Cumbria Scenes – 22.3.12

The Langdale Pikes, especially seen across the blue of Windermere, are one of the classic sights of the Lake District, reproduced in its millions. This picture shows them from a different aspect, but it is not the Pikes that are the subject of this piece, but rather the site from where the photo is taken.
Rossett Gill is a name that, for decades, set the experienced walker shuddering. An inescapable part of the long, overland route from Great Langdale to Sty Head, crossing the lower part of the Esk Hause plateau, and giving access to Scafell Pike from the east, it was infamous less from its steepness than its deeply unpleasant stoniness and looseness underfoot.
Rossett Gill had the benefit of two carefully-constructed, beautifully graded zig-zags,spreading wide across the Bowfell flank of the Gill. But hordes of impatient, unsympathetic and stupid walkers lacked the calmness and intelligence to follow the gentler slopes of the contoured route, and charged headlong, up and down the fellside, crashing the route, scraping the grass and vegetation, racking the fellside with ugly, loose, straight scars that the uninformed imagined to be paths themselves. It looked horrendous, and it was horrendous to use.
Eventually, the National Trust stepped in, fenced off the fellside to allow it to recover, and laid its constructed paths along the old zig-zags, restoring sense and harmony to the route. On my last visit, only the topmost section was untreated: it was a grim reminder of hos things had been.
But there was yet more to Rossett Gill. Wainwright devoted a page to it in The Southern Fells, tracing the remnants of an even older way, a pony route easing gently around the Bowfell slopes in silence, charm and grassy solitude, before merging into the uppermost zig-zag. Originally a route for goods smuggled out of Ravenglass, when that was the premier port of north England, little remained, easier to see from the Langdale Pikes than underfoot.
One day I had a magnificent walk around the Langdale skyline: Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Esk Pike too, descending to Esk Hause and returning towards Rossett Gill. I can’t remember if I had the possibility in mind,or if it was a spur of the moment but, tired through I was, at the furthest sweep of the zig-zag, I set out to trace the pony route.
Whilst the marching millions crunched on stone down the zig-zag path, and strode through Mickleden, I tracked my way across the silent fellside, to the tiny pool with it’s natural causeway, the hidden sheepfold, the intermittent little zigzags down a deepening green tongue, and finally, still in total solitude, down the further bank to the valley bottom, and a squelchy return to the Mickleden highway.
It was a joy at every step, far far better than the procession could ever have been.
Chris Jesty, Wainwright’s official heir, has now produced Revised Second Editions of the Pictorial Guides. To my surprise, given the hordes of walkers who followed Wainwright’s routes into the hills, many paths originally recorded have now vanished into the grass and the rock, unused and overlooked. I am glad I took my chance with the old pony route when I did, for there were far too few like me, prepared to seek out such corners. Jesty reports that in 2006, none of the path could be traced.
At least I walked it then, but it saddens me to hear that another of the paths of our ancestors has disappeared into the dust of the centuries.

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