Post-Wainwright Walks: Causey Pike to Ard Crags


Causey Pike

The post-Wainwright period proved to be considerably shorter than the years of steadily accumulating summits in pursuit of completion. Part of it was a shift in work commitments, reducing the opportunities to get away, a lot of it was the unexpected joining of my life to someone else’s, and more or less ending the ability to go off on my own whenever I felt like it, because I no longer felt like it. And some of it was that the drive that had kept me focused on the ‘prize’ was no longer the same, because I had been there.
At first, I concentrated upon places I hadn’t been in literally years. It had taken me twenty-six years to visit each of the 214 Wainwright’s, but with some judicious choices of routes, I managed to achieve the proud record of having stood at the summit of every one within the previous ten years, and to keep that status up for about eight months before my other commitments started to cause my record to slide.
Looking back now, it amazes me that I hadn’t swept up that small handful of fells I’d only climbed in adverse weather conditions. True, High Stile, and to a lesser extent Seat Sandal were relatively recent, but Sale Fell and Dodd would have been ideal for family expeditions, once I had one, especially as the latter had had its summit stripped entirely of trees since my visit in the rain.
I’d climbed Causey Pike in the early Eighties, one of my first expeditions when I ventured into the fells on my own, and my first ever walk in the North Western Fells. It had been a dull day, a little cold, and I had returned via the inner wall of Coledale, catching the rain at the end of things.
This time, a sunny Saturday of driving up from Manchester in the grand tradition of things, I was planning a somewhat artificial walk: Causey Pike and Scar Crags to Sail Pass, but returning by a sideways slip onto the parallel Knott Rigg/Ard Crags ridge, that I’d also climbed in the Eighties, on that occasion by following the Newlands road to gain the former fell at Keskadale Farm.
This meant a road walk of about half a mile between the start and end of the walk so for once I played smart and tucked my car into a small roadside quarry at the foot of Rigg Beck, where my route of return would debouch, and walked round the base of Causey to start. There was an offroad path, above the tarmac, for most of the way, making the stroll rather pleasant.
I remember those fresh Saturday mornings, the difference in the air from Manchester, the knowledge that I had no responsibilities to anyone, except to get myself back safe and sound, and on the walk ahead I had no fears of difficult situations. All that I had to do was to enjoy myself.
Naturally, I was taking the same approach, by Rowling End. The first time round, it was a test of ability: I was still a novice walker, inexperienced at walking alone, my background that of family caution, the easy, unexciting option, the dull way up.
This time I was without trepidation. I’d done it before, and I had much more serious climbs under my belt. So I ploughed merrily onwards, surprised to find the walk that less enthralling when I knew it to be so much more feasible. Instead, I had the amusement of realising that I could look down into the little quarry where my car was parked, and keep an eye on its safety even as far as Causey’s summit.
Though what good it could possible have done me if I’d been witness to a theft from 2,000 foot above it, I have no idea.
I was at least bolder this time in making a direct attack on Causey’s highest point, the bobble at the very top of the ridge. I’d chickened out originally, casting to the right to find a way around and up, but now I scrambled like the best of them, up and over and there to the top.
Beyond the serpentine end of Causey Pike’s extended summit ridge, there’s nothing remotely exciting all the way to and over Scar Crags. It is nothing more than a whaleback top, a broad ridge, a bridge between more exciting fells at either end, and when you’re casting Sail as a more exciting fell, you know that the bar has fallen very far.
This was long enough ago that the path remained untouched. I have now seen horrifying and ugly photos of reconstructed paths on Scar Crags’ back, elevated causeways sweeping backwards and forwards in curves that elsewhere might be entitled to be called graceful but which, on the back of an honest Lakeland fell, are hideous in their excess. Surely the ground beneath cannot have been so badly damaged that this was necessary?

Gruesome

I hadn’t stopped first time because I’d had the clouds threatening just behind me, and I wasted no more time this time because there simply wasn’t anything to stop for, like Brim Fell in the Conistons. So it was down, easily, to the unofficial Sail Pass, and a change of direction.
Twice from here I’d turned back east, to return to Newlands, but this time I took the opposite branch, descending at a gentle and grassy angle onto a quiet and attractive space between the two ridges. It was too broad and grassy to be a defile, too wide to be a col or a pass. It was just a valley head with valleys and backs leaving it in opposite directions, under the twin walls of Sail behind me, and the Knott Rigg/Ard Crags ridge before me.
As I’ve mentioned, I am not and never have been a camper, but once more I could imagine pitching a tent in this place, to one side of the path, and waking in the early morning to the sun pouring down.
There was no orthodox path across the divide. I took a line on an outcrop along the ridge towards the hidden Knott Rigg, and started towards it, at an angle across the fellside that, as far as I could mange it, would involve only incremental climbing at worst, as the skyline dropped down to greet me. Once I reached the ridge, there was nothing but an easy forward and upward walk to Knott Rigg.

Knott Rigg across Newlands Hause

All the hard walking was behind me now, left behind at Causey Pike’s summit. I strolled to Knott Rigg, admired the view, reversed my steps to where I had joined the ridge, and strolled on. Ard Crags is smaller, with neater lines, and the path wound up following the crest in a tight little groove. The well-defined top offered excellent views across Newlands, and there was an even better ridge ahead, first descending to, then following the crest of Aiken Knott, a walk of glorious openness.
Ideally, this ridge would persist to the very end, but a fence crossing the ridge from side to side forces a surprisingly long descent towards Rigg Beck, on the left, crossing a flank that, after the delights of most of the walking so far, seemed surprisingly drab.
There’s a path on the other side of the beck, wide and easy, making for an unstrenuous end to the walk. The first time I followed this down, I kept turning around to gauge the view back to Ard Crags, looking for that shot which Wainwright had used for the opening page of his chapter, where Ard Crags appears in isolation, as a triple-topped pyramid. This time I knew that, with typical irony, the view is only a hundred yards or so upstream from the car park, and can be viewed with unfair ease after a stroll in open-toed sandals, or even flip-flops.

Ard Crags

Despite having been out of my sight for the last two-thirds of the walk, my car remained untouched, and I was my usual assiduous self about getting into trainers again, even though this had been far from a punishing, or even tiring day.

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A day in the Lakes 2017


Julian Cooper

It always begins with the Twitch. That’s the paranoid fear of missing a bus,  a train, a connection, the impossible-to-eradicate response to no longer being in control of my travel and my destiny, of being reliant on public transport. Last year’s debacle was the ultimate reinforcement.

So this year I’ve taken precautions. Not only am I going out an extra quarter hour early, I’ve booked a Day Return ticket: no being tied to specific trains.

Which is why the 8.00am bus turns up at 8.00am this year, not 8.25am as it did 52 weeks ago. True, at certain points in the journey progress is as turgid as it was then, but I am getting off at Piccadilly Station with twenty-five minutes to spare before my train is due: time to burn.

Not that I can afford to relax completely. The Glasgow train is due at 9.15am, but the 9.07am Liverpool train on the same platform is delayed to 9.14am, which will throw my train back, and I know from two years back just how tight the connection is at Oxenholme. Nothing I can do about it from here.

It’s grey and damp in Manchester, but what do I expect if I insist on doing this in November? I read two contradictory weather forecasts yesterday, one promising rain and cloud all day, the other a dry, sunny afternoon.

From Preston, little glimpses of blue start to emerge and the day grows brighter. I’m hemmed in at a table seat, with an Asian mother/daughter pair in the aisle seats and a young Chinese woman opposite me with an Apple Macbook and the urge to encroach on my part of the table. This leaves me very little room to move my arthritic right knee, which is serious, or to tackle the Guardian puzzle page, which isn’t but which is nevertheless irritating. I’m glad for my mp3 player and my old-fashioned, ear-covering headphones for blocking off Mum’s nonstop barrage of words.

Miraculously, two of them get off at Lancaster, leaving only daughter, diagonally opposite, in place. My knee is very glad.

Suddenly, we’re on the shore of Morecambe Bay and I’m twisting in my seat to look across the sparkling water to a south Lakeland skyline. I have to be quick, but I identify the bulk of Red Screes, looming over Kirkstone, and further back and further in there’s a glimpse of a shady Langdale Pike or two. It looks good here, but I suspect that by Ambleside that’s all going to change. On this point, I will be gloriously wrong.

By Oxenholme, it’s all auburn and gold. The Ill Bell range stands out proudly and the nearer foothills are sharp and precise. The connecting train is waiting for us, only a quick dart across the platform. Amusingly, daughter changes with me, though only as far as Kendal.

At least now I can look forward without cricking my neck, and it’s as clear and light as August. Oh to be arriving here by car, two hours ago, my boots waiting on the back seat! (Yeah, and a fresh knee and hip too). We sail past the mouth of Kentmere, with both ridges showing well, then the Wansfell Pike/Wansfell ridge crackles the nearer skyline. And then, as we come over that last brow, there’s the perfect skyline, from the Old Man, across all the Conistons, to Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and the Langdales, with the pale glitter of the lower reaches of Windermere away to the south.

There’s a bus at the stop outside Booths when I emerge but it’s bound for Dungeon Ghyll, and I want to get up to Grasmere. That’s only a quarter hour wait, and though it’s cold, it’s lovely, and the air is Cumbrian air. A lady, seeing me scribble down the original draft for this, thinks I’m an official and asks me when the Kendal bus is due.

A Grasmere return ticket enables me to see the most I can reasonably see in the time I have. I’d considered Coniston this year, but the buses are two hours apart, and Coniston’s too small for two hours if you’re not hitting the fells.

The driver recommends a Central Lakes Dayrider, which costs the same as a Grasmere return but is so much more flexible. I take a seat upstairs on a double-decker, which feels out of place up here, and doesn’t improve the views all that much, since the road is tree-lined nearly all the bloody way! Maybe next year, get the bus to Keswick: I haven;t been across Dunmail Raise or seen Thirlmere in years.

This is by far and away the best November weather I’ve ever had, and the Langdale Pikes are so well-seen that I could almost swear I can pick out the line of Jack’s Rake, across Pavey Ark. We descend to the lake-shore, where Windermere is blue and rich with whitecaps. I can see Jack’s Rake! There are streaks of white on its face, one at the crucial angle. What if I’d taken the bus down to Bowness instead, and the steamer to Waterhead? That would have been glorious.

Now the Fairfield Horseshore rises majestically over Ambleside. Fairfield itself is dark, suggesting it might not be so good Patterdale way, but I’m not in Patterdale, nor am I going there, so I can afford to say, so what? and anyway, by the time we’re at Ambleside Bus Station, even that’s gone.

Curiously, the fells looking so attractive doesn’t fill me with frustration. I’ll be in Grasmere early enough to tackle Helm Crag and be back for the train home, if I’d got my boots on, but I know my knee won’t take it, and I’m resigned to it.

Arrival at Rydal Water opens up the Grasmere skyline. Automatically, I look for Loughrigg cave, but the sun’s in my eyes over the ridge and I can’t make it out. Then it’s Grasmere and Helm Crag fronting it, with a bar of cloud turning the Lion and the Lamb into a silhouette.

And at last the Village, and I can leave the bus at the Golden Jubilee bus stop, and just luxuriate in being there. It’s still only a quarter to twelve: on a normal working day, I wouldn’t even have begun to prepare for work yet.

The first place I always go in Grasmere is the Silver Jubilee bus stop (nice of the Queen to last long enough for the Village to have a matching pair) to check the times of buses back. These are on the half hour: I can either burn round in forty five minutes or stroll and have my lunch here.

The second place I always go in Grasmere is the Heaton Cooper Studio. It’s been expanded sideways now, and includes a cafe, but it’s still the same. I can’t wander round without seeing so many prints I want to buy that I would lose sight of the walls of my pokey little flat if I did, followed rapidly by losing the flat itself when I couldn’t pay the rent. I’m delighted to see there’s been a reconciliation with Julian Cooper, the contemporary generation, and my absolute favourite: two years ago, there wasn’t even a card to be seen. I’m unable to resist a painting of Striding Edge, in card form.

Next on the obligatory list is Sam Read’s Bookshop. I’ve been coming in here for over fifty years, and indeed I bought my Lord of the Rings hardbacks here, at a discount, or rather the first two because the dustjacket on the third was badly scratched. I was prepared to pay full-price for a clean copy in Manchester, despite the booksellers’ offer of a generous discount to take the last one – virtually unsellable on its own – as well. Selfish little sod that I was, I stuck to my guns.

A bookshop like this always makes me want to buy something, even though I don’t have room for the books I’ve already got, and that includes three from my birthday pile I haven’t even read yet. There’s loads of fascinating paperbacks and I would buy one if I could find one I thought would fascinate me more than once.

After that, I walk down to the Tea Rooms on the beck, where I partake of coffee, a tuna melt pannini and a slice of Victoria Sponge that’s a hypoglycemic attack in itself and is bloody delicious. On of these days, I’ve got to get up here in summer, when the terrace overlooking the river is open, where my sister and I used to peer down, looking for tiny fish darting in the water below. There probably aren’t any today: there are a dozen ducks sunning themselves and splashing with the abandon of a bunch of Brits in Ibiza.

I may have been coming here for over fifty years but the Tea Rooms date back far longer. There are blown-up monochrome photos inside, one of Victorian customers sedately sipping, the men all in straw boaters and sensible hats, the maids in ankle-length pinafores. Though they’re not sat on the terrace either.

At the moment, it’s occupied by ambitious crows, swooping and perching. Or they may be ravens, or blackbirds, I dunno. Not magpies, anyway, which is a relief as now there’s no risk of a secret never to be told. But they feel like crows, which reminds me of Ted Hughes, the only writer I studied at school where I’ve voluntarily bought other books by him. I did him for ‘A-level, just when Crow was coming out. I’m full of the past today, aren’t I?

I set off back through the Village. The crows have gone and there’s now just a solitary duck, sedately paddling along under the far bank, below the church, steaming upstream until he is lost to sight. The party’s moved on.

The 599 is already there, nearly twenty minutes ahead of schedule, which gives me time to wander up to Ben’s Toybox, which claims to have more jigsaws than anywhere else in the world. That’s another if-only: the money, the time, the room. But I could tackle a 1,000 piece jigger just now.

The bus is one of those half-open topped double-deckers. Despite this beingthe back half of November, I sit in the open. The moment we’re under way, it starts to get proper cold, but Hell’s Bells, what am I here for if not this sort of thing?

The sun’s still at the back of Loughrigg Fell, so I still can’t see the cave. Sweet Rydal is a golden glitter. All too quickly, we’re at Ambleside, where I wander up the main street. I’m sorry to see that one of the two long-standing bookshops stands no longer: it had shrunk to half-size when I was here in 2015, ad now that half is something called Herby Jack’s: I do not enter. Thankfully, Fred Holdsworth’s bookshop is still there. The same compulsion grips me and this time I give in: another of John Sutherland’s Literary Puzzles books, this time focusing on Dracula.

I add it to my gently bulging shoulderbag and retreat to a bench on the track behind Bridge House to write up another tranche of my day. Whilst I do so, an incredibly fearless robin hops all around me, even perching on the arm of the bench, and eyeing me. He’s angling for a bit of bread or something, but all I have on me at present is an unopened bag of Fox’s Glacier Fruits, which I doubt will satisfy him. When I tell him that if i did walk all the way to a bun shop, I wouldn’t walk all the way back here anyway, he looks hurt and flies away. But hope springs eternal in the human breast, and it obviously animates redbreasts as well, because he’s back again before I’ve done.

By now, the warmth is starting to go out of the air, though I am sitting on the shady side of the beck. My robin chum flies off when I stand up. I stroll down past the Spar, where once worked an absolutely stunning young woman, who I privately nick-named The Sexiest Girl in the Lakes (there was also a Sexiest Woman, but she was over in Coniston, and that’s a different story).

I got down as far as Zeffirellis, which brought back memories of a two-night break and a meal/cinema deal for the two of us, involving Curse of the Heaving Bosoms (actually, it’s Golden Flower, but if you’ve seen the film, and I recommend it if you haven’t, you’ll get what we meant). That’s one memory too many so I come back and ensconce myself in the Ambleside Tavern, with a pint and a comfy chair in the window, and dig out Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which has been my long-distance train journey reading book for about three years now: it’s a long book, and I don’t make that many long journeys by train.

A long slow read, a long slow pint and some decent Motown on the sound system. Nice.

There’s usually some woman who catches my eye on these Lakes days, and she’s waiting for the bus. She has short, dark-reddish hair, and narrow, black-rimmed glasses that emphasise her eyes. She sits down immediately in front of me. She looks intelligent, someone you can have a conversation with, someone with strong opinions. She gets off outside the hotels on the lakeshore.

We go from light to dark in the space of the drive from Ambleside to Windermere. There’s time before my train, nearly ninety minutes. I can catch the one before it or I can go fora coffee in Booths‘ cafe. even though I know it will give me problems with the bus when I get to Piccadilly Station after 8.00pm, I go for the coffee.

It doesn’t last me that long, but I have the book to occupy me, and finally, not long after getting on the train to Preston, it is over. How many journeys has it taken me? Buggered if I know.

The ticket inspector advises me that if I change at Oxenholme, I can get on a quicker train to Preston, and an earlier one to Piccadilly.  It’s pitch-black, I have my music, I decide not to bother with the additional hassle. This proves to be a mistake: we sit motionless for nearly ten minutes at Oxenholme, and another five at Lancaster, meaning that I miss the connection at Preston. The next Manchester train’s twenty minutes: it’s delayed arriving and sits there for nearly ten minutes before leaving.

This is now a joke, made worse by having no idea of where we are or what progress, if any, the train is making.

At long last, we reach Piccadilly. There’s a further surprise at the bus stop: a 203, waiting and about to pull out. I am on it like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. That’s one for me at least.

But this fragmented and seemingly interminable journey home is merely a minor blot on a day that was far better than I could have expected, which could hardly have been better save by fitting in a jaunt onto the fells, or a sympathetic companion. Maybe next year, eh?  Yeah, right after the Euromillions win… Home tired, back knacked, knee protesting, but content. That’ll do.

Great Walks: The High Stile Range


A fish-eye lens view of the Range

I haven’t previously written of the High Stile Range as a Great Walk because, although it undoubtedly is, my experience of it was in large part a frustration. Not wholly: there was much that was good and the start and the end of the walk, but when the main fell, the highest peak, is covered with cloud during the part of the walk where you’re crossing it, you can’t really call it a success.
The High Stile Range is three high peaks in a dead straight line of under two miles, between Buttermere on the rocky, impressive, challenging north-east and Ennerdale on the dull, grassy, featureless south-west. Most walks tackle the ridge from Buttermere, for reasons that will be immediately obvious to anyone who sees the Range from that side: you don’t even need to view the Ennerdale flank to make a decision.
Those of us who hate to cross trodden ground during a walk find ridges like this a bit difficult. There is no Horseshoe element whatsoever, or if there is it’s one that’s been straightened out by Desperate Dan. You have to gain the heights at one end and drop down off the other and find some reasonable way of connecting the walk-foot at each end.
Fortunately, this is not an insuperable problem with the High Stile Range.
The day began with the usual engine-stressing, brake-busting crossing of Newlands Hause. Parking at the Village end of Buttermere is at even more of a premium than the Gatesgarth end, and I took refuge in a small roadside quarry a quarter mile or so before the Village, where, if I recall correctly, I still had to pay for a day’s parking.
At either end, the ridge is across the valley from the road, and there is a long, flat, green walk to the base of the Range, rising steeply from the edge of the lake. At the Village end, the path across the fields is narrow and bounded. It felt like a long way to go just to get to the bottom of the walk, especially as I was eyeing cautiously the cloud level, sweeping about at just below the top of High Raise.
I’ve done this before, setting off for a walk that might take me under cloud cover, anxiously raising my eyes but ploughing on determinedly, daring the cloud to still be there when I get up with it. Helvellyn, that time I went round by Sticks Pass, Raise and White Side, ending up sitting in a wind-shelter too crowded to get into the lea side, watching people arrive out of the cloud at least every thirty seconds. A first attempt at the Coledale Horseshoe, having driven up Friday night during the 1994 World Cup, and having to descend to Coledale Hause after feeling my way to Hopegill Head, the water droplets catching in my beard. Bowfell the first time, via Rossett Gill, Rossett Pike and Ore Gap, nearly coming to grief on Bowfell Links when we lost the path down. I should know better by now, or then, but I pressed on.
The walk didn’t really begin until we reached the further lake shore, and then the lines of walkers turned towards the head of the valley, until a gate at the foot of a long, diagonal path. And it was through the gate and up, up and up, single file, through the woods on a long, narrow route that kept to the same gradient and never ended, left, right, left, right, nowhere to turn aside and take a break without holding up a continual procession behind.
That’s exactly what it was like, a procession going up the stairs. I’ve never had an experience like it on the fells, before or since.
Not until the route emerged from the woods did the way widen to enable people to settle to their own pace. And after a short section directly up the broad fellside, the way turned right, and we could enjoy an extended level section, dashing or strolling, all across the face of the fell, below Bleaberry Cove, on rock. I couldn’t resist the urge to stride out and overtake a lot of the stair-climbers who had preceded me, whilst allowing the younger and fitter to burst past me.
The openness and the levelness was like a rush of fresh air, especially after the confines of the woods. I have never liked not being able to see where I am in height at any time on a climb.
At the far end of this extended terrace was the confused and tumbling outflow of Bleaberry Tarn, white water to hop across to gain the far bank and turn back uphill, scrambling into the lip of the cove, the tarn bright under a heavy sky, and High Stile’s buttresses beyond it.
The cloud was still hovering, this time around the top of Red Pike, my first destination. The path moved away to the right, onto the saddle separating the Pike from its subsidiary, Dodd. I wondered, on the saddle, about turning towards the latter, but it would be a strenuous day and Dodd was a literally backwards step, a few hundred feet of climbing I would have to repeat when I got back to this point. An actual Wainwright, of course. A subsidiary summit, no.
So I committed to the long, straight ascent towards Red Pike, and to the lowering cloud cover that was making the day grey, and doing the same for my mood. For the first time today, the walking was tedious, and I found wisps beginning to float around me and across me.

As not seen from High Stile today

Red Pike was almost exactly the same height as the cloud base. I did get a full view, but it was from under a very low roof and through grey air that robbed the panorama of its richness. And as the clouds were unshifting, I had before me the prospect of crossing to High Stile in complete invisibility.
The ground underneath was not too difficult, though the path was far from being as distinct as I would have liked, and the presence to my left of steep and dangerous cliffs had me like a cat on hot bricks all the way to High Stile’s summit cairn. There was nothing to see, not through the swirling grey. I had Wainwright’s word for it that the supreme viewpoint was down the slope towards the lake, at the end of a rocky nose.
I went in that direction with ultra-caution as to what might lie beneath my feet or, rather, what might suddenly not lie beneath my feet. This viewpoint was lower than the summit, maybe it might, just, peep beneath the cloud, but as ever my optimism was merely hopeful. For a moment only, a swirl of wind blew away the screen, and I caught sight of the lake and the Village and the deep valleys opposite, but it was literally a moment only, and then the enclosure again.
I made my way back to the summit cairn, collected the rucksack I had, trustingly, left there, and started towards the rough descent to High Crag. It was still a bit nervy: I do not like cloud on the tops. But I came out below the cloud level, the ridge started to narrow, and then I was walking the narrow path along the top of Burtness Comb, and behind me the cloud had burned out and it was all sun and afternoon glory, and I was alone on this narrow, level ridge, with steepness on both sides, and behind me High Stile bare, proud and clean of cloud.
Not that I was going to turn round and add that extra climbing to my day. There’s a psychological dimension to descending from a summit, and I have found that once I have gotten more than a token distance from the top, steps retraced are heavy and draining. Onwards, ever onwards, not backwards. Though I regret not summoning that extra energy now, and going back for the view that now was unobstructed.
I was now above Burtness Comb, on a flat ridge that felt as narrow as a rail, and the sun was now burning down on my exposed position. It was one of those crossings that felt endless, with little change in the scenery to suggest I was getting much further forward, High Crag not seeming to loom at all, and care required in view of the lack of width.

The ridge to High Crag

But at last I reached the third fell, and made the short climb to its little top, bare of summit furniture on which to sit.
With nothing to wait for, and the sun slowly dehydrating me, I set off down the unremittingly steep ridge towards Scarth Gap. This was a strain on the knees throughout, and I quickly made a mental resolution that when I came back to the High Stile Range, I would not reverse the order of ascent. This ridge was not merely steep, but well-scraped, and hard underfoot.
By the time I got down the worst of it, to the base of Seat, the soles of my feet were burning. I had the option of the easy route, bypassing this long, subsidiary upthrust to the south, and joining the Pass lower down but, purist that I am,  insisted to myself on crossing it along the ridge, before finally reaching Scarth Gap.
This made the third time I had dropped down off that particular Pass, to the Buttermere valley, but this time there was the matter of returning to the Village, not Gatesgarth. However, rather than the road, I had left myself the lakeshore path, which was cool, and quiet, and level, and uncrowded. There was no need for hurry, and the presence of the Lake lifted the spirit of my feet, even if I couldn’t physically plunge them in it for cooling.
In the end, I met the gate where the diagonal stair debouched onto the route, and not too much further was the turn across the valley to the Village, and the little quarry car park where I could relieve myself of my boots and transfer to soft-soled trainers for the drive over Honister and back to Borrowdale.

The Day I Went Back


Wainwright’s Favourite

Many years ago, in the first half of the Nineties, on a whim I decided to commit myself to playing every album I had – CD, vinyl, tape – during the year. When you live alone, you can do oddball things like that. I can’t remember how many albums I had then, but it was probably more than 400. That’s a lot of listening: I got to the last album somewhere in the early weeks of December.
Three or four years later, and a substantial number of additional albums in my collection (I was a considerably more voracious acquirer back then, when there seemed to be more good music) I decided to repeat the exercise. This time, I had listened to everything by the middle of May.
The difference was that, second time round, I was a lot more methodical about the task. I planned, I executed, I zipped through.
I mention this because my fellow blogger George has suggested I write about a particular walk that has a poignant element for me, and my lack of method first time round the Wainwrights was in its way responsible for that day.
I’ve spoken before of how my Dad, Stanley Crookall, introduced me to fellwalking in 1966, and of how reluctant, and complaining, I was. I grew out of it reasonably quickly, or at least that’s what I remember, but I have never forgotten that it was he who introduced me to the fells. I went on to complete the Wainwrights, and a part of that achievement was to do what Dad would have loved to do, and to see all these things that were denied him by the cancer that took him away from the fells, and eventually from us all, before he reached the age of 42.
I would love to set out on another Wainwright Round, go back to all those 214 summits (with especial reference to High Stile, Dodd, Scale Fell and Seat Sandal, from which I have not seen any views). But I know that it’s impossible, and my body wouldn’t let me. I have my doubts about getting to even a low summit again, given the state of my right knee.
But if I were to tackle the Wainwrights again, I would be methodical. There would be a plan, and it would be efficient. Not like the first time round, where planning did not extend beyond a Big Walk for the last day, and trying not to use the same Wainwright book twice.
There would be no holes in the jigsaw ‘next time’, no little fells in awkward corners that hadn’t tagged on to larger rounds, leaving me, as I neared the end of the list, with the prospect of short walks that didn’t amount to a full day’s expedition. Such as Fleetwith Pike.
Everyone who knows Buttermere knows Fleetwith Pike, and everyone who’s looked at even a small selection of Lake District photos knows the stunning view from its summit of the Buttermere valley, with the two lakes stretching out in a line. From the valley, the ridge is an obvious temptation, a straight, steep prow leading directly to the top.
On its own, Fleetwith Pike is maybe a half-day outing, with no real appealing route of return. To make it into a decent day, it was obvious that I should combine it with Haystacks, circuiting the short Warnscale valley, and returning via Scarth Gap. I have been to Haystacks before. It had been one of the very earliest fells I had climbed, or rather, we had climbed: the whole family.
My Buttermere walks were always done from Keswick, and for something at the head of the valley, I would cross Newlands Hause, pulling up at the top to allow my engine a chance to recover from that final steep pitch, after the bend, where there was never time to get out of first gear, and then that steep descent to Buttermere Village, riding on the brakes the whole way, which was why I would never drive over Newlands from the Buttermere end.
The only freely available parking at Buttermere by the Nineties was in Honister Bottom, and I had to go a good half-mile to find a suitable spot. The sun was well up the sky, and I had clear blue conditions and a fair amount of heat to face.
It was one of those days that started heavy-legged. There’s very little preliminary to the ascent: you leave the road and immediately you’re zig-zagging, in the lea of the fell, past Fanny Mercer’s white cross. I found it a struggle until I was out on the ridge.

Fleetwith Pike

Narrow ridges of this kind, thin trails amid the grass and rock, are great to follow, especially with that kind of view behind if you feel the need to halt for a breather. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the ridge as much as I have others: it felt just that little bit too unremittingly steep, and although it was better to be out in the open, it was still a breathless day. Nor was I gratified that the path kept more to the Warnscale side of the ridge: Honister Bottom may not offer the best views, but Warnscale has a devastated look to it, as if it is the scene of some quasi-nuclear bomb test that has left a blight on the ground.
But persistence always brings the summit underfoot, and this was where the day changed, for the better. There was a breeze, and the air felt fresh now, and that spectacular view behind, with which I was so familiar already, but photos can never measure the scale of such sights. Still, I was peeved that the sun was shining too directly into my lens to make taking my own shot viable.
Fleetwith’s neat, bare summit was not bare of walkers. In fact, it was a bit like a tea party up there, like a Helvellyn summit crowd crammed into a smaller compass. I found a small patch of unoccupied ground, lowered myself onto it and dove into my rucksack for my sandwiches.
When I got up to move on, I was at last alone. I left the pack at Fleetwith’s summit behind, and strode off to descend the grassy decline to Dubs Bottom. I always preferred having the fells to myself, and I could now relax into sole possession of the afternoon.
En route to Dubs Bottom, I passed Black Star, the ‘summit’ of Honister Crag, and contemplated for a moment stepping aside to reach its summit. The thought amused me, that a mere walker like me could so easily reach the top whereas all the climbers were making it difficult for themselves, but then I realised that that wasn’t the point. It’s walkers who pursue summits: to climbers they’re the least interesting part of the crag.
Dubs Bottom was an interesting place, a wide depression studded with levels and derelict buildings from the old mining days. Beyond it, I could see the ground rising to the Old Drum House, at the stop of the seriously stiff ascent from Honister, the road to Great Gable, or Moses’ Trod, or the descent to Ennerdale by Loft Beck, so well used a thoroughfare yet almost invisible in Wainwright because it lends itself to no ascents.
Though it was no part of this walk, I crossed the dip and went up to the Drum House, climbing onto its platform and surveying that odd plateau that lies between the Buttermere and Ennerdale Valleys, and the way the Gable path turns towards the low ridge and seems to spring forward along its base. I’ve done that each time I’ve sweated up from Honister: by the time you get to the top, you need a few moments breather.
I turned back towards Dubs Bottom, which needed to be crossed at a diagonal, from the near right corner to the far left corner, to escape onto the fellside and the ridge of which Haystacks in the primary part. There were paths through the old workings, and I switched from one to another, like a child following a maze with invisible walls.
I emerged onto a path snaking in and out of the outcrops along the front of Haystacks. It moved up and down, and in and out, never the same for ten yards straight, and giving no glimpse as to what was ahead. I didn’t have Wainwright’s proverbial raging toothache, and I suspect I would have been giving it the major part of my attention if I did, but this crossing had immediately etched itself into my short list of paths I would happily go back and walk immediately: Ullock Pike to Long Side, the Corridor Route being other examples.

Blackbeck Tarn

The best part came when I crossed the entrance to the cove that holds Blackbeck Tarn. Everyone sees Innominate Tarn as the jewel of Haystacks, but one look at Blackbeck, glittering in its sheltered bowl, the Tarn’s boundaries swelling towards the back of its expanse, and I was hooked. I’ve never been one for camping, being too fond of guesthouse beds in which to rest myself after a hard day’s fellwalking, but I could imagine the joy of an early awakening on the grasses above the reedy banks at the far end.
After Blackbeck Tarn, the winding path continued to weave up and down, but far too soon I was emerging onto the broad back of the fell, and could see across the head of Ennerdale to Great Gable, and Pillar. From there, it was just a gradually ascending way, passing Innominate Tarn’s shores (I cannot remember whether Wainwright had adorned it then) and on to the nearby summit, which surprised me by merely revealing another, and higher outcrop.
I had been here before, nearly thirty years before. I remembered that we’d not been able to see Innominate Tarn from the summit and had moved on to the other outcrop to see it, with the ring of high Ennerdale fells as its backcloth, but no further.
Part of me still can’t believe we had ever been there at all. My family were wedded to the quarter of the Lakes from Ambleside to Wasdale, and apart from the traditional wet-Friday trip to Keswick, never ventured further. I hadn’t even seen Haystacks until the previous year, when, for my benefit, we spent a non-walking rain-soaked day going round the Western Lakes, and I saw Ennerdale Water, Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere for the first time ever, four new Lakes in one day, and we escaped by going over Honister Pass, between writhing clouds and towering cliffs, and this from my Uncle who normally wouldn’t take his cars over anything more steep than Dunmail Raise.
And here we were, in Buttermere, parking opposite Gatesgarth Farm, bound for Scarth Gap and Haystacks. I can only assume that it was its status as Wainwright’s favourite fell that brought us there. The pass was supposed to be one of the easiest in the Lakes, but once again our family maxim applied: ‘if Wainwright says it’s easy, it’s hard: if he says it’s hard, it’s bloody difficult!’
Enough so that, at the Pass, in a precursor of the stomach problems that would limit our expeditions in the Seventies, my Uncle stayed behind, leaving only the four of us, mother, father, daughter, son, to scramble up the gully and find our way to the summit.
My Dad was 39 in August 1968, fit, healthy, active. He was looking up, and ahead, to the high fells. His younger child, my sister, was older every year, and the range of our walks would be growing with her. His son had stopped whingeing if you so much as asked him to lace up his walking boots. No, he wasn’t as impressed with Haystacks as he’d hoped to be: to him, Lingmell, our second and highest top to date, was more the mountain top he envisaged. Idly, he suggested he’d prefer his ashes sprinkled there.
That November, we got away, just the four of us, for a couple of days in a small cottage in Grisedale Forest. I remember walking down the road to see Forge Force Falls on the evening we arrived, I remember lying in the top bunk in a crowded bedroom we all shared, feeling so much part of everything as my parents talked below, and I remember following the Grisedale Forest on our last day. There was no fellwalking as such.

Forge Force

Dad was complaining of pains in his left shoulder. Back in Manchester, he went to the Doctor. He was in hospital more than not over the next twenty months. He never saw the Lake District again. Haystacks was his last walk.
That’s not the place of sentiment for me. That came a couple of years later, crossing from the last Wainwright to the one that had been the First, unlovely, ungainly, unlikely Middle Fell in Nether Wasdale. As I arrived at the summit from the back, the party there was packing up and leaving. I walked round for the next half hour, talking to those who would never come back as I had come back, this once and only time.
But Haystacks is still one of only three tops where I can look the memory of my Dad in the eye and stand equal to him. Me and you, Dad, me and you.
I scrambled down to Scarth Gap and set off for the valley. I can’t remember if this descent came before or after the one I made after completing the High Stile range, which was the one where I sat down on a pathside stone to look at the very strange goings on in the wide green fields below, that I finally realised was the filming of an episode of One Man and his Dog.
Sadly, I never saw the broadcast episode, so I have no idea to this day whether I managed to get myself into the background of any shots, and add to my small stock of TV background shots.
And I drove away over Honister.

The Lake District: A Wild Year


It’s a good week when there’s a programme on about the Lake District, but it’s an extraordinarily rich one when there are two. To add to Tuesday’s BBC4 presentation of Terry Abraham’s excellent Life of a Mountain: Blencathra, last night BBC2 gave us The Lake District: A Wild Year, produced and directed by Simon Blakeney and narrated by Bernard Cribbins.

This latter programme sold itself on its time-lapse photography aspect, a year in the life of the Lake District compressed into a single hour, not to mention some fantastic micro-photography of things that nature doesn’t usually allow us to see, and in one viewer’s case would actually have preferred not to see. Tiny, predatory jumping spiders joined shots of lambs emerging from ewes, baby slugs exuding from collapsing eggs, exploding seed pods blowing unwary caterpillars about like First World War troopers exiting trenches courtesy of their own side’s shells.

Though the programme did go some way to redeem itself over the slugs and spiders with wonderfully sharp photography of red squirrels, making my hear melt as always.

This aspect of the programme was applied to the flora and fauna, of which there was too much of a concentration for my personal preferences, with the frantic, yet smooth, time-lapse stuff being reserved for fell and valley scenes, all clouds boiling across skies of all colours, and shadows scurrying between flashes of concentrated sunlight. Oh, that that other native fauna of the Lakes, the everyday tourist, also got the time-lapse stuff, roiling into the Windermere waters for an annual swim, whose duration but not direction was specified, or flooding onto and off the Lake steamers with a jerky rapidity that suggested that any moment the soundtrack would cut to the Benny Hill theme.

No, the noisy musical soundtrack was not the highlight of the documentary, but that was part of the price of populism demanded by being shown on the more exoteric landscape of BBC2. As was Cribbins’ commentary, which was trailed in advance as sensitive but tended more to the banal, treating everything with an underlying levity that suggested it might not be entirely interesting without being mildly sent up. Or am I simply not sufficiently unspecialised (i.e., ignorant) an audience.

Cribbins was the only voice heard in the programme, aside from occasional hubbub from tourists. The locals featured – farmers, shepherds, dry-stone wallers – remained silent. This actually added to the atmosphere in the sequence where the shepherds in Langdale gathered to bring the sheep down from the fells for the shearing: all these strong, steady, silent, lean men, using their crooks as walking poles, making their unhurried and reliable way up the paths as they have done for centuries became iconic in their steadiness, their timeliness. Men doing their job, without fuss or bother.

Naturally, I could have done with far more of the fells, but then that’s me. There were cloud-chasing scenes in most of the major valleys, though with a concentration upon Windermere, Grasmere and Great Langdale. But there were shots of Derwentwater, Mardale and Haweswater, the Buttermere Valley: brief but glorious.

The programme’s year ran from April to April, from lambing to lambing, the traditional farming year, but its year of filming was the year of that terrible December, of rain, storm, flood, devastation, disaster. Though it opted for a decent brevity for that section, the programme was nevertheless serious and open. It tore my heart again to see it, to think of my beloved country being so cruelly treated: the worst was a private sequence, in a car in the rain, tearing along the road east of Thirlmere, faster than the conditions might warrant as safe, ploughing through flooded stretches that came up almost to the vehicle’s bonnet: until it stopped, for floods draining irresistably off the slopes to the right, spilling earth and rock and wall across the road in an unnegotiable collapse.

But lambing was the beginning and lambing was the end, though the repeated footage  of black-woolled Herdwick lambs bouncing up and down with uncontrollable energy was the same at start and end, suggesting that only one generation was filmed. And fittingly, the last word came from a dozy lamb, lying on the ground, moving only its head around, until it looks directly into the camera and emits one falsetto bleat.

No, there’ll never be an ideal Lake District documentary until I do one myself, assuming time, opportunity, finance and talent, the last of which being probably the most tendentious aspect, but A Wild Year did more than just do until the next one, however far off that is. I miss the Lake District. I miss it all the time. Things like this refresh my memories and that connection of spirit on which I subsist.

More, please, and soon.

 

Life of a Mountain: Blencathra – TV debut Tuesday


A heads up for those of you interested in the Lake District: BBC4 will be showing Terry Abrahams’ Life of a Mountain: Blencathra on Tuesday evening, 14 February, from 9.00 – 10.00pm.

Like the Scafell Pike film broadcast on BBC4 in 2015, this is an edited version of the full-length film, available on DVD, which runs to two hours. I haven’t see the edited version, and to be honest, I didn’t think the film, overall, was quite as good as Scafell Pike, but it’s still superb, and programmes about the Lakes are not so common that we can turn our noses up about any of them, so treat yourself and watch this, because you will enjoy yourself.

And there’s another Lake District documentary on Friday this week: riches!

On a Sunny Day: a Hayeswater Round


Hayeswater: to be rounded
Hayeswater: to be rounded

Given my current status of fitness, not to mention the stability of my right knee, I’m reliant now on my memory for the kind of long, peak-heavy walk I used to organise for the last walking day of my twice-annual holidays. When it came to peak-bagging, the Fairfield Horseshoe was one of my best tallies, eight summits in the course of a day, but that didn’t set my record. There was one walk on which I went one better, visiting nine summits in a single walk that was better than I’d originally planned. And a walk that had at least a claim to being semi-original.

By that I mean that it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Wainwrights as a recognised walk, unlike the Fairfield Horseshow or the Mosedale Horseshoe. It is a horseshoe, of its kind, but when I came up with it myself, from a study of the Far Eastern Fells, I actually called it the Hayeswater Round.

It was an obvious piece of design and I calculated that I could reach eight tops, none of which I had previously climbed, starting and finishing at the village of Hartsop, tucked away in its little valley off the side of Patterdale. And, in keeping with my basic instinct about such things, I proposed to walk anti-clockwise.

This meant starting off by scaling Gray Crag, a narrow, steep-sided, steep-nosed fell at the end of a flat-topped ridge emanating from Thornthwaite Crag.

The direct assault on Gray Crag from Hartsop was steep and long.  This kind of ascent did not seem the most sensible for the start of such an ambitious day, and especially one that promised to be very sunny, so after studying the relevant chapter, I decided to approach the ridge a little more obliquely. This meant leaving Hartsop by the track to the filter house, crossing the beck there and completing the ascent to the shores of Hayeswater, where the path petered out into nothingness.

The early stages of this were hot and dusty and a bit of a grind, but by the time I was in Hayeswater’s narrow valley, there was fresher air, the grass was sweet underfoot, and the sun sparkling off the water was delightful.

There were no paths on this flank of Gray Crag, so I simply took a sighting on the skyline behind me, at a suitably gentle upwards angle, and set off across the grass, trying always to angle up. Once I gained the prow of the ridge, there was nothing for it but to start the serious climbing, scrambling between outcrops, until the gradient eased and the rest of the ascent was just an uphill stroll.

Gray Crag’s shape is that of a promontory. I had a long, lazy gentle stroll, crossing a disused wall three-quarters of the way along, until the final rise onto the top of Thornthwaite Crag, whose summit lay half right, distinguished by its monumental cairn, Thornthwaite Beacon. This was an ideal spot to take lunch, under the sun, with a gentle breeze and gentle slopes all around, especially when my next top was going to be the highest point of the walk.

Thornthwaite Beacon
Thornthwaite Beacon

From Thornthwaite Crag, it was an easy, mostly flat or very gently graded, grassy walk to High Street, along High Street. I strolled back from the massive cairn, descending into the grassy bowl that lay back from the head of the Hayeswater valley, and onto the whaleback of High Street.

This was the old, the famous Roman Road, high above the world, the place where troops in armour, with red cloaks and leather sandals, had once marched, from Ambleside to Penrith. This is the place where the walker of imagination, with romance and history in their souls, can close their eyes and hear the jingle of metal, the creak of leather, the murmur and tramp of the Legions, out above the world.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t conjure them into my mind, to trick my eyes and ears. It was just me, curiously alone, on a broad path that leveled out below the summit, by-passed it on the west by some distance, that I had to leave and struggle up featureless grass to the broad, flat top. The Legions would not come to me in the Twentieth Century.

I had left the Legions behind, and the history that should have swept around me at this point was that of the countryfolk of the valleys, Racecourse Hill and the annual meet of the dales folk, climbing out of their valleys for three days of revels, of conversation, games, racing, courting, trading and all those things we take for granted, but which then was denied by the daily struggle to earn a literal living.

That should have been evocative too, but once again I couldn’t conjure the visions in front of my eyes. It was just a flat, green top, with a cairn on the highest point, and an edge to the panorama that was a long way away all round and revealed nothing of those adjoining valleys and little of the fells beyond.

It ended up being a long walk east from the cairn before I got a glimpse of Haweswater lying deep in the curve of Mardale. Because this was the last lake I got to see, years after first visiting the Lakes, because I had to badger my family into holidaying in a completely different part of the Lakes than usual before they’d even drive out there, because it is remote and distant and it feels as if you have to drive out and back in to even visit Mardale, I’ve always had a fascination for Haweswater above all the other lakes, and it was essential that I see it on this walk. It didn’t look in the least impressive from that angle. I couldn’t even see the distant dam because the valley curved so much.

I decided I didn’t need to return to the summit so angled back to meet the wall just above the surprisingly steep descent to the surprisingly narrow Straits of Riggindale, beyond which it was a long haul up to the summit of Rampsgill Head, with its splendid view of the wide-open, very straight but not particularly interesting valley of Ramps Gill.

The Straits of Riggindale
The Straits of Riggindale

My next destination was Kidsty Pike, whose odd, angular peak was not far distant. It was similar to crossing from Swirl How to Great Carrs in the Conistons, except that wainwright had set no time trials on this ridge route. I ticked off Kidsty’s top having really seen little of the best of the fell. I assumed I would one day make a return visit from the valley, on a more entertaining ascent, but though I did that for High Street, and had a brilliant day of it, I never got back to Kidsty.

Technically, like Wandope in the Coledale Horseshoe, this was not part of any geographic Hayeswater Round, but was too close to pass up. However, it was the furthest point of my planned route: except that it was still only early in the afternoon, I had gained a lot of height, and it was only three-quarters of a mile up the ridge to High Raise. This was a fell I needed to claim at some point, but which appeared to be quite a distance away from valley – or more pertinently road – level.

It meant an extra mile and a half I hadn’t budgeted for, but on the other hand I was here, I had the time and it was too convenient to ignore. I tramped north on the continuation of High Street, along an open, empty, rounded ridge, without incident or excitement, until I was level with High Raise’s top and diverted off to the right.

High Street and Kidsty Pike from High Raise
High Street and Kidsty Pike from High Raise

It was, or so I thought at the time, my 100th summit. When I checked my records on returning home, I discovered I had miscounted. No. 100 had gone uncelebrated, back on Kidsty.

Having diverted so far out of my way, I needed to get back on track, so I tramped, with a slight bit of trudge creeping in, back to Rampsgill Head. There was no need to return to its cairn, so I contoured pathlessly across its northern face, aiming to pick up the path for Patterdale, descending from its summit.

This brought me out at the foot of the Knott, and another Wainwright time trial: anyone full of the joys of spring should be able to make it from the wall corner in two minutes, a test I passed, just, though as I was full of the joys of early September, I claim a special exemption.

I still had two more tops on my round, the first of which was Rest Dodd. This is the key to The Nab, deep in the Martindale Deer Forest which was, in those days, firmly out of bounds. I had no plans to make an attempt on the hidden fell from its reasonably innocuous rear, not that day and not after the miles I had covered, though I would come back several years later and collect The Nab.

But on both occasions I quickly found Rest Dodd to be a tedious and draining ascent. Some fells are like that, with no seeming reason. they do not have steeper flanks, or rougher ground, but the walk drags, and the energy is depleted quickly.

This first time, I was dropping down from The Knott’s little top and heading straight across the Patterdale path, downhill in a straight line, to a deep dip in a small dell, with virtually no level ground, just an immediate climb, still following that straight line, to the top of the walls angling across Rest Dodd’s Hayeswater face. Even the short climb up unmarked grass, where the two wall ends form an angle that, for no apparent reason, do not meet, was tiresome, and i spent little time on the summit of Rest Dodd, enough only to study the ground northwards into Martindale, before retreating down the other wall until I regained the Patterdale path.

Tarn on Satura Crag
Tarn on Satura Crag

It had been a long day and a long walk, and I had been under a strong September sun the whole day. I was growing leg-weary and welcomed the gentle gradients of the path as far as Satura Crag. After that, it was a case of leaving the path for the trackless ground to the left and picking Brock Crag’s summit out of the indefinite outcrops on the edge of the valley.

Unfortunately, the day had just been that little bit too long and that little bit too sunlit. The valley wall down towards Hartsop was steep, and the tracks zigzagging exposed to the sun, and I was sudfdenly out of the breeze that had kept everyuthing cool. It was stuffy and unpleasant and I wasn’t more than a third of the way down before I was struck with a blinding headache, a good old-fashioned razor blade across the eyeballs job, which tended to blur my recollection of the final stages.

Of course, I swallowed a couple of tablets the moment I had got my boots off – nothing but nothing precedes removing the boots at the end of a long day in the fells – but it made for an unpleasant drive back to Keswick, with the headache still paining, and my stomach starting to churn, sufficiently so that at one point, exiting the Matterdale valley, I had to pull up and crouch in the verge in the belief that that days sandwiches were making a break for it.

But such misadventures are all part of days in the fells. The inclusion of High Raise may, in retrospect, have been ill-judged, but it took my tally for the day to nine summits, and I have never had some a productive day before or since, and I have never been in a position whereby I could have revisited it. So I regret nothing and remember with glee my own, self-designed, Hayeswater Round.