Imaginary Holidays 2


It’s freezing cold, cloudless and blue skies: why not slip off to the Lake District for another Imaginary Holiday.
This time, we’re definitely heading for Keswick for the start of the week, the early Sunday drive up the Penrith section of the M6, Blencathra’s profile overlooking the A656. I’ve had my return to the hotel overlooking the park, let’s update my nostalgia and rebook for two nights on good old Bridgedale, on the main street, just past the mini-roundabout.
The name of the game is to not use the same book of Wainwright twice in the same week, and to try to go to as many different areas as I can from last time. So, since I didn’t actually do any Patterdale walking last time out, let’s do that.
I’ve climbed Gowbarrow Fell a couple of times in the past, from the Hause, below Little Mell Fell. It’s a lovely, low, rural fell, of gentle gradients. The first time I did it, I parked at the Hause on a Sunday afternoon of gentle sun. There was a wide path leading directly from that spot that Wainwright didn’t mention. I strolled along it, checking my position by his map, curling round a low, green bump and picking up a path onto the summit from behind. Then I returned by the same route.
When I came back with an old friend, recently separated from her husband and children and in need of distraction, we had a Sunday out. I thought of Gowbarrow, but in the meantime, the landowner had padlocked the gate and put up signs very fiercely forbidding access. Instead, we took the car down a bit further towards Patterdale, parking near Watermillock Church.
There was a mostly level path along the flank of the fell, overlooking Ullswater, and we wandered along, chatting. There’s only been a few times since I broke with my family that I’ve gone walking with a companion, and Linda wasn’t a girlfriend (or wife). Indeed, given her current frame of mind with her husband, I was sternly warned about making a pass!

Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell

At the ruins of the former refreshment hut we sideslipped up towards the broad back of the fell, and made our way up its back, from a different angle than before.
I could choose an ascent from a direction I’ve not walked before, via Aira Force and Yew Crag, but I’m in the mood for a lazy and undemanding stroll, and the route from Watermillock Church will remind me of older times and a long friendship long broken.
So I’ll stroll along the flank of the fell, through the increasing plantations, until the route via Yew Crag joins from the left and then turn uphill, through an easy tuck, and those who have chosen to assert their rights to roam under the Countryside Rights of Way Act would arrive here over untracked ground, having passed behind the hummock of Great Meldrum, and nothing left but the easy ascent up the back of the summit.
There are three ways back: by the same route, by the farmer’s route, or the longest way round, by descending towards Dockray and following a path above the intake wall, until it reaches a quiet road leading back to just below the Hause. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give myself so much road walking, but this quiet hinterland behind Gowbarrow Fell is beautiful, perfect for a Lazy Sunday afternoon stroll (‘ere, mustn’t grumble…), when the exercise is minimal and the atmosphere is the point of the day.
Of course, I’ve still got to get up and over the Hause. but it’s neither high, nor steep, nor far before I’m trotting downhill again. I think I’ll sit in the car with the door open and all the windows down for a while before driving off.
There should be time for another stroll, back in Keswick, though the town and down towards Derwent Water, turning into the Park and finding a little hummock from which to gaze down the lake towards the Jaws.
But let’s do some serious walking on Monday. My pursuit of the missing views kept me out of the North Western Fells, but there’s a matter I’d like to clear up just to the west of Newlands that should make for an entertaining day using the leg muscles seriously.
I finished off one holiday with an extended Newlands Round – Maiden Moor, Dale Head, Robinson, Hindscarth – in which I rather over-extended myself. I started a nasty headache, under the sun, struggling up the final slopes onto Robinson’s top, and by the time I’d circuited Little Dale to Hindscarth, I was completely drained. The long descent over Scope End was wasted on me as all my focus was on not falling over.
So let’s go back. But rather than repeat the walk, let’s just restrict it to those last two fells, for I wasn’t in the best state to take in Robinson by the time I got there. Call it a circuit of Little Dale, about which Wainwright was so negative, though it looked alright to me on the day. Ridges run in parallel from Newlands. Well supplied with barms and liquid, I’ll hunt out an offroad space close to the lane to Newlands Church, convenient for both.
Re-imagining what it’s like to go up (or down) a ridge I’ve never walked is far from easy. Studying Wainwright, or internet walking sites, or photos of the ground cannot make up for grass and rock under your boots, nor can it tell me what views I will enjoy along the way.
And which way do I walk? Surely Scope End demands ascending? It may be familiar territory, though by the time I descended it I was blurred by headache and exhaustion. But the thought of a new ridge, and one that Wainwright recommends as the best way up Robinson (as well as being anti-clockwise) is almost irresistible, and the thought of having to repeat that tedious, draining slog to the summit off the ridge from Hindscarth settles it.

Robinson the hard way

There’s an easy, pedestrian route into Little Dale, and a trackless climb onto the ridge beyond High Snab Bank, but I have never been inclined to soft ways round, so once I reach the end of the road past Low High Snab, I take to the open fellside, cutting upwards steeply on a well-defined path. This is the way of the North Western Fells: short, steep ascents on grass to gain long, airy ridges, and I curve leftwards into High Snab Bank itself, where the gradient is gentle and the walking can be brisk, until I near the edge of Blea Crags.
Here are three rock steps in succession, across the path, each twenty to thirty feet in height and requiring my scrambling head to get up. I wonder what real-life exertions they’d require, but I think of Stirrup Crag and Lining Crag, and the fun I had on these, and get up them.
Above lies the meat of the ridge, following the edge of Robinson Crags, overlooking the neighbouring valley of Keskadale Beck, where care is needed with an unfenced edge. There’s a rock step on this, just below 1,800 feet, but I think I’d do what I tended to do when I could, and hove a little ‘inland’, far enough not to let my incipient vertigo turn me into a bag of nerves.
As the ground eases, the prominent cairn that suggests it’s the summit is revealed to be a third of a gentle mile off the actual, somewhat sprawling top. This time, I arrive in the same kind of sunshine but without the grinding headache that marred my visit.
It’s a fell-filled view, if the wide top shuts off valley sights, and Floutern Tarn is visible just beyond Hen Comb, but apart from the eating of those barm cakes, this isn’t a summit to inspire an extended stay. Hindscarth is the nearest thing, just across Little Dale, and once refreshed, I am back on actual trodden ground, crossing the top towards the Littledale Edge fence, and following it around east, to the choice of paths: whether to bear left and shortcut across the depression, or continue to the highest point on the ridge to Dale Head and approaching Hindscarth from behind with the benefit of being a purist.
This time, I’ll take it easy, take the ‘shortcut’, avoiding the unnecessary regaining and losing of height.
Let me imagine now that Hindscarth, reached much earlier in the afternoon than before, has other walkers in its summit. Usually, I refer my summits in solitude, when I can get them, but I had that last time, and it felt unwelcome and frightening. No necessity for conversations, perhaps, but a bit of company would restore a psychic balance.
Then off, downhill, on a clear, almost grooved path, with Newlands to the right and below. I can take my time, walk with ease and regularity, enjoy the view rather than concentrate ferociously on where my feet fall, until I cross Scope End and turn downhill, remembering how relieved I was to have gotten here safely.
At the very foot of the ridge, I have a choice: a long contour back left into the valley of Scope Beck, to cross and regain the lane past Low High Snab, or the lane ahead from Low Snab to Newlands Church and, somewhere close by, my car. I think I’ll do it the easy way.
Tuesday begins by packing the car and heading south over Dunmail Raise to lodge in Ambleside until the week ends: where to today?
I’ve already used The Eastern Fells, so how about somewhere Central? I park at somewhere like the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, in the little car park on the opposite side of the Great Langdale Road. The black wood of the Hotel stands out away from the road and behind it, Mill Gill tumbles joyously down the fellside. I know they call it Stickle Ghyll these days, but we are walking inside my head now. The sun sparkles down from above, I change into my trusty boots, tuck my walking jeans into my socks and shrug my Dad’s old rucksack onto my back.
I couldn’t begin to work out the number of times I have been up and down Mill Gill, above the New Hotel, Dungeon Ghyll. The first time goes back to the middle Sixties, when we used the path to the west of the Gill, before it was closed due to erosion, and the last would have been somewhere during the Nineties, maybe even for the original walk of which this imaginary ascent is an extended repeat.
The only highest fell in any of the Wainwright books that I never visited a second time is the Central Fells’ High Raise. Most of the available routes are from the top of Greenup Edge Pass, reached from three different valleys, but no-one wants to go up Greenup Edge if they can help it. When the time came to collect High Raise, I approached from Great Langdale and I propose to do that again.
From the New Hotel, that means crossing the beck by the footbridge to gain access to the east bank of Mill Gill. This is the route I have taken more often than I can remember, but on that last visit, knowing the congested stony stair ahead of me, I was intrigued to see a narrow path head away to the right that was not in Wainwright. Out of curiosity, I followed it.
It proved to be another path, running in parallel to the main drag, about ten yards up the hill. It was narrow and unspoiled and I was completely alone. The walking was a little easier, because the ground had not been broken by overuse, and instead of the walking in this section being a grind, I felt refreshed and cheerful.
The path’s now marked in Hutchby’s Third Edition Wainwright, and it may no longer be the quiet alternative it was when I found it for myself, nor as discrete underfoot, but that’s the route I plan to tread, away from the numbers, as Mr Weller once put it, in his youth.
Given that I’m not aiming for the Langdale Pikes in any way, it would be completely legitimate to take the short cut zigzag route to the east of Tarn Crag (not the one beneath Sergeant Man), but that would be to do myself out of the supreme purpose of climbing to Stickle Tarn: the sight of Pavey Ark rising gradually but majestically over the lip of the final channel, and providing the glorious backdrop to the Tarn itself. No amount of climbing saved can justify passing this sight by.
For High Raise, it’s necessary to follow the shore of the tarn round, paralleling the great cliff-face, and following its feeder, Bright Beck, around the end of Pavey Ark. The crossing to the North Rake on the Ark is passed, and any first time visitor here will mark where it diverges, as did I.

Sergeant Man – my forgotten Wainwright

But we are bound for ahead. Wainwright is not impressed by the ascent after Stickle Tarn, but before too long the route drops into the channel of Bright Beck, and there is a long straight scramble beside the water. I can’t recall, but this may have been my first extended scramble, and I had a whale of a time, hauling myself along by hand and foot.
Ahead, at the top of the channel, was a strange white thing. I was climbing in either late April or early May, a bright, sunny day, but it was clear from a long way down that this was some deposit of snow, sheltered from the spring sun. When I finally got to it, the snow was extensive in depth, at least some ten feet and nearly six feet wide, and it was supported by a mass of long grasses. It looked like a natural ice igloo, that you could wriggle under, though I wasn’t about to try that, because it looked easily fatal if the damned thing collapsed on me.
Actually, the worst part of the walk was getting out of the gully on trackless grass. This brought me out into the open, onto the wide plateau that stands behind the front of the Langdale Pikes, filling the horizon from Grasmere to Langstrath. The sun was high and there was nothing left but an uphill walk to the bare top of High Raise.
In terms of the sheer extent of the flatlands, there isn’t another place in the Lakes that feels so exposed and yet so secure. The views are limited so far as valleys are concerned, but there is nothing for a long way around that overshadows High Raise and diminishes its isolation.
Sergeant Man, a rocky outcrop on the edge of High Raise’s top, is not geographically a separate fell, any more than is Pavey Ark, but on the same basis that Wainwright separated the Ark from Thunacar Knott, he divorces the Man to make it a separate destination, though it would be odd for anyone climbing either fell to ignore the other. The crossing is nothing but a downhill walk, without features, and indeed Sergeant Man is one of the very few Wainwrights about which I have no easily available mental image to call upon when I think of it.
From here, it’s a cross-country walk, downhill all the way, to the edge of the basin that contains Stickle Tarn, and that’s the way I retreated, because I was still bagging Wainwrights and I had already added all those around. But the point of these imaginary holidays is not to simply repeat what I’ve done.
So, instead of bearing off for Stickle Tarn, I shall turn my steps towards the broad ridge between Langdale and Easedale, until I reach the walkers crossroads on the moderate skyline, where the path beyond Easedale Tarn crossed the watershed. I came this way from Easedale once, gaining the ridge here aware that I was actually higher than the next summit along, Blea Rigg.
There’s nothing particularly exciting either at Blea Rigg or on the way to it, but it’s a variation on a walk done, and a change is always welcome. Blea Rigg then, and a slow stroll back, until paths start to lead down towards the Tarn, and then the short cut that doesn’t matter on the return journey, into the channel of Mill Gill, and back along the old familiar path, where twice I was headachey and sick in the same place, on the day of my O-Level results, and the day of the O-Level results two years later, when I’d already had my A-Level results.
For Wednesday, I want to head east, into the lonely country that’s as far away as Lakeland gets. This isn’t going to be an exciting walk, and neither will Thursday’s be, but there’s a thematic continuity between the two that link them. And these are places I have only been once, and thus are territory I want to revisit.
I’m planning a trip to Longsleddale, rounding from Kendal onto the Shap Road, and slipping off into that narrow road along that long, straight, unspoiled valley, as far as Sadgill. Once, there used to be a small parking space, easily filled on a busy day, but the last time I looked into Longsleddale, it looked as if this has swelled into a full-scale car park. Convenient though that would be, I’d rather I was wrong.
Walks along one ridge of a valley have the drawback of ending a long way from where they start. Revisiting Grey Crag and Tarn Crag means a long walk, either way, from the Head of Longsleddale to Sadgill, unless I want the walk to take place in a very small compass. Given the attraction of the Head of Longsleddale, I’d rather not.

Grey Crag – far east

This time, in the peace and quiet, I’m putting the long valley walk first. The farm lane rolls on, between drystone walls, level and straight, with the narrowing jaws of the valley and the rising packhorse track visible all the way. Up cobbled steps, where the horses hauled carts to the quarries, the steepening way into that quiet hinterland, that indefinite country where Gatescarth Pass continues to its summit, and the Mosedale valley opens up on the right, suggesting a country far removed from human habitation.
This is the way to go. Not into Mosedale itself, which on my one visit here struck me as a place where the miles are far longer than a mile and where people could disappear forever, melting into the landscape. For Tarn Crag, take the Mosedale path, with an eye to where the ascent of Branstree, left, begins alongside a mounting fence, and instead turn right, over featureless slopes, increasingly pitted with peat-bogs, through which the path threads until it reaches the lonely cairn.
There is only one site in Lakeland, as defined by Wainwright, that lies east of here, and that summit it a half hour on, at best, along a dull, damp, peaty ridge, before we reach Grey Crag.
There is no other distinction to this fell that its geographical position. It’s a flat, grassy top, with good views down into Longsleddale, but insufficient height to look at fells beyond the valley rim. Eastwards, the ground dissolves into rounded ridges, where at some point the Lake District comes to an end and indeterminate ground separates the walker who braves this isolation from the Howgill Fells, on the other side of Tebay Gorge. There is no real looking out, only the knowledge that you are looking out, out and away where nothing stirs the eye or the mind.
Descent to Longsleddale is marked by a patchy path, first west across the summit on a slow gradient to find the fence and the stile that permits progress, then a turn almost due south on a clear line descending the shallow green ridge to Great Howe, with its survey pillar off-route to the left, and its Longsleddale views, up and down. The escape off Great Howe isn’t worth risking in mist, with scarps and rock to thread through, as the ground gets steeper and the path a little less clear. But I should be able to safely get to the second stile, where wall and fence meet, and follow the wall towards the valley head until the path breaks and descends the easy gully that leaves you in the upper field. One more stile, and just the lower field to cross to the gate opposite the Sadgill parking facilities.
There was one curiosity I observed, ascending here long ago that should be clear to see in descent. Across the valley, on the flank of Shipman Knotts, I saw an intriguing path, a thing of zigzags, angles and reversals, snaking up the fellside, about halfway between the Kentmere ‘pass’ and Kentmere Pike’s Goat Crag. I instantly wanted to walk it, test it underfoot, but I couldn’t see where it went, up or down. I don’t believe so defined a route can only exist halfway up a fell, but neither Jesty nor Hutchby have teased it out, so either I suffered a sustained optical delusion or it’s a purely private farm path. This one attracts but frustrates the imagination.
From Longsleddale in the east to the furthest west. For the final day of this imaginary holiday, I’ve selected for myself a long walk, of the kind I used to reserve.
It’s long-distance in two senses, first in the drive from Ambleside to reach the starting point, on the crossing of Cold Fell, from Calder Bridge to Ennerdale Bridge, and in the walk itself, twelve miles, there and back. I’ve done longer walks, even on days when I’ve driven from Manchester first, and been returning the same day, but Wainwright warns that the miles are long on this ascent, long and empty. This is more of an endurance test than a walk for pleasure, because I intend to climb Caw Fell.

Caw Fell – far west

Six miles there, on the skyline south of Ennerdale, and six miles back, a long way from anywhere else. My only previous visit to Caw Fell was as an adjunct to ascending Haycock from Nether Beck, Wasdale, the nearest point involving the shortest incursion onto this unloved, wide-spreading fell.
And I’ve walked the beginning of this route, when I set out to collect the westerly group of Grike, Crag Fell and Lank Rigg, parking on the Cold Fell road and setting off along the old miner’s road through the forests. That was easy underfoot, although badly slutchy in at least one point, and if I’m going for the big one, there’s no need to waste time and effort on visiting those first two summits again.
So I can make good time over the first two to three miles of the exercise, on easy gradients that end up dipping to the bottom of the first serious rise. This is where the real walking starts.
And as with Robinson, I can’t recreate a walk never walked. I can only look at Wainwright’s map, and his contours. The dip at the end of the mine road, after passing beside Crag Fell, can’t realistically be called a col, but this is the first of two depressions to be passed as a Ridge Route from the fell. At this point, I’d be about halfway to my destination, with little or no difficulty walking to date.
From here though, I’ll be passing into the unoccupied open, the bare, grassy, unfrequented ridges that prompted me to class this region, from Nether Wasdale to the Loweswater fells, as the Western Margins. From the depression, the path starts to climb, initially quite steeply but then merely inexorably, as I start to scale Iron Crag.
The path is broad, and if it were needed, there’s a wall to the left that runs all the way to Caw Fell and beyond. It’s not a near neighbour as you grind out the ascent onto Iron Crag’s bareback top. I saw that part of the route from Caw Fell, Iron Crag running pretty much south to north, wide and empty. It looked lonely, and paradoxically something that might trigger my incipient vertigo. It’s the building roof/aircraft carrier syndrome, wide flat places with no walls or fences guarding their edges, leaving me uneasy about going over them, no matter how distant I am from anything I can fall over.
Across Iron Crag, there is another dip, a depression to cross, with streams descending westwards towards the grasslands of Whoap and Lank Rigg. Above that, the ridge is gained, and Caw Fell’s final bulk, lying on an east – west axis, the wall still the guide to the flat and exposed highest point. Where exactly that is is a matter of trusting the cairn builders: the cairn is north of the wall, which can be easily crossed to touch it. One half of the job is done.
All that remains is to return. Six miles have got me there, six more will get me back. On peak form, which is always the case in Imaginary Holidays, I’ve a couple of miles and a bit more in reserve, and a couple of thousand feet of untried, and this is not the kind of demanding walking as is involved in Scafell Pike from Seathwaite ascending via Sty Head and the Corridor Route and returning over the other two Pikes, Esk Hause and Grains Gill. Just stride out, ignore the monotony of the walking and the scenery, and who knows: by the time I’m back at the foot of the ascent to Crag Fell, I’ll have enough energy left to vary the return by traversing Crag Fell and Grike again, or maybe even Whoap and Lank Rigg.
Or maybe I’ll just maintain the purity of the only kind of walk I went out of my way to avoid, the pure There and Back Again, where every step of retreat is over the ground crossed in ascent. Back to the Cold Fell road, back to the long drive home by dying sunlight, and into Ambleside. Chicken and chips, eaten out of the paper on a bench beside the Park? It’s been a brilliant week.

Cloud and Isolation in the Western Margins


Some places in the Lakes are simply not easy to get to. Most of the main valleys have roads of some kind or another in which the walker who doesn’t want to spend hours tramping the roads can get to within reach of the fells, the major example of which being Ennerdale, which has been out of bounds to non-Forestry Commission traffic for decades.

In more recent times, lovely, remote Swindale has been made access only, thankfully after I had enjoyed the ascent of the only Wainwright that can only be directly approached from its distant valley head.

Grisedale is another valley that has long been denied access for the tourist driver, but the road only extended a mile into the valley before the ways took to the fellsides, and if you can’t manage a walk of a mile on the way to the fells, you should hang up your boots in shame.

Some fells, however, are just a long way away, even in such a compact area as the Lakes. But if you consider the geography in the west, in that green and grassy domain I call the Western Margins, the valleys spread particularly widely towards the sea, and there are silent and empty hinterlands that make access from the coastal side a long and slow business. And don’t forget Blengdale.

Working towards the end of the Wainwrights, I had to find a way of getting to Haycock and Caw Fell.

Their relative inaccessibility had been obvious to me for years, having been reading the books since the early Seventies, long before the mad ambition to climb them all had ever come into my head. Wainwright himself had picked out Caw Fell as a long distance trod, six miles there from the Cold Fell Road, and six miles back. This still came over as intimidating, even when I had demonstrated the ability to cover longer distances, over rougher and much more interesting ground without collapsing in my tracks.

I’d even walked the first part of that approach, on another day n the Western Margins, Grike round to Lank Rigg, and it didn’t looked remotely difficult underfoot, and yet Wainwright made it feel like a major expedition into extremely lonely and isolated country, just waiting to trip you up.

And it wasn’t as if the ‘shorter’ approach, from Ennerdale, looked in the least bit appealing.

If it were to be done, it looked as if it would have to be done from Haycock and back. And that looked as if it would be best done from Wasdale, via Nether Beck.

This was something of an unusual walk for me. I was unfamiliar with Nether Beck, except for the fact that it and Over Beck debouched into Wastwater in a very short space. Most expeditions involved a fairly immediate climb into the hills, up some sort of ridge aimed for my first fell of the day, but Nether Beck, as emphasised in the long, thin map extension in the Haycock chapter, had little to do with Haycock. I would be starting along a narrow, confined beck valley, with a long way to walk before I even came near to, let alone saw my first target of the day.

Nevertheless, this made the early walking quite easy. The path was distinct, the valley mostly straight, and whilst I didn’t gain much in height, I was swallowing up distance easily. Though I did have some concerns about the cloud line, which was showing signs of hovering on or about the ridge. There was little to show me where I was, the valley being quite enclosed, and any view back to Wasdale soon hidden by the curve of the valley.

At Pots of Ashness, where the valley took another turn, I has the choice of a steepish ascent to the flatlands above and approach haycock directly, or to take the more roundabout route, further up the valley, to gain the ridge at the col between the fell and Scoat Fell, further east.

Being in no rush, I took that route, which began to steepen after the outflow from Scoat Tarn. I kept looking out to my right, hoping to catch a glimpse of the tarn in its bowl, but never gained enough height to see it.

The clouds were threatening above and, by the time I got to the col, the last twenty feet or so had been within their folds.

No matter how experienced I got, I never liked walking in clouds. I never escaped the underlying fear of not being able to see where I was, and potentially falling down a cliff, but even in areas of clear tracks and guaranteed easy route-finding, I always felt enclosed, hemmed in. I walked to be out in the open, up in the hills, to see ahead and behind and all round, and in cloud on the tops, I lost the sense of being on the tops. The cloud was a ceiling above me, pressing down.

Nevertheless, the cloud had drifted clear once I reached the summit, and I had the uninterrupted view that I wanted. Despite its height, Haycock’s distance from the surrounding valleys means it doesn’t offer the greatest views, except over Blengdale which, paradoxically, was the main thing I wanted to see.

After my Dad died in 1970, I inherited his membership of the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Preservation Society. His dad was born in Ravenglass, the youngest child of the Station Master on the main line, and in the early Seventies, our name was still recognised in the Village. We never let a holiday go by without a trip on the Ratty.

The River Mite had been added to the Rivers Irt and Esk as the Ratty’s third steam engine, and in the early Seventies, there was talk of building another engine. It was suggested that, in order to fit in with the other engines, any new train be named the River Bleng. I’d never heard of this river before, and on asking discovered it to be a tributary of the Irt. Reading the Western Fells identified its whereabouts to me, and its valley’s size and reputation. It had remained a point of curiosity to me ever since, but I had never been anywhere before from which I could see Blengdale for myself, until now.

I was both impressed and seriously unimpressed. Haycock was the ideal viewpoint, standing at the very head of the valley, which was broad and green. But my instant response, which I can reproduce more or less verbatim was “my God, what flaming idiot let the Forestry Commission into Ennerdale when this bloody useless waste of space was available?”

There is a Blengdale Forest much further down the valley, and which has a surprisingly favourable reputation, especially among cyclists, but I defy anyone to look upon the open, empty, featureless spaces of the long upper valley, fill it in their imagination with dark, dank straight lines of trees, regimented across the valley and not conclude that it looks so much better like that.

I was now as close to Caw Fell as I was ever going to get in normal circumstances, and especially when I was still working towards completion of the Wainwrights. The traverse was a mile each way, an inescapable there-and-back-again, and especially after the initial steep descent on rough ground, the walk deteriorated with every step. I pulled myself up onto the flat top of Caw Fell, wandering along in parallel to the fence, but the actual highest point was as impossible to determine without military-grade surveillance equipment as it is on Branstree.

Strangely, the view from caw Fell, circumscribed as it was by the breadth of the summit, was more memorable than that from Haycock. I could see how the ridge declining towards the Western Margins turned abruptly north after Caw Fell’s top, rising over the equally ungainly Iron Crag, whilst behind me the highlight of the view was of Haycock itself.

It was a fortunate trick of geography that Caw Fell’s top was situated at that point where perspective makes the fells look their grandest. Haycock soared, a massive dome, raised above the head of the valley, it’s summit wreathed again in clouds, preventing me from taking the photograph I wanted. Seen from that angle, Haycock was noble and grand, and looked a damn sight higher than in reality it was.

The cloud was now lower and thicker than before, and I had to go back that way to return to Nether Beck. I contemplated contouring around the head of Blengdale, keeping below the cloud-line, and below any of the crags. But there were no tracks and whilst the ground looked to be without difficulties from afar, I knew from past experience how wearing it was to traverse angled ground for any length of time. And having the emptiness of Blengdale for company did little to recommend it.

In the end, I climbed back up to Haycock, though I found that I could bypass the summit rocks and skirt round to the long descent towards Pots of Ashness and the damp looking plateau between Haycock and Seatallan.

The latter had actually been part of my initial plans for the day, thinking to sweep up three relatively unprepossessing fells in a single walk. However, on looking across towards the long ascent necessary to reach Seatallan, I have changed my mind. My rule of thumb is that if a ridge route involves 500′ of additional climbing, it should be classed as a separate ascent, and factored accordingly.

Omitting it today actually worked to my advantage. It was not all that long after that, in conversation with a fellow walker, he asked which Wainwright I was saving for last. I hadn’t even considered that before but a short review of the two dozen or so remaining made it clear that, for purely personal reasons, Seatallan would be the ideal choice.

Descending towards the flat (and wet-)lands, with the long and tedious rise of Seatallan beyond confirmed the wisdom of omitting that part of the walk. At that time of the day, setting out on a 700′ ascent was the opposite of wisdom.

There were no paths across the wetlands, but I had picked out the point where I would need to descend to Nether Beck and kept that in sight once I was down to the level. Crossing between the streams and rivulets was slow-going but without problems.

And then it was down the steep slopes to the beck, and the narrow path down the narrow valley, reversing the sights I’d seen behind me in the morning. Once again, I was in confined quarters, and it was just a retreat, with the car and getting my boots off as the goal.

It was a strange day, in a part of the Lakes which held no intrinsic appeal to me, yet despite the interference of the cloud it was a very satisfying and memorable day. Caw Fell in particular was very strange to visit, the sense of being so very far away from anybody else, and that gently curved but flat top on which, despite the nearby wall, I felt a tremendous sense of exposure, as if I were at risk of being swept to the edge of the top and over it and down.

Needless to say, I’d love to repeat that walk, and see if the same sensations affect me.

Obscure Corners: The Calder Valley Circuit


The Calder Valley, seen from Whoap Beck in descent

There is more to the Lake District than the Great Walks and the Little Gems that attract walkers and visitors by the bushelful.
Though solitude and privacy gets harder to find by the year, especially in high summer, there are still walks that can offer, for the most part, loneliness and silence.
They may not rival the highest ground for excitement, or the vigour required to conquer the tops, but they offer a change of scene, and they offer visions of Lakeland that cannot be had from the more conventional days. Very few fells in the Lake District, in the Wainwrights are not worth walking. Even those that are not among the higher echelon offer the opportunity for a pleasant day.
Beyond the heads of Wasdale and Ennerdale, and the lesser valleys between them, long ridges reach seawards, grassy summits declining and, eventually, merging into, the West Cumberland Plain. I’ve taken to referring to these lonely, lowly fells – some of them Wainwrights, other relegated to the Outlying Fells, as the Western Margins.
If you’re looking for a pleasant and easy ramble in unvisited country, there is a circuit of the River Calder that takes in the fells on the southern shore of Ennerdale Water, together with Lank Rigg, the fell that Wainwright himself regarded as the loneliest in Lakeland. In sunny conditions, this is a refreshingly peaceful alternative to Great Gable, Pillar and their ever-busy ilk.
The major drawback of the walk is that it avoids sight of the rocky face of Crag Fell, overlooking Ennerdale Water. A start can be contrived from the Ennerdale Bridge area which would compensate to some extent for this, but which would leave to an excessively long road walk back, and can’t be recommended.
Instead, approach Ennerdale along the Cold Fell road, leaving Egremont on the coast road and rising to cross the foothills of the Western Margins. The road has widespread coastal views, although the inland vista is primarily of featureless green slopes.
A hundred or so yards short of the Kinniside Stone Circle – a modern day circle created by a geology teacher in 1925 as an example – the old, rutted mine road descends from a nearby fringe of trees. This is the key to the ascent and there is ample verge parking in the vicinity.
The approach to Grike has changed substantially from Wainwright’s day, with the establishment of another Ennerdale sub-forest on the southern flanks of the fell, reaching up within sight of the summit. The mine road is an easy, gently angled ascent, though much of it is confined within the forest which, being of Forestry Commission design, is glum and dark. In some places, I found the ruts almost impassable due to deep slutch.
Where the road emerges from the fringes of the forest, use a stile to escape onto the open fell to the left and bear uphill towards Grike’s penny plain top, an easy conquest. The views are not spectacular: the bulk of Crag Fell lying immediately eastwards restricts the view into Ennerdale, the lower end of the Lake being the most prominent sight from here. Nevertheless, the first summit of the day is always a welcome point: there’s a sense of achievement to being on any summit, and on a ridge walk there is always the feeling (and often the fact) that the hardest work has been done and the rest of the day can be spent in the metaphorically rarefied air of the tops.
Wainwright used to recommend descending to the continuation of the mine road at this point, to avoid the worst of the damp depression before Crag Fell, but the forest fence precludes this now. And on a sunny day, keeping to the ridge looks the more attractive prospect anyway. I don’t recall much in the way of soft ground to hinder me, but Chris Jesty is adamant that it still exists. Perhaps a sunny summer is the best time to test this?
Crag Fell is the highest point of the walk, and its highlight. Though the crags that award the fell its name are not viewable from this approach, the summit’s closer proximity to Ennerdale itself offers superb, if slightly lop-sided views down into the valley: of the head of the Lake, the deep forests and the relatively staid northern wall of the valley. Bear in mind, though, that Crag Fell’s top is at exactly that wonderful mid-height to emphasise the height and majesty of the surrounding fells.
Lunch is recommended here, to take advantage of the views. When ready to leave, take the path dropping away on the right, heading for the least appealing sector of the skyline, the rounded, unphotogenic Caw Fell.
From here, this lonely and distant fell can be reached in another three and a half miles, though it lacks in appeal except for long distance walkers who like to test themselves. From the Cold Fell Road it’s six miles there, and six miles back, without excitement or intrinsic interest: a long walk with little reward, either en route or on arrival, and lonely country if you sustain an injury.
This walk does not require you to make more than a token gesture in that direction, descending surprisingly steeply through the burgeoning forest before escaping over a stile into the open air, onto the end of the old mine road. At this point, we’re near the bottom of a dip, and the path now turns to the right and climbs, unusually steeply for the day, alongside a wall. Follow this to the  wall corner, where wall and path turn away left towards Caw Fell, and instead bear right, across grassy grounds, in the direction of the rounded hump of Whoap.
Whoap’s a bit of an oddity, apart from its unusual name. In The Western Fells, it looks substantial, with an isolated top and falls of 200 feet on either side, enough to suggest it qualifies as a separate fell. On the ground, it’s easy to see that it is nothing but a sea of grass, thick grass, so that the approach and descent are more like wading than walking, and Whoap lacks any kind of individuality. One gets the impression that Wainwright opted not to treat this as a separate fell because he didn’t want to bore himself tramping all over it, and most honest visitors will probably agree.
There are no paths on Whoap because it is carpeted in thick grass, and it will never ever have remotely enough visitors to blaze any kind of track along its placid ridges. But it does offer solitude, and the sounds of the wind and the birds, and  these are often precious things in the Lake District.
Descend from Whoap and climb the opposing slope to reach the littered top of the day’s last fell, the lonely Lank Rigg, scene of Wainwright’s amazing largesse by leaving a two bob bit near to its cairn in 1966 as a reward to one of The Western Fells‘ readers (it had been claimed by 6.00pm on the day of publication). There is little here to excite except solitude and privacy, although some searching under flat rocks may be worthwhile: it has become something of a tradition for walkers to leave coins for other searchers, and if you don’t find anything yourself, you can always play the game by sticking 50p under some likely stone, though it won’t get you the fish’n’chips Wainwright planned to spend his rash bounty upon. The views inwards to the fells are not impressive, but Lank Rigg enjoys a wide sea-vista that creates an amazing sense of space, which is worth the visit alone.
To return, retrace your steps in the direction of Whoap but, once in the saddle, bear left down easy slopes into the valley of the Calder, here in infant form. The valley is shallow and the walking easy, with a path forming on the right hand (northern) side of the river. Follow this until a track appears on the right, rising towards the low horizon. The Cold Fell Road comes as a complete surprise, being about ten feet away and in the process of bending around a corner. There is about a half mile to walk back to the Kinniside Stone Circle and the car.