All the Fells: Illgill Head

Illgill Head – The Southern Fells 1,983′ (135)

Date: 17 September 1991

From: Whin Rigg

When I say that I was left with four Wainwright summits that I climbed but from which I didn’t see the view, I am wrong. For some unfathomable reason, until I think directly of it, I cannot get my head round the fact that it is five, and that Illgill Head counts in that short but frustrating number. It should have been so easy, and equally delightful. I was introduced to secluded Miterdale back in the Sixties, and have loved it ever since. When it came to climbing the Screes, in view of the fact that there’s a dirty great Lake down one flank of their mini-ridge, I decided it would be fun to base myself in Miterdale, to gain the ridge between Irton Pike and Whin Rigg, follow the crest and descend via Miterdale to return to the car. I still insist that this was a perfect plan, but for a better day, weather-wise than the day I set out to walk it. There was low cloud about, and low cloud in and around Wasdale can prove to be stubborn. I am, or was, stubborn myself and, having planned, and driven there, across Birker Moor, I was not about to give in. I would set off, mentally demanding the clouds lift. They rarely did. I got to Whin Rigg after an embarrassing and self-inflicted delay, and then set off to the farther and higher end of the ridge, Illgill Head. On the back of The Screes, the cloud was patchy. I would not have followed the cliff-edges in any event but, in conditions like that, I stuck to the easy, flat and above all broad back of the ridge, straight down the middle and climbing slowly to Illgill Head’s big, wide top. Except for a moment when the cloud was swirled away by wind, and Wasdale Head lay there below me, there was nothing to see. The day was decidedly grey by now and it wasn’t long before I marched on, and down, towards the old corpse road coming out of Wasdale Head. The orthodox route, with clear paths, dropped to the edge of the shallow basin occupied by Burnmoor Tarn, one of my least favourite places in the Lakes ever, follows the corpse road towards Eskdale then turns off on a path in sight of the south east rim of the Tarn, a flat, lifeless, colourless, spreading sheet of water, to within sight of the lip of Miterdale Head. In short, I would be walking three sides of the Tarn when, under a dreary sky, I could take a short cut around the immediate slope and avoid it entirely. It was tedious walking, but it spared me, and I was able to find the scrambling descent to that private Head, that some regard as inspiration for Swallowdale, and improve my spirits by walking Miterdale back to where I had left my car so many hours before.

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