Monthly Archives: October 2016

An alternative Fairfield Horseshoe 23.10.2016

A chilling north-easterly wind was blowing as I left Cow Bridge and followed the shoreline path by Brotherswater. I had to move quickly, as I was only wearing a light fleece over my merino base layer, in anticipation of the steep climb to High Hartsop Dodd that I would shortly be facing. I still couldn’t resist an early photo though.

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Middle Dodd and Red Screes, seen across Brotherswater

Passing Hartsop Hall, I was struck by the solidity of the stone pillars that held up one of the outbuildings. I love the traditional Lakeland farmhouses and find myself much more drawn to vernacular architecture than to the splendour of our great cathedrals or stately homes.

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Dove Crag catching the sun

Within minutes, I had left the farmland behind and was tackling the relentlessly steep ascent to High Hartsop Dodd (1702 ft). As I expected, I soon felt very warm, despite the wind. Having said that, I needed an extra layer as soon as I reached the summit! The retrospective views were stunning and it was fascinating to observe the ever changing patterns of light and shade on the woodlands and hill slopes.

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Looking back on Brotherswater, with Angletarn Pikes and Place Fell in the background

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Patterns of light and shade on the slopes of Hartsop Above How

The onward ridge to Little Hart Crag (2090 ft) was a joy to tread and on reaching this next summit, I was able to see down into Scandale and towards Windermere. There were patches of sunlight here and there, and it was clear that the western half of the Lake District was enjoying better weather than the east.

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The ridge heading to Little Hart Crag

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Looking down on Scandale; a glimpse of Windermere in the background

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Another view of Brotherswater and Place Fell

The ascent to Dove Crag led me to the broader paths of the classic Fairfield Horseshoe route, which I planned to follow as far as Fairfield’s summit. I met a couple on the summit of Dove Crag (2598 ft) who planned to descend via the route I’d just come up, and they checked a couple of details with me before moving on. There was no let-up from the bitterly cold wind and so I pressed on towards Hart Crag (2698 ft). I could see that the mist was touching Fairfield’s summit, but I was confident that the wind would cause regular breaks in the cloud cover and allow me a view.

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Zooming in on Great Gable and Dale Head

Approaching the summit of Fairfield (2863 ft), I found myself in the mist and was briefly dampened as a shower passed over. It didn’t last long though and as there was room at the summit shelter to sit in the lee of the wind, I decided to stop for an early lunch. This turned out to be a good decision as the cloud lifted almost as soon as I arrived, allowing more superb views across to Gable and the Scafells. They were bathed in golden sunshine, but I wasn’t jealous.

Leaving the summit, I was a little worried that the narrow ridge over Cofa Pike might be too exposed to the wind to cross safely.  Luckily this wasn’t the case, and I was soon climbing up to St Sunday Crag (2759 ft).  The sun was starting to shine by this point, so I was able to take my time and enjoy my surroundings a little more.

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Looking north to Dollywaggon Pike, Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn

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Grisedale Tarn and Seat Sandal, with the Scafells and Great Gable in the background

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Another view towards Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn

Looking back towards Fairfield, I was particularly impressed by the tremendous prow of Greenhow End. It looked formidably steep from this angle, but apparently involves nothing more demanding than Grade 1 scrambling. I must return to explore it some time.

From St Sunday Crag, I dropped down to Gavel Pike and descended to Deepdale via the east ridge. I found an intermittent path in places, but it was obvious that this is not one of the more popular routes. It always amazes me just how many of these off the beaten track routes there are in the Lake District – yet how often I hear people describe the area as overcrowded!

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Looking back up at Gavel Pike from the east ridge

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Mosaic of farmland and woodland on the valley floor

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Looking over to Rest Dodd and High Street

Reaching the valley floor, a simple stroll down a farm track and through delightful woodland returned me to my start point.

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Mardale Horseshoe 22.10.2016

The lake level was surprisingly low when I arrived at Mardale Head, allowing glimpses of the old field boundaries leading to the village now submerged beneath the reservoir. I tried to imagine the valley as it would have looked before it was flooded, but found it hard to picture fields and farms where now there was only gently lapping water. The trees, bracken and even some of the moor grasses were a blaze of autumnal colour, lending a cheerful note to an otherwise sombre scene.

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Looking up Mardale Beck towards Mardale Ill Bell (in the mist)

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Some of the old field boundaries leading down into the waters

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Looking up the ridge towards Rough Crag

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More of the old field boundaries, with Kidsty Pike looming behind

We headed up towards High Street along the Rough Crag ridge, which to my mind is the most interesting and dramatic approach to an otherwise rather featureless mountain. As we gained height, the mist continually revealed and then concealed different parts of the skyline and small patches of sunlight briefly illuminated patches of hillside, before the gaps in the clouds closed once again. A brief gentle shower cooled us on one of the steeper sections but did not last long. From the summit of Rough Crag (2060 ft), revealing views down into Riggindale and towards Blea Water opened up, the surface of the latter showing very little disturbance from the wind.

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Haweswater from Rough Crag

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A sudden opening in the clouds above Harter Fell

Reaching the summit of High Street (2718 ft), the mist closed in once again and we started to feel the effect of the wind. Consequently, we didn’t linger. The day still being young, we decided to head over to Thornthwaite Crag (2572 ft) and as we did, we walked into clearer weather, with Windermere and Morecambe Bay both becoming visible. It seemed as though every man and his dog was at the summit, so after admiring the view of the Ill Bell ridge, we turned about face and took the path that contours around the head of Kentmere and towards Mardale Ill Bell (2493 ft). We were able to enjoy the view down into Kentmere before we were once again enveloped in mist as we neared Mardale Ill Bell.

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Nan Bield Pass and Harter Fell from Mardale Ill Bell

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Brightening weather as we descend to Nan Bield Pass.  The tarn in the centre of the picture is Small Water.

Happily the mist was only thin and we were able to pick out the onward route to Nan Bield without recourse to map or compass. Part way down, we decided to drop down the Kentmere flank to find shelter for lunch. As we sat eating, we were rewarded with a sighting of a trio of red deer hinds at the bottom of the slope. This being the rutting season, I had hoped to see or at least hear the stags, but it was not to be on this day.

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Looking back at Mardale Ill Bell and Rough Crag from Harter Fell

Reaching the summit of Harter Fell (2552 ft), we found ourselves on more featureless terrain, but as the cloud level had lifted, we were able to enjoy far reaching views down into Longsleddale and across to the Pennines. We dropped down to Gatescarth Pass and just beyond encountered the only truly boggy section of the whole route. A wide detour was required to outflank it, but we were soon heading up drier ground towards Branstree (2339 ft). Looking back towards Harter Fell, I was surprised by the craggy aspect that it presents in this direction. More moorland terrain followed as we continued to Branstree North East Top (2208 ft) and Selside Pike (2149 ft), interest being provided by a well-constructed survey pillar (built in connection with the reservoir) and a small but attractive tarn. The oddly-named Captain Whelter Bog turned out to be much less wet than we had feared an in fact was far less of an obstacle than the nameless quagmire at Gatescarth pass.

As we descended towards the old corpse road, we were hit by the only truly wetting shower of the day. Thankfully this too was brief and didn’t require the dreaded overtrousers! I was looking forward to the old corpse road as its history has always fascinated me since I first learned of its existence. I was interested to see that it appears to have been roughly surfaced in places and that even though it must now be many years since it was last used for anything other than recreation, parts of the surface are still visible. Even more impressive to me was that the dalesfolk had carried coffins up such a steeply-graded path. They truly were made of tougher stuff in those times.

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The head of Mardale from the Old Corpse Road

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Autumnal colour above Rowantreethwaite Gill; Hopgill Beck beyond

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The waterfall in Hopgill Beck

Just before the final descent to the lake, we encountered a cluster of what I took to be shielings, which enjoyed a stunning view of the valley. Relict woodlands in the two gills to our left provided further autumnal spectacle. Did the people who had lived up here during the summer months appreciate the beauty, we wondered? Given the sense of loss that displaced people often describe (particularly the victims of the Highland clearances, and the Irish emigrants), I thought that they must have done. As we dropped down the final slope, I was reminded of Wainwright’s words describing his first visit, which he made just before the lake was dammed, but after the village had been evacuated: ‘I thought I had never seen a more beautiful picture.  Nor a sadder one.’

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Bridge at the bottom of the Old Corpse Road