Skiddaw Bivvy

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Keswick and Derwentwater – it was quite a bit darker than this photo suggests.

Friday evening. S has a class on the climbing wall in the Sports Centre at Lancaster University. It had been a busy week: S had been the Artful Dodger in his school’s production of Oliver (which was brilliant, although I may be a little biased). I’d also had a late evening at work, so hadn’t managed my usual evening walk(s). What’s-more, the nights had been hot and sticky, at least by local standards, and I’d been finding it hard to sleep. Driving home with S I had an inspiration – a way to get out for a walk and get a cooler night. Back at home I hurriedly grabbed something to eat, threw some things into my rucksack and set-off for Keswick.

I parked in the high car-park behind Latrigg, which was quite full. There were several occupied campervans which I guessed were staying the night, but numerous cars also. A couple approached me and asked about potential wild-camping spots. They’d ended up here by default after having problems with closed roads. It occurred to me afterwards that they may have been heading for the end of Haweswater, because when we were there a few weeks ago, somebody had been larking about with road-closed signs and diversion signs even though there was actually little or no work going on. Anyway, I wasn’t much use to them; I haven’t camped in this part of the Lakes before and haven’t climbed Skiddaw in an absolute age. They decided to try Latrigg, but soon overtook me on the broad path up Skiddaw, looking for a spot on Jenkin Hill, where I saw them again with their tent just about pitched.

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The moon rising over the Dodds.

It was already after sunset when I started my walk and I was surprised by the freshness of the breeze, so much so that I hastily stuffed an extra jumper into my bag which I happened to have in the boot of the car. TBH and I had noticed that the moon was full when we went out for a short stroll after Little S’s theatric triumph, so I was anticipating a light night and that’s how it turned out – I only used my headtorch close to the top of Skiddaw when the ground was rocky and I wanted to avoid a trip.

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I arrived on the top at around half twelve. Even then the sky to the north still held a good deal of light. There were a few people about – I suppose that this is a traditional weekend for fell-runners completing the Bob Graham Round.

I was after something much more modest – a place to kip-down for a few hours. I’d remembered that the highest parts of Skiddaw are very rocky – like a slag heap, one friend has subsequently described it – but felt confident that I would find somewhere. Ironically, given my enthusiasm for wild-flowers, it was the sight of tiny white stars of the flowers of a bedstraw – there are many species – which stood out in the darkness and led me to a spot with at least a thin covering of soil. It’s wasn’t a spot I could recommend – sloping, uneven, hard, stony and not entirely out of the, by now, pretty fierce wind, but, somewhat to my surprise, I not only slept, but slept quite well. It was cold though – I discovered that when needs must I can get right down inside my sleeping bag and close it over my head. Between my sleeping bag, the thin pertex bivvy bag I have and the extra jumper I’d brought I just about stayed on the right side of comfortable.

I woke at around three, momentarily panicking a little because it was so light that I was worried that I’d missed the sunrise, despite the fact that I’d set an alarm for 4.20am, precisely to avoid that eventuality. I should have taken a photograph at three – the colours in the northern sky were superb, but I’m afraid my head was soon down again for a little more shut-eye.

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In the event, I didn’t need the alarm: two groups of people walked past my little hollow about 10 minutes before it was due to go off, timing their arrival on the top just about perfectly for the sunrise.

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It’s a while since I’ve watched a sunrise from a mountain. Perhaps I won’t wait so long this time to repeat the experience.

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There was evidently a layer of cloud hanging low over the Solway Firth to the north and the Eden Valley to the east and odd wisps of mist closer to hand.

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Bassenthwaite Lake.

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An early party on the summit.

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Derwentwater and the surrounding hills.

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Derwentwater and the Fells pano.

For reasons which now escape me, I climbed Skiddaw Little Man in the dark on the Friday night, but I’d stuck to the main path which omits the top of Jenkin Hill, and avoids Lonscale Fell and Lonscale Pike altogether, so on my way back to the car I diverted slightly to take them all in.

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Jenkin Hill, Lonscale Fell and Blencathra behind.

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Looking back to Skiddaw Little Man and Skiddaw. 

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Derwentwater and the Fells from Jenkin Hill.

From Lonscale Pike, I found a slight path, which followed the wall down close to the edge of Lonscale Crags. Part way down, I realised that the weather had already warmed up considerably and decided to sit down to admire the view with a bit of porridge and a cup of tea.

Nearby, I spotted this large caterpillar…

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…which I think is of the Hairy Oak Eggar Moth. B and I saw some similar caterpillars on Haystacks two summers ago.

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Foxglove.

As I got close to the car park again, and was down amongst the bracken covered hillsides, there were numerous moths and some Small Heath butterflies and a host of small birds about. Sadly none of my photos turned out very well.

Back at the car, I dumped my rucksack and set-out to tick-off Latrigg, it being so close by and the weather so favourable. Incidentally, the car park was already full, at 9 in the morning, breaking the usually reliable rule that car-parks in the Lakes are almost empty before 10, I presume because people were seeking an early start to escape the heat of the day. There’s a direct path to the top, not shown on OS maps, but also a more circuitous one, which I chose, partly because I wasn’t in a hurry and partly because I thought it would give better views.

Latrigg was busy with walkers, runners and Skylarks.

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I watched this Skylark in flight and then, after it had landed on a small mound, walked slowly toward it, taking photos as I approached.

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This Skylark…

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…didn’t require the same effort. It landed quite close to the path and then flew just a short distance further on, before having a ‘dust bath’ on the path. Although it was much closer than the first bird, it wouldn’t pose and look at the camera in such an obliging way.

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Keswick from Latrigg.

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Keswick from Latrigg pano.

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Skiddaw massif from Latrigg.

Highly enjoyable, although it did leave me a bit wiped out for the rest of the weekend. Hopefully, I’ll try another summit bivvy, if the opportunity arises – without a tent I can manage with my small rucksack, which wasn’t too heavy, aside from the two litres of water I was carrying.

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Skiddaw Bivvy

26 thoughts on “Skiddaw Bivvy

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Thanks!
      Bowl and Climb! I have images of men in flat caps smoking pipes and rolling their woods at the jack on vertical cliff faces. It’s Bowland Climber – Bowland being a hilly area of Lancashire. Easy mistake to make, if you don’t know the area – perfectly logical in fact.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I can recommend it. It’s something I’ve done from time to time. TBH and I watched the sunrise from a couple of large volcanoes when we visited Indonesia, and I’ve camped, or bivvied, on mountain tops in this country a few times, but my first experiences were after ‘Alpine’ starts when climbing proper mountains. Sunrise from the summit of Mont Blanc is the one that immediately springs to mind. I think there may even be a photograph on the blog somewhere. Anyway – surely something to try at least once? Pick a moonlight night with a settled forecast, and an ‘easy’ hill with clear paths.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      It was just a whim, it really only occurred to me as a possibility fairly late in the day. Sometimes a bit of spontaneity can pay off!

  1. Very enterprising. I just take a semi cold shower before bed if its hot as I think my night time summit adventures are in the past now. Nice mix of photos. Not that far away from Fox Moth caterpillar colours and markings but more greyish instead of orange. Not sure if that’s the same family group as HOEM as I’m not great on moth varieties.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I have a Fox Moth caterpillar on the blog somewhere I think, from years ago in the Northwestern fells. That’s another largish and very hairy caterpillar which likes hillsides. I don’t know about moth families either – moths are wonderful, but a bit bewildering as far as I’m concerned. One day I’ll be able to afford a proper light-trap and will really get to grips with them.

  2. Glad I inspired you a bit! Stunning stuff, those views are amazing. That chilly easterly wind cleared the skies, same night I was out in the Black Mountains (just posted). I think I’d always take the tent rather than bivvy as there is always somewhere to pitch on most summits especially down here. I suppose you do get the advantage of a view as soon as you wake up. Mind you it would have to be breezy or you’d be eaten by midges this year. I should really set an alarm and watch the sunrise as well as the sunset. Shame it’s just been too hot to consider walking the past couple of weekends

        1. beatingthebounds says:

          Living by the coast, we never get it particularly hot – we have had 30 degrees, but that is highly unusual. This year we’ve had a long period with the temperatures in the twenties. Our kids, who don’t know any different, or at least have limited experience of anything hotter, think it’s sweltering. come to that, so do I. However, since we don’t usually get hot weather, we have no aircon in buildings. A classroom with 30+ people in it on a hot day is not pleasant.

          1. Totally understand how you are not accustomed to these temps. My group yesterday set off at 8.30 am with a temperature of 10C [very cold for our
            non-heated homes]. We completed our wanderings around 2pm and felt hot, then noted that the temperature was 29C. It was a perfect day for hiking.

            Re students in non air-conditioned buildings – I was fully accustomed to this unpleasantness. A big plus for taking retirement. Queensland classrooms, up until about 5 years ago didn’t have this luxury.

            1. beatingthebounds says:

              From ten degrees to twenty-nine – wow that’s some contrast! For me, twenty-nine would not count as perfect walking weather! It’s all relative though isn’t it – when we visited relatives in Virginia everyone one was appalled that we wanted to swim in the outdoor pool when the temperature was ‘cool’ for the locals, but ‘hot’ as far as we were concerned!

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I enjoy bivvying for a change Andy and the small pack which goes with it, though I must admit I hadn’t considered the midge issue. I think you’d struggle to pitch a tent anywhere near the top of Skiddaw – it’s very stony.
      I think yoou must have put the idea into my head with all of your Friday night outings.

  3. How wonderful! That’s amazing that you can go hiking and sleep or pitch tents anywhere – or do you need some sort of “permit” or anything? We have SO many rules at our county/state/federal parks here in the US. Your photograph of Keswick is just beautiful. I actually had tea in Keswick on my visit! 🙂 ❤

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      As usual in the Uk, it’s a grey area. Unlike US parks, the land is not publicly owned – although in the Lake District quite a lot of it is owned by a charity, the National Trust. When you camp, you are on sufferance of the landowner. I think officially, the National Trust by-laws don’t allow camping. In practice, discrete overnight camps are ignored or condoned. Most of the lakes is used for sheep-farming. I have heard of people being moved on by shepherds/farmers, but if you pick your spot and leave early, I think you will usually get away with it. I’ve certainly never had a problem 🙂
      I love that view of Keswick too. I’m sure that I’ve climbed Latrigg before, but it will have been many years ago – I’d forgotten what a grandstand view that is.

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