Archive for July 20th, 2011

July 20, 2011

Backpacking bloggers in the Howgills

by backpackingbongos

Day 1 – 5.2 miles with 470 metres ascent

I did a couple of circuits of Ravenstonedale looking for a spot where I would be happy to leave the van for two nights.  By the time I actually parked up I had no idea how my location actually related to the map.  I feel a bit ashamed to admit that I powered up the mapping on my iPhone to determine my exact location.

It was early afternoon and I had arranged to meet Martin and Terry at a high level camp later on that evening.  I had previously backpacked with Martin and we had got along well, I had yet to meet or speak to Terry.  However after reading his blog and watching his videos for a while now I had a firm image in my mind what he would be like.  He lived up to those expectations in the flesh!

With my map now following the reality of what was on the ground I located my first footpath with ease and crossed a field.  I was immediately surrounded by the friendliest lambs I have ever come across.  They all crowded around me, pushing and shoving to see who could get the closest.  One even nuzzled my knee and was up for a good stroke.  This put a big smile on my face as I made my way along lanes to the A863.

The weather however soon removed my smile as I fully kitted up in waterproofs whilst watching the clouds get lower and lower on Wild Boar Fell ahead.  A steady drizzle soon gave way to a downpour on my climb up the bridleway that eventually leads to Mallerstang.  I found temporary shelter under a band of trees and stood watching the cows as I loaded up on fuel for the long climb ahead.  From the Limestone pastures of Stennerskeugh Clouds I looked towards where Sand Tarn was located, hidden from view by the mist.  I took a bearing to a cairn on the horizon and descended across marshy ground before ascending the grassy hillside.  The clouds were lifting by the time I reached the tarn, ragged tendrils drifting across its surface.  It looked a dark and foreboding place the shifting mist providing a gloomy atmosphere.  I located a spot for the tent, pitched up and laid down for a while.  My empty thoughts were soon disturbed by a brightening though the nylon and I peered outside to see the sun weakly piercing the clouds.

With a change in the weather came a change in atmosphere around my high wild camp, it went from dark and brooding to bright and friendly in less than an hour.  I sat and cooked my dinner and and ate it on a rock overlooking my ascent route.  In the distance I spotted two figures slowly make their way toward me, disappearing from sight every now and then as the moorland dipped.  Finally Martin and Terry appeared over the final rise and wandered over to say hello.  Tents and shelters were erected and we spent the evening in awe at the spectacle that nature laid on for us.  The ever-changing light was magical as the sun made its slow progress towards the horizon.  Sand tarn soon became a very inviting spot indeed.

I think that we must have taken hundreds of photos between us that evening, it was hard to resist snapping away constantly.  We wandered around camp for hours chatting about days in the hills and kit, pulling on more and more layers as the air chilled around us.

Just before the sun finally disappeared from sight we started guessing what the temperature was.  It felt cold, far colder than I have ever experienced in June.  My watch left in my tent said that it was 3 degrees celsius.  We were all glad we had brought along warm down bags that night.

Day 2 – 11.1 miles with 870 metres ascent

We had hoped, almost expected to wake to a spectacular inversion.  Mist had started to form in the valley the evening before and the air had been clear and totally still.  The inner of my tent was soaked with condensation, in some conditions this is totally unavoidable.  The climb to the trig point on Wild Boar fell was steep but short.  A great spot but the best of the views are hidden by its extensive plateau.

However a couple of minutes walk away the ground plunges steeply into the valley of Mallerstang.  An outcrop of rock called the Nab is the perfect spot to stand and linger whilst taking in the views.

The eastern escarpment stretches for roughly a kilometre, bringing a bit of drama to the usual soft folds of the Pennines.  Tall slender cairns look like people standing by the edge from a distance.

It was a relaxed walk towards Swarth fell, easy chatter about the stuff that backpackers find interesting, common interests shared.  Lots of time to take in the wild and deserted landscape.

The original plan had been to ascend Baugh fell but we were all tempted to explore the hidden delights of Uldale, a world of gorges and waterfalls, hardly hinted at by the map.  An easy grassy descent led to a crossing of the infant river, it was a case of ignore the map and seek out the best line down the valley.  Terry had come this way before so took the lead.

We contoured steep slopes high above the river hidden below.  It was hard slow going, the calling then sighting of a Red Kite adding to the experience.  Suddenly we were on the edge of a large sheer drop, the sound of a hidden waterfall below us.  A steep descent and a bit of muddy scrambling brought us into a secret oasis, a deep pool surrounded by luxurious vegetation.  A small cascade fell into the pool whilst behind, partially hidden from view a large waterfall plunged into a rocky amphitheatre.  A truly lovely spot.  Terry was the only one to brave a slippery traverse of the rocks above the pool to get a closer look.  Food was eaten in the sun until a heavy shower got us packing and on our way.

We stuck to the valley bottom as best as we could until a wide grassy bridleway lead us high above the Rawthey valley, the view towards the steep grassy Howgills becoming more dominant with every step.

There was talk of food and ice-cold cokes on the descent to the road and it was suggested that we see if the Cross Keys Temperance Inn was open.  Thankfully it was and we were soon sitting on the back patio with pints of coke and bowls of chips.  We were aware of the steep climb ahead of us to the summit of Yarlside, a hill that has a bit of a reputation for its exceptionally steep grassy slopes.  It can sometimes be difficult getting back up and backpacking after a good feed and sit down but we were soon making swift progress up the path towards Bowderdale Head.

Cautley crags and the surrounding hills looked like they were covered in green velvet, the greenness of summer must surely have been at its peak?

A group was passed at Bowderdale head and a guy made a comment that we must be sponsored by Rab.  I have to admit that we were all pretty much dressed head to toe in the stuff!  By the way I am not sponsored by Rab but if they would like to sponsor me…………..

It was steep and slow going as we climbed Yarlside.

The summit gave amazing views of line after line of hills spreading into the distance.  Looking west there was no suggestion of the hand of man, walls and fences being absent from this cracking little range of hills.  The sky was moody and broody and we watched showers as they tracked their way across the landscape.

Terry made the suggestion of a camp high on the summit, to sit in our tents and stare at the views would be a great way to pass away the evening.  There may even be another sunset treat.  The wind however would have made it unpleasant and myself and Martin persuaded him that a sheltered camp would be a better idea, even if we lost the views.  The descent to the saddle between Yarlside and Kensgriff is exceptionally steep.  A slip in wet weather here could potentially be serious, you would slide down the cropped grass with speed.  We descended in a row just in case someone did slip, that way they would not take anyone else down with them.

The flat spot that we identified was not as flat as it looked from higher up the hill.  Once the tents were up it started to rain which it continued to so on and off for the rest of the evening.  Once again it was cold and I felt like I was dressed for winter.  Terry had brought a special beer dispensing rucksack with him on this trip, a ready supply of cans being produced each evening.  I am sure that the taste of beer on a wild camp would have been very pleasant, but I never found out 😉

Day 3 – 4.9 miles with 270 metres ascent

We were up and out of our tents by 6.00am.  The cold and rain of the night before being replaced by a bright sunny morning, the warmth already being felt.  A time to appreciate our camp spot, something we had not been able to do before.

We were walking by 7.00am, something that I rarely do.  The light soft and clear bringing out the textures of the surrounding hills.  It was worth getting up early for.

Various sheep trods helped us as we contoured along the steep slopes of Kensgriff.  It was a steep pull in the increasing warmth to the col below Randygill Top.

The ascent was best summed up by Terry.

Once up high the walking along a good path to the trig point on Green Bell was easy.  A last chance to take in this unique range of hills.  I mapped out some future routes in my mind and we talked about the possibility of a backpack that took in all the summits.  That would be a challenge, not so much in distance but in all the steep ascents and descents that would be necessary.  I think that would make a cracking long weekend.

We left the path at Knoutberry and made our way down easy pathless slopes to Ravenstonedale.  It was still early morning when we arrived at the village shop to buy cold drinks.  The village looked idyllic in the summer sunshine.  We were lucky to get such a perfect weather window that morning as on the drive home it tipped it down.

All in all an enjoyable and relaxed backpack with good company.  You can read Martin’s account of the trip here, and Terry’s here.