Half-term Happenings: Lancaster, Lune, Meal, Murmuration.

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On the Thursday of our February half-term week, we were looking to combine another ‘easy’ walk, which allowed the possibility of shorter or longer alternatives, with a lunchtime meal. We hit upon driving to the park and ride carpark, just off the motorway by Lancaster, which has the advantage of being free, then walking into town. We could then either walk back or catch the dedicated bus service if need be.

From the carpark, after crossing a couple of busy roads, it’s easy to access the path beside the River Lune. That took us to John Rennie’s 1797 aqueduct, which carries the Lancaster Canal over the river.

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We climbed up to the canal and then followed that into Lancaster.

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The River Lune and the (smelly) Carrs Billington plant.

We were heading for the Sun Hotel for lunch. The food was magnificent…

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I’ve included this slightly blurred photo of B instagramming his choice, because I know at least one reader of the blog who appreciates a huge burger.

The vegans were happy too…

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In fact, I think we all enjoyed our meals.

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After that enormous repast, we decided that we were all fit enough to walk back to the car. This time we followed the Lune rather than the canal.

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‘Little’ S and my nephew L. The latter wanted to pose in front of this cafe for some reason?

The dull cloud of the morning had cleared, so we had terrific views of the aqueduct reflected in the placid waters of the Lune to accompany our walk.

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On the way home, as we drove along Storrs Lane by Leighton Moss, I thought I saw a Starling murmuration, so we stopped to take a look. This is definitely a winter phenomenon and even in mid-February I suspect that there were perhaps less birds than we had seen earlier in the year, when we often saw people parked to watch the Starlings as we drove home from Lancaster in the late afternoons.

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The advantage we did have though was clear skies and good light.

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Still photos really don’t do this justice: the way the cloud of birds wheels together and pulses and fluidly changes shape.

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It was an unexpected bonus at the end of a very enjoyable day.

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Half-term Happenings: Lancaster, Lune, Meal, Murmuration.

Little and Often: In Training

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A three walk Sunday, all part of my Little and Often campaign. First, a familiar wander to the Cove and across the Lots. The sun was shining and the light was lovely.

Then I dropped S off at his climbing lesson and drove up onto the edge of the Forest of Bowland hills, walking a brisk out and back route to Grizedale Dock Reservoir…

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…via Holme Wood…

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When I have more time to spare, there are definitely some good walks to be had in that area, so I shall be looking to go back, probably one summer evening. The weather had deteriorated and there were flecks of rain blowing in the wind, but it was good to be out.

Later still, I was out again, past Arnside Tower…

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…hoping to catch the sunset from the Knott. Sadly, although the weather had improved again, a bank of cloud over the Irish Sea smothered that idea. I’ve made similar mistakes since, leaving it a little too late to get out on a sunny afternoon and thereby missing the sunshine altogether. I shall make a mental note not to be so tardy in future.

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Humphrey Head and last signs of the departed sun.


 

In the summer, I shall be attempting to complete the annual 10 in 10 challenge. Briefly, the idea is to walk a route over 10 Wainwrights in 10 hours or less. This year the route starts at the Swinside hotel, goes over some of the Northwestern Fells, down to Buttermere and then back over Dale Head and High Spy, among others. You can find out more here.

It’s not the sort of thing I would usually do, but I shall be joining my old school friend John and frankly I’m relishing the challenge. Whether I will still feel that way on the day remains to be seen. It’s more than a little Quixotic for me to imagine that I can tackle all of the ascent involved in the time allowed, but I shall give it a go.

The event is a fundraiser and I’m hoping to get some sponsorship for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. My Just Giving page is here. All donations, however small, will be most welcome. I should add that the sponsorship is not a condition of my entry and that I’ve already paid a fee to enter which covers all costs, so all sponsor money would go directly to charity.

Plug over, for now at least, although I will probably add links to forthcoming posts too.

 

Little and Often: In Training

Pre-Xmas Weekend: Pen-y-ghent

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As ever, we got together with a gaggle of old friends for the weekend before Christmas. After several years at Chapel-le-Dale, this year we moved, but only a little way up the road to Gearstones Lodge. Here’s the lodge…

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I’ll take a moment to say that, if you are after simple, comfortable and spacious accommodation in a fantastic location for a largish group at a good price, then this place is going to be very hard to beat.

The first time we booked accommodation for a weekend before Christmas, A was just a baby and spent most of the weekend happily rocking furiously or sleeping in the only warm room at Slaidburn hostel. Now here she is, in the first photo, practically all grown up. It’s not the best photo of either A or Pen-y-ghent, which is hidden in the cloud behind,  but I’ve included because it’s a very typical A pose: she doesn’t want me to take her photo, but is tolerating my antics with a bemused look which tells me just how little she appreciates it.

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Here she is again. We were all hunkered down behind the wall seeking some shelter from the wind and rain. We’d parked in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and were climbing Pen-y-ghent with the intention of continuing back to Gearstones afterwards.

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A and J.

As often happens, somebody had stopped to change a layer or swig some water and somebody else had taken that as a queue for a lunch stop. We have a lot of lunch stops when walking together. I think there may even have been more scoffing underway when I caught up with the rest of the party at the top of Pen-y-ghent, having lagged behind a little, as is my wont. Certainly, an ‘official’ lunch stop was declared in the sheltered hollow…

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Around the opening of Hunt Pot.

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From there we diverted slightly from the most direct route to take a look at the highly impressive Hull Pot…

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Usually, the streambed above the pot is dry, but one compensation of the weather being so wet was the opportunity it afforded to see the falls cascading over the edge of the pot.

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And that’s it for my photos of that day. We still had quite a long way to walk, but it was very overcast at first, then dark for the last hour or so and anyway, I was busy chinwagging.

The ground we covered from Pen-y-ghent back to Gearstones did look very interesting, when we could still see it, and I look forward to going back to have another look in more conducive conditions.

Andy has helpfully included a map of our route in his post and there are more photos too.

And for photos from Pen-y-ghent in better weather, here are two previous posts of my own: here and here.

Back at the hostel, we dried out over cups of tea then enjoyed some top-notch grub and no doubt lots of silly anecdotes.

I’ve finished a number of walks in the dark this winter, which is just how winter walks should finish, and which gives me a handy excuse to include this…

‘It Might Get Dark’ by White Denim, which has something of Marc Bolan about it. I’ve heard White Denim quite a bit since I started listening to Radio 6. They’re touring the UK in February…..

Pre-Xmas Weekend: Pen-y-ghent

Parched

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Sitting here, now that normal service has been resumed, watching the rain beyond the window, the long, hot dry spell from earlier in the summer seems almost like a vague memory of a dream or a summer from long ago.

Just to prove that it really did happen, here are a hodge-podge of photos from several evening outings in July. The photo above, from Arnside Knott, was taken on an evening when we completed this year’s Limestone Grassland Survey of Redhill Pasture. It’s a good thing that we had the experience of last year to call on, because in the dry conditions, many plants had finished flowering and were almost desiccated and so very difficult to identify.

On still summer evenings, you can usually spot hot air balloons in this area. These days they all seem to be red and bear the logo of a well-known ‘fingers-in-every-pie’ corporation. (‘Jack-of-all-trades, master of none’?)

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Whilst we were away, I discovered, or I think, probably, was reminded, that the French name for a hot-air balloon is montgolfière, which I thought was rather charming. Subsequently, it has occurred to me that, we’ve missed a trick here in Britain by not insisting that televisions be called Logie-Bairds and  jet engines Whittles and computers Babbages or Turings and hovercrafts Cockerells and….well, you can think of your own examples and post them here on the Berners-Lee Web.

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Anyway, I digress. The Lots were looking particularly desert like. I found it interesting that tiny hollows retained their greenness – because more dew collected in them, I wonder? The hot weather and a series of fairly low high-tides had combined to make the mud of the Bay unusually firm and dry and the kids, well B in particular, were keen to drag us all down there to play cricket or throw a ball or a frisbee* around.

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The only downside of that was the smell – not overpowering, but not very pleasant. But a fairly powerful aroma pervaded almost everywhere. A friend suggested to me that it was the smell of decay, which seems reasonable: the woodland floor was carpeted with brown leaves as if autumn had come early and the scent was particularly strong there.

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The ditch which runs through Lambert’s meadow had dried up completely, and Bank Well too was rapidly drying out.

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Even now, when the weather has broken, I was told yesterday that the water in Hawes Water is a couple of feet below it’s usual level.

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Branched Burr-reed again.

Finally, a puzzle…

 

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…these flowers grow in the soggy margins of Bank Well and I can’t find them in my field guides. Anyone have any ideas?

*Frisbee – disappointingly, not the name of an inventor, but taken, apparently, from The Frisbie Pie Company, whose pie-tins were used as improvised flying-discs by Yale students in the 1950s.

Parched

Foulshaw Moss Again

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Figwort.

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Wasp on Figwort.

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Green-veined White on Tufted Vetch.

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Green-veined White on Bramble.

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Large Skipper on Tufted Vetch.

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Large Skipper on Thistle.

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Large Skipper on Bramble.

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Common Carder Bumblebee (I think) on Thistle.

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Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars on Ragwort.

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Foulshaw Moss, with Arnside Knott and Meathop Fell on the skyline.

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Foulshaw Moss, with Whitbarrow Scar behind.

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Great Spotted Woodpecker, adult, female I think.

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Great Spotted Woodpecker, juvenile.

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Black Darter, female.

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Foulshaw Moss.

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Common Lizard.

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A web-tent. I couldn’t see any caterpillars within.

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Scots Pines.

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Reed Bunting, male.

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Marbled Orb Weaver Spider (perhaps).

These photos were taken just over a month ago on an evening visit to Foulshaw Moss whilst A was at her weekly dancing lessons. Since they were taken, we’ve been away for three weeks, camping in Wales and then France, and this little outing feels like a distant memory.

I have enjoyed looking through them, however, and trying to put names to things I recorded. Not here are the many small birds which tumbled about in the trees, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Linnets and Chaffinches. Also missing are the crickets and/or grasshoppers which I saw, but failed to photograph and the Ospreys, Adders and Large Heath Butterflies which I hope to see when I visit, but which have always eluded me so far.

The Black Darter, Britain’s smallest species of Dragonfly, is new to me, so that should probably be the highlight, but it was the adult Great Spotted Woodpecker, which I heard first and then picked out in flight, flying, unusually, towards me rather than away and landing at the top of a dead Birch relatively nearby, which will stick in my mind. Also, the hordes of Wasps feeding on Figwort flowers, reminding me of my observation last year that the flowers and the Wasps seem to have coevolved so that a Wasp’s head is a perfect fit for a Figwort flower.

 

Foulshaw Moss Again

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.

Skiddaw Bivvy

Small Water Camp and Swim

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On Piot Crag, Haweswater behind.

We eventually arrived at the end of Haweswater late on the Bank Holiday Monday afternoon. The car park was still fairly busy, but was also noticeably emptying. We chose to revisit Small Water, the site of A’s first wild-camp, two year ago, for the same reasons we’d chosen it then: it’s a short walk-in, starting from quite high altitude. In addition, we now knew for sure that there were a number of good spots in which to camp by the tarn.

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An early rest during the ascent to Small Water.

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Looking back to Hawes Water from close to the top of the climb to Small Water.

It was still hot, so when we arrived at Small Water, we dumped our heavy bags in a suitable looking spot, and made a bee-line for the lake. The southern side of the tarn was still bathed in sunlight, but the sun would evidently soon disappear behind the hills, so we made the most of the opportunity and dived in for a swim. (Except TBH, obviously). The water was cold, but not at all bad, once you were in, and the surroundings were superb.

The place we’d selected to pitch our tents, which was close to where A and I camped last time and which I’d ear-marked then as a likely place to get two tents comfortably, was still in the sunshine fortunately, at least for a little longer. The Quechua tent we bought A goes up very quickly and A has the process down to a fine art, having used it several times now. The boys and I took a little longer with Andy’s tent, but felt that we’d made some progress with how to do the trickiest part of the process, so that was something.

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We enjoyed our pasta tea whilst watching pink clouds drifting overhead. The boys went through their usual routine of running around excitedly, exploring our surroundings and climbing every boulder and small crag they thought they could manage, whilst the rest of  us filtered water for the morning. One final, short outing, to circumnavigate the tarn, the boys constantly on the look out for places where they might jump in, and then we turned in.

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Our pitch.

The next morning brought low clouds and, in our tent at least, recriminations: the boys and I all felt that we’d had a poor night made worse by the snoring and tossing and turning of the other two, who had, in our opinions, both clearly slept soundly and loudly. We can’t all have been right. TBH and A, meanwhile, who both sleep like proverbial logs, slept on after we’d got up, and eventually I steeled myself and woke them up.

We’d all put together our own versions of this porridge mixture. B was adamant that the edition of powdered milk, which we didn’t have when he’d tried it before, had transformed the result so that it was “as good as porridge at home”. A meanwhile, had ground up her oats so that, after the addition of hot water, her’s actually looked like proper cooked porridge. She’d also added chocolate chips and I have to confess that, having tried it, the result was delicious. TBH’s innovation was powdered coconut milk, which I didn’t even know existed. That worked too. You’ll have to excuse all of the details about food, but if you’ve ever been back-packing, you’ll know how vital getting that right is to the success or otherwise of a trip.

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The boys loved these slabs, right by where we camped. Here, Little S is shouting “Look at me Andy”, which he seems to have adopted as a catch phrase. I think the first time he did it, he will have been only about three and had just scaled a small cliff above a beach at Towyn.  I don’t know if, even then, he was being mischievous and deliberately trying to frighten our old friend Andy, but that’s been his intention ever since, so that now he sees it as an in-joke and will shout it even if Andy is not with us.

After our leisurely start we set-off up Piot Crag. It looks fairly intimidating from below, and perhaps more so when you are part way up, but we knew that the route ‘would go’ as A and I came this way last time.

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You reach a point where the way ahead seems barred by crags…

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But in fact there are two lines of crags and if you head right you reach the bottom of a stone-filled gully which leads up between them, steeply, but safely.

I had been quietly hoping that we might find…

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…some Roseroot having read that it can be found on the steep crags above neighbouring Blea Water.

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It’s a member of the stonecrop family, many of which are quite small, but this is fairly sizeable by comparison. It’s a succulent and has thick leaves, like a Sedum. The Wild Flower Key lists it with Orpine, which grows abundantly on walls near home. Apparently, its roots, when dried, smell like roses, hence the name. I’m sure that I’ve seen it before, but can’t think where. I think it’s quite rare in the wild, but is also grown in rock gardens. The flowers weren’t fully open, which was a shame, but gives me something to look out for in future. I wanted to climb above it to get better photos of the flowers, and Little S, naturally, was keen to come with me. When the first hand-hold I grabbed, a very substantial lump of rock, started to come away from the rockface, I abandoned the idea.

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Parsley Fern.

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At the top of the gully there’s a fair bit of spoil and a few structures. There must have been some sort of mining or quarrying hereabouts in the past. We stopped for a quick drink.

From there it’s not much of a climb to the top of Mardale Ill Bell.

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Small Water and Harter Fell..

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High Street and Blea Water.

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Small Water and Haweswater. Piot Crag is the ridge on the left in shadow.

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I quite fancied continuing along the ridge to Harter Fell, but I was in a minority of one.

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A dry Kentmere reservoir. Working on the dam apparently.

The consensus was that we should return to the tents for lunch and then another swim in Small Water.

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Small, odd structures by Small Water, marked on the map as ‘shelters’. By boys decided that they are garages, although they aren’t remotely big enough for anything but a Dinky toy car.

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Lunch was humus and pan-fried bread, an experiment with camping food that I’ve wanted to try for a while. I’d made chapatis with tea on the Sunday night and remembered, or thought I could remember, old friend Geordie Munro once making them in a Trangia pan lid, whilst we were on a backpacking trip, and how welcome they were after a few days of less imaginative fare. So I’d brought flour, salt and dried yeast in a freezer bag and then warmed some water to add to the bag after we’d had breakfast, leaving it to rise in the tent’s porch. When we got back I found that the mixture was so sticky that there was no real way that I could hope to flatten it out into chapatis. Instead I turned lumps of dough out of the bag into a hot pan which I’d sprayed with oil. I couldn’t even flatten the mixture in the pan, because it stuck to my spoon, but, if I cooked it for a while and then flipped it over, I found that enough of a crust had formed that I could then press on the cooked side to begin to shape the loaf. By repeatedly flipping and squishing the loaves I managed to get them to cook through okay. I made three, of which the photo above shows the last and by far the largest. How were they? Well, there was none left and I shall definitely being doing that again. My hands did get a coating of sticky dough, but I found that it soon dried and fell off without my having to worry too much about how to remove it.

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Small Water pano.

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After lunch – another swim in Small Water. It being earlier in the day, we could try the north shore and still be in the sun. Here the bottom shelved even more quickly than it had on the other side, so that two strides in you were already deep enough to swim. Only me and the boys swam this time, TBH and A watched and took photos, including these which TBH took with my camera.

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I don’t know why it’s never occurred to me to swim here before. With the steep slopes of Small Water Crag as a backdrop, this is an amazing place for a dip. I was reminded of a larger tarn in a similar, but larger corrie in the Pyrenees, where I swam when TBH and I were there years ago. Without a wetsuit, Little S didn’t last too long, but B and I had a good, long swim. That’s us, the tiny dots in the photo above.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying a swim: we repeatedly saw fish jumping out of the water. Probably after these fellows…

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Mayfly piggybacking on my towel.

After that it was just a question of packing up and retracing the short walk back to the car.

Sadly, one further bit of excitement as we walked down – a herd of sheep went hurtling past us down the hillside with a collie in close pursuit. The sheep gradually split into smaller and smaller groups until the collie was only chasing three, then just one lamb. They were quickly way below us, but I could see that the dog had the lamb cornered against a wall. Still barking furiously, the dog had the sheep turning repeatedly back and forth, back and forth. We carried on down and, when we reached the same wall, I dumped my bag and started to make my way around towards the pair of them. I tried to discourage Little S from joining me, not knowing what frame of mind the dog would be in, but he went racing off and soon B had joined us too. We realised that they’d moved on again and the sheep was in Blea Water Beck, trapped against the fence which continued the line of the wall across the beck. As we neared the stream, Little S, anxious to help the lamb, went haring off ahead, disappearing over a slight rise. He reappeared seconds later, at quite a lick, looking more than a little alarmed.

“The dog’s after me, the dog’s after me.”

It was only a small collie, dripping wet, it had clearly been in the stream. It took one look at me and turned to run back up the hill to its owners. The lamb didn’t seem to be hurt in any obvious way, but nor did it want to budge from it’s position, backed against the fence at the edge of the stream. We left it, and later saw it head up the hill to rejoin the flock. We also saw the feckless dog owners, with the collie now back on a lead, approaching the car park, but chose to head to Shap chippy for some tea rather than staying to get into a row with them.

Small Water and Piot Crag

 

Small Water Camp and Swim