When X-Ray, TBH and I climbed Whitbarrow in October, I didn’t realise that as an ‘outlying fell’ it isn’t included in the 214 Wainwrights by the cognoscenti. After that slightly false start X-Ray and I have tried several times to arrange a rematch, but between his varying shifts and my family commitments we haven’t found a mutually available slot – until this Sunday just gone. Unfortunately, TBH was fielding the childcare duties and so couldn’t join us, but our ranks were swelled by an old friend CJ and his sister-in-law’s dog Oyster or Oikie to friends. (And once Oikie Poikie which is apparently Afrikaans for ‘Little Pig’ which seems slightly offensive to a handsome collie, but each to their own).
We met in Grasmere. CJ’s left boot was tied with what looked to be merely a couple of inches of lace. He swore that it had just snapped, but I’ve walked with him before and I’m pretty sure that he always has a ‘just snapped’ bootlace. We were heading for the hills to the west of Grasmere. I’ve seen red deer here on previous visits and had wondered whether we might encounter any today, but hadn’t expected to see them within the village, a magnificent stag and two hinds sauntering casually out of the grounds of the youth hostel.
Oikie led the way along Easedale Road and then over the footbridge and on to the path climbing the fellside beside Sour Milk Gill. Grasmere’s most famous erstwhile residents, the Wordsworths will have had a view this way from Dove Cottage and apparently Dorothy refers to the gill as Milk Churn Force in her diaries. Today the stream was white not with turbulent water, but with a heavy coating of ice on its rocky banks.
We were soon at Easedale Tarn, a destination so popular and easy to reach that in Victorian times there was a refreshment hut here. We settled for some chocolate and the content of our thermos flasks. (Coffee, peppermint tea and soup)
Oikie, CJ and X-Ray probably discussing the relative merits of Rush and Hawkwind
I was struggling with a continuing camera crisis. I had brought my old camera, because the batteries in my new one were low and we had no replacements. It was becoming apparent that the batteries in this camera were running low too.
Easedale Tarn with Tarn Crag behind.
The tarn was almost entirely frozen over. In the photo you can just about make out the hundreds of stones that have been thrown onto the surface of the ice. All these stones seem to indicate many recent visitors (or one very persistent one), but we had only seen one couple walking up the path ahead of us. As we continued, we met them coming back again, perhaps repulsed by increasing amount of ice on the path.
Looking back across Easedale Tarn to Seat Sandal and Fairfield. X-Ray and CJ almost certainly debating the relative merits of Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes.
Initially it was easy to skirt around the patches of verglas but as the valley narrowed and steepened it became quite a puzzle to thread a route through the crags and the ice.
The stream and Belles Knott which Wainwright dubbed the Matterhorn of Easedale. Sadly its not the sharp peak that it looks to be. An excellent scramble follows the edge of the steeper crags – in fact a very sporting day can be had by scrambling the two gills, then Belles Knott before heading over to Stickle Tarn for an ascent of Jack’s Rake on Pavey Ark. I led a party of Venture Scouts that way once – not quite 20 years ago. Couldn’t do that now – I wouldn’t have the stamina for all of the form filling I would have to do first.
As we climbed past Belles Knott the angle eased and we had also passed the worst of our problems with ice for the day. We took a fork to the left and were soon at Codale Tarn and the first of our lunch stops. I tried to take more photos, but the camera had given up the ghost. It was frustrating – the high cloud was clearing, the views were spectacular, but if I could have a day like this in the hills every now and then, on the condition that I took no photos – then I would jump at the chance.
The conditions weren’t conducive to lengthy stops and we were soon on our way towards Tarn Crag. Perversely, we found ourselves descending to the ‘summit’, which isn’t a summit at all, although when you reach the cairn and see what a good view point it is, you can perhaps understand why Wainwright included it in The Book (only to be discussed in hushed reverential tones), and why it ‘earns a tick’. In fact there are two cairns, I’m pretty sure that it’s the less prominent one that is the one described by Wainwright. CJ had brought ‘The Central Fells’ with him and referred to it when dubious summits needed to be identified. I had the maps. The boys had another butty stop, I had a wander around and muttered imprecations at my camera – to no avail. (Imprecations are always muttered have you noticed – when you begin to shout they become curses)
From here we climbed the craggy slopes to Codale Head. From our route Codale Head stood out on the horizon, whilst our destination, Sergeant Man wasn’t visible at all. Neither is particularly prominent, but Sergeant Man is a Wainwright and Codale Head is not. The whole thing is rather capricious. Accordingly we skirted Codale Head and its tarns before a another brief sit down at Sergeant Man. It may be an ‘excrescence’, but it is a very fine view point. This walk is very central in the Lakes and offers wide ranging views. During our ascent we had looked to the east and Fairfield and Helvellyn. As we gained height we had fine views of Windermere and a very hazy edge of the distant Bowland Fells. Now the Langdale Pikes, Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and the Scafells hove into view. As the sun came out and we crossed ‘the dreary plateau’ of High Raise we could also take in Great Gable, High Stile, Glaramara and to the north Skiddaw, Blencathra and Bassenthwaite.
Our next objective was Calf Crag. I had intended to return to Codale Head and then take the path over Ash Crags to Brownrigg Moss. However, time was against us and I thought that we might save a little if we dropped to Greenup Edge and took the path from there to Brownrigg Moss. We set off towards Low White Stones, but almost on a whim I decided to make a beeline directly to Brownrigg Moss. Initially this route, though pathless, was easy going, but we ended up on the rib of crags called Birks on the map. The last part of the ascent was steep and involved winding a way down through some steep drops. Fortunately, there was very little ice, otherwise this might have turned out to be a very poor decision.
As we ambled along the ridge over Calf Crag and Gibson Knott the sunshine fled along the same ridge ahead of us. The slopes of Ullscarf took on a marvellous Alpenglow pink. That faded and some rosy tinted lenticular clouds gave a final hint of the departing sun. It had been our intention to finish the day by bagging Helm Crag, but we opted for discretion and with a half moon now bright in the sky and Venus appearing, we dropped down into the valley for a final slither in the dark on icy paths back to the cars. (When I got home later I found that I did have my head-torch in my rucksack after all). We had congratulated ourselves on the fact that our paces were well matched. A well matched ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ geriatric bimble sadly.
Five Wainwrights bagged (and lots of tarns). Lots of BS spouted. When can we go again?