Green Crag from Harter Fell
Green Crag is the beginning and the end of Lakeland in the south: in Wainwright’s Southern Fells the great man rounds off his map of the fell’s territory with thick, black, straight lines: this is an edge, and beyond there is nothing.
That’s not the case on the ground, and twenty years later, when Wainwright did prepare The Outlying Fells, he devoted several pages to the smaller fells lying between the coast and the Birker Fell Road, but there is a massive gap between the two, with no high ground to link them. Green Crag is the edge.
The fell itself consists of Green Crag, a stylishly conic, steep-sided peak separated by a wide col from the subsidiary Crook Crag, a coxcomb ridge of several smaller upthrusts. It is seen well from the Birker Fell Road, where the declining foreground enhances the proportionality of the view. Increase the ridge by another thousand foot throughout its length, set it down in a more mountainous area, and this would be a classic fell that all would queue to climb.
Without a long walk from the Duddon valley, near Grassguards, Green Crag is only realistically approachable from Middle Eskdale, where there is a choice of peat roads to the edge of the Birker Fell plateau. Any walk should ascend by one and descend by the other.
The approach to the peat roads is within walking distance of the Ratty at Dalegarth, making this an expedition that can be fit in between trains: four hours is not too much to leave between arrival and departure for a fit walker. Start off up the valley, ignoring the turn for Boot, and taking a farm road on the right when in sight of the Woolpack Inn. The lane leads to Doctor Bridge, where a choice must be made.
The first time visitor should always turn right, towards Low Birker, passing through the farmyard and bearing left through a big, walled intake. The path climbs diagonally towards the far corner before escaping onto the peat road itself, a well-graded route, tacking backwards and forwards and offering smooth passage up the flank of the valley, with excellent views of Middle Eskdale.
Once you cross the lip of the valley, the path around the edge of Birker Fell is clear and unmistakable, but the change in atmosphere and setting is total. Eskdale and its verdant fields disappears immediately: the ground to your immediate left slopes upwards to an undistinguished skyline, whilst to your right, a grassy, silent, somehow forbidding wilderness stretches. In cloudy, damp and atmospheric conditions, there is the sense of clinging to the hillside and creeping along the edge of a trackless waste: tales of ghostly horses carrying unburied coffins on the Eskdale-Wasdale Corpse Road could be transplanted here with utter believability.
The path winds its way along the low, green base of Crook Crag, passing Birker Pool on its way. It’s circuitous route, clinging to the contours of the fellside and following its base throughout are unusual, and there is little to see ahead until the path draws level with the col between Crook Crag and Green Crag. Here, it turns uphill, but only for a short distance before petering out. Route-finding is not an issue, however. Just climb on until the col is reached, and Harter Fell and the path up its flanks, rising out of the Duddon Valley, right, is clearly visible. The col is surprisingly low above this matching depression, and energetic walkers for whom the traverse of Green Crag is insufficient exercise, will look to that direction. However, be warned that Spothow Gill is difficult to cross safely and it may be necessary to traverse a long way in the direction of Eskdale before even reaching the Harter path.
Green Crag towers above, looking far too steep to be tackled from the col, but work around behind it to discover a grassy channel, up which an ascent can be made that brings you, safely, to the narrow top.
If the day is windy, it will be windy here, with the wind racing in off the Irish Sea without anything to hinder it. The views into the Lakes are not extensive: everything north and west of Green Crag is higher, but the head of Eskdale and the Scafell massif will the the cynosure of most eyes, losing little for the additional distance over the classic view from Harter Fell. And on this summit, you will be alone and uninterrupted.
The seascape’s not bad either, and Devoke Water is seen across the wilderness of Birker Moor, whilst those who, for some reason, might be carrying a personal radio, ought to be able to pick up Manx Radio from out there in the Irish Sea.
Return to the saddle, cross this and take a close look at Crook Crag, the ‘coxcomb’ ridge that Wainwright describes. Its crest may be sportingly followed, or you may follow its base, sticking to the Harter flank, though the view on this side is far from inspiring and does not tempt to cross over and add Harter to the day’s programme. Gradually, Crook Crag begins to decline, and the way emerges over a hinterland between the high ground and the lip of the valley, here dominated by the back of Kepple Crag.
The other peat road can be traced to the left of Kepple Crag, though there is no path originally. Keep looking backwards to fix the scene in your mind, remembering where you descended from, so that if you decide to ascend this way, you will know your path from the lip of the valley.
And once you are on this peat road, with its easy walking, its constant change of directions, the endless pleasure of it, you will no doubt decide it to be a better route for next time.
The peat road passes the path to Harter Fell, winding back up to the right, and eventually descends to join the foot route to Brotherilkeld. Ignore it, reluctantly, to turn left for Penny Hill, and beyond it a long, flat farm road back to Doctor Bridge. Is that the Ratty in the distance? Or did you leave enough time to call in at the Woolpack as well?