All the Fells: Hartsop Dodd

Hartsop Dodd – The Far Eastern Fells 2,018′ (185)

Date: 3 October 1993

From: Caudale Moor

Hartsop Dodd is another of those insignificant fells with no great individual appeal, a top to be ticked off along the way in another expedition of greater moment. I visited it on the descent from Caudale Moor, following the ridge downhill in company of the wall, barely pausing at its top – this was a Sunday afternoon and if I left the Lakes too late on those visits I ran the risk of getting stuck in ten-mile tailbacks on the M6 to pass the end of the Blackpool Motorway – and continued on down the ridge back towards Hartsop village. As Wainwright had advised, the ridge grew increasingly steep as it I neared its foot, and I would definitely have wanted to avoid any ascent this way. Once it got too steep, I made my way down on the right, to join the valley path via Threshthwaite Glen that I’d used to start the walk in the late morning, and regained the car, without any sign of the fell race I’d gotten inadvertently tangled in earlier on.

All the Fells: Hartsop above How

Hartsop above How

Hartsop above How – The Eastern Fells 1,870′ (177)

Date: 12 September 1993

From: Bridgend, Patterdale

Even though Wainwright indicates a ridge route from its narrow summit to the parent fell of Hart Crag, Hartsop above How always came over to me as a summit with no other options but to visit and then return. Geographically speaking, it’s another of those where it’s arguable that it’s a separate fell at all, its highest point, sometimes called Gill Crag, being little higher than the continuation of the ridge into the east flank of Hart Crag. To me it was made for a Sunday afternoon leg-stretcher on the first day of a holiday starting in Keswick, ticking off another on the list and demanding nothing that went any further. Structurally, the fell is a narrow, steep-sided, sickle-curve of a ridge and whilst that description could also apply to the Long Stile ridge leading to High Street, the comparison is very flattering to Hartsop above How. It was a decent walk, good exercise, but not much else, and the shape of the fell meant that the only possible variation by way of descent was to cross to the other side of the wall, and follow a line that was parallel but not much more than five yards away from the ascent.

All the Fells: Harter Fell (Mardale)

Harter Fell – The Far Eastern Fells 2,539′ (10)

Date: 20 August 1975/12 June 1994/16 August 1997

From: Mardale Head/ Mardale Ill Bell/ Kentmere Pike

Like the Eskdale Harter Fell, my first visit to its Mardale namesake was with my family. In 1975, I had still never been to Mardale nor seen Haweswater, not even in a distant view, though I had suggested a number of walks that would at least give me a chance to see it. But it was an unspoken bargain that if the family were to take a holiday at Ullswater, we would finally visit Haweswater since it would no longer be too far to drive. We headed over there on the Wednesday, a long, roundabout route that was outside and then back in. My Uncle stopped the car by the dam to let me get a good look at it and a photo, then it was down to the head of the Lake and into out walking gear. It was a cool, blustery day. I don’t remember having any input into what we were going to do, and the Mardale Harter was actually a bit higher than the normal run of fells we would tackle in that half-decade, but the approach was straightforward and simple, and on grass all the way. This was out of the parking area and turn left to head for Gatescarth Pass. It may have been grass every step of the way, but I drunk all of it in, because I’d never seen any of this before. There was no path from the top of the Pass to Harter so, with me as bookholder and guide, we followed the wire fence uphill to the lowly hillock of Adam a Seat, then followed the fence as it angled across the flank until it reached the summit ridge at the north end of the long top. The classic full-length view of Haweswater from the third cairn was mere yards away and I was allowed to divert to it for a photo if I promised to be ultra-careful of the wind and the nearby cliff-top. As if I, with my vertigo, was going to get near enough to it to go over in the face of the wind! We then walked back to the actual summit, which was second in height only to Lingmell amongst those ascents we’d completed thus far. I expected us to reverse our steps back towards Gatescarth but I was in for a surprise. With the excuse of wanting to see down into Kentmere, where the Reservoir was a bright spot under increasingly dark and threatening clouds, gather overhead, we crossed the top until it was visible. Then, to my shock, we went down that way, towards Nan Bield Pass. It was only the second time, and the first with my Uncle, that we had not descended by the exact same route as our ascent. Well-wrapped up, we got to Nan Bield and that classic view to Haweswater over Small Water, and wound our way down the other Pass to the car. I was to come back to Harter, unexpectedly, before the end, a Sunday there-and-back to Mardale and as close to the valley head as I could. This was another of those half dozen days that, at the drop of a hat (or, more practically, twenty-five years) I would repeat enthusiastically. High Street by Rough Edge and Long Crag, Mardale Ill Bell, the previously unclimbed purpose of the day and, back at Nan Bield with time to spare and plenty of walking yet in my legs, the impromptu decision to go back over Harter, straight up and over, trailing in the wake of a lady walker whose black stretch pants were so stretched that it was less a case of VPL (Visible Pantie Line) as VPC (Visible Pantie Colour). I descended via the third cairn along a brand new path direct to Gatescarth top, that had been walked not only into existence but into erosion in the less than two decades since I had been here before. And there was one more visit, though not an especially successful one, post-Wainwrights. I wanted to do the Kentmere Horseshoe, from Shipman Knotts to Harter Fell in the morning, and returning from Thornthwaite Fell to Yoke, but with walking days becoming fewer, my stamina was ebbing away. and it was a hot day and I ran out of water before descending to Nan Bield, leaving me no option but a very long, very slow and very dry retreat down the valley until, almost back at the village, I knocked on a door and had my water bottle half-filled with cold tapwater that I guzzled eagerly, but which was not enough to stave off a sun-induced headache that I tried to medicate with paracetamol back at the main road, one of which I promptly brought up in the road.

All the Fells: Harter Fell (Eskdale)

Harter Fell – The Southern Fells 2,140′ (5)

Date: 24 August 1973/23 April 1974/6 May 1995

From: Penny Hill, Eskdale/ Penny Hill, Eskdale/Hard Knott foot

There are two Harter Fells in the Lake Districts, in two different areas: differently sized and shaped fells, of different heights, that share a name but nothing else. Apart from both making for great days out walking. I saw and walked the Eskdale Harter long before even seeing the Mardale version, as was implicit in having a family that didn’t want to venture out of the Ambleside/Wasdale arc of the Lake District. Whether I registered it then or not, I will have seen Harter on my first ride on the Ratty, and that before I ever suffered the horror of having boots put on my feet and propped upright to walk. We didn’t attempt it until after Dad had passed on, on a hot and muggy afternoon, from Dalegarth. We followed the path in from Doctor Bridge via Penny Hill, worked our way up onto the gap that led through to the Duddon Valley, then set off uphill on an everlasting and tiring slope. My mother was actually so hot that she undid the bottom of her tartan walking shirt and tucked it up to let the air get onto her stomach, that is until we passed some descending walkers, whereupon she covered up again. The biggest bugbear was literally the bugs: the fell was plagued with flying insects, leaving us in no peace, constantly swatting at them, trying to brush them away from our heads, though when I said I could swear at them I was curtly advised not to. According to the notes pencilled on the title page of Harter’s chapter in the Southern Fells, we did the walk again only eight months later, but I have no memories of climbing Harter twice so early, nor even if the day of the persistent flies was our first or second visit. The full Wainwright round took twenty-six years allowing for slow initial progress and eight years self-exile, but once I had reached Seatallan, I wanted to go back to old places I hadn’t visited in a quarter century, and one of these was Harter. Since I’d decided to use the ridge to Hard Knott Pass for an exploratory descent, I chose a route from the foot of the Pass, slanting across the face of Harter until I joined the path up from the Duddon Valley gap. There were no flies, and this time I (cautiously) scrambled up to the rocky high point. The ridge to Hard Knott was as tedious and unattractive as everyone keeps saying and, in the way of all such things, seemed to be half again as long as it actually was on the ground. I determined never to actually try ascending by that way, though in the end the question never arose.

All the Fells: Hart Side

Hart Side – The Eastern Fells 2,481′ (169)

Date: 28 April 1993

From: Sheffield Pike

Hart Side is a long, shapeless, grassy ridge protruding out of the back of the Dodds range, where it is linked to Stybarrow Dodd. It doesn’t have much by way of intrinsic appeal, except for one big and one small feature, only one of which I saw on my only visit. Knowing I had to collect Hart Side, I’d decided to combine it with Sheffield Pike as a circuit of Glencoyne, ascending by the former and reaching the head of the valley in green isolation where a path towards Stybarrow Dodd looked appealing (I had yet to climb that though the omission was repaired later that year). Instead, I followed this well-made and very distinct path along the flank of Hart Side, back towards Patterdale on a highish level, until, getting close to the summit position, I stepped off the path into trackless grass and headed up to the ridge itself. Off to the north east, in a direction not conducive to my return to my car, an undistinguished subsidiary fell, not thought by Wainwright to constitute a separate summit, is now named Birkett Fell, after the Lord of the same name, who did so much to preserve the Lake District from the depredations of the Manchester Water Companies in the late Fifties. Before then, this outcrop was nameless, and it’s still the only Lake District ‘peak’ to have a nameplate built into its cairn bearing its name. The other, more attractive feature, was on my way home, if I could find my way down off the ridge, without paths on grass, on a very steep fellside. In the end, with the slope getting steeper, I forced myself to ignore my vertigo and gently let myself down to the relief of a good, sturdy path. This led me to Hart Side’s one great feature, the view from the path corner under the Brown Hills. It is a mid-level, awesome view along Ullswater’s middle and upper reaches, the only drawback to which being that it is impossible to capture the full view in a single camera image. Walkers grateful for being alive to see things like this have to content themselves with swivelling their head from side to side like a Centre Court watcher at Wimbledon but with far more to see. Painful as it is, the scene will have to be left at some point. The path itself descends slowly, eventually coming to earth at Park Brow, where the road emerges from the Matterdale valley. This meant a considerable walk back along the road to where my car was parked near Glencoyne, which I didn’t fancy, so I slipped over the wall and, with concerns as to whether I might be trespassing, headed straight downhill in the company of a wall until I scrambled out onto the road with less than a quarter mile to follow to where I had parked.

All the Fells: Hart Crag

Hart Crag – The Eastern Fells 2,698′ (80)

Date: 5 May 1988/1 July 1995

From: Dove Crag/ Dove Crag

Hart Crag is part of the Fairfield Horseshoe, and as part of it – the fourth fell in an anti-clockwise round, starting directly from Ambleside – I have crossed it twice on two rounds. I hesitate to say that I have climbed it since all I have done is to follow the ridge round from Dove Crag to Fairfield itself on both occasions, a simple uphill stroll on one side to a substantial if sloppy cairn just off the track, whilst on the other side it’s much the same, except for the narrowing of the ridge at the head of ‘Ryedale’ when for a few short yards and a scramble up onto Fairfield’s rounded top, the ridge is indeed a ridge. This route shows nothing of the features of the mountain, which are all on the outside of the Horseshoe, overlooking Patterdale and the deep valleys cut into the side of the range from the east.

All the Fells: Harrison Stickle

Harrison Stickle – The Central Fells 2,403′ (44)

Date: 8 September 1986/10 September 1996

From: Thunacar Knott/Pike O’Stickle

A long time ago, on a day that I remember as being both scorching hot and very cloudy, the family set out to climb the Langdale Pikes. Or rather, as we did only one fell at a time in those early days, the highest pike, Harrison Stickle. Dad and his brother had had a long discussion about the best of the four routes from the New Hotel, and despite their attraction to the ‘pure’ route, via Pike How, decided to ascend via Mill Gill (the now re-named Stickle Ghyll) to Stickle Tarn, and cross over to the more direct route. This was so long ago that our approach was by the west side of the Gill and its extremely narrow path that, the next time we came here, had been fenced off due to erosion, and has never been re-opened. The sun, I remember, was scorching, and the ascent steep and draining, and we soon abandoned that to cross over to the Pike How route because it wasn’t as bad. I hated it, every step, the steepness, the heat. At Pike How, we paused. My mother and sister sat it out, my Dad and Uncle went to investigate the latter’s tiny top. I went along with them, but refused their invite to go to the cairn, which my memory insists on recalling as out on some kind of narrow overhang that scared the living daylights out of me. But despite my memory of the sun and the heat, by the time we reached the base of the summit, the cloud was down to that level. My sister was scared, and we huddled there for half an hour, watching waves of cloud sweep towards us from Windermere, one after another, with no prospect of their lifting, despite our patience, until we gave up and went down. We never returned as a family, or at least with me. Two ascents of Mill Gill foundered on my developing massive headaches and nausea, the one on the day my O-level results were out back in Manchester and the other, two years later, the week after my A-level results, on the day of the O-level results. They did reach Harrison Stickle after I’d declared myself out, but I wasn’t to get there until a decade later, a long day’s sweeping walk collecting all the Langdale Pikes in one walk. I started with Mill Gill and Pavey Ark, walked dully northwards to Thunacar Knott and back to Harrison, approaching it from its low back, under another hot sun, but one that was dusty and heavy rather than scorching. In the post-Wainwright years, on another of those expeditions that took place almost a decade to the day after, I set myself a reverse repeat, starting from Mickleden and Stake Pass, to Pike O’Stickle, Loft Crag, Thorn Crag and back to Harrison from a more interesting direction. I did not bother with the long diversion to Thunacar Knott this time, just crossing to Pavey Ark then returning to take the easy descent to Stickle Tarn and the Gill back to the car park.


All the Fells: Hard Knott

Hard Knott – The Southern Fells 1,803′ (4)

Date: 31 May 1973/6 May 1995

From: Hard Knott Pass/ Harter Fell

I’ve climbed Hard Knott the fell twice but I have very few memories of it from either occasion. It’s a low and not very shapely wedge of land whose top is a wilderland of low upthrusts with no pattern to them. The date of my first ascent will clue you in to this being another of the very few visited with my family: indeed, Hard Knott was the first summit we climbed as a foursome, after Dad’s death. For that, we parked at the head of the Duddon Valley and walked up the Pass, though unlike our first ever walk, from Eskdale, there was no means of making an overland ascent and we followed the road all the way. Once at the summit, we turned off onto the fell. What I most remember is suddenly being infused with an explorer’s zeal. I lead the way, I wanted to wander round and check out as much of this confusing area as I could and, when the other three decided not to budge from the summit, I requested and was granted permission, hedged around with the usual qualifications, to not merely wander north, towards the Scafells but, after that, to head out towards Eskdale and visit the Border End peak, overlooking the valley. It was my first real taste of solo walking, and I loved it. My return was twenty years in the making, post-Wainwrights, on a Saturday out from Manchester. I was out to revisit Harter Fell, and this time to follow its long and unvalued ridge down to the Pass. On the spur of the moment, since I had a lot of the afternoon left, I followed my own footsteps across the path and across the untidy top to Hard Knott’s summit, although I restricted my other exploring to a visit to the Fort on the way back down the road.

All the Fells: Hallin Fell

Hallin Fell

Hallin Fell – The Far Eastern Fells 1,271′ (9)

Date: 17 August 1975/8 April 1995/29 April 2005

From: The Hause/The Hause/The Hause

I didn’t usually climb lower fells repeatedly and without going into the deeper recesses of memory, I think Hallin Fell, overlooking the angle of the two lower reaches of Ullswater is almost unique in seeing me at its summit as many as three times. That notorious holiday at Ullswater in 1975 saw us drive down to the lakeshore on the Saturday night, to look down the lake. Hallin Fell was clearly visible in the dogleg and so it became our first target, on Sunday. Down the quiet road on the east of the lake, up the expected zigzags to the Hause and then, once into our boots, up the straight wide, steep grass track to the summit without formality or deviation. We hung around for a while. Someone noticed a helicopter hovering over the lake, less than a hundred feet above the water. Suddenly, it started ascending towards us. I dragged out my camera and managed to get in position to snap the helicopter as it passed above us at no more than fifty feet clearance. The picture was blurred but as good as could be expected. We then went down again and returned to Pooley Bridge where occurred the notorious blow-up by my mother then had me swear off family holidays ever after. There was no reason to return in the next couple of decades, whilst I was collecting Wainwrights but once I had the set, I selected Hallin Fell for an afternoon leg-stretcher. At the last moment, I noticed a path bearing away to my left, heading for a gate, and decided to follow that. I had no idea where it went but surely I couldn’t get anywhere from which I couldn’t scramble up to the top without more than minimal difficulty. It was a lucky break, because the path wound round the side of the fell, keeping to a general level that made walking easy, and far less of a strain than the direct route. I was way round and above Ullswater before deciding to break off and work up to the top. I arrived over the brink just in time to see a great crowd of people disappearing back towards the Hause, some of them carrying television lighting and filming equipment. When the BBC series, The Lakes, came out a year or so later, I figured I’d just missed a filming scene. I was in no hurry to be anywhere so, rather than follow them down, I explored a path heading due east from the summit. It was a fascinating, mostly dead straight route that soon developed lovely views over the Lake, and I followed it in curiosity and enjoyment until, much lower down, and heading for the lakeside path, it just grew too steep for safe vertical passage. I contoured right to work round and back, finding The Rake, a good level path leading me back to the Hause with minimal ascending. After I married, my wife and I ended up doing far less walking in the Lakes than we anticipated, but this was one of the places I took her back to, a gentle, lovely afternoon, strolling round the side and spending a quarter hour or more just sitting on a bluff overlooking Ullswater, without any hurry – on her part – to get up to the summit.

All the Fells: Grisedale Pike

Grisedale Pike – The North Western Fells 2,593′ (31)

Date: 10 September 1985/25 June 1994/9 July 1994

From: Braithwaite/ Braithwaite/ Braithwaite

When I climb a fell multiple times, it’s usually by different routes – Skiddaw four times by two different routes, Helvellyn four times by three different routes, Scafell Pike four times by four different routes – but it’s rare indeed for me to have climbed a fell more than twice and by the same route every time. But not every fell has such a perfect, gorgeous, enthralling route of ascent as Grisedale Pike from Braithwaite, via the west ridge. Twice I’ve made this climb as the opening movement to a brilliant day following the Coledale Horseshoe, and in between I ascended it intending to follow the Horseshoe but forced down to the ground by clouds on the tops requiring me to abandon ambition at Coledale Pass. The road to Whinlatter Pass leaves the back of Braithwaite Village straight uphill, then bears right on a steady gradient across the base of the fell. About a hundred yards up, on the left, a small roadside quarry has been turned into a miniature car park, with places for about a half dozen cars. If this is full, as it was once, the next nearest parking is the other side of Braithwaite. But from the quarry, a path built on wooden steps leaves to the right of the entrance. Once into the woods, it sweeps forward and back across the slope, on two long wings, before emerging on a low grassy lawn above the Vale of Keswick. From here, the rest of the route is out in the open and anyone in and around Keswick can see your every step. Above this is the only tedious part of the walk, a broad grass path through bracken going straight uphill. Above this, everything is delightful. The path levels out onto an airy, narrow grass crest offering splendid views ahead into Coledale, backed by Eel Crag’s cliffs. It’s made for striding out enthusiastically, making fast progress into the heart of the fells with minimal cost in energy. The path comes out of this and starts up the adjacent fellside before striking an easy angle to gain a second ridge. This leads to another, but much shorter level section, beyond which the path heads uphill on the final stretch, up the corner of Grisedale Pike’s pyramidal form. When I was last here, the path was heavily eroded, but it must have been relaid by now. The final bit of the ascent involves a scrabble over rocks, with the alternative for the fearful of contouring right below the rocks to merge with the closing in north-west ridge. I did this first time but on both remaining visits I took it straight and scrambled enthusiastically. From the top of the path to the highest point is less than one hundred grassy yards, to be walked calmly with wide-ranging views in every direction. It’s a superb, classic mountain ascent, and if I were spirited back in time and stamina and offered the opportunity to make it four times Grisedale Pike, I would still be heading for Braithwaite and that little roadside quarry, from where I would tell any walker to take the stepped path on the right just inside, and follow it to the summit: further instructions are unnecessary. That second trip was meant to be another Horseshoe round but was frustrated by low cloud, hence my determination to return literally only two weeks later when the sun shone all day.