Thursday, 27 September 2012

All Hail Bowfell!

Bowfell, Crinkle Crags and The Band
Pike O'Stickle
Bowfell is a pyramid-shaped mountain and stands at 2,960 feet/902 metres. The pretty name does not give a clue to the sheer scale of crags and boulders that surround and adorn it. It is often cited as a favourite by fell walkers in the Lake District as it has superb views.  Sadly, until my latest visit I could not vouch for the views as my only ascent of it was on a day where I do not think I saw anything other than my feet owing to the thick cloud.  I have been meaning to go back for a long time and now I live so close I ventured forth early one relatively sunny morning in September with my mission being the Climbers’ Traverse.

Crinkle Crags from The Band
The Climbers’ Traverse features in Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Southern Fells and the drawings he includes of the Great Slab and Bowfell Buttress really inspire the imagination so I was determined to see them for myself.  I started at Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale, taking advantage of the National Trust car-park and headed along the long track to a route called “The Band”, which although long, is a gentle ascent with nothing of any difficulty.  The views were amazing.  The Langdale Pikes could be seen in their full glory with the shattered screes of Pike O’Stickle and its large craggy summit in view most of the way, along with Crinkle Crags and Pike O’Blisco.  The views down the Langdale Valley became increasingly extensive and even a Herdy sheep was stopping to soak up the atmosphere.
Flat Crags

I made great progress to the where the path splits (why is no one around when I manage to keep up a good pace?) and headed off to the Climbers’ Traverse.  Now I have done some scary (I think) routes up fells including Sharp Edge, Jack’s Rake and Striding Edge and Climbers’ Traverse is nothing like those.  However, the path is narrow on the edge of the fell and therefore on the right heads straight down into the Mickleden Valley so you do feel quite exposed.  Each time I took a photo I had to  hold onto a rock otherwise I felt I was falling, particularly when I was trying to capture the rocks above.  I have never had vertigo but I think I may have experienced a very mild form of it along that path.
Crags & blue sky - hurrah!

Before long, the imposing and aptly named Flat Crags come into view and you start to really get the feeling that this is going to be a great route.  Around the corner, Cambridge Crags and Bowfell Buttress also appear – large vertical jagged crags that appear as though they are defending the summit and from the path, it is hard to imagine there is actually a route up.  
Bowfell Buttress

The Great Slab with Pike O'Stickle in the background
My main purpose in doing this route was to see the Great Slab.  This is exactly how it sounds – the most enormous sheet of flat rock stretching across the side of the mountain just below the summit.  I was a little concerned I had missed it as I could not see it above me anywhere so I wandered a bit further down and was just peering over the edge at the foot of Cambridge Crag to see if it was below me (sometimes I should not be let loose) when I turned around and there, right above me was simply one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen in the Lake District fells.  A vast expanse of rock pebbled with mosses and cracks at an angle on the fell.  It was as though a giant had come along and created a dining table that had tilted over time.  Mesmerising.  

The path takes you up next to Cambridge Crag amongst and over large rocks and boulders and I bravely climbed to the other side to take some photos.  The Great Slab with Pike O’Stickle in the background is my favourite.  Reaching the top of the Great Slab, I wandered off the path to stand at the top of it and look down into the valley.  It really is a unique feature and so different from the rest of Bowfell, which is large crags and many boulders.

The top of the Great Slab & rolling mountains ahead
Heady with the sight I had seen, I reached the summit of Bowfell and had the strange but frequent Lake District view of beautiful sunshine and rolling mountains in one direction and grey cloud and rain in the other!  Which way to sit whilst having a coffee was therefore not a difficult decision and I can absolutely see why so many people love Bowfell.  Even whilst the weather was far from perfect, the views were spectacular.

Admiring the sunshine in front of me, it was rather a shock when a few minutes later hailstones started pelting me from above!  The heavens had opened on Bowfell so I hot-footed it (or rather cold-footed it as it was rather chilly even with a woolly hat, gloves and ski jacket) down to Three Tarns and then back along The Band to Old Dungeon Ghyll again.

Strange grassy hillocks towards Martcrag Moor
Climbers’ Traverse rates as one of my favourite routes up a mountain now.  It was everything I hoped it would be.  However, one of the strangest sights of the day was unexpected - looking from the Climbers' Traverse towards Martcrag Moor you can see little bumpy grassy hillocks that are a result of the last Ice Age.  A sight like this along with the rock formations, views, sense of exhilaration and sheer adventure of it make Bowfell everything I love about the mountains of the Lake District.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tilly on Tour: The Lake District

black labrador Tilly
"I have been a good girl & deserve a chip"
Tilly is a five year old black Labrador and I love her.  She has a glossy coat and brown eyes that melt your heart (particularly when you have food!)  Sadly she does not belong to me but I look after her from time to time and she came on holiday for two weeks to visit me in the Lake District recently.  It was her first time in the Lakes so I just had to share her best moments.

On day one of her visit, Tilly joined me at a volunteer meeting for “Fix the Fells” at Basecamp and as she had to sit outside the meeting room she cried the whole time and every time I spoke the volume of crying increased.  I am not sure whether she was pleased to hear my voice or just knew there were KitKats inside and wanted one of those.  I suspect the latter.

Tilly in the muddy drain
After the meeting we all headed off to spend the rest of the day repairing a dry stone wall near the shores of Lake Windermere.  No one had briefed Tilly on the principles of “repair” however and with other dogs to play with she went gambolling around and kept leaping over the wall and knocking stones off!  Then she ran underneath it through the drain and covered herself (and me) in a lot of mud!  If demolishing stone walls had been the object she would have been first class.  All credit to the volunteers here, particularly Heather, as they took it all in their stride. 

"Supervising" the work of Fix the Fells
Meeting Hamish - another Fix the Fells supervisor
At the end of the day, Tilly decided to play in a muddy drain but as we walked back to the vehicles she had a swim in the lake, which got rid of a lot of the mud I am pleased to say as it was my car I was taking her home in!  However, between the site and Basecamp we were transported by a National Trust van.  Tilly decided rather than sit in the footwell she would sit on the back seat so promptly leapt into the footwell then onto the seat and sat there in the middle of the seat looking ahead and wondering why we were all taking so long to get in.  Oh dear.  One large, wet and stubborn dog on the backseat and me in charge of her!  With a lot of wrestling (and much laughter by the volunteers) I managed to get her back into the footwell (and then my penance was to sit on the wet backseat!)  An end to an eventful first day.

Tilly after a swim in Angle Tarn (waiting for a sandwich)
Mistress of all she surveys on Angletarn Pikes summit
Now for fell-walking.  I decided to ease Tilly into mountains as she is southern like me and we are not used to big hills down there.  Her first summit was Silver How (a low fell near Grasmere) and she seemed to enjoy it - especially the treats she was given at the top.  Her first swim in a tarn was in StickleTarn.  She loved the ghyll and cascades on the way up and looked like she would have been happy to stay in the tarn all afternoon.  Rain stopped play however and we headed back down.

After the initial climbs Tilly really found her mountain paws.  I took her up Angletarn Pikes where on the summit her ears were flapping in the breeze as she looked out across the view – mistress of all she surveyed.  We went onto Angle Tarn and she swam for ages and kept wanting to get back in.  Of course when I started eating my sandwiches all thoughts of water were gone and she just wanted to eat!  Those soulful eyes meant I caved in and shared them.  She skipped up Whinlatter Fell, walked around Tarn Hows and explored Rydal Caves.

Ascending Causey Pike
Her biggest mountain achievement though was the route up Causey Pike, Scar Crags and Sail from the tiny hamlet of Stair.  We went up the Gamlin End route to Causey Pike and did the proper rocky route to the summit.  With the odd bunk-up and steadying hand (for Tilly not me) we emerged on the summit unscathed and proud of ourselves.  From there we just kept going and took in Scar Crags and up the path to Sail.  I think Tilly could have managed Eel Crag as well but it was a long return walk already so we headed back.  She was scampering after flies and cascades right until the end.

On the shores of Thirlmere
Tilly’s biggest walking achievement was walking around Thirlmere.  It is about 11 miles and she did not bat an eyelid – just loved every swimming opportunity, loved meeting other dogs on the route and of course, loved the coffee and lunch breaks (do not look directly at the eyes!)

We have also toured the local hostelries.  Tilly’s list includes the Drunken Duck, Mill Inn at Mungrisdale, Sticklebarn Tavern, Wainwright’s at Chapel Stile, Wilf’s Cafe in Grasmere (where an Australian couple took a photo of her to send back to their family in Perth – yes, she is now international), Tweedies in Grasmere and the Dog and Gun in Keswick.  Her favourite was the Dog and Gun as they have treats you can buy for dogs at the bar.

Eyeing up a sandwich.....
Spending time in the National Trust office in Grasmere she promptly won the hearts of everyone who saw her and sat so quietly and was so well-behaved that it was hard to imagine her as the same dog that was leaping stone walls and being wrestled into the footwell.

At the Drunken Duck
I loved having Tilly around.  It was nice to walk with her on the fells and see her enjoy swimming in tarns and lakes.  The eyes always got me however – she perfected the “I have been a really good girl, I deserve a chip” look for sure.  I am hoping she returns for another visit soon – I miss Tilly!
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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Langdales & The Lurcher Puppy

Balancing Rock on Stickle Ghyll
I love walking on my own, as a couple or in large groups.  I like the solitude on my own and I am very independent but I like the sharing and laughter with others as well and I am lucky to have a lot of family and friends to walk with (whether they feel they are quite so lucky being dragged on long walks is another matter – one of my best friends would say not!)  Having taken my friend’s family to Blackmoss Pot in the Langstrath Valley for some wild swimming a few days before, they were keen for me to arrange a longer mountain walk and I was happy to oblige – I chose for the occasion the Langdale Pikes via Stickle Tarn as the cascades and waterfalls on the way up the Stickle Ghyll and the rugged background to Stickle Tarn is I think one of the most wonderful parts of the Lake District.
Catching the sunshine

Getting a lift across the Ghyll
It turned out to be a beautiful afternoon and we set off from the National Trust car-park at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel (noting Sticklebarn Tavern for the end of the walk) in high spirits.  We were four adults, two children and one Lurcher puppy called Tully in total and it was Tully’s first mountain walk.  The route up Stickle Ghyll was beautiful.  The white water danced on the dark rocks and caught the sunshine like diamond buds opening up in the spring.  One rock was in the middle of the Ghyll and it looked like it could fall any moment but I bet it will still be there in a hundred years.  I could have watched it all day but the route ahead beckoned and we headed up the path (created by the “Fix the Fells” team) towards Stickle Tarn.  Tully was leading the way and with the occasional “how much further until the tarn Tanya” (childhood flashbacks of me asking my parents “are we nearly there yet” and appreciating for the first time how annoying that might be) from the two children we made steady progress.  Here I can cheer because unlike usual, I was not at the back of the group!  Hurrah!  In fact, I was often at the front!

Pavey Ark & Stickle Tarn
As we crossed the Ghyll, Tully was given a lift across and with one last push we made it to Stickle Tarn with the imposing crag of Pavey Ark backing it.  I looked around as everyone stopped and took it in.  I knew they would love it and they did.  I was content just to soak up the atmosphere but the two children and their Dad decided to go for a wild swim!  Rather them than me that is for sure although I admire their bravery.

After the swim, a coffee break and lot of star jumps to warm up from the swim, we headed up Harrison Stickle.  This was not something the two children were delighted about the prospect of but when they knew it was not optional, they leapt to the front and headed on up.  When I am walking in this area I am always on the lookout for people heading up Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark.  Jack’s Rake is a diagonal scramble up a route that is very dangerous.  Having done it once, I would never do it again but cannot stop myself watching others.  We spotted someone in a red waterproof about half way up and I was totally distracted the whole way up Harrison Stickle watching his or her progress.  However, there were also two sheep near the Rake having a mid afternoon graze without a care in the world!  Herdwick sheep are amazing.

Pike O'Stickle
The person in the red coat seemed to make it to the top and before long we were all on the top of Harrison Stickle looking out at the wonderful views around to the tiny Helm Crag and beyond to the Helvellyn range, the Coniston fells, Bowfell, Crinkle Crags and the many other fells surrounding us.  The summit was busy as you would expect for such a popular mountain.  Some people came and went quickly and others lingered.  Whatever their motivation though we all shared the same sense of achievement of being on a summit.

Web of Streams - Mickleden Beck
The plan had been to head down after Harrison Stickle but we decided (much to the angst of the children) to head onto Pike O’Stickle.  The last time I was on that fell it was covered in mist so there were no views at all and up close, the Pike really is a sight to behold and looks unassailable.  We found a route up though and the children found their mountain goat feet.  Tully had to sit this one out though as he was getting tired (either that or his owners were getting tired....)  On the top of Pike O’Stickle we met the man who had been climbing Jack’s Rake in the red coat.  He said there were moments when he was “terrified”.  

Tully's "carry me" eyes...
Dungeon Ghyll Force
Given Loft Crag was only a short diversion on the route back down to Dungeon Ghyll, we strolled over that mountain as well and stopped on the top to admire the view down to Mickleden Beck.  The myriad of tributaries looked like a spiders web glistening in the sunshine and we stood in awe for ages.  The homeward journey was upon us and we headed down the mountain.  Tully put on a face with eyes that said “carry me” and was promptly carried over the rocky parts (never works for me).  We walked down past Dungeon Ghyll Force and unlike the cascades of Stickle Ghyll, this waterfall is long and thin but still with a beauty of its own as it plummets in all its glory down the craggy mountain side.  As the Ghyll reaches the lower slopes near the car-park, it skates over rocks that you have to find your way across.  With the sun shining towards us, I managed to capture my own rainbow in the water.  A really wonderful moment at the end of a lovely walk that it was great to share with friends. 
More photos available here....
Creating my own rainbow...

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