Posts tagged ‘backpacking’

April 26, 2016

Backpacking Walden – Yorkshire’s hidden dale

by backpackingbongos

West Burton is one of those picture perfect Dales villages, stone cottages surrounding a large village green. The only thing spoiling it was the long line of cars parked along the narrow road. I added to it, leaving the Doblo overnight as I headed up the Dale for a horseshoe walk around Walden.

I really want to call it Walden Dale because it is a Dale and a fine one at that. However the OS map simply has the words ‘Walden’ in the middle, so Walden I will call it.

Total distance – 26 kilometres with 800 metres ascent

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It was one of those filthy late winter days, cold, grey and murky. The tops of the hills were invisible, much of the views obscured by haze even in the valleys. I set off along wet tarmac before squelching my way up a bridleway and onto Carlton Moor. There is a Carlton about half a mile away from where I live in Nottingham. Sadly there are no drystone walls, moorland grasses whispering in the wind or fresh invigorating air there.

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I caught my breath on the summit of Harland hill, just in time for the murk to part for a while. My weekend route was at my feet, painted like a faint watercolour, soft greens and greys, the sun providing no visual warmth.

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It’s a long moorland trudge following the watershed to the summit of Brown Haw. Instead I dropped down to the north and followed a landrover track as it wound its way through an increasingly snowy landscape.

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I eventually had to leave the comfort and security of the track and the easy progress that it provided. A thin sheep trod took me upwards and onto the summit . The views once again briefly opened up, this time with Walden widening out to the north towards Wensleydale.

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Brown Haw was defended from the north by a brand new and very sturdy fence. That in itself would not normally be a problem as without barbed wire fences are easily hopped over by the long-legged. The problem was the following garish sign that was posted every few metres, a big long danger zone snaking off into the mist.

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This provided me with a bit of a dilemma. Did I want to risk being sterilised as I attempted to step over? There was no stile or crossing point in view in either direction. As I child growing up in Suffolk one of the challenges we undertook was seeing how long we could hold onto an electric fence for. Therefore I took a deep breath and, nothing. There was no shock involved. In the end Brown Haw was a bit of an anticlimax.

With dusk arriving early I soon found a level pitch at the head of the dale, an area of limestone providing good firm grass. It soon got cold, a damp chill in the air and I was glad to get into a nice warm winter sleeping bag.

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A light snow fell in the night and I awoke to a thick mist, the snow emphasising the general gloom. It had been still, cold and humid leaving the inner tent dripping with condensation. I was warm and snug inside my sleeping bag but the warm air from my body had reached the outer which was soaked due to the dew point being reached.

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I love wild camping mornings, the ritual of waking up in the wilds and making a brew whilst snug and warm in bed. It was the first time I had used an alcohol stove for many years. I had decided to get a Flatcat Bobcat Jr to take to Colorado in the summer. On its first use I was impressed at just how fuel-efficient it is, although it is much slower than using gas.

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Once packed and walking the cloud level lifted for a while and I began to get hopeful that it would clear as forecast. Alas this was not the case and much of the rest of the day was spent walking with heavy snow blowing in my face, visibility often falling close to zero.

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Rather than climbing to the summit of Buckden Pike I stuck to the landrover track for a while before finally striking off up rough slopes to the summit of Naughtberry hill. From there to Wasset Fell the going was probably the least fun way of spending part of a weekend. A shooting hut was marked on the map at Wasset Fell but it was clear it had fallen down years ago. Instead I stood on the exposed fell and shivered whilst I wolfed down some food.

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Floutgate scar provides a bit of drama, the end of the high moors before they drop into Bishopsdale. In the distance I  could just make out Castle Bolton in Wensleydale, the castle itself illuminated by a brief shaft of sunlight.

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Spring finally arrived as I crossed the fields in the dale, the sun chasing winter away. The contrast between moor and valley could not have been greater.

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Once back at the van in West Burton the sun and clouds had a brief atmospheric battle before once again the clouds took control.

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January 22, 2016

Planning my first US through hike – The Colorado Trail

by backpackingbongos

 

Colorado trail map

(Click to enlarge)

I have wanted to do a through hike in the US for a long time, for years being obsessed with the Pacific Crest Trail. DVD’s were collected and time spent reading books and trip reports. However the dream has never been realised. Life gets in the way and a job, marriage and owning a dog make disappearing for six months a distant dream.

About a year ago I stumbled across a trip report about the Colorado Trail. This starts near Denver and makes its way south-west across the Colorado Rockies to Durango. At 486 miles long it is for me a realistic proposition time wise with most people completing it in four to six weeks. Last summer I spent some time negotiating with my wife Corrina about jetting off for a couple of months. It’s not a prospect that she is thrilled about, but being a star she agreed. The next step was to approach work. They have been great and now August and most of September have been booked as unpaid leave. I’m good to go!

The Colorado Trail is a high altitude route ranging between 5,520 feet just outside Denver to 13,271 feet below Coney Summit. The average elevation is above 10,300 feet. It passes through eight mountain ranges, six National Forests and six wilderness areas. Adding that to the 89,000 feet of ascent and descent during the entire trail and I think that I will be physically tested to my limit.

It’s the first time that I’ll trek in an area where bear sightings are a real possibility, so this is something that I need to do research on. Last summer the first segment through Waterton Canyon was closed due to bear activity (article here). Bear canisters are not a requirement for the trail so I will be storing my food in an Ursack.

I’ll be trekking through the Colorado ‘Monsoon’ season. This means that afternoon thunderstorms are a regular, often daily occurrence. The reading that I have done so far indicates that these can be very violent with frequent lightning strikes. I’m not ashamed in admitting that my greatest fear in the outdoors is lightening (after a near miss a few years ago). It terrifies me! They are meant to be fairly predictable though, building up from about 1pm and often clearing by evening. This will mean dawn starts to ensure that I am off exposed high ground by around midday. A new mindset will be needed for this late rising slackpacker!

There are opportunities for resupply, although they will involve a hitchhike, something I used to do regularly in my early twenties but have not done since. Towns like Leadville (the two-mile high city) and Silverton look very pleasant and somewhere I would be happy to rest up for a couple of nights. Resupply is going to be the major bit of planning, working out when to leave the trail, how to get into town and then get back on the trail. I’m not going to bother sending packages ahead, I’ll live with what I can find in the shops. This may mean travelling a bit further to somewhere with a proper supermarket. I have already purchased the most up to date data book but am waiting for the new guidebook to be published in the spring. I’ll start planning in earnest when that has been released.

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One of the best resources I have found online is by Paul Mags, link here. The blog that really sparked my imagination and gives a day by day account with loads of photos is here.

As someone who purposely seeks solitude and most of the time avoids established trails and busy areas, the Colorado Trail will probably be a bit of a shock to me. Although not many people through hike it, the 28 segments each with a trailhead mean that it is accessible for day hikers and weekend backpackers. Also apart from the wilderness areas it is a shared trail and popular with mountain bikers. Therefore I will have to change my mindset and look at it as a cultural experience as well as a backpacking one. When I receive the maps I will look for a few detours off the main trail and work out what 14,000 peaks I want to bag. One exciting thing is that I’ll be sharing about 300 miles of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) if I take the Collegiate West option.

Kit wise I’m pretty much ready to go. I’m not going to be spending hundreds of pounds trying to knock a kilo off my base weight (although I do need to knock off a few kilos from my body weight!). One thing that I have just invested in though is a new meths stove, currently making its way across the Atlantic (Flat Cat Gear Bobcat Jr). I’m a big fan of my Jetboil but it looks like meths will be available in places that don’t have outdoor shops. I think it is yellow Heet that I need to look out for when resupplying. Another investment will be in trail shoes. In the wet and cold UK I am happy in leather boots most of the time as I am usually up to my knees in a bog somewhere. The Colorado Trail is meant to be pretty easy-going underfoot, well-drained and with a good surface. Along with generally warm temperatures during the day (can get cold at night), I don’t want to be clumping around in boots. The rest of my gear is what I usually use, nothing special is needed.

So, with flights now booked the trip has become a reality rather than just a dream!

 

December 16, 2015

Battered days and bothy nights in the Ettrick Hills – pt2

by backpackingbongos

One of the things that I had been pondering during the night was whether the track marked on the 1:50,000 map existed on the ground. A quick scout around the area the night before showed a worrying lack of anything track like, this being confirmed by the 1:25,000 map. Two maps by Ordnance Survey failing to confer was a bit worrying as my onward route was through a dense forestry plantation.

The damp weather followed by a cold still night meant that the Enan was a bit drippy with condensation when I got up. I was soon packed and making my way across wet tussocky ground, the grasses having a fine autumnal tint.

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Of course the track did not exist, instead I followed the stream to the forest edge and was pleased to see that there was a small strip of unplanted ground on either side of it. Mist was rising through the trees and there was not a breath of wind. The silence was deafening as I slowly made my way into this long forgotten corner.

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The going was tough, the ground uneven and the grass long and wet. Encroaching trees had me crossing the stream several times, wire from a long rotten fence attempting to trip me. One area was a large quaking bog, the grassy surface wobbling like jelly. I had to close my eyes as I pushed through the dense conifers to avoid it, wary of an errant branch poking me in the eye.

It was with relief when I finally reached the security of a forestry track, a rotten observation post giving me something to lean against and have a well-earned snack. The track then led down to the glen of the Ettrick Water.

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I had planned on climbing some of the hills on the other side of the glen but the cloud hung low and I lacked the enthusiasm to do so. Instead I followed the forestry track on the south side, this being rudely interrupted by a steep, rocky and highly vegetated ravine. I had wondered why the map showed a break in the track for a couple hundred metres, now I knew why. I gingerly climbed down to the stream and then hauled myself up the far side, using vegetation as hand holds, feet scrabbling for purchase on wet rock. The track on the other side had long since grassed over, providing a pleasant if rather slippery alternative to the usual gravel.

As the trees thinned the view down to the head of the Ettrick Water and towards Over Phawhope bothy was one of utter devastation. Extensive felling was taking place and huge new tracks and bridges had been installed since the last time I had visited. The area was a right old mess, although the bothy itself looked as good as ever.

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I had toyed with staying and having a lazy afternoon in front of the fire. However it no longer occupied what previously had felt like a wild out of the way spot. The logging trucks trundling up the other side of the glen did not add to the ambience!

Instead I took to one of the new tracks, leaving it to climb directly up the hillside where there was a break in the forest. This was initially tough going due to the tussocky ground but it got easier with height.

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A detour to bag White Shank and then a wonderful rolling route to the summit of Capel Fell. The views across Moffat Dale to the higher cloud covered hills was spectacular.

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The weather continued to be changeable, a dry-stone wall providing scant shelter from the wind.

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It would have been possible to march back down to the car and get home that night. However despite the weather I was keen to spend another night wild camping. A descent due east led to Ettrick head and a welcoming sign amongst old lichen encrusted fence posts.

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A short descent along the Southern Upland Way and there was a hint of drama with the steep sloped hills.

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I had planned on an exposed pitch with a view but the gusty wind made me settle on a sheltered spot close to the footbridge over the Selcoth Burn. Sadly this meant that the view from my tent was reduced to the grassy bank in front. However as the wind continued to blow and the rain started to fall I was glad to be tucked away for the night.

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There is an alternative high level alternative on the Southern Upland way that zig zags its way up Cat Shoulder and onto Croft Head. This avoids the monotony of the forestry plantations below. I came this way many years ago when the zig zags had just been put in, they were a great eyesore then. They are still not very pretty but I certainly appreciated the assistance they provided in getting me up the steep slopes. With the ravine of the Selcoth Burn as a backdrop I did not need many excuses to stop and get my breath back.

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The wind was fierce along the top of Crookedside Sclenders, ragged banks of cloud being blown up from the damp forest below. The route was marked by wooden posts, although these disappeared at just the wrong moment when descending from Gateshaw Rig, it’s a shame that the route is not marked on the OS maps.

Before joining the main forestry track the path went through an area of golden grasses, lit up by the autumn sun. The path twisted and turned, there was fun to be had in trying to work out where it went next. It is obvious that not many people come this way. I had been out for four days and not seen another hiker in the hills during that time.

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November 30, 2015

Battered days and bothy nights in the Ettrick Hills – pt1

by backpackingbongos

The hills that circle the lonely Ettrick water are some of my favourite in Southern Scotland. Rounded and grassy they remind me a little of the Howgills further south. However the Howgills are positively heaving with people in comparison. During this four day backpack at the end of October I did not see a single person on the hills.

The approach to the head of Ettrick water by car is long via the narrow winding road through Eskdalemuir, then the single track one up the valley. You do get a sense of remoteness when driving there, the prayer flags of the Tibetan Monastery at Samye Ling fitting in against the backdrop of hills.

Moffat provides a much more accessible jumping off point for these hills via the Southern Upland Way. I found a spot for the car a couple of miles outside of town and headed east on the waymarked long distance trail.

This is the first walk in a long time where I have left my camera at home, I decided to use just my mobile phone to take photographs to see how they would turn out.

Total distance – 47 kilometres with 2230 metres ascent

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The forecast for the weekend was not very promising, heavy rain and strong winds were to be a feature of this backpack. With this in mind I had planned the route so as to make use of a couple of the MBA bothies that are dotted around these hills. It was meant to be particularly wet and windy the first night so I hurried up the forestry track, keen to get some distance under my belt before the rain swept in.

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The Southern Upland Way as it makes its way towards Ettrick Head passes through a large forestry plantation, not exactly inspiring walking along the wide gravel tracks. I eventually managed to escape it on another vehicle track that ascended south towards Scaw’d Law. This ended at a turning circle where I managed to locate an old grassy track that took me onto the heathery open hillside. The views once up high were typical Southern Uplands, rolling hills, forestry and the ubiquitous wind turbines.

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Scaw’d Law is designated a Marilyn which allowed me to add another tick to my list. I walked a short way from the true summit to a large cairn giving great views down Wamphray Water and beyond. The clouds were beginning to gather in the west, spits and spots of rain being carried on a strengthening wind.

From the summit of Scaw’d law I descended very steep heather clad slopes to the east, a real punishment for the knees. A barbed wire fence at the bottom caused a bit of difficulty as it was just above groin height and too wobbly to climb.

The ruined farm at Garrogill is located in an idyllic spot next to a rushing burn. It would have been a beautifully wild and remote place before the forestry came and blanketed the hillsides. Sometimes I wish that I could wind back time and have a glimpse at the life people led in these out of the way corners of the country. It must have been a harsh existence.

There is a good path that ascends onto the moors to the east of Garrogill that is not marked on the map. This I was thankful for as I had envisaged a battled through the trees. From the saddle between Cowan Fell and Ewelairs Hill it was a short descent to the landrover track than runs to the head of Dryfe Water. I glanced up to the summit of Loch Fell, its top being grazed by cloud, I would be climbing it the following day.

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The walk down Dryfe Water was a delight, autumn firmly in charge of the colour scheme.

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Dryfehead bothy was to be my home for the night and I approached it wondering if anyone would be there. You can usually tell if a bothy is occupied by the smell of wood smoke long before the bothy comes into view. There was no such smell as I approached the back of the bothy, the chimneys smoke free.

The setting is idyllic, it has a grassy lawn and some well established trees surrounding it, the burn a short distance away.

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It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the gloom inside. There is a room either side, one with a stove the other with an open fire. There is a small room in the middle just big enough for one person. I decided to stay in there, just in case a group of people turned up later that evening.

Water was fetched from the burn and wood sawed into useable lengths. The stove was soon roaring and water boiling for a coffee. I had packed some tea lights, so as night fell the room was bathed in a warm glow. With it being a Friday night I expected other people to turn up but no one came. The rain soon started and the wind picked up. I love being in front of a warm bothy fire when the weather is bad.

I only managed to stay up until 9pm before retiring to the single room to get comfy in my sleeping bag. All night the rain lashed the window and wind rattled the front door. This was loud enough to wake me up a couple of times, thinking that someone had come in. The downside to bothies on your own is your mind can play tricks, ghosts prowl lonely buildings.

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It is rare for bothies to have toilets (although there are a few that do) so my first ‘job’ in the morning was to take a long walk with the bothy spade………..

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The rain had cleared to a thick drizzle as I set off with the spade down the track. The burn was raging, foaming with brown peaty water. There was a constant drip of water from the trees, the long grass soaking my trousers. Back at the bothy I quickly packed up, no wet tent to contend with. Breakfast when backpacking is always bacon Super noodles and coffee, even better when you have a bothy table to sit at and a window to look out of.

The bothy was swept, the door closed and bolted and I set back up the way I had come the day before.

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The track climbs high onto the shoulder of Loch Fell which meant only a short pathless climb to the summit. The weather quickly closed in, a wall of cloud bringing stinging hail and gusty winds. Wrapped up in winter Paramo I was well protected from the elements.

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The route was along a high grassy ridge linking Loch Fell with Ettrick Pen. The weather was changing by the minute, clear blue skies would be followed by punishing showers of rain and hail. It was both exhilarating and hard work.

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The last shower of the day was the worst, a natural version of waterboarding leaving it hard to breathe when facing the weather.

As quickly as it came it was gone, leaving a few ragged clouds under blue skies.

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I had wanted to camp high to take advantage of the views, but the wind was far too strong for a quiet and comfortable night. I dropped down to the head of the Muckle Cauldren Burn hoping to find a dry flat patch, but everywhere was very wet. I followed the burn down its boggy course failing to find a suitable spot. In the end I descended all the way to where it intersects Glendearg Burn. There below a tin hut was a flat spot sheltered from the wind. The Enan was pitched in the fading light, stars appearing in the clearing sky.

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November 6, 2015

Above the clouds on the Whinlatter Horseshoe

by backpackingbongos

Being a sad hill bagger type I noticed a clutch of unclimbed Nuttalls, Wainwrights and Birketts on both sides of the Whinlatter Pass. Rather than doing a series of there and back day walks to collect them I planned an inelegant backpack that would take them all in. For want of a better term I have called it the Whinlatter Horseshoe. Well I thought that it was a horseshoe shape until I actually traced it on a map. It turned out to be the shoe of a psychotic Shetland pony.

Total distance – 31 kilometres with 1840 metres ascent

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(Click to enlarge)

Day one

The footpath sign was correct in indicating that it was a no through route. The right of way simply stopped at the edge of a field with no way forward. It had however done the job of depositing myself and Reuben within access land at the foot of steep slopes that would eventually lead us to the summit of Ladyside Pike.

It was a climb done in thick murk, there was no wind and a total absence of a view. Every now and then I could hear the traffic as it made its way up and down the Whinlatter Pass. Otherwise it was simply exercise with the absence of external stimuli. That was why it was extra special after all the exertion to see the final summit cone against the blue sky, mist slowly being pulled aside.

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The air on the summit itself was warm and crystal clear, a different world from that just a few metres below. A sea of cloud was spread below my feet to the west. Strangely though everything to the east was clear, the valleys visible. The Whinlatter pass itself seemed to be the dividing line.

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The way ahead was along a snaking ridge and up to the summit of Hopegill Head. The mountain looked unobtainable from this angle, sitting above a band of cliffs that I would have to climb. I was not sure if this would be possible with Reuben in tow, he is not the worlds most proficient scrambler.

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Getting closer to the final pull to the summit, things looked even trickier.

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The climb turned out to be very easy, especially with the rock being warm and dry. I’m not sure that I would want to descend when there is a layer of ice though!

The cloud to the west was consolidating, becoming thicker and rising and falling up the hillside like waves on a beach.

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The summit of Hopegill Head is a beautifully airy place. I took off my pack and perched by the tiny summit cairn taking in the scenery. It was late in the afternoon during the first weekend of October and I was sitting on the summit of a mountain in warm sunshine. What had initially looked like a very average day on the hills was quickly turning out to be one of the best.

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The ridge to Whiteside looked too good to miss, even though it would involve doing it twice as a there and back.

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The walk along its twisting path and over various minor summits was sheer delight. It was even better on the way back to Hopegill Head as the setting sun began to cast everything in an orange and then pink glow.

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Back at Hopegill head the sun put in a dazzling light show as it began to sink into the line of cloud spreading towards the western horizon.

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I sat until the sun finally dipped, the temperature immediately dropping, both myself and Reuben’s breath rising in the cool air. I had planned to camp high, my map showing water just to the south east of Sand Hill. Unfortunately the watercourse was bone dry when I got to it during the last of the fading light. Plan B was to descend to Coledale Hause and climb a little way along the stream to the south. It was dark by the time we reached the Hause, the climb being done by torchlight. I eventually found a reasonably flat platform on which to pitch the Wickiup. Reuben did his best to help by trying to get inside before it was fully pitched. He went off in a huff to bed down in some long grass after I told him he was just adding to the challenge of pitching in the dark.

With the tent fully pitched he was soon quick to make friends again when invited inside to get comfy on his mat and blanket. He feels no shame in wearing his fleecy pj’s, snug and warm he let out a grunt of contentment and was soon snoring away. It was not that long before I joined him in the land of nod.

Day two

Fell runners must be insomniacs as a pair of them passed my tent soon after dawn, with more passing whilst I was eating breakfast. It was a clear morning with the cloud low in the valleys, however it steadily rose whilst I was packing up. By the time we left we were in a cold and grey world with limited visibility.

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It was a trudge back up towards Hobcarton Crag, visibility reduced to the eroded path that I was following. Suddenly blue appeared above me and I broke out above the cloud for the second day running. Hopegill Head just about had its head above the clouds, the ebb and flow threatening to crash over its summit.

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Our next destination was Grisedale Pike, it’s conical summit not being as successful in holding back the fluffy surge.

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The best view of the day was towards Skiddaw which looked like an isolated island.

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We were engulfed again on the summit of Grisedale so we dropped down to the north to find a quiet spot for a mid morning snack. The rest of the day was spent in a miserable combination of damp fog and limited visibility. Hobcarton End was bagged before a long knee breaking descent through the forest to the summit of the Whinlatter Pass.

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I had carefully planned a route through the forest on the other side. However I failed to realise that Whinlatter is a major mountain biking destination. My planned ascent route turned out to be a fast downhill bike track where those on foot were prohibited. I took note of the signs as to walk up it would mean the quick demise of Reuben, myself and any descending mountain biker. Instead we trudged along the road for a while before climbing over a gate close to a disused quarry.

What then followed was a steep, highly vegetated struggle through deep heather and bracken. I was simultaneously pulling myself up with fistfuls of the stuff, whilst often falling sideways after some tufty section meant I lost my balance. Reuben however did not mind it one bit. At one point I’m sure that he was even smiling.

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Once on the hill we picked up a path to Whinlatter Top and did a there and back ascent of a couple of hills. I had planned on camping somewhere near Barf but laziness soon got the better of me. After picking up water from Drycloffe Gill the Wickiup was pitched on Tarbarrel Moss.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and brewing, the sun putting in a brief appearance at the end of the day.

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Day three

This time it was mountain bikers who were up at the crack of dawn. A trio decided to spend a while chatting loudly close by (I later found out that there was a bike trail nearby, they had stopped at the summit). You really are never far from people in the Lake District! There needs to be some bylaw that states if you are not wild camping you are not allowed on the fells before 9am………..

We had soon bagged Ullister Hill and were on a series of lovely paths through the forest en-route to Seat How. This allows you to tick a Birkett off the list, but strangely it is not even a hill in its own right. It’s simply an area that has not been planted by forestry. It does sport a cracking view back to Grisedale Pike though. The good thing with obscure hill bagging is that you visit places you would not usually bother with.

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Barf was our next objective, via a series of forest paths and tracks. At one point I was very pleased when I overtook a trio of teenagers on mountain bikes. I was on foot with a backpack and wobbly belly. Breaks in the trees gave views down to Bassenthwaite Lake and across to Skiddaw, its head stubbornly in the clouds.

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Although Barf is a small hill it is rugged enough to have bits that you can fall off. The views are also outstanding. It was then another descent followed by a climb to the summit of Lord’s Seat. I timed my arrival perfectly as a gaggle of ramblers had just finished their lunch and were about to leave. Reuben was wearing his panniers so we both suffered the indignity of a mass of pensioners taking his photo using ancient forms of technology.

Lord’s Seat is aptly named as just below the summit to the north is a natural rocky seat that provided respite from the cooling breeze. A perfect spot to sit for a while and finish the contents of my food bag.

The walk over Broom Fell, Graystones and Kirk Fell was an easy one, these rolling hills not having a huge amount of character. The day was leaden and overcast but a few beams of sunshine managed to pierce the clouds every now and then.

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The descent from Graystones to the valley bottom is a steep one, my knees and thighs were sore by the time I got to the bottom near Scawgill bridge, not a route that I would like to repeat any time soon.

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Back at the car park I did my good deed for the day, picking up a discarded crisp packet. It was covered in dog shit. Thanks for that.

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