The joy of being a Duke of Edinburgh Assessor is being able to spend time in the hills and meet groups of young people who are learning new skills and challenging themselves with being self reliant in the outdoors.
This weekend I got to assess a friend’s group, which meant I also spent the weekend with his gorgeous dog Beamish. The scout group were more hardcore than some gold groups I’ve met recently as they were wild camping for three days straight as part of their Gold expedition in the Lake District – hiking from Keswick to Borrowdale, over to Grasmere and then up the Thirlmere Valley.
A great chance to hike and dog walk!
Day 1 -Burns Farm to Dock Tarn, via Walla crag and Watendlath tarn. Yes they really did take a frisbee with them!
Day 2 – Dock tarn in Borrowdale to Angle Tarn
Horrendous wet weather to kill the fun but the group kept the pace up and Beamish didn’t sulk too much either, having to sit in the cloud and wait around for them.
Day 3 – Angle tarn to Grisedale Tarn
We walked up from Grasmere up past Easdale Tarn to meet the group at High Raise, leaving Beamish at home for a rest and so we could pick up the pace.
A great day for sitting around drinking coffee and admiring the view. I love watching dofe groups from afar so that they get sense of personal freedom but we know they’re safe and well.
Day 4 – along the Thirlmere valley back to Burn’s Farm.
A gorgeous sunny day for sitting by Thirlmere and enjoying the view. The groups did really well finishing on time and all still smiling.
Yes that typo is intentional- it was certainly a gale Saturday when we decided to head up Great Gable from Honister and we battled the wind across the fell tops.
The best bit about going away for the weekend with Mountain Rescue friends is the fact that many of them are climbers. Usually this means I get a chance to improve my frankly terrible techniques. The bonus this weekend was the lack of urgency to get out of bed and leave the bunkhouse as it had rained and snowed overnight, ruining any plans of climbing.
Thankfully by the time we’d got up the rain has stopped so we headed down the Borrowdale valley to the Honister Slate Quarry for a quick ascent onto the fells. Considering I was in the Lakes last weekend when the dregs of winter snow had almost vanished, it was a surprise to find a fresh dusting to play in.
After a spot of lunch below Windy Gap we headed on the north west side of Great Gable to ascend out of the wind, which as we got on to the summit it became clear the return walk over Green Gable was going to be tricky to stay upright.
Just before sitting on the summit for a quick nibble of sugary sweets, the wind literally blew me off my feet and onto my backside then my camera died due to the cold batteries. Time to head back.
It was a last minute decision to go the the Lake District over Easter, one I thought I was going to regret as I sat parked in traffic on the M6 watching it rain.
I’d arranged to meet Tony from the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club at their huts in Coniston to find out more about the club and make the most of the weekend and 4 long hours later I arrived.
The Club’s huts are located near the Coppermines Youth Hostel, up a dirt track about two miles out of the centre of Coniston. As someone who camps regularly and is only an occasional user of Youth Hostels I thought the huts are a bargain for guests to stay in (less than camping!) and are in a fantastic location.
Waking up at 6am to the sound of the dehumidifier in the drying room, it was clear that Tony is an early riser and was keen I was too. We’d decided the night before to head round to Eskdale to go up Sca Fell and so set off bright and early.
The path up the River Esk is a gentle start to the day, which was good as while Tony is a keen mountaineer, in his 70’s now he’s certainly not running up fells anymore.
We headed up the path next to Cowcove Beck to reach Great Moss – a boggy plateau in spring but with perfect views across the back of Crinkle Crag, Bowfell and the Scafell range.
We’d opted for Sca fell rather than Scafell Pike as that was going to be notoriously busy on Easter weekend, and given we’d passed two couples each navigating with their phones and no maps, there was no way we were going to spend the whole day assisting the lost. Especially when one of the couples complained they couldn’t understand why Scafell Pike wasn’t better waymarked. I’m not elitist in anyway, the mountains are for everyone – but within reason. I don’t expect to have to teach map reading skills to hikers miles from the nearest road. Tony didn’t mind – the endless stopping gave him chance to keep eating.
We eventually scrambled up the rock face next to Cam Crag Spout waterfall.
Being out with a seasoned mountaineer I had to admit that I was a bit wary that Tony would want a more challenging route and chance to get climbing up rocks, but it seemed the route up to Foxes Tarn was enough scrambling for both of us. To reach Foxes Tarn, a tiny tarn in the cwm at Sca fell, we picked a route across the rocks and grass to wind around the crag to the south of Broad Stand. It was a fun scramble, though not entirely on rock.
I was more than a bit disappointed to see Foxes Tarn, its certainly not worth the scramble, being nothing more than a puddle with a rock in the middle. Its location though is certainly impressive and this route up Sca Fell is better than the trudge from Wasdale.
There were some people on the summit of Sca Fell but nowhere near as many as could be seen on the summit of Scafell Pike. We headed across the top to descend down to Slight Side crag and back down across the bogs towards Eskdale- finishing with a well earned meal in the pub.
The joy of assessing young people doing the Duke of Edinburgh expeditions is the excuse to be out in the hills myself. So last weekend I spent a few days around Borrowdale and Easedale as they headed off on their expeditions. Thankfully the weather was pretty good.
I met the at Walla crag first walking in from Ashness Bridge. I had to wait a while but great views over Derwent and Keswick so who cares?!
I then had time to head up to the National Trust cafe at Watendlath tarn for a coffee and toast before heading up the hill onto High Tove to meet them. I did get caught in a few heavy showers but in between the sun was glorious.
After they camped at Blea Tarn the following day I walked in up Easedale valley to meet them at Greenup Edge. They were struggling with the walk this day so I had plenty of time to enjoy the sunshine and a flask.
The joy of assessing a Duke of Edinburgh group out in the Lake District is the chance to get out on the fells and meet them in remote locations. The Scout group I was assessing this week had their first camp up at Dale Head Tarn so I used that as a good excuse to bag Robinson, a fell top I’d not yet been up.
Heading out from Little Town in the Newland Valley I headed up towards High Snab Bank and onto Robinson. It was a scorching hot day and laden with 3 litres of water for the group I was feeling knackered before I’d even got near the top!
From Robinson you have a great view over the Buttermere valley. From here I headed East to Dalehead and dropped down to the tarn where I had a long wait for the group to appear before I eventually descended back down to Little Town.
I have to admit to being a bit excited about the prospect of finally finishing the Pennine Way over a final week of walking after having started this route 8 years ago. So taking a week off work and roping in my parents as willing sherpas I headed out on the fells.
Dufton to Alston (18.75 Miles/ 30 Km)
Heading out I had a skip in my step, eager to get on the fells. I did however have a minor hangover from a great night in the Stag Inn, the fantastic pub in the village (which does excellent meals). Despite being in sunshine in Dufton I could already see that Great Dun Fell and Cross Fell were shroud in mist.
From Knock Old Man trig I trudged on into the mist, double checking my bearing to make sure I was definitely heading towards Great Dun Fell. The path is actually easy to follow once you head off Knock Old Man and is even paved in parts. Battling through the wind and fog I was grateful to not find myself in the Helm Wind which rages across the Fell top for much of the year.
It was a bit of a surprise to find a tarmac road leading to the mast on Great Dun Fell but even more surprising were the 25 young army lads coming towards my as I descended its summit!
Despite being the highest point in the Pennines and the highest point in England outside of the Lake District, Cross Fell summit was a bit of a let down. A relatively flat summit with a trig point and a low shelter, made worse by the lack of a view.
I headed directly off the summit, bearing off towards Greg’s hut to avoid missing the track to it.
Greg’s Hut was also a surprise as I had pictured a wooden hut in my head, so it was interesting to find a real building complete with guest book, chairs, candles and a portrait of the man it was dedicated to.
The track from Greg’s hut to Garrigill is long and an uninteresting plod; it may have been a nicer walk had I had a view.
Once in Garrigill I picked up the path along the river and followed it to Alston, my stop for the day. The woodland river walk made a nice contrast to the earlier slog across the moors.
Having made a last minute decision to spend bank holiday in Wasdale with a friend, we headed off for the Wasdale Round, walking clockwise round from Yewbarrow right around to Great Gable.
Ascending Yewbarrow is a steep start to a walk but gets you high up quickly.
Many of the walkers we met on the top descended the same way, rather than the steep rocky scramble down to the north, but we were on a mission to go around so relished the scramble. We even made a friend.
From Yewbarrow we continued around up Red Pike and diverted off to bag Steeple, a rocky outcrop just off the horseshoe.
As we made our way around to Pillar across Windy Gap the wind certainly picked up and the top of Pillar was very cold, but surprisingly busy with other hikers. We stopped at the col before Kirkfell to refuel with chocolate and work out the way up. I’d previously been up Kirkfell and ended up in a gully around to the left of the first rock face which I’d found a bit hairy, so we decided to stick to the rock and headed straight up.
Ignore the path you can see on the photo below which heads left across the bottom of the rocks, and instead go right and you’ll soon find a way to scramble up to the summit.
From Kirkfell it was a straightforward but steep and rocky scramble up to Great Gable summit, before a descent down to the pub to rest the knees.
Since I’d had chance to have an hours walk up Illgill the day before in the sunshine here’s a couple of pictures:
One of the things I love about camping is the early nights; bed time at sundown. It is truly relaxing and restores inner calm after any frustration of everyday life, to be able to nod off as the sun sets.
The exception to this is when it rained an incessant heavy downpour from 7pm, making me feel like I might float away in my sleep, its my own fault for not proofing the tent before I left. She who doesn’t proof the tent sleeps in a puddle. Lesson learnt.
So I appreciate the small things, I moved my tent from the puddle and appreciate the reduced seepage through the ground sheet. I appreciate the luxury of my mp3 to be able to drown out the sound of the rain, and later I’ll be grateful for the ear plugs.
It was only the promise of good weather in the morning that made me stay put. “It had better be nice in the morning or I’ll drown the weather man in the puddle under my sleeping mat”.
Thankfully I woke to gorgeous sunshine, so all I needed was a coffee and the world was great again.
Today’s route was to climb Wetherlam but starting at the Wrynose Pass in order to create a horseshoe, taking in the fells of Great Carrs and Swirl How. Its a great start point to get high quickly and not by busting lungs. It did mean though I would be descending Wetherlam down to the Greenburn river and the ascending again to get back to the Wrynose Pass.
View of Wetherlam summit, the main goal of today walk.
The day started out walking in the mist across the summits, but I love this as you get amazing views when the cloud breaks – this photo is looking from down the Tilberthwaite Valley which the route walks around, across the fell tops.
Near Great Carrs summit there is a memorial to 8 crew men of a Halifax aircraft which crashed in 1944.
From here I continued up to the large cairn of Swirl How and off to descend the steep but not difficult descent of the prison band. From here is a good route down heading south to Coniston – past Levers Water, but I needed to carry on if I was going to get back to my car in the north.
Once at the col the path up to Wetherlam is an easy ascent, but my inner peak bagger was a bit frustrated to find that most people clearly head straight for Wetherlam summit, bypassing the outlying fell top of Black Sails.
Ok, if you haven’t looked it up on a mountain list of Cumbria you can be forgive for not realising as you trudge up the path that about 200m off to the right is another fell top. While Black Sails is marked on the map the lack of a significant cairn or discernible path means that most people miss it out. Though Wetherlam doesn’t have a significant cairn or Trig point either.
I headed off Wetherlam top on the north east path heading down, which is a steep scramble and requires balance and a fair amount of sitting down. If I find myself heading up this fell again this would be a good route up.
As my car was out of sight to the north, I had to get down to the river (hoping for a bridge where the path crossed the river – as there wasn’t one marked on my map) and then back up West Side Edge of Tilberthwaite Fells to reach the Wrynose Pass.
I have to point out now that I really love getting off a beaten track and making my own way across fells. However, this doesn’t always lead to great walks. I was planning on following a path down to the Greenburn river which is marked as a straight line on the map, ending where a wall meets the river (and where I hoped a bridge would be). However, in OS Map-land, a path which is very straight usually isn’t there on the ground and just indicates a right of way. So I wasn’t entirely surprised to find myself wading through vegetation and rocks to get down to the river; it was a bit frustrating though as it slowed me down a lot.
Knee high bracken and rocks, I’m heading for where the first tree is on the river and where the path ascends the fell on the other side.
Thankfully I eventually emerged on a track which leads to the mine at the head of the valley, and even better there was a bridge over the river.
Despite the rubbish route off Wetherlam the whole walk took just less than 4 hours so is a great round of the Tilberthwaite Valley fells. And the sun eventually appeared which is always a bonus.
There is nothing better than a few nights in a tent to improve inner calm. So I was grateful to be able to escape to the Lake District for a couple of days this week, and made sure it was in a quiet valley so I could properly relax. I love the Lakes at any time of year, but summer fills the hills and makes it difficult to spend the day alone. So when I turned up at the Three Shires Stones on the Wrynose Pass at lunch time and had to abandon my car not quite off the road, I did think I’d struggle to find peace and quiet whilst out walking.
I headed up to Red Tarn but away from the crowds on the main track and headed for a circuit of Little Stand and Cold Pike. Being just away from the main path up towards the Crinkle Crags and away from the main circuit of the Langdale Valley (the popular route for walkers on these fells) Little Stand and Cold Pike have the joy of being both quiet and also being pathless fells, which allow you to fell like your truly away from it all.
From Red Tarn the fell of Cold Pike rises up, but is dwarfed by the adjacent Langdale Valley fells and so is often quiet.
By continuing up the track towards the Crinkle Crags but then heading south you reach Little Stand, from where you can see back down into the Wrynose and Hardknott valleys and out towards the Irish Sea. And best of all you get to enjoy it in peace and quiet. Little Stand may only be 740m high, but it is worth it for the view. From here I then doubled back and dropped down to Gaitscale Gill to ascent Cold Pike. For the peak bagger in me this is a great walk for little effort as Cold Pike has 3 tops to bag. Frankly, it feels like cheating as they are only rocky outcrops from the main fell.
The circuit back to Red Tarn only took me 2 hours in total, including a lunch stop. Since Wrynose Pass starts you at 393m this certainly felt like cheating as I hadn’t broke a sweat, so I headed up Pike of Blisco too since it was right there (that’s whey we climb mountains right? Because they are there.) Last time I was up Blisco there was thick fog and it felt much more like a slog from the Langdale Valley, but in good visibility this time it was much more enjoyable.
I could see rain approaching once I got to the summit so I headed promptly off the top, heading south via long scar crag directly back to the car on the Wrynose Pass. An easy dash down across grass and rock, and definitely shorter than the path back. And I just made it before the rain.
If you don’t fancy the walk the Wrynose Pass is a great area of the Lakes to visit as its an amazing drive (though extremely narrow and steep!) and the views down the valley are breathtaking. At the head of the pass is the Three Shire Stones, the old boundary marker of the three former counties of Cumbria – Westmoreland, Cumberland and Lancashire. If you do just drive through keep your eye out for the marker.
It might be the quieter side of Cumbria but the Howgill Fells get just as many people walking them so its always good to find a path that is a bit quieter.
Despite Cautley Spout being a great waterfall and worth the short walk in, the path at the side looks steeper than it is to the inexperienced walker, or in this case scienceboy who was dragged with me for the days walk. “Are we nearly there yet?” was the constant chatter to the top, I forgive him – its been a while since he’s joined me and I’ve certainly been on some long walks recently.
Its a shame that the path across the summit is a metre wide stone one, looking like a road from a distance.
We descended directly back to the car at Cross Keys from the final top of Calders, following the fence line and the continuing on to pick up Pickering Gill and following it down to the footbridge and back to the road.