Cumbria Scenes – 31.5.12

Upper Eskdale

And last, we come to Upper Eskdale.
The tourists have all gone away, trailing back towards the coast down the long lanes of the valley, or toughing it out on the steep hairpins to Hard Knott. The walkers are left alone to approach the still-distant head of Eskdale.
Like the valley itself, Upper Eskdale goes through three contrasting phases. First is the low-level, steady march from Brotherilkeld (locally pronounced Butterilket) at the foot of Hard Knott, to Throstlegarth, at the foot of Lingcove Beck falls. At first the valley is wide and green: a new path, diverting walkers away from  Brotherilkeld itself, follows the river. But the bluffs on its far side soon close in, the walls grow narrower, the path hugs the river because there is nowhere else for it to go, and the bridge is reached at the point where the only way now is up.
But not straight on: Lingcove Beck tumbles from its hidden valley, but the Esk disappears to the left, unseen, impossible to follow in its Gorge. The way onwards crosses the bridge and starts up a steep, narrow trod, levelling out precariously above the impassable Esk Gorge, leading into  a wilderland of meandering, mossy land. The wall of the Scafell Massif rises imposingly, the route turning towards Scafell Pike and Ill Crag, the very scene shown in the first of this series of photos and accounts.
And then the path emerges into the vastness of the uppermost part of Eskdale, the scene in this photo. The river, already immense, so high in the hills, loops lazily between wide banks. It seems impossible that so big and flat a space can be found this high, among the surrounding immensities. Everything is dwarfed: there could be a thousand people strewn about this place and each would see themselves as alone, removed from all the others.
Beyond, Eskdale tapers upwards, between walls growing nearer and more forbidding. Somewhere above are the first traces of the River Esk, somewhere beyond the path expires on the final climb to Esk Hause.
To my shame, I’ve never been that way. Few people do. The highest foot Pass in the Lakes is one of the least frequented. Few come this way to cross to Borrowdale. They come for the mountains, for the Pike, and the miles are long enough and hard enough to reach the highest land without walking all the way to Esk Hause and following a difficult and stony ridge back.
But all of us should visit the Upper Esk at least once in our lives. The beauty of the fells and mountains of Lakeland is that they are human sized: unlike the Scottish highlands or the Cambrian Mountains, they don’t overbear, they don’t overwhelm.
Except in this one place, far from the world, in more senses than one, where we look up at grandeur.
Eskdale is, after all, the purest valley.

Cumbria Scenes – 30.5.12

Middle Eskdale

Middle Eskdale is that section of the valley that is designed by the road. This is the part of Eskdale to which the tourists come, hundreds of them brought daily by Laal Ratty, as many driving into or through Eskdale, through the villages that decorate its quiet environs. They walk besides the river, visit the church, visit Stanley Ghyll Force, they make little expeditions onto the walls of Eskdale, miniature peaks, lonely tarns. They rest, relax,eat chocolate.
The road from Ravenglass and the coast follows the Mite flank of Muncaster Fell until the ridge dips, and road and Ratty bear across to Eskdale. Some five miles further on, those with a taste for steep curves and tricky manoeuvres with the brakes escape over the shoulder of land to the east that lies behind Harter Fell’s pyramidal form: the infamous Hard Knott Pass.
This photo is taken from Border End, on Hard Knott fell, looking down on the old Roman Fort that is now claimed to be the southernmost element of Hadrian’s Wall. But the valley, wide and lush, lies in the centre of the eye, Middle Eskdale, extending itself to the activities of hundreds.
At the lowest part lies Eskdale Green, a straggling village at the foot of the Birker Moor Road, visited by two stops on the Ratty. The Outward Bound Centre occupies this part of the valley, screened by the lush trees that thicken and gather all through the valley. Then there is Dalegarth, where the little trains are turned around for the journey back to the coast. Boot, the capitol of Eskdale, a tiny hamlet under the Boat How Ridge, the gateway to Burnmoor and its Tarn. Just beyond it, the foothills around Eel Tarn and Siney Tarn, the southernmost ground of the Scafell Range, and Eskdale’s old inn, the Woolpack.
On the south side of the valley lies Harter Fell, a graceful cone that encourages even the timid to think of a spot of fellwalking, and the line of outcrops comprising Crook Crag and the superior Green Crag, marking the spot where the lonely wilderness of Birker Moor resolves into the Lakeland fells we love.
Middle Eskdale has come to terms with the tourists, without giving up any part of its soul. It allows them to share what it has, openly and freely, but does not compromise. It keeps the balance between the valley of Cumbrian farmers, and the hordes who come to admire, and it does so effortlessly.
And it beckons onwards, to the high fells at its head, granting the richest of its favours only to those who are prepared to put on their boots and put some effort into it.

Cumbria Scenes – 29.5.12

Lower Eskdale

The valley of Eskdale, born under the eaves of the highest fells in England, descending to a lonely, quiet estuary letting onto the Irish Sea, is a treasure to all discerning visitors to the Lake District. It has often, by many people, been described as the purest valley in the Lakes.
That’s an odd description, and I’ve yet to read any definition of the meaning of ‘pure’ in this context. I’d venture a guess that, at least in part, it refers to Eskdale not having a Lake or two with which to attract tourists, though that would imply that those who do not seduced by sparkling waters are, in some fashion, more serious.
Be that as it may, I’d still go along with the description. From the magnificent rock scenery at its head to the lonely sands as the Esk finally emerges from the gentle foothills of the pastoral lower valley, Eskdale is a delight. A balance of strength, serenity, drama and beauty.
Full of contrasts, Eskdale breaks into three stages, each of which deserve a separate word. The photo above is an awesome aerial shot of Lower Eskdale, seen from the air as only it can. Here, within sight of the estuary, Eskdale is a place of calm and beauty, of green pastures, working farms, low walls offering an intimation of what is to come further on.
Lower Eskdale turns its back on the world. The road through Eskdale, en route to Hard Knott Pass, avoids it. The only access for traffic is an unsignposted lane, meandering through the sylvan peace of the place. It’s a beautiful drive, worth omitting a visit to Ravenglass for, but its quietness is its joy, so take care not to draw attention to it.
The Lower end of the valley turns its back upon the tourists. It offers them no great fells, stirring views, sparkling waters, or even little tea-shops offering cream cakes. Such things it leaves for the more commercially oriented middle part of the valley. Lower Eskdale gets on with its work, neither friendly or unfriendly.
That such places can continue to exist in the Lakes, and especially so close to great attractions, is a minor miracle, and this part of the Valley should be treated as such. Pass through, once in a while, take in the quiet, but don’t spoil it.

Cumbria Scenes – 28.5.12


A Country Diary
Guardian August 8th 1994

Trudging round the Helvellyn tops on a scorching hot Saturday in July is hardly a recipe for solitude, peace and quiet but, at least, there were entertaining moments. As expected, the fells were “wick wi’ foawk” – hundreds of people crawling up and down the edges, little matchstick figures against the sky, scores milling about, shirtless, on the summit and long processions slowly moving up from the valleys.
We joined one procession on the Mires Beck approach from Glenridding, being passed by everybody because of our slow, measured tread but, eventually, re-passing every one of them since, unlike us, they stopped every 50 yards for a rest. They were all shapes, sizes and ages, the youngest of them a baby only a few months old, making the ascent in a rucksack, ingeniously fitted with an umbrella to provide shelter from the broiling sun.
As we passed one such recumbent figure – one of many similarly reclining – on Birkhouse Moor he confided to me: “They’ve avoided the follow-on” which, in the situation, 2,300 feet above sea level, did not immediately register. The man was picturesquely dressed in a sort of Viking’s helmet, with something like snail’s horns sticking up on top and he was listening to the Test match. Later in the day, as our routes criss-crossed, we kept bumping into him in different places and he kindly provided us with all the latest news on the game; this was before the dirty pocket incident.
Our last meeting was a few feet below the top of Catstycam when his helmet blew off in the wind – cutting short the commentary – but, fortunately, by dashing down the rocky north slope, he was able to recover it, undamaged.
All of this was exciting enough on a day when the views, obscuredby heat haze, were not as rewarding as usual and the familiar, crowded tracks not so appealing. Twenty years ago, when weekends ceased to have special significance for me, I swore that never, under any circumstances would I go into the lakes on a Saturday or Sunday, but this recent lapse was one of a few where I have broken my own rules.
The last picture I retain of a hot, tiring day is of three completely naked men sensibly immersed in a splendid pool in Glenridding beck, near the old lead mines – drinking cans of beer.
Deeply envious but lacking moral fibre – and, also, the pool was too small – we at least partially followed their example by hurrying down the dusty road to a favourite hostelry to try out some of their draught ale.


The man in the “Viking Helmet” was me.
Anonymous immortality.

Cumbria Scenes – 27.5.12

Angletarn Pikes

Bit personal, this one
It was a decade or three back, and things were going well in my first long-term, serious, plan-to-marry relationship. My lady love and I were off for our first day out in the Lakes, to climb her first fell.
I’d chosen Angletarn Pikes for its position in lovely Patterdale, for the easy gradients of its ascent and the fact that it was not too high, too hard, too far or too difficult for a novice walker.
We had ourselves a perfect July Saturday, with all the time in the world for our expedition. On the tops was the right amount of breeze to stir the air and give relief from the glowering sun, but the climb out of the valley, towards Boredale Hause, was not so blessed: it was stuffy and enervating and my companion started having some problems breathing.
So I was told off to stand guard whilst she sat down in the middle of the path – below the eyeline of ascending walkers – whipped up her top aand wriggled out of her bra, which she stuffed in my rucksack for safe keeping. No longer so constricted, she found the rest of the climb to be more comfortable.
We snacked on the Hause before making our way gently on along a path that, if followed to its conclusion, would intersect with High Street. But long before then we detoured onto the first and higher of the two rocky platforms that single Angletarn Pikes out in any view.
Her first summit was greeted with congratulatory kisses. I used the timer to take a photo of the two of us together, and, under the sun and the sky, a certain thought came to us.
From the lip of the summit we could see the Patterdale path. There were three walkers descending it, towards Boredale Hause. We watched silently, to see if they would turn off the path towards our belvedere – and when they didn’t, we rapidly removed ourselves from the skyline!
Later, we continued as far as Angle Tarn, sitting by its shores, watching scouts make camp, before turning back, to the Hause, the valley, the car and home.
There’s not another fell I can tell such a story about, more’s the pity, so Angletarn Pikes is singled out in my memory. And a very nice place for it, as well.

Cumbria Scenes – 26.5.12

Crinkle Crags and Bowfell

Magnificent mountain scenery.
The skyline of Eskdale includes the highest, most dramatic and enthralling fells in all of England, and, although technically they border the side valley of Lingcove Beck, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags are worthy elements of that skyline. What a walk that would be! Crinkle Crags – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Great End – Ill Crag – Broad Crag – Scafell – but only for supermen, involving as it does 17 miles of walking and a cumulative ascent of 5,815 feet.
If only I’d been in that class when I was at my peak, but on my best day my upper limit for a single walk was 14 miles and 4,500 feet, and if I tried to do more, I very rapidly knew about it!
This photo is taken from the other side of the ridge, where the Crinkles, which dominate this scene, and Bowfell surround the side valley of Oxendale. It’s clear from the photo how the name Crinkle Crags derives: a series of five rocky knobbles on a long, high skyline. The traverse of the five tops, visiting each in turn, makes for a great day out in itself, without the knowledge that Bowfell, and the series of parallel grooves here visible, known as Bowfell Links, lies ahead.
This view is taken from the ascent out of Oxendale (alternately, it can be approached from the top of Wrynose Pass). A long ascent across a broad, tilted moorland, best noted for the ever-improving views behind, leads to the growing glamour of the ridge. The first Crinkle is the longest, a winding path leading to its top, from where the vista shows the Bad Step, a wedged boulder in the gully that is the obvious route to the Second (and highest) Crinkle. Beyond, the Third, Fourth and Fifth lie off the path, between 10 and 50 feet above the summit traverse.
Bowfell offers a sea of stones onto its summit, lying at the head of three valleys: Eskdale, Great Langdale and Langstrath, and the serious walker will have no other thought than crossing Esk Pike and descending to Esk Hause before the long return to Langdale, via Angle Tarn, Rossett Gill (by the old pony route, preferably) and the open expanses of Mickleden. A great day is to be had that way.
But oh for the strength to swing around Esk Hause to follow the highest ridge of all!

Cumbria Scenes – 25.5.12

Troutbeck Park

A change of scene now.
Troutbeck Park is the name given to the upper part of the Troutbeck Valley, one of the frequently overlooked valleys in the southeastern corner of the Lake District. I saw overlooked, but it is one of the most visited areas of the Lakes, because the lower part of the Valley carries the tourist artery of Kirkstone Pass.
Troutbeck Park offers routes into the high fells that steeply surround it, of which Caudale Moor is the most prominent in the present picture, occupying most of the skyline. To the right,beyond the steep dip of Threshthwaite (locally pronounced “Threshet”) Mouth is Thornthwaite Crag, and the Ill Bell Range runs alongside that flank of the Valley, offering the southern commencement of the old Roman road, High Street.
This photo is taken from the Garburn Road – not a road, of course, but a rough, walled lane – which climbs out of Troutbeck to cross over into Kentmere, lying to the east.
The raised ridge in the centre of the valley, surrounded by higher ridges, is The Tongue, Troutbeck Park or, more commonly, Troutbeck Tongue, and it is a delightful afternoon’s walk for anyone with the slightest agility. Leave the car at the Mortal Man Inn car park, on the main Kirkstone road (with the Landlord’s blessing, preferably) and walk a mile down a farm road to reach the base of the Tongue. But from there, follow the prow of the hill upwards, for a fascinatingly easy scramble over rocklets and small rises.
Last time I was here, a nasty barbed-wire fence blocked the way, not easy to scale uphill. If a return is made along the spine of the Tongue, into the vast emptiness of the upper valley, the same fence will be met again. In both cases, the best approach is to fold your anorak into a pad to put on the top strand, and slide across, preserving organs of generation for any future uses to which male and female walkers may choose to pursue.
The upper valley really does look immense and empty, and there is nothing to top you exploring as far into it as you choose. When a return is necessary, this can be along either side of the Tongue, although that to the east, the right side in this picture, is considerably less wet.
A good time will have been had by all, especially if the Mortal Man is open when you get back to the car.