Getting reacquainted

This was a day of revisiting old hills in new ways. The route from Coniston Old Man to Wetherlam in either direction is one of the classic lake district rounds. It’s one I’ve done numerous times and will likely go back many more, but not on this occasion, or at least not in the usual way.

I’ve never been a fan of the drive up to the parking area where the tarmac ends at Walna Scar road. The road is steep and narrow and the parking area is usually over crowded. Instead I parked in the village and slogged up the hill on foot instead to the gate at the end of the road where the track turns in towards the foot of the Old Man. After only a few hundred yards I branched off towards a small rocky outcrop known as The Bell. There’s a grade one scramble up the obvious rib in the picture below that I knew of but had never done. The great thing about playing in the easy grades is that you can adjust the challenge level to whatever you’re in the mood for on the day. If there’s a move you don’t fancy, just go a different way. Anyone who argues that you have to do exactly the line in the guidebook is missing the point in my view.

The Bell with the scramble on the main rib

From the top of The Bell I wandered along a deserted hilltop to rejoin the main path below the steep the climb up to Low water. This is another place I rarely come to as I don’t often travel this route. I did this walk on a weekday so it was relatively quiet but on a summer weekend there’s a steady procession up through here. Low Water is an atmospheric spot on a gloomy day surrounded by looming crags and the detritus of past industry. On a few occasions walking in this area I’ve looked onto the eastern side of Brim fell that sits above Low water from the surrounding hills and thought it looked like there ought to be a way up the hill. There’s no path marked on the map but the trodden line in the grass suggested I wasn’t the first person to have had that thought. From Low Water to the summit of Brim fell I walked ground I’ve never walked before and didn’t see another soul. Mountains have a curious way of folding a lot of land into a small area. Even in somewhere as popular as the lake district it is still possible to find quiet corners if you learn to look past the lines on the map and to see the land as it is.

From the top of Brim fell there are a few options. The return towards the Old Man or the loop out to Dow Crag are both fine walks in their own right but on this day it was the ridge to the north towards Swirl How that called me on despite the freezing wind chill. The Coniston fells often seem to have a separate weather system to the rest of the lakes and today was one of those days. All through the day I’d seen snow showers blowing across the northern sky. By the time I reached Swirl How I could see a line of white capping the highest fells. From the Scafells in the west to Helvellyn in the east via Skiddaw and Blencathra in the north. My day in contrast had been overcast but dry and grew progressively warmer from here on out.

Crinkle crags and Bow fell

After the steep descent down prison band from Swirl How there’s a path that drops back down to Levers water and the coppermines valley beyond. The temptation of the easy roll downhill seems to be too strong for most people. This tends to leave Wetherlam as another of those curious quiet outposts reserved for the discerning few who make the climb uphill again. The polar opposite of the old man at the other end of the ridge, both geographically and spiritually. If the Old Man represents the hustle and bustle of lake district tourism, on Wetherlam you can still find a quiet spot to settle down out of the wind behind a convenient rock and absorb the view over a cup of tea or three. By this time May seemed to have remembered that snow was entirely inappropriate behaviour for a spring month and rolled out the sunshine and blue skies more in keeping with the season.

Little Langdale, Langdale Pikes and a snowy Helvellyn

After taking it all in I descended via Wetherlam edge. A route I haven’t done in so long it felt completely new. The area from Tilberthwaite gill back to the coppermines valley is another of those curious places folded away by the landscape. It seems to be tucked away in between the more popular routes and you can only see it by deliberately going there. By that stage my tiring legs were glad of the easy roll downhill back to Coniston village reflecting on the pleasures of covering new ground in familiar places, using the less trodden paths and following my feet to wherever felt good at the time.

Days we dream about

If like me you spend a decent amount of time in the hills and mountains of the UK then you’ve probably spent more than your share of days slogging uphill in the rain wondering why you ever thought this was a good idea. Sometimes, just occasionally, the stars align, the weather gods are feeling benevolent and a plan comes together just so. You do it for days like these.

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Glen Etive

This the story of a trip to Glen Etive and climbing Ben Starav and it’s neighbours the long way round with a good friend. This was a plan that formed form the ashes of our original intention to walk the first section  of the Cape Wrath trail. Since our plans coincided with a big mountain biking event there was no accommodation to be had in Fort William so that put paid to that idea. Arriving in Glen Etive at about 3pm we set off along the shores of Loch Etive. It was a lot later than I usually set off for a walk but such are the joys of long summer evenings we had plenty of daylight to play with. Ben Cruachan provided a constantly emerging source of interest as we headed along the loch shore. One for another day.

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Ben Cruachan and Loch Etive

The path along the loch that is marked on the map is pretty faint in places but it is there. Unlike some places in Scotland I’ve been. It was good walking in a dry spell at the start of June. After a bit of rain this would be a boggy mess. We did pass one of the stranger things I’ve ever stumbled across on a walk, and no I’m not telling you where it is go and look for yourself.

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Eventually we turned east along Glen Kinglas and began the usual game of hunt-a-pitch to camp for the night. Trying to find land in Scotland that is flat enough to pitch a tent without being heather and bog can be interesting at times. Nevertheless we did eventually find a pleasant spot by the river. Unfortunately we then spent most of the evening hiding in the tents trying to escape the dreaded west highland midge.

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Campsite at the end of day one

The following morning saw no abatement in the midge problem so we packed up as quickly as possible and set off along Glen Kinglas. On the morning of the second day we finally turned uphill to climb the mountain we’d come to climb. The path basically follows the Allt Hallater up into Coire Hallater. It’s pretty good travelling with a path most of the way up but it is a long, long way. At least it felt like it carrying backpacking kit. Many hours later we zig-zagged our way up into Coire an t-sneachd beneath Stob Coire Dheirg. After a brief second game of hunt-a-pitch carrying those big rucksacks didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.

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Home for the night

This is the essence of why I head to the hills. Yes it was hard work. Yes it was a long way. Yet at the end of the day I can put the pack down and the tent up and just sit and be. These are camps you imagine. The ability to sit high amongst the mountains and just absorb the silence is a wonderful thing. Anywhere I can lay down for the night and see sights like this from the warmth and comfort of my bed is a good place in my book.

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Room with a view

The following morning after a leisurely breakfast we set off for Ben Starav and reached the top about 9am. Funnily enough we had the place to ourselves at that time of day. The views in all directions were really something special in spite of the haze.

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Glen Etive and many mountains

All that remained was the traverse of the ridge to Glas Bhein Mor. There’s really nothing that needs to be said about this. These are the days that stay with you forever. Somebody once wrote that the finest walking is ridge walking and the finest ridge walking is in Scotland. If that is the case then this was the finest of days in many senses.

 

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The way ahead

One of the pleasures of walking is the way the views change and evolve as you move through the landscape. By the time we reached Glas Bhein Mor a whole new perspective emerged away to the east. As always at these moments new views gave birth to new plans for the future. Many of which will never see fruition but day dreaming of things that might be is part of the enjoyment. As we headed down the hill we met the first humans we had seen since Friday afternoon, bearing in mind it was now Sunday lunchtime. All that remained was the long walk out back to the car with the occasional backwards glance to fix the memories in place.

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If like me you suffer from chronic mountain addiction then you have probably found yourself sitting at home on a dark wet night in February dreaming of your next fix. When you do, you don’t dream of those damp dreary days slogging uphill in the rain to look at the inside of a cloud. You dream of remote places. Camping high on the side of deserted hill. You dream of striding along airy ridge lines beneath blue skies with the mountains rolling away as far as the eye can see. You dream of days like these.

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The days we dream about

 

Even short legs can walk a long way

The emerging theme of spring 2016 seems to be returning to explore some of the popular areas I’ve always travelled through in the past on the way to somewhere wilder and more remote. The weather forecast reckoned that Good Friday was the only gap in an otherwise soggy weekend so we took off for a day in the Peak district. An early-ish start saw us parking up in Hope with the intention to walk through Cave Dale and up to the Mam Tor ridge.

The first part of the walk was fairly quiet. By the time we got to Castleton it was apparent that a significant fraction of the population of Sheffield had the same idea. Not that I can blame them on a day like today. This area is one of the peak district honeypots so we knew before we left home that it would be busy. Once we found our way through the back streets of Castleton we found ourselves in Cave Dale. This is one of those geological wonders created by the interaction of limestone and water. It seems to be open to debate whether this was created by water erosion from a melting glacier or a cave system that collapsed. A combination of the two seem plausible.

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Cave Dale

It’s further up here than it looks on the map. On the plus side when you do emerge at the top most of the climbing for the day is done. If you remember to turn around and look behind you then Peveril castle looms over the dale. It looks pretty well defended from this side.

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Peveril castle over Cave Dale

From the top of the dale it’s an easy wander across to where the road emerges from the top of Winnats pass. If like us you’re here on a bank holiday then you can enjoy the views of England’s green and pleasant land as you plod along in the queue to reach the top of Mam Tor. As much as I like a bit of peace and quiet on my walks I’m also in favour of more people getting out to appreciate the green, brown and rocky bits of this island so I can’t really complain. Having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever shared a hill with quite so many people at once. The area around the summit cairn was crawling with people. There is a superb view over the Hope valley from here in spite of the haze.

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Hope Valley

It’s a shame about the cement works but I suppose it helps the local economy and these things have to exist somewhere. There was a chilly wind blowing at the top of the hill bit once we dropped over the leeward side a bit it was a lovely spring day which made an ideal spot for lunch. The path along the ridge to Hollins Cross and Lose Hill was a constant procession of people in both directions. What you do see in these popular spots is a much broader selection of people. Outdoorsy folks with rucksacks and proper boots passing families out for a day in the sunshine with granny and the kids. That can only be good thing in my view. There’s enough room for all of us out here. The Mam Tor ridge separates the Hope valley from the Edale valley. As you walk along the ridge the view to the north takes in a large chunk of the Kinder Scout plateau over Edale.

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According to The Walking Englishman where we found this route it’s 8.5 miles around this loop. Great website for those that want to get out and explore by the way. By the time we were about two-thirds of the way along the ridge those with short legs were starting to feel the distance a bit. We decided to cut the corner and skip the summit of Lose Hill for today. It’s not like it’s going anywhere. That means it’s downhill all the way from here. The descent is steep which makes it hard on the knees but it’s worth it. If you choose the right path off the hill you’ll find yourself passing the marvellously named hostelry The Cheshire Cheese. All that remained for the day was a well-earned pint and a healthy reminder that even short legs can walk a long way.

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Even short legs can walk a long way

Smells like spring

If I had any readers they’d have noticed that it’s been a bit quiet around here. Partly due to a busy life doing other things, partly because the few times I have been out I just haven’t felt like writing.

As the weather starts to turn a little warmer then that strange little something deep in my bones that feels the call of the outdoors starts to rise with the rising temperature. So last Sunday the itch was scratched with a bit of a bimble around the bottom of Borrowdale with my better half. This walk was her choice but it was a good one. Castle crag is one of those hills I’ve always meant to get around to but somehow the call of the higher pointier bits means we always drive past on the way to somewhere else. On this occasion we found a spot to ditch the car on the side of the road near Rosthwaite. No mean feat since there appeared to be some sort of race happening. Nevertheless off we went ambling up Borrowdale back in the direction of Grange.

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Castle crag doesn’t look much from here. It’s the slightly pointy bit in the middle

When I sit at home on a cold wet night in February I have to admit that this is not the sort of place that draws the imagination but on the first sunny day in spring there is much to be said for the simple joy of being alive in a beautiful place on a beautiful day. We took our sweet time and very sweet it was too wandering along the banks of the River Derwent exploring the man made caves and avoiding the odd over exuberant spaniel who was convinced my pork pie was for him, or her I didn’t look that closely.

Somewhere before we turned uphill to sneak around the back of the crag the title of this post came about. Walking through the woods there was a distinct smell of warm dry leaves and dead bracken. The trees are still bare and the leaves haven’t quite come through yet but this is one of my favourite times of year. There’s still a nip in the morning but if you get out of the wind it’s pleasantly warm in the middle of the day.

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In another few months a swim might be tempting

As we turned up the hill around the back of the crag we encountered the crowds coming the other way. On a sunny day in spring who can blame them. On the rare occasions that it happens I love have a little corner of the lakes to myself but I still have to remember that I’m a tourist here just like everyone else. The terrain round here is all very gentle until you turn up the path to Castle Crag itself. Then this little hill starts getting delusions of grandeur and it’s twenty minutes of blood steep work to the top. Just before you reach the top you stagger over the top of a left over spoil heap from the slate quarry and stumble into a sculpture park. One day I will come back here for a wander around after the crowds have gone home.

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Not the best picture but the best I could get among the crowds

After the slog up the hill someone was feeling ever so slightly pleased with themselves at this point

DSC00098If you ever find yourself in the area with a couple of hours to kill the view from the top is worth the climb. Unfortunately the return of the sunshine means the return of the dreaded grey haze. I’m no photographer but even the few pros I’ve ever met reckon that there’s nothing you can do. The pictographic memory of those views we walk for will forever be less than the reality, at least until next winter. I suppose that’s just an excuse to get out more.

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From here we wandered along a path marked on the map as the Allerdale ramble towards Seatoller. Funnily enough once we passed the end of the path that leads directly back to Rosthwaite the peace and quiet returned. There were definitely fewer people on this last loop. From the hillside above Seatoller we took a turn through the woods and ambled back to Rosthwaite.

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I have no more words to add so I’ll leave this post with one last picture. This comes from earlier in the walk but this is a rare thing indeed, a picture with me in it that I don’t hate. Possibly because it was taken when I wasn’t looking. Yes I know that the background is utterly burnt out but I don’t care

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With the return of light and warmth so the call of the high country returns with it.