The Lake District has been off my radar for well over a year now as I prefer to seek out the wilder, quieter hill and mountain areas of the UK whenever possible. However there is something irresistible about the place that eventually keeps on drawing me back. There is beauty wherever you rest your eyes with the mountains having a perfect scale and size. The only draw back to the place is that most other hill walkers also love the Lakes too and the place can often be overrun, traffic a nightmare and parking impossible. However by late November most of the maddening crowd is back at home and the fells become tranquil places once again.
For this weekend I had originally decided to do a three-day backpack around the Buttermere and Loweswater fells, testing out some new gear which should make winter camping much more comfortable. However as the week before departure progressed I found myself feeling more and more lazy until I decided that the Bongo would make a good, cheap mobile hotel for a couple of nights. We have recently spent over £400 making it run once more and I thought that it would be good to use it for what it was originally purchased for, a campervan.
10.3 miles with 855 metres ascent
Even though I had left Nottingham at dawn, heavy traffic and thick fog meant that I did not pull into the small car park behind the Blencathra centre much before midday. Now that I don’t work Fridays I still get a guilty feeling of excitement heading for the hills when most people are still at work. This was emphasised by the fact that there was only one other vehicle in the car park that day.
Being an infrequent visitor to the Lakes I am often struck by how large and manicured some of the paths are and the bridleway that heads north above the Glenderaterra beck is no exception. Starting at nearly 300 metres above sea level had given me a good height boost with the beck already far down to my left. Lonscale fell was soon looming into view and I started to inspect the eastern and north-eastern ridges to see if it was possible to make my way directly up their slopes.
As I crossed the beck and approached closer to the fell I could tell that the north-eastern ridge is much more defined than the map suggests, however the top of the ridge appeared to be made up of very steep broken ground. The eastern corrie looked possible as a means of ascent, I decided that I would climb the lower part of the ridge and make a decision then as to what looked most pleasant / least dangerous!
From the first part of the ridge the higher slope just before it exits onto Lonscale Pike looked pretty hideous and I was aware that the Salomon 3D fastpackers that I was wearing are about as grippy as a cheap pair of slippers. However is was easy to contour high above the corrie floor until I came to a steep ramp of cropped grass and made my ascent via that. My lungs were bursting and my legs all wobbly by the time I reached the top of Lonscale Pike but the views were definitely worth it.
Lonscale Pike is barely a pimple on the map, a single contour ring at the very edge of Lonscale fell, however it has a real mountain feel about it. Blencathra on the other side of the valley dominates the view by its sheer bulk, although it is not showing its most attractive side from this angle.
To the south most of the view was lost in the haze of the low sun, however I could pick out the Helvellyn fells, the tops plastered in a covering of snow. Everywhere else was snow free and it showed how well that small area holds onto the white stuff.
To the north is the wilds of the Back o’ Skidda an area of high rolling moorland which has a different character from the rest of Lakeland, a bit more Pennine in character. This area is often sold as a quieter alternative to many other hills in the area although I don’t think that it is quiet as it used to be. There has always been a fair few people about in my experience, probably all seeking solitude as well!
Finally to the west was the bulk of Skiddaw, my main destination for the day, although as with Blencathra not really showing its most impressive side.
It was a short walk over to the main summit cairn of Lonscale fell itself before heading up Jenkin hill to reach the main path up Skiddaw. This really is a motorway of a path, wide and nice and easy to walk along. As I passed Little Man wisps of mists put on a spectacular display as it rose up from the valley below.
The ease of walking up the main path brought me quickly to the summit of Skiddaw itself. I would imagine that it is often a very popular peak but I managed to have the trig point to myself for a good ten minutes. The views and clarity of the air was exceptional, the low sun lighting up and softening the surrounding peaks. I sat in a snow filled wind shelter on the west side of the summit and took in the views whilst emptying my flask of coffee.
Descending to Sale How I passed a fair few walkers heading to Skiddaws summit, perhaps up there to take in what looked like was going to be a fine sunset. However I think that they may have been unlucky as a large bank of cloud plonked itself over the highest slopes. Sale How itself is a pretty unremarkable hill but it did give me one more tick on my list of 2000ft peaks.
The path down was a squelch fest until I reached the remote Skiddaw House youth hostel. This looks like a cracking place to stay and the air surrounding it was filled with the smell of wood smoke. High up on the hillside it has expansive views to the north down the Caldew valley.
Darkness came quickly on the track back to the van but I had planned the day so that it ended with an easy walk along the well made track. I tried to avoid using my headtorch for as long as possible trying to preserve my night vision. However in the end all I could see was puddles reflecting the moon. My world was then reduced to a few metres in front of me as I clicked on my torch. Approaching the car park I could look down on the A66, busy at 5.30pm on a Friday evening. The lights of the cars looking surreal from this vantage point, I began to wonder how long I would end up trying to turn right onto that dark busy road.
Later that evening I parked up the Bongo at the top of Newlands Hause, the high pass between the Newlands valley and Buttermere. After dinner I strolled a little way up the hillside, a light frost crunching underfoot. The sky was bright meaning that all the surrounding fells were visible, the lights of Keswick twinkling away to the north. I started to wish that I was camped high on the hills but this soon diminished when I got back to the van and got comfy with a copy of TGO. Only a couple of cars passed that night to disturb my solitude.