Obscure Corners: East of Longsleddale


Longsleddale from Great Howe

Longsleddale, even after all these years since Wainwright’s Far Eastern Fells was first published, is an Obscure Corner, and deservedly so. Not because it is dull and drab and deserves to be overlooked, but because it is quiet, shy and beautiful, and should be allowed to retain that character.
The valley is a long, straight affair, some six miles in length, a deep trench opening in secluded circumstances onto the A6 Shap road, a few miles north of Kendal. Though it is seen daily by thousands of motorists travelling north, Longsleddale offers no hints of what lies beyond its wooded mouth, and so it remains for the most part unspoiled.
I say for the most part, because in the past when I have visited, there was rough space beside Sadgill Bridge, where the Longsleddale road ends, for three to four cars, and that was sufficient, because three to four visitors at a time was all this sentinel of peace commanded. Now, a proper car park has been built by the Bridge, a sign that Longsleddale’s peace may be under threat.
That sense of isolation is, for me at any rate, compounded by the fact that the only road access to Longsleddale is from the A6: like Swindale, and even Mardale to the north, there is the feeling that to get to Longsleddale it is necessary to go out and come back in from outside the Lake District. No road crosses Gatescarth Pass (may that remain so eternally), no road from Kentmere enters the valley at mid-level.
The eastern flank of Longsleddale is more obscure even than the valley, for Grey Crag and Tarn Crag are the Lakes’ most easterly outliers: this is up against the edge.
From the east itself, Grey Crag can be reached from the A6 by four ridges. When I was still reading the Wainwrights obsessively, wondering about places it seemed unlikely I would ever see, the two pages that cover those routes were among the most fascinating. They spoke of places outside, names not shared with any other fell: Huck’s Bridge, the Jungle Cafe (long gone but from the name alone a busy place to conjure in the mind).
But none of those ridges are properly thrown out by Grey Crag, though from Sadgill, the ascent does make use of the fell’s one true sub-ridge, thrown out south, culminating in the lower height of Great How, topped by a survey post.
The walk starts opposite the car park, a gate into a grassy enclosure, the stile at its top left corner already visible. Walk uphill to this. Rough ground and rock appears above: make fo the base of an easy, grassy gully and veer right across the slope for the next stile, which lets you out onto the open fellside at the base of Great How.
Those who wish to save Grey Grag until last should turn back along the wall at this point, gradually rising across the pathless fellside until it is possible to make a near bee-line for Tarn Crag’s summit, but a better plan is to go straight ahead, curving up steeper ground until emerging by the survey post. Stop here to admire Longsleddale.
From here to the summit of Grey Crag is an easy uphill walk. Follow the ridge along its easy, shelving back, angling across Grey Crag itself, until a fence comes into view, on the narrow tongue between parallel streams. Swing to the right to cross the waters that become Stockdale Gill, lower down, and make uphill to the summit.
Here is Lakeland’s most easterly peak. Beyond is the edge, the point at which Lakeland becomes not-Lakeland, in the indefinite ridges between here and there. If you have expected something exceptional about this place, here you will be disappointed. Grey Crag is no peak, it holds little of interest as a top. In theory, it should command stunning views, outwards and eastward, but it is not high enough, in itself or in its elevation above the spreading ridges, to command a panorama, and the chances are that whatever might be of value in this view will be blurred by haze, or dullness, or cloud: clear days on Grey Crag are few, and such clear days are usually a demand to go somewhere more worthy.
But we are here, close by the edge. Those ridges and their lesser tops may now be collected in The Outlying Fells, still without recommendation, but they remain outside, across a border that exists only in the heart, and we are here today because this is as close as can be to that border.
Tarn Crag lies north and west. Wainwright recommends heading north initially, to pick up a fence at the apex of a tight corner, and Jesty indicates a rudimentary path leading the way. The fence leads left behind Tarn Crag’s top, requiring only an easy detour to its top. A more direct route is not recommended as being too marshy,though on my visit I found the direct route far drier and firmer that its reputation. Curiously, this corner being Obscure because of its solitude, I made this traverse in the company of an older walker who joined me just below Grey Crag.
Tarn Crag allows a first sight of the upper valley lying beyond Longsleddale’s narrow and rocky jaws, where the staid levelness of the valley gives way to a sudden, steep climb. From here, Harter Fell and the head of Gatescarth Pass come into view, and a sense of even greater loneliness and isolation appears: ironic, since that area will be far busier with walkers than here where you stand.
There are options from Tarn Crag for a direct descent to Longsleddale, either by the route towards the base of Great How, or north of west, accompanying a nameless beck and a wire fence, to the head of the quarry road, above the gorge. Better though to continue north, on open, featureless grass flanks, as far as the peaty, low saddle separating the upper valley, left, from the head of another of Lakeland’s Mosedales.
This latter curves in dull and grassy loneliness around the base of Branstree, directly ahead, debouching above waterfalls that tumble prettily into Swindale. It also offers access over a low ridge to Wet Sleddale, and there is a bothy, Mosedale Cottage, a half mile in that direction. But I’m bound to say I found it a cheerless place (Mosedale means ‘dreary valley’ after all), possessed by an emptiness that I found distinctly off-putting. It felt as if walking in Mosedale would take longer than the actual clock measured: far longer.
Here, decisions must be made. The enthusiastic walker, whose energy has been barely tested by the walk so far, or the Wainwright bagger keen to count coup, will want to ascend Branstree. It’s dead ahead, we’re here, there are no complications: ascend towards the prominent wall and follow it, on your right, to nearly the summit. Descend alongside the fence left, to the head of Gatescarth Pass and turn left again for Longsleddale.
However, be warned that the walking is dull and tedious both ways, that Branstree’s summit is dead flat, making its highest point a matter of guesswork, and you will be tiring yourself in a far from good cause.
Better to follow the indeterminate track left from this saddle, descending carefully, in view of the wetness underfoot, into that hidden upper valley where the quarry used to be and the wreckage of industry still fascinates.
From here, bear left to reach the top of the quarry road. The steep descent between the rocky jaws on Longsleddale is absorbing, especially when considering that ponies used to negotiate this road, pulling heavy loads of stone. At the foot, the road becomes level and eay and there is no more than an afternoon stroll back to the car.

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2 thoughts on “Obscure Corners: East of Longsleddale

    1. Hi Alen.

      Lovely day. I did do Branstree that day, hence the sarky remarks. This was the walk that inspired the piece I did some months ago, ‘The Hills are Eternal’, looking across to the path from Gatescarth top to the third cairn on Harter. I’d love to go back.

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