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.

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.

Peace in the rain

This post is really about why I go walking at all. Like many people these days I spend my working days at a desk, in an office, in front of a computer screen. However it wasn’t always that way. I was brought up in rural Northumberland surrounded by the pennines. Hadrian’s wall was just another wall at the top of the hill. Like most people I didn’t take that much notice of what was on my door step. In those days going for a walk didn’t involve forward planning or driving for several hours. It just required putting on a coat and walking out the door. The coat was compulsory, it rains a lot in the North, the rest I made up as I went along.

I spend far too much time tearing around like a blue-arsed fly trying to fit in the many trials and tribulations of modern life. The run up to Christmas has been no different and I hadn’t been out for far too long until recently. Just like everyone else I have many demands on my time, some of them very pleasant, some less so. I called this blog takingmytime for a reason, hill time is my time. I’m more than happy to share that time with anyone who wants to come along but if no-one wants to come with me then I’ll quite happily go on my own. It’s in my bones and if I don’t get a regular hill fix then I’m not a happy soul.

My partner and I headed to the lake district for a New Year break in Eskdale. We knew the weather for the first day was lousy so we holed up in front of the fire in the Brookhouse Inn where we were staying and wiled away the day reading books with good beer and good food. A highly recommended pass time and one of my favourite hostelries if you happen to be in the area but not what we went for. With New Year’s eve promising yet more rain and Claire losing an argument with a fry up I decided that I was heading out no matter what. With the high fells well clagged in and looking likely to stay that way I decided to follow the River Esk as far as the edge of Great Moss below the Scafells and see what happened by the time I got there. There’s a track that takes you straight from the front door of the pub to join the river so off I went.

On reaching the river I turned upstream and crossed the first available footbridge to follow the far bank of the river as far as Wha House bridge. As I followed the track east the jumble of hills around the head of Eskdale kept calling me forward. Hills have a habit of doing that I find.

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The road over Hard Knott pass goes over those hills but I wasn’t heading that way today. At Wha House I crossed back to the North/East side of the river. After all the recent rain I didn’t fancy my chances of crossing the river higher up and this would put me on the right side to turn for home later.

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Upper Eskdale is an area I’ve never really explored before. Like a lot of hill country it turns out there is a lot of land folded into a small area up there. I barely scratched the surface on this trip and there are enough knolls and hollows to fill several more trips. The trail starts of as a land rover track and gets steadily narrower as you go further up the valley. The ground along the river bank was completely waterlogged which seem to have been a recurring theme of late.

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The one good thing about all this rain is that the waterfalls are in full flow and we do like a good waterfall round here. Around the time I reached Lingcove bridge the rain started in earnest. Unfortunately that meant it was too wet to take any photos from the path the clings to the hillside above the gorge that holds the River Esk. Yet another excuse to go back in the summer I suppose. Even in the rain it’s a lovely spot.

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As you reach the top of the gorge you emerge onto the edge of Great Moss. I’ve camped out there in the past but I wouldn’t fancy it today. It would be like sleeping in a full bath of cold water. The Scafells are somewhere is the cloud to the left of the picture below. No point in heading up there today. I’ve been before and there will always be another day. Outside the shelter of the gorge it was blowing a hoolie across the moss so I found myself a good sized boulder to hide behind for lunch.

With the boulder cutting off the worst of the wind and head-to-toe gore-tex keeping out the wet I found a few moments of perfect calm. Staring into the mist I didn’t care that that it was raining or that not even waterproof boots will stand up to being repeatedly plunged in bog water indefinitely. For a brief moment in time nothing else mattered but here and now. England’s green and pleasant land comes in many shapes and sizes and this was my time.

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Eventually I shook myself out of quiet contemplation, assisted by the wind chill and the lack of feeling in my fingers, and turned for home. I headed over the high ground above the path and skirted around the toes of Scafell before picking up another path that wended it’s way across the fell to eventually take me back to the road at Wha House. From there it was a short spell of tarmac bashing dodging the puddles back to Boot. By the time I made it back to the pub water was starting to creep in around the edges and pretty much everything was deposited in the hotel drying room.

After a hot shower, an excellent meal and an extensive survey of the whisky menu New Year’s eve finally ended in the wee small hours of New Year’s day but that’s another story. Two weeks later my boots have just about dried out and my feet are starting to itch.

 

Gadding about the place

Welcome to my little corner of the internet. Feel free to stay a while. There’s nothing much to see yet but things will appear in the fullness of time. This is mostly a place for me to collect my walking trips around the UK and occasionally further afield. Over the years I’ve collected a few thousand photos of various pointy lumpy bits of England, Scotland and Wales. Mostly these end up sitting on the hard drive of my laptop unseen by anyone so I thought I’d create a space to share them. I write for myself and posts are likely to be intermittent depending on how often I can get out. Comments will always make me smile but please be nice. I’m no photographer and I make no apologies for the quality of the images. These are basically my holiday snaps taken with a simple point-and-click camera

There are 4000+ images from previous trips on my partners flickr account should you care where we’ve been before. Realistically the chances of me ever migrating all of those over here are pretty close to zero so I’m going to use this first entry to post small selection of favourites. At least there will be something pretty to look at until I get around to writing some more content.

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Skye – Looking down into Loch Coruisk

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Skye again – part of the Cuillin ridge

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Torridon – Beinn Alligin across Upper Loch Torridon

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Sunset on Loch Torridon

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Langdale pikes – This is what winter is supposed to look like

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The Scafell massif from Great Gable

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Ennerdale on a glorious September day