We climbed on and up, the promised rain holding off but the wind strengthening as we got higher. False summit after false summit nevertheless led us to the eventual top and a struggle to remain upright and on the same patch of ground. To the south, shafts of sunlight broke through the sombre sky and illuminated Windermere. Just time to take a handful of pictures, before we sought respite from the wind….
With effectively two weeks of no work, it was unthinkable that I wouldn’t try to fit a short walking trip in, especially as it will be at least a couple of months before the opportunity arises again, due to work commitments taking me away from home, and the requirement, therefore, to spend more of the remaining weekends at home en familie. It was to be the Lakes, with location and route chosen to minimise time wasted getting to the fells. The weather, however, had different ideas, and the original plan of a 3 day backpack in the Northern Fells to close my Wainwright account there gradually became unrealistic with the forecast of gale force winds, driving rain and all manner of sky-borne nastiness. The fallback plan of being based in Ambleside and using the hostel as a base came to the fore. Along the way, the handful of Twitter friends invited to join fell by the wayside leaving just @wellycath and me.
Only a Touch of Schadenfreude
I hoofed it down to the station, eager to begin putting some distance between myself and the post-yule gloom that sits over those remaining days before the return to work. Keen also to enjoy the looks of pure hate on commuter faces as we passed in the street – them on the way back to the grind versus me off to the playground. But London was quiet with just a trickle of subdued faces bobbing along the street for me to enjoy, and such guilty pleasures were limited today.
A change of trains at Preston saw me complete the journey to Windermere with Cath (@wellycath) whence the bus whisked us to Ambleside, our base for the next few days. A walk around the shops to kill a bit of time before we could check into the hostel, saw us both leave the Climbers Shop with new purchases – for her some Microspikes and for me the Nordisk Mos down slippers I’ve had my eye on for a while. With what light there was diminishing fast, we opted for tea and route planning until a respectable time to transfer to the pub.
Some Old Favourites
I’d lost out in the lottery of getting a good bunk in the hostel, being consigned to a top bunk and having to endure an early and noisy departure from my fellow inmates. But this was the price of what was to come – the remaining two nights with the room to myself. Before I stepped out for the day, I took the precaution of effecting a switch from top bunk to the premium spot below by the window.
The sun was just coming out somewhere, but certainly not anywhere near Windermere, as Cath and I headed for Ambleside. We climbed up the lane to Miller’s Brow and onto the open fell.
Rich with green grass enhanced by copious amounts of moisture both on the ground and above, and the russet of winter bracken, the broken muddy path seemed an intrusion. We climbed up to the first tarn of the day, an unnamed stretch of water, but nonetheless pleasant anyway.
Around the hummocks and up further and we arrived at Lily Tarn, the largest tarn on Loughrigg and looking a bit like an ornamental lake in a lowland park, complete with small tree-topped island and park bench.
We climbed on and up, the promised rain holding off but the wind strengthening as we got higher. False summit after false summit nevertheless led us to the eventual top and a struggle to remain upright and on the same patch of ground. To the south, shafts of sunlight broke through the sombre sky and illuminated Windermere. Just time to take a handful of pictures, before we sought respite from the wind and headed down to Loughrigg Terrace.
We strolled along the paths to find Rydal Cave, which always seems much further round the fell than you think it will be. We descended further to the shore of Rydal Water and took up residence on a bench for a lunch break. A family of swans made a beeline for us and while mum and 3 kids hovered in reserve, dad began his frontal assault on our lunch. We fled back up the slope to higher ground so we could enjoy our whisky unmolested by local wildlife.
The Glenmorangie, as is its wont, brought forth the postprandial lethargy and we ambled down to Rydal Mount with no aim other than taking the lazy option of the bus into Grasmere to pick up some gingerbread. But a 50 minute wait for our chariot saw us set off walking instead, and gradually vigour was restored to our legs and our motivation. We reached the car park below White Moss and decided to head up and pick off some more tarns.
The main path continued clearly upwards but we liked the look of what looked like a path alongside the beck, only realising after some time that this may not have been the smartest option. But the most adventurous option it certainly was, as we ducked under low hanging holly and a variety of spiky-branched trees, hopped across the beck several times and arrived eventually at a choice of barbed wire fence or 6 foot high stone wall separating us from the road. The various options were evaluated and eventually discretion won out – we returned back down a short way to negotiate a dodgy looking gate leading into a brackeny field. Moments later we were on the road and on our way again, arriving at the algae-fest that is Whitemoss Tarn.
A short while later and a sign to Alcock Tarn proved irresistable, despite the rapidly advancing small clock hand. We climbed up the path which has had some work since my last visit, that time descending in a storm down a slippery leafy and barky path. Now a path of stones took us up to the ornamental pond and the emergence onto more open fellside.
We climbed up, pausing regularly to enjoy the views towards Helm Crag, Steel Fell and Easedale, scene of our last trip in October. Several times we fooled ourselves that the tarn was “just the other side of that wall up there”. It’s been several years since I came here and memories of my route down that path are clearly dim due to the advancing tempest. Today, though, we just had the rising wind and the threat of nightfall to contend with as we climbed up around Grey Crag and reached the tarn itself.
We spent a few moments taking in the view of the tarn and its environs, before the approaching sunset and the cumulative effect of standing still in the wind for several minutes drove us back down. We hared back down the path to the road as the rain began and headed for Town End, stopping briefly to “admire” the plastic floating in How Top Tarn and to look at the Coffin Stone. We arrived just as a bus was (potentially) due, if it had been a school day at least. The presence of locals encouraged us that it might come, but to no avail. A cold and uncomfortable 50 minute wait in the dark ensued, followed by the most carefully driven (ie slow) bus ride ever.
Gloom, gloom and more gloom
The plan for Saturday evolved several times in the pub the night before, although not entirely due to the consumption of ethanol-based beverages. This was partly to fine-tune it against the weather forecast, partly the knowledge that @FlintyRich had decided not to come, partly an attempt to increase the Wainwright score for minimal extra effort, but mostly built around an arrangement to meet Gina (@CumbrianBlondie) and Dave (@Kendalskintcake) for a beer in the early evening. With a suggestion of brownies in the offing it was clear that the entire route for the day had to be managed so as not to risk missing out on this happy event.
Another “what should have been sunrise if there had been any sun” start and we headed through Ambleside’s streets, fueling ourselves for the journey as we went. We climbed steeply up Sweden Lane, missing the originally intended route for Low Sweden Bridge and the Low Pike/High Pike ridge. This, as it turned out probably did us a favour in terms of beating nightfall at the other end of the day, and more importantly securing the brownies. We carried on up to High Sweden Bridge, took one look at the crossing and the climb up to gain the ridge that would be needed, and promptly decided to continue along Scandale, our originally planned route for the descent.
The murk occasionally lifted a bit higher up the fells to reveal more dull greens and browns, but the drizzle was steady. I rock-hopped my way across all of the flooded patches on the path while Cath attempted the “if I run I won’t get wet” approach. Scandale Beck itself presented more of a challenge to dry feet as we arrived at Scandale Bottom. We climbed up and as we reached the pass it got colder and I was soon wearing more layers than on my full winter conditions walks last year.
We climbed up through the swirling mist following the wall until a choice of apparent paths presented itself. A bit of a look at the map saw us head off to the left whereupon we practically fell upon Scandale Tarn. We sloshed our way over the boggy ground to a patch of rocks for lunch. Out came the storm shelter and after a series of Laurel and Hardyesque manoeuvres attempting to both fit under it at the same time, we resorted to using it as a leg warming device. We sat sipping hot chocolate and staring into the white void in front of us.
Cold got us going again and we squelched back over to the path, topping out on the crest of the ridge leading to Little Hart Crag, a little further west than intended. A bit of compass work brought us within a few minutes to the sight of a darker mass rising up in the mist ahead of us, and we followed the short steep ascent onto the crag itself. Over 5 years since I last stood at this point and my memories of it were as vague as the view was today. We lingered a few moments and took some pictures of the only thing we could see – the cairn – before popping across to the eastern summit.
At 12:45 we now had a decision to make, and due to our slow progress the viable choices had been culled considerably. Our pace so far effectively ruled out a return over either of the ridges if we wanted to finish before dark, so it was really just a question of whether to head back now or to attempt the bag of High Hartsop Dodd first. We went for the latter, and began trying to find the way down off the summit crags and along the ridge as it swept down towards Patterdale. With every slight rise ahead looking like a huge mound in the mist it took a while before we were sure we’d reached the end where Wainwright’s “summit” lies, and this is where the altimeter came in handy, especially as I’d calibrated it on Little Hart Crag. We reached the right altitude and there lay a small cairn.
Having wanted to show Cath the view down into Patterdale, I now pointed ahead into the mist to demonstrate the majestic sweep of the valley below and Ullswater gleaming in the distance. Well, I pointed anyway, but Cath didn’t actually see any of those things. With nothing more to see or do we retraced our steps back up the ridge to begin the homeward journey, the distance seeming to be covered much more quickly this time. Some more fun was had orientating ourselves with paths on the ground that didn’t match that closely to what was on the map, but the right choices were made and we regained the main path. Down to the pass and a short pause.
We sank down into the valley and picked our way along the waterlogged route, the crossing of the beck seemingly easier this way, although it made little difference to Cath who simply splashed her way through as usual. 3 o’clock came and we were on track to be down by sunset, and more importantly in time for Gina and Dave. But half a dozen or more people passed us heading up the valley, none of whom looked like they were equipped for camping out, and all of whom would clearly be returning in darkness from God knows where. We reached the only sensible conclusion that was to be had, and wondered where the dogging site actually was.
We arrived back in Ambleside and headed for the hostel, a shower, a change and the anticipation of beer. Gina and Dave turned up, there was much jolity and more importantly brownies, before they headed off to a friend’s house and Cath and I headed for the curry we’d promised ourselves as a reward for today’s exertions. A pint in the Golden Rule and we retired to our dorms to contemplate the end of the trip.
The routes (click on image takes you to the zoomable map on Social Hiking)