Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Coledale Horseshoe (finally!)

18 months after the “Not quite the Coledale Horseshoe” incident, I ventured back to the area. This time I was without a large group of friends but had the lovely Tilly for company. 

Scrambling up Grizedale Pike
The Coledale Horseshoe from Braithwaite is a walk of approximately 11 miles and 1,250 metres of ascent (depending on which fells you include). I was planning on the whole horseshoe but was going to take each mountain at a time and make my decisions as I went along. 

We set off from the small car-park near Braithwaite at the foot of Grizedale Pike with tantalising patches of blue sky scattered across the horizon but large clumps of cloud threatening to hide the views. It is safe to say that much of the ascent on this route is steep and before long I was taking regular view stops up the grassy slope. The views to Skiddaw, Bassenthwaite and to other parts of the Coledale Horseshoe were lovely and the cloud gave the whole area a mysterious look. At one point as I looked back down the mountain, the cloud filled the valley on my right, threatening to engulf us but it seemed to get “caught” on the ridge and just stayed where it was. The path goes on the edge of the Hospital Plantation, so-called because of the old isolation hospital that has been turned into a hotel.
Swirling mists on the ascent

The good thing about a steep ascent is you get rewarded with far-reaching views very quickly. However, as grass turned to rocks and I inched my way up the final scramble, I did comment to Tilly (an excellent listener) that perhaps Grizedale Pike would be enough for one day and we would do the Coledale Horseshoe another time. I also made a mental note that perhaps the “Not quite the Coledale Horseshoe” route had merits after all (given this was where we had missed Grizedale Pike altogether). The moment I stepped onto the summit though all thoughts of giving up there were gone. The views across to Hopegill Head, Whinlatter and the rest of the route ahead were spectacular. Rolling layers of mountains spread out in all directions.

After a brief coffee stop next to a random fence post, we headed off to Hopegill Head, which is only a short stroll away but the path gives you a view into the valley towards Hobcarton. The cloud came back again here but only briefly as the sun was starting to melt it away. I was tempted to add Whiteside to the walk at this point as the narrow ridge between the two mountains is one of the best in the Lake District in my view but decided it would be too much for one day. Yes – this was the same person who only 20 minutes before had almost given up before the first summit so the fact I was even considering it was astonishing!

Crummock Water & Mellbreak from Grasmoor
We pressed on to Coledale Hause and up the path towards the dip between Grasmoor and Crag Hill. This was decision time. Should I include Grasmoor on the route? The initial ascent looked steep but I hadn’t been on Grasmoor since I climbed the screes from Rannerdale (a long story) and it would give views to Crummock Water and Buttermere so off we headed. The sun cast a warm buttery glow across the fells and Tilly scampered around as happy as anything. 

It was definitely worth the additional height and distance. We had the summit to ourselves and had lunch looking over Crummock Water. I stared mesmerised at the surrounding fells and Tilly stared mesmerised at my ham sandwich. 

Taking it easy
The next fell was Wandope. I have been on Wandope several times before on different routes and I am always captured by the ridge of Crag Hill from there and the view of Addacombe Hole. The path curves around the ridge from the Crag Hill path to the summit and it is on a slope so it gives a very dramatic feeling to an otherwise quite nondescript fell. Our fourth summit of the day and we were still going strong.

The path to Crag Hill was very straightforward and is lined by cairns. The summit is nothing spectacular but what is spectacular is the ridge between Crag Hill and Sail. This narrows in places in an arĂȘte with a few scrambles adding a little frisson to the walk. I always keep a close eye on Tilly at these points but she has four-paw drive and I think was a mountain goat in a previous life as she takes it all in her stride and usually just turns around wondering why I am taking so long. A rocky scramble up the opposite slope brought us to the summit of Sail, our final summit of the day. 
Still taking it easy

Given the arĂȘte and scramble up to it, the summit is surprisingly just a grassy dome, easily missed as you have to divert from the path. What it lacks in interest here though, it makes up for in the views to Skiddaw and Blencathra and Grizedale Pike. Its grassy slopes also make an excellent place to sit down and soak up these views. With the sun still shining, we sat there for ages just gazing ahead.
Grizedale Pike

Heading back over the other side of Sail, we then took the path down to Force Crag Mine and the mine road. You can add Outerside and Barrow to the Horseshoe back to Braithwaite but we were both feeling like we had done enough for one day and the walk back was still a good three miles even without additional summits. Tilly enjoyed a splash in the stream as we arrived on the mine road and I am always reminded of a scene from a John Wayne film when I see the mine buildings. They are reminiscent of the Wild West scenes.
Force Crag Mine

A gentle stroll along the mine road brought us back to the car-park tired but very happy walkers. An excellent route for a full day walking and it was nice to do the actual Coledale Horseshoe at last!

There are lots of places to eat or stay in the Braithwaite and Keswick area - have a look at the Go Lakes website.
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Monday, 24 March 2014

Sledging on Skiddaw

Near the summit of Skiddaw
A crisp, cold day with blue skies and sunshine beckoned with snow-capped fells surrounding Keswick. I had driven up from Sussex that morning and had Tilly for company who absolutely loves the snow so I wanted to head up to the snow line as quickly as possible. Skiddaw was my mountain of choice. It is one of my favourites in the northern Lakes as it dominates the skyline and I have fond childhood memories of it.

The summit was hidden underneath cloud initially, as though Skiddaw had its own cloud factory but it started to clear quickly. We headed from the car-park at the end of the no-through road up the zigzag path. It starts very steeply but the benefit of that is you get amazing views across Derwent Water, the north western fells and Blencathra very quickly. The dark clouds were broken by rays of sunshine striking through onto the surface of the lake and casting shadows across the fells. 
Derwent Water in the breaking cloud

There is a monument on the route dedicated to the shepherds of the Hawell family and the inscription is beautiful:
"Great shepherd of thy heavenly flock
These men have left our hill
Their feet were on the living rock
Oh guide and bless them still"

Before long, we were starting to reach tiny patches of snow. There was barely enough to make a snowball but Tilly didn’t care – she started “sledging” as soon as she saw it. This is where she rolls on the ground then sticks her back legs out and pulls herself forward with her front paws. I first saw her do this when climbing Helvellyn in November 2012 and it is a funny sight to behold. It was her first snow of the winter and she was clearly making the most of it!

First sledging of the walk
Another ten minutes or so saw us in proper snow. There was no holding Tilly back at this point. She rolled, sledged, jumped and generally had a wonderful time in the snow. Walkers passing by even stopped to watch. I had to keep reminding myself to look at the views as well as Tilly. As we took the path around the slopes of Skiddaw Little Man, the view to the valley and the Caldale fells opened up and the sunshine peeping through the clouds lit up the snow. The speckled snow on Latrigg looked like a satellite photo from space.
Blencathra in the sunlight
Looking to Little Man

It was time for microspikes here as the snow was compacted and frozen and I saw several people slip. Tilly has inbuilt microspikes so she was fine. 

The final part of the ascent to Skiddaw summit is steeper and with the snow being quite deep it was hard work at times. Tilly found another dog to play with and they went running around the slopes together. This was when I learnt a valuable lesson.

Tilly is very obedient and always comes back on command and she never really strays very far away from me. However, whilst playing with the other dog (a Collie with much more energy than her) she ended up quite a distance in front. When they stopped playing, she thought I was ahead of her (optimistic given how slowly I usually walk) so started running to catch up with me. I had been watching her carefully the whole time so I called her to let her know I was in fact behind her. Usually this would have been fine but with the wind having stepped up in speed and volume and blowing in the opposite direction it threw my voice right back at me so she couldn’t hear me. She was stopping at every person ahead trying to find me but going uphill so there was no way I could have caught up. Fortunately I can whistle for England so I gave my loudest and most shrill whistle to get her attention. She stopped in her tracks immediately and looked back (as did most of the other people and dogs on the slope). I then waved my arms around like a woman possessed so she could spot me. I was wearing bright pink so I must have been quite a sight! She then sprinted back to me, covering me with kisses and wagging her tail with enthusiasm as she was so pleased to find me. It was a lesson I will not forget in a hurry. I have added a dog whistle to the equipment I take with me now just in case.

Heading to the summit
The rest of the walk was uneventful. The view to Ullock Pike and Longside as we reached the south top, with the ridge covered in snow was beautiful. Tilly stayed beside me like a magnet and we soon reached the summit. The wind was bitter at that height though and the wind shelter was full of people trying to escape the cold so we didn’t stay long. The views were superb all around towards the coast, Bassenthwaite and down to the valley below but sadly my camera iPhone battery had died so I couldn’t take a photo! 
Ullock Pike & Longside

We headed back down the same route and Tilly made the most of the snow before it petered out and we got back to the car. A spectacular day for walking made all the more special sharing it with Tilly and her passion for “sledging”.

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Friday, 21 February 2014

Catbells & Tilly

Tilly on Catbells

A crisp sunny day beckoned and I had Tilly the beautiful Labrador for company so we headed for the fells. Catbells was our destination. Tilly was beyond excited as we walked through the woods on the Cumbria Way in the grounds of the Lingholm Estate, running back and forth, jumping at leaves and paddling in the stream. She is such lovely company.

As we reached the gate, we got our first glimpse of Catbells ahead and to the right, the distinctive summit of Causey Pike, where Tilly had found her mountain paws the year before (we took the route with the scramble). Since then she has climbed around 60 Wainwright’s, not bad for a Sussex Labrador.
Guarding the gate

Catbells is a low mountain but the views from very early on are spectacular. Within a few minutes we were looking at Bassenthwaite Lake snaking away up the valley, Skiddaw and Blencathra dominating the northern view and the beautiful north-western fells opening up around us. All this just a couple of hundred metres from the road. The sky was a deep blue and there was a frost on the top of the higher fells, as though Mother Nature had sprinkled icing sugar all over them.

Tilly was more interested in the smells and sights at ground level than the landscape but each to their own. As we got higher we gained the ridge and Derwent Water and Borrowdale came into view. It was early morning and the sun was casting dark shadows in the valley and catching the dew and lake like jewels. 

The view from the summit
Catbells may be a low fell but it has one or two areas that give it the feel of a much more adventurous mountain. Whilst the ridge is a glorious walk with views all around, there are a couple of rocky scrambles along the way where hands are just as helpful as feet. Even in dry weather the rock is so worn from the millions of feet that have traversed the slopes over the centuries that it can still be slippery. The first scramble passes a plaque dedicated to Thomas Arthur Leonard – the “father” of the Open Air Movement. It is easy to miss it.

Tilly took the scrambles in her stride and before long we arrived on the summit. There is no cairn but it doesn’t need one as the rocky surface has a charm all of its own and there are plenty of grassy slopes to sit and admire the views. An unsuspecting walker soon discovered Tilly trying to share his morning coffee and biscuits and he very kindly caved in and shared them (it is her golden brown eyes that just melt your soul - don’t look directly at them!)
Tilly on the summit

After soaking up the views we headed down the other side of Catbells to walk back along the shores of Derwent Water. This is one of my favourite walks. There is such a contrast of textures and terrains between rocky crags, soft grassy summits and fields, woods, streams and the lake shore. It is a little piece of heaven.

Walking the shores of Derwent Water
Being true to her Labrador nature, Tilly loves swimming so she chased sticks, splashed, swam and paddled at every opportunity. The path clings to the lake shore for much of the return walk so she had a wonderful time. She also played “chicken”. This is where she suddenly bursts into a run at tremendous speed and then dashes towards you at full throttle, darting to the left or right at the last second. It is so funny to watch her enjoying herself but I always have a slight worry that her last minute swerve will fail and she’ll collide with me and knock me flying! No doubt she is saving that for when there is a muddy bog or a tarn to break my fall.... Fortunately she reserves this game for family, not strangers.

The fells around Watendlath and Grange provide a stunning backdrop to Derwent Water and with Blencathra and Skiddaw appearing once again it was a glorious walk back towards Portinscale. Unexpectedly, in a clearing in Brandlehow Wood near Hawse End is a large pair of wooden hands. This sculpture was commissioned in 2002 to mark 100 years of the National Trust in the Lake District as Brandlehow Woods was the first purchase by the National Trust. 
The wooden sculpture

Blencathra beyond the jetty
We returned to Portinscale through the woods again. A really lovely walk made even more special by sharing it with my favourite four-legged friend.
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