Annual Snowdrop Pilgrimage

After my early assault on the hills above Longsleddale a few weeks ago, I took B and one of his pals for an afternoon wander in Eaves Wood.

Eaves Wood

The boys were temporarily hunter-gatherers and were thoroughly absorbed in the various activities which that entailed, chiefly, as far as I could tell, climbing trees, throwing ‘spears’ and building dens. For once I’d remembered to tuck a small book into a pocket, so I was occupied too…

Chillin' in the woods

Mountain Essays’ (1928) edited by E.F.Bozman  from the series ‘The King’s Treasuries of Literature’ general editor Sir A.T. Quiller Couch.

The striking thing about the afternoon was the contrast with the harsh, brilliant bleakness of my morning in the fells. Yes, it was still cold, but there was a little warmth in the weak winter sunshine, the snowdrops were resplendent along the village lanes and the woods were full of birdsong. Great tits and robins predominated. Every tree seemed to have a resident robin pugnaciously trilling from a prominent branch. We could also hear woodpeckers drumming in every quarter of the wood, and even managed to spy a few of them high in the treetops.

The snowdrops tripped a little switch: at the next opportunity, it’s time to get down to the woods by Haweswater to see whether the snowdrops there are flowering. So when one of our half-term days dawned bright and sunny, we all traipsed off for the Tour de Haweswater.

This is a favourite and oft repeated route of ours and we usually begin in Eaves Wood, but on this occasion we opted for a widdershins loop which took us first across the fields.

A walk across the fields

The boys diverted a little from the path to explore these two…

The new ponds 

…well, are they ponds or puddles? I think they appeared when it began to rain last year and they’ve been there ever since. The one which you can just about see at the back of this photo is really quite large for a puddle.

As we wandered down Moss Lane a jay shot across overhead. Unusually, it landed in a scrubby hedge in a fairly visible position and than posed for photos for quite some time.

A jay? 

I know – these aren’t great jay photos, not even the best I’ve taken, but it was a real treat to have another opportunity to study such a colourful bird.

A jay! 

The most enthusiastic fan of A.A.Milne in our little band is S. When we entered the trees, he declared it to be Hundred Acre Wood, and was gleefully telling me that he could hear Owl. We lagged a little behind the others as he balanced on the beams bordering the path.

In Hundred Acre Wood 

I couldn’t hear Owl, but we were treated to quite a close encounter with a marsh harrier, which flew off across the reeds fringing the lake.

Scots Pines 

Scots Pines.

Haweswater 

Haweswater.

Look Dad - Snowdrops 

Eventually, we reached the patch of woodland where, at this time of year, the snowdrops put on a great show. S was insistent that I should take his photo amongst the flowers.

Snowdrops V 

Last year we came on a wet day. Nice this time to see the snowdrops with sunshine.

Snowdrops IV 

Snowdrops II 

Part of the family tradition is that I take lots of photos whilst everyone else gets impatient.

Snowdrops I 

Another part is that I try, and fail, to capture the unexpected patterns of green and yellow inside the coy blooms.

Silver Birch 

We finished through Eaves Wood, visiting the Ring O’Beeches.

Ring O'Beeches 

Which means more tree climbing, or, well, more balancing, but with added height.

Mr Nonchalant

B was very nonchalant about the whole thing. TBH kept her eyes closed.

The woods were once again lively with birdsong. Sadly, I’m still only able to recognise a very limited number of species from their songs. Robins and great tits were still dominated, but now there were lots of chaffinches getting in on the act too.

What do you think – can we announce the arrival of spring?

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Annual Snowdrop Pilgrimage

Hampsfell

Half-term. No exploratory trips away on this occasion however, since TBH, who is currently teaching in Cumbria, had already had her half-term, a week before the kids and I and our Lancashire schools. We’ve had a lovely week at home though, so that’s OK. Last weekend we started (or finished in TBH’s case) our break with a bright, cold day in Grange-Over-Sands: rode our scooters along the promenade, played in the park, picnicked in a shelter overlooking the Bay. Regular readers (gluttons for punishment) will know that this is a fairly regular day out for us, but then we rang the changes and finished our day by climbing Hampsfell.

Hampsfell is another of the low limestone hills which fringe Morecambe Bay and the Kent estuary. (It’s one of Wainwright’s Outlying Fells for those who are interested in those kind of things.) Paths criss-cross the hill and, like Arnside Knott or Warton Crag, it must have a plethora of permutations of ascent and descent routes. I’ve almost always used the same route however, taken from Aileen and Brian Evans ‘Short Walks in Lakeland Book 1’, and ascending through Eggerslack Woods to the top.

On the top there’s a large cairn, reputedly a burial cairn made after a battle between Dunmail King of Cumbria and Edmund King of the Saxons, which makes it very old indeed. But it is just a pile of stones. The kids were much more interested in The Hospice:

The Hospice, Hampsfell

…which I suppose you might class as a sort of public folly. Built in 1835 by George Remington, a former pastor of Cartmel Parish, it has verses on boards around the walls inside, which make a puzzle (I took photos but they didn’t come out too well), and on the roof, accessed by a narrow flight of stone steps, a view indicator…

The View Indicator on the Hospice Roof 

…which was apparently built by a retired railway man. The wooden arrow on the top turns and then a bearing can be read off and matched to the hills listed on the board seen on the left of this photo. It can be very handy: the first time I saw the hills of Snowdonia from any of these little hills was on a clear sunny day on Hampsfell when the view indicator assured me that I really could see mountains as far away as North Wales.

Arnside Knott from Hampsfell 

Arnside Knott and Morecambe Bay.

Looking North from Hampsfell

Looking North, distant snowy Lakeland Fells just about visible on the right, Coniston Fells snow free, but equally hazy on the left.

Descending the the north, towards Fell End, you can see that another Outlying Fell, Humphrey Head, is in fact the last gasp of the long limestone ridge of Hampsfell. Rather fancifully, I was put in mind of a sleeping dragon: Hampsfell the huge swollen belly, Fell End the shoulders, and then a long neck extending to snout and massive jaws at Humphrey Head.

Hampsfell Map

Hampsfell

An Early Bird on Sleddale Fell

Early Sun on Kentmere Pike

A stunning forecast for Saturday coincided with a busy family day and it seemed that there was no possibility that I would get out on the hills. But my Mother-in-Law took pity on me and offered to look after the kids until lunch time. Accordingly, I was fumbling my way out of bed, bleary-eyed and yawning, at five, driving by half-past and parking up at Sadgill in Longsleddale at six thirty. There was a bright half-moon hanging huge above the Kentmere ridge to the west and in the velvet sky the stars were beginning to fade as the pre-dawn light gradually strengthened. There was enough light to walk without a headtorch, although I opted to stick with the track heading for the Gatescarth Pass whilst the light improved, a route I might not have chosen otherwise.

A bracing northerly hurtled down the valley, an owl hooted from across the river. I confess, I did wonder a little about the sanity of the enterprise. It was bitterly, bitterly cold.

Birkett suggests following the path into Brownhowe Bottom and up to the col between Tarn Crag and Branstree, but previous experience suggested that this would be an indefinite path through very boggy ground which I had no desire to revisit. On the map, a stream heading west of west-north-west almost from the top of Tarn Crag seemed to offer a promising handrail to the heights. So I followed it, after peering first into the small disused quarry close to where the stream passed under the track. After the first steep pull the gradient eased and I suspect that ordinarily the going would have been a little damp underfoot. No such problem today as everything was well frozen. Drips from the edge of peat hags had become substantial icicles and the ground crunched and crackled as I walked.

Looking back again 

A fitter man than I would have reached the summit for the sunrise, but the fitter man was still in his bed, so I had the shady hillside to myself as an orange glow spread downwards on the Kentmere ridge opposite. A Tortoise-like steady plod has long been my Modus Operandi and eventually I toiled up to the summit of Tarn Crag. As I said, it was a bitterly cold day, but here it was colder yet – the wind chill must have been considerable. I flung on all of the additional layers I was carrying, but then, perhaps unwisely, took off my gloves to take some photos. My hands were soon painfully cold, then numb and then, after I put my gloves back on, painful again as the circulation returned bringing with it a prickly burning sensation.

But the sky was almost cloudless, the clarity of the air was superb and the views magnificent.

Tarn Crag Summit - with Survey Pillar 

The pillar here is a survey pillar, built when the Manchester Corporation was flooding Mardale to create Haweswater. I didn’t go to take a closer look, but if you’re interested, there’s a photo here of another pillar (there are several roundabout) on Branstree, taken on another stunning early February day. I once camped on the summit of Tarn Crag. Arriving in the late afternoon, I had the summit to myself then too. A glorious evening was followed by a very wet morning, and then a wet day splashing my way across the Shap fells and down to Tebay.

Kentmere Pike and Harter Fell 

Sadly it was just too cold to linger for long by the summit cairn.

Tarn Crag Summit Cairn 

So I set-off again, heading toward the distant line of the Pennines. Cross Fell stood out clearly, holding more snow than any of its neighbours.

Looking East to the Pennines 

As I dropped into the hollow which separates Tarn Crag from Grey Crag and Harrop Pike the wind suddenly died away. The contrast was amazing. I was out of the wind and in the sunshine – too good an opportunity to miss, so I stopped briefly for a hot drink.

Harrop Pike 

Looking toward Harrop Pike.

Harrop Pike Summit Cairn 

Harrop Pike Summit Cairn.

Looking down to Longsleddale from Grey Crag Summit 

Grey Crag cairn, looking down into Longsleddale.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever visited the little cairned and knobbly top of Grey Crag before, but it turned out to be another victory for Birkett Bagging – a lonely spot with great views of Longsleddale and the hills across the valley, and, more distantly, of the Coniston Fells.

Longsleddale and Great Howe 

From there I picked a way through the very broken crags heading towards Great Howe, which is the high point of the broad sweep of ridge on the right of this photo. Although not evidently a ‘summit’ in any way, Great Howe is another little gem with fantastic views of the wooded slopes and patchwork fields of the lower part of Longsleddale. I took photos, but they were into the low winter sun and so not particularly successful. Great Howe has two more survey pillars, but both are slightly below the ridge and on this occasion I didn’t feel inclined to detour to investigate, besides which I was working to a deadline.

Tarn Crag from Great Howe 

Tarn Crag from Great Howe.

Grey Crag from Great Howe 

Grey Crag from Great Howe.

Upper Longsleddale from Great Howe 

Upper Longsleddale from Great Howe

The slopes between Great Howe and Longsleddale are pretty steep and crags abound. When I arrived back at the car, I could see that it is possible to take what looked like a pleasant route down the ridge and via a stile down across the fields directly to Sadgill, but from above, knowing that this wasn’t access land, I opted for a more tricky descent back to the Gatescarth track. I once climbed Tarn Crag by following Galeforth Gill, a route which I can recommend. Now I took a line down and across the hillside towards that Gill.

Goat Scar, Kentmere Pike and Longsleddale 

Goat Scar, Kentmere Pike, Harter Fell and Upper Longsleddale again.

A perfectly placed gap in the crags brought me safely down to the gill a little way below an impressive waterfall. (If you choose to follow Galeforth Gill up Tarn Crag you can avoid the fall by diverting into the gully on the right, or possibly by following the tributary stream on the left.)

Galeforth Gill 

The stream bed and the rocks beside it were coated in a fascinating variety of ice formations.

Icicles by Galeforth Gill 

I was particularly impressed by these ice coated grass blades.

Ice coated grass blades, by Galeforth Gill 

Goat Scar and Longsleddale 

A final view of Goat Scar and Longsleddale.

Sadgill Bridge, River Sprint

Sadgill.

A very quiet walk – I saw no other walkers at all until I reached the Gatescarth track, shortly before I got back to my car. There were now fourteen cars parked at the road end at Sadgill. I chatted to chap who was sitting in the boot of his 4 by 4 tying his bootlaces, evidently about to set-off.

“What’s like up there?” he wanted to know.

“Fantastic. Frozen, everything’s frozen. Not much snow, but what there is, is firm and a pleasure to walk on.”

“Cold?”

“Oh, yes – extremely cold.”

I was home again by midday.

After lunch B and his pal wanted to me to take them for some tree-climbing and den-building in Eaves Wood. Then B and I watched the thrilling Calcutta Cup match on the telly together. Finally we rounded off a marvellous day with a meal at Cinnamon Spice Restaurant in the village. Two walks, a rugby international and a curry, and it wasn’t even my Birthday.

Throw those curtains wide……

A wee map:

Tarn Crag Walk

An Early Bird on Sleddale Fell

Floating Gold

Floating Gold

Down on the South Coast, sea birds found washed onto beaches are coated in a waxy substance thought to be palm-oil washed from a tanker in the English Channel. Meanwhile, closer to home, a dog walker has found a lump of what he believes to be ambergris washed up on Morecambe beach.

Floating Gold II 

After a bright and sunny afternoon, I rushed home this evening to try to catch the sunset at the Cove. I just about made it.

The tide was in, and the sea flat calm and mirror smooth.

Clifftop trees

I didn’t find any ambergris, but I’m not complaining.

Here’s a link to a local TV news report about the ambergris:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-21254718

Floating Gold