Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Knight & the Water

Place Fell from Glenridding
Regular readers of my blog will know I often drive up early morning from the Kent/Sussex border to the Lake District and then launch straight into a fell walk - usually a lower fell.  Friends and family have not decided whether this is dedicated or crazy.  I am not sure I have the answer but for me it is about making the most of my time in the Lakes.  So in May 2011, I arrived in Patterdale near Ullswater ready to climb Place Fell and Beda Fell.  Place Fell lies on the shoreline of Ullswater, an impressive fell that overlooks and guards the valley.

It was a beautiful day with glorious sunshine and a deep blue sky and I leapt out the car full of energy for the walk and in love with life.  My rucksack was already packed and I had stopped on the way to buy some water so I put that on the roof whilst I got my rucksack from the boot.  A couple in a car across the car-park were also getting ready for a walk and we exchanged smiles and hellos then the woman came over and asked if I had change for the pay machine so we exchanged coins and off I went humming a merry tune (sometimes I forget I am not in my own bubble and other people can hear me!)

Looking back from the slopes of Place Fell
The first part of the walk took me along a little lane, across a bridge and then started the slope up the side of the mountain.  As I got above the trees, the views across Patterdale and Ullswater and across to the heights of St Sunday Crag and Arnison Crag started to open up and it was exhilarating.  After about a mile or so I reached a crossroad of paths at Boredale Hause and had my first proper view stop (yes you are right, I was out of breath and needed a break but it is always worth stopping to look at the views) and decided to have some water.  As I had that thought a vision suddenly came into my head of two bottles of water sitting on top of my car.  Oh surely I had not left my water behind?  I could not have been that daft?  With a sinking feeling I took my rucksack off and lo and behold there was no water.  Oh dear.  Not good at all on any day let alone a sunny one like this and it was so unlike me – I usually take far too much water.  I sat down on a rock and reviewed my options.  
View to Brothers Water from the slopes of Place Fell

I could either go back to the car and get it (not tempting given how much height I had gained already) or I could keep going and hope I did not get too thirsty (which would be foolhardy).  The only other alternative was to just call it a day and start again tomorrow (which filled me with disappointment).  As I sat on my rock a group of walkers were coming up the same path towards me, chatting and happy to be out on the fells.  I must have looked a picture of abject misery as after we had exchanged hellos (theirs cheery, mine less so) one of them asked me if I was ok.  I explained my problem and like a knight in shining armour, he produced from his rucksack a sealed bottle of water and said “Here you go. I could not possibly leave you looking so unhappy and we have more than enough between us”.  Oh joy!  What a lovely man!  I resisted my immediate urge to give him a big hug and kept to a profusion of thanks.  People can be so kind.
Path to Place Fell

So full of the joys of spring and humanity I fairly skipped up Place Fell (well I skipped about two metres and then my legs reminded me I was on a mountain and it was steep).  From Boredale Hause the path looks daunting to the top of Place Fell but I got to the ridge and then it was a delightful stroll to the cairn on the summit.  The views all around were superb to the High Street fells, St Sunday Crag, the length of Ullswater and some of the lower summits, including the next fell on the journey – Beda Fell.

I retraced my steps to Boredale Hause and then took the route towards Beda Fell.  Most other people were heading straight on to get to the more popular Angeltarn Pikes (another fell closely associated with the views at Ullswater) so I had the path to myself to Beda Fell.  It was a pleasant grassy route with no serious gradients to climb and several little streams to cross.  The summit was delightful and the views to the High Street range were in their full glory.  Place Fell cut off the view to the fells on the left but it was an excellent vantage point to see the whole side of Place Fell and I could see several other walkers like tiny ants making their way across the fell (when walkers stand still on surrounding fells it is hard to tell if they are trees or people and on occasion, I have been thinking someone is taking a really long break only to realise the person is a tree – is it just me that does that?)
View from Beda Fell

I retraced my steps again to Boredale Hause (I am becoming quite a fan of that spot) and then back down to Patterdale.  It was easy to spot my car in the car-park as it was the one with two bottles of water on the roof!  A new design feature perhaps?  Place and Beda Fells will always have fond memories for me as the walk was lovely.  I have never forgotten my water since then that is for sure but it was also lovely meeting such a kind stranger.  Thank you to whoever you were.
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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Lion, the Lamb & an Intrepid Climber

Helm Crag - "The Lion and the Lamb"
Helm Crag is a popular mountain near the beautiful village of Grasmere and is recognisable for the two rock formations that sit on either end of the summit, namely “The Lion and the Lamb” and “The Howitzer”.  I have climbed it before but it was misty and I had no idea what the views were like so I set forth this time with high hopes although variable weather (more of that later).

View to Grasmere Village & Lake
The stroll along the road and path towards the Easedale valley was lovely – mountains in the background and the cascades of Sour Milk Gill twinkling in the occasional bursts of sunshine.  The Lion and the Lamb beckoned me from above the trees to hurry up and get to the top and given the state of the clouds, I thought it had a point so I pressed on.  The path at the beginning is steep – make no mistake that whilst at 1,329 feet this is a low fell, it lets you know it is a true mountain.  At the top of the steep bit I was rewarded by the most amazing views towards Easedale Tarn, Silver Howe, Blea Rigg, the Coniston Fells behind, Grasmere village and lake and on the opposite side, Seat Sandal, Stone Arthur and the beginning of the Hellvelyn range.  Even though the sky only had patches of blue, it was a beautiful sight.  The weather was making for many clothing decisions though – ski jacket on or off?  Just a t-shirt or a fleece as well?  Is it raining enough for waterproof trousers?  Here I should point out that it has to be raining pretty heavily for me to resort to waterproof trousers.  There is nothing elegant about them, particularly when you are trying to put them on when it is windy.
Distant Coniston Fells

The Lion & the Lamb
From the view stop there was nothing particularly challenging until I got to the rocky summit.  Now here you can take the easy path to the side and make your way along the summit without adventure.  Or you can scramble up the Lion rock.  Never one to pass up a challenge, I chose to climb the lion and using hands, feet and knees, got to the top without incident.  What a view!  An unsuspecting retired couple approached the Lion just as I got to the top.  They told me they had no intention of climbing it this time round but they used to when they were younger.  I felt I needed history to record this moment so I hopped down from the rock, handed them the camera and asked them to take a photo of me on the top.  As I scaled back up the Lion I turned around and the man had walked really far away...his wife told me he took his photography very seriously and wanted to take a good photo.  I rose to my full height, struck a pose and waited for the photo to be taken.  His wife was right – he took his photography very seriously and my arms were flagging by the time he lowered the camera.  I think he has missed his calling as David Bailey’s apprentice!  I thanked him profusely as I absolutely loved the photo and it will capture the moment for me forever.  Thank you again whoever you were.
Me Striking a Pose on the Lion

Next I walked to the other end of the summit and eyed the more difficult proposition of the Howitzer.  Mmmmm....this looked a little larger for sure.  There were two men standing at the foot of the rock who had just decided not to attempt it.  I have never been and never want to be a rock-climber and grappling irons do not feature in my rucksack (I could not fit them in with all the clothes and lipstick anyway) but I thought I would give it a go.  So I walked around the path-side of the rock (there was a drop the other side) and tried to find a route up.  Nothing looked obvious so I tried from one position, then another.  On the third attempt I got about two-thirds of the way up and thought I could probably make it with a burst of bravery.  However, at this point the hail started and combined with the wind stepping up a gear and an absence of the required burst of bravery, I decided retreat was the better part of valour and headed cautiously back down to terra firma.  I will try it again but preferably in sunshine and with more advice on the proper route!
The Howitzer (still on my "to do" list)

The onset of hail meant the weather pattern for the day was sun, cloud, sun, rain, cloud, sun, hail and then ended on the way down with much more sun.  In other words a typical spring day in the Lake District!  After getting back to Grasmere, discarding the walking boots, donning heels and topping up my lipstick, I headed to the Drunken Duck for lunch – potato and chervil soup and a glass of something sparkly.  A perfect walking day.
The Drunken Duck Inn

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Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Valley of Holly & Carrock Beck

A snowy Blencathra in the setting sun
I have climbed Blencathra several times including on an A-Level Geography trip when I stayed at the Blencathra Centre.  This was before I got the fell-climbing bug so I was not very enthusiastic about it, particularly when we had to have a two hour class lesson after we got back down.  I cannot remember a thing from that lesson (other than doing complicated maths in your head is a good way to stay awake – sounds odd but I had to think of something as I was pretty sure my teacher had noticed my head keep falling forwards) but I decided I should give the mountains in that area another visit.  So in March 2011 I planned a walk to include Bowscale, Bannerdale Crags, Mungrisdale Common and Souther Fell.

Looking down the Valley of Holly
Bannerdale Crags
It was a beautiful day, although cold and I was looking forward to a great day walking.  The first half of Bowscale was fairly easy and I thought all that work in the gym in the previous weeks had paid off as I must be fitter. Or so I thought.  The second half was much steeper and I needed frequent view stops!  I confess that I did have the occasional “I could be sitting by a beach in Barbados” thought but pushed them to one side and kept going.  Bowscale did not disappoint.  The views from the top were wonderful.  As I have referred to in part one and part two of my ridge route blogs, once you are on the top of a mountain, you can walk for miles as you have already done a lot of the hard work.  Such was the case to Bannerdale Crags – a simple high level stroll with striking views of Blencathra (the route up to that summit looked pretty steep so I was pleased it was not on my list for the day).

Holly from High Dam near Windermere
I often look up the meaning of the names of fells as some of them are fascinating.  I do not think the word “Bannerdale” is particularly attractive but I think its meaning is.  The word “banner” means “holly” and “dale” is “valley” therefore Bannerdale is the “valley of holly” and Bannerdale Crags would be “the crags in the valley of holly”.  I think a valley of holly sounds simply lovely (if a little prickly).  That said, I saw no holly at all, which was also the case when I climbed from Hartsop, which means “The valley of the deer” and did not see any deer!

The next mountain was Mungrisdale Common.  Now here I need to be clear that in my view, Mungrisdale Common is not a mountain.  It is a flat, marshy, dull plateau with no redeeming features.  It was exhausting to get to because of the marsh and was simply not worth the effort.  It has made it onto my list of “fells never to climb again” and the only other one on that list is Armboth Fell (I will write about that another time).  Yes it was that bad.  Wainwright said it is a place best left to shepherds and sheep.  He was right and I suspect was having a joke at our expense when he decided to include it in his “Northern Fells” pictorial guide.

Sharp Edge on Blencathra from the path to Souther Fell
However, once I had escaped from the non-mountain I headed down a beautiful valley with a cool blue stream catching the sun as it meandered its way down between the fells.  Looking back I could see Sharp Edge - one of the famous narrow ridges in the Lake District that rivals Striding Edge. My final fell of the day was Souther Fell, which was a fabulous mountain and even though my legs were tired, it was a great climb, passing an area called Mousthwaite Comb (another fabulous name).  There is an interesting story about Souther Fell.  Legend has it that in 1745 several witnesses saw a line of soldiers, horses and carriages marching across Souther Fell, but when they went to look in the morning, there was no evidence of this presence – no foot prints or hoof marks.  The only solution offered was it having been some form of spectral or mirage caused by a reflection many miles away of the troops of Prince Charles marching on the West coast of Scotland.  Fascinating.

My route was now homeward bound and I headed off the fell back towards the village of Mungrisdale, where I had begun.  It was only a short route down according to my route planning but as I got to within a field of the Mill Inn and felt if I stretched I could almost touch it, the footpath veered to the right and it must have been nearly another half a mile to get back to the car!  My feet were tired and in spite of the fierce signs saying no footpath straight ahead, I did wonder whether anyone would notice if I hopped across the wall and through the field.  I have never been a rebel however and this act of disorder was too much for my conscience to bear so I dutifully followed the path to the right and the longer route round.  My drink at the Mill Inn was well deserved after nearly 12 miles and I sat with my feet up on the benches outside overlooking the stream.  

A couple of miles away from the Mill Inn is a beautiful stream called Carrock Beck.  It flows down Carrock Fell and crosses the road as it meanders on its way, creating a ford.  There is a footbridge across it and it is a wonderful place for a paddle (bare foot or wellies) and a picnic.  It is a little gem in my view and in the early afternoon when the sunshine catches the water and the cascades it looks as though someone has taken some of the stars from the sky and hidden them under the surface.  Of course I love the mountains but it is unexpected places like this, stumbled across by accident, that make the Lake District so special. 
Carrock Beck

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