The train dropped me at Ravenglass at lunchtime, and with a pub practically on the platform it would have been rude not to “fuel” for the rigours of the arduous trek that lay before me. Suitably fortified, I sallied forth and set off past the Roman Bath House and down to the Esk. A delightful wooded path along the west bank took me past Muncaster Castle and dropped me on the A595. A short yomp along the highway before I was climbing up through rough, brackeny woodland just as the drizzle started.
I emerged onto more open ground, several walls to cross laying ahead of me. Naturally the highest one had no aid to scale it, and a rather undignified scramble ensued. The faint path became more distinct but I lost it just as I felt I was starting to get somewhere, and I veered off course to a bridge over a stream I saw, reasoning that would be a good place to cross. I needed water anyway, so finding I was 90 degrees off course wasn’t too much of a disaster. Loaded up with enough water to get me through the rest of the walk, I regained the path which eventually started to look more like the bridleway it was supposed to be.
Birkby Fell and its Outlying Fells of White Pike and Woodend Height loomed above me to the right as I crested a slight rise and got my first glimpse of Devoke Water. I’d briefly been on this side of the Lake District’s largest tarn once before – 9 years ago after a fraught scramble off White Pike through the densest bracken I’d ever seen. Today was quite different. To my left a roaring proclaimed a waterfall that was Linbeck Gill accelerating away from the tarn. Just above the waterfall yielded not only a place to cross but also further liquid supplies for camp.
I climbed up to the top of Water Crag and looked for that elusive combination of a high, sheltered, flat spot with a great view. And you know what ? I found one. The tent was up soon before sunset, which I watched as dinner cooked.
An orange glow spread slowly over the Coniston Fells. After an overnight ponder, I’d come up with a possible alternative to my planned route over Harter Fell and up into upper Eskdale – a route I’ve done most bits of several times before (it never gets old though). The new idea felt a bit more achievable though and I packed up with a decision to go for it already made. Although still a bit breezy, the views were clear and the fells were looking stunning.
I dropped down to the saddle and then up to Rough Crag – not much here but I noticed that between Water Crag and Rough Crag I could find a windbreak for whatever direction the wind was in, a point noted for the future. I dropped down to the path and across onto Seat How. The third of the three remaining Outlying Fells in this area I’d yet to tick off – largely through laziness on past visits.
I looked east and a further tweak to the plan formed in my head. Instead of cutting further south east for the soggy walk up to Great Worm Crag, I’d take the path that led directly up to Green Crag. And so it was that I found myself squelching over this moor that on every past visit always felt a bit stressful. Today it wasn’t like that, but it seemed to go on forever and ended with a sharp pull directly up a grassy rake onto Green Crag itself. The summit was too windy and cold to linger so I touched the top and found a spot lower down out of the wind for a break.
And a futher tweak to the plan. First thing this morning the idea had been to head directly from White How to Wallowbarrow Crag, but now the allure of the bridleway down to Grassgaurds showed itself not that far away. So I took the longer way around and swung south at Grassguards for a nice path to the Crag, a lone Fellranger that I’d yet to visit. A bit of puffing up through rough vegetation and it was done. Naturally, a nice easy clear way down showed itself after all the effort to get up.
Down again I dropped down to the river, where a closed bridge had me retrace my steps, annoyingly. A short stretch along the road brought me to the bottom of the Walna Scar Road and the cheat I’d spotted on the map. Here where the Walna Scar Road emerges onto open fell is a lovely even(ish) gradual track that leads straight to Seathwaite Tarn – much easier on tired legs than the grassy footpath further up the valley. As I passed a couple of vans, a group of what looked like DofE bods were hefting packs and their most likely destination was the same as mine.
I put on as much of a turn of speed as I could, as I didn’t want to be arriving at the tarn behind a significant number of tents, plus whoever might already be there, and have my choices compromised accordingly. Arriving at the tarn though, and the wind was something chronic, funneled as it was by the corrie. Shelter was the order of the day, mainly so the noise of the wind on the tent was as little disturbance as possible during the night and hence more conducive to sleep. I had no fears about the tent’s ability to cope with it, just my ability to sleep. Choice was limited and I found myself tucked up by a big rock below the dam. Worse, the ground was uneven. Worse still I spent a dozen matches trying to get the stove lit, and nearly had no dinner, and more seriously no mug of tea. Somehow, a bit of ingenuity saved the day though.
The new day dawned bright and windless. Today’s route was a case of see how long I’ve got before I need to head down to get a bus to Windermere and the train home. I climbed up onto the south west ridge of Grey Friar, hard work pulling up a steep slope so early in the day. Gradually the gradient improved and the summit area came into view. Patience saw me there.
I stood on the summit and took in the view. To the north the Scafells and all of upper Eskdale looked majestic in the sunlight and the autumn colours. The summits of Great Carrs and Swirl How added Helvellyn to the mix. Best of all there was no one else around – I had the fells to myself.
Time was marching on though and I realised I didn’t have enough time to get to the Old Man before my cut-off time for heading down, so I decided to drop down straight from Levers Hause to Levers Water, a route ‘d also never taken. After a bit of slipping over scree the path became bearable, steps even appearing in places. Soon I was down at the tarn and it was just too good to pass up the opportunity for a bit of a sit by the waters .
I took the easy route down through the coppermines and was soon in Coniston enjoying the hospitality of the Black Bull before getting the bus into Windermere and the trip’s end.