Some Outlying Fells: Howes & Nabs Moor

Howes – The Outlying Fells 1,930′

Date: 14 September 1994

From: Selside Pike

The most easterly of my limited outings into the Outlying Fells, Howes was not a destination in itself but rather a more interesting way back from my primary target, the fell that brought me into lovely, old-world Swindale in the first place (and the last time before all road traffic except residents was barred from the valley). I was racing somewhat – to try to get the last of the Wainwrights in before the year was out, and to be back at my car in time to drive home and watch United in the Champions League. So rather than reverse my steps back to the Mosedale Corpse Road, I swung round in a wide loop south round to east, skirting the head of Hobgrumble Gill on pathless grass. Howes doesn’t stand out in any way: it’s a spur rather than a peak of any kind and from there I swung further round to head north, over the lower point of Nabs Moor, which did at least have some crags blocking a direct descent, and thence down to Mosedale Beck, within sound but not sight of its falls. The actual head of the valley was occupied by moraines, and was weirdly lower than the ground beyond it, which was an odd end to the walk. But I was back for 3.00pm, as promised to the farmer who’d graciously consented to me parking in his yard, and in good time for the match, which we won 4-2. Those were the days.

Some Outlying Fells: Flat Fell

Flat Fell

Flat Fell – The Outlying Fells 871′

Date: 28 August 1974

From: Cleator Moor

This was the second – and last – official walk from The Outlying Fells that my family agreed to do, at my suggestion. It was a complete disaster and we didn’t even do the best part of the route Wainwright described, and I was blamed for it in no uncertain terms by my mother, in a manner not quite as savage as the one in Pooley Bridge twelve months later that put paid to me going on any future family holidays. In retrospect, I should have seen the things that would go down like the semi-legendary cup of cold sick. The walk started in Cleator Moor, not a hive of fell-walking, and by the time we’d got from where we’d parked to the bridge where we got off the streets, with everyone looking at us in our walking gear and making us feel like we were the weirdos (hey, they lived in Cleator Moor, which doesn’t say much for their normality), the atmosphere was getting chilly. At least we were into the country now. But all it was was a simple grassy walk, towards the valley of Nannycatch Beck, then up a featureless inclined grassy rise onto the featureless grassy plateau that was Flat Fell (the name should have told me something), passing a small group of placid hill ponies and reaching the – what’s the best word? Oh, yes – featureless summit, where my mother made her disgruntlement known. Ok, dumb idea from me, but the rest of the walk, first down to the delightful sheltered little nook of Nannycatch Gate, which we all agreed was lovely, and then back over the other ridge, and the higher and rockier Dent, known to be a little gem, would all be far better. This would redeem the day. Except that when we left Nannycatch Gate, the adults decided they were going to head straight back to the car, along Nannycatch Beck, a clear case of cutting their noses off to spite their faces. My name was mud. What a disappointment.

Some Outlying Fells: Caw

Caw – The Outlying Fells 1,735′

Date: 9 September 1996

From: Seathwaite-in-Dunnerdale

From the approach to our beloved holiday destination of Low Bleansley Farm, there were views of the eastern side of the Duddon Valley beyond. Two fells stood out, Stickle Pike and Caw, especially the latter for its elegant, pyramidical lines. When I grew old enough to start poring obsessively over the Wainwrights, I deeply resented its exclusion from The Southern Fells on its behalf, and would frequently apply to the map to try to prove that Wainwright’s arbitrary boundary line actually passed behind it, meaning it should have been included, so there. When The Outlying Fells was announced, I knew it would get it’s due at last, and was delighted to discover that it was the only top in the whole book to get the traditional ‘space-station view’: recognition long overdue. That said, it was over twenty years before I climbed Caw: the ‘official’ fells came first. It was a warm September afternoon and I parked at Seathwaite before taking the old trail between valleys known as Park Head Road, which would have led me to the Lickle Valley, if followed, where Low Bleansley still stands, proudly, to this day. Views over the head of the Duddon, with Harter Fell in the foreground and the Scafell massif in the background are never short of spectacular, and I enjoyed these to the full, both from Park Head Road and the little summit, reached by a scramble directly up the fellside from the disused Caw mines. I followed the return route in a wide loop over the subsidiary peaks of Pikes and Green Pikes, zig-zagging down the fellside in roundabout fashion, back to my car. An ambition that I’d had since the Sixties was finally realised, and I was so buoyed up that I didn’t change out of my boots when I drove back towards Ambleside, and parked up and climbed Black Fell again, just for the fun of it.

Some Outlying Fells: Boat How

Boat How – The Outlying Fells 1,105′

Date: Unknown

From: Boot

I’m not sure we actually did climb the Boat How ridge, not to its summit, and the more I think of it I very much doubt we did. It was a walk that long-pre-dated The Outlying Fells, that was done out of curiosity, and may indeed have belonged to one of those two holidays we took without Dad’s elder brother. We’d started walking, and we’d had our ill-fated expedition to Burnmoor Tarn, but trips on the Ratty were still a mandatory part of a holiday and there weren’t that many options between trains. Most of our walks out of Boot, the ‘Capitol’ of Eskdale, were up the Whillan Beck, but over the bridge, where the path to Burnmoor Tarn bore right at an angle, another route between stone walls went directly up the fellside, green and steep, and this one time we took it. It was slow going, because it was so steep, and we didn’t expend any energy on urgency, stopping frequently to survey the valley below, in which I was delighted to see clearly the abandoned stretch of the Ratty line, bypassing Dalegarth to rise to Boot and the old mines, a section abandoned because of the excessive steepness of that final climb for trains. The path disappeared once we reached the green ridge, wide and sprawling. Boat How’s summit lay to our right, overlooking Miterdale and Burnmoor, but if my memory serves me we wandered around to the left, gradually declining, until we could pick a pathless but safe route off the ridge and down to Eskdale Green. From there, rather than the road, we walked back to Dalegarth beside the railway lines, where there were verges wide enough for us to have no worries if an unfortunately timed train approached us. My pleas to divert onto the old green spur to Boot and walk that were spurned.

Some Outlying Fells: Black Combe

Black Combe – The Outlying Fells 1,970′

Date: 29 August 1974

From: Whicham

When Alfred Wainwright completed his legendary series of Pictorial Guides in 1966, it unleashed a flow of letters from his eager followers requesting Book 8: The Outlying Fells. With his eyes on the Pennine Way, Wainwright turned his fans down, but in 1974 he complied with their wishes, producing a guide to all those hills and fells that fringe the Lake District he defined for the Guides. The number of tops thus incorporated is slightly nebulous, including as it does a dozen nameless points that some indexers include and some overlook. By either count there are over one hundred. Given that, alone and en famille, I and we were always directed to the ‘real’ fells, it comes as no surprise that my count of these never got out of single figures, but no real account of ‘All’ is properly titled All if it leaves these out, so this brief coda will sweep up these other walks.

The Outlying Fells appeared in 1974 and we bought it more or less immediately, and used it to climb the second highest fell in its pages, Black Combe, one of the most prominent fells in the Lakes, however you define it. It lies in the extreme south western corner, just across the estuary from Barrow-in-Furness, a broad, sprawling rounded fell impossible to overlook. To get to Ravenglass, and points beyond, we had to drive round two sides of it, there and back. Anyone travelling the coast road passes beneath it’s bulk. Because of its isolated position, and its prominent elevation over any fells between it and Eskdale, it commands one of the widest views in the country. It might not look elegant, and Wainwright may have ruled it out, but it was a commanding destination and we decided to climb it. The easiest route was from the Whicham valley, through which we passed every time we headed for Ravenglass. Not far short of its terminus at the coast road, the route passed a derelict school at the foot of the walk (it’s toilets were, surprisingly, still functioning, which was handy as this route obviously had no concealment for miles). The path was firm and continuous the whole way, at first ascending the confines of Moorgill Beck steadily, and then easing the gradient in sweeping curves across the upper thousand feet. There were no complications, nor, to be frank, excitements. Everything was there to be seen, all the way to the cairn, and down again by the same route, there being no alternative options, though we did visit the edge of the nearby combe that gives the fell its name before descending. It was a warm summer day with not much of a breeze which was a shame: the view might be outstandingly broad but there aren’t that many days when it was on show, and this wasn’t one of them. Haze limited the vista. Still, we had added our name to those of the millions who have climbed Black Combe, and it was our most successful family venture into the Outlying Fells. Our next trip would be far less pleasant.

All the Fells: Yoke

Yoke – The Far Eastern Fells 2,309′ (76)

Date: 3 May 1988

From: Ill Bell

Alphabetically, the last fell, and also the last fell of the Ill Bell range. Like the other two summits I visited on that day, I have few memories of Yoke. It broke the mould of the ridge, being broader and sprawling, the range having lost definition here. The walking was undistinguished, a mostly downhill retreat with no features on the route to mark. It was one of those days: once I broke out of Kentmere, it was as if I spent the rest of the walk stumbling, though I don’t remember being fatigued, even after my long straight climb. Mentally I was dulled, interested in little beyond getting back down again. Ill Bell suffered from that and so too did Yoke, which had less going for it. From the summit, I descended towards Garburn Pass. The last hundred yards or so were filthy soft. I knew there was firmer ground to my right, reaching the Pass with less slutch, but that was the Troutbeck side and I needed to descend the Kentmere side, so I stuck it out to the Pass summit and hastened down rapidly, not needing to go far to return to solid ground. The descent was pleasant and comfortable. I meant to go back, and did set out once to do the Kentmere Horseshoe, but life’s commitments were becoming too demanding and, out of practice, I only made it to Nan Bield Pass before returning along the valley, instead of the Ill Bell Range. And all too soon after that, it was all over. Like this series.

All the Fells: Yewbarrow

Yewbarrow – The Western Fells 2,058′ (186)

Date: 17 October 1993

From: Mosedale

As befits the son of a family who never holidayed in the Lakes without visiting Wasdale and Wastwater, I have a history with Yewbarrow that includes no less than two failed attempts to reach the summit before I finally got there. As a family, we once tackled Yewbarrow the direct way, up its long prow. I can’t say I remember much of the ascent, which is a shame because it was the only time I approached the fell from that end, but I was only just in my teens then. I can imagine myself struggling with the long, tedious walk uphill, which was the kind of walking I hated still. Our original destination was going to be Red Pike, but it looked far too far from Over Beck, so we side-stepped onto Yewbarrow instead. We got as far as the Great Door, a scene of tremendous devastation, requiring care, a little bit hairier that we were used to, especially with my sister, who must have been six at the most, in tow. Dad was so worried about her safety in a place where a wrong step could have been disastrous that he actually roped her to a rock! It was obvious that we were going no further, but actually the men of the family, which included me, went on a bit further, onto the open ridge, at least as far as it took to be able to see Burnmoor Tarn across the valley and behind the ridge (why?). How near that took us to the summit, I can’t even guess. When it came time for me to go it alone, I had no intention of tackling that prow again, which necessarily meant Dore Head. I started off in decent weather, across the Packhorse Bridge and into Mosedale. When I reached the broad, clear, uphill grassy path, I headed up it. It was tough going yet, in its extra steepness, a lot easier for me to cope with: some slopes are just naturally draining but not this. The drawback came when I reached what remained of the old scree-shoot that gave walkers of the past such a quick route down to the valley. Unfortunately, their controlled slides down the scree had not just dispersed all the stones but had dug a nasty looking, raw earth channel down the middle of the slope. The continuation of the path was easy to see opposite, all I had to do was bridge the gap. Which was a good dozen feet deep, with unclimbable overhangs on my side. Dismally, I recognised that the only way I could get down that was to fall, and even then I wasn’t over-confident about getting out the other side. I was stymied. Rather than go back down and find a different starting point for the climb, which meant losing a good five hundred feet at the start of the walk, I opted to keep climbing on this side. This left me to tackle a rough, broken, steep and pathless fellside, very slowly. I made my way leftward, towards the base of the crags that were the bottom of Stirrup Crag. I would move about ten feet at a time, no more, focussing on what was immediately above me, seeking out the easiest lines, constantly looking rightwards to check my progress. It took ages, but eventually I was near the ridge. There was no direct way to it and to escape I had to cross the highest, most polished section of the channel, the bit where it would have been the simplest to have come a cropper. Grateful to have got up there, I then found my effort effectively wasted. Whilst I had been climbing up, the weather had turned. Cloud was down on Yewbarrow, swirling about Stirrup Crag, just a few feet above my head. The walk was obviously ended here. Since I couldn’t go back down that way, there was nothing for it but to descend the Over Beck valley and walk back up the road: in short, rather than climb Yewbarrow, I would circumnavigate it. As if to crow over me, I hadn’t gone more than two hundred yards when it decided to rain. I got into my waterproofs., but it came down so incessantly that I learned that after a certain point, waterproofs become waterlogs. I was soaked. And unlike the descent of Sour Milk Gill from Gillercomb, there was no perverse satisfaction to this, just sogginess. I was on a day out from Manchester. I never used to do this, and didn’t repeat the exercise, but as if I had had a premonition, I had brought a change of clothes with me. Once back at the car I drove into the Hotel Car park and, clasping the change set to me to try to keep them from getting wet, I sprinted for the toilets to undress. Unfortunately, my foresight had not extended to a dry pair of underpants. A couple of years later, I would just have cheerfully ‘gone commando’ but now, after wringing out as much water as I could (not much), I wriggled back into them. This was not a good idea. Almost immediately they started to soak back into my new jeans, producing a horribly embarrassing two-tone effect, as if I were some buckshee Superman. Gross. It had to be third time lucky and it was, and if it hadn’t have been for those two failures, I wouldn’t have had the unbelievably brilliant day I did. The weather had been gorgeous all week, bright blue unstained skies, a crisp clarity to the air. My fingers were permanently crossed that it would stay to the weekend, to Sunday in fact (United were at home on Saturday). It was the very end of October. The first I realised just how good the conditions were was coming across the top of the Corney Fell Road: the Irish Sea burst upon me in a blaze of turquoise blue from one end to the other and the Isle of Man stood out so massive and near that it looked as it I could see the other half of the sea, behind it. I have never seen it so clearly again. I was puzzled to see, ahead of me, a circle of clear water, like a silver coin laid on the sea. What on Earth was that? And then it struck me. It was the river water, emerging from the triple estuaries at Ravenglass, a different colour from the sea water, before it merged. What an incredible sight! To be honest, if I had known things were going to be so clear, I would have gotten up two hours earlier, given Yewbarrow the elbow and gone for Scafell Pike. They claim that in good conditions you can see the Mountains of Mourne from its summit, and if you couldn’t have seen them that day, you never would at all. Once again, I crossed the Packhorse Bridge, but this time I bypassed the broad grass path, crossed the foot of the once scree and started looking for a way up the other side. I found a narrow trail leading up, crystals of frost forming on it. I pieced my way upwards, a fascinating little climb, until I caught up with the ‘obvious’ path’s continuation, little spurts and angles, and lastly a grassy dell below the ridge, holding a big boulder. I fixed my eyes on it from above, memorising the scene for any later descent, and I can see that picture in my mind still. Stirrup Crag was a gorgeous hands and foot scramble, with never more than a couple of yards of rock visible at a time and, like all such things, too short by half. I was now on the roof-tree and it was a simple walk under the brilliant skies to reach the summit. I lived for days like these, stuck in a job I hated. I descended towards the Great Door, remembering our ghosts of nearly thirty years before: only myself and my sister remained. Then down the prow, back along the road and a drive home of pure contentment.

All the Fells: Whiteside

Whiteside – The North Western Fells 2,317′ (48)

Date: 10 September 1986/17 September 1996

From: Lanthwaite Green/ Lanthwaite Green

Though both my ascents of Whiteside were just as the first step in a circuit of Gasgale Gill, it’s still a fine fell in its own right, with a nice, engaging approach along steep ridges, offering an openness that you don’t get on every fell. From Lanthwaite Green, at the base of where Gasgale Gill issues from its long ravine, just ’round the corner’ into the Vale of Lorton, there is ample car parking. The mouth of the Gill is the obvious starting point, and a path breaks off, up the heathery slopes, almost immediately. This makes for the subsidiary summit of Whin Ben, crossing its crest. Except for up the fellside, there are splendid views all round, of Gasgale Gill, of the Loweswater Fells and the Fellbarrow range, which gave me ample excuses for breathers: on a sunny day, the walking was great but it was also draining. But that’s the North Western Fells for you and why I loved them more than anywhere else. You sweat it up steep slopes to get to that first summit, but then you’re up in the air all day, treading narrow ridges, and all the coming down is in one lot at the end. The path from Whin Ben led next to a rock shoulder with a bit of scrambling in its upper section, and from there to the end of the ridge, just a dozen yards short of what Wainwright identifies as the summit of Whiteside. It’s a fine, open top but it’s another of those tops where there’s a higher point further on, the much less satisfying and distinguished East Top, which is actually some forty feet higher. I was going to cross it anyway, so it hardly mattered, on the long and splendid ridge to Hopegill Head, but Wainwright’s choice feels like a summit and the eastern point just feels like a point on a ridge.

All the Fells: Whiteless Pike

Whiteless Pike

Whiteless Pike – The North Western Fells 2,159′ (89)

Date: 13 September 1988/22 May 1995

From: Buttermere Village/Rannerdale Knotts

Whiteless Pike is one of those minor fells that are nevertheless utterly delightful, compact and bijou as you might say. From a certain point on the Buttermere road, nearing the head of Crummock Water, it appears to be an isolated pyramid but that’s misleading as the dip beyond it, to the ridge leading up to Wandope, is very small. But it’s a lovely walk for a half day when you don’t feel like over-exerting yourself. The approach is from the path leaving Buttermere Village bound for Sail Pass, but turning up the green fellside on a wide grassy trajectory. Early on there’s a choice of three parallel routes, one each to left and right, roundabout and easy, the central one following a semi-rocky crest that’s by far and away the best experience, and free from danger. Above this section I came to the end of the long back of Rannerdale Knotts but by-passed it. Beyond this, I came to the head of Rannerdale itself, a surprising deep and hidden valley. Buttemere was known as the ‘Secret Valley’, but the epithet seemed far more appropriate here. The rest of the walk was an exhilarating narrow ascent, leading directly to Whiteless Pike’s neat top. The path onwards to Wandope attracted me but it was too late to start that now, so I descended the way I’d come, except that I diverted out to Rannerdale Knotts on the way. My return was to take that ridge to Wandope, though Whiteless Pike was just as enjoyable as it had been when it was for the sake of that alone, the only difference being that, as I didn’t really want to descend the way I’d come again, I diverted out to Rannerdale Knotts on the way up this time.

All the Fells: White Side

White Side – The Eastern Fells 2,832′ (162)

Date: 10 September 1992

From: Raise

The plan, which I’d dubbed The Outer Circle, was to ascend from Glenridding to Sticks Pass, walk the Helvellyn Range from north to south, over Raise, White Side, Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike, and descend from Grisedale Pass. It didn’t work out, thanks to low cloud on Helvellyn ending things there. White Side was another of those fells that I don’t feel I ever really experienced. I descended from Raise to the col and came up the shoulder of White Side. About thirty feet below the summit, a wide, wide path swirled up from the Kepple Cove valley below to the east. It curved up out of the valley and passed over the summit, about twenty foot wide, and on towards Helvellyn Little Man. It was as if an unusually focussed swarm of locusts had swept irresistibly through. I thought it amazing. When I was forced to retreat, I came back over White Side and took the locust road all the way down into the valley. At the foot of the ruins of Kepple Cove Tarn, I saw an interesting looking path on the far side of the beck, so I scrambled across and took this path, plainly engineered, being wide and level, until I was above Glenridding and needed to slip down to return to the village and my car.