All the Fells: Grey Friar

Grey Friar – The Southern Fells 2,536′ (60)

Date: 14 April 1987/13 September 1996

From: Troutal/Great Carrs

I climbed the majority of the Coniston Range very early on, in two three-fell walks. The odd man out was Grey Friar which, when I took the time to tackle it, offered me the rare opportunity of starting a walk from the Duddon Valley. The natural line of approach was along the valley of Seathwaite Tarn, but to shorten things I chose to park over the ridge at Troutal, and work my way into the valley from there. I descended into the valley and followed the shore of the Tarn. The ascent to the ridge was not marked by any path in those days so I was concerned to take the correct grassy ride, up and an angle between rocks, and emerging on the ridge. After that it was just an uphill walk, longer than it seemed from below, to Grey Friar’s flat top. Cloud on the Scafell range spoilt the highlight of the view, so after finishing off my sandwiches I set off down towards the plain known as Fairfield, behind, and curved round to the right, intent on varying the return by descending to Seathwaite Tarn. There’s always some good fun at entering a valley at its shallow, narrow head and watching it broaden and deepen around you. Despite the absence of any path, I found myself able to maintain a good, brisk pace downhill. I was striding out in a carefree manner when I saw, in my path a short distance ahead, a patch of bright green grass. I paid it no mind. It was directly in my path but I marched on regardless. This was a mistake. The colour of the ground should have alerted me to the fact that this was not grass but bog. My left leg crashed down on it and kept going down until I was submerged to above the knee and my momentum combined with my sudden break through the surface meant that my right boot followed and sunk to just below the knee. There was no-one in sight or earshot. Sometimes in life you come across phrases that tickle you and you store them up. I’d once read a short Steve Gerber story based on his experiences dealing with the Standards & Practice Department when writing for TV. His writer is fuming as his script is systematically gutted of every dramatic response. The nadir comes when, instead of the trapped spaceman pounding the instrument panel with his fists, he is instructed to have him demonstrate ‘a positive coping reaction’. Here was time for me to demonstrate a positive coping reaction. In sheer panic, I yanked my right leg up so violently that it came free and I got my knee onto the edge of solid ground, which I used to lever the rest of me out, soggy, shaken but safe. Making sure I kept a weather eye open for anything remotely looking like another bog patch, I resumed striding home, anxious to get out of my wet stuff. It was uncomfortable physically as well as mentally. This caused me a few qualms when I had to cross a wet and soft patch to regain the route towards the ridge, but I resolved my concerns in an unorthodox manner by scooting across in a form of Groucho-walk: it sounds ridiculous but by doing that I was lengthening my stride and reducing the amount of time my centre of gravity was above either boot to mere fractions of a second: try it, it’s surprisingly effective. The car was very welcome, but getting out of my walking trousers at the guest house in Ambleside was much more welcome than that. I came back a dozen years later on an ambitious sunny day when I set out to climb the entire Coniston Range in one walk. This time, once I got to Great Carrs, I turned down its long back to Fairfields and up the shortish ascent of Grey Friar from the back. Rather than what now looked like a longish climb back uphill to regain the ridge, I opted for a level curving path that kept me well above the Seathwaite valley and any bright green patches – I do learn from my experiences – which looked like it could take me all the way to Levers Hause without any climbing but for a ten foot relocation uphill when the path disappeared on wet ground, but I wanted to visit Great How Crags so contoured uphill to regain the ridge just before it before going on.

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