Tarns and Birketts above Grasmere

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Helm Crag and Seat Sandal above Grasmere.

Early December, I have a Monday off work; the school is closed, a one day holiday. Ordinarily, I would prefer not to have an extra day off in December, when daylight is short and the weather is likely to be ropey, but it seems that I am in a very tiny minority amongst my colleagues who voted to continue our recent practice of having a long weekend in December.

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But, as luck would have it, when the day came around, the forecast was pretty fair and I was glad to have a day to myself with no Dad’s Taxi duties to perform. So it was that I had parked up in the long lay-by on the A591 just outside Grasmere (thus avoiding exorbitant parking fees) and was climbing out of the village toward Silver How.

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Grasmere.

It was a frosty morning, with a few wisps of mist still clinging to the valleys.

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Langdale Pikes. The rocky hummock in the middle distance is Lang How.

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A sundog or parhelion.

I’ve posted photos of this phenomena before. I’ve even been told that they are a common occurrence, but I don’t feel that I see them all that often.

Parhelion: a bright spot in the sky appearing on either side of the sun, formed by refraction of sunlight through ice crystals high in the atmosphere.

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Langdale Fells from Silver How.

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Helvellyn and Fairfield from Silver How.

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Grasmere and Rydal Water.

The broad ridge which runs along the northern edge of Langdale abounds in knolls and small tarns. The latter seem mostly to be choked with plants and on their way to drying out. My aim was to climb the knolls, well – the ones which qualify as Birketts at least – and to visit all of the tarns.

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Silver How Tarn.

For the names of the various tarns I’m following the lead of John and Anne Nuttall in their ‘The Tarns of Lakeland’ guides (two volumes, well worth having).

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Brigstone Tarn and Lang How.

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The Nuttalls don’t give a name for the small tarn in the foreground, the one behind is Youdell Tarn.

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Youdell Tarn with the Langdale Peaks behind.

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I’ve included this photo because it was taken from Lang How and it shows Swinescar Pike (the grassy hummock on the left) and Castle How (the broad grassy lump on the right).

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Looking back along the ridge from Little Castle How. Windermere in the distance.

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Great Castle How has two summits: on the OS map, one is named and the other has a spot height. The photo above shows the top with a spot height (left of centre of the photo) and was taken from the other top…

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This is the named top…

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…from the one with the spot height.

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Easedale Tarn.

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Castle How Tarns with Blea Rigg behind.

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One of the (three) Castle How Tarns.

Blea Rigg is another Birkett and I had originally half-intended to include it on the route, but it’s probably best that I didn’t: I descended by Easedale Tarn and arrived back in Grasmere with little daylight to spare. Still I hadn’t done too badly: four Birketts, eight tarns and one Wainwright (Silver How), all crammed into one relatively short walk.

I enjoyed my excursion into tarn bagging. I believe there’s a tradition of bagging the tarns by swimming in them. I opted not to do that; I would have had to break the ice to do so, and I suspect that many of the tarns, choked with reeds as they are, are rather shallow to swim in. From the photographer’s point of view, it probably makes at least as much sense to visit tarns as it does to climb to summits. Some tarns are well off the beaten track too, which is another bonus. I think you can expect more tarn-bagging walks as and when I can find the time – I think I may have another stray Monday off next December…

 

 

Tarns and Birketts above Grasmere

Sale Fell

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Skiddaw, Carl Side, Dodd, Bassenthwaite Lake, distant Derwent Water.

Cub camp for Little S; he and two friends needed dropping in Seathwaite at the bottom end of Borrowdale at eight o’clock on a Friday night (the day after my walk on Hollow Moor). Of course, I volunteered for the job! It was a glorious evening and driving down Borrowdale I was struck by how crag girt the fellsides are and my mind was busy with the various options open to me for a late stroll.

When we arrived at the campsite however, it was clear that the boys needed some help erecting their tent, a triple hoop tunnel affair with which they had no previous experience. We were hampered somewhat by the maddening distraction of a cloud of midges which were feasting on every square inch of exposed flesh. By the time the tent was shipshape and just lacking an odd peg or two, all I wanted to do was get in the car and get away from the ravening hoards. I set off with the intention of driving straight home, but I hadn’t driven far before I began to reconsider my options. It was now quite late to be starting a walk, I needed something not too ambitious, and I hit upon the idea of a smash-and-grab raid on Sale Fell.

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Lothwaite Panorama.

This modest little fell boasts three Birkett summits, Lothwaite, Rivings and Sale Fell itself. From a inspection of the map this seems excessive, but the photos above show the late evening view from Lothwaite across Bassenthwaite Lake to the bulk of Skiddaw. It’s a fabulous panorama and it would be a great shame to miss it by only heading for the higher summit of Sale Fell.

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Sale Fell from Lothwaite.

The paths across the fells are broad and well used; I’ve never ventured this way before, but clearly these are well loved hills, perhaps with the local walkers who have them on their doorstep. Certainly, despite the late hour, I met several other people that evening.

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Sale Fell from Rivings, two other walkers just about visible on the top.

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Sale Fell

Hollow Moor, Cocklaw Fell and Skeggles Water

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Another post walk escape, on a beautiful summer evening. I parked by the village rooms in Kentmere despite the signs warning me that, it being polling day, the parking was needed – it was very quiet and it didn’t seem likely that hoards of people would be arriving to register late votes. I’d cast my own vote before work and so could head into the hills and leave all thoughts of the neverendum behind. (I wish it were as easy to do that now!)

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Almost from the off, the path climbing out of the village gave great views. I was also very busy trying, and failing, to photograph the many and varied butterflies which were in evidence.

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I didn’t have to climb far before the butterflies I had been seeing were supplanted by…

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…Small Heath butterflies, which I would continue to see for much of the walk, until the sun began to sink and the temperature had dropped too low for butterflies.

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Bird’s-eye Primrose.

I thought that this…

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…looked quite like Lousewort. Turns out that it is Lousewort, and the plant which I have been wrongly identifying as Lousewort is actually Marsh Lousewort. So now I know.

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A first view of Skeggles Water.

On the slopes of Green Quarter Fell I got rather over-excited about a large orangey-brown butterfly I saw. For no sound reason at all, I decided that it must be a Large Heath, which are rare and confined, in the UK, to a few northern locations. When it finally settled I managed to get some photos and…it wasn’t a Large Heath, but a tatty, faded Painted Lady. I haven’t posted any photos because they were very poor. I also saw Red Admirals again, but they were completely uncooperative on this occasion, and refused to pose for photos.

Birkett comments on the fine view of Upper Kentmere which the summit of Hollow Moor affords and he has a very good point…

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I was thinking that in the winter, with the sun low in the southern sky this would be a prime spot from which to take a photo of the Kentmere horseshoe.

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I’d been expecting to find a fair deal of wet and boggy going underfoot, but had been pleasantly surprised. As I dropped towards the top of Shaw Beck however, I encountered ground so suspiciously mobile that I wondered whether I could get across it. There was no actual water visible but a strip about two yards wide ran down the hillside with completely different vegetation than the surrounding grassy heath. There was Bog Bean flowering (my photo didn’t come out too well, which is a shame because its quite a striking plant) and also this…

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…unusual purplish flower, which I recognised  as Marsh Cinquefoil, although I’m not sure how I knew because I’m pretty certain that I’ve never seen it before.

I followed the wet ground ‘downstream’ until it became an actual beck and therefore much easier to cross.

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Cocklaw Fell, in all honesty, turned out to be a bit of an non-event, but it was another Birkett ticked-off I suppose and it did bring me to a wall, busy with meadow pipits, which lead me down to Skeggles Water.

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I felt some apprehension about my plan to walk around the far shore of Skeggles Water, there being no path marked on the map and the ground looking from a distance to be very flat and so probably liable to be boggy and impassable.

In the event, the going was rough and pathless, but the only significant obstacle…

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…is surmounted by a sturdy bridge.

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The walk from Skeggles Water back to the car took me past two lonely ruins. This…

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…is the larger of the two.

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Heading back down into Kentmere.

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Hollow Moor, Cocklaw Fell and Skeggles Water

Haystacks

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Fleetwith Pike

My old friend JS had just one more Wainwright to bag. He is, I think, the most well-organised man I have ever known (I say ‘man’ advisedly, I’ve worked with a few women who would give him a run for his money) and typically he had planned out his Wainwright bagging so as to leave the last for his 50th Birthday. When I saw him down in Nottingham a few weeks ago he invited me to join him and I didn’t need to be asked twice.

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Buttermere.

The forecast wasn’t great, but for most of the day the weather was pretty kind to us. We met in Buttermere village and walked along the southern shore of the lake before climbing towards Scarth Gap.

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Haystacks.

I’d dragged B along for the walk and JS’s sisters and a brother-in-law were also in the party. The pace was very leisurely, which suited me just fine. I could see that B was getting a little restless however, so we took an off-piste route, seeking out some easy scrambling.

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Fleetwith Pike again.

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Seat and High Crag.

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North-Western Fells over Buttermere.

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Panorama.

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B enjoying some unexpected sunshine.

We saw a couple of these…

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…large, hairy caterpillars. I think that it’s a Hairy Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar. This one didn’t move at all and was still in exactly the same spot when we came back down. If it had chosen a spot in which to pupate, then it had chosen badly because it was right on the path.

In the little tarn between the many small knolls on the top, B spotted a newt floating just below the surface of the water.

A champagne lunch was planned for the summit, but some members of the party, not regular walkers, objected to the ‘rock climb’ where the path crossed some slabs just below the top, so the champagne was quaffed a little way short of the top. I’m pretty sure it tasted just as good as it would have done a few metres higher. Having traveled in a rucksack, the bottle had had a good shaking and the cork rocketed skyward most impressively.

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A family party with champagne. The bobble hats had all been especially knitted for the occasion.

We returned by exactly the same route. The weather had done us proud, but as we were almost back to the lake shore path the heavens finally opened, and when the rain came it came with a vengeance. We’d been waiting for the others, but now decided to make a beeline for the car. B was nonplussed as the path became a stream and we were both quickly soaked, but it wasn’t far to the car, and we both had a change of clothes in the boot, although we had to run the gauntlet of the midges as we changed.

I’m not sure how many Wainwrights I have left to bag – some I’ve never done, and others I’ve been up many times, but not since I started keeping a record. Maybe I should be taking a leaf out of JS’s book and thinking ahead – which one should I choose to finish on? And who would I invite to join me? (And carry the champagne?).

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Haystacks

Black Combe

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Painted Lady.

A hot and slightly sticky evening, after a hot and slightly sticky day at work. The forecast was for the weather to deteriorate, but not out in the Western lakes, so I’d driven round for an evening ascent of Black Combe. There’s a spot to pull off the main road just by Beckside (see map at the bottom of the post) and from there I’d followed the path to Fox and Goose Cottages and then uphill on a path between two hedgerows which seemed in danger of disappearing under the greenery; I wondered whether I might end up regretting the fact that I was wearing shorts and not armed with a machete, but I managed to emerge relatively unscathed. (It’s not just nettles that I need to avoid – I tend to react quite badly even to grass seed-heads).

A surprisingly broad track curls up around the hillside and I was very glad of it’s reasonably gentle gradient. The bracken was busy with insects, among them many small butterflies or moths, but none were obliging when my camera was in hand. Not, that is, until I reached more open ground close to the ‘summit’ of White Hall Knott (spot height 311m on the map). In that area a couple of Painted Ladies were displaying quite cooperatively.

White Hall Knott is one of those Birketts which, with only a single, solitary contour to call its own, looks, on the map, like a rather arbitrary choice. In the flesh, it’s quite appealing…

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White Hall Knott.

And, even on a hazy evening, it has a pretty admirable view down the Whicham Valley…

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…and across to the Duddon Estuary…

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Some aspects of the ascent had put me in mind of another hill, a firm favourite of mine, Carn Fadryn on the Llyn Peninsula – a broad and gentle path, bracken busy with orange butterflies and day flying moths, some hints of bilberries (although not nearly as abundant as on Carn Fadryn), views to the sea and Painted Ladies at the top.

As I plodded up White Combe…

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…I was wondering about Painted Ladies. These were the first I’d seen this year. Although we get them in our garden at times, in previous years my first sightings have often been on top of Carn Fadryn. Painted Ladies, like Monarch butterflies in North America, migrate over several generations. Although the migration of Monarchs is more famous, Painted Ladies migration is much further, beginning in Africa and ending north of the Arctic Circle. The existence of a return migration was only confirmed in 2012, it had been missed because the butterflies can fly quite high, at an average altitude of over 500m on their southbound trip. This made me wonder whether they use coastal hills, or maybe just hill-tops generally, as navigational aids, or maybe just as staging-posts on their mammoth journeys?

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Looking back to White Hall Knott.

As well as the butterflies, the hillsides and skies around were busy with birds – Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. I think that this…

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…was the latter. Not a very sharp photo I know, but it does demonstrate their steep, singing, display flight which is so characteristic of the hills at this time of year.

White Combe is not really a summit at all, just the end of a long broad shoulder, but it does have a substantial cairn…

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And guess what, at least two resident Painted Ladies…

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The Red Admiral is another migratory butterfly, a close relative of the Painted Lady.

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They don’t seem to share any familial affection however: every time the Red Admiral landed, one of the Painted Ladies would fly at it and drive it off. Which is something else I’ve previously observed on Carn Fadryn.

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There were quite a number of hoverflies about too. This one might be Sericomyia Selintis. But, then again, it might not.

From White Combe a longish and levelish and very enjoyable plod followed, heading for Stoupdale Crags.

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Thin, but pronounced, paths made the going easier than it might otherwise have been…

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Stoupdale Crags turned out to have one of those plateaued tops where every knoll looks slightly higher than the one you are currently occupying.

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Buck Barrow and Whitfell from Stoupdale Crags.

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Meadow Pipit (I think) amongst Cotton Grass.

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For another Day: Stoneside Hill, Kinmont Buck Barrow, Buck Barrow, Whitfell, Plough Fell.

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The way ahead: Whitecombe Screes, Blackcombe Screes and Black Combe from Whitecombe Head. The left-hand skyline would be my descent route.

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A shiny ground beetle (which I can’t find in my field guide).

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Looking back to Stoupdale Crags.

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Black Combe summit.

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Black Combe South Summit.

I’m pretty sure that the last time I was up here, I camped by this little tarn. That was another summer-evening, post-work outing, but on that occasion a Friday night and hence the freedom to camp out and stop to have breakfast on Black Combe.

Tonight, I still had tea in my bag – a humongous pasty I’d bought, on the drive over, from the excellent bakers in Broughton-in-Furness. (A Community not a Shortcut say the signs on the edge of the village).

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I sat by this enormous and slightly ramshackle cairn to eat it, with a view of the blanket of low stratus stretching away over the Irish Sea and sending a finger of cloud up over the River Duddon.

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Sadly, it was much too murky to really appreciate what would have otherwise, I suspect, been a pretty spectacular sight.

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I know that this is already a relatively long post, by my modest standards, but I’m going to digress slightly to recommend another book which seems to me at least tangentially relevant to a blog about walking; I recently read ‘The Invention of Clouds’ by Richard Hamblyn; it’s ostensibly a biography of Luke Howard the amateur scientist who devised the familiar nomenclature used for clouds, but it digresses into the previous and subsequent history of nephology – the science of clouds – the status of the great Nineteenth Century populisers of science, like Humphrey Davy, the early history of ballooning and much more. I found it absolutely fascinating.

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Looking back to Stoupdale Crags and White Combe.

On my descent I initially followed the edge of the crags heading almost due East, but then found quite a good track, I would guess quite an old one, which made for easier walking, but which took me further south, down towards Hallbeck Gill (a tautological name). Eventually I had to contour round the hillside to get back on course for Whitecombe Gill. Next time I come this way, I’d like to try the ridge between Blackcombe Screes and Whitecombe Screes, which according to the OS 1:25000 is called Horse Back. (And incidentally, I wonder what kind of feature is Eller Peatpot, also named on the OS map?)

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As yet unidentified moth.

Black Combe

Black Combe

Wild-camping with A

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“I know what I want for my birthday Dad: a back-packing tent.”

Oh. So now I was feeling a bit guilty: I spent much of last summer looking at potential tent purchases without arriving at a decision. I’ve long be aware that all of the kids, and particularly A, have long been keen to try their hand at wild-camping. I already have a tent – an old Saunders Spacepacker, and very good it is too, but although I think it was advertised as a two-man tent, it is really more of a spacious solo affair. After more lengthy deliberating I’ve bought A her tent, an early present, from Decathlon, a Quickhiker Ultralight 3. (I might stretch to a review when we’ve tried it more thoroughly).

I ought to have known really: A has gradually been accumulating her own kit – she bought a self-inflating mat in a sale, asked for a lightweight sleeping-bag for her last birthday etc. So, now equipped with a bigger tent, we were ready for the off. No time like the present: the day after my wander up Kentmere Pike and the weather was still fine, forecast to be cold and bright, the boys were sleeping over at a friends, so we could legitimately go without them (they were a bit miffed, hopefully we shall soon all get out for a camp).

On the Friday evening then, we drove up to the head of Haweswater and walked the short distance up to Small Water. I’d been poring over my maps, looking for potential places to pitch – this seemed ideal: short walk in, a water supply, potential flattish pitches, a reasonable altitude and so it proved to be. A slept well in her newish bag, but it had been very cold and, although A claimed that I was snoring, I felt like I’d been awake and shivering all night in my inadequate kit.

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The clear skies and sunshine the following morning were some compensation, although it was still perishing. A slept so well, in fact, that she didn’t stir until around eight, which is criminally late in my book. We had some difficulties with my stove (wrong combination of gases for the cold conditions perhaps, or using an MSR stove with Coleman canisters?)  but we managed to warm our Fruit and Nut porridge  which had been soaking overnight and which proved to be unusually palatable as far as backpacking fare goes.

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The posts here are where trees have been planted. Lots of trees have been planted in this area and also up Longsleddale as far as Wrengill Quarry (and maybe further). It seems that somebody is making a concerted effort to reintroduce woodland in the Lakes – more power to their elbow, whoever they may be.

My original plan had been to head up Piot Crag initially. I descended that way a while ago, although I eventually took the spur down to the dam on Blea Water, which had been okay, but a bit loose in one section. The route certainly looked feasible on the map…

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But looking at it from below, I wasn’t completely confident, especially since we would be carrying heavy packs.

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I offered A the deciding vote – Piot Crag or the Nan Bield? – explaining that we may have to turn back if we couldn’t get through the crags on Piot Crag.

“Lets take the adventurous route.”

Fair play. So we did.

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A on the Piot Crag ridge with Rough Crag behind.

In the event it was a cracking route, although we did have to traverse the ridge a couple of times, looking for easy rakes through the crags.

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Near the top of the steepest section we found spoil heaps and the outlines of old buildings or shelters. These are not marked on the map at all, so came as something of a surprise.

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Above this point the ridge broadens and leads very pleasantly up to Mardale Ill Bell.

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Once on Mardale Ill Bell, we had more choices to make. We could descend via Rough Crag above Riggindale; we could walk round to Kidsty Pike and down from there, or we could take a longer route over High Street, Rampsgill Head, Kidsty Pike, High Raise, Low Raise and then down.

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Presented with the option, A chose the longest route, which sat fine with me because I wanted to grab Low Raise, thinking it was the only Birkett in the area I was lacking.

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There’d been two more parties camped close(ish) to Small Water, but we’d had Piot Crag entirely to ourselves. We were faced with a bit of a rude awakening now then because the paths on High Street were pretty busy.

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High Street summit.

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The substantial cairn on Low Raise.

I’d planned to descend from Low Raise along the edge of Whelter Crags and down Birks Crag to Castle Crag (where the fort is marked on the one to fifty), but once we were descending it seemed more inviting to drop down to Randale Beck and follow that (there’s a good path on the south bank).

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I missed a trick really – it was only when I got home that I realised that Castle Crag is another Birkett. What a shame – I shall have to go back again. Here in the valley it finally warmed up and I was able to swap all of my winter clothing for the shorts I’d been optimistically carrying.

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Randale Beck.

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Riggindale and Rough Crag.

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Riggindale and Kidsty Pike.

A grand day (and a bit) out, hopefully the first of many. Just need to acquire a warm, gargantuan – but lightweight and cheap – sleeping-bag (should be easy!). And a stove that works consistently, not just when it’s in the right mood.

Wild-camping with A

Kentmere Pike from Longsleddale

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Looking down Longsleddale.

A rare conjunction of opportunity and decent weather found me heading out for a post-work jaunt in the Lakes.

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Tarn Crag.

Here’s the route I took:

Longsleddale and Kentmere Pike

Although, I should warn you that I drew it on by hand and I now realise that at the northern most point I’ve made a slight error: I actually turned left slightly sooner.

Steel Rigg on Kentmere Pike

Just by the junction of the paths here there’s a gate which gives access to the area just below Wrengill Quarry, and that’s where I turned left, through the gate and across the surprisingly dry, empty gill. One day I’m going to come back and properly explore the remains of the quarry, but on this occasion I looked for the boundary between the very tightly packed contours of the steep ground overlooking Longsleddale and the more relaxed open hillside above Brownhowe Bottom. To my mind a route like this is a win-win: easy walking but with the drama of the crags and steep slopes close by to my left-hand side.

This photo…

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Longsleddale.

…was taken close to the top of the section of wall marked on the map south of where it says ‘Steel Rigg’. The crags were more impressive than I’d anticipated, and I stuck close to this edge for as long as it was still taking me uphill.

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Tarn Crag and Longsleddale.

Despite the sunshine, it was a very quiet evening. I saw a party of three and another lone walker (or a straggler), heading down the valley, not long after I left Sadgill, and I was overtaken a little further up the track by a cyclist. And that was it. As far as I know I had Kentmere Pike entirely to myself for the remainder of the evening.

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Tarn Crag and Buckbarrow Crag from the top of Goat Scar.

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Shipman Knotts.

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Ill Bell and Froswick.

Fabulous to get a chance just to be out, the sunshine and the solitude were the icing on the cake and the very satisfactory ‘off-piste’ section of the walk the cherry on top. I’m pretty much always on the look out for potential pathless routes of this ilk when I head to the Lakes on my own these days.

Kentmere Pike from Longsleddale