After all the shenanigans getting ready for my art exhibition at the start of the month, and then helping a friend with her exhibition which immediately followed mine, I’d managed to rack up a couple of months without any significant time in the outdoors. Other than a brief snatched camp out locally, but then a tent hidden between a farmer’s field and a landfill site is hardly quality outdoors. It was high time I got out into the hills.
Not particularly constrained in terms of time, other than the need to be back before the next art event (Tiled, starting 28 October), and more importantly the need to be back in time to do the actual painting for it, I decided upon a strategy of doing it as cheaply as possible, within the overall boundaries of where I wanted to walk. It was always going to be the Lakes, my last visit was way back in April.
I had a few ideas for things I wanted to do, but it took a few days to string together the right combination of route and logistics to make it happen. The plan I settled on was to start at Silecroft, and head north over Black Combe etc and up into Eskdale, then dropping into Langstrath before heading west to pick off some Wainwrights I’d not yet bagged on Social Hiking (my last visit having been before I started using the site). This would ideally see me collect 6 scalps in the form of the High Stile range plus Fleetwith Pike, before heading for Melbreak and then across the Grasmoor fells to end in Keswick.
All of which was of course subject to favourable weather – my overriding desire being to enjoy the camps, so if the weather turned so as to make the camps pants, then I’d stop. Which ultimately is what I did.
After the usual sleepless night on the sleeper train to Carlisle, a couple of hours further train ride brought me to Silecroft just before 8am, giving me a whole day of walking to enjoy. It started OK, with the grind up onto Black Combe – not a difficult walk by any means, but it did take a while to get the legs warmed up. Sadly, as I gained height I entered the cloud base, so the views were very intermittent.
The walk down to cross the fell road turned out far less boggy than I remembered, largely because on leaving Stoupdale Head I opted for the left (west) side of the fence that leads to Stoneside Hill. I arrived on Stoneside Hill ready for a rest though, and this was the ideal time for a brew up. The weather sensing this clearly thought this was the ideal time to push more cloud in my direction, and to add some rain too.
Setting off again I crossed the road and slogged up to Great Paddy Crag, the various outcrops ahead of me looming large through the mist. This pretty straightforward climb took pretty much all that was left in my legs, as the lack of sleep overnight began to really hit me. I knew there was no way I’d make it to Devoke Water as planned. This wasn’t really a hardship as I’d been meaning to camp somewhere around Buck Barrow at some point one day anyway, so now seemed like a good opportunity. I decided to pop over to Kinmont Buck Barrow and if a suitable spot presented itself to pitch there. It did.
I got the tent up, and set about finding some water, which involved a traipse down across the bog. Soon though I was back at the tent and brewing up, just in time for the next band of rain to come in. I hunkered down in the tent. Later in the afternoon, it all cleared up though and gave a decent sunset and views.
Day 2 dawned with a bright orange glow behind Buck Barrow, and big views across to the Coniston fells and the Eskdale fells. Much refreshed after one of the best night’s sleep ever in a tent, I was ready for what I knew would be a much longer and bigger day today.
First I had to explore Buck Barrow itself, which had only had a cursory visit in wet and misty conditions on my only previous visit in 2010. Now that I could see it, I even began to doubt I’d bagged it properly back in 2010. Either way it didn’t take much to pop up onto the top of it and to enjoy even more splendid views all round from there. This part of the Lakes is more akin to Dartmoor in many ways, which may be why I’ve had this long burning desire to return here. I stood on top of Buck Barrow and knew I would come back here again and again.
Eventually I got going on the walk to Burn Moor (another one I’m less sure I bagged properly first time around), and then Whitfell. With this great hill summited, I could now see the fells leading to Devoke Water – Stainton Pike, Yoadcastle and Woodend Height. It was obvious that there was no way I’d have made it there as I originally planned. What my early stop had done was add 5km to today’s already not inconsiderable 20km plan. Add in the intention to stop for some food at Dalegarth and at the pace I expected, at 11am it already felt that I was going to struggle to get to my planned camp before sunset. I decided to skip summiting Stainton Pike, Yoadcastle and Woodend Height as I’d done them before. Hopefully, I would still have time for Seat How, Water Crag and Rough Crag which I haven’t visited previously.
I got to Holehouse Tarn and from there the route to bypass the tops became a lot more tortuous, with me spending a lot of time following various random sheep tracks and skipping across boggy ground to get down to Devoke Water. Walking on Dartmoor has equipped me well for such walking – in the old days I’d have really stressed out about such a stretch. Even so, it was still a relief to feel the solidity of an actual proper path underfoot at the tarn’s edge. I perched on a rock for a drink and snack and looked at the 3 as yet unclaimed Outlying Fells. At least an hour’s work, and my pace was not great. I decided to skip them and forge on.
I got to the Birker Fell road and dropped down into Eskdale on the byway that brought me out neatly just along from Dalegarth Station. A stop at the station cafe fueled me up, and also meant that as I wouldn’t now want a big dinner, a late finish could be viable.
On my way again, I made good time along the road to Brotherikeld. Now it was a simple matter of walk until I found somewhere I was happy to camp. With the forecast as it was, ideally it would be a high camp, but I doubted I’d have the time, or even the inclination to do such a climb.
I followed the path to Lingcove Bridge and there had a moment of indecision. Right on the path up to Three Tarns, and a camp near where I camped in April ? Or left and head up towards Great Moss ? Ultimately, not wanting to camp in the same place I camped last time won out, and I crossed the bridge to continue following the Esk itself. Eschewing the immediate climb in front of me, I followed the flatter path around the edge of Throstlehow Crags which then became a bit more intrepid as it ran alongside the Esk and the waterfalls in the narrowing gorge.
Glad to climb away from the Esk, I caught the main path as it dipped down to the area between Throstlehow Crags and Scar Lathing. Here by a sharp left turn in the river lay a lovely looking patch of green. I investigated, found it both flat and dry and the camp decision was easy.
The tent was no sooner up than the muted pinks and oranges in the sky behind Slight Side and Great How proclaimed sunset. I sat a while enjoying the scene before it became too dark to do anything other than close up for the night.
Day 3 was most definitely not an early start. I didn’t have far, in distance terms, to go today, unless by some miracle I decided on the spur of the moment to tack on some extra fells (which is most unlike me anyway, so highly unlikely to happen). I continued on the path around the base of Scar Lathing to emerge in the Great Moss area and a view across to a former camp spot at the bend in the river looking across to Sampson’s Stones. The ground got boggier and boggier but was never much more than a few tread carefully squelchy patches between stretches of solid ground. Dartmoor skills (principally patience when crossing soft ground) came to the fore again. It helped that I wasn’t in any hurry too.
I crossed the river and having had a bit of a look up into Little Narrowcove decided not to go up that way. It was looking really black up there. The way to go was up alongside the Esk, last travelled in the opposite direction as a quick route down to the valley for some shelter. Today though, although the weather was clearly closing in behind me, it wasn’t too bad. As I laboured up the path towards the narrow gully of the infant Esk, I was caught by a chap, who it turned out had camped high below Scafell Pike last night. So he’d not had an early start either. It further transpired that he’d been delayed getting to his planned camp spot because he stayed with a couple of people that got themselves cragfast up there (reading the outdoors online press later I think it was the people who got stuck on Broad Stand). We had a good natter with the usual gear chat before he scurried up the gully ahead of me while I refilled with water. As I laboured over the rocks hopping from one side of the Esk to the other, and back again, his posterior bobbed about in the distance above me and eventually disappeared.
I crested the pass and headed down for the shelter as it was too breezy to stand around here. This also gave the opportunity to turn the phone on to get a weather forecast. The news wasn’t great. Saturday into Sunday was poor and I was glad I’d already booked a hostel for the night. However, Sunday looked even worse and although the rain was gone by Monday, the wind just got stronger each day. Not ideal conditions for enjoyable high camps.
I looked around trying to decide whether to bother climbing anything nearby, but I could feel the weather catching up with me, so opted instead for the descent to Angle Tarn and thence down the gill into Langstrath for a more sheltered camp. I took my time, largely because of scouting for suitable spots to pitch, but it wasn’t until I reached the valley floor that I found enough shelter. I found a patch off path below Lining Crag and with the rain starting, simply stopped for the day and camped. A very early finish.
Day 4 came and conditions were much the same. As I set off down the valley, I pondered the sense in continuing beyond Sunday – I’d come for the camps really, and although my tent would take the winds forecast, it wasn’t going to be pleasant camping and there’d be precious little sleep. I decided that when I reached Stonethwaite I’d bus into Keswick, get an updated forecast, gather some supplies if I was going on, or plan an exit if I wasn’t.
Arrived in Keswick, the forecast was, if anything, worse still. I decided my time was better spent at home doing the painting for the next show. So a ticket was booked and after some scoff I headed off on the bus to Penrith to get the train home.
The trip turned out a lot shorter than I’d ideally intended, but it was probably fanciful to expect I’d get a full week of glorious weather. The main thing was that the itch had been scratched, and I returned home with lots of reference photos for future paintings. So not so bad really. But somehow, I seem to have come away from the Lakes without climbing a single Wainwright!