A Tale of Two Crags and a flash of red


Eagle Crag – the challenging way

It’s a sunny day today, so I don’t know what’s triggered this particular memory, but on the way to the bus I found myself reminiscing about the day I climbed Eagle Crag, in low cloud and rain.

Eagle Crag is not a very high fell. Geographically, it’s nothing but the abrupt terminus of a long spur extending north east from High Raise. It’s an umbilical twin of the similar Sergeant’s Crag, and the two form the southern wall of Langstrath for much of its lower length.

But Eagle Crag is one more of those lower Lakeland fells that present a fierce aspect far outweighing its mere height. It’s a terminal cliff with an exciting escarpment that is really the only method of approach. The only other routes of access are dull and unworthy and, in the case of the one that goes really round the back, look tedious beyond belief and dangerously lonely.

I left Eagle Crag a long way into the Wainwrights, because I wanted to tackle it the direct route, but I was nervous about it. It was a direct assault on the in places near vertical face of the fell as seen from the Stonethwaite valley, and it had a few awkward, or potentially awkward spots from which it might prove a bit difficult to retreat. Even Wainwright had said that this was not a route to descend by unless it had been ascended very recently, which I took to mean the same day, and within no more than a couple of hours.

That’s the thing. I am, or rather was, even then, a very experienced fellwalker, but when it came to the more difficult routes, I had very little confidence in my ability to tackle anything other than the straightforward.

You’ve got to test your boundaries sometimes, so with great trepidation, on a dark and overcast afternoon, I drove to Stonethwaite for only the second time, changed into my anorak and boots, and set off on the Greenup Edge path.

Langstrath enters the Stonethwaite valley from the west, but there is a difference in levels making it impossible to see into the valley from the path. I dropped down to cross the valley at a footbridge, and follow a path on thhe other side of Greenup Gill through enclosures of bracken so as to ascend towards the tricky stage of the ascent. There was a steep but tedious walk up a sloping field of bracken, most of it waist height and wet from previous rain. My walking trousers slowly soaked through, making the ascent unpleasantly damp as well as draining. I stuck to the wall as much as possible, as an easy guide to the mini-ridge before the climb started to get serious.

From here, the way to the top is relatively short in comparison but the relatively nervous walker will find their nerves aquiver at every step onwards. Once I’d circled round to reach the mini-ridge where the wall abutted the cliff-front, there was a rickety and unconvincing stile over the wall at this point, that held up under my scrambling my bulk over it, conscious of its fragility.

From there, the route clings to the cliff face as you work across the Langstrath side to the foot of a steep, semi-grassy gully. This is relatively narrow, protecting the vertiginously-inclined from too much empty space. I worked up in by hand and foot, exiting to the left at its head and having to circle that head to proceed right along a grass ledge.

This was the worst part of the ascent. The ledge was pretty level and reasonably wide, but I would have felt much happier with a banister rail of some sorts along the right hand side because this was pure space. Wander too close to that edge – and anything within twice the width of the ledge constituted too close for me – and the next step was a doozy. I went carefully along the ledge, wondering how far it would go, where it ended, would it get any narrower, all the time aware that any retreat would mean putting the drop on my left side, which would have overloaded my senses more than a bit, and then having to go down that gulley, which I would not relish at all.

Just as soon as it was physically possible, when the wall to my left had declined to where it was only a short scramble up onto another, shorter grassy ledge, and then to a series of ledges each of which took me higher and further from that precipitate drop, I got off hat big ledge with gratitude and an increasing sense of safety. Above me, a small heap of rocks came into view, and I headed for it to discover that this was, by luck and not judgement, the summit.

Sergeant’s Crag in the sun

Getting through something like that successfully, i.e., intact, was always an adrenaline kick, but my arrival on the summit was closely followed by the arrival of rain and lowering cloud. Not so much as to trouble me at my modest elevation, but enough to require me to don waterproofs, though I’d got a hundred yards or two down the ridge before I had to make urgent adjustments.

There was never any intention to descend from Eagle Crag: the direct route was too fearsome, and the roundabout route too grim to consider, and besides, I was still collecting my Wainwrights and there was no way I would miss out on the chance to visit Sergeant’s Crag. I’d just come to the awkward step on the ridge when it was necessary to shelter myself, and then the clouds followed. I trudged along a path below the crest, on the dull side, in silence but for the hissing of the rain, the cloud close above, with no sense of how I was progressing along the ridge. Once again, luck came to my assistance, because when I decided I’d better check the ridge itself because the wrinkle I turned up to was Sergeant’s Crag’s summit!

I now had the issue of the return journey. Though the cloud was now lowering on High Raise itself, and looked likely to descend even further, I could see the greater part of the long, curling, grassy ridge towards the parent fell. It didn’t look in the least appetising. It looked much too easy to be lost in cloud before I could get too far in that direction, and far too easy to get off line.

More importantly, it was raining and it looked likely to get harder and I really did not want to get any further away from the car at Stonethwaite than was absolutely necessary. Technically, the descent from Sergeant’s Crag was in this direction and traversing over pathless territory towards the top of Stake Pass, and only then into Langstrath which, as you shouldn’t need reminding, means Long Valley.

Direct descent into the valley wasn’t feasible so I descended onto the ridge again, keeping to the Langstrath side, with my eyes open for any feasible line in a downwards direction, feasible here being a word meaning direct and safe. It wasn’t possible to see all the way down into the valley, so I had to take the lower portion of the descent on trust, but there seemed to be a possible route not too far from the summit, and I set off that way, between Bull Crag and the shattered rocks below the summit.

The rain, and the slipperiness of the grassy fellside were major obstacles, and I proceeded with deliberate speed, slow, steady, careful, constantly measuring the line and the angle in front of me. Like my long prior descent from Brim Fell, it was a very long time before the valley floor seemed to get any nearer. I just worked my way down, a few steps at a time, making sure my leading foot was firmly planted before I put any weight upon it. Though this was not yet even mid-afternoon, it was dark under the water-heavy clouds, and dismal of appearance.

It was a matter of concern that after I’d got over halfway down, the way ahead seemed to be interrupted by bluffs over which I couldn’t see but which suggested even steeper ground below them. But I’d committed myself to this course and after so long  steep descent, I was starting to feel the build-up of lactic acid in my calves, so the thought of abandoning this route and having to go back uphill – for what? – was doubly unwelcome.

So I stuck to my guns and to my concentration, and the lower slopes weren’t impassable, and I didn’t slip and I got to the bottom and the path – which was wide and commendably level – and headed for the valley end.

Langstrath from Stake Pass

Langstrath is not just a long valley, but also a very broad and empty one, and unless you’re walking towards Bowfell, it doesn’t have any scenic highlights. And Bowfell was invisible in the rainclouds so I couldn’t even turn round at intervals and admire that scene. It was trudge, trudge, trudge, under the rocks of the Sergeant’s Crag/Eagle Crag ridge, with very little inspiration.

The beck was wide and swift and didn’t look amenable to crossing it to the Rosthwaite Fell bank, but at Blackmoss Pot there was a footbridge I could use to get to the other side. Instead of having to match to and descend from the valley end to the Greenup path, I could cut a corner, through the woods, and make a more direct return to Stonethwaite.

My steps picked up in the woods, getting nearer to being able to get out of my soaked waterproofs. The rain was incessant and for a long time I’d been carrying my glasses in my hand, able to see better without them than with. Suddenly, in my myopic state, I glimpsed a red flash along a branch ahead of and above me, to my right. I crammed my glasses back on as quickly as I could, so that I could see more than mere shapes, but the flash had gone, and I saw neither it nor any of its colony. Sadly, that is the closest I ever came to seeing a red squirrel in its own fur.

Back in Keswick, I hung my waterproofs over the shower curtain rail in my bathroom to drain into the bath. because they were never going to recover if rolled up and stuffed in the bottom of my rucksack. It gave my guest room a funny smell all evening, but I survived.

And I survived the walk. More importantly, it gave me a new confidence. I’d gotten up without any difficulties except the self-imposed ones of my nerves. I took a long, hard look at myself and started to ask whether I’d been underestimating my abilities before now. I had always chosen to walk within my limitation, but Eagle Crag showed me that my perception of those limitations might very well not be the same as my real limitations.

I feel stupid that it took me that long to believe in myself, so that when I started tackling things like Sharp Edge, and Lord’s Rake, and Narrow Edge, I was so far along in my walking career. If I had believed in myself when I should have, I could haave done these much earlier, and left myself much more times for things I never got to, such as the High Level Route to Robinson’s Cairn, or the West Wall Traverse, or even the daddy of them all, Jack’s Rake.

Eagle Crag may well be a minor fell, but it had a major impact on me, and I remember it vividly, even on sunny days.

A flash of red

When a Sweatshirt was a Turban


                                                                          Allen Crags from Esk Hause

Rain, cloud, snow and wind: what other extreme weather experience can you have out on the fells? That leaves sun, or heat, and I’ve a story to tell about that as well.
Ordinarily, this wasn’t a problem. I scheduled my holidays for April and September, just outside the holiday season either way, spring and autumn, away from the extreme weathers, and I nearly always got what I planned for.
Besides, if the day happened to be sunny and hot at valley level, it was rare for me not to find cooler air and breezes once I got above a thousand feet, where even gentle ones were all that were needed.
But I did get caught out once, and it could have gone very badly.
This happened in 1990, at the beginning of my April week. For reasons I can no longer recall, I had booked a very late holiday, late enough for the latter half of the week to roll over into May. That made it a good fortnight later than my normal practice, and there was a consequent effect on the base weather conditions, for this was to be a very sunny week, more so than I usually got.
In keeping with my usual practice, I motored up leisurely on Sunday morning, booked myself into Bridgedale, in Keswick, and spent the afternoon stretching my legs on something local and low, just to get warmed up. I can’t now remember why, but for Easter Monday I had chosen an unusually strenuous walk for so early in the week.
My plan was to drive down to Seathwaite, park as close to the farm as I could manage, climb Esk Hause via Grains Gill, and return along the northernmost extension of the Scafell massif, over Allen Crags and Glaramara.
This was going to be a day of firsts: though I had been to Seathwaite previously, I had not been as far as Stockley Bridge, nor had I seen Grains Gill or Esk Hause, and it went without saying that I had climbed neither fell before.
I’ve returned from Stockley Bridge a number of times and, fittingly, it’s still a rough, undulating walk, but on a morning approach, contemplating the steep-sided valley ahead, it’s a rousing start.
At Stockley Bridge, which shows not the slightest sign of being almost washed away in the great flood of 1966 (in which we were caught, driving home from a week in the Lakes in the most appalling, drenching conditions that I remember of my young life), the path crosses the infant Derwent and divides into two famous paths, both of which will take you onto a glorious days in the fells. Directly ahead, scaling the fell-side in well-graded sweeps, the scars of the clumsy walkers now healed, is the main route to Sty Head Pass, but on this occasion I turned left, for the only time, into the narrowing valley ahead, with Great End dominating its ultimate skyline.
Though I’ve since descended Grains Gill on a couple of occasions, this was still the only time I’ve used it in ascent, much to my regret. Of highways into the hills, it ranks amongst the finest in the Lakes: straight and narrow, rough underfoot but without danger for the experienced walker, between high fell walls and heading directly for Great End’s terminal cliffs.
The day was hot, the Gill enclosed, though strangely I cannot remember conditions being particularly onerous, or experiencing any difficulty in proceeding. The sun was high and hot, unusually so for early April. The serious mistake that I had made was that this wasn’t really the best walk for a Monday.
This was only the second walk of the year, and the first had only been the afternoon before, on Gowbarrow Fell, an overland stroll on primarily level ground from The Hause, on a route subsequently locked, barred and bolted against walkers. It wasn’t much preparation for a rock-based walk encompassing two fells over 2,500′, in the Scafell range.
As Grains Gill progressed, the valley narrowed yet further, the gradients increased and the path crossed to the left side of the gill. I was now moving into more enclosed surroundings, as rock gathered around me. There was certainly no breath of air on this section, and I toiled upwards, focusing my attention upwards, on the figure of a walker making a direct assault on Great End, carefully picking his way up virgin slopes, looking to find a way around/through the cliffs.
Where he went, I don’t know, because I finally emerged onto the Sty Head – Esk Hause path and turned left for the latter, turning the face of Great End between me and this intrepid scrambler, doing something I’d never have the nerve to do.
The path I’d gained would, I knew, bring me only to the wall-shelter, the highest point on the west-east route from Sty Head to Great Langdale that, before Wainwright came along, was what was usually spoken of as Esk Hause. Properly educated years before by The Southern Fells, I was after the real thing, the Head of Eskdale, and the easiest way to do this was to break off along the ‘short cut’ path, angling upwards across the base of Great End. It was a graceful, stony, well-graded route that I thoroughly enjoyed, and it emerged at the top end of the wide plateau of Esk Hause, by the cairn that is the crossroads for so many routes, all of which save only the unmarked descent into Eskdale I would go on to walk in one direction or another.
I then descended from the watershed to the wall-shelter and contemplated what I should do next.

                                                                              Glaramara and Grains Gill
By that time, I did not feel at all good. I was hot and thirsty, there was no wind or breeze to cool me, and I felt not just heavy-legged but heavy-bodied. Under this sun, I had already used up more of my strength than was generally good for me, and the logical, indeed only sensible thing to do would be to head back to Grains Gill and descend.
But I have always been extremely stubborn when out walking. I could be flexible when the circumstances permitted, or demanded,but when I had started a walk, I thought of nothing other than reaching the summit I had targeted, and I did not give up lightly. Before now, I had only turned back once without a top, that being the day of snow on Pavey Ark’s North Rake.
There’d been good cause for that, a practical fear, but this was a sunny day! There was no wind, no rain, no prospect of interference from the weather. And I was at Esk Hause! Esk Hause, that mecca for all true fell-walkers. I could hardly turn round and go back from there with nothing conquered, especially not when Allen Crags was so near at hand, a mere one hundred feet of climbing, on easy ground. I couldn’t give up when I was that close, surely not?
So I headed uphill, though my legs felt like lead, and I duly reached my chosen summit, though I remember nothing of it: Allen Crags, hurrah! What next? Well, I’d only committed myself to climbing Allen Crags, nothing more, so I could drop back to Esk Hause and head down, honour fulfilled. But now that I was here… Well, it was actually shorter, and more direct, to go back over Glaramara, instead of down and around, and given how I felt, surely the less distance I had to force myself to cover, the better. Ok, onwards.
By such arguments do the stubborn convince themselves that it’s right to do what they wanted to do all along.
It was, like continuing to descend directly off Brim Fell when I’d clearly gotten myself into a rough corner, like ascending Dore Head under the shadow of Stirrup Crag, a stupid idea and one that was putting me into peril that anyone with my intelligence would normally shy away from, no problem. I look back at times like this and wonder how someone who was, for so long, unnecessarily conservative about his expeditions could so blithely ignore the obvious signs and plunge on.
And I try not to read too much into the fact that, every time, I got myself out of it, alone, without lingering consequences.
So I walked on, or more correctly stumbled on, along what Wainwright describes as one of the most delightful and enjoyable ridge walks in the Lake District and I cannot remember a thing about it, not even Glaramara’s summit, nor anything of the views, because I was now in a very bad way. My head was aching from the unrelenting sun, my eyes were hurting from the glare, my stomach was roiling and churning, I was horribly dehydrated and sickeningly thirsty, but unable to drink as the only liquid I had on me was a single can of Coca Cola, badly shaken about, warm and fuzzy, that I didn’t dare drink because I would end up vomiting all over the place.
And my legs had no strength and I couldn’t think, because I was using all my concentration to keep  them moving, step after step, without stumbling and falling, because there was a fairly good prospect that if I fell down – or even sat down – I would lack the energy to get back up again. And I had no sense of time, all movement from past to future gone, I was in a bubble of the present, focussed only on the necessity to get down, to get back to my car in one piece.
Medically, I’d gotten a big dose of heat exhaustion that was bordering upon heat stroke. How closely, I don’t know: I wasn’t in a position to observe clinically. My condition was being made worse at every moment by the lack of shade or shadow. Apart from a period in the mid-Seventies when I became attached to a John  Lennon Serious Young Poet Denim Cap, I have never gone on for hats, so I had nothing with which to cover my head. Except the hood of my anorak, and there was no way that I was going to struggle into another layer of clothing, not when I was as hot as I was already.
So I improvised, desperately. I’d set off in sweatshirt over something light, probably a t-shirt, and, as usual, once it had gotten hot enough, I’d whipped the sweatshirt off and tied it around my waist. With my head throbbing from the sun, at some point along the way to Glaramara, I had undone its sleeves and tied it together, over my head, as some kind of makeshift turban that, thankfully, stayed in place more or less, as I forced myself along.
Eventually, I reached the end of the fell, and the path began to seriously descend. It turned outwards, towards the Stonethwaite valley, giving me at last some shelter from the sun as the bulk of the ridge intervened. I still needed to take care: the path was narrow, slightly grooved, and the descent reasonably steep, and it was still all to easy to put a foot wrong.
And my throat had reached the point where, regurgitation or no regurgitation, I was going to have to drink that last fuzzy coke. The whole of my mouth felt as if it had been painted with glue. I came to a halt, cracked the ring pull and chugged it down. The liquid was definitely warm, and there was a strange furry taste to it, as if the bubbles had half-dissolved, and to my amazement, instead of inspiring me to spew all over the fellside, its effect was to settle my turbulent stomach and leave me feeling considerably more at ease than I’d been since at least Esk Hause.
It didn’t make me feel any less wiped out, or my legs less leaden, or the remaining half-a-fellside any less steep, but I got down to level ground in safety. In the Stonethwaite valley, admittedly, not Seathwaite, and the road walk still far longer than I wished to contemplate.
But there was a field path, curling around the toe of Glaramara, avoiding the road and the hard tarmac, avoiding the avoiding of cars, in pastoral silence and solitude and best of all, shorter. It still took me ages to negotiate. I was no longer so bad that I was at risk of falling at every step – the dehydration had obviously been the worst element, and I was ruefully furious with myself that I hadn’t had that last coke ages before – but my legs were still shot and I was rarely more grateful to get my boots off when I reached my car.
I never put myself through that again, though I never again encountered conditions where there was just no wind on a hot day. Instead of carrying cans to drink, I switched to the large bottles, enabling me to spread my hydration out in smaller doses. And I was a bit more circumspect about what I would and wouldn’t tackle that early in the week.
Though I’ve climbed both Allen Crags and Glaramara in clear weather, with the full arc of the view available, I’ve no recollection of either, the latter especially. Nor have I been back. But times will change, and once I am fit again, I’m coming back here. With something better than a sweatshirt for a turban.

Rainy Day Martin No. 2


The Langstrath Valley, in better conditions

It’s pouring with rain outside as I write, a Saturday morning shift without customers ringing in to solicit my assistance. On the over head screens, Grand Prix practice has been suspended because it’s pouring with rain on the track, and I joke about not having realised the GP was taking place in Manchester. My boss nods, and claims they’re heading down Deansgate at this very moment.

Rain of this kind, deep, sustaining, always triggers a degree of melancholy in me, that goes back to summer holiday afternoons in my bedroom in Burnage, staring out of the condensation streaked window at puddles goring in corners of the back garden, or earlier, sat in the lobby of our terraced house in Openshaw, playing with the front door open as it sluices down on the Croft opposite, a playground of higgledy-piggledy lock-up garages that sustained a thousand hide-and-seek games.

I’ve written before of rain in the Lake District, holidays affected by the endless draining of grey, absorbent skies, no fells to be seen, no walking permitted, traipse round the shops instead.

But I’ve been out on the fells when it’s rained, been caught in the midst of things, hood pulled up, kagoul and waterproof walking pants struggled into, cold, with the light faded and the clouds down above, and nothing to do but head back to the car.

Sometimes, as when I climbed Great Gable, from Honister, on the last day of the holiday the rain was some kind of obscure valediction, coming on as I reached the edge of Gillercomb and began the steep, spiralling descent alongside Sour Milk Gill, my hood thrown back deliberately, letting the rain soak my hair, my head, trickle in cold moments down my neck. Or that desperate scramble under the cliffs of Stirrup Crag, to reach the top of Dore Head on Yewbarrow: unable to climb the fell itself, one of those few failures of objective that I experienced, and the long, slow descent down Over Beck and back along the Wasdale Road.

I have always loved the solitude on the Lakes, the freedom to move at a pace and in a direction of my choosing. Times when the rain closes in only emphasise that feeling: I am completely alone, wrapped in myself, enclosed. No-one else is stupid enough to be out here doing this. And the rain turns that solitude into something with an edge: if I slip, I fall, I injure myself, the chances being increased with the rocks and the fellsides so slick underneath my boots, it will be a much longer, more unpleasant time before someone comes to help me.

Yes I still love the memories of those days in the wet. Gable and Yewbarrow I’ve written about, but there were other days. I set out to climb Eagle Crag, in the junction of Greenup Gill/the Stonethwaite valley and Langstrath, by the adventurous, direct route that Wainwright depicts. It was a dull day, though the clouds were high enough that Eagle Crag would be able to slip under them, and I ascended by an increasingly thrilling and risky way that did much to convince me that my years of caution about tricky routes had not been as necessary as I had believed.

Once on the ridge, I could not resist the chance to follow the same to Sergeant’s Crag, the other, higher rampart of this long and uncharacteristic shoulder of High Raise. The further I worked my way along the ridge, however, the more the clouds closed in, until rain and the little summit I searched for, and found almost by accident, came almost together.

Short of turning round and going back – and there was no way I was going to descend from Eagle Crag by that route, no matter how fresh it was in my memory – I’d had no fixed plans about descending from Sergeant’s Crag. As far as paths go, there are none: the ridge turns upwards, flat and dull, rising a long way to High Raise, and the only routed descent into Langstrath at this point is from Stake Pass. But I wasn’t going to start wandering in indefinite country, with the rain coming down and the clouds following it. So I negotiated a way down the front of the Crag, avoiding its rockier face, and picking my way down, carefully, on slippery and steep grass. There were no paths to guide me, but I kept my concentration, scanning the slopes before me for gathering steepness that might lead me to downfalls too sheer to negotiate.

The floor of Langstrath, in its glacial width and flatness, was clear below, and I could watch the distance above level ground steadily diminish, until the ground under my feet began to ease, and I was crossing to join the broad, secure path back towards Stonethwaite.

It was the first time, and the only time to date that I had walked in Langstrath. I had seen Bowfell at the head of Langdale, at the head of Eskdale, but never in its third aspect, from this wide and lonely place, and I was denied again, the clouds curling down the fellsides and rendering the mountains invisible.

There was still a long walk back: Langstrath, or Long Valley, is not named such without a reason. The rain was steady now, and my hood was drawn about my head, and I had removed my glasses so my vision was blurred. What might have been tedious in the sun and the dry was, instead, purposeful in the rain: I was walking to get out of the wet. When the chance came, I crossed the beck and completed my walk through woods, descending towards Stonethwaite, still carrying my glasses.  There was a flash in the branches, a red blur, gone long before I could jam them back on my nose, never to return. That was my first sighting of a red squirrel.

It had rained so hard on me that, when I returned to my Keswick guesthouse, I hung my waterproofs in the bath/shower, to drain and dry.

Saturday morning thoughts on a quiet shift: I’d rather be in the Lakes when it rains than be anywhere else, but I’m a long way away right now, and that silence where the only sound is the rain pattering on your kagoul hood is denied to me still.

Obscure Corners – Ullscarf


North from Greenup Edge

There isn’t a fell I’ve climbed in the whole of the Lake District for which I don’t have a vision, locked in my memory, available at any moment the name of the fell is summoned. There is, literally, nowhere that I’ve been that I can’t summon up in mind, seeing through my own eyes some part of the journey or the view, some scene that impressed itself so keenly that, in a world in which I can forget in literally the space of a heartbeat the thing I was going to do next, I can return mentally to where I once walked.
Lately, for no discernible reason, one such scene has been pushing itself involuntarily before my eyes.
It’s perhaps straining things to call Ullscarf an Obscure Corner. Such places are almost always off to one side, on the fringe somewhere, away from the areas of concentrated walking in the centre of the Lakes, and Ullscarf has very good claims to being the most central fell in Lakeland. Yet it is still an Obscure corner, a place few visit for excitement or achievement. It stands at the southern end of Lakeland’s central ridge, itself low, wet and in many ways short of true appeal. It’s a lumpish, unlovely fell, with few attributes, and nothing to distinguish it in views. It’s border to the higher fells south and west is Greenup Edge Pass, notoriously one of the wettest places for walkers in the high country. Few go there, for reasons that are obvious when you are there.
One breed of people does come to Ullscarf, and that is the Wainwright-bagger.
I was nearing the end, hoping to complete my journey before the end of 1994. I had four summits left, but two walks, in different areas. And the weather would allow me one final day, leaving the last two fells to be collected at the start of a new year instead of the end of an old one.
My penultimate walk was designed to encompass Ullscarf and Great Crag. It was one of only a handful that involved an ascent out of the Stonethwaite valley. I would park at the farm, ascend Greenup Edge, walk up Ullscarf and descend, cross-country, to the small, amorphous mass of ground that comprised Great Crag, dropping back to Stonethwaite from the same.
Any walk that involves a Pass carries with it the nostalgic thrill of my first steps in walking with my family. Before my sister and I were old enough and hardy enough to reach summits, we would target the tops of Passes, and I am so much of a completist that it remained a goal to reach the top of all those officially designated passes in the Lakes. Greenup Edge was (not quite) the last of these (I had been at the top of Scandale Head, but did not actually climb it until three years later).
Greenup was not massively exciting in itself. In its early stages, it passes beneath the lip of Langstrath, offering no views in that direction, nor of Bowfell. Only then does it begin to gain height steadily. As Eagle Crag is passed, the ascending valley is taken over by moraines, and views open up into the strange, hidden upper valley that lies behind Eagle Crag. That is a valley almost exclusively occupied by moraines, looking extremely lonely and a recipe for getting irretrievable lost. And forgotten.
The best part of the walk is Lining Crag. This lies across the route on the long crossing of Ullscarf’s western flack, visible from a distance and growing ever more impressive as you near. Once the base of the Crag is reached, the path takes to the left hand side of the rock, offering a steep and enthusiastic scramble that is quiet the best section of the walk.
From here, the route continues over increasingly wet ground towards Greenup Edge. There is no need to actually visit the highest point of the Pass, and those with leaky boots are best advised to make a more or less beeline from above Lining Crag directly to Ullscarf. This cuts out a substantial corner on the approach, but sometimes you have to be a bit of a purist, even if the final yards of the Pass involve enough water-walking to qualify you to found a major international religion. Linger not, but head left without delay, leaving the sticky summit behind. The walk to Ullscarf is without incident.
For the possibly most-central fell, I did not find the view from Ullscarf impressive. It has position, but not height, and its summit is flat and wide, but it was not best served by the late October conditions.
Head north, following the line of fence posts that are the summit’s only distinguishing features. Those who are bound for the central ridge, and a medium-high level return to Keswick, will need to bear right at the fence corner, making a dogleg approach, but travellers bound to return to Stonethwaite will bear half left.
It was from this point that my abiding vision of the Ullscarf walk comes. A second, lower ridge, lacking the characteristics of a ridge almost entirely, descends towards the indefinite ground and profusion of tops that represents Great Crag, almost three miles away. Beyond and below, caught between these two ridges, lies Bleatarn Gill, descending to Watendlath Tarn. From the edge of the plateau, it’s a long view, with a steep but not precipitous fall ahead.
It is a long walk to Great Crag, long enough to be almost an expedition in itself. The route descends over Coldbarrow Fell, crossing High Saddle and Low Saddle, and continues through an open, empty landscape until beginning to rise again towards the small mass of Great Crag. It’s desolate, and it is plain that there will be no encounters with other walkers once you turn this way. Almost the whole of your course for the next couple of hours is visible, and it doesn’t look the sort of terrain you’d want to ascend.
Yet this is the image that is always my first thought when I hear or read of Ullscarf. It was undemanding, but I walked it, alone and in contemplation, a Sunday afternoon late in the year, grey and tending to cold, and very far away from anywhere else.
There are no firm paths until that from Stonethwaite to Dock Tarn is crossed. Wainwright insists you divert to the latter and I always try to follow his recommendations, but I was less impressed by the Tarn than he. Still, it was getting on in the afternoon, and another fell, and the road back to Manchester beckoned.
Though there were no paths, I found it surprisingly easy to find Great Crag’s summit. I stayed long enough to admire the view towards Watendlath and Keswick, then retraced my steps top the path and descended, on a knee-crackingly steep zigzag trail through the woods below White Crag until reaching the Greenup Edge path a quarter of a mile or thereabouts above Stonethwaite.
No, Ullscarf’s not a fell I would place in my top 100 to return to, but my inner eyes look on Lining Crag, and the scramble alongside it, and I am currently haunted by that unexpected vista, northwards and down, across a lonely country. I’d like to see that again, on a nicer day.