Posts tagged ‘Lake District’

February 9, 2015

Beauty and danger in the Lakes

by backpackingbongos

A cracking three days was spent in the Lakes over the weekend. By day I was sweltering under a hot sun in just a base layer whilst at night I was shivering under piles of down. I passed the debris of a substantial avalanche and then marvelled at an extensive inversion. Danger lurks amongst the beauty on these small hills.

Reuben is now refusing to leave his bed, after the freedom of the hills he’s a broken dog.

A couple of snaps straight off my phone whilst I suffer a spot of blog writing lassitude.

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November 9, 2014

Backpacking the Kentmere and Longsleddale watersheds

by backpackingbongos

It was time for one of my infrequent backpacking trips to the Lake District. Time to put on my best smile and practice saying hello every ten minutes before visiting one of the busiest mountain areas of the UK.

It was late afternoon when I pulled into the small car park next to the community hall in Longsleddale, an isolated valley in the south-eastern Lakes. There was initially a bit of confusion as I could not find the pay and display machine into which to pour a weeks worth of wages. Instead there was a box asking for a donation of £2 a day to go towards the upkeep of the hall and public toilets, even I can’t find fault with that.

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Day 1 – 9 Kilometres with 350 metres ascent

It was warm for September, unpleasantly warm as I walked north along the lane with Reuben. I was actually worried that it may be a bit much for him as usually at the start of a walk he is very enthusiastic and pulling at the lead. That afternoon he was simply trotting alongside with his tongue hanging out like a half-formed slice of spam.

The plan for the day had been to climb onto Yoke and wild camp next to Rainsborrow Tarn, however my heart was not in for a big walk that afternoon. I decided that I would sit in the shade and examine the map for a camp spot that would not involve much effort to get to. It turns out that the bridleway that leads from Ullthwaite is not a good place for a sweaty backpacker and his hound to rest. The first mountain biker nearly ran over my leg whilst the second missed poor Reuben by inches, the third swept up a rock that just missed my head. At least I had got myself out of the way of the fourth and fifth. Bloody backpackers getting in the way eh?

I settled on a rare low-level wild camp, although I made sure that I was out of sight of any buildings and paths. The air was incredibly still and humid, perfect for the last few of the seasons midges. My shelter was dripping with condensation even before it got dark and it was a rather sweaty night where I had my sleeping bag unzipped. A fine misty drizzle fell after dark.

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Day 2 – 14.5 kilometres with 1040 metres ascent

It was grey, overcast and uninspiring when I woke up, even the lower fells were hidden under a thick duvet of clouds. I did my favourite backpacking thing which involves turning over and going back to sleep for a few hours. When I had eventually finished making brews, having breakfast and packing it was gone midday. Slackpacking at its finest.

I picked a totally rubbish way up Sour Howes that involved tussocks, deep rushes and bogs. Once at the top I could not decide which of the numerous lumps and bumps was the true summit. I therefore visited all of them, from each one the others looked to be higher. It was then a case of following the ridge round to Sallows which was just beginning to lose its cap of cloud. It was along the way that for the first time Reuben met another Staffy on the hill, it was having a great time bounding along with a couple of fell runners.

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The cloud suddenly dissipated on the ascent of Yoke, melting away to reveal extensive views under a soft light. The rollercoaster of a route north over Ill Bell and Froswick was a delight, only spoilt by the overly manicured path that in places is more suited to a city park.

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I was surprised to have the hills to myself, perhaps people had been put off by the low cloud. After a late start and unhurried walk I was reaping the rewards by being on the hills during the late afternoon, the sun working its way towards the horizon. The fells were taking on a purple hue, shafts of sunlight occasionally piercing the broken clouds.

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I enjoyed the high level contour round the head of Kentmere, working a way round to drop down to the Nan Bield Pass on a narrow path. Harter Fell was the last hill of the day and I fancied camping on its summit. However the wind was too strong and the ground parched, the upper reaches of the stream had dried up a long time ago.

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We descended down into Wren Gill, locating a reasonably flat spot on a spur above the watercourse. It was dark by the time I had pitched the Wickiup and collected water. The shorter days of early Autumn had nearly caught me out.

 

Day three – 17.5 kilometres with 450 metres ascent

The night was cold and clear, stars filling the sky when I poked my head out in the middle of the night. It was even colder at dawn and my shelter was dripping with condensation. I watched the shadows gradually recede and waited for the warm sun to reach us before getting out of my sleeping bag. The sky was a deep blue without a cloud to be seen.

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Being released from the confines of the shelter into warm sunshine made Reuben a very happy dog.

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It was a tiring contour around steep slopes to get to the summit of Adam Seat before descending to Gatescarth Pass. Haweswater gave a good backdrop, leading the eye out of the Lake District and towards the North Pennines.

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I originally had grand plans to go and bag Selside, a Nuttall that still eludes me. However after the short afternoon walk on the first day I was now too far behind schedule. Instead I headed south towards the car, taking in the summit of Tarn Crag with its distinctive stone pillar.

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There then followed a grand walk south over the silent and empty fells that form the eastern boundary of Longsleddale. I met one couple and saw another in the distance that hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. It felt like we were in the Howgills rather than the Lake District. The various ups and downs felt much more than the map suggested, not helped by the lack of running water. I had to drop down on one occasion to ensure that both Reuben and I remained hydrated.

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The last hill of the day was Whiteside Pike, guarded from the north by a drystone wall with no gate or stile. I eventually found a tumble-down section, probably in that state due to there being no gate or stile to help access.

The summit is marked by a tall and precarious looking cairn that is much more sturdy than it appears. It was a good spot to rest before descending back to the road and the long slog back to the car.

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March 15, 2014

Winter’s final bite? – backpacking the Grasmere hills

by backpackingbongos

Looking back at my log book it appears that the last time I went backpacking in the Lake District was July 2011.  I think that is far too long.  The reason why I avoid the whole National Park is probably pretty obvious considering that I am a misanthropic backpacker.  It can also be a bit of a bugger parking for a few days.

I suddenly found myself with a Wainwright bagging itch, an urge to tick off a few arbitrary hills listed by another misanthropic hill walker.  I planned an illogical route lurching up one side of a valley to collect a couple of stragglers, before descending to yomp up another set of hills.  All good exercise for the calf muscles.

I arrived at a large and free lay-by on the outskirts of Grasmere late on a Friday afternoon.  Luckily enough the road system through Ambleside had confused me enough to prevent stopping to explore the numerous outdoor shops.

Total distance 23.5 kilometres with 1,400 metres ascent

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The plan was to camp on the summit of Stone Arthur for the night.  It has been a while since I have dragged a backpacking sack up anything resembling steep.  I was a wheezy and sweaty mess, frequently stopping to take in the view and have a few puffs on my inhaler.  It was a punishing introduction back to the Lakeland Fells.

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Stone Arthur although a Wainwright cannot be considered to be a summit in its own right.  The futility of peak bagging being that you are ticking off against a list of hills that someone else has deemed worthy.  It does give a good focus to a walk though.  Stone Arthur was however a great view-point.

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There was still a bit of daylight left and after the initial physical shock I was keen to gain a bit more height.  I now had the hills to myself, the day trippers having returned to the valleys.  The setting sun bathed the hillside in a warm glow as I plodded upwards before finally picking a spot on the 600 metre contour on which to pitch my tent.

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It was a quiet and wind free evening, dew and then frost quickly covering the fly of the tent inside and out.  Stars soon filled the sky, mirroring the lights down below in Grasmere.

I set my watch for 1.00am as there was the possibility of a glimpse of the Northern Lights.  There had been a good display the night before as far south as Norfolk.  Sadly when I stuck my head out of the door I was enveloped in cloud, visibility down to a few metres in the beam of my head torch.

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I woke early morning to the sound of rain that somehow was not quite right.  I opened the door to a swirling world of mist and snow, something that had not been forecast.  It was unpleasant wet snow, not the sort to get too excited about.  I punched the snow off the top of the tent and settled down for a couple more hours of sleep.

It was one of those damp and still nights where everything gets covered in condensation.  Luckily I had taken a MLD Spirit quilt to layer over a summer weight down bag.  This meant that the down bag remained totally dry.  The tent when packed was a soaking wet mess, fingers going numb as I wrestled it into its slightly too small bag.

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Suddenly the clouds lifted and my spirits soared with it.

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I had initially planned to head to Rydal via Alcock Tarn but decided it would be a shame to lose height so quickly.  Instead I climbed to 650 metres and contoured below Great Rigg.  Along this pathless section the clouds would come and go giving views of the snowy fells.

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In the end the clouds covered the hills in a thick blanket which was to remain until I had descended all the way down into Rydal.  There was a large amount of foot traffic as I followed the path over Heron Pike.  People were clad in everything from full Himalayan winter gear to jeans and canvas shoes.  It was good to be going against the flow.

Even down below Nab Scar the cloud refused to clear.  I sat for a while on a rock and watched it stream and rise across the nearby hillsides, occasional shafts of sunlight punching through.  All very atmospheric.

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I had planned to jettison some rubbish and an empty gas canister when I got to Rydal.  However I was half way up Loughrigg Fell when I realised I had forgotten to do this.  I also managed to misinterpret my map and took an unmarked path instead of the right of way.  This soon disappeared in a tangle of dead bracken.  Unfortunately a couple pointed my way from the car park and followed me. I hid in shame for a while behind a rocky outcrop until they passed.

Hunger pangs timed themselves perfectly with a hefty snow shower close to the summit of Loughrigg Fell.  This resulted in my hunkering down whilst trying to construct a tortilla wrap.  It was far too much hassle to get the Jetboil on for a cup of coffee.

The summit itself was a superb spot, views being much better than is suggested by its diminutive size.  The skies were turbulent after the heavy snow shower, layers of cloud drifting across the higher fells.

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Height was quickly lost on the descent towards the Youth Hostel, a narrow muddy path being wet and slippery.  I was soon climbing once more, the Langdale Pikes rearing up at the head of the valley.

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The undulating ground after Silver How was a joy to walk, easy-going and deserted.  A cold wind was picking up and the skies to the west were getting heavier.  Wet and windy weather was forecast to sweep in after dusk so I became eager to seek out a sheltered spot for the night.

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The Scarp was pitched in the lee of a grassy knoll, sadly the wind soon changing direction.  A scenic spot but one that I did not enjoy outside for very long.  Spots of rain were carried along on the wind in the gathering gloom.  The final job after collecting water was to deploy the crossing poles as insurance in case it got stormy in the night.

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After dinner I decided to rest my eyes for a moment before escaping into a good book.  I must have been tired as apart from being woken by wind and rain battering the tent I slept solidly for nearly twelve hours.  The book remained unread.

Thankfully the wind had dropped and the rain had stopped when I got up.  The higher hills once again had a dusting of snow, the clouds just above the summits.

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Packing my rucksack mist rolled in, quickly followed by rain.  Visibility was down to a few metres as I trudged up to the summit of Blea Rigg, tricky due to the complex terrain.  I had no qualms about navigating with my Satmap.  Even with GPS technology it took me a while to find the path that led me down to Easedale Tarn.  It was a thoroughly miserable day, even the lower Easedale Tarn was hidden in the clouds.   What surprised me was the sheer number of folk out on such a grim morning.  There was a constant stream climbing up the path next to Sour Milk Gill.

I was soaked by the time I reached the car.  My Rab eVent over-trousers had completely given up, even though they were proofed before setting off.  I could have wrung out my trousers they were so wet.  A naked bearded man then spent ten minutes drying off in the car with the windows steaming up……

December 1, 2013

A weekend in Eskdale with a dirty high

by backpackingbongos

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

Black Combe

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.

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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

Sca Fell

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).

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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

Green Crag

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.

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Rough Crag – 3.5 kilometres with 150 metres ascent

Rough Crag

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.

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December 20, 2012

A magical morning on Great Mell fell

by backpackingbongos

Sleeping in a metal box is not the best way to keep warm on a sub-zero winter’s night.  Metal really is not a great insulating material.  Thankfully I had made a nest on the floor consisting of a memory foam mattress topper, a duvet, two sleeping bags and a shivering dog.  I woke at first light and pulled up the blinds to see, nothing.  The windows were covered in ice both inside and out.

The £10 stove that lives in the Bongo was sluggish but it did manage to eventually boil enough water for a cup of coffee.  I stood outside in the empty car park with plumes of steam rising from my mug, enjoying the silent morning.  It took a bit of coaxing to get Reuben out and then I realised why, he was a broken dog.  He resembled a crab as he shuffled over to the verge for a pee, limbs appearing to have been removed and put on backwards in the night.  I’m not sure if he was putting it on for my benefit but it was a sorry sight.  The day before we had done the Newlands round and the wind must have got to his brain as he spent the day racing around constantly.  He was now paying for his canine over indulgence.

My plan had been to crack out the spikes and climb Helvellyn, but it was evident that he would not be up for it.  I decided it best to head on home for his sake, a real shame considering the stunning weather forecast.  Over another cup of coffee in the van I could not resist a quick look at my map.  The summit of Great Mell Fell always catches my eye on the drive along the A66.  Reuben would want a walk at some point during the day.  I thought we might as well make it a scenic one.

There is room to park a couple of cars next to the track on the south east of the fell.  We took to this track for a bit before entering the woods through a gate.  I let Reuben off the lead once in the woods where he decided that maybe he was not too stiff for a bit of a run around.  We contoured along a narrow trod for a bit before climbing directly up through the trees.  Boggy patches were well camouflaged by a thick carpet of fallen leaves.

After a while we headed further west and finally picked up the main path to the summit.  Breaking out of the woods the view was of snow clad hills rising above the Matterdale Common.

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Further up the hill the path passed through an area of old pine, weatherbeaten from the westerly winds that must hit this isolated hill.

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The sun felt warm in the completely still air, there was not even a hint of a breeze.  I really could not have asked for more perfect conditions.  Great Mell fell itself is a bit of a dull pudding, but the views are anything but dull.  The snow topped Blencathra dominated the view and I found my eyes constantly being drawn to its bulk.  Helvellyn would have been stunning but the low light meant that it was just a dazzling flash of light due to the reflecting sun.  I spent a good half hour just quietly savouring the conditions and the views.  Reuben intently looking out for anything that he could provide with a bit of love.

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The long drive home was soon calling so I reluctantly set off back down the path, passing three groups on their way up.  I had timed the walk perfectly to get the top all to myself for so long.

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Next time you are whizzing along the A66, pull over for an hour or so and climb Great Mell fell, the views are definitely worth it.

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