's rules a bit.

So, I accepted the situation and headed off to my B & B in Thirlspot.

Although I was alone, the King's Head was fairly busy for an early January weekend and I found the lounge too full to get a seat near the fire so I went to bed early after a meal and watched Match of the Day while seeing off a nice bottle of white wine.

On Sunday morning after breakfast (the "full lard", naturally), I headed for Binsey in the northern-most part of the Skiddaw group - in fact in my opinion it has little connection with any other group of hills, but they are the nearest ones.  I had worried that Binsey would be horribly steep looking at the map but on arriving at the start-point I found it to be a nice gentle climb which started the day wonderfully. The wind was gentle and the ground frosted, so that as I walked the grass crackled and crunched underfoot. About half way up I met a lady descending who told me she was glad to be rid of the rain for a while and shortly after meeting her I could see the summit ahead.  I turned to watch her pass by and noticed the weak pale sun trying to penetrate the mist and cloud - it looked lovely!

When I arrived at the top I couldn't help but be impressed with Binsey's cairns and trig point and a decent wind shelter all distributed along a modest ridge running East North East.  I seem to remember wainwright saying that the summit deserved to be on a grander mountain, and I know what he means.  This isn't even a mountain by any measure I know yet has a better summit that Skiddaw in my opinion. 

As with all these Oughts, descent was swift, although a flake of snow or two told me the day wasn't to be as clear as the Mountain Area Forecast had predicted. Luckily, I like walking in the snow.

So, Binsey conquered, I was off to Latrigg which had the potential to offer me other things than merely another summit today.  Firstly, its got to be climbed, so I would get a tick.  But I also had an idea it may be easy enough to be climbed by my daughter, Ellie, who has learning difficulties and some walking problems; and maybe by my father in law Ted who is getting on in years and might struggle on a big hill.  However, I liked the idea of Ellie having a Wainwright to claim, and I suspected the view over Keswick would be worth dragging Ted up there in future.  All of my guesses were on the money, and on a nice fine summer day I will take then both to the top of this little hill. 

Actually, from the car park its a doddle with almost no height to be gained, but quite a way up if one were to start from Keswick, so the view back down in that direction is lovely - Worth the stroll anyway.

As I had been driving up toward Latrigg the snow was beginning to settle in earnest, and I wondered if I needed to get heading south before long or risk congestion and worse on the roads.  As I got down to the level of Keswick, I realised I was being a bit too cautious as the snow seemed to be less persistent.  So, while the going was good i headed off past Castlerigg stone circle and to St Johs Vale where I could begin my assualt on High Rigg.  the old Chruch of St John is a youth centre now and a gated road leads to this place terminating in a handy carpark which was empty on this day.  Quickly, out of the car, coat on, rucksack on and walking poles in hand I marched off up High Rigg.  This little crag is the highlight of the weekend for me. The ground was snowy and iced, and the wind had real teeth, but the interesting shapes of the crags and hillside made for fine walking.  The easily won summit area really seems like the peak of a much bigger hill with various cliffs, gullies and saddles between a complex of little peaks that present little surprises as they are explored. 

The actual summit has a distinct cairn and almost circular ring of rocks  which in dry weather would make a fine place to scoff a packed lunch.  But not today - the wind and snow were spiteful by now and I expected worse if I ventured anywhere else, so I descended quickly but carefully and headed into Keswick to see what I could find in the way of a bargain!!

Keswick was deserted, or at least as deserted as it ever gets, but I had a mooch in most of the shops and ended up buying nothing - good.  I've been caught by impulse buys too often when I've weekended in the Lakes, and little-isolated-hill bagging is the perfect way to get caught again.  I did notice, by the way, that keswicj is in a right old mess near the town centre - they seem to be digging up a lot of raods and big holes in the ground.  Something to do with a new sewerage and flood defence combination as far as I could see.  Anyway, it meant parking a decent way out of the centre and walking in, which isn't a bad thing. 

Following this little jaunt I headed off to have a crack at Gowbarrow Fell.  I'd decided I would find a way around that Farmer's restriction a bit lower down the fell and walk along the spine of the mini-massif to Gowbarrow.  Sadly it was now so snowy, my car couldn't get up to the pass I'd visited the previous day.  Maybe a front wheel drive car would have been OK, but I drive a rear wheel drive BMW which is fantastic on fast dry winding roads and absolute pants on snow.  I got literally within fifty feet of the top and it wouldn't grip enough for the last bit.  I had to admit defeat and turn round with about a seventeen point turn.  For a few moments I thought I was going to get stuck sideways across the road when it felt like my wheels were just spinning, but somehow it managed too turn and I headed off back down in disappointment.  This was enough for me to give up for the weekend and I headed to the motorway and began the long drive back down south only five ticks better off.  I expect the hills will still be there next time.

 As for distance and ascent, I can't be bothered to work it out with so many little hops.

Caw Fell and Haycock from Wasdale - Sunday 6th Jan

[Sorry this post is late.  Who am I talking to?  Oh, its me.  No-one else reads my blog.]

Despite only having one day at my disposal I thought I would make the effort to get up to the lakes this weekend, not least because it would do my waistline good.

I often head up to the Lakes with all my maps in the boot of the car and decide what to do on the way, but this time I was keen to plan ahead and enter the route into my GPS, so I planned to do a walk that took in five Wainwrights I have been thinking about for a while including, among others, Caw Fell and Haycock in a "circular" walk stating from Wasdale - its actually nothing like a circle but you know what I mean. The plan was to start with a relaxed climb up to Buckbarrow, and move on to Seatallen, Caw Fell, Haycock and finally descend via Middle Fell on the way back to the car. This was the route I programmed.
I left Kettering at 4am, which I think must have been a bit of a shock to my two dogs, especially as they had to sit in the car for 4½ hrs, but I calculated I would arrive in Wasdale just about at sunrise. When I arrived I couldn’t see any obvious parking spots near to my start point at the foot of the path up to Buckbarrow, especially as the roadside verges were very soft owing to recent rain, so I drove a little further on and found a good spot next to a farm at the foot of the descending path from Greendale Tarn near Middle Fell. Before parking up I drove onto Wastwater just to have a quick look – I always find it a magnificent sight in any weather or season. It was worthwhile as the sky was moody, but the weather calm and mild.

Then there was a snag.
I stepped out of the car for a moment to take a snap of the view on my phone, and left the car keys in the ignition. While I was admiring the snap I took, I heard the car locks click and realised my dog, Jock, had stepped on a button and locked me out! Not having a spare key I was panicking about how I was going to get back in. I couldn’t call the RAC as there is no mobile-signal in Wasdale, and I visualized having to break a window and head straight back home frustrated by my back luck. After a couple of minutes pacing up and down, it suddenly came to me that if Jocky had locked me out he could also unlock the car if he simply stood on the button again. It must have looked crackers with me running around each side of the car imploring him to follow and hoping he would stand on the button, but after only a few tries he did indeed unlock the car and my pulse rate returned to normal. I must say, I saw the funny side of this even when it first happened – locked out of my car by my own dog! I doubt if I’d have been so sanguine if it was tipping with rain, but then I probably wouldn’t have bothered getting out for a photo anyway.

So, with that drama out of the way, I went back to my intended parking spot and met a couple of guys, just parked and preparing to set off walking too. It turned out they planned a similar trip to mine and I shared my route plan with them and discussed the best paths and so on. While we did this their dog played with my two and presently they set off, while I continued to get my stuff ready for the walk. I was probably about fifteen minutes behind them when I set off. With a short road-walk to begin of about a kilometer I felt I had a nice warm-up, during which of course, I immediately felt a spot or two of rain, but nothing much. The forecast said rain was possible up to about 9am, and then mostly clear through to mid afternoon which was promising. On the path proper it was only a minute or two before I began to feel too warm and stopped to remove my fleece; continuing on in a t-shirt. The path is steep at first up to Buckbarrow, but flattens out after about 500 metres to a gentle gradient – in sunny weather I think the view from the first shoulder of the hill across to Wastwater screes must be lovely, but this day it was a rather grey. Once on the gentle slope I could see the other party ahead already at the summit of Buckbarrow. They hung around for a good few minutes but had moved on by the time I arrived and I never saw them again throughout the day.
At Buckbarrow I photographed the summit, and found it necessary to put my water proof jacket on against a little drizzle, not changing my trousers as I hoped it would only be a short spell. It wasn’t, and as I gradually ascended over Cat Bields and on towards Seatallen my legs were getting wetter and wetter, and the water was running into my socks so that I soon had soaking feet too! In the end I was forced to change into water proof trousers – the kind that you wear next to the skin, Paramo Cascadas, and a fresh pair of socks. This operation took me ages it seemed; farting about hopping on one foot and generally clowning, but it was well worth it as my legs remained dry for the rest of the day - I usually put them on fromm the outset to avoid this very situation, but perhaps thought the forecast could be trusted.

The trail up to Seatallen is probably very obvious on a clear day, but took a bit of concentration in what was now thick mist, but the GPS was a godsend keeping me confident I was on course, and I summited Seatallen, finding the trig point with no fuss.
One thing I realised is that GPS devices are not as convenient as a compass for simply setting you off in the right direction – most have a compass feature but you need to be moving to get the needle pointing accurately and this is a pain when you want to be looking where your feet are going and not at the handset. I will be sure to have my compass on my pocket next time and not in the bottom of my pack. Because of this I marched off in a slightly too southerly direction and had to traverse sideways through some nasty crags to get back on course – only five minutes of walking in even slightly the wrong direction can cost you half an hour correcting the error. It’s something I need to make more effort on as nearly all my navigational errors seem to route back to resumption of the walk after summiting.

Caw Fell and Haycock sit north and east respectively of a head of a wide U-shaped valley that descends roughly south east, so I had decided to traverse along the curve of this valley head below Haycock and go first to Caw Fell, then more or less along a flat ridge back towards Haycock. However this proved heavy going and was strewn thickly with huge boulders in wide fields. This slowed the dogs and I down considerably and I suspect we would have saved time by going further up towards Haycock first and accepting that the walk out to Caw Fell will always be a “there and back” proposition. Nonetheless, with a struggle we reached the impressive wall, (rather undersold by its familiar name “Ennerdale Fence”), that connects the two peaks, and more, and followed it along west to Caw Fell, quite quickly finding a stile that allowed us to follow the lee side out of the worst of the wind. The ground is pretty good along the wall as it follows the line of the ridge watershed, so tends to have good drainage for much of this section, but it’s a mighty long bit of stonework, and I marvel at the effort to build it.

This picture of the wall, looking towards Haycock from Scoat Fell, was taken some time ago when I did a walk involving Pillar, Scoat Fell, Steeple and others (here).

Actually we went further than we needed to as Caw Fell is technically denoted by a cairn on the north side of the wall, but we went on to the promontory closer to the name “Caw Fell” on the current OS Explorer map. This adds about 2km round trip merely to see a ramshackle shelter, so I wish I’d satisfied myself with the cairn. On the ridge the wind was strong and biting, the rain fine and soaking. My male dog, Jock, was managing OK, but my smaller dog, Tilly, was having a tough time whimpering and shivering continuously. I regretted not getting her a coat as she doesn’t have the body mass to withstand serious damp and cold, nor a double coat like Jocky who seems impervious to it all.  Finding a large rocky outcrop, I decided to rest in the lee and picked her up – she nestled inside my jacket for a few minutes, and despite making me a bit soggy, seemed to benefit from the rest and the warmth – she even stopped shivering a bit. I felt pretty weary and miserable myself so I decided to press on a little to the next place we could find to stop and have some food. This took us to a nasty crag between Caw Fell and Haycock that bars one's progress and forces the path round and down – Little Gowder Crag. The big wall seems to ascend over this outcrop merging with the rocks in places. In good weather a nice easy scramble over the top would be fun, but I was in no mood and grumbled as I picked my way through boulders again around this obstacle. A short distance past this I got back on the lee side of the big wall and found a spot to eat a sandwich. I shared some flapjack and fruit bread with the dogs, but they evidently don’t like peanut butter sandwiches. I hadn’t realised how much I needed that food and water and within half an hour I was more energetic, but I wish I’d taken something more substantial for the dogs – they looked hungry.

Not a great distance further we came to Haycock which is unremarkable really with a large pile of stones, hardly worthy of the term cairn, and serving no particular shelter needs either. When I think of some of the so-called shelters on the fells, I wonder who makes them. The one on the summit of Helvellyn is superb and affords enough protection to boil a kettle and read a paper, as does the one at Esk Hause on the way up to Scafell Pike, but more often than not these “shelters” are in such disrepair or so poorly thought out, one would be equally protected by merely lying down on the ground!
I wonder if anyone has thought up a top 10 shelters list.

Dropping down off Haycock is a nasty proposition if one leaves the summit south, with horribly steep scree and boulder fields that I would not enjoy even in good bright weather, so the logical thing is to continue east to the right-of-way that heads south along Nether Beck, but rather than talking this path, stay high in the valley roughly parallel with it and aiming for Middle fell which sits high between Nether Beck and Greendale Tarn. This route almost rejoins the outward path up to Seatallen, but quickly whips back towards Middle Fell presenting about a 130 metre climb up to the summit. Unfortunately, the weather had delayed us so much by the time we got half way to Middle Fell we were in darkness and walking by head-torch, slowing us down even more as I kept turning to assist the dogs with some light on rocky patches. I decided it would be unsafe to attempt Middle Fell in the dark and I assume it will still be there if I go back. To be honest I had encountered enough rough boulder ground during the day, and worse, slipped and fallen flat on my back four times, I felt it was pushing my luck to take on a hill I have never seen in these conditions. What is it they say? “Getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory” and I felt optional was safer this time, and anyway, what would I see up there? Some rocks.


The long trudge down past Greendale tarn to my car was un-amusing in the dark as the path is indistinct and the slope rocky or slippery turn by turn, but the dogs were keen to get down and went ahead finding the path most of the time on the softer ground. I never really thought about it before but dogs must be able to smell the path, or I suppose, scent previous walkers as they sometimes connected sections apparently separated by featureless slopes of bracken and heather. I know dogs have hugely sensitive noses, but it’s a mystifying super-power to me, and persuades me they hardly need the light on more forgiving ground, even though they picked their way through rocks gingerly by sight.


We finally reached the car after nearly nine hours of walking which means we averaged only 1.25 miles per hour, including stops. I would normally expect to do about 2 miles an hour in good weather, mostly down to better visibility, but I am never one to rush when the hills become hostile. I’d sooner be cold and miserable, plodding slowly, than risk injury through a more pacey descent.

Overall, it was a pretty drech and miserable walk, but then some of them are and it
makes you appreciate the good times more – as a brummie poet once wrote, “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work”.

Nominal distance 11.2m, Total Ascent 3513ft, true distance 11.4m.