All the Fells: Steel Fell


Steel Fell – The Central Fells 1,811′ (116)

Date: 30 October 1989

From: Grasmere

Steel Fell was part of one of the latest walks in the year that I ever undertook. Usually, I managed two weeks away, in April and September each year, the rest of my holiday allotment being given over to my cricketing obsessions, the Roses Matches and the Old Trafford Test. But, somehow or other, one year I managed to get away for a third week, the very end of October, shading over into November. It was wildly ambitious, and was ultimately defeated by the declining weather and the dull light, but I did get one satisfying day out of it. I wanted to climb Steel Fell, the western border of Dunmail Raise, and planned to circuit the sodden valley of Greendale and return along the ridge of which Helm Crag was the terminus. It was a long way from the Village to the base of the walk, so I planned my route around parking on the narrow side road that wound around the base and flank of the Lion and the Lamb, as near to the start as I could. Parking along that road without blocking the few cars that came that way was hard to find but I managed to locate a serviceable spot, dressed up warmly and set off. Steel Fell’s south ridge proved an unexpectedly enjoyable walk. The path lay either on the crest or to the Dunmail side. It was an enjoyable gradient, enough to require exertion without being draining, and although it was a dull day, beneath steel-grey clouds, the air itself was crisp and clear. I made steady progress, disrupted momentarily about halfway up by the roar of an RAF jet, which I spotted scooting through Dunmail Raise several hundred feet below me. The summit was flat and dreary, and its view of Thirlmere was not as impressive as I had hoped from my position. I had my camera with me, but any picture I took was doomed to come out looking dull and dreary. The best subject would have been Greendale when I passed around its head. There were streamlets and rills running everywhere in a fantastic, natural pattern, that the sun had lit up, like silver filaments, but the problem was that, to create that effect for me at that moment, the sun had to be directly ahead, and as a well-brought-up son of my camera-enthusiast father, I knew better than to take photographs directly into the sun. I still wish I’d tried anyway.

All the Fells: High Tove


High Tove – The Central Fells 1,665′ (196)

Date: 16 July 1994

From: Armboth Fell

High Tove is nothing. It’s a fell without shape, a near imperceptible rise on a ridge that does little more than separate two shallow dips. It’s a thing of wet grass, somewhere not to sit down without tarpaulin, something no-one would visit solely for the pleasure of it and its only distinction is that it has the only summit in the Lake District to be crossed by a Pass, which has to cross the ridge here because the aptly named depressions on either side are even wetter than the fell. Technically speaking, Raven Crag is a part of High Tove, and thus by far and away the most interesting thing about it but, just as Pavey Ark is to Thunaccar Knott, Raven Crag is too distinguished and attractive to be written off as just a feature and everyone from Wainwright on down treats it rightly as a fell in its own right. It would be a strange fellwalker who would climb High Tove for itself for it has a complete absence of charisma.

All the Fells: High Rigg


High Rigg

High Rigg – The Central Fells 1,163′ (63)

Date: 15 September 1987/17 May 1992

From: St John’s in the Vale Church/ St John’s in the Vale Church

High Rigg, if tackled from the Church of St John’s in the Vale – which is not in the Vale at all but actually in the saddle between High Rigg and Low Rigg – is a very easy summit to collect, requiring not much more than ten minutes walking, fifteen if you feel like taking it slow. It’s just a matter of parking at the Church, walking beyond it and turning up left on the grassy slope. If you just kept walking uphill, it would take a spectacular act of genius to fail to find its summit. Of course, it would make a longer, and a better walk, to park at its foot, at the end nearest Thirlmere, and follow the low ridge to reach the top in something approaching an expedition. But that route wasn’t in Wainwright, and the way that was was an easy knock-off and one that I performed early enough that the name of the game was accumulating summits. When I repeated the walk, in the Nineties, it was to lead my then girlfriend to only her third top (and unless she continued after we split up, her last). This was the Sunday morning of an unexpected weekend away: we’d only gone up for the day on Saturday but had so good a time we extended it into the next day. Based on Keswick, I thought High Rigg was the best bet for an easy ascent. Bizarrely, we parked at the Church just as the service was finished, and my girlfriend found herself approached by the mother of her next-door neighbour back home! The top was occupied when we got in sight of it so, at her request, we perched on the next lowest outcrop until it was free, despite my chafing at being so close to a summit and not going straight to it. There was one more visit to the Lakes together, but I did not get to lead her to a fourth summit.

A Mates Expedition


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This time last Thursday, I was considering an afternoon out to Hebden Bridge, which I could do on the train for less than £12 Day Return. In the longer term, I’d worked out that a visit to York was perfectly affordable, for not much more than £25, return. It now being firmly spring and the weather improving, such things were appealing.

And instead I’m off to the Lake District.

Blame it, if blame is required, and it’s not, on my old mate John. The gang got together for the first time in over two years last Thursday, for lunch and some solid drinking. John’s wife was going off for a few dates with her girlfriends on Tuesday, and John, who like me is retired, fancied doing a couple of things his wife doesn’t fancy, like visiting the Imperial War Museum North. He also mentioned having a day out in the Lakes.

Naturally, I begged myself in on this and, being the registered expert, was given the task of devising an expedition. As the last thing he wants to do is spend all that time behind the wheel of a car, even though that would open much myriad more options, a brisk half hour with UK Train Journey Planner and the bus timetables to and from Windermere Railway Station has come up with a plan. All we now need is the weather.

Now this is not the normal expedition. I do not have my head in a book. I do not have my ears in my mp3 headphones. I am not on a bus to Piccadilly Station first. Instead, John is picking me up from home and we’re going from Stockport Station. This does not in any way lessen my timetable paranoia though in retrospect I’m inclined to think that setting my alarm for 6.00am when he’s picking me up at 8.00am was excessive. The acid reflux that jerked me awake at 3.26am was, in the circumstances, unhelpful.

What’s more, instead of standing on the platform in the nippy atmosphere, straining my eyes for a train that’s not due for half an hour, John suggests sitting in the passenger lounge, where it’s warm. This is a radical innovation that I may consider experimentimng with in future, even if a lounge doesn’t include a dark-haired woman sitting opposite who looks like Bridget Christie. She gets on our train too, though not into our carriage.

This leg of the journey goes smoothly. We’re on a Blackpool North train, changing at Preston, and the worst you can say of it is that it stops practically everywhere. The screens inside, with journey details, including connections from connecting stations, would be impressive on any service, least of all Northern Rail.

We have twenty minutes leeway at Preston. Immediately I start to worry. We’re transferring to the Glasgow Central train and it’s running late. Not so late as to threaten our connection at Oxenholme, where we have a dozen minutes. Not yet. But I have had experience with Glasgow trains and buggered up connections…

Sure enough, I twitch practically the whole way. Last time I was in this situation, as I tell John, plus a couple of other passengers equally concerned, they didn’t hold the connection to Windermere and the station porter told me that the bus from Kendal would actually get in after the the next train! The young lady says that they did hold a connection on her last occasion and, as we pull in, Katie the train announcer tells us that they have done so but would we kindly sprint across the platform for them. I can’t sprint. The best I can manage is a fast limp but we’re still on time.

It’s been cloudy all day but well above the fells – even Skiddaw is cloud-free – and the light’s not great but now I can see the fells I’m starting to buzz like I always do. There’s time for coffee and cake – victoria sponge for me, custard cake for him – in Booths before the 555 for Keswick arrives, ample time as it’s a good ten minutes late, we discover because of a three-way stop-go lights at the foot of one of the fell roads into the Troutbeck valley, whilst Openreach are working on the telephone cabinets. Bloody Openreach! Bane of my life for ten years plus. I’ve retired now and they’re still out to get me!

John’s using his smartphone to take photos of everything he fancies, despite having to do so through bus windows that appear not to have been washed since the Flood (not the Biblical one, the one that washed away the roads a few Decembers back).

Amazingly, no-one wants to get on or off at Ambleside so we scoot through. I’m acting as not just guide but travelogue, pointing out fells, talking about experiences. The view westward from the edge of Fairfield’s plateau. Loughrigg Cave. The Lion and the Lamb. I worry about talking too much, and boring him, but he’s finding it all interesting. We pass Rydal Water and Grasmere, and I tell him about how Grasmere got a Memorial bus stop one way for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and a Memorial bus stop the other way for the Golden Jubilee, so what’s left for the forthcoming Platinum Jubilee?

We cross Dunmail Raise to Thirlmere, which I point out is his tap water, and I indicate Bassenthwaite Lake where it’s briefly visible, and then it’s down into Keswick and time for lunch and a pint. It’s Market Day so the Square is chocker but to my dismay, the Oddfellow’s Arms has a sign up saying no food. And though the door is open, when I look through the window there’s no-one inside, either side of the bar.

Still, it’s but a short stroll to the Lake Road Inn, where we sit in the slowly-emerging sun in the courtyard garden and I have burger and chips and he steak and ale pie with veg.

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That’s me on the left and him on the right. This photo not only gets put up on Facebook but is sent to Denise, in Amsterdam with her sister, who’s been sending John photos of tulips in multiple colours: he expects an order for bulbs…

There’s a noisy, aggressive barking dog at a table behind us. Needless to say, it’s one of those little hairy ones. The big buggers don’t need to sound off.

Back to our peregrinations. I lead us down to Derwentwater, to the boat landings, diverting into Hope Park to enable John to see the full-length view down the lake, and then on to Friar’s Crag. It’s not as busy as I expected, but the view is better than the only other time I’ve been here, one November Thursday. I even get to see the wide sweep of the adjoining Strandshag Bay, which has its own footpath sign and which I’ve never heard of before (you’d remember a name like that, wouldn’t you?)

We stroll back, diverting off the road onto a little side-track, running parallel for maybe two hundred yards, just for the sake of earth beneath my feet and then wander back up to the bus station when the 555 is standing but the driver is sitting and is determined to wring every second of doing nothing out before she opens the door. It’s earlier than we need but that’s because we’re going to stop off in Grasmere. I’m staring at the fells alongside, hungrily, though they’re not the most exciting , but because they are my Lakes, and this is the part of the day I always like the least, the going away, and I’m morbid enough to think but not say that every time I go away it might be for the last time, I don’t know. We never know.

It’s been a long day and I’m starting to feel it. My tongue is loose and I’m freewheeling through deadpan one liners, creasing John up, and finding memories everywhere, and we’re both reminiscing about times and places past, as befits two old sods of pensionable age. In Grasmere, I stop off in the Heaton Cooper studio, but not for long, just time enough to see that Julian’s out again.

On the way up I’d noticed that the Grasmere Tea Gardens, heirs to that cafe we used to visit long ago, now had the little terrace above the beck open, where my sister and I would peer through the railing, watching the many minnows wriggle in the clear water, but by the time we get down there it’s shut, and this is barely 4.30pm.

Back at the green, there’s a 599 to Windermere waiting, the open top bus, so we get on that, and sit in the open for the return to Windermere. Booth’s cafe is now shut so we sit in the warm in the station, still reminiscing like mad.

There are two changes going home on the 6.05pm, the first at Oxenholme. I was careless when checking Journey Planner, noting the places but not the times of the changes. Two successive London trains go through, neither of them going through Manchester and all in all we are stuck for fifty minutes at Oxenholme in the early evening, with no entertainment but ourselves and the trainscreen in the Passenger lounge, which is hypnotically repetitive, and resists all attempts to see what’s available on Sky 1.

I don’t know about John, but I’ve spent so much time on trains, buses and passenger lounge seats that I am achey all over. Still, there’s only a handful of stops between here and Piccadilly, where the train goes off to Manchester Airport, and we hop on the Cardiff Cemtral train for the last leg back to Stockport. Then it’s driving past my old office at the moment when, on my old shift, I would have been staring fixedly at the terminal mentally trying to drive away anyone about to call me.

And that was the Mates’ Expedition, a long day that could have had better weather for taking photos which is why there’s only two of mine and one of his, but it was a bloody good one for all that, and my back’s stopped killing me by now.

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Back to the Lakes


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It’s been nearly two years since I last saw anything of the Lakes, the Patterdale Expedition, the round trip on the Ullswater steamer. Last year’s plans had to be set aside, hopefully to be revisited before very long, but at last it’s possible to travel there in approved safety. The simplest of all trips: to Windermere by train, to see mountains and fells and Lakes long familiar, but not so recently. It’s going back home for me. And I’m doing it for less than £20 on the train.
I’m stocked up with the usual accoutrements for any successful day out: a fully-charged mp3 player with 1,150 songs on it, plus headphones, a book of substance, waiting to be read in circumstances of peace and quiet and neither distraction nor interruption – my selection on this occasion being Mark Helprin’s Refiner’s Fire, a Christmas self-treat in 2019.
What am I going to do when I get there for the first time in nearly two years? I have options. Options, options, options. The first, and most steady and reliable of these, is to buy a Grasmere Dayrider at the bus station and head off to there, to walk round the village, check the Heaton Cooper Studios, visit Sam Read’s Bookshop, lift mine eyes to the hills and generally revel in the air and ambience of things. Then back to Ambleside to do the same things there, and nurse a pint in the Ambleside Tavern. Safe, reliable, done before, more than once.
A bit more esoteric option is to make that a Keswick Dayrider. Head into the Northern Lakes, do the wandering around, see twice as many Lakes and mountains, maybe time for a stroll round Ambleside coming back, we’d have to see. Same thing though, done that.
But there’s a third option, though one only available if the weather is good, dry and clear, and the train is on time. I’m supposed to be at Windermere for 10.38. If I can walk from there to Bowness in half an hour, and it’s downhill all the way, I can catch the Windermere Steamer to Waterhead at 11.10. For once I can be very specific: I last travelled on the Windermere Steamer in August 1975, which is enough of a gap to call it ‘new’.
The drawback with this is, first of all, the walk to Bowness, under the self-set pressure of working to a deadline, and then the arrival at Waterhead with – unless I am incredibly lucky with a bus – a mile’s walk from there to Ambleside. And what do I do then?
Unfortunately, weather or not, option three looks like being a non-starter on medical grounds. Unexpectedly, I started a headache at work on Wednesday that is proving resistant to dispersal. To my great disgust, it incorporates an element of light-headedness when I’m upright, making me feel that my head is not quite in the same plane as the rest of me: Not strictly conducive to marches downhill against the clock.

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I leave excessive time to get to the Station: psychologically I have to. The alarm is set for 6.30am, though I awake an hour before that. Shower and dress and walk to the bus stop (eight minutes) to catch a 7.15am bus to Piccadilly (thirty minutes) for a train that leaves at 8.48 am. I’m not crazy: the bus has form for interference. There’s a paucity of passengers on the Reddish leg and a plethora through Gorton. I arrive at Poiccadilly Station with seventy minutes to spare: W.H.Smith’s isn’t even open yet. Excess, excess, toujours l’excess! I get food and drink and sit down to read and wait.

I don’t really stop being twitchy until the train arrives. I’m fast enough to claim a table seat, facing forwards, in anticipation of the first views. Unlike the past few days of early morning clear skies greying out to varying degrees of rain, this one’s started dull and is turning sunbright, with a touch of gold in the air more suggestive of the first hour after dawn. As Guy Garvey put it, it’s looking like a beautiful day.

It’s an oddly divided beautiful day, however. At Preston the sky westwards, towards the coast, is an even, rich blue but on the other side it’s paler and patchier, knitted up with white clouds, drawing colour out of the sky. That way lies hills, of course.

There’s an irritating woman in the carriage, talking incessantly in an over-emphatic, self-satisfied voice. I’m not the only one who doesn’t like this, and then I’m suddenly annoyed with myself for not remembering my mp3 player until we’re rolling into Lancaster. Music, vigorous, mostly obscure Sixties music envelops me happily.

To tell the truth, the book is not gripping me. I put it away and turn my attention to the window, getting an immediate reward because oh yes indeed it is a beautiful day. A long skyline stretches across the drained sands of Morecambe Bay, an actual, genuine, gorgeous skyline of familiar ridges and shapes: the Old Man and dour Dow Crag, Red Screes above Kirkstone, the Fairfield Horseshoe, and even the tops of the Langdale Pikes. It doesn’t last long before local low rises intervene but it’s all still there, just as it was, and I’m thrilled. Crinkle Crags and Bowfell curve into view.

Clouds scud above them, white bumbles across a narrow band of the sky, decoration not threat. Against this vista, the line of the Howgill Fells, on the other side, doesn’t stand an earthly. Slowing into Oxenholme, there’s a beautiful angle into Kentmere, with Ill Bell prominent, framed by stolid Yoke before and almost imperceptible Froswick behind. All of which decides me: Keswick it is, I want to see all of this that I can.

For a moment, that seems to be in doubt. There’s neither bus stop nor timetable. The Grasmere driver reassures me, and then I see stop and timetable, sawn off at the base, on its back by the wall of Booths. It’s half an hour and lots of milling around before we can get out of Windermere, by which time clouds are attracting one another and the blue bands are narrowing.

Just as the bus pulls out I get the most horrible shock: my former wedding ring is missing! I’ve worn it on my right hand since the Decree Absolute, though it’s slowly getting looser. Though it symbolises nothing but the past, it’s significance to me is immeasureable and I am in shock and almost tears at losing it. I’m desperately combing through both bags in the vain hope it’s dropped in there, and then something else drops, and I claw through my constricted jeans pocket and find it. The relief is incredible: to me it is literally priceless. It slides into my finger again. It will be a very long time before I take its presence for granted again.

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Once the shock has subsided I can concentrate on Mountains, valleys and Lakes: all familiar, no new sights or surprises, just recognition. Familiarity does not breed comtempt, not here, not ever. These skylines, these flanks, lovely little Rydal with its ever-widening outflow, are encoded in me like a string of DNA. Everywhere I look, no matter how near or far, I see fells that I have climbed, many more than once. Once climbed, they became part of me. I seized them as I conquered them. I own them, me and millions of others.

North of Dunmail Raise, the sun illuminates everything. Thirlmere gleams from end to end. I will never lose the awe of seeing it so clearly, remembering the Sixties and beyond when the only way you even knew that was a Lake there was because your parents had told you. Blencathra looks magnificent, even by Blencathra’s standards, the old cloud-magnet Skiddaw has his head in the free air, though dark-shadowed, and we drop into the Vale of Keswick with Bassenthwaite Lake a flat, silver-steel expanse straight ahead and Derwent Water sunny and lit.

Keswick is full of people. Well, it is a Saturday, the weather is good and we have been released on our own recognizance. Passing the bookshop, I spot the long-awaited Terry Abrahams: Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn, not long since out. But plans to eat at the Oddfellows Arms were clearly delusional. Everywhere has long queues and nowhere free to sit. So I amble towards Hope Park, the miniature Golf, the Crazy Golf, not that I’m going to play, but I scoff that ice cream I promised a friend I was going to eat at Easter, to cheer me up, and if you ever read this, Liz, here’s to you.

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But I’m restless, very restless. This isn’t to do with Keswick being ‘wick wi’ foak’ but rather a feeling of not wanting to confine myself to one place. So I ankle back to the Bus Station in time to catch my breath before I catch the 555 back to Grasmere. Climbing out of the town the roles are reversed: now it is Bass Lake that sits blue and Derwent Water that is grey.

Grasmere isn’t exactly empty but it’s a lot easier to cope with than Keswick. Then again I don’t wander far, barely off the Village Green: for the loo, for Sam Read’s Bookshop and the Heaton Cooper Studio, which still has too many lovely prints for the wallspace I have. The next bus is not supposed to be due until 3.30pm but I hop onto a Grasmere Sightseer and take myself upstairs to enjoy the open top section, and the 555 goes past whilst I’m on the bus anyway.

Year by year it’s getting harder to see the mouth of Ambleside Cave – called Rydal Cave on the announcement tape – as the fringe of trees below that section of Loughrigg Terrace reach for the heavens. Back in Ambleside, it’s sunny once more. In Fred’s Bookshop they’re playing Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues. They are just one more place to have copies of the first volume of Lakeland Views. If nothing else, you’ve got to admire the author for publishing a hand-written, hand-drawn book devoted to the Lakeland Fells, but judging by the cover that is really all you can admire.

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I solve my hot food urges with a burger from the Old Smithy chippy that takes so long to cook that I can only assume that they’ve had to slaughter a new cow to get the meat. It arrives neither particularly hot nor with any particular taste. Eating it leaves me with the best part of three hours to kill before my train at Windermere, so I stroll down to Loughrigg Park. Much of it is now covered with playground contraptions, themselves covered in children, so I settle down, drop the headphones into place again and try to look as if I am not looking at the young children but rather at their mothers (which I am, one or two in particular).

With an irony that I cannot help but appreciate, I return to Windermere Station with exactly the same excessive lead time I manufactured for myself at Piccadilly. Having so much time in hand, I wander down into Windermere Vilage, to see if there’s somewhere I can get something to eat without having to queue for a galactic eon, but of course this means I have gone mad. Normally, I’d have dived into Booths for coffee and cake but their cafe is still closed. I only just make it back there to reach the loos before that too becomes out of bounds.

If you’ve followed this so far you will surely be asking yourself, what have I been doing? Well, nothing really. I’ve been being, not doing, and being in as many places as I could, touching bases, refreshing connections. Everything’s still here and still in it’s place and there’s still room in all that for me, and that is what I have been doing.

Precisely at 6.00pm it starts to rain and I bolt inside the Station. It’s still sunny, and it’s isolated drops but they’re big isolated drops.

Forty dull minutes later and fifteen minutes before it’s due to depart, the train arrives. I spring aboard the last carriage, the one that will be nearest to the exit at Piccadilly, and secure myself a table seat again. I’m ready for home, to switch on the laptop for the first time that day, check that the rest of the world is still there. Bring in a Chinese takeaway tea., yes, I’d be up for that. Chicken in lemon sauce, fried rice and prawn crackers.

For some fucking annoying reason we sit and wait and wait and wait at Preston, exactly as we did this morning. I rapidly get sick of the high-pitched beeping signalling that the train doors are closing preparatory to setting off and we just sit there. I’m getting tired by now, fifteen straight hours on the go, and my ears are getting sore too, so I take off the headphones and then discover it’s from wearing my facemask for thirteen and a half hours solid, and there goes the beeping for about the dozenth time and CAN WE GO, PLEASE?

And eventually we do. Piccadilly Station. The 203 bus. Realising that the Takeaway’s out because by the time it’s cooked and I’ve got it home it’s too bloody late for me to eat something like that without the near certainty of acid reflux. Tired, achey, legs, hips, back, arms, shoulders sore.

Can I do it again on Sunday?

A Day in the Lakes: 2018


I’m sitting in a railway station.

No, this is not a late attempt to become Paul Simon, though if someone offered me the chance to turn into the man who wrote and arranged “Bridge over Troubled Water”, I would, in the traditional manner, snatch your hand off.

I’m here at Piccadilly Station for my annual day out in the Lakes, full of carefully calculated plans and forty-five minutes ahead of departure time because, as you know, I am paranoid about public transport and, long before the day is over, that paranoia will again be proven justified.

The plan is foolproof: train to Windermere, bus to Glenridding, steamer to Pooley Bridge and back, reversing the route. Massive turnaround margins at all points, and the sun’s a clear, pale blue, promising ideal conditions. Admittedly, there are tannoy announcements about delays and cancellations, but I’ve got things under control. I’m going to Ullswater, my favourite of the Lakes, and one where my memories are very much my own, with little intrusion from my family.

There’s a lovely surprise as, nose in my book, I am greeted by my name being spoken with surprise and delight. It’s a former team-mate, who left my employers to go into Nursing Training, oh my god is is fifteen months ago already? She’s on her way to Salford University and is really pleased to see me, which gives me a boost. She’s really enthusiastic, absolutely loving it, and as lovely as ever. As usual, I wish I was half my age.

Her train leaves before mine but we have time for a good chat and, when hers is delayed I catch up with her on the platform and we resume nattering. Ironically, she’s commenting about how the Government want us to save the environment by using public transport more, and just how bad it is: you can tell what’s coming, can’t you?

Her train delays mine a handful of minutes, and there are fits and starts as we escape Manchester. I have my headphones on, my book open and as far as I’m concerned, the day starts now.

This stage of the journey is too familiar by now to demand attention until we reach Lancaster at least, and come into sight of the high country. I’m reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Labyrinth of the Spirits”, the final part of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books Quartet, bought as soon as published in English but saved for an occasion such as this because it is just over 800 pages long. But eminently readable. I am a quarter of the way through it by Preston, where the train splits. The sky is unchanged, as empty as a Tory’s heart.

The two back carriages are to go on to Blackpool North, the front two to Windermere. That’s what they announced at Piccadilly, and that’s how I’m sat but I listen alertly for confirmation, because I am, as I say, paranoid.

Despite this being the mid-point of November, there’s a softer edge to this pellucid sky that’s suggestive of a heat-haze. The perfect clarity of distant vistas looks improbable. As we near Lancaster, I’m looking north more and more, eager for that first hillside.

We’ve made up all but a minute of the delays by now, but we generously give it another six or seven minutes headstart before moving on. I’m still not concerned: I have forty-five minutes at Windermere before the Patterdale bus. I see cows in a field, standing in a patient line at an open gate, like ticket holders awaiting an invisible doorman’s permission to enter the theatre.

But paranoia never sleeps but fitfully. On the approach to Oxenholme, it’s announced that the service will terminate there. Passengers for Windermere will have to wait for the next train, at 11.18.

And at that moment, the Patterdale expedition is, if you’ll pardon my French, fucked. There’s enough leeway built into the schedule to cope if the Patterdale bus is an hourly service but whilst I can’t be categoric, I’m pretty bloody sure it’s two-hourly. So the connection to the Steamer is irretrievably lost. I’m not even there yet and the day is ruined.

I can’t even improvise because, according to the guard, the bus from Oxenholme will arrive at Windermere after the next train. For every good omen it seems there is a bad step.

I can’t begin to plan an alternative day until I do reach Windermere, and when I get there I can’t even find a timetable for a Patterdale service.

I’ve done Grasmere/Ambleside too often now for that combination to hold much appeal in the circumstances but, given that my return train isn’t until 6.30pm, I figure that gives me time to hit Keswick.

There’s a second good omen in Booth’s to which I repair for a cardboard ham sandwich, as I investigate the November/December issue of Lakeland Walker and discover an article by Alan McFadzean about a walk from Wet Sleddale to Gatescarth Pass and back, via Mosedale. Alan’s blog Awkward Roads is linked to here but he hasn’t posted there since February, and I’d begun to fear the worst, so this is an encouraging discovery.

Heading towards Ambleside, the usual sights parade themselves in the usual order, enhanced by my being upstairs on a double-decker. But cloud rests on the shoulders of the Langdale Pikes and, despite it being perfect at valley level all along the Lake, by Ambleside it’s clear that the interior is going to be cloud-hooded.

The best of today is now going to be Dunmail Raise and Thirlmere. I came this way as recently as 2014, when I visited Keswick, but that was a return journey, after dark, in which the lake was invisible and I couldn’t even tell we’d started climbing Dunmail Raise until we were actually crossing its summit.

The ‘No Vacancies’ signs are in full flower as we navigate our way out of Ambleside, and the streams and becks are in spate. The Brathay outflowing serene Rydal Water is wider than I’ve ever seen it.

It’s odd not to be getting out at Grasmere Village, where the sun has broken through in patches, lighting up the northern wall of Far Easedale, with Helm Crag for once standing clear of the cloud.

The rains that have left the roads wet have made Thirlmere as full as I ever remember seeing it, without a trace of the ugly stripped-bare tidemark. It dreams alone, heedless of the traffic that can only race past, with precious few places to stop. I remember the Thirlmere of the Sixties, when the roadside trees were planted so thickly that it was next to impossible to see the Lake, no matter how close the road came. North of the invisible dam, the sun is once more out. The Vale of St John is illuminated by a celestial lighting director, its backcloth a sunlit Blencathra with an isolated cloud-cap I’m more used to seeing on Skiddaw. Ironically, the great cloud magnet is proud of all but a few wisps on Lonscale Fell. Bassenthwaite Lake lies placidly beneath Dodd.

By the time I’ve ‘done’ the town, the sky has collapsed and Skiddaw resumed its usual aspect, with only Latrigg visible. The Market’s busy: I inspect half of it going down towards Lake Road, leaving the other half for the way back. There’s still some light over Newlands, but nothing for Borrowdale, making the camera a waste of space.

There isn’t much left to do until 4.30pm when I’ll catch the bus back, so I decide to find a pub and hole up with a pint and my book.

Frankly, I know I’m sour, but I’m glad to get off the street, and out of the way of people who seem oblivious to this being a public place, with other people around them, and who are continually stepping out in random directions, all of then directly in front of me. I appear to be the only person in Keswick paying attention to where folk are heading and trying to avoid them.

A pub in Keswick means the Oddfellows Arms, where I order hot food. Haddock, chips and peas, garden not mushy, arrives with almost supernatural speed, or am I just used to shitty service? There’s background music by Fleetwood Mac, all of it from Rumours but not Rumours: the playing order’s wrong and ‘Silver Spring’ wasn’t on the album, it was b-side to ‘Go Your Own Way’: it may be forty-one years ago but I remember these things.

And then there’s nothing left but to wander back to Booth’s and the bus stop.

The light’s failing as we climb out of Keswick but it stays long enough for me to catch sight of Thirlmere on the way back, but no other Lakes. Then a coffee in Booth’s Windermere, and a most unsatisfying square of Victoria Sponge – I thought home-made was supposed to be best – and then the train and the dark and the slow return.

On a train to Manchester Piccadilly that, suddenly, becomes a train to Preston. This is too much. The guard reassures me that we’re merely being attached to another train at Preston, but I’m right and he’s wrong and he’s marvelling at how I knew. We really are being terminated in mid-journey. Very decently, he writes on my ticket that I should be allowed onto the next Manchester train free of charge. It’s being run by Transpennine, and the guard doesn’t even demur when I explain. “I’m used to Northern” he says. I have no intention of getting used to Northern.

The only upside is that this train gets me back to Piccadilly fifteen minutes earlier than I otherwise expected and I only have five minutes to wait for a 203 home.

It’s been a day in the Lakes, for which I ought to have been happy, but the plain fact is that I wasn’t. I was shafted. But that’s what you get when you have to rely on public transport in a third-rate country that’s spent the day I’ve been cut off from all news descending into a fourth-rate country.

Of course, I can try again, in 2019, when it’s lighter and things like buses and steamers might ply a bit more often. But dare I? How can I trust Northern Rail not to fuck it up for me a second time? Or actually a third, because they got me going and coming.

Bastards.

Rain Days 2


Skiddaw from Sale Fell

The view I didn’t see

The Guardian ‘Country Diary’ used to be completely reliable, a fortnight cycle, with the late Harry Griffin every alternate Monday. Since the last reshuffle, it’s impossible to anticipate when Tony Greenbank will appear. It’s certainly not once a fortnight, that’s all I’m sure of.
He was in the paper yesterday, on a bus ride from Keswick to Grasmere, via Thirlmere and Dunmail Raise. Since the storms of December washed half the road away, there’s been no direct route north, but now, three months on, the service has been restored. Not the main road, but the roundabout route via Thirlmere Dam and the rougher road down the western shore.
It reminded me that, in December, I wrote a piece for this blog, inspired by the rains and the floods, about rain days of the fells. But the sheer,  awful devastation of the storms made such a piece inappropriate, and I put it by. Now it can appear.

Reports of floods in Cumbria, and especially at Cockermouth, which suffered so severely only a little more than half a decade ago, inevitably bring up recollections of rain days on the fells, so long ago.
I’ve written about most of the significant occasions when I’ve been caught out in the rain: the long long ago trek to Burnmoor Tarn, coming down by Sour Milk Ghyll after conquering Great Gable, circumnavigating Yewbarrow, and the long, slow retreat along Langstrath.
These aren’t the only times I’ve been out alone on the fells when the rain has closed in, in enveloping form, and I have found myself a long way from the car, with a silent trek broken only by the thrum of the rain on my kagoul hood, and a sense of complete loneliness. Time elongates, even as I stride on, confident and untroubled. However far I have to go, time resolved into a perpetual now, a moment in which I walk, shrouded, attempting to remove myself from the effects of the universe around me.
There was a Sunday afternoon starter walk one year, Manchester to Keswick in the morning, park at the northern mouth of the Vale of St John, the steep climb out of the valley towards Clough Head, the convex slope above the crags and the ever receding skyline, with rain closing in, and time closing in too. United were on Sky, playing the 4.00pm kick-off at Leeds, I think, and I had plans to be back in Keswick, find a pub showing the game and sink myself in the despised Murdochian debasement of our culture.
I had no intention of descending the direct route back. As the rain grew closer, I walked north over easy ground to White Pike, the very end of the Helvellyn range, and down to the old Coach Road, wandering the northern edge of the high lands, and I tramped in rain-silence home to the car and Keswick, and the ironic frustration that debasement had not yet penetrated so far as nowhere with a Sky TV was open at that hour of Sunday afternoon!
But I remember the sodden tramp along the coach road more clearly than I do Clough Head’s top, or the long vista along the drenched grassy ridge back to Great Dodd. Rain, and the cold, hemming me in.
There was another Sunday starter, this time from Ambleside, where I booked in in the village and set off to stretch my legs on a climb up Loughrigg Fell. This wasn’t on my ‘Wainwrights’ list, as I’d climbed the fell, from Rydal, many years earlier with my family, descending to and returning along Loughrigg Terrace and exploring the famous cave. No such treats on an ascent directly from Ambleside Village, starting by crossing the park, and no difficulties in the walk, and things were still clear on the summit, but as I began to descend, repeating my outbound route, the sky began to close in very rapidly from the east. I was still some ways above the old golf course, and it was already clear that this was not a case of whether I would get back ahead of the rain, but how soon it would hit me. And it hit hard, drenching me through my waterproofs, which were so wet that they and my outer clothes beneath had to be hung over the shower rail to drain into the bath to be of any use to me the following day.
Rain in Ambleside also brings back recollections of a brief two day break my wife and I spent there, some years ago. We woke on our last day to drenching rain, pouring down ceaselessly on the Village. By the time we had enjoyed our breakfast and wandered out it had taken on epic proportions. The streets were running with rain, the walls were running with rain, there were gutter waterfalls everywhere, the beck was swollen, Bridge House looked as if it could be in serious danger if it went on like that. We covered ourselves up well, enjoying the unusual spectacle in a crazy way, happy.
Where else have I been in the Lakes when it has been so wet? There was a midweek day when I was based at Keswick and it was so rainy that serious walking was out of the question, but I still had little, tree-choked Dodd on my list. It was the ideal fell for such a day, the trees preventing a view from the summit in even the best of conditions, so I fought my way up a very indistinct path that must have changed a lot since Wainwright’s days, happy to break out of the trees and into the rain because at least I could see where the hell I was.
So I wandered across the face of Dodd on shallow-angled forest roads, the rain coming down steadily, until I got to the path that led to the little summit. Then back to the roads and down to the col beneath the high side of Carl Side, from where I marched home, all the way down to the road at the northern end of the fell, and all the way back down the road to my car at the southern end. Hardly what you would call fellwalking, but oddly enjoyable in its lone, wet way.
But Dodd was a rare case of setting off in the rain, knowing my enjoyment of the day was going to be limited from the start and determined to make the minimal most of out conditions. There was an occasion, on the other side of Bassenthwaite Lake, on Sunday afternoon starter where expectations were drastically different.
It was a fine, indeed sunny September afternoon, and I’d booked in for the first half of my week in Keswick. My plans involved me going ’round the corner’, following the Cockermouth road on the way past the foot of Bass Lake, and cutting into the narrow little roads among the trees, to cross the foot of the Wythop valley. I was planning on climbing one of the two small Wainwrights that stand as outliers to the mouth of the valley.
Which of the two it would be was to be determined by the availability of parking. Space in Wythop village being tighter than the proverbial duck’s arse, I wound up on the upper road into the valley, on the flanks of Ling Fell. At this point it was sunny.
Ling Fell is an unlovely fell and an unlovely climb, an upturned pudding without ridges or shape. One path circles its lower flanks, but you have to strike out uphill to reach its summit. There are no special features, no special views and no special reason ever to go back there again.
All of which meant I was back at the car far too early to take my boots off so, the weather still being sunny and hot, I took the road up the valley, crossed over to the lower road on the Sale Fell flank and took a gently angled green ride back to the wall that crossed the ridge north of Sale Fell’s summit. There were only the broad rudiments of a path so I set off uphill, confident that the fell was too small and the ridge too innocuous to pose any problems.
This was only too true, until, no more than a third of the way up, I was overtaken by a storm, a ferocious, lashing, wind-bestrewn storm, right in my face. Visibility was rapidly reduced to no more than five yards, not counting that I had to drag off my glasses and stick them into a waterproof pocket. It was an incredible reversal, but I was mulishly determined not to be beaten on a fell as small as this one, so I kept ploughing on uphill.
The wisdom of this course was exemplified by the news that, several miles to the south, in this same storm, a walker on Great Rigg was struck by lightning and killed.
I’ve never seen anything like it, the speed and ferocity of the storm, the complete obliteration of any view, and out of almost nowhere. Ahead of me, the ground eased, the small cairn appeared. I approached it at a brisk march, walked round the far side and started downhill the way I’d come without breaking stride. By the time I was back at the ridge, the rain had gone and I walked down to the village and studied the mill race in its centre in sunshine again.
Rain days in the Lakes. Given that I’m only getting up there one day in November every year, that seems to be my lot. But some of those days were memorable, and being out alone with the rain on the fells was an experience I wouldn’t sacrifice for anything.

Storm Devastation


Gone

A couple of days ago, the outline news of the storm that has caused so much destruction and devastation to my beloved Cumbria prompted me to write a post that reminisced about those of my experiences of being caught in rain on the fells that I haven’t already spoken of previously on this blog.

That post isn’t going to appear for a while yet, because I’ve read more about the awful things that have been happening, and I’ve seen photos that fill me with a mixture of awe and horror, and lightweight tales of walking in the rain are wildly inappropriate right now.

News that Pooley Bridge, that lovely old bridge over the outflow of Ullswater, my favourite Lake, has been swept away. Stockley Bridge, in the Seathwaite Valley, was washed away by torrential floods in the great storm of 1966, which happened on the Saturday as we drove home after a week’s holiday (I remember the darkness and the thunderous rain on Buckhaw Brow, just before Settle). It was rebuilt, and eyes like mine who never saw it before would not be able to tell had I not known. But that was the Sixties, and a time of prosperity: from where will come the money to reconstruct Pooley Bridge in these times of austerity, depravation and criminally incompetent doctrinaire Government. It has to be rebuilt: it’s a 32 mile round trip to avoid it. But will something other than a functional bridge be built? Can it be afforded?

News too that, for a couple of days, Glenridding Village has been cut off, that Mountain Rescue have only today got through. Glenridding’s more than just my beloved Ullswater again. There’s a story of a woman whose husband is stranded there, gone to a stag do at the Inn on the Lake for the weekend and unable to return. Giving up his bed to elderly people who would otherwise have had to sleep on sofas.

The Inn on the Lake used to be a more old-fashioned kind of hotel. They closed it for refurbishment and rebranding in November 2000. The last function there before it closed was a wedding. It was my wedding.

I’ve seen photos today. One is of the Vale of Keswick, seen long-distance through a wide-angled lens. Once upon a time, in a younger era of the world, there was no Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake, just one uber-lake, stretching from the Jaws of Borrowdale to the beginnings of the North Cumbrian Plain. That uber-lake is all but with us again.

And I’ve seen a photo of the A591, the ‘Kendal-Keswick’ road, below Dunmail Raise, where the road is narrow at the head of the Thirlmere Valley, and almost half that road is washed away, a great, jagged ripping away of the western side of the carriageway, replaced by a massive earthen ditch along which water roils. This is not CGI. This is a road I have driven hundreds of times, north and south, the main central road through the Lakes and in that section it’s impassable.

Record amounts of rain have fallen, literally. The record has been broken, on, of all places, Honister Pass, not even Seathwaite, traditionally the wettest place in England. Seathwaite, out-rained! What is this world now?

I’m nowhere near and I could be of no help if I were. I’m in no danger, to life and limb and property and possessions. But my heart breaks along with those people to whom I am in spirit a brother, and this is no time for words that celebrate rain and rainfall.

The Grand Tour of the Lakes: Stage Four: North to East


The final stage of the Grand Tour is the simplest and easiest, which is always the most befitting for the homeward run. Basically, it’s the Keswick-Ambleside road, with a single possible variant along the way.
Actually, this is the point where the circular Tour ceases to be circular for it’s a more or less straight line back, down the Central Rift throughout the centre of the Lakes.

Bassenthwaite Lake again

Before embarking on the route back to base, there may be some who, having decided against the ‘high road’ along the western side of Derwentwater, and who, having entered Keswick from Borrowdale, made a pit stop for loos and cups of tea or coffee. Those travellers have not yet seen Bassenthwaite Lake so, in order not to miss out, begin the final stage by heading north on the main street.

At the little roundabout, turn right as signposted for Carlisle, crossing the A66 at the big roundabout and continuing onwards through level, green country that, in older days, when the two Lakes were one major body of water, was submerged. Bass Lake is close at hand at its foot but the Carlisle road drifts further away, running under the shadow of tree-bound Dodd.

At the Castle Inn, turn left, follow the road around the foot of the Lake and shoot back down the A66, along Bass’s western shore, heading back to Keswick.
The road out of Keswick climbs to escape the Vale, before cutting through the valley of Naddle Beck, lying almost parallel to the Vale of St John. The Vale lies on the line of the rift, and the waters of Thirlmere used to drain along it in a perfectly logical, geographic manner, until the former Armboth Water and Leathes Water were submerged and its waters sent south over Dunmail Raise, for the benefit of the citizens of Manchester, myself among them.

                                                        Thirlmere
Thirlmere used to be incredibly difficult to see. It’s long been Forestry Commission territory, just as is Ennerdale, but the Commission were even more officious here, guarding its privacy by thick plantations along the eastern shore, so that even when the main road ran by the lake itself, only the briefest glimpses of water were visible between the screen.
It’s always been possible to circumvent this by talking the old, rough road round the western shore of the lake, and even though the Commission has long since mended its ways, this is still the best for views.
There are two approaches to the west shore, the first of which can only be accessed from the northbound carriage, this being a section where, in the Sixties or thereabouts, a new smooth section was laid, and the old, narrow carriageway retained for south-bound traffic. Southbound travelers emerge from the end of the dual carriageway in time to take the second approach, which has the added bonus of crossing the dam itself, though you shouldn’t try stopping to look on the way.
At the head of the Lake, the two routes join, at the foot of Dunmail Raise. This is a complete doddle to drive, and on a sunny day there’s a lovely picture of Grasmere, in its Vale, below.
The road follows Grasmere’s shores anyway, before descending through wooodlands to pass it’s little sister, Rydal Water. Rydal is the thirteenth and last lake of the Tour, and all that remains is the short, but no doubt busy run into Ambleside. You may wish to schedule a day of minimal or no driving for the morrow.

Grasmere and Rydal Water

For those not yet cramped out from all those hours behind the wheel, there is a slightly longer variation near the start of this leg, using the A66 to escape eastwards from Keswick in order to turn into and drive down the Vale of St John, instead of the main highway via Naddle Beck. Those who take this option should be aware that the St John’s road emerges south of the dam road to the west side of Thirlmere, requiring you to turn back on yourself if you plan on taking that route.
There’s bound to be those who will ask if it’s possible to tour all sixteen Lakes in a single day, but the geography is against it. East of the central rift, the valleys don’t fall into the spoke pattern of the west. Ullswater lies in Patterdale, on the far side of a ridge stretching to over 3,000′ high, and Haweswater can only be reached by car from the ‘outside’, coming in, and is as much of a cul-de-sac as Ennerdale Water and Wastwater.
It’s perfectly possible on the last leg to take a more circuitous route via Matterdale and Patterdale, arriving midway along Ullswater’s middle reach and returning to Ambleside via Kirkstone Pass and The Struggle, all of which cuts Thirlmere, Grasmere and Rydal Water out of the round, which rather defeats the object of the exercise. Of course, if you could somehow work out a way of starting the tour in Keswick and finishing in Ambleside of a second lap…
When time and personal motorised transport allow, this is the route I’m going to drive. In the meantime, the memories will have to satisfy me.

Sunday on the Dodds


Great Dodd – Sunday stroll

Height in a fell is not always what it’s cracked up to be. For every additional foot above sea level that a summit boasts, there’s an assumption that the task of getting there becomes more demanding, requires greater effort, and will be proportionately more satisfying. That’s what you get with Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Bowfell, Blencathra, to name a few. But it’s not a guarantee. Great Dodd, and the Dodds range north of Sticks Pass, may include one of the twenty highest  Wainwrights, but their ascent is nothing more than a Sunday stroll.
I was running out of Wainwrights, happily, thanks to the greater freedom I enjoyed with my Golf. A 1600cc engine made the trip to the Lakes for a day’s walking consummately easy, and on a sunny weekend day, I could be into my boots and setting off into the fells earlier than when I was actually staying in Cumbria.
The Dodds were familiar figures on the edge of sight, great grassy slopes looming above the northern end of the road to Keswick, forming the eastern border of the Vale of St John. Unlike the Helvellyn range to the south, the Dodds group turned a rockier face to the west, albeit only in the form of rock that rises to about 1,600′, above which there is nothing but swelling grass slopes.
The easiest access to the Dodds is via Sticks Pass, the high level crossing between Thirlmere and Glenridding that’s second only to Esk Hause in height, but which is far more frequented as I’ve always been led to believe. As a Pass, that is, crossing from side to side of the range: Esk Hause is so much more popular as a platform to reach the highest mountains than as a crossing from Eskdale to Borrowdale. Given my family history with Passes, it was a given that I would ascend this way.
It seemed very strange to be donning my boots at Stanah. I associate the Thirlmere valley, and its northern offshoots, with rainy-Friday expeditions to Keswick, and with my midweek transfer of base from South to North Lakeland, or vice versa. This valley was for transit, not stopping. I have only ever done three walks from here.
Truth to tell, I remember almost nothing of the ascent. It begins at Stanah and, above the intake walls, follows the line of Stanah Gill zigzagging steeply until above the rocky outposts, when it breaks south, across the western ridge of Stybarrow Dodd. The gradient is easier, the walking untroubled, the direct route up the ridge unappealing, and it’s only a matter of time before you reach the broad col of Sticks Pass.
Even the water race was not the surging thing Wainwright seemed to imply, but a dead-still metal channel, crossed in a step.
The sticks that lent the Pass its name are long gone but, in the absence of deep snow cover, they are no longer necessary. Having taken so long to get to the top of Sticks Pass, it was somewhat ironic that I should have been back less than a month later, ascending this time from Patterdale, as part of the Helvellyn range walk I call the Outer Circle.
Stybarrow Dodd lies due north of the Pass. A track, looking tedious but instead surprisingly easy, leads directly to the official cairn, though the highest ground is another hundred yards uphill.
All walks change once you reach the tops. The hardest work is done, you are elevated, in spirit as well as body. There’s a sense of release, a sense that for so long as you remain up here, you are in another world, one in which the demands of life below are suspended whilst you enjoy the freedom and openness of this other existence.
The Dodds range consists of four summits, though I was only concerned with three today. Great Dodd, the highest point, lay directly north, separated from Stybarrow by the deep cut of Deep Dale, marching eastwards, visible only as a high-sided, grass-lined declivity. But the next Dodd was Watson’s Dodd, lying well west of the direct line of the ridge, overlooking St John’s.
I already knew of its peculiar geography from thirty years of reading Wainwrights. Watson’s Dodd has a front to St John’s, but no back. Away from the valley, twin wings sweep back, forming ridges that rise to Stybarrow and Great Dodd. Long paths sweep effortlessly along these ridges, a flying ‘V’ that flanks a valley that clearly divides the two bigger Dodds. From Stybarrow Dodd’s top, you look at the non-existent back of Watson, like looking behind the Magician’s mirror.
Chris Jesty reports a certain amount of confusion at the end of the paths that lead to and from Watson’s Dodd, but a the time there was nothing to it: just a straightforward walk, veering west, along a wide, level wing, to the summit at the apex, then back again, with little reason to stop, along the other wing, aiming for Great Dodd.
Once again, the path is grassy and looks tedious, but is easy underfoot. As with Stybarrow, there was an official cairn, with a higher point beyond.
All told, though I didn’t have my eye on my watch at the time, I had collected my three summits in a ridiculously short space of time, something between half an hour and an hour. But Great Dodd was above 2,800 feet: to be able to collect so high a fell with so little effort seemed fundamentally wrong. I didn’t usually try to climb fells of that height on a Sunday expedition, when I needed to be on my way home soon after 4.00pm to avoid getting caught up in the tailbacks that could run for ten miles o the way to the junction with the Blackpool Motorway and the trippers pouring home and a weekend’s fun. But height was irrelevant: the Dodds were Sunday afternoon fare.
I could, of course, carry on and collect the other fell in the range, the outlier Clough Head. The whole of the way was clear to see from Great Dodd’s summit: a broad-backed grass ridge, free from complications, free of interest save for the out-of-place rock outcrop of Calfhow Pike, halfway there. A mere stroll.
But a two mile stroll there was also a two-mile stroll back. I hated retracing my steps for more than the most unavoidable of brief distances, and besides there was the seven hundred foot plus climb back up to Great Dodd that, that far into the day, certainly would be tedious, no matter how easy. Of course, there was no real need to regain that lost height: I could contour levelly across the flank of Great Dodd, join my intended route of descent, down the western ‘ridge’. But two miles: and two back: not on, not for me.
A wise choice: Clough Head proved to be more enjoyable as a solo expedition, a stretch-the-legs beginning to a week away than any such ridge route could have been.
So I began to walk west and down, down pathless, thick grass, gradually steepening as I got below the 1,600′ line. Mill Gill lay to my left, but I didn’t seek out its line, which proved to be a mistake. As indicated in The Eastern Fells, I planned to cross the Gill below the ravine and above its steep rock-lined fall. I could pick up a path crossing behind the Castle Rock of Triermain, descend to the road at Legburthwaite.
Instead I missed it. I came down to the intake wall, facing a sign saying that shooting may be going on behind the wall. I turned right, south, hoping to make my way along the wall, bt was soon stopped in my tracks by Mill Gill, impossible to drop down to and cross.
In an ignominious manner, I retreated north, along the wall for about a quarter mile. There was no sound of shooting, and I had lost enough height to be able to see the road across the pastures beyond the wall. There was a gate visible, so I shinned over the wall, made a bee-line for the gate, and let myself out into legitimacy before anyone could see me.
For once, the road walk to the car was fairly pleasant.