All the Fells: Knott Rigg


Knott Rigg – The North Western Fells 1,790′ (107)

Date: 8 May 1989/1 July 1995

From: Keskadale Farm/Scar Crags via Sail Pass

The low-lying ridge that sits between Keskadale Beck and the main body of the Eel Crag/Grasmoor groups of fells is ideal for a sunny Summer afternoon’s self-contained little walk. The ridge has two fells, one at each end, Knott Rigg and Ard Crags, offering an easy, airy narrow crest that’s so characteristic of the North Western Fells. Indeed, it’s only drawback is plotting a way back from whichever fells you have chosen to end upon to where you have left your car. This is a walk that cannot in any way be made circular. What I did was to leave my car just off the road, at the bottom of Sail Beck, under the shade of Ard Crags. This was to be the finish of the walk, allowing me to descend with the best views of Newlands in front of me, so I had to get to Knott Rigg from there. The approach was simple, if unwelcome. I had to take the Newlands Pass road, tarmac underfoot and cars passing me in both directions, as far as Keskadale Farm. It was sunny, which meant I quickly got hot, and heavy-legged, walking up a road for more than a mile just to get grass under my feet, with little variation of views to distract me. Reaching that excessive double-bend just below the Farm, was both a blessing and a trial, given the steep gradient it involved. There was a choice of paths on this flank of Knott Rigg. I could have committed myself to the confines of Ill Gill, though Wainwright described it as rough. Further on, I could have struck a nondescript path across the flank, with nothing of interest to it. But I had determined on the most adventurous of routes, up the subsidiary ridge, the oddity in Knott Rigg’s geographical structure that gave the fell such a strange appearance on the long approach to the Farm, that Wainwright called Keskadale Edge. Access to the fellside was to be had along a short grass shelf on the immediate side of the Farm, but the way was clogged by farm apparatus and rubbish. Call me naïve, but long years of reading the Wainwrights, and the Lake District’s reputation for open fellwandering, left me believing that all the paths the master depicted were rights of way. There was only one, later, instance, on Great Borne, where I came across any attempt to restrict a Wainwright ascent. But I was determined, and besides there was no other access to my route of choice so I picked my way round the obstruction, gingerly aware of the steep drop to my right, and made it to the open fell. After that, despite its almost strenuous gradient, the subsidiary route was no difficulty. The sun still beat down, but the overall walk was so short that there was no reason to hurry, so I just took things steadily, until the slope eased off, I avoided a couple of spots where severe bogs had been marked off by circular fences, and strolled round to the main ridge and the summit, completely at ease. Post-completion, I constructed a more ambitious, if rather artificial walk from two old days out. Parking in that little off-road spot, I did Causey Pike and Scar Crags again, avoiding road-walking to the start of that climb by following a delightful path running parallel on grass, but when I came down to Sail Pass, I turned left, not right, down to the low col between that and the Knott Rigg/Ard Crags ridge. I say col, but this was something strange, more of a flat, narrow plateau, from which becks flowed in opposite directions. Like Blackbeck Tarn, something about the place sparked a temporary wish to camp here, and wake in the morning to silence and solitude. Then I took an easy diagonal line across the fellside reaching the skyline in my own time, more than half the way to Knott Rigg. This meant having to backtrack once I’d counted the summit again, but at least I’d reduced that necessity to a bare and acceptable minimum, and besides, such ridges are fun to walk, no matter how familiar you are with them.

All the Fells: Ard Crags

Ard Crags – The North Western Fells 1,860′ (108)

Date: 8 May 1989/1 July 1995

From: Knott Rigg/Knott Rigg

Though I’ve reached its narrow, airy, heathery top twice, technically I’ve never climbed Ard Crags, as both visits were from the adjoining Knott Rigg, coming back at the end of a day’s walking. The North-Western Fells were the least familiar to me, one of only two areas of Wainwright’s books I hadn’t visited before I started walking on my own, and even then I christened the Northern Fells first. But once I started in this quarter, it rapidly became my favourite, and would be the first book that I closed, all its tops conquered. Ard Crags is far from a major fell but it’s an archetypal North-Western Fell, with its clean, smooth lines, its steep sides and its sharp ridges. Heather and clean rock, trails across the sky, the feeling of exposure as you walk from summit to summit. On my first visit, I was eager to find Wainwright’s photo-spot, the place beside Aiken Beck where Ard Crags stood alone, a multiple pyramid in isolation. Where did I have to go to get that shot? I was taken by the irony of discovering that it was no more than a hundred yards from the little roadside quarry where I’d left the car, and that I could have reached it in less than two minutes, in trainers. Save that my second visit came at the end of a longer and more complicated (and slightly artificial) walk, there was nothing new to add, save that Ard Crags was indeed a lovely place to finish on a sunny afternoon.

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?

Scar Crags

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 from Ard Crags

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.