Series 2 – 13: Three Fell Trick

It wasn’t always the same old routes in the Seventies. One time the family visited the side-valley of Tilberthwaite Gill, on the edge of the Coniston Range, to see the Falls. We ascended to the left of the Gill, followed the path into the ravine, criss-crossed on the footbridges and saw the water. It took ten minutes.
Even for the elders, this was disconcertingly short, and we retreated from the Gorge, took off our rucksacks and tried to think what to do next. Already restless, I explored under the bushes behind and found a secret path,snaking uphill under cover on the right of the Gill. Having been given permission to see where it led to, I had a great but all-too-short scramble and emerged on a broad, well-graded path, leading into the upper valley.
It being sunny, and our having only just started, my discovery was accepted. I led the way up, and we followed what was actually an old miner’s road, from the dwellings to the diggings, winding around a lonely upland valley to the long-closed mines.
A year later, we made the miner’s road an expedition in itself, finding its start behind some cottages, and going beyond its end to reach the valley head, just below Wetherlam Edge. I would have voted for carrying on, but if there had been a vote, I would have been alone, so we turned back again.
Twelve months after that holiday in which I had so nobly conquered Helm Crag and Binsey, I was back, boots in hand, and remembering the Tilberthwaite miner’s road as an easy, undemanding approach to the fells. The difference being that I would, this time, tackle Wetherlam Edge.
By the standards of later years, it was an easy scramble, but at the time Edge was certainly the word. There was no hard and fast path, but a choice of several lines, some of which took me close to the edge physically, and all of which kept me on edge mentally, concerned about placing myself in a spot from where I could neither advance nor retreat.
But my worries were unnecessary, and here was Wetherlam’s summit, and I was re-admitted to the high fells I’d left behind when I came down off Helvellyn.
I hadn’t planned, or even thought, beyond this point, but it was only 1.00pm, and sunny, with 2,500′ and the whole afternoon under my boots. The family would have turned round and gone home the way it came, but I was free and a Ridge Route beckoned me on.
So I descended to Levers Hause, at the head of Coppermines Valley, and up a rough path alongside the succession of rock towers that constituted the Prison Band, and emerged on Swirl How, the second-highest and, geographically most significant of the Coniston Fells. A second summit in the same day.
A third was easily at hand: Great Carrs, around the head of Greenburn: “a seven minute stroll” as Wainwright had it. So, checking my watch, I set off around the valley rim and, a dead seven minutes later, found myself at my third summit cairn. What now?
It was still relatively early in the evening, and Grey Friar, another of the Coniston Range, was in feasible reach, a shortish climb at the end of a long, slow, steady descent to a broad plateau. But none of this had been thought through, and I was in unknown territory so far as stamina went, and every step I took towards Grey Friar would be a step to be retraced when I finally decided to turn around. I was tempted, but I opted for caution, as I always would, and I turned back. The return to Swirl How wasn’t a seven minute stroll, not this way.
No true fellwalker objects to additional ascent in the later stages of the day if it’s to a new target, fresh ground, but no-one of any sense commits to extra climbing to cross ground already trodden, not if it can be avoided. I didn’t fancy descending Wetherlam Edge, not when I could divert down the Ladstones ridge to the Coniston-Tilberthwaite path at its foot. Nor need I force myself back up Wetherlam to its top to do so, not when I could step off the path and contour around the summit to strike the ridge without any unnecessary gain in height.
The ridge was pathless and alone, grassy under afternoon sun with Coniston Water spread before me in the valley: joyful walking. The ridge itself bent towards Coniston, rather than Tilberthwaite, so once the lonely path became visible, a level line, I angled down off the crest, picking a careful way down steeper slopes,aiming eventually for two walkers on the path, sat having a brew.
They were two ladies in their late forties/early fifties, kind enough to take pity on a hot, red-faced, thirsty walker who still had things to learn about gauging how much liquid he needed to carry. So the milk was curdling and there were bits floating in my flask-cup of lukewarm tea, I drank it gratefully, before following the path to its end, down the left bank of Tilberthwaite Gill, where I had parked my car.
That was the true beginning of my walking career. I had discovered the joy of always keeping new ground before you rather than repeating trodden ground, and my expeditions would be planned with this expectation in mind in future, especially so for walks of increasing length and ambition in the number of summits to be achieved.
The picture is of Wetherlam across Little Langdale, with Wetherlam Edge forming a seemingly innocuous ridge to the left of the shot. It’s not like that underfoot.

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