Back in December, I was up-dating my Birkett Tick List and found myself toting things up. I realised that my Wainwright total (since I started this blog) stood at 99 and that my Birkett haul was close to 200. Well, I thought, one more bagging trip this year then to push both totals up to satisfyingly round figures. But it didn’t work out that way, what with the awful weather and the dreaded lurgy.
But things have been looking up: I can manage the North Face of the stairs at home without oxygen tanks now, and last week the forecast for the weekend was showing some promise. So I began to ruminate on a route for a walk. It must include just one Wainwright. On the erroneous assumption that I’d reached 192 Birketts, I also decided that it must incorporate 8 Birketts. The forecast, when I started to look, promised clear summits, great clarity, and sunshine, particularly in the Western Lakes, so preferably it would be in the west. Finally, given my recent infirmity, it would have a high start and be both reasonably short and without too much ascent. Nothing too specific there then: should be easy to find something to meet those criteria.
Surprisingly, it was: my first thought was ‘Green Crag’, and when I dug out the map and the guide books it came up trumps against every yardstick. Birkett manages to find eight sufficiently distinct summits dotted about on Birker Fell, whilst Wainwright recognises only Green Crag.
South and west from Green Crag the scenery quickly deteriorates. This summit has therefore been taken as the boundary of fellwalking country.
A. Wainwright A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells Book 4
I pitched on Sunday for the expedition because the weather forecast suggested that it would be the better bet. In the event, Saturday was clear and bright and I went out for a trial run locally with a
quick stomp slow plod up Castlebarrow in Eaves Wood. All went well: no coughing fits and only a modicum of wheezing. I packed my rucksack and checked the forecast one last time. Calamity! The forecast had changed: a weather front would be arriving sooner than first thought, high cloud would build leading to snow flurries in the afternoon.
And so it was that I found myself pulling off the Birker Fell Road above Ulpha with a pre-dawn glow in the south-eastern sky, and then, appropriately, crunching my way up the bank of Freeze Beck on saturated, but mostly frozen, ground. When the sun rose the promise of sunshine was briefly fulfilled as several prominent peaks and knolls where daubed in a warm golden glow.
Hesk Fell from Freeze Beck
This is not a steep climb, but I was making heavy weather of it and was glad to pause for a while to watch and listen as two skeins of geese flew overhead.
Great Worm Crag – first target for the day.
With the sun very low in the sky, an orange glow persisted in the south east for much of the morning. The views in that direction, of the Black Combe hills, the Duddon Estuary and Caw, were very fine despite the heavy cloud cover.
Great Worm Crag proved to be an excellent vantage point from which to reconnoitre the remainder of the route as it crossed a series of rocky knolls.
On the crest of the moorland between the Duddon Valley and Eskdale there rises from the heather a series of serrated peaks, not of any great height but together forming a dark and jagged outline against the sky that, seen from certain directions, arrest the eye as do the Black Coolin of Skye.
A. Wainwright A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells Book 4
To the east of the Ulpha Fell road a line of dark, rocky but lowly peaks, like a miniature Cuillin ridge, attracts the eye.
Aileen and Brian Evans Short Walks in Lakeland Book 3
Now don’t get me wrong, I like Birker Fell and I shall be going back there, hopefully before too long, and I don’t wish to take issue with authoritative texts, but this is over-egging the pudding surely, a comparison too far. ‘Seen from certain directions’? If you squint. And close the other eye. And haven’t ever seen the ‘Coolin’. I can’t help wondering whether the Evans were, perhaps unconsciously, swayed by Wainwright’s analogy.
Beyond Green Crag and its satellites, Upper Eskdale was filled with cloud and the big hills which surround it, looming presences in the mist, looked very menacing.
The sun made occasional attempts to thaw me out…
…but in fact it didn’t feel too cold since it was incredibly still, almost windless. I skirted White Moss en route for White How. A few flakes of snow gently drifted in the air.
Green Crag from White Moss
Scafells from White How.
I stopped briefly for a hot drink and a second breakfast on White How. Although the weather was clearly closing in, the views were still fine. The cloud had lifted from Eskdale and sunlight fleetingly picked out the crags on Scafell Pike (whilst I scrambled in my rucksack for new batteries for my camera!).
Stickle Pike, Duddon Estuary, Black Combe.
Climbing Green Crag via a series of short steps with boggy level areas inbetween, I decided that Green Crag was more akin to an English Cnicht than an English Cuillin.
Wasdale and Eskdale Fells from Green Crag, Crook Crag in the foreground.
On the summit of Green Crag I remembered my only previous visit. One sunny Mayday many years ago, with a group of friends who regularly appear on this blog, the principal things I recall are: a dreadful hangover, the pleasantly graded old peat road which brought us up from Eskdale, a lengthy scramble on accommodating rock, snoozing on the summit and getting sunburned as a consequence.
As I left Green Crag, heading for Crook Crag, I saw a largish group of walkers, approaching Green Crag from another direction, possibly via a scramble. They were to be the only other walkers I would see all day. In fact after the geese, the only company I saw on the hills were sheep. In the absence of wind, walkers and wildlife (to my surprise I didn’t even see or hear any ravens on what seemed like perfect raven territory) it was almost eerily quiet.
As I clambered up Crook Crag I realised that Green Crag’s natural affinity lies not with Cnicht or Sgurr Alisdair but with the Langdale Pikes…
Great Whinscale was the only top of the day with an indeterminate location. I ‘bagged’ several knolls and then settled down for another sup from my flask and to enumerate the reasons to curtail the walk and omit Kepple Crag. To whit:
- Kepple Crag would be almost an out-and-back. Logically and aesthetically it didn’t fit into this round.
- The weather was clearly deteriorating and I would have no views.
- The weather was clearly deteriorating and I still had to negotiate the steep hair-pins at the bottom of the Ulpha road
- Leaving Kepple Crag for another day would give me an excuse to tackle these hills from Eskdale – to explore the peat cutters roads, to have a look at Birker Force and Low Birker Tarn, perhaps to take on those scrambles again.
- An early finish would enable me to get home and take S for our habitual Sunday afternoon swim.
Frankly, all of this was rationalisation because…
7. Kepple Crag was downhill in the wrong direction and I really didn’t want to do it.
And so I almost doubled back, heading now for Broad Crag. It was snowing in earnest, big white flakes coming thick and fast and rapidly settling. Visibility was worsening although still not sufficiently to seriously hamper navigation.
Crook Crag and Green Crag from Broad Crag
Great Crag, the final Birkett of the day, from Broad Crag.
Approaching Great Crag.
Looking down on Little Crag from Great Crag
Little Crag and Great Crag from below.
The area abounds in rocky tors and outcrops. I passed or noticed several which, although not anointed by Birkett, looked well worth exploration: Rough Crag, White Crag, Dow Crag, Tarn Crag, Silver How and the intriguingly named Wormshell How for instance. Definitely a place for another visit.
In retrospect, I was very glad of my decision to shorten the walk: any residual guilt about my laziness was dispelled. I’d had the best of the day, Kepple Crag will wait.
Birkett gives 4 hours for this walk. I did it in about 4 and a quarter, but then I missed a big chunk out. I’m sure it would make a fabulous summer evening walk.
The day held one more surprise for me: near Spark Bridge on my drive home a large bird of prey swept low over the road and then soared away. Large black primary feathers and a flash of rufous red – surely a red kite!
Birketts: 198 (on a recount)
Now where are those maps….a walk with 2 Birketts and no Wainwrights……