Sunday, May 29, 2016

Four Days In The Lake District.

The beautiful valley of Langdale
For a long time now I have been promising myself that I would visit the Lake District and explore what this famous honey pot of hillwalking has to offer but for one reason and another I never got around to it but last weekend I took the plunge and I must say it didn't disappoint.

Friday May  20th;

After getting the overnight ferry from Dublin I caught the 06.55 train to Crewe and then the Virgin Pendolino train (very nice) as far as Oxenholme where another train saw me emerge into a sunny Windermere at 11.40. A half an hour later than I had hoped which meant that I had to wait until 12.25 for my next bus to Coniston from where I would start my walk. I arrived in the village at 13.20 and after a quick purchase of a canister of gas I set off up the track towards "The Old Man" 803 mtrs. The weather was very nice with some sunshine and broken high cloud but the forecast was poor with heavy rain due to arrive in the late afternoon so I didn't hang about as I was anxious to get some ground covered before the bad weather arrived. A good track leads easily up through the pretty woodland by the village and soon enough I emerged into open ground with nice views of the old mining area and the rugged east face of Brim Fell. If I had more time I would have headed across the short distance to visit the youth hostel and say hi to Jacob Richmond who is now in charge of it and with whom I enjoyed a fine day out in Snowdonia in January but it would have to wait for another time. The good track made for relatively easy going and it didn't take too long to reach the lake called Low Water that nestles under the crags that rise to the plateau above. A wee rest here and I set off up the remaining 250 metres to the summit.
Beckoning me on

Towards Black Sails


Looking back towards the village and Coniston Water


There weren't many people about and the views from the top were lovely but it was windy and decidedly chilly so I didn't dally and set off along the easy ground to Brim Fell 795 mtrs. What a delight the ground hereabouts is. Short cropped grass and dry ground makes for delightful walking. I wager that you could play golf on most of the massif and not have to worry too much about losing your ball. Next was the drop to the col of Levers Hawse (It takes a while to get used to these non Gaelic names hereabouts) with a straightforward 130 metre climb to the next top Swirl How 804 mtrs. This is a lovely vantage point with steep drops on three fronts and wide-ranging views from the sea to the Scafells and further afield. To the south the clouds started to look ominous and I was starting to focus on where I would make my home for the night. I originally had thought that I would drop down towards Little Langdale and find a spot for my tent there but the afternoon had been so good I had hoped to reachRed Tarn between the Pike of Blisco and Cold Pike but as I followed the spur after Great Carrs the first drops of rain arrived so I made a beeline southwest into the rough valley and found a pretty dry level spot at around the 420 mtr contour where I wasted no time in pitching my tent and getting myself sorted before the poor weather hit. I had managed to get in a 3 hour 45 minute day and felt I had made reasonable progress. Thankfully the rain didn't really set in until I had finished preparing my meal and as I had had little sleep the previous night it was no hardship to settle into my sleeping bag straight away after dinner and try to sleep. This I did but the weather got quite bad around midnight and the strong wind threatened to flatten my tent at times. Still exhaustion won the day and sleep returned eventually.
The summit of The Old Man

Lovely undulating easy walking



Towards Skiddaw

Towards Bowfell and the Scafells
Home sweet home. Just before the rain as well :)


Saturday May 21st;
A wee bit extra water in the stream

The gentle stream that that ran near my tent last evening was this morning a whitewater torrent but the rain had temporarily ceased so I emerged to do my morning ablutions at almost 9am. I was strangely refreshed so I reckoned I must have slept better than I thought. My Alpkit Delta tent had kept me bone dry overnight and the mild breeze had almost dried the exterior completely. I wasted no time getting myself sorted and I was all fed and packed and on the move well before 10am. I wasn't under any illusions that the day was going to be good but it always helps to get packed up and underway in the dry. I climbed back up to the shoulder of the ridge and dropped down to the Wrynose Pass and rose easily to the Red Tarn. By the time I reached here the rain had once again returned and I was also immersed in the cloud so it was a map and compass exercise for the remainder of the day. From the tarn I followed the track west as it rose towards Crinkle Crags. My views were limited to say the least and the only remarkable thing was that the wind rose in speed and dropped in temperature as I got higher. Finally I reached a quite awkward rock step that was polished and ran with water and which required my full attention as I climbed it with the heavy bag but it was only a few moves and I was soon at the summit 860 mtrs. One of the problems with following a path is that sometimes it might not be going in the direction you want and so it proved after the summit when I briefly followed a path that went west (and down) but I quickly realized my mistake and I returned to the crest and for the next kilometer or so I traversed rough ground before reaching Three Tarns pass from where I climbed the 180 mtrs to the summit of Bowfell 903 mtrs where I had a rest and a bite to eat.
A brief clearing with fleeting views into Langdale


A busy Scafell Pike summit

The rain had stopped by now but the wind was still brisk and cold so I donned dry gloves and an extra layer and set off towards Esk Pike 885 mtrs which would be the next top. Despite being in cloud the whole way navigation was straightforward as once again there was a good track underfoot and only the occasional check of the compass was required to make correct progress. Thus far I had had the day to myself but when I reached Esk Hause I reached the hoards that were heading for Scafell Pike which at 977 mtrs is the highest in England. I joined the caravan and eventually reached a very noisy and crowded summit. I had another bite to eat here and then set off down the easy path towards WasdaleHead where I hoped to find a good place to pitch my tent for the night. As I reached somewhere around the 700 mtr contour I started to emerge under the cloud and there seemed to be a marked improvement in the day. The odd glimpse of sunshine could be seen and to my left big crags loomed out of the mist on Scafell. Finally the mists cleared and I was treated to gorgeous views of Wast Water and the mountains that encompass it. The verdant valley at its head was beautiful and looked to be a very inviting place to spend the evening. As I neared the valley floor I spied some likely grassy ground alongside the river and I was delighted to find it was ideal for the tent. Okay there was a river walkway running alongside it but it was such a nice spot I reasoned it was too good a place to pass up. And so it proved to be. A few people passed by but in the main I was in blissful quiet with only the soothing noise of the river, lambs and birdsong to distract me. The weather had also cleared up completely and it was a beautiful evening to just chill out and as I had my tent set up by 17.30 I had a nice long evening to enjoy.

The rugged cliffs of Scafell appear

Wast Water looking great

Looking towards Wasdale Head

A delightful spot for my tent

Great Gable looking...great
Sunday  May 22nd;

I rose to greet a lovely calm dry morning and even though the tops were cloud covered I had a feeling that the cloud would burn off through the day. I had decided to travel as far as the Honister Pass today and now all I had left to choose was how to get there. I had a few options. First to take the direct route and climb Great Gable (899mtrs) from the head of the valley or I could climb Kirk Fell (802 mtrs) first and then climb Great Gable. Either of these options would involve a long steep unremitting slog to the summit and they would probably have been my preferred options had the day promised poor weather but with it being such a nice morning I opted for the longer choice and headed for Red Pike (828 mtrs) first which would make for a longer day with more climbing. After a nice breakfast when I could relax and enjoy my beautiful surroundings I packed up and walked through the lambs as far as the pub beyond the carpark and I crossed the river and followed the track into the valley for a kilometer or so before I started to climb diagonally left until I was past Bull Crags and I then followed the steep gully to the easier ground above Dora Head. I was finding the going fairly tough but the views were an ample distraction and compensation for my efforts. The summits were still cloud covered but only just and as I reached the summit of Red Pike things lifted so I was able to enjoy views as well. From here it was just about 1.5 kilometers to Scoat Fell (843 mtrs) and new vistas were to be enjoyed down to Ennerdale and the mountains stretched away to the north.

Towards Bruntwaite

Back down to whence I came


Towards Steeple with Ennerdale beyond


Wasdale Head valley

Looking back towards Scoat Fell


Kirk Fell

Wast Water peering through
Another 1.5 kilometers saw me at the summit of Pillar 850 mtrs where I enjoyed a bite to eat and then negotiated the easy 3+ kilometers to reach Black Sail Pass before climbing the 260 mtrs to the top of Kirk Fell. The day was now a stunner with warm sun predominating and staying hydrated was the major concern. I was feeling a bit tired and the prospect of the 280 mtr pull to the top of Great Gable was a bit daunting. As is usual the fear was worse than the reality and I actually felt quite strong and reached the busy top without too much bother. What a lovely spot to relax a while and soak up the sun and the views. After my break it was a short drop to to the col before Green Gable (802 mtrs) which I climbed over and continued in a northerly direction until I joined the coast to coast path which led towards the pass. I was tempted to stay at the hostel that sits right on the pass but with the weather so good and after lugging my tent and food this far I opted to camp at around the 500 mtr contour with nice views all around. I relaxed after a big 8 hour day when I had climbed over 1800 mtrs and the first brew of tea went down a treat. It got quite chilly later on but it kept any midgies at bay but I was still tucked up in my tent well before dark. I felt I had seen some of the area at its best.
The Scafells looking great

Great Gable


The way way back



Another great wildcamp spot


Monday May 23rd;

Today was the day that I had to return home so I needed to reach somewhere I could get transport back to Windermere where I could catch my trains etc back home. I had decided to drop down into the pretty valley below and then follow the coast to coast path as far as the pass below High Raise 762mtrs which I would climb and from there make my way into the Langdale valley where I could catch a bus. It was disappointingly misty when I got up but again it was light and promised to clear. The walk down into the valley was a joy. There is undoubtedly a tranquil beauty to such places and with its pretty cottages and vibrant woodland where Cuckoos competed with each other for supremacy I was suitably enthralled. I walked as far as the hostel beyond Johnny's Wood (which had several tents pitched outside it) and went from there to the sleepy hamlet of Stonethwaite and passed on through the campsite. I had to divert several hundred meters upstream at Bleak Row to cross the river (footbridge) and then I rejoined the coast to coast path which led steadily to the pass. Here I met a gentleman who seemed confused as to where to head to next and the lack of any obvious cairns crossing the boggy pass seemed to phase him. I set him on the direction for Grasmere and set off up the gentle slope towards High Raise. I couldn't help but wonder how he would have coped if there had been a gale blowing and dense cloud had covered the way. As it was it was now a beautiful sunny warm day and I really enjoyed a short rest at the excellent viewpoint at the summit.
Impressive stonework at Honister Pass



Stonethwaite


Once again entering the open country..Eagle Crag..I was going left

I decided to set off for Harrison Stickle 736mtrs some 2.5 kilometers distant which looked a lovely promontory. Wonderful easy walking on dry ground followed and I really enjoyed the feeling of wide open space that the plateau provided. After the stickle I descended the good track to Stickle Tarn which nestles under the impressive cliffs of Pavey Arc. I was making decent time and rather than descend directly towards the valley below I decided to prolong the fun and continue along the long spur that went as far as Silver Howe where I could descend to the village of Chapel Stile where I could catch my bus. The next four kilometers were actually a bit tougher than they first appeared and the path was full of little rises and drops and twists and turns but it was still a real joy and privilege to be there on such a day. Eventually the path to the valley dropped steeply down a deep gully and soon I was entering the beautiful village with its immaculately presented gardens. I arrived at the bus-stop at 15.45 to find that there wouldn't be any bus to Ambleside until 17:20 which would make it tight going to reach Oxenholme by 19:00 when my train south departed so I decided to chance hitching. I walked to the edge of the village and stood in a nice shady spot and stuck out my thumb. My usual good luck seemed to be deserting me when after twenty minutes no one had stopped but then a guy in a large van pulled over and I was sorted. Well at least I thought I was sorted but when the sat-nav told him to turn left at the first junction we came to I was once again at the roads edge. I couldn't help but laugh out loud as I must have set something of a record for the shortest lift in history. It had been a total of 250 metres. Still my luck held and a young couple gave me a drive to the edge of Ambleside a few minutes later and I was sorted.


Looking across to Great Gable

The way ahead with the hills from day 1 beyond

The long spur was just too inviting to pass up.


Harrison Stickle, Pavey Arc and Stickle Tarn


Chapel Stile..Journey end...or is that the beginning