The Bongo in winter is like sleeping in an upholstered freezer, a lack of heating requiring piles of down clothing to keep warm. A purchase of an electric hook-up and a small radiator gave the promise of warmth and comfort. A campsite in Eskdale was booked and I headed north with Reuben early on a Friday morning. It had been a whole year since my last visit to the Lake District.
High pressure had settled over the UK, the centre sitting slap bang over the Lake District. Blue skies and light winds I hear you shout. Indeed this was the case on the first afternoon and the final morning. The rest of the time it was benign cloud and murk. A dirty high.
Black Combe – 13.5 kilometres with 430 metres ascent
The single track road between Duddon Bridge and Waberthwaite was surprisingly busy, a convenient short cut from the coast road. There is parking for about four cars at its summit, most of the space taken over by one solitary car who had parked as stupidly as possible.
Starting at 380 metres made the ascent of Stoneside hill a breeze. A woman with her lively Jack Russell warned me of the bogs ahead if I was heading for Black Combe. I inwardly smiled to myself thinking that this Pennine bog trotter can handle a little bit of bogginess. Ten minutes later I heard a splash as Reuben disappeared into a pool of slime, struggling to drag himself out. The large area of rushes we had walked into was booby-trapped, the ground oozing and quaking. My Pacerpoles are handy for crossing boggy ground but they were sitting nice and comfortably in the Bongo.
A quick bag of the cairn on Stoupdale Crags and what felt like a long detour to White Combe. This Wainwright outlying fell has a large cairn with an even larger view. A late lunch was enjoyed but I did lament the lack of fluids, my water bottle was also sitting nice and comfortably in the Bongo with the Pacerpoles.
The final climb to the summit of Black Combe was done in shadow, the sun heading towards the horizon. Already the grass was crunchy underfoot, ice glazing over areas of bog. Arriving at the summit it was hard to see, the sun reflecting off the sea was the deepest orange. The quality of the light was fantastic, it made even the array of wind turbines and the nearby nuclear power station look beautiful. It was tempting to stay and watch the sun set. However it was a long way back to the van so we reluctantly headed the way we had come. The last half hour done by head torch, the battery very close to empty.
I probably should not mention one of my outdoor secrets. The week before heading north I joined the Camping and Caravan club. Shhhh keep that one to your self. This was done so that I can access their numerous certified sites, designed for five ‘units’. Somewhere to escape the crowds but with electric hook-up if needed in the colder months. The campsite close to Boot in Eskdale is not a certified site but it may as well have been this weekend. It was pretty much empty and I got nearly a whole field to myself. With light and heating, time progressed really quickly until Chrissie and Geoff turned up in their van. Time for a convivial couple of beers before turning in for the night.
Sca Fell – 16 kilometres with 1,080 metres ascent
I woke totally sold to the whole heated campervan in winter idea. Outside was a world of white frost, inside was snug and warm. Even Reuben who I am beginning to realise dislikes camping appeared to be happy.
Three humans and three dogs met outside the vans and set off in pursuit of Sca Fell, a reasonably long day with short daylight hours. Chrissie and Dixie walked with us until we got close to Stony Tarn before turning back. Dixie is a twelve year old Boxer and the climb to the summit of Sca Fell would have been too much for her. Geoff and I continued on upwards, Reuben impatiently leading the way, Tilly looking for objects that she should could carry (this often would include large stones).
The first destination was the cracking little summit of Great How. Detached from the higher hills it gives great views in all directions. We sat and had lunch number one, watching the play of mist and light on the surrounding fells.
A boggy walk across Quagrigg moss was followed by a steep pull up to the summit of Slight Side. There we met a couple who were celebrating completing their round of the Wainwrights. No offer was made to share their whisky!
It became increasingly wintry as we approached the summit cairn of Sca Fell which was sadly shrouded in mist. As we had lunch in the shelter Reuben let me know that he was feeling the cold, enthusiastic when I put his warm coat on. I had managed to leave my microspikes in the Bongo (a bit of a recurring theme during the weekend) but had managed to borrow Chrissie’s when she turned back earlier in the day. They came in very handy for the steep descent down the western slopes towards Burnmoor Tarn.
Daylight deserted us during the final half hour, and I realised that I still had not changed the battery of my headtorch (don’t worry I always carry spares, it’s just that I could not be bothered to stop and change it).
The evening was spent at Chez Crowther where Geoff filled our bellies with Chilli and apple pudding. It became full on glamping when we sat and watched Dr Who afterwards!
Green Crag – 16 kilometres with 710 metres ascent
I had booked the Monday off work so was able to go for a full days walk on the Sunday. Geoff and Chrissie were heading back south after lunch so we said our goodbyes in the morning.
The stepping stones over the River Esk were easy to cross with the water levels being low. A sheltered climb brought us to Stanley Force, a great waterfall hidden deep in a gorge. The climb up a path soon led us to a rocky viewing platform 150 feet above the falls. It was a giddy vertigo inducing spot, Reuben kept well away from the edge.
The hills around Green Crag are small in altitude but make up for it in terms of ruggedness. A circuit taking in Great Worm Crag, White How, Green Crag and Crook Crag involved numerous ups and downs. The summit of Crook Crag even involved a spot of easy scrambling to get to the top. The best thing however was that there was not a soul to be seen all day, pretty rare for the Lake District. A spot that I would like to return to in the summer for some wild camping.
A well-defined track that is barely marked on my map led us easily back down into the valley to Low Birker Farm. The marked right of way would have been impossible down the loose steep slopes.
A path along the River Esk was taken in favour of the road for the walk back to the campsite. Darkness had once again fallen at this point but thankfully my head torch was shining nice and bright. This however did not prevent me from getting us temporarily misplaced.
Back at the campsite I had pretty much the entire place to myself.
Rough Crag – 3.5 kilometres with 150 metres ascent
Ambitious plans were hatched which involved getting up before dawn and marching over a long list of hills before heading home. The reality involved waking up at 10am after a very deep sleep before relaxing at the campsite for a couple of hours. Even at midday the insulating screens on the van had frozen solid to the glass and took a bit of persuading to be removed.
I parked the Bongo near the summit of the Birker Fell Road, determined to stretch both of our legs before the long drive home. It was a very pleasant there and back walk across the summits of Rough Crag and Water Crag. Two small hills that give excellent views for their height.
I will have to make sure that I don’t leave it so long before my next visit to the Lakes.