Obscure Corners – Ullscarf

North from Greenup Edge

There isn’t a fell I’ve climbed in the whole of the Lake District for which I don’t have a vision, locked in my memory, available at any moment the name of the fell is summoned. There is, literally, nowhere that I’ve been that I can’t summon up in mind, seeing through my own eyes some part of the journey or the view, some scene that impressed itself so keenly that, in a world in which I can forget in literally the space of a heartbeat the thing I was going to do next, I can return mentally to where I once walked.
Lately, for no discernible reason, one such scene has been pushing itself involuntarily before my eyes.
It’s perhaps straining things to call Ullscarf an Obscure Corner. Such places are almost always off to one side, on the fringe somewhere, away from the areas of concentrated walking in the centre of the Lakes, and Ullscarf has very good claims to being the most central fell in Lakeland. Yet it is still an Obscure corner, a place few visit for excitement or achievement. It stands at the southern end of Lakeland’s central ridge, itself low, wet and in many ways short of true appeal. It’s a lumpish, unlovely fell, with few attributes, and nothing to distinguish it in views. It’s border to the higher fells south and west is Greenup Edge Pass, notoriously one of the wettest places for walkers in the high country. Few go there, for reasons that are obvious when you are there.
One breed of people does come to Ullscarf, and that is the Wainwright-bagger.
I was nearing the end, hoping to complete my journey before the end of 1994. I had four summits left, but two walks, in different areas. And the weather would allow me one final day, leaving the last two fells to be collected at the start of a new year instead of the end of an old one.
My penultimate walk was designed to encompass Ullscarf and Great Crag. It was one of only a handful that involved an ascent out of the Stonethwaite valley. I would park at the farm, ascend Greenup Edge, walk up Ullscarf and descend, cross-country, to the small, amorphous mass of ground that comprised Great Crag, dropping back to Stonethwaite from the same.
Any walk that involves a Pass carries with it the nostalgic thrill of my first steps in walking with my family. Before my sister and I were old enough and hardy enough to reach summits, we would target the tops of Passes, and I am so much of a completist that it remained a goal to reach the top of all those officially designated passes in the Lakes. Greenup Edge was (not quite) the last of these (I had been at the top of Scandale Head, but did not actually climb it until three years later).
Greenup was not massively exciting in itself. In its early stages, it passes beneath the lip of Langstrath, offering no views in that direction, nor of Bowfell. Only then does it begin to gain height steadily. As Eagle Crag is passed, the ascending valley is taken over by moraines, and views open up into the strange, hidden upper valley that lies behind Eagle Crag. That is a valley almost exclusively occupied by moraines, looking extremely lonely and a recipe for getting irretrievable lost. And forgotten.
The best part of the walk is Lining Crag. This lies across the route on the long crossing of Ullscarf’s western flack, visible from a distance and growing ever more impressive as you near. Once the base of the Crag is reached, the path takes to the left hand side of the rock, offering a steep and enthusiastic scramble that is quiet the best section of the walk.
From here, the route continues over increasingly wet ground towards Greenup Edge. There is no need to actually visit the highest point of the Pass, and those with leaky boots are best advised to make a more or less beeline from above Lining Crag directly to Ullscarf. This cuts out a substantial corner on the approach, but sometimes you have to be a bit of a purist, even if the final yards of the Pass involve enough water-walking to qualify you to found a major international religion. Linger not, but head left without delay, leaving the sticky summit behind. The walk to Ullscarf is without incident.
For the possibly most-central fell, I did not find the view from Ullscarf impressive. It has position, but not height, and its summit is flat and wide, but it was not best served by the late October conditions.
Head north, following the line of fence posts that are the summit’s only distinguishing features. Those who are bound for the central ridge, and a medium-high level return to Keswick, will need to bear right at the fence corner, making a dogleg approach, but travellers bound to return to Stonethwaite will bear half left.
It was from this point that my abiding vision of the Ullscarf walk comes. A second, lower ridge, lacking the characteristics of a ridge almost entirely, descends towards the indefinite ground and profusion of tops that represents Great Crag, almost three miles away. Beyond and below, caught between these two ridges, lies Bleatarn Gill, descending to Watendlath Tarn. From the edge of the plateau, it’s a long view, with a steep but not precipitous fall ahead.
It is a long walk to Great Crag, long enough to be almost an expedition in itself. The route descends over Coldbarrow Fell, crossing High Saddle and Low Saddle, and continues through an open, empty landscape until beginning to rise again towards the small mass of Great Crag. It’s desolate, and it is plain that there will be no encounters with other walkers once you turn this way. Almost the whole of your course for the next couple of hours is visible, and it doesn’t look the sort of terrain you’d want to ascend.
Yet this is the image that is always my first thought when I hear or read of Ullscarf. It was undemanding, but I walked it, alone and in contemplation, a Sunday afternoon late in the year, grey and tending to cold, and very far away from anywhere else.
There are no firm paths until that from Stonethwaite to Dock Tarn is crossed. Wainwright insists you divert to the latter and I always try to follow his recommendations, but I was less impressed by the Tarn than he. Still, it was getting on in the afternoon, and another fell, and the road back to Manchester beckoned.
Though there were no paths, I found it surprisingly easy to find Great Crag’s summit. I stayed long enough to admire the view towards Watendlath and Keswick, then retraced my steps top the path and descended, on a knee-crackingly steep zigzag trail through the woods below White Crag until reaching the Greenup Edge path a quarter of a mile or thereabouts above Stonethwaite.
No, Ullscarf’s not a fell I would place in my top 100 to return to, but my inner eyes look on Lining Crag, and the scramble alongside it, and I am currently haunted by that unexpected vista, northwards and down, across a lonely country. I’d like to see that again, on a nicer day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.